Various projects for transit in the waterfront are working their way through a Waterfront Reset process. On July 7, 2021, there will be an update to Toronto’s Executive Committee on the status of transit projects including the Waterfront East LRT. Staff hope to take an updated Business Case based on the preliminary design to Council in Fall 2021.
The City of Toronto, Waterfront Toronto and the TTC held an online update and consultation session for the Waterfront East project on June 21, 2021. This covered several points and included significant changes in scope and design.
- The new Union Station Loop will be fully built in one stage rather than a half-now, half-later approach. The full capacity of the new loop will be required to serve development underway and planned in the waterfront.
- The new Queens Quay Station will include connections (some provisional) to adjacent buildings and to a tunnel under Queens Quay to the Ferry Docks.
- The eastern portal location will be west of Yonge Street in front of the Harbour Castle Hotel. The hotel’s entrance will be relocated to the eastern face of the building at a new entryway to be constructed by extending Yonge Street southwards over what is now the Yonge Street Slip.
- The western portal will receive an architectural treatment that will echo the new east portal.
- The work will be staged so that through streetcar service could operate to the eastern waterfront from existing trackage on Queens Quay West while the Bay Street tunnel is closed for reconstruction of the stations.
- Queens Quay East will continue a street design similar to that on the portion west of Bay with modifications to better clarify the pedestrian and cycling areas.
- As previously planned, the Parliament Slip will be partly filled to allow extension of Queens Quay directly east to meet a realigned Cherry Street. This design is no longer entangled with plans advanced by Sidewalk Labs.
- The first phase of streetcar service will extend east to Cherry and south to a new loop at Polson Street.
- There are four options for the connection north via Cherry to Distillery Loop one of which would require relocation of the existing (but inactive) Cherry Street Tower in the rail corridor which is now immediately south of the loop. The most likely of these is a new portal for the streetcars east of the tower.
- Following construction work on Bay Street, the surface level will be redesigned to improve its appearance and provide more room for pedestrians and cyclists.
The City’s presentation deck is arranged slightly differently from the sequence in this article because they focused on design exercises for each segment of the line. Here I have tried to pull some related matters together.
Union Station Loop
The reconstruction and expansion of Union Loop is critical to the Waterfront network meeting its eventual capacity and purpose. The existing loop and platform were too small when it opened and have been a bottleneck under busy conditions ever since.
The new loop’s platforms will extend down much of the length of the teamways above to the south end of the rail viaduct. There is provision for two Flexitys to unload northbound and two to load southbound where there is now only room for a single car on the loop track at Union.
Space for circulating and waiting passengers is much expanded, and there are lateral connections to other buildings such as Union railway station’s Bay Concourse and the new bus terminal. The entire loop will be a “paid area” as shown in the drawings, and there will be no fare line between the loop and the subway station.
The track layout includes a double crossover on each platform allowing cars to bypass each other if need be. This avoids problems that now arise when cars on different routes prevent each other from leaving. The separate platforms for each route will allow concurrent loading.
Among the challenges of designing for this space are the existing structural supports for the railway and the fact that various parts of the transit and railway stations are not at the same elevation. The Bay Concourse in the railway station is at roughly the same level as the mezzanine in the subway station, while the streetcar loop is at subway track level one storey down. Any link between the loop and the railway concourse requires a stair and elevator (there is no room for an escalator).
One major change that is not obvious on the drawings which only show the new configuration is that the track level will be lower than it is today. This provides additional space for air circulation and fire control.
The first drawing above shows doors at the entry to the platform areas. These will normally be locked open with magnetic latches, but can be closed in case of fire. The cross section shows another element of a smoke control system, a half wall hanging from the ceiling at the platform edges.
Queens Quay Station
Queens Quay Station currently has capacity for one Flexity to load in each direction. It will be extended north to provide space for two cars in each direction. Unlike Union, tracks at this station will remain at their existing grade.
The first image below shows a 3D view of the station looking southeast, and the second one shows a plan view.
The station includes links downward to a tunnel crossing under Queens Quay to a new exit north of the Ferry Docks. This is a problematic structure in the new design. The intent is to shift traffic from the surface crossing of Queens Quay to underground, but access to and from the tunnel involves a lot of stairs and elevators of limited capacity. This station has a long history of an elevator that was more often out of service than working, and the alternative, the stairs will be inaccessible not just for those with mobility issues, but to people with baby carriages and other picnic baggage.
Many riders might still prefer to go up one level to the street rather than down one, through the tunnel and then up two levels to reach the docks.
The view below looks southeast on the same alignment as the 3D station view above, but the pedestrian link uncovered. The images on the right look as if they are outside, but they are actually views inside the tunnel which is 6m wide. The treatment includes a skyline graphic along the south wall and a ceiling that echoes the wave decks on Queens Quay.
The tunnel is a roundabout reverse-J shape one level below the station platform. It’s length is due to beginning at the midpoint of the platform, which is somewhat north of Queens Quay and then running south to the planned new exit.
Escalators might be included at some but probably not all locations, notably by going out from the tunnel to the east into the basement of a new building on the northeast corner, or to the hotel on the southwest corner of Bay and Queens Quay.
Portals and Yonge Street Crossing
In the original plan for the Waterfront East line, the portal was located east of Yonge at Freeland Street. However, this would have required the tunnel to first dive under a large sewer at Yonge Street that cannot be moved. Surfacing west of Yonge avoids this. However, that space is now occupied by the very unfriendly, auto-oriented entrance to the Harbour Castle Hotel.
The shift to west of Yonge became the “technically preferred option”, and the plan now includes a redesign of the hotel entrance to face east onto a new plaza that will be created by filling the north end of Yonge Street Slip. The design includes both a loop for circulation of autos and buses past the hotel entrance, as well as access south to the Ferry Docks.
The new portal will have a more attractive architectural treatment than the plain western portal today. The project will add a new matching cover to the west portal.
At the Yonge Street Slip, the design presented in the previous consultation was constrained for space, and this has been opened up. The bus stopping area has been shifted to the north-south direction in front of the new hotel entrance.
Through Service on Queens Quay
In April 2019, Toronto Council directed staff:
… to consider in conjunction with the preliminary design and engineering phase of the Union Station-Queen’s Quay link and East Bayfront extension, a phasing option that would implement a through streetcar service on Queen’s Quay to East Bayfront, in advance of the Union Station construction and implementation phase.
The Waterfront East project now focuses on staging so that a continuous service on Queens Quay and south into the Port Lands can be provided while the Bay Street tunnel and stations are rebuilt. This means that almost all of the eastern leg will be built and close to ready for service before demolition of the existing connection at Bay Street begins so that a switchover can be fairly quick.
Various alternative termini were considered for this line including the original plan near Parliament Street, the existing Distillery Loop on Cherry, a new loop at the north edge of the Ship Channel at Polson Street, and East Harbour Station on the GO/Ontario lines.
Three of the four have problems that rule them out, especially for a fairly quick completion:
- The Parliament Street site is no longer available due to development.
- Distillery Loop requires a connection under the railway that adds to the complexity and time needed to make the line operational (see discussion of this link later in the article).
- East Harbour Station and the related Broadview streetcar extension will not necessarily occur in the required time frame.
- The Polson Street Loop can be built, with the only caveat being the need for an LRT bridge over the realigned Don River. Originally, this was not in the plan because the LRT would not extend south of the Don River, and so this adds one new bridge to the collection.
Design of Queens Quay East
The general design for Queens Quay East will mimic the layout west of Bay Street, but with stronger demarcation of the cycling and pedestrian realms including at intersections to reduce conflicts.
An important change in the design of cycling and pedestrian areas will be to provide clear separation between them.
There is one area, north of Redpath Sugar, where the existing right-of-way is too narrow to fit in the standard design, and it will be a pinch point on the south side as shown below. Although the pedestrian and cycling areas are narrowed, this design protects for the possibility that the Redpath site might be redeveloped. If this were to occur, the area south of the street would open up.
If the cycling and pedestrian areas were widened with Redpath still in place, the streetcar track would have to shift north along with adjacent traffic lanes. This would be an interim configuration, and the tracks would have to be shifted back to their planned location if Redpath decamps from the waterfront.
Parliament, Cherry Street and Distillery Loop
The layout at Parliament Street will change substantially because Queens Quay, instead of swinging north to Lake Shore Boulevard, will continue straight east past the north side of the silos to the intersection with New Cherry and eventually to meet Lake Shore as it curves south to cross the Don River north of the Keating Channel.
The road layout in this part of the waterfront will change quite a bit in the coming decade. Not only will the Gardiner Expressway link to the DVP be realigned and rebuilt, the complex intersection at Cherry and Lake Shore will be simplified.
The image below shows the area as it was about a year ago. Queens Quay turns into Parliament Street at the foot of Small Street at the lower left of the image. The realigned street will head east across the north end of the slip, past the silos and over to meet a realigned Cherry Street.
The route of New Cherry is visible in the area that has been cleared north and south of the Keating Channel, and the new LRT bridge has already been installed (although not in this photo). When New Cherry Street is complete, the existing bridge to “Old” Cherry will be removed, and traffic will swing over to the new street.
Still to come is the New Cherry road bridge (the span is already sitting in the harbour awaiting installation), and two more bridges (one for LRT, one for road) where Cherry will cross the new channel for the Don River (out of frame below this photo).
The new alignment and bridge locations are shown below. Note that the crossing at Polson Slip and the new river channel was originally designed for a single span because the loop was to be at Cherry and Commissioners. With the loop now south of Polson, an LRT span will be required at the Cherry Street South Bridge as at the North Bridge.
The LRT span for New Cherry has already been installed. I could not resist including this image of it taken from Waterfront Toronto’s Annual Report. A companion road bridge will sit beside this. Yes. This is a bridge for streetcars.
When the Cherry Street LRT was in the design phase, there was some discussion of how to get under the railway and connect with a future line on Queens Quay. Four options were considered.
- Rebuild the existing Cherry Street bridge/underpass with additional portals to make room for the LRT.
- Operate the LRT in mixed traffic through the existing underpass.
- Build a new portal for the LRT that would connect to Distillery Loop through the current location of the Cherry Street Signal Tower (now decommissioned).
- Build a new portal for the LRT east of the Cherry Street Tower.
Options 1 and 2 were ruled out. The first would require replacement of the bridge deck under an operating rail corridor. The second would require Cherry Street to be lowered to provide clearance for streetcars under the existing bridge, and would also make a pinch point for operations where streetcars were forced into a narrow space with other traffic.
Distillery Loop looks roughly like this today.
Here is an image of what Option 3 might look like.
At one point Metrolinx contemplated moving the signal tower somewhere nearby for preservation, but option 4 eliminates the need for this.
The new underpass would connect in to the east side of Distillery Loop. Note that there is a grade change required to get under the rail corridor, and that Distillery Loop itself would disappear.
An issue to be worked out is the design of the intersection south of the rail corridor where the streetcars and other traffic will emerge at different locations rather than side-by-side.
At this point, the Ontario Line will pass under Cherry at a depth of at least six metres and will be climbing from its deep underground alignment at Corktown Station to emerge west of the Don River just north of the rail corridor. There are no plans for an OL station at Cherry.
Future public engagement topics will include:
- Bay Street redesign
- Phasing and Implementation update
- Design of the Cherry Street link to the Distillery District
- Summary of Benefits Case
- Key project impacts and mitigations in EPR
At the political level:
- July 6, 2021: Executive Committee will receive an update on various transit projects, but this will not include the Waterfront East nor the Eglinton East LRTs.
- October 27, 2021: 30% Design Report for Waterfront East submitted to Executive Committee, then to Council on November 9 for direction about funding in future capital budgets.
Assuming Council approves a budget, detailed design would begin in 2022 with construction likely from 2024 to 2029/30. Among the first steps will be the Yonge Street Slip filling and reorientation of the hotel entrance because construction of the east portal cannot begin without it. A transition plan will be needed to “flip” operation of the Queens Quay LRT from turning north on bay to running through to the eastern extension in as short a time as possible to minimize the period of bus substitution. There is probably 2-3 years of construction on the east side of the line before the “flip” could occur.
The connection to the Distillery District will be designed to the 30 per cent level including an Environmental Project Report (EPR) so that the project is ready to go if funding for that stage materializes. It is, however, a “longer term” element according to City staff.
Some parts of the overall approved waterfront plan, such as the “Bremner streetcar” are also further out, although the City is still protecting for their eventual construction.
The connection to Leslie Barns via Commissioners is not expected to be built until about 2041.