Metrolinx Gives Toronto the Finger, Twice

On the Toronto Executive Committee agenda for July 6, there is a report updating Council on the status of various rapid transit projects in Toronto. Notable by their absence are the Waterfront East LRT (study in progress as previously reported) and the Eglinton East LRT extension.

The truly galling part is found in two letters from Metrolinx, compounded by the abject parroting by City staff of Metrolinx creative writing in the City’s own report.

The documents are linked here:

  • Update on Metrolinx Transit Expansion Projects –Second Quarter 2021
  • Letter from Karla Avis Birch, Chief Planning Officer, Metrolinx, to Derrick Toigo, Executive Director, Transit Expansion Division, City of Toronto re the Ontario Line alignment
  • Letter from Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx to Derrick Toigo re the Ontario Line Maintenance and Storage Facility in Thorncliffe Park

The fundamental problem is that Council asked Metrolinx to consider alternatives to their design for the Ontario Line in Riverside (East Harbour to Gerrard Station) and in Thorncliffe Park (the location of the line’s storage yard).

Metrolinx chose to reply with analyses of options that were not those of concern to Council that addressed proposals from the affected communities. What Metrolinx did do was to trot out analyses of previously rejected options as if this somehow validated their position.

To give the impression that Metrolinx has “responded” to the city is a misrepresentation of what has happened, and it suggests that City staff in the Transit Expansion Division are more interested in buttressing Metrolinx’ case than answering Council’s request.

The Riverside Options

This topic has been covered at length here before, and I will summarize it briefly:

  • Metrolinx wants the Ontario line to run above grade from the Don River to Gerrard in order to (a) improve the transfer connection with GO Transit at East Harbour Station and (b) to save money on an underground alignment.
  • The original East Harbour design involved having the Ontario Line straddle the GO corridor so that there could be an across-the-platform transfer between peak direction GO and OL trains.
  • That design proved unworkable or too expensive (or both) and it was dropped in favour of the current design that puts the OL tracks on the north/west side of the rail corridor and eliminates the across-the-platform transfer.
  • Although the estimate of reduced activity at Union Station, one of Metrolinx’ stated goals for the OL, depended on the across-the-platform transfer, Metrolinx has not revised the number cited in various reports and presentations. Moreover, they cite the combined benefit of the now-abandoned designs at Exhibition and East Harbour as if the full reduction would be achieved by each station on its own.
  • The across-the-platform scheme would only work with an alignment at the same elevation as the rail corridor, but this has effects in the neighbourhood through which it would travel. I will not repeat previous articles on this point.
  • The community proposed an alternative alignment on the south side of the rail corridor that would merge into the already approved route of the Downtown Relief Subway east of East Harbour Station, and Council requested that Metrolinx consider this option.1
  • Since this request, but before Metrolinx’ response, there has been a significant change in the work planned and future profile of the combined GO+OL corridor in Riverside that was not known when much of the community consultation was underway. Designs presented to the community no longer apply, and a sense of bait-and-switch is palpable.

Notes:

  1. “On April 7, 2021, City Council considered MM31.12 Ontario Line – Getting Transit Right: Federal Environmental Assessment and Hybrid Option Review – by Councillor Paula Fletcher, seconded by Councillor Joe Cressy and requested that Metrolinx review the feasibility of a proposed hybrid Ontario Line developed by the local community from the Don River to Gerrard Street.” [Transit Expansion Office report, p. 2]

Metrolinx has now replied to the City. Oddly enough, there is more information about Metrolinx’ analysis in the report from the Transit Expansion Office than in the letter from the Chief Planning Officer at Metrolinx.

The following text comes from the Transit Expansion Office report.

Metrolinx Review of Hybrid Option

On April 7, 2021, City Council also requested that Metrolinx review the feasibility of a proposed hybrid Ontario Line that maintains an at-grade station at East Harbour and creates a portal to put the line underground immediately to the east of the station through the Leslieville and Riverside communities.

Metrolinx assessed the feasibility of five options that would include an underground portion of the Ontario Line through the Leslieville and Riverside communities. The five options explored by Metrolinx include three straddle options (seeFigure 1) in which Ontario Line tracks would flank the GO tracks (i.e., Options 1, 2 and 3). Options 4 and 5 looked at OL tracks on the north side of the GO Tracks (see Figure 2).

[Transit Expansion Office report, p. 4, see full report for illustrations]

The Transit Expansion Office’s report continues:

Each option explored by Metrolinx/IO is described in further detail below.

• Option 1: Straddle alignment with 4.5% vertical grade

• Option 2: Straddle alignment with 10% vertical grade

• Option 3: Straddle alignment with portals west of Eastern Avenue and 4.5% vertical grade

• Option 4: North side alignment with 4.5% vertical grade

• Option 5: North side alignment with 10% vertical grade

[Transit Expansion Office report, p. 5]

There is one small problem. None of the options listed here matches the configuration “developed by the community” as requested in Council’s motion.

The report states:

Through its assessment, Metrolinx has concluded that it will not pursue a fully underground or partial underground alignment.

[Transit Expansion Office report, p. 7]

That’s sort of what one might expect if the options you studied were the ones you had looked at before and rejected. The Transit Expansion Office reports this as if it were a new finding, when it simply repeats a conclusion reached some time ago by Metrolinx.

The City’s Transit Expansion Office has completely missed the point and colluded in Metrolinx’ deception about whether an underground alignment as proposed by the community is viable.

The letter from Metrolinx’ Chief Planning Officer is similarly deceptive.

Feasibility of the Community Proposed ‘Hybrid Ontario Line’ option

Per directive 2b in MM31.12, City Council requested Metrolinx to review the feasibility of the proposed hybrid Ontario Line developed by the local community. This option proposes a route from the Don River to Gerrard Street, which maintains the at-grade station at East Harbour and creates a portal to underground the line immediately to the east of the station through the South of Eastern employment area and moves the Ontario Line station to Queen and Carlaw in the vicinity of Leslieville.

Metrolinx has explored similar options, specifically the Relief Line South, through the Initial Business Case and decided that an underground alignment in this area would not be advantageous to the reference alignment that utilizes the existing rail corridor. The considerations noted below, were shared with City Council, and communicated to community members through various meetings and town hall discussions.

City Councillor Paula Fletcher had also requested Metrolinx to look at underground options once trains exit north from East Harbour Station. In February 2021, Metrolinx met with City Councillor Fletcher and discussed the Underground Alignment Analysis of those options. The analysis which was shared with the City provides insight into the options Metrolinx considered. Again, none of those options proved to be better than the reference alignment. The hybrid option has many of the same disbenefits as the alternative options already studied and will not perform better than the reference alignment.

[Letter from Karla Avis Birch, Chief Planning Officer, Metrolinx, to Derrek Toigo, Transit Expansion Office, pp. 2-3]

The first paragraph is an accurate summary of the community’s proposed option. The second paragraph talks of “similar options, specifically the Relief Line South”. However the RLS alignment was completely underground and went under the Don River, a major point of criticism by Metrolinx and the reason the community proposal stays above grade through East Harbour Station.

Of course an underground alignment “would not be advantageous to the reference alignment that uses the existing rail corridor” because it does not follow that corridor. That is the whole point of the alternative. At no point has Metrolinx produced a feasibility analysis of the community’s option comparable to the information included in the Transit Expansion Office report on the five worthless “alternatives” in a mock study.

In the third paragraph, Metrolinx states that it shared its analysis with the City. That was of the five “alternatives”, not of the community’s hybrid option.

The hybrid option “will not perform better than the reference alignment”. Well, yes, but would it be worse?

Speaking of “performance”, Metrolinx is big on speedy transfers between routes and plumps for this in its description of Riverside/Leslieville and Gerrard Stations (where transfer volumes will be comparatively low) and at East Harbour (where the across-the-platform transfer so desired in the original plans bit the dust some months ago).

This is an agency that does not want to answer the question put to it, and a City Official who is apparently happy to be their messenger.

The Thorncliffe Park Options

To put this discussion in context, a map of the site options is needed.

The Thorncliffe Park issues, in brief are:

  • Metrolinx began working on a site selection for its Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF) in 2019, and at that time the City raised objections to the original planned location because of its local effects. The community was not advised of this discussion.
  • Subsequently, Metrolinx considered a “hybrid” selection with the maintenance building on the south side of the “Wicksteed” site, but with the yard and some ancillary functions on the “Overlea” site. This became the preferred alternative.
  • Metrolinx began negotiations with property owners in the affected Overlea block, but not with the business owners who found out that their sites were affected when the selection was announced via a Metrolinx blog article. They were not amused because the area doubles as a community centre for the large immigrant population in Thorncliffe Park.
  • Metrolinx scheduled the public consultation to begin in the evening at the beginning of Ramadan, a hopelessly insensitive choice.
  • The community considered alternatives and among them was a hybrid configuration including the southern portion of the Leaside site. This would require a connection between the MSF and the yard going over or under the CPR line that separates the properties.
  • After community meetings, some quite heated, Metrolinx is working on relocation of the businesses. They now acknowledge the importance of these businesses staying close to their current location, but previously had simply assumed that could go so some other light industrial space in the general area.
  • Council passed an urgent motion asking that Metrolinx consider alternatives and engage in “transparent” public consultation.1

Notes:

  1. On May 5, 2021, City Council adopted MM32.27 Urgently Requesting Transparent Public Consultation and Consideration of Alternative Options for the Ontario Line Maintenance and Storage Facility – by Councillor Jaye Robinson, seconded by Councillor Mike Colle, and requested that Metrolinx consider alternative site options and engage the Thorncliffe community in a transparent public consultation.

The letter from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster does not discuss the community option of a Wicksteed-Leaside hybrid arrangement at all. In the discussion of the Wicksteed site, there is much concern for companies that would have been displaced from the northern portion had Metrolinx used the full site, but that is a red herring in this context. Metrolinx opted only to take the southern portion of the Wicksteed block for its MSF.

In the Metrolinx evaluation of the Leaside site (see text in the illustration above), Metrolinx considered only an “all or nothing” arrangement that would have displaced far more than is required only for a storage yard. There is no question that going over or under the CPR is a challenge, but the Ontario Line is already on an elevated structure and would not have to rise far to provide adequate clearance for the railway. Road-over-rail configurations are not unknown and some exist further east on this corridor. A narrow two-track OL bridge would be much simpler.

Unfortunately, the Council Motion (see above) of May 5 did not explicitly say which alternative site options should be considered, and this left Metrolinx free to answer with the analysis that they had already conducted, not with a new review.

We Can Do Anything We Want1

The Metrolinx attitude is that the enabling legislation allows them to build anything and perform only the most cursory of public consultation. Most if not all significant decisions are set in stone and approved by the Minister before much consultation even begins. In effect, the public is asked to pick colours for seat cushions on new vehicles, but anything else has been decided by the experts who do not want the pesky job of justifying, much less altering their decisions.

Some minor changes have occurred in the Riverside corridor thanks to community activism (e.g. a small amount of added park land), but on the big issue Metrolinx is immovable.

This is very much transit planning in Doug Ford’s Ontario, but Metrolinx had a reputation for heavy-handedness and insensitivity long before Ford was their master.

One might ask why Council even bothered with motions when they are powerless to affect Metrolinx decisions and can only wail, somewhat more officially if not necessarily as convincingly, as an aggrieved community.

It is a matter of record that Metrolinx has paid social media “influencers” to act as touts for their projects while appearing to be just folks from the neighbourhood. This gives the impression of happy support, rather like the peasants dancing gaily in front of a Potemkin Village2.

I have no illusions that Metrolinx will change any of its plans short of a force majeure that even they cannot ignore. None seems to be in the offing.

The report to City Council by the Transit Expansion Office and Metrolinx’ letters are a disgrace because they thumb their noses at the very concerns Council had raised.

Notes:

  1. Quoth a Metrolinx “Project Sponsor” at a community discussion that included a member of City Council.
  2. Potemkin Village, noun: a pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition [Collins Dictionary]. Although the story about that term, Catherine the Great and Count Potemkin might be apocryphal, the idea is not, and modern management is filled with such structures.

15 thoughts on “Metrolinx Gives Toronto the Finger, Twice

  1. The City of Toronto is a “child” of the province of Ontario. Toronto may have a larger population than the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, but it is still a “child”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Steve for keeping us so informed about what is happening with this joke called Metrolinx!! Where are the people we vote into office to speak for us? Shameful they should all be voted out!! Steve Munro for Premier!!!

    Steve: Thank you for the vote of confidence, but there are people more qualified than I am for that job. Whether any of them will actually run is another matter.

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  3. Thanks for this: the Webster effect lives on, no matter the billions. For the mere ‘shitizens’ of this village, as the federal level does have some levers, we should not only be insisting upon a much higher degree of sound planning etc. ahead of the billions, but an alteration to the status of cities under the provinces throughout the nation, though it’s likely the worst in ‘Con-toryio’, including the near-denial of the climate emergency, apart from fuelling it further.

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  4. You know as I was reading the speculation in the other thread about a new waterfront stadium it got me thinking. What follows is pure speculation as obviously I wasn’t in the room when these decisions were made.

    The relief line’s alignment through the core has been modified to a large extent to serve specific areas of large existing and speculative future development. In bringing it closer to East Harbour, the above rumoured stadium, the big office clusters at the two Kings, and Exhibition Place.

    As seen in Ford’s actions on the green belt and the rush to expropriate the first Parliament site, they are quite motivated when it comes to private developers. It makes me wonder if developers weren’t particularly thrilled that city option A skirted around the fringes of the major redevelopment areas in the core and just maybe they were pushing for a more direct option behind the scenes.

    Enter Schabas with new plan that gained traction because it put a station at their doorsteps. In this scenario had the city originally thought to tunnel closer to the heart of redevelop-able core area then maybe this would have turned out differently.

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  5. Why even bother having the Ontario Line and Go Train merge at Riverdale? Don’t see the use in that.
    I don’t understand the Ontario Line.

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  6. Happy to provide you with the minutes to the so called “public consultations” happening with business owners. It’s so sad to see some of these small business owners packing it in under the power and might of MX….without actually having ever received a legal “notice of expropriation”… it’s in the mail…

    Steve: Yes, I have been hearing about some of those “consultations”.

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  7. Screw the GO corridor and bury it – It’s time that Metrolinx and the government admit that the costs and logistics of building the line above grade is climbing and not worth the savings

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “I don’t understand the Ontario Line.”

    There is nothing to understand, since it makes no sense. Toronto will soon have 3 rail transit systems that are not part of the mainline railway network: (1) subway, (2) LRT, (3) small legacy streetcar network serving downtown (LRT hasn’t opened yet and Scarborough RT will close). The idea that we need a 4th network is insane. The Ontario Line should be cancelled and planning should revert to the previous subway proposal. That eliminates all this pointless discussion of trying to economize by having a section of the line above ground. Anyway, if they actually were serious about economizing, there would be no discussion of burying Eglinton West, nor would the Scarborough or Sheppard subway extensions be under consideration. The money about to be spent on pointless tunnelling projects could probably pay for all the cancelled/deferred Transit City lines.

    Actually I will amplify the above a bit: the entire GTA will soon have 3 rail transit systems as listed above. The idea that one particular route in Toronto is special enough to need a 4th system is even more absurd than the Toronto-only view would suggest. Either it has high enough capacity requirements to justify subway or it can be done with an LRT.

    Just say NO to gadgetbahn.

    Steve: Ah, but yesterday’s announcement (about which I will write soon) proposes a massive expansion of the Ontario Line. Of course this is just so much hot air, but it keeps the consultants employed and gives the Minister something to announce that’s bigger than Doug Ford’s map.

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  9. Once again, am very glad for this site and commenters; thanks. This includes the calls for a pause/stop/reject/reset for the OL for its overall quality, plus cost, plus process and cui bono?

    Please let’s all think about the purposes of transit, regardless of party/proponent. The main one we hope for – moving people well, safely and affordably for everyone (including taxpayers) – has been tilted towards more private interests. Such as: developers, (likely some developers more than others now), other construction interests (which can include unions, bless them sometimes), and most all of the politicians, of all parties. (Mobility politics are often different, although ‘carservative’ folks are in all parties at all levels in all areas). Equity should likely mean bikes first and foremost as per Ivan Illich, but we’re often in an ‘autocracy’; and Mr. Ford is on the autocratic side. A needed benefit of good transit is going ‘green’ – and we usually ignore the enviro cost of any facility, and even a bike has a footprint.

    What we’ve been getting for many years if not decades is a tilting of public resources to private or non-local gain far, far more than what is liked, and some are paying more, or having their amenities compromised (often the older core, or the entire City of Toronto, because power.)

    ‘Carservative’ transit is often that which takes transit and its users off the street, regardless of cost, to not inconvenience the folks in cars, who take the most amount of roadspace, and cost us the most, if we weren’t in ‘caronic’ denial about all of that, or too accepting or simply outvoted by the carservatives generally, and so the Ford transit also tends to benefit the outer areas much more.

    We do need to spend, and larger, but at times – if political will exists and some smarts – we can do very well eg. King RoW. Now, of the four transit schemes of Mr. Ford, only the OL is close to a real rationale, with some real basis in older plans. I’m glad it’s now being sniped at because the foundations of the Ford transit is cheaping out in avoiding tunnelling costs whilst wasting billions elsewhere, and ignoring the bad plunge in transit riderships which may make easing of Union Station pressures far less urgent, compared to N/S and Yonge Relief, which likely should be in place before too much more development occurs ie. development freezes.

    Just as the 1992 WWLRT EA urged two projects for two different types of demand, we likely need at least two projects for easing this, and one being a triage since when Eglinton opens up soon, maybe it will draw new riders, and one logical place for transfer is Yonge, and there’s no real option, nor too much thought for quick provisions oops, and yes, why trust the existing processes with that scale of additional need? So when combined with the great distrust of both Mr. Ford and ‘Minionlinx’, digging out old plans for mostly surface, semi-express and fairly robust new transit in the Don Valley could save us a few billions by cutting out all the project in the east-of-Don area. (Easing Bloor/Yonge should perhaps be started by better connection at Main and Danforth; how’s that coming? – or are we letting massive buildings block easy/cheap access whilst leveraging the transit for their sales?)

    ‘Carservative’ transit schemers won’t like insistence upon conversion of part of the precious DVP for transit-only, but that must be seen as an option, and to get a good neutral set of very open plans and processes, we likely need to go well beyond OntCARio to Euro planners, but what’s a million or five vs. a billion or 6?

    I’m now favouring entry to the old core c. Gerrard St – there’s actually a Lot of Density and real destinations like Ryerson, hospitals, QP, UofT, plus connections, and it’s well away from Union and yet not. A second project with likely a straight-line and maybe nearer to King more akin to the 1957 ‘Relief’ line is likely what should be striven for after the triage project, with good plans starting about now, including keeping RoW/access points clear. For really immediate action, the Celestica site at NW of Don Mills and Eglinton is Gold, and should be muscled in on to keep it open for transit usage, such as an electricified GO service entering from NW via a dug-out Rail Trail, and perhaps even a train yard there, with housing/building atop that the current owners could make substantial sums from a superb transit location.

    Pardon length; thanks.

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  10. I recall a similar thing to this happened a decade ago on Eglinton. Planners placed the Eglinton LRT in the median between Brentcliffe and Don Mills. There was obviously no foresight in this decision, as it would not be compatible with any future Relief Line on Don Mills. Many realized there was a simple solution – put the ECLRT on the south side through Don River West Branch, and Leslie. It was a much better solution that solved other problems besides just LRT capacity from Don Mills and west. We were assured that in detailed design, alternatives would be looked at.

    They did look at an alternative – a fully tunneled option deep under the Don River. The reason stated was that the ground was too unstable on the west bank for a portal. With some opposition to this idea, they went back to their original plan (with portal on west bank). Eventually, they said there was no more time to look at other alternatives and they proceeded with building a severely handicapped LRT line. Maybe they secretly hoped the relief line would never be built because then their lack of vision would not be exposed.

    A decade later we are in the same boat – Metrolinx refusing to analyze the obviously better choices. This also applies to Eglinton West – where I don’t think there was any analysis of using cut-and-cover in that wide Richview corridor, or in using more elevation (i.e. over highway 427). Is the reason it to obey their political masters? Is it them assuming what their political masters want? Is it because they don’t want to admit they were wrong? I suspect the latter. None of these alternatives would have added significantly to cost (and often had savings) and none would have gone against the political commitment – it’s just that they refused to do the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think the only strategy left for the city is to ask the federal government to refuse to fund any new Metrolinx projects until after the next provincial election. It looks like Metrolinx wants to sign contracts before the next election to lock things in, but if there is no funding and the city threatens to sue any corporations that sign contracts, that should be enough to delay things until the people have a chance to properly and democratically weigh in on the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Steve. I hope you do run for some form of political office, because your thorough understanding of reality would help you actually improve transit. Perhaps you could run for the NDP or for Toronto City Council.

    Steve: A specialist in any field is better in an advisory role than on Council or in the Legislature. Run for the NDP? I think not. They have many policies I admire, but I am not prepared to keep my mouth shut lest I offend the Leader and Party Policy. Council is a thankless task where one must handle a huge range of issues and only occasionally, if one is very lucky, get to focus on one’s core issue. I can be far more effective through channels like this blog where I am not constrained to five-minute speeches, or the need to put up with what passes at times for intelligent debate.

    Council is a more than full-time job, and I have been enjoying retirement for several years now. I’m more than happy to “put my oar in” to a debate from time to time, but that can be achieved without getting elected. If I wanted to be really caustic about it, those who clearly have power these days are not elected, simply well enough off to buy the connections they need.

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  13. So could Metrolinx just say – we looked into it and the answer to putting the OL underground is 17, so we won’t be doing it? Did they sort of do that?

    Is there no recourse to this? Is anybody going to point out that they didn’t actually answer the question at all?

    Steve: Even worse, they evaluated five options and debunked them thoroughly concluding underground won’t work. They did not evaluate the alternative route endorsed by the community and about which the question was posed, or if they did, there is no evidence for this. Meanwhile City staff simply copied Metrolinx’ “analysis” as if it answered the question and utterly missed the point.

    I have come to the conclusion that the head of Toronto’s Transit Expansion Office thinks that he still works for Queen’s Park.

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  14. In the US, if a bureaucrat gives that sort of non-response to a city council member — and it does happen — the city council will respond with a letter containing a veiled threat of termination for insubordination (saying “You may not have understood our previous request, so let us make it very clear, and we expect you to provide a responsive response this time or else”) and they generally respond with an appropriate letter the next time. Why is the city council so supine in Toronto?

    Steve: Because the Mayor depends on the bureaucracy to make him look good, and he doesn’t push them.

    On top of that, the crew running the TTC have done a great job of manufacturing stats that make them look good, and in turn the TTC board can pat them all on the head. There is a lot of good work happening within the TTC, but there are a lot of myths about service quality that the board simply does not challenge.

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