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.
- “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
- 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.
- Quoth a Metrolinx “Project Sponsor” at a community discussion that included a member of City Council.
- 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.