On June 30, Metrolinx held an online consultation for the North Segment of the Ontario Line between Gerrard and Science Centre Stations. Much of the discussion focused on plans for the Maintenance and Storage Facility at Thorncliffe Park.
The agenda for the meeting called for a half-hour presentation from Metrolinx, but they ran over by almost double. To their credit they kept the meeting going until they had run out of questions from the online audience.
Since the previous update, there has been a minor change in the alignment near Millwood and Overlea. The Don Valley crossing has been shifted slightly and the entrance to Thorncliffe Park moved to the north side of Overlea Boulevard. This is simpler to build because only Millwood must be crossed, and it moves the structure further away from residences on Leaside Park Drive.
The alignment east of there including the MSF layout is unchanged.
Questions were led off by Councillor Jaye Robinson who asked what Metrolinx was doing to respond to City Council’s motion asking them to review alternative sites for the MSF. This gets us into interesting territory. Within the presentation deck Metrolinx says:
[Re] Community request for more information about the MSF site selection process and a re evaluation of alternate sites.
A technical analysis of alternate sites is being conducted, and a technical response is being prepared in response to community questions.Presentation Deck at p. 16
However, in a recent letter to Council from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster dated June 14, 2021, he explains at length why the current site selection is the correct one and gives no hint that Metrolinx plans any shift in their position. Even worse, he discusses shortcomings in alternatives that do not match the version put forward by the community.
For the Wicksteed site, Verster talks about the near-impossibility of shifting businesses now on the north end of the site, but this is a location that Metrolinx does not plan to use. The maintenance building will be on the southern part of this site.
For the Leaside site, which Verster mentions only in passing, the analysis is shown above. Again, Metrolinx considers only an all-or-nothing situation taking the Canada Post distribution centre.
For readers’ reference, here is a satellite view of sites 1 and 3.
The northern part of site 1 (Wicksteed) is occupied by Tremco and Siltech which Verster mentions. They have advised Metrolinx that if they were forced to move, they would probably cease operations.
Metrolinx began discussions with Tremco and Siltech in Fall 2020, and through these discussions we learned that a relocation was not feasible for either company and that expropriating the land could lead to the businesses leaving not only the City, but possibly the region or the country entirely. The supply chain and indirect job impact of this would be at least 4-5 times the impact of the direct jobs (estimated impact on direct jobs at 800-900 employees), with very few of the total of the affected direct and indirect jobs retainable or replaceable.Letter from Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx to Derrick Toigo Executive Director, Transit Expansion Division, City of Toronto, June 14, 2021
This is the sort of language intended to strike fear into Councillors’ hearts, but it is a red herring because Metrolinx is not planning to use the land where these companies are now located, only the southern portion now occupied by a self storage company.
Similarly, on site 3 the Canada Post depot is on the north side of the property and could be left intact if only the southern portion containing a concrete yard were taken for the new rail yard. Metrolinx does not even consider that option, but turns its attention instead to site 2 which is the source of much opposition in the community.
In the online session, Project Sponsor Malcolm MacKay said that community outreach is vital for the MSF. Metrolinx has a “robust” table with community leaders. They are looking at moving Thorncliffe Park Station further north and at the MSF site selection. They are working through community suggestions and will respond, and are taking the council motion as well as community into account, while trying to get the “best possible outcome”.
In a followup question, Councillor Robinson asked if Metrolinx will hold a dedicated meeting for residents of Thorncliffe Park about the MSF. MacKay replied “definitely” and that “we’re all ears and take what’s said seriously”.
To a question asking if Metrolinx would acknowledge that Thorncliffe Park does not want the maintenance yard and commit to looking at alternatives. Metrolinx replied that they have “a quite healthy process underway”. They want to understand why Thorncliffe Park does not want what is proposed, and work together with community to get a “beneficial outcome”. This is a commitment “by the highest levels of our organization – as good an outcome as possible”.
Metrolinx needs to get its message straight. Either they are actively considering an alternative to site 2 for the yard portion of the MSF, or they are simply going through the motions for the appearance of community “consultation”.
One might generously suggest that they had a change of heart about a hard line on the MSF site selection between the June 14 letter and the June 30 community meeting.
Meanwhile, Metrolinx continues discussions with businesses that will be displaced by the proposed yard site with a view to having them moved elsewhere by 2022. (See the project timetable later in this article.)
A few questions were posed about Pape Station.
- Will its platforms be large enough to handle the interchange traffic with the Danforth Line 2 subway, by analogy to crowding conditions today at Bloor-Yonge. Yes, the station is sized for the future AM peak hour demand.
- Metrolinx plans a station exit on Danforth from its new station that lies east of Pape. How will this affect the street? Metrolinx replied that they are still looking at specific property requirements. (There is an analogy here to the planned Osgoode Station at University Avenue which will have its own separate entrances at the ends of the new station platform, probably to meet fire code.)
MPP Peter Tabuns asked a set of three questions:
- An “Early Works” report was published recently. Where is it?
- Along the transit corridor, Metrolinx has identified a fairly wide area that could be subject to review for construction effects and interference. Can this area be narrowed and properties removed from the official “corridor” once the design is known in more detail?
- With the construction period extending to 2029, residents feel that the length of the notices on their property titles are unreasonable. Can these notices be removed when construction finishes in an area, rather than at the end of the project?
The Early Works report was for the Don River bridge and GO Transit yard at East Harbour and does not apply to this section of the project.
Metrolinx advised that there are “opportunities” on both scope and on time for the notices on title. They will take concerns about a possible phased approach or reducing the transit corridor land scope back to their “parent agency”. That’s an odd euphemism for the Government of Ontario.
At this point, Richard Tucker, Project Director for the Ontario Line, chimed in with an odd comment. He said that engagement with the community is iterative. Metrolinx expects to be engaged at each of these steps, and there will be many many opportunities for communities to be involved: Environmental Assessment, design, construction. This is just “the start of a long term relationship”.
There is a tiny problem here. Metrolinx has repeatedly shown that the relationship is very one sided and that all of the power is in their hands, especially once the project details have government approval.
There were also a few questions about the Don River crossing north of O’Connor Drive to Thorncliffe Park.
- There is a high water table on the south side of the valley that would affect the tunnel’s approach to a new bridge. Metrolinx is aware of this, but the tunnel will be in (or on) bedrock and will be sealed against water penetration.
- Can the line be routed over the existing Leaside Bridge instead? No. The bridge was originally built with extra support for a never-built streetcar extension to the Leaside industrial district, but that capacity was used up to support its widening from four to six lanes in 1968-69. Also it is not designed with a space for a lower deck like that on the Prince Edward Viaduct.
(For the historically minded, there is a Toronto Archives photo in the Wikipedia article about the bridge. The eagle eyed will see that the original poles have the telltale caps for TTC overhead poles of the period. The Bathurst Street bridge at the Nordheimer Ravine is a similar structure and could be widened because a planned streetcar line north into Forest Hill and beyond was never built.)
The presention deck includes a slide about noise walls, Metrolinx’ catch-all answer to concerns about noise. One issue about the storage yard is whether it will be built as a collection of elevated guideways or will be at ground level. There is no profile view of the site in Metrolinx’ drawings, and I have asked for clarification on this point. Note the relative scale of people and the proposed walls in the drawings below.
There is also the question of the physical presence of the elevated guideway through Thorncliffe Park where it will run along the north side of Overlea from Millwood to just west of Costco. Metrolinx offers various examples of structures showing what they aim for in design. It is ironic that they do not show Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, much beloved by one of their senior consultants, but instead show conventional light rail and even commuter rail structures.
These might be “light” but they are hardly unobtrusive, and only one example is shown with a station structure. The Davenport Diamond bridge is pictured at a great distance to minimize its physical size which will be considerably more imposing close up. As for the San Giorgio Bridge in Genoa, it is a new six-lane road bridge, not a transit bridge, that was built to replace one that rather infamously collapsed in 2018. The view here shows the bridge at a distance minimizing its physical mass.
A very common practice for defenders of elevated guideways is to show them in the best possible perspective, preferably without station structures and from vantage points where their visual effect is minimized. Metrolinx needs to show mockups of designs in the locations where the guideway will run so that it can be understood in context.
Finally, here is the project schedule in its current form. One important event not shown is the June 2022 provincial election. Whether any incoming government, assuming the dispatch of the Ford Tories from power, will attempt to revise this project is difficult to say. Neither the Liberals nor the NDP have made any statement on the issue. Part of the debate will be moot by then, however, as the businesses will already have been moved out of their current locations.