Ontario Line v Osgoode Hall

Metrolinx has an unerring ability, in the name of progress, to propose infrastructure that will not be friendly to its neighbours. Coupled with an organizational arrogance and the pressure to deliver on Ford’s transit dreams, this can produce unhappy relations with areas where they plan to build. It is convenient to portray those objecting to Metrolinx works as misinformed Nimbys, or to gaslight them by suggesting that nobody else in the known universe objects to their plans and to “progress”.

They are so confident that their copious output of publicity includes unintended double entendres such as:

Transit runs both ways. The conversation should too.

Once the progress train gets moving, there’s no stopping it.

The first is advice they could well take themselves, while the second implies that any “conversation” will slam into a brick wall of we-can-do-what-we-want enabled by provincial legislation.

Neighbourhoods along the eastern side of the Ontario Line have received most of the publicity regarding pushback on Metrolinx plans, but one appalling proposal, in the heart of the city, has gone unnoticed: Osgoode Station.

Queen & University, NE Corner, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

The proposed Osgoode Station on the Ontario line will be an interchange point with the University Subway. To bring the combined station up to current fire code as required when any major change like this occurs, more entrance capacity is required. Metrolinx proposes to put a new entrance (sitting on top of an access shaft) right on that corner.

Here is another view looking south on University.

University Ave E Side Looking SE to Queen, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

Here is a view from inside the park.

Looking SW Toward Queen & University, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

This is not the only park that Metrolinx has in its sights (the grove of trees at Moss Park Station west of Sherbourne will vanish), but this particular forest is part of an historic site going back to the City’s origins. It stands in front of Osgoode Hall dating from 1829.

Looking West Across Osgoode Hall Courtyard, Aug. 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

Before the Ontario Line was proposed, Osgoode Station would have been the western terminus of the Relief Line and it would have shared the entrance facilities of the existing station. The stairways on the southwest corner of Queen & University would have been replaced by a new entrance through the former Bank of Canada building on that corner.

The secondary entrance, required to provide an alternate exit from the new Relief Line station, would have been at York Street.

Osgoode Station Street Level Plan from Relief Line Design Documents, 2018.

The Ontario Line’s Osgoode Station is sited further to the west. This is the high level view showing the two proposed new entrances to the station at University Avenue (NE) and Simcoe (SW).

The station area, as seen in the satellite view:

Source: Google Earth

Metrolinx shows their property requirements in the drawing below, but this does not include lands required as a “lay down area” for materials for the station project. Note also that their tunnel appears to run under Campbell House (northwest corner, south of the Canada Life Building) when it fact it is supposed to be directly under Queen Street. This is at least partly an error in perspective, but it misrepresents the tunnel’s location.

Source: Metrolinx

A further entrance will be required on University Avenue somewhere north of Queen to provide a second exit from the existing Osgoode Station which does not meet fire code (it has only one path from platform to street level).

A related consideration in the station design is a proposed reconfiguration of University Avenue so that what are now its northbound lanes would shift to the median, and the east side of the street would be an expanded sidewalk and park land. If this scheme proceeds, then both the new entrance and any lay down area needed for the station should be co-ordinated with the reconfiguration of the area around Osgoode Hall. Tearing out part of the park is a quick-and-dirty approach to station design that is totally out of place on this site.

I asked Metrolinx about their planned design.

One of the outstanding issues about Osgoode Station is why or if it is actually necessary to locate an entrance building on the Osgoode Hall lands.

The original Relief Line Station lay between York Street and the west side of University Avenue. It had two entrances: one was at York Street, SE corner, and the other was through a new joint entrance to both stations on the southwest corner through the old Bank of Canada building.

With the shift of the Ontario Line station box westward, the west entrance of the OL station will be through the old bank on the SW corner at Simcoe. The new east entrance is proposed for the Osgoode Hall lands. Why, by analogy to the original design, is this entrance not simply consolidated with the existing station entrance on the NE corner rather than taking a bite out of the historic lands of the Hall?

I know that there is a need for two exit paths under fire code but must they be completely separate from the existing structure? Why would this not have applied equally to the original Relief Line design?

Any significant change in the use of an existing station requires that it be brought to current code. The existing Osgoode Station only has one exit path. Does the additional load the OL interchange represents trigger a need for a second exit from that station too (ie something surfacing in the median of University Avenue from the north end of the station)? There has never been any discussion of this as part of the OL project. Is the OL providing two completely separate entrances to its station to avoid triggering the need for a second exit from the existing Osgoode Station?

Email to Metrolinx July 28, 2021

Metrolinx replied:

Thank you for your email. We also know that transit is sorely needed in Toronto and the broader region. Building a subway through the heart of the largest city in Canada in some of the areas of greatest density was never going to be easy. We know it will have impacts for some, but the necessity of the Ontario Line requires us to make these difficult decisions to build the transit network needed for this region.

Osgoode Station is one of the four interchange stations the Ontario Line has with the TTC subway network, providing a direct connection to Line 1 Yonge-University. As you know, it will serve an estimated 12,000 riders arriving and departing Ontario Line trains during the AM peak hour alone in 2041, making it the third busiest station on Ontario Line.

The station will be located directly below the existing Line 1 station with a connection to the existing TTC concourse within the same ‘fare paid’ zone below ground. The existing Line 1 concourse level will also need to be expanded to meet fire code requirements as an interchange station. The major challenges involve constructing under, and connecting to, the existing station with minimal disruption to daily operations and minimizing any risk of damaging the structural integrity of the station itself. Within such a highly urbanized area, the work is further constrained by the limited availability of undeveloped land to construct a vertical shaft to access the deep below-grade construction site and for a suitably sized site to accommodate necessary laydown and staging activities on the surface.

In the case of Osgoode station, we know the passenger demand at this station necessitates the need for crowd management provisions and efficient surface network transfers. Two entrances, one at the west and one at the east end, of the new station are required to accommodate the anticipated passenger volumes and to meet safety and fire code requirements.

The TTC’s entrance for the existing Line 1 Osgoode Station does not provide sufficient capacity for the ridership expected when the Ontario Line is in operation. We also looked at various other location options for the Ontario Line Osgoode Station entrance buildings in this area. The proposed locations are the only ones where we can construct the station entrances and meet the necessary safety and code requirements.

We are working to minimize the footprint of Osgoode Station to the greatest extent possible. We will work with the Law Society of Ontario, the City of Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services and the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries to make sure we are not impacting more than we need to here.

Email from Caitlin Docherty, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, August 9, 2021

Metrolinx is not known for “working with” affected communities preferring to bend any opposition to their predetermined plans. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this site and whether a better approach to Osgoode Station’s design and construction can be achieved that leaves the existing landscape intact.

The University Avenue redesign project appears to languish at City Hall while schemes such as the now-defunct Rail Deck Park soak up the political attention. This would be a chance to transform University Avenue from a suburban style arterial born of an era when much of downtown’s streets and built form were treated as expendable. City Council and Mayor Tory should seize this chance to make a grand street in the heart of the City.

8 thoughts on “Ontario Line v Osgoode Hall

  1. Steve writes: “Tearing out part of the park is a quick-and-dirty approach to station design that is totally out of place on this site.”

    Other posters might well be right up on this, as I’ve watched and read reams on London UK’s Crossrail and other projects.

    To do this would be absolutely verboten in ‘world city’ conurbations. Crossrail has had to use some parkettes or a slice of a park to build access shafts, and not just restored them after, but made them (as well as can be done) even better in some instances, along with the local council.

    Many of London’s Underground stations are interchange warrens, with entrance/exits far exceeding the passenger load likely at Osgoode, and yet great care and expense, if necessary, is taken to save the streetscape and utilize nearby buildings for access/exit.

    Perhaps Doug Ford should list the Ontario Line as part of the Hwy 413 project?

    PLACES & SPACES URBAN REALM ON THE CROSSRAIL ROUTE

    […] Importantly they also aim to retain the identity, diversity and characteristics of local areas giving confidence to local communities and to potential investors.

    In March 2014 urban realm designs were completed for 31 stations which include 27 stations in the London area plus 4 outside London. This represents over 40 improved spaces outside stations; a total of 190,000
    sq m of space – the equivalent of 19 Leicester Squares. The urban realm designs include 24 new and 12 improved station forecourts, 20 new pedestrian crossings alongside existing improved crossings, 328 new trees, in addition to those already at stations and 1,335 new bike parking spaces.
    […]
    All the urban realm designs in London have been reviewed by panels of experts: in the central section of Crossrail reviews have been carried out by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
    (CABE) and in outer London by Urban Design London. The designs have benefited and been improved by these independent reviews, which have also involved the relevant local authorities.

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  2. Love the idea of using this to inject some life into the University Avenue redesign discussions. It never made much sense to me to spend as much airtime talking about the (fantasy) of the raildeck when rethinking University was always much more achievable.

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  3. They could close Speaker’s Corner, Relocate the Winston Churchill statue and close the Queen Street parking garage entrance+exit (still leaving drivers with a few other choices to get into/out of the City Hall parking garage). In place of a station building at the northeast corner could it make more sense to expand the Osgoode Station concourse and the southeast entrance to the Opera House which has that large plaza in front? Assuming University Park were to happen the converted lane space on the east side of University Avenue could make up for the lost plaza space as well as provide staging space during the project.

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  4. They’re not even talking much about what will happen to Cosburn. Many of the businesses in the area will be obliterated so the station can be on the West side of the street…

    Come and check it out too. Metrolinx doesn’t believe in notifying the people in the apartment buildings in the area. Many long term tenants will be very surprised.

    Steve: I live not far away and know the Pape/Cosburn intersection. It is intriguing that there has been almost no discussion in the “north section” public consultations about the effects at this station and at Danforth. All of the focus has been on the valley crossing and on Thorncliffe Park.

    Possibly as a reaction to experience on Eglinton, Metrolinx appears to be trying for off-street station locations where possible at the expense of whatever sits on the required property.

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  5. It’s incredible that more than two years after Metrolinx announced the Ontario Line and less than a year before they intend to sign contracts, not a single station concept design has been released for public consultation. (No credit for being swept along in GO’s rebuilding and expansion of Exhibition Station)

    Can you think of a single major transit project anywhere that’s had this level of secrecy?

    Steve: What is that word? “Consultation” you say? Metrolinx is too busy doing property development deals and keeping details secret as part of their bidding process. They simply do not understand the difference between between building a GO station in the middle of a field and a rapid transit station within an existing neighbourhood. And we’re not supposed to object because any new transit is good and “green”.

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  6. To have Ontario Line’s Osgoode Hall Station entrance under the current northbound University Avenue lanes (shifting them westward, maybe even reducing the number of lanes to two in each direction) would be a battle with the current crop of anti-pedestrian, anti-transit, anti-cycling and pro-automobile councillors and other powers-that-be. If more and more people coming downtown will be using the streetcars, Ontario Line, Line 1, and GO/UPX, there is less need for want-to-be expressways like the current University Avenue and Avenue Road.

    Steve: Actually, Osgoode Station is already under the roadway. The issue is to repurpose the northbound roadway and median so that the NB lanes can shift west, and the sidewalk expand into the now-empty space. On an interim basis, the area where Mlx needs to dig down should be moved outside of the Osgoode Hall precinct. Will they do this? I wouldn’t bet on it, but there is some hope that new political masters at Queen’s Park in a year’s time will read the riot act to Mlx before it’s too late.

    Of course the big problem is that Mlx doesn’t publish the details of what they plan, and especially their temporary “lay down area” thereby preventing a reasonable debate about alternatives. They just say “our way is the only way” and expect that we would actually believe them.

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  7. Wow, this feels like a huge opportunity! If Metrolinx throw their weight behind the University Ave redesign, they get an enormous construction + staging area, entirely within the former roadway. And they can integrate the new entrance at the north east corner into the linear park! this has the potential to be something really special: a downtown subway entrance that brings you up into a grand park and monumental avenue.

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