In an uncharacteristically co-operative move, Metrolinx has responded to local complaints about the planned route of the Richmond Hill subway extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood.
Originally, the Yonge North line would have run north under Yonge Street including Richmond Hill Station and a storage yard for trains to the north. The revised alignment takes the subway east to the GO corridor before it passes under Highway 407, and the subway runs on the surface north from there with two stations.
The TTC plans a new surface yard north of Richmond Hill, although it is not clear who will pay for this and whether it is still part of the YNSE budget. It is listed as part of TTC Capital and Real Estate plans, and this suggests that part of the extension’s cost (the need for more train storage) remains in the TTC’s lap even though Ontario is funding the subway itself.
The new alignment was announced on the Metrolinx blog on December 8, 2021. I wrote to Metrolinx that day asking for details of the planned vertical and horizontal alignments, and they replied on December 9:
We are preparing to release an update to the environmental assessment for the project in the new year, which will contain more detailed analysis on this specific route. This route will also be the basis for the analysis we complete for the Preliminary Design Business Case, which is also tracking for release later in 2022.Email from Fannie Sunshine, Metrolinx Advisor, Media & Issues Communications
The information surfaced (so to speak) not long afterward, certainly before an updated EA or Preliminary Design Business Case. Metrolinx obviously thought better of their initial withholding of the route’s details.
On December 15, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster wrote a letter to the Royal Orchard community going into this change at some length, and even more was provided in an online consultation session on December 16 including its presentation deck.
Horizontal and Vertical Alignments
Here is an overview of the two routes.
The horizontal alignment has been changed by placing the east-west segment directly under Bay Thorn Drive to minimize the amount of tunnel that is directly under house. This requires that the curves at either end be tightened to make sharper turns from Yonge to Bay Thorn, and then from Bay Thorn into the GO corridor. The Bridge Station planned adjacent to the existing GO Langstaff Station is not affected.
Below are the original horizontal and vertical alignment in more detail. North is to the right.
The subway would initially swing west of Yonge Street and cross under the Don River. It would then travel northeast under the residential neighbourhood with a portal in what is now an industrial area south of Langstaff Road to a surface station under the highway.
The proposed alternative has both sharper curves and a deeper path. The tunnel under the Don River is almost twice as deep (31m vs 16m), and there is a long climb to just east of Royal Orchard Park where the vertical alignments meet up. The new alignment will require slower operation than originally planned because of the tighter curve radii.
If a Royal Orchard Station were ever added to the plan it would be considerably deeper in the new alignment than the old at a depth comparable to some of the proposed downtown stations on the Ontario Line.
The vertical alignments are compared in the drawing below.
Two alignments proposed by Transport Action Ontario were rejected because of various issues such as the effect on planned developments, the complexity of the portal and Bridge Station, and the extra cost of these schemes. Metrolinx states that its revised proposal keeps the project within its budget.
Noise and Vibration
Metrolinx makes the point that railway technology has improved with respect to noise and vibration, and cites the “floating slab” technique used on the Vaughan extension of the Spadina Subway as an option. In fact, this technique was first used on the original Spadina line that opened in 1978, and later on Line 4 Sheppard. It is not exactly brand new, although certainly more recent that the track bolted to the tunnel floor on older parts of the subway including the existing North Yonge line to Finch.
Metrolinx used the low noise level where Line 1 passes under the Schulich building at York University to demonstrate what can be achieved when a line uses this track construction technique.
Subways built with a floating slab must have larger tunnels for the extra depth the slab requires, and this increases their cost. A problem for the TTC on older lines is that adding vibration isolation is difficult because there are limits on raising rails for additional padding within limited tunnel clearances.
A “building within a building” technique is used to isolate theatres from the buildings in which they sit and from vibrations originating outside. Examples include:
- The 1,135 seat theatre at Koerner Hall (2009)
- Theatres within TIFF Bell Lightbox (2010)
- The 2,000 seat Four Seasons Centre used by the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet (2006).
In all cases, the “box” enclosing a theatre sits on rubber discs just as the floating slab subway structures do, albeit on a grander scale. I have had the experience of being in all of these rooms almost alone just after the doors are opened, and they are astoundingly quiet.
The perception or absence of noise and vibration within some buildings is a direct result of building design adapting to existing conditions. The subway as a “new neighbour” has to fit in with what is already there.
Why Are There Two Stations?
Metrolinx proposes both a “Bridge Station” just north of Langstaff Road, and a “High Tech Station” a short distance north of Highway 7. These are unusually close together for an organization that preaches the value of widely spaced stations as a boon to travellers.
The real reason for two stations is obvious when one looks at planned development north and south of the Highway 7/407 corridor, and there will be one station to serve each cluster.
These are growth areas in York Region’s plans and the subway is intended to stimulate them. This follows the Metrolinx philosophy that a “Transit Oriented Community” must be concentrated in walking distance of stations rather than having a line depend on feeder services for demand.
Bridge Station will double as a transit hub:
The new route will create a multi-modal transit hub at Bridge Station, which connects the subway to GO train, GO bus, York Region Viva bus rapid transit and the local bus network. Bridge Station will be accessible from Highway 7 and will remove approximately 130 buses on the roadways per peak hour from travelling into Richmond Hill Centre. Our plan will bring the many people who will live near Bridge and High Tech stations within a 10-minute walk of rapid transit.Phil Verster letter to residents of the Royal Orchard community, December 15, 2021, p. 2
Is This a Case of “Who You Know”?
There is a marked difference in this community to the way that other neighbourhoods have been treated on Metrolinx projects. There was little attempt at gaslighting residents as the “only people” who were opposed to the alignment, and by implication to transit itself. York Region, of course, is territory the government hopes to keep in the 2022 election.
Metrolinx can change plans when it wants to.
Metrolinx’ relationship began poorly in Thorncliffe Park regarding the new Maintenance and Storage Facility and its effect on local businesses. They have now announced a joint project to convert a nearby building already planned for a replacement mosque to provide space for businesses and other community benefits.
If Metrolinx took this approach before just dropping their scheme on the community, they would have avoided much grief and established that they were really sensitive to local needs and culture-specific issues, rather than just spouting platitudes.
The situation is not so cordial down in Riverside where the cost and complexity of an alternative is considerable, not to mention its interference with the now-planned and intensified East Harbour development. Still, Metrolinx could have been less aggressive in their approach and secretive about the evolution of their plans, some of which changed on the same day as public meetings. Arrogance and hubris were much on display by Metrolinx.
If Metrolinx could learn that scoring “own goals” is really bad for their credibility as an organization and for their patrons, the Government of Ontario, then transit planning and consultation could be less contentious and more productive.