Last June, I posted a long article about plans for the Waterfront East LRT and the designs as they were then proposed. See Waterfront East LRT: June 2021 Update.
Although the next full project update will not come to Toronto’s Executive Committee until the end of March 2022, a revised proposal for the treatment of Cherry Street was presented to Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Panel on February 23. I have only included a selection of illustrations from the presentation deck in this article, and I recommend that interested readers browse the full set.
As described in the June 2021 update, the link from the existing Cherry Street trackage under the rail corridor to New Cherry Street will be made through a new tunnel through the rail berm east of the existing Cherry Street underpass. However, the original plans for the area involved a small forest of, yes, cherry trees and this has proved impractical. The water table is very high and the underpass is a low point in the surrounding terrain. Any high water event would flood the area.
The new design starts from the premise that the water should be controlled and included as part of the landscape with a marsh around the new transit corridor as the proposed solution.
The illustration above shows the area where Distillery Loop is today. The Cherry Street signal tower is a landmark that, in the proposed alignment, would be shifted east. An alternative scheme leaves the tower where it is and the streetcar tracks swing east around it.
To put this in a wider context, here is a map of the overall waterfront area showing various projects. Only the area outlined in red is the subject of the current report.
Construction has just begun on realignment of Cherry Street south of the rail corridor and replacement of the bridge carrying Lake Shore Boulevard across the Don River. Cherry Street is now closed at the rail corridor. When it reopens, it will connect to New Cherry Street and the new bridge over the Keating Channel to Villiers Island (which, strictly speaking, is not yet an island because the new river course has not yet been flooded).
Originally, the southern loop for Cherry Street trackage was to be on Villiers Island itself at Commissioners Street north of the new river. This has been changed, and the line will now run south almost to the Ship Channel at Polson Street to better serve development south of the river.
A future route would connect east on Commissioners to an extended Broadview Avenue and thence north to East Harbour Station on the Ontario Line. (This could be extended east to provide a direct link to Leslie Barns.) The route of the OL is shown as a salmon line coming east along Queen, dipping through Corktown and the Distillery District and then heading east across the Don River. The OL runs underground until just west of the river where it emerges from a portal to cross on a new bridge north of the existing railway.
For all three water crossings (Keating Channel, Don River at Cherry, Don River at Commissioners), the LRT line will have its own bridges twinned with separate road bridges. The Keating Channel transit bridge is already in place, and the road bridge will follow soon this Spring so that traffic can be switched to New Cherry Street. The new Commissioners Street road bridge is already in place, but sits high and dry over the still-under-construction new Don River channel.
Today Queens Quay swings north to merge with Lake Shore at Parliament (left/west of this image), but it will be extended across the north end of Parliament Slip and across New Cherry Street. The existing street layout is shown on the map below along with many other projects in the area and the outlines of the new Cherry and Queens Quay rights-of-way.
The plan below shows the “after” configuration where the existing Cherry Street bridge has been removed. Old Cherry is one block east of New Cherry on Villiers Island. The small light gray squares are the columns holding the rebuilt Gardiner Expressway which will turn north to connect to the Don Valley Parkway east (right) of this loctation.
The realignment of Cherry and Queens Quay East will be accompanied by substantial development on the north side of Keating Channel.
This is a complex area as a map of the major options below shows. Any new infrastructure must be threaded among a variety of roads, bridges and utilities.
The options are:
- Reconfigure the existing Cherry Street underpass and finesse the LRT line into that structure (mauve). This option was discarded some time ago because there simply is not enough room for transit, road lanes, cycling and pedestrians.
- Continue the LRT on its existing alignment straight south (red) through a new underpass. This would require relocation of the Cherry Street signal tower.
- Dodge the LRT east through the middle of what is now Distillery Loop and through a new underpass just east of the tower (blue).
Here is Distillery Loop and the existing Cherry Street underpass at the rail corridor including the now inactive Cherry Street Tower which controlled switches and signals on the eastern approach to Union Station.
The June 2021 design proposed a plaza filled with cherry trees around Distillery Loop.
The proposed scheme shifts the tower east to allow a straight run of an extended streetcar right-of-way under the rail corridor.
Here is the same plan viewed from Mill Street looking south.
Attractive though this plan is, it ran into a major problem: the Cherry underpass is the low point of the area and it would be subject to flooding during storms.
Rather than trying to fight against the water, the new design integrates areas to channel and hold water using a wetland at a lower elevation than the new streetcar right-of-way.
The result is a new marsh area akin to the nearby Corktown Common
In the image below, there is a ghostly streetcar emerging under the relocated Cherry Tower. This shows the alignment for the option that leaves the tower in place.
The marsh would vary in character through the seasons depending on the water level.
The view below looks south under the rail corridor showing the relationship between the existing, reconfigured underpass on the right, the new streetcar underpass on the left and the channels for water flow from the marsh.
The new arrangement replaces the stop in the loop with a pair of stops south of Mill Street. Tank House Lane, which now ends at Cherry Street, would continue across Cherry to serve new development now underway.
In the map below, pedestrian circulation is shown in blue lines, and cycling in green.
Among the design options possible on the extended streetcar line is the use of “green track” akin to what has already been installed on Eglinton’s surface section east of Brentcliffe Portal. One version uses a fully green trackbed, while the other leaves the track in ribbons of pavement separated by greenery.
The purpose of the hybrid paving is to support buses running on the streetcar right-of-way. A problem that is not addressed here is that buses, not tethered by the tracks, require more clearance than streetcars both to each other and to fixed infrastructure such as overhead support poles. This prevents two-way bus operation on existing streetcar lanes elsewhere in the city.
The mouth of the Don River and Cherry Street will see big changes in coming years. Today the river mouth is a huge construction site. Landmarks visible here include:
- GO Transit’s Don Yard (top of the image).
- The existing DVP and Lake Shore Boulevard.
- Keating Channel south of the Gardiner and Lake Shore.
- Villiers Street (south of Keating Channel).
- The old and new Cherry Street alignments.
- The new Cherry Street transit bridge over the Keating Channel.
- The new Commissioners Street road bridge over the future path of the river.
- The river meander under construction south of Commissioners Street.
- The ship channel (bottom of the image).
The view below looks south across the Distillery District, the realigned Queens Quay, Keating Channel (the current Don River exit to the lake), Villiers Island, the new Don River, the Ship Channel and Cherry Beach.