This article reviews two reports on City Council’s agenda of June 15, 2022:
- Metrolinx Transit Expansion Projects – Second Quarter 2022
- City-Initiated Zoning By-law Amendments to Implement Ontario Line – Final Report
The subjects here are primarily the Ontario Line and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. The Eglinton East and Waterfront LRTs were discussed in a previous article.
Fair Wage Policy
Much of the debate on planned transit projects focused on the City’s Fair Wage Policy which requires equivalent to unionized wage rates on work performed for the City. In the Metrolinx projects, there will be work undertaken for the City by Metrolinx to consolidate things like utility upgrades into the transit work.
The debate turned on whether the City has the power to demand Metrolinx, a provincial agency, observe its policy. This spawned a supplementary report from staff that said, basically, “well, no, you don’t, and it doesn’t matter anyhow because of prevailing labour market conditions”.
I am not going to get into whether the City has even a toe, never mind a leg to stand on here. However, I must observe that time that might otherwise have been spent on issues related to actual project design and neighbourhood effects was instead diverted to this issue.
Like so many other Metrolinx issues, Toronto Council dropped the ball on the threat to the Osgoode Hall grounds until the very last minute. Suddenly Mayor Tory discovered what was planned for the site even though others, including me, have written about this over the past year.
From Ben Spurr’s article in the Star:
Speaking to reporters at an unrelated event, the normally cool-headed mayor appeared fired up as he slammed the proposal, which he said Metrolinx hadn’t consulted him on.
“I’m all for building transit but I can tell you right now, ‘Hands off Osgoode Hall premises,’” he said.
The mayor argued the front lawn of the property is worth preserving because it’s “one of the few patches of green in the downtown” and is attached to a historic site. He said he was confident Metrolinx could use modern engineering techniques to “find a way to have a subway entrance without messing around with that park.”Toronto Star, May 31, 2022
If Tory has not been consulted about the proposal, he is not alone. Metrolinx has a long history of failing to consult on its plans, or to only do so at the last moment when the issues boil down to the colour of tiles in stations or the design of noise walls.
Metrolinx treats historic preservation as a matter of restoring cobbletone sidewalks and decorative wrought iron fencing. The role of parks and mature greenery in establishing the space is utterly lost on them.
Quoted by the Globe’s Alex Bozikovic, Metrolinx suggested there is some room for movement:
The province is procuring the construction of the Ontario Line. There’s little question that Osgoode Hall’s grounds will be partially dug up. But above ground, the station building can still shift. Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins confirmed that it remains technically possible to do this, though it will come at a cost.The Globe and Mail, June 11, 2022
I confirmed with Ms. Aikins that this remark was correct, but she would not offer any further details.
Tory backtracked somewhat by the time the issue came to Council saying that Osgoode Station is a difficult site, but this sounds far too much like mounting a feeble, last-minute defense.
Utility work is planned to begin at Osgoode Station in late 2022. It is not clear whether any of this will affect the Osgoode Hall lands, but Council and the Mayor will probably be too busy with the election to track this.
It is ironic that Councillor Holyday from Etobicoke has become aware of the heavy hand of Metrolinx on the Eglinton West LRT project and its effect on a woodlot at Kipling Avenue. He talked of how there are locations where Council should compel design excellence.
We heard no remarks about nimby tree huggers, the sort of epithet usually reserved for “downtowners” who are portrayed as anti-progress.
City Council amended the Planning and Housing Committee Recommendation so that it now reads as follows:
City Council amend the draft by-law in Attachment 2 to the report (May 16, 2022) from the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, by deleting item v. from permissive exception 490 of the draft amendments to the former City of Toronto Zoning By-Law 438-86 and Schedule 5 as they pertain to a portion of the property at 130 Queen Street West, and refer matters related to this property back to staff for further discussions with Metrolinx regarding the community proposed alternative location for the planned Ontario Line Osgoode Station main station entrance and identify any options that may exist to avoid impacts on built and cultural heritage and the loss of publicly-accessible greenspace and mature trees on the Osgoode Hall grounds, and that the results of this work be reported to City Council through City Staff as well as to a Community Liaison Committee for Osgoode Station being established by Metrolinx.
That City Council direct the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to convey Council’s significant concerns about the proposed use of Osgoode Hall lands for construction of the Ontario Line Osgoode Station.
The proposed alternative entrance is part of the University Plaza proposal which has been incorrectly reported in some circles as reducing traffic capacity. The basic idea would be to swap the centre median of University, an area that is little used anyhow, with the northbound traffic lanes. This would free up space for an expanded sidewalk and park space on the east side. However, the problem remains of knowing how the existing and future underground structures would work here.
A major problem in the consultation process is that informed debate cannot occur without a detailed presentation of the options, of the existing underground facilities (including the subway) and what might be built. The situation is not helped when we are told “it just won’t fit”.
The Transit Expansion Office spends too much of its time parroting Metrolinx positions on issues rather than advancing a distinct City viewpoint. This is due partly to a recognition that Metrolinx can do anything it wants, but also to the naive attitude in some quarters that playing nice with the province will bring any benefits. Whether we will see any progress on this issue, or simply awake one morning to the sound of chain saws at Queen and University remains to be seen.
Ontario Line / GO Transit Joint Corridor in Riverside
Riverside is another neighbourhood where Metrolinx has bulled ahead with its plans. The Ontario Line’s at-grade alignment in the rail corridor from Eastern Avenue to Gerrard triggers a regrading and shift of the GO trackage (a) so that everything will fit and (b) to improve clearance at rail bridges to a standard 5m.
This work will occur in stages:
- Shift all GO operations to the westernmost pair of tracks in the existing corridor.
- Regrade the eastern portion of the corridor and build new bridge spans at the revised elevation.
- Shift GO operations to the new eastern pair of tracks.
- Regrade the western portion of the corridor including new bridge spans.
Once GO is in its new location, the Ontario Line can be added beside it. There is no detailed schedule yet for the OL work and it is likely that this will be its own separate phase given the fact that the OL “North Civils” contract is completely separate from the GO works. At Eastern Avenue, the OL work is explicitly shown as happening after the GO reconstruction is complete (see chart later in the article).
The road configuration will be constrained as each rail overpass is rebuilt. The four sites must be done concurrently because it is not practical to shift GO operations to a new alignment and elevation one small segment of the corridor at a time.
Construction work at Queen Street will affect a nearby residence on the west side of Strange Street, and it is not clear whether this will remain viable during and after the work.
Streetcar service on Queen Street will be suspended during some of the work, and this will be co-ordinated with a TTC track replacement project. Access to Leslie Barns and Russell Carhouse will be via Gerrard and Coxwell during this period.
The chart below summarizes various aspects of the street closures and restrictions approved by Council for the project. Note that there are two stages with a gap in between when Metrolinx activity will be confined to their corridor.
There are no closures planned at Gerrard & Carlaw for the GO project because the line will not be regraded at this location.
Other projects are planned in the same general area in coming years, and these are summarized in the maps below.
Metrolinx and the City routinely cite the addition of some lands along the corridor to existing parks. What they neglect to mention is that the amounts of additional space are mostly small and they will make little difference to the affected parks. Moreover, there is no discussion of the visual effect of the loss of greenery along the GO corridor and its replacement by high walls doing double duty as retaining walls for the widened track structure and as noise walls.
A burning issue in this and other parts of Metrolinx’ work has been the question of tree retention and replacement. During consultations in fall 2021, Metrolinx repeatedly claimed that an arborist’s report and tree inventory would be available soon. According to the report now before Council:
At present, Metrolinx continues to develop a tree inventory and arborist report. [p. 16]
Still unknown is the combined effect of the vegetation clearances needed for GO corridor expansion, electrification, and the Ontario Line.
After extensive neighbourhood activism, characterized by some as nimbyism and gaslit by Metrolinx as ill-informed opposition, the only outcome has been a design competition for the noise walls.
Thorncliffe Park Maintenance and Storage Facility
Activists in the Thorncliffe Park area have attempted to convince Metrolinx to shift the Maintenance Facility from its planned location just south of the hydro and railway corridor that separates Thorncliffe Park from the Leaside Industrial Area. As previously reported here, this proposal landed on residents, including a plan to take over buildings used by local businesses, without notice.
On the MSF site selection, Metrolinx did not want to use industrial property in the interest of job preservation. It now appears that this was a smokescreen behind which the industry will decamp anyhow having sold their property for condo development.
Councillor Robinson, chair of the TTC, whose ward contains Thorncliffe Park, attempted to sever approval for rezoning of the Metrolinx properties needed for the MSF from the overall approval. This failed on an 18-4 vote against.
Through these discussions, Metrolinx has committed to a flexible business, tenant and community organization relocation strategy that adapts to individual requirements and ensures continued and uninterrupted economic activity via financial compensation. Metrolinx has also advised that there is sufficient space for all the planned relocations to be within the Thorncliffe Park community. Metrolinx continues to identify relocation opportunities directly in consultation with businesses, tenants and community organizations, is working to further discuss and finalize property transactions, and mitigate impacts in the area of the MSF. [p13]
This sounds ever so collegial and friendly, but in fact the approach taken by Metrolinx sowed distrust in the community and showed great insensitivity to its concerns. The entire process could have been much better handled if Metrolinx were not so secretive about its planning and dismissive of criticism.
For their efforts, the neighbourhood has a consultation process on the external look of the MSF, but not its location. Metrolinx appears to be much more sensitive to local businesses needs and to the community generally, but the proof will come when construction actually begins.
Updated: According to a comment left on this article, the process of relocating existing businesses and organizations in Thorncliffe Park is going much worse than has been portrayed by Metrolinx and by the City. If all that City staff do is to parrot Metrolinx claims, Council is badly served. This situation, and those of other contentious locations in the Metrolinx network, deserve much better public review, even if the Province simply steps on everyone involved. At least we will know what is happening.
Eglinton West LRT Extension
The Eglinton Crosstown Western Extension (ECWE) was originally to be at grade, and then as part of Premier Ford’s takeover of the project morphed into a subway for LRT trains. Much of the debate focused on the folly of burying the line in the very location where a surface right-of-way was available. I will not go into how the LRT proposal had been poisoned by an unworkable design for left turns at major intersections by the Transit City team, but this generated pressure for major redesign years before Ford’s intervention.
When the ECWE went underground, one important segment was left above grade between Mount Dennis and Jane Street. This segment has its own history.
In the original Transit City scheme, the line would have been at grade at Weston Road, and this created a severe pinch point immediately west with properties on the north side of the street.
In 2012, Metrolinx proposed a design with a short tunnel under Weston Road and at grade operation further west. Construction would have been confined to the roadway adjacent to parkland north of Eglinton for a tunnel portal east of Jane, and the line would have run in the middle of Eglinton at grade westward.
That is not the plan today. The line runs in tunnel west from Mount Dennis as before (right image below, in blue), but veers north for a portal in the park lands. From there it runs on an elevated structure with stations at Jane Street and Scarlett Road, then drops back into a tunnel west of Scarlett Road (left image below).
For context, here are Google StreetView images from October 2020. These are the locations for elevated stations.
Looking west and east at Jane Street.
Looking west and northeast at Scarlett Road. The Humber River passes under Eglinton just east of the intersection.
Here is an aerial view by Metrolinx showing the portal structure and proposed realignment of Eglinton Avenue west of Scarlett Road.
This scheme has produced considerable opposition not just for the stations and structure, but also for the incursions into park land required for its construction. The construction timetable shows large sections of this area occupied by Metrolinx for an extended period.
The drawings below show, from west to east, the affected areas.
Beginning at the west, the line emerges from a portal west of Scarlett Road (first image) and continues east to a portal west of the existing buildings on the north side of Eglinton west of Weston Road (fifth image). During construction, large sections of the park will be blocked off and existing vegetation will be removed.
A community group, Stop the Trains in Our Parks, was formed to oppose this scheme. Their website illustrates the problems they face with Metrolinx’ typical approach to local objections. The structure is presented as unobtrusively as possible, and the effects of construction are ignored. As at other locations on Metrolinx projects, the effect on green space is treated as an unavoidable side-effect of transit expansion.
On May 12, Toronto Council passed a motion asking staff to explore undergrounding the ECWE:
City Council, through the Executive Director, Transit Expansion, request Metrolinx undertake an assessment of running the elevated segment of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension underground and to identify any options that may exist to accommodate this change.Council Agenda Item MM43.34
In their June report, staff did not address this beyond saying that under the Building Transit Faster Act, the province can do whatever it likes by Ministerial order. Again, this is an example of Council sitting in blissful ignorance of the damage inherent in Metrolinx plans until the last possible moment when nothing but hand-wringing remains as an option.
Scarborough Subway Extension
Work is already underway on tunnel construction as well as preliminary station structures (headwalls) along the Scarborough route. One key part of this work will be the eventual extraction of the tunnel boring machine at Midland and Eglinton, and this requires that Eglinton be temporarily shifted to the north so that an extraction shaft can be dug in the middle of the road.
Until the SRT guideway is converted to a bus roadway north from Kennedy Station, any traffic delays at Midland and Eglinton will contribute to travel times on the SRT bus replacement.
This map does not show what the construction effects will be for the construction east from Kennedy Station to Midland of the transitional structure from the existing to the new subway including the turnback pocket track. That work will have to be complete before EELRT construction can begin on the surface link into the east side of Kennedy Station.