Infrastructure Ontario October 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) has issued its project status update for fall 2021 together with an overview letter from their CEO, Michael Lindsay.

Little has changed in the transit projects, but IO and Metrolinx are shifting away from their original, much-ballyhooed model where public contract risk was minimized by a transfer to the private sector. Instead there is more talk about collaboration and mechanisms to make contracts more palatable to would-be bidders. It is no secret that a few years ago a major firm refused to bid on Metrolinx work on the proposed terms.

Building on the experience of the collaborative Alliance model in use for the Union Station Enhancement Project, IO’s partnership with Metrolinx to expand the GTHA’s network of public transit continues to advance and evolve. Last month, Metrolinx and IO launched the RFQ for the Scarborough Subway Extension – Stations, Rail, and Systems project, introducing a Progressive Design-Build approach. Like the Progressive P3 procurement strategy being introduced on hospital projects, the subway extension procurement includes the benefits of working with a partner on design work, addressing and avoiding considerable contract risk prior to signing a final contract to deliver the project. Following considerable discussion and consultation with industry, this complex, multi-billion-dollar project will be contracted as a targeted price versus the fixed price of our P3 models.

Like our contract packaging strategy for both Scarborough Subway Extension and Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, we expect to take a multi-package staged approach of delivering the Yonge North Subway Extension. That work would begin with an advance tunnels package that we expect to be procured using a classic DBF contract. Pending government approval, our hope is to have the RFQ for that procurement in market early next year.

Letter from Michael Lindsay, CEO of IO, October 14, 2021

The update contains projects from multiple ministries and agencies, and I have extracted the transit projects in the table linked below. This table shows the status of each project as it appears in the quarterly IO updates with the current changes highlighted in yellow.

Changes in this interation are:

  • The structure of the Scarborough Subway Extension has been changed from “TBD” to “Progressive Design Build” where first a partner is chosen with a Development Phase Agreement, and then a Project Agreement once design reaches the point of locking in the construction phase. Note that “Design Build” does not include operation and maintenance as the SSE will be part of the TTC’s subway system.
  • The Yonge North Subway Extension to Richmond Hill has slipped slightly for issuance of the Request for Qualifications and of the Request for Proposals, but this is offset by moving the contract award up from Fall to Summer 2023.

Several GO Transit projects are listed for award in 2021, but they have not yet been announced.

Beyond the works already in progress, no transit projects are up for award before Fall 2022. This means that if the Ford government is re-elected, they will have batch of ready-to-go announcements, but if not, there would be a last ditch chance to review some contracts either as to content (project details) or future operating principles (private vs public). Whether a Liberal or NDP government (or a coalition) would do this remains to be seen.

Ontario Line Downtown Segment: Consultation Follow-Up

Updated October 14, 2021 at 12:50 am: Metrolinx’ responses to the absence of material on Osgoode Station, and of the suggestion of “ballot stuffing” have been added.

After the recent online consultation session for the Downtown Segment of the Ontario Line (Osgoode to Corktown), several issues came to mind and I wrote to Metrolinx for clarification. They have not yet answered most of them.

The Depth and Complexity of Queen Station

The cross-section for Queen Station included in the presentation shows an Ontario Line deep underground. This station is deeper than the City Hall Station on the Relief Line which was located immediately west of Yonge Street.

Ontario Line

Queen Yonge Cross Section Looking North, Ontario Line. Source: Metrolinx

Relief Line

City Hall Station Cross Section Looking North, Relief Line. Source: Relief Line South Detailed Design

These two drawings are not at the same scale. The illustration below clips portions of each with scales adjusted to match. In both designs, the new structure leaves a gap below the existing station for structural support. However, with the Ontario Line directly under the Yonge Line, the concourse level (one above platform level) cannot share the same vertical “slice” that the Relief Line, offset from the Yonge Line, uses. This forces a deeper station than would otherwise be needed.

Metrolinx claims that transfer times between the two stations are actually shorter for the Ontario Line than the Relief Line, but this is hard to believe considering that OL riders must walk east or west at the concourse level just to reach an escalator upward from what would have been platform level on the Relief Line.

Note that in both cases, the level of the passageway under Queen Station (the remains of a never-used Yonge Station on a Queen line) connect to the circulation system of the new station. It is not clear, however, that the capacity of the existing passage, stairs and escalators is up to the potential level of transfer traffic. That problem is common to either design.

What Is Happening at Osgoode Station?

The meeting announcement clearly states that Osgoode Station would be up for discussion. This is a controversial site where Metrolinx plans to build a new entrance and access shaft where there is now a grove of trees on the northeast corner of Queen Street and University Avenue at Osgoode Hall. See: Ontario Line v Osgoode Hall. Trees on main streets downtown, let alone on an historic site, are not exactly common, and the Metrolinx plan verges on civic vandalism.

In particular, there is a proposal floating around at City Hall to substantially reconfigure University Avenue by extending the east sidewalk (shown below) into the northbound roadway. The trees at Osgoode Hall are an integral part of the new design.

This locations of station entrances for the Ontario Line are different than in the original Relief Line plans because the OL station box is shifted west. (See the article linked above for detailed layouts.) The Relief Line station ran from just west of University to York, with a new expanded entrance on the southwest corner at University and a completely new entrance at York and Queen. The Ontario Line station runs from west of Simcoe to University with new entrances through the Osgoode Hall lands and through an old bank on the southwest corner of Queen and Simcoe.

This is a controversial subject, and Osgoode Station was included in the announced meeting agenda. This agenda is still online on the meeting page. Clearly when this meeting was announced Metrolinx intended to include Osgoode Station.

That page now claims:

The presentation focused on timely updates for Queen, Moss Park and Corktown Stations. While this presentation did not feature an update on Osgoode Station, the panel welcomed and responded to questions about all four stations within the segment.

That is flatly not true. A few people asked about Osgoode Station’s absence from the presentation, but there was no substantive discussion because no material was presented.

Metrolinx has not yet posted any replies to the questions submitted online, but there is an added wrinkle in that regard. There had been a popular question about Osgoode Hall that ranked third on the list on September 28.

By October 12, this question had gained more support, but also a large number of down-votes pushing it well down the list. One might speculate that this is a question Metrolinx would prefer not to answer. In this age of challenged votes, we cannot tell whether any ballot-stuffing was involved. (See Metrolinx’ reply at the end of this section.)

I asked Metrolinx about Osgoode Station’s absence from the actual agenda, and here is their reply:

The Ontario Line virtual open house on October 7 did focus on the Downtown segment, which includes Osgoode, Queen, Moss Park and Corktown Stations. However, similar to other open houses we have hosted across the alignment, we did not feature an update on all stations in the segment.

As you noted, we did not include new information about Osgoode Station in the October 7 presentation. There are a few reasons we did not cover Osgoode in the presentation. First and foremost, we did not have significant updates to share about the station. Additionally, we aim to keep the presentations to 30-minutes to allow ample time for questions. Given that we had substantial updates to cover for all of the three other stations but not for Osgoode, we did not explicitly highlight this station during the presentation. Nonetheless, we welcomed questions related to all Downtown stations and will post responses for any questions we did not get to answer during the live event in the coming weeks. 

We look forward to bringing new updates and more information to the community about all stations across the Ontario Line as they are available. We also always welcome questions and feedback via email, phone, and social media. Anyone interested in learning more about any station can also visit our website or book a meeting with a community relations team member.

Email from Caitlin Docherty, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, October 12, 2021

To have no update on a controversial station site, if only to say “we have some ideas and we’re working on it”, suggests avoidance, not merely a desire for brevity. Moreover, there was no suggestion during the meeting of an alternate date when that site could be discussed.

This is not a trivial issue both in its own right, and because Metrolinx operates to a clock ticking quickly and inexorably on a compressed approval timetable. Delaying discussion makes real debate, let alone the possibility of modification, more difficult.

It is all very well to suggest that people can contact Metrolinx one-on-one, but this is not the same as a published community meeting where whatever claims Metrolinx makes are public and can be challenged. Even in public meetings, Metrolinx makes statements that can be charitably described as misinformed. They can claim to have “consulted”, ticking off a box in the legislated process, but without a public check on their accuracy.

Updated October 14, 2021 at 12:50 am:

Metrolinx has replied further:

Consultation is absolutely planned once we have new significant updates to share for Osgoode. During the virtual open house, we welcomed questions related to all Downtown stations and will post responses for any questions we did not get to answer during the live event in the coming weeks. 

I want to be very direct with the second half of your email. Metrolinx does not manipulate the votes in any way on Metrolinx Engage. We use the votes to gauge community interest and determine which questions we will have time to answer.

Email from Daryl Gonsalves, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, October 14, 2021

I will take this at face value, but it is clear that somebody really didn’t want to have a discussion about the trees at Osgoode Hall.

More Questions

The following questions to Metrolinx await answers.

Queen Station

  1. At Queen Station, you stated that the transfer with Line 1, although obviously deep vertically, is shorter than from the originally proposed City Hall station on the Relief Line South. This is hard to believe. Can you explain further?
  2. Was there any reason for the change in the OL elevation other than the geometric constraint at Yonge caused by shifting the station eastward?
  3. From a construction point of view at Queen Station do you plan to dig two shafts down east and west of Yonge, and then mine inward from the sides?
  4. With the station at Yonge now being an entire level below the RL plan, what does this do to elevations at Osgoode and Moss Park compared to the original RL designs?

Moss Park Station

  • At Moss Park Station, you talked about meeting the fire code while only having one exit building. I have been trying to figure out the plan in the presentation deck. Am I right in thinking that there are two separate sets of vertical access from the common lobby area leading to different parts of the station? How do you achieve compliance with only a single exit point? This was a known advance question and simply including a station plan would have answered this.

Corktown Station Construction Effects

  • There was a passing reference re the construction disruption at Corktown where you talked about the possibility that the tunnel will be one straight bore from Corktown to Exhibition rather than two separate ones east and west of Yonge Street.
    1. Is this a decision being left to the south tunnels bidders? It obviously has significant effects on construction staging and the length of disruption at Corktown.
    2. On a related note, how do you plan to construct the segment between Corktown and the portal west of the Don River?

Station Finishes

  • There was a question about station finishes where the answer quickly pivoted to the joys of above-ground stations and sunlight. This has nothing to do with downtown, underground stations. Do you plan simple bare concrete stations for the Ontario Line or not?

TTC 2022 Service Plan

Updated October 14, 2021 at 2:45 pm: The description of the new 51B service to The Donway has been corrected to explain it as an extension of an earlier proposed 51B that would have ended at Laird Station.

The TTC has released the final version of its Service Plan for 2022 after a second round of stakeholder advisory group meetings. Much of this plan is the same as the interim version released in June 2021 and described in TTC 2022 Service Plan Consultation.

There is an updated Presentation Deck and a route-by-route description in text of the planned changes for the Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown opening in 2022. A map from the presentation is included later in this article.

The TTC Board will consider this plan at their November 17, 2021 meeting. They will discuss the 2022 Operating and Capital Budget which will include provisions for these changes, subject to funding availability, at their December 8, 2021 meeting (unless a special, separate meeting is called for the purpose).

There is no mention in the Service Plan of the possible effect of staff shortages as the condition which may trigger this (vaccination mandates) were not an issue when the plan was drawn up. Nor is there any discussion of a “plan B” for what might happen to service in the absence of sufficient subsidy from various governments.

Ridership and Crowding

As of mid-September, ridership as measured either by boardings (unlinked trips with each transfer counted as a new trip, except in the subway) or by revenue rides (linked trips) sits at 45-46 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The strongest recovery is on the bus network, followed by the streetcars and then the subway. The effect of the much-reduced downtown commuting is apparent for routes serving that area.

The TTC has not yet published an October CEO’s Report which might contain more recent counts. Personal observation from my own riding is that ridership has grown since mid-September.

As demand recovers, crowding will become more common (and already is in many places and times). The TTC has already passed the threshold of 30% ridership where full pre-pandemic service is required to provide physical distancing. As riding grows, this will no longer be possible. TTC Service Standards for what constitutes “overcrowding” that requires more service will shift as demand recovers. In many cases, vehicles will simply be more crowded, but in the worst cases the TTC will make tradeoffs between existing lightly-used services and routes that are overcrowded.

Occupancy levels are growing as are boardings. The values below are all-day totals and they do not break out growth by time of day or location. The blue line shows that as of mid-September 34% of trips were above the 30% capacity line and the trend is upward.

There is no provision in the Service Plan for growth and any addition must be offset by a reduction elsewhere.

Service Reliability

Notable by its absence in the Service Plan is any discussion of service reliability as a line management strategy. Regular readers and riders will know that bunching and gaps are a constant problem across the system. This wastes capacity and results in more riders seeing crowded conditions than would be the case with reliable, regularly spaced service. The TTC has yet to produce Service Standards and metrics that reflect this aspect of service.

When times are tight, better operation of what is already on the street is a low-cost way to improve service. Alas this requires both an acknowledgement that there is a problem within the TTC, and some improvement in labour-management relations to aid with implementing better service regulation.

The Plan mentions adjusting schedules to fit actual conditions. This practice began a few years back with padded travel times to ensure that short turns were rare, but now more commonly changes involve removal of the excess travel time. This can either free up vehicles for other routes, or be used to improve service at no net cost on the route with a new schedule.

Other planned changes include reduction of non-revenue service where garage trips are “dead headed” with vehicle out of service and a pilot of timed connections on the Blue Night Network.

Changes for Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown

The map of post-Line5 services is very similar to the June 2021 version.

Two routes have been modified in response to rider feedback.

34 Eglinton

This route was originally planned as a parallel surface route between Mount Dennis and Science Centre (Don Mills) Stations. It has been extended east to Kennedy Station so that there will be a surface bus paralleling the LRT service. This will maintain service at existing bus stops that would have otherwise disappeared.

51 Leslie (Corrected)

In the original proposal, there would have been a gap in service on Lawrence west of Don Mills Road where the 162 Lawrence-Donway bus turns south on its way to Science Centre Station, and service would have been removed from the loop around The Donway.

This has been revised by extending the proposed 51B Leslie branch that would have turned back at Laird station. It will now turn east on Lawrence from Leslie and loop around The Donway.

Other Route Changes

Five new/modified routes were proposed in the original service plan, and these remain as is. There is no announced implementation date.

Other Planned Improvements

Other potential changes/goals for 2022 include:

  • Improve stop accessibility and provide for articulated buses
  • Heated shelter pilot
  • Jane-Finch hub design
  • RapidTO Jane Street (Eglinton to Steeles)
  • 3 queue jump lanes (Locations TBA)
  • Advanced Transit Signal Priority at 100 locations (2022-23)
  • Cross-border service pilot
  • Improve connections with private microtransit shuttles
  • Automated Transit Shuttle Pilot report
  • Integration of cycling and transit infrastructure

Additional details on specific proposals are likely to appear when this plan goes to the TTC Board for approval.

Line 3 SRT Replacement Options

In July, I wrote about the first round of consultations and option evaluations in What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT? Please refer to that article for information about the original long list of options. Many variations were scored, but only a few made it through to the final selection.

In January 2022, staff will take their recommendation to the TTC Board. There are three options still on the table, but option 1 will be recommended to the Board. Still at issue is the question of which of option(s) would be used for the interim period between the SRT shutdown and conversion of the right-of-way for BRT operation.

  1. A hybrid option running on street from STC (Scarborough Town Centre) to Ellesmere Station and then south on a new BRT corridor in a repurposed SRT right-of-way to Kennedy Station. (Recommended)
  2. On street operation from STC to Kennedy Station using Brimley and Midland as a one-way pair with buses running southbound on one and northbound on the other.
  3. On street operation from STC to Kennedy Station using a mixture of Brimley, Midland and Kennedy (see map below).

In the TTC’s words:

Why this option performed well in our evaluation: This option performs the best under the criteria of customer experience, neighbourhood and community impact, and equity. Customers will have the fastest and most reliable journey with this option.

Although conversion of the right-of-way for BRT is more expensive, this option will provide superior service reliability and travel time by getting buses out of traffic for most of their route.

Regardless of the routing option chosen, there are two options for route configurations:

  • Extend major routes from STC to Kennedy Station to eliminate the need for riders to transfer enroute.
  • Continue to terminate all routes at STC and operate a separate bus shuttle from there to Kennedy Station.

There are advantages, depending on your outlook, in each model.

With route extensions:

  • Riders will not transfer at STC and this will recoup some of the travel time that would otherwise be lost enroute. For option 1 with buses having a dedicated access into Kennedy Station from the north, the TTC estimates that travel time from STC to Kennedy would be similar to that now provided by the SRT including the elimination of transfer time.
  • The vehicles on these routes would be drawn from the fleet as a whole, not a dedicated subset.
  • The shuttle itself might operate less reliably with a mix of longer routes, but this would not really be a problem for riders destined for points on the extended bus routes who would have to wait for a specific bus anyhow at Kennedy rather than at STC (for outbound trips).

With a dedicated shuttle:

  • Riders would have to transfer at STC in both directions adding both to their journey times and to pedestrian congestion at that station.
  • A dedicated fleet of buses could be used for the shuttle, such as vehicles from the eBus fleet.
  • As a short route, reliability might be better.

None of the configurations with a dedicated shuttle made the cut primarily because of the transfer penalty this would impose at STC.

The TTC has launched a rider survey to obtain feedback from staff recommendations about the alternatives to Line 3 SRT service when it shuts down in Fall 2023. The survey is open to October 29, 2021. For those who cannot access the survey online, a hard copy is available by mail on request.

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Ontario Line Oct/21 Consultations: Lakeshore East Joint Corridor

This meeting mainly dealt with the Early Works portion of the Ontario Line and GO Expansion projects between the Don River and Gerrard Street including construction effects and post-completion conditions.

A separate EA looking at the Ontario Line overall including future operations and mitigation of noise and vibration issues will be available in early 2022.

Metrolinx assured everyone that no construction work will begin until the Minister approves the Early Works Environmental Assessment, but that statement is true only as far as it applies to things in the EA.

Other work such as vegetation clearing was approved in the GO Expansion and Electrification EAs, and could start any time. Clearing is already in progress elsewhere in corridor and on the GO network. In the Joint Corridor it will begin later this fall, but specific dates have not been announced. A strange statement by Metrolinx claimed that any removals for the Ontario Line will not take place until the EA is approved by the Minister. This is potentially misleading given that approvals already exist by way of the approved GO Expansion.

Metrolinx appears to be less then forthright about their actual timeline. Meanwhile, they claim that consultation will continue as the project goes into detailed design. That will not occur until well into 2022.

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Ontario Line Oct/21 Consultations: Downtown Segment

On October 7, a meeting date deferred from September 30, Metrolinx conducted a public consultation session on the downtown segment of the Ontario Line. This was (and still is) advertised as including “Osgoode, Queen, Moss Park and Corktown Stations”, but Osgoode was nowhere to be found.

Osgoode will be a complex station including an interchange with the University Subway (Line 1), and as originally proposed it includes a new entrance on the lands of Osgoode Hall. There was no information about this station in the presentation, and only a vague confirmation that there would be a future meeting to deal with this site.

Queen Station and its construction was covered in some detail, followed by Moss Park with rather less and Corktown with almost nothing. A major problem for Metrolinx is that they expect, nay demand, that the public comment on their plans with a short timeline because moving projects forward is so important. However, their procurement strategy leaves unveiling of many details well beyond the point where anything could actually be changed.

As in past articles of this series, I have reordered the presentation and Q&A session to group topics together for clarity.

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The Don Valley Layover: Metrolinx Replies

Recently, I wrote a piece to tie off the loose ends of the Don Valley Layover project in response to an article in the Globe & Mail. See: The Don Valley Layover: History and Options

Metrolinx sent a response to this article on October 7, 2021, which is presented in its entirety below. I have added headings and my own responses.

I thank Metrolinx and their Media & Issues Specialist, Fannie Sunshine, for their commentary on my proposal.

Electrification of the Richmond Hill Corridor (Bala Sub)

I wrote:

On the west side of the valley, the Bala Subdivision (Richmond Hill Corridor) would be upgraded with electrified double track from the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) to Pottery Road (a level crossing north of Bloor Street).

This explanation makes sense operationally, but the amount of electrified track is much greater than needed to act as a reversing area for trains from Union. This begs the question of whether there are other intended or possible uses.

Metrolinx responded:

Broader electrification of the Richmond Hill corridor to Richmond Hill and Bloomington is not in the GO Expansion Program. The future track requirements are a change from what is there now, but that is for currently planned and funded service, not broader expansion of the Richmond Hill Line.

This does not explain why Metrolinx requires electrification so far north of the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC).

Midday vs Overnight Operation

I wrote:

The Environmental Assessment covering this facility is clear that the intent was for 7×24 operation with three shifts of workers and overnight train servicing. Metrolinx claims that this is not their intent and that the track would only be used to store three trains mid-day between the two peak periods. However, they have also pressed for early completion of this storage yard to replace capacity that will be temporarily lost from the Don Yard at the east end of the USRC due to construction (possibly the Ontario Line and other reconfiguration of tracks just west of the Don River). The Don Yard stores trains overnight.

Metrolinx responded:

This location will only be used for midday storage. We do not regularly store trains in the Don Yard overnight (trains may stage there on emergent purposes, but they are not stored), so the premise that Don Valley will be used to replace overnight storage at Don Yard is not accurate.

I wrote:

The original proposal included overnight servicing of trains (cleaning and fuelling). If trains will only be stored during the mid-day period, the work that would occur, and the supporting facilities, would disappear. Another mid-day storage area, on the Lake Shore East corridor near Midland, has none of the facilities planned for the Don Valley Layover. If the Layover does not require service buildings, then there is more flexibility in its possible location, and much less land is required.

Metrolinx responded:

We are currently reviewing the building requirements for midday storage, and will share the updated design as it is developed in 2022.

The traffic impact study for the Don Valley Layover was quite clear in stating that there would be three shifts of workers and that the site was for 7×24 use. This subsequently changed, but the support buildings needed for the originally-planned operation remained in the design. Metrolinx is now reviewing the need for these buildings.

The need for early provision of the Layover well in advance of service growth that would trigger it, but as a side-effect of the loss of storage in the Don Yard, was raised as a justification for proceeding soon with the project by Metrolinx in a community meeting.

This is independent from whether Metrolinx does or does not use the Don Yard overnight today.

Storing Trains West of the Don River

I wrote:

The Bala Sub and the Don Branch both run north from the USRC on the west side of the Don River. Originally there were two tracks (one used for switching freight) on the Bala Sub and one on the Don Branch. Today, there is only one Bala Sub track as far north as River Street where a second track splits off and provides a siding to south of Pottery Road. The eastern Don Branch track is overgrown but would be reconditioned under Metrolinx’ plans.

The distance from Eastern Avenue to the point north of River Street where the Don Branch crosses the river is about 1.5km. This is slightly longer than the planned layover on the east side of the river. Metrolinx currently does not plan to triple track this section, but there is definitely room as past usage shows.

Metrolinx replied:

The width of the corridor is narrower in some locations than what is shown, as it follows the shoreline of the Don River. The buildings would need to be on the east side of the tracks to access the stored trains. There is not enough room to put the support buildings and wayside power next to the Don River, and allow for safe train operations on the Bala Subdivision.

The Don Branch track, though overgrown, is still there and is the one adjacent to the river. It is retained and improved in the Metrolinx plans.

The buildings might not be required, per Metrolinx’ earlier reply. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a new layover facility on the Lake Shore East corridor at Midland does not have support buildings.

Nothing prevents a third track (present in the photos, but not there today) on the west side of the corridor, adjacent to Bayview Avenue, from being used as a storage area. This would avoid the need to cross the “live” Richmond Hill tracks to reach the stored trains.

If an access point and small parking area were required, they could be located east of Bayview at River between the north end of a possible storage track and the beginning of the existing siding on the Bala sub which occupies a corresponding part of the Metrolinx right-of-way.

Over to you, Metrolinx.

RapidTO: Real Transit Improvement, Or Smoke and Mirrors?

The City and TTC have launched phase 1 of consultations on expansion of RapidTO Transit Priority to bus and streetcar lines. Both a video and a presentation deck are available on the City’s page for this project.

The premise of this round is to determine priorities for the types of improvement people want to see and the locations where they might be implemented.

  • Phase 1: Understanding Your Priorities to commence in Fall 2021
  • Phase 2: Identifying Top Roadways throughout early 2022
  • Phase 3: Roadway-Specific Studies between 2022 and 2031.

There is not much new here, and regular followers of the TTC will know that they have been talking about this sort of thing for years.

The problem is well-known: slow and unreliable service, and the primary solution on offer is transit priority.

We have all known that traffic congestion is a problem for transit pretty much since the first time we rode a bus or a streetcar. Although there was some respite during the pandemic era because fewer cars were on the road, this trend quickly reversed, and on some corridors the travel times in mid-2021 are longer than they were before March 2020, and they are growing.

For details, please see the series of article on the behaviour of RapidTO candidate corridors:

A generic statement that “22% of buses and 34% of streetcars experienced delays” does not address the detailed picture including the time and location of delays. Most routes have problems in certain places, directions and times, even by day of the week, and priority treatments will have limited benefit if used where there are no delays today.

Conversely, if priority is given only where it is easy to implement, key problems may go unsolved. Even worse, if the “priority” actually slows transit (as has happened with signalling on some reserved lane implementations) then we are not giving transit its due.

With streetcars and buses carrying 70 per cent of TTC riders, they deserve priority treatment. The subway may carry a lot of people because it consolidates demand in a few corridors, but without the surface routes, the subway would be starved for passengers

… it is essential to make bus and streetcar service a practical and reliable travel option for the most people.

RapidTO Presentation, Slide 3

The argument continues by claiming that transit priority can:

… make bus and streetcar service more reliable, reduce delays and shorten travel times on congested roadways … [and] also provide relief on overcrowded bus and streetcar routes.

RapidTO Presentation, Slide 4

The presentation then wanders off through a set of slides about how better transit will assist the City to achieve various goals including environmental improvements. Eventually we get to the statement:

When buses and streetcars are given priority, they will operate more efficiently and reliably. Ultimately, the hope is that we can provide people with a practical travel option other than driving personal motor vehicles.

RapidTO Presentation, Slide 7

That “ultimately” is a key word. At the rate any road use changes are implemented in Toronto, most riders will not see much if any improvement to their routes. The idea that transit will improve is a mirage, something that happens elsewhere, if at all. Riders travel on a network and only with network-wide improvements will the majority of riders see progress.

This has political implications because only with widespread support will continued and increased spending be popular, not to mention any moves to shift road capacity in favour of transit riders. Benefits that always appear to go to someone else do not endear transit to voters.

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The Don Valley Layover: History and Options

In Opponents voice concerns about new GO train facility in the Don Valley, the Globe & Mail’s Oliver Moore writes about the ongoing controversy of Metrolinx’ proposed train storage facility in the Don Valley at Bloor Street.

In two previous articles, I have examined this scheme in detail.

As this debate unfolded, it became obvious that some design choices Metrolinx defends are leftovers of earlier versions, and that the actual purpose of the facility has evolved. This tangle of history and garbled explanations is a common situation for Metrolinx.

This article consolidates the main points including an additional alternative that I have not covered before.

Metrolinx’ Original Proposal

Metrolinx’ original plans for the lower Don Valley include two separate changes:

  • On the west side of the valley, the Bala Subdivision (Richmond Hill Corridor) would be upgraded with electrified double track from the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) to Pottery Road (a level crossing north of Bloor Street).
  • On the east side of the valley, the single-track Don Branch (a former CPR link to its mainline at Leaside) would be expanded with a three track yard south of Bloor Street. Support buildings would be located south of the Viaduct.

According to Metrolinx, the track on the Bala Subdivision would be used as a turnaround facility for eastbound GO Transit trips ending at Union Station. Instead of staying on the platform during the reversal, trains would continue east and north onto the Bala Sub, set up for westbound operation, and lay over until their return journey. Their stops both ways at Union would be like those of through trains with only a brief stay on the platform and hence a lower consumption of station capacity.

This explanation makes sense operationally, but the amount of electrified track is much greater than needed to act as a reversing area for trains from Union. This begs the question of whether there are other intended or possible uses.

The scheme for the Don Branch ran aground, so to speak, because it would occupy part of the flood plain of the Don River. The original proposal was changed to use the existing single track between the point where the line crosses to the east side of the river north to the high bridge near the Brick Works. This would provide storage for three trains nose-to-tail.

The support buildings have migrated as the plans evolved from south of the Viaduct, to underneath it, and now to a location just north of the bridge. That location requires the facility to be built on a platform several metres above the valley floor so that it is level with the existing rail line.

The Environmental Assessment covering this facility is clear that the intent was for 7×24 operation with three shifts of workers and overnight train servicing. Metrolinx claims that this is not their intent and that the track would only be used to store three trains mid-day between the two peak periods. However, they have also pressed for early completion of this storage yard to replace capacity that will be temporarily lost from the Don Yard at the east end of the USRC due to construction (possibly the Ontario Line and other reconfiguration of tracks just west of the Don River). The Don Yard stores trains overnight.

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Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Eastern Segment

This article continues a series begun with Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Western and Northern Segments to summarize Metrolinx open houses for the Ontario Line.

The fourth session on the downtown segment, originally scheduled for September 30, has been deferred to October 7. A new consultation to deal with the just-released Draft Early Works EAs for East Harbour and the Joint GO/Ontario Line Corridor has been scheduled for October 5.

Updated Sept. 28 at 6:30 pm: A small section of text that was still in rough draft form when this article was published has been updated to “fair copy”.

Updated Sept. 28 at 11:30 pm: Minor revisions and sundry typos corrected.

Scope

This meeting was complicated by having two major reports land only a few hours before it started, and that skewed a lot of attention to material that community attendees were not able to read and digest in time, not to mention some confusion by Metrolinx itself about some of the fine details. Metrolinx keeps scoring “own goals” like this by claiming to want debate and discussion, but acting in a way that precludes this happening.

As if that is not bad enough, some of the key issues the community expected to hear about such as tree clearing along the corridor are still under study and there is not yet an inventory of what will be affected. With the billions available to Metrolinx, this late delivery suggests that it was a recent add-on to their workload, not something they could have undertaken months ago.

Needless to say, Metrolinx really does not want to talk about the “hybrid” scheme to route the Ontario Line from East Harbour Station to an underground alignment that would travel north on the already-approved Relief Line Carlaw-Pape route. More about this later.

According to the two Early Works documents, the combined scope of work is:

East Harbour

  • reconfiguration of the existing Lakeshore East GO tracks to accommodate station facilities and future Ontario Line tracks;
  • construction of station facilities such as platforms and entrances;
  • replacement and expansion of the existing Eastern Avenue rail bridge to accommodate four Lakeshore East GO tracks and two future Ontario Line tracks; and
  • site preparation activities such as grading, demolition of existing structures where required, and utility relocation or protection.

Joint Corridor: Eastern to Pape

  • Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks to support future Ontario Line infrastructure;
  • Replacement of the existing rail bridges at Queen Street East, Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue;
  • Construction of new bridges at Dundas Street East and Logan Avenue to support future Ontario Line tracks;
  • Construction of the foundations for GO Overhead Catenary System (OCS) poles and supporting infrastructure to accommodate future fourth GO track;
  • Construction of retaining walls; and
  • Construction of noise barriers, including east of Pape Avenue.

Reconfiguration of existing GO tracks involves more than just side-to-side realignment to fit in four where there are now three. Metrolinx plans to change the elevation of the rail corridor so that there will be a consistent 5m clearance under all of the bridges. This requires not just new bridges, but a change to the level of the railway between the bridges. The change is greatest at Eastern Avenue reduces gradually north to Gerrard.

An important note about the “Early Works” reports: With the exception of an Operational Noise and Vibration Study that looks at post-opening conditions for expanded GO and Ontario Line service, the Early Works reports consider only the effect of those specific works, mainly the construction activity, not of the permanent change to the neighbourhood or the effect of future GO or OL construction. That information will not show up until the final Environmental Assessment by which time it will be almost impossible to alter the plans.

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