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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A Very Busy GO Corridor (Sept. 2021 Update)

Updated October 20, 2021: A table has been added as a postscript showing the numbers underlying the charts in the article that consolidate GO and Ontario Line traffic.

Back in May 2021, I wrote about the total number of trains that Metrolinx plans to operate in the corridor between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations. See A Very Busy Go Corridor.

Metrolinx has released a Noise & Vibration Study showing, among other things, a revised table of service levels for the routes that will operate in this corridor. See LSE-JC N&V Operations Report issued as Appendix C to the Ontario Line Lakeshore East Joint Corridor Early Works Report. The detailed breakdown of services by motive power type, express and local, and track assignments begins on page 60 of the Operations Report.

The new numbers differ from those published previously:

  • There is an increase primarily in the number of GO express trains.
  • The new report includes Ontario Line maximum service levels for 2060 and beyond.

During a recent online consultation for the East Segment of the Ontario Line, Metrolinx claimed that the count of trains cited by the community is too high (at about 1,500 per day) and that the number is around 900.

Quite bluntly, Metrolinx staff should read their own reports. Too often they give misinformed answers to communities to blunt criticism while being out of touch with their own proposals. Whether this is deliberate misrepresentation or simple incompetence is a debate for another day.

The tables in the Operations Report show very clearly the projected counts of GO, Ontario Line and other trains. (Note that there is no provision for the addition of a proposed High Frequency Rail service on top of this.) The numbers in the spreadsheet below are copied from the Operations Report. The only change is the addition of totals.

The grand total of trains on the expanded GO corridor will be 691 of which 581 will operate between 7am and 11pm, and 110 will operate between 11pm and 7am. (See LSE OnCorr Tracks, East Harbour to Danforth – Combined Table, p62.)

The number of Ontario Line trains begins at 912 per day in 2030 (per the Preliminary Design Business Case), ramps up to 984 by 2040 (again from the PDBC) and to 1130 by 2060 (Operations Report).

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TTC Service Change Revisions for October 10, 2021

Previously announced service changes effective October 10, 2021 have been amended.

  • The reconstruction at Wilson Station that will displace routes from the lower level bus loop to a temporary area in the parking lot has been deferred to the schedule change in mid-November.
  • The reconstruction of track at Lake Shore and Kipling that would have required diversion of bus services has been deferred with no new date.

Ontario Line Sept/21 Consultations: Western and Northern Segments

Updated September 22, 2021 at 6:50 am: Minor editorial corrections for typos and references between sections.

Updated September 22, 2021 at 12:05 pm: The date of the Downtown segment consultation has been changed by Metrolinx to October 7.

Updated September 22, 2021 at 5:00 pm: There are separate public engagement meetings related to “Transit Oriented Communities” organized by Infrastructure Ontario: Corktown (September 27), King/Bathurst (September 29), Exhibition (October 4), Queen/Spadina (October 6).

Throughout September, Metrolinx is conducting a second round of consultations covering four segments of the Ontario Line. The Western and Northern segments were the subject of recent meetings, while the Eastern and Downtown segments will be dealt with on September 23 and October 7, respectively. The Early Works Report for the Eastern segment is also expected to be released on September 23.

Videos of the past sessions are available on the linked pages together with a log of questions posed by participants. Some questions are answered in the video, and (eventually) those that were not covered in the online session are answered on the event page. (As I write this, only the Western segment page includes replies.)

A common part of all four sessions is a short presentation on the Station Design Principles for the Ontario Line. Although interesting in its own right, this diverts attention from some of the burning issues in specific neighbourhoods. Indeed, it is clear that Metrolinx treats some neighbourhood concerns as settled issues that will not be debated further.

For example, discussion of the Maintenance Facility in Thorncliffe Park now looks at superficial topics such as how it will be designed to fit into the community, but completely avoids the issue of site selection. Based on Metrolinx replies to queries from the City of Toronto, it is likely that the same tactic will be taken with the over/under alignment question in Riverside.

To a casual observer, this can give the impression that any residual grumbling is just sour grapes from those who are not willing to give up their fight.

In this article, I will deal with the two past sessions and issues of interest raised in them. Yes, gentle reader, I have watched over three hours of video to spare you the experience.

The Q&A information below has been reordered from the sequence in the online session to group related items together. In some cases, I have my own comments on the issues and these are flagged as such separate from the voices of participants in the meetings.

Questions about station design are included in that section of the article unless they are specific to an individual station.

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TTC Ridership, Demand Patterns and Recovery

The TTC Board met on September 15 and, among other things, considered a report and two presentations that touch on ridership:

Ridership is growing slowly on the TTC with the largest changes, proportionally speaking, coming on the streetcar and subway systems that serve downtown. These modes are now at 31 and 37 percent respectively of pre-covid levels while the bus system is at 46 per cent as of July 31, 2021.

TTC Staff presented an overview of ridership trends and projections looking ahead to 2022 and 2023. An important part of looking ahead is understanding where the TTC was in pre-pandemic times. A great deal of planning and political effort focuses on commuters, especially those headed to the core area, but they are only part of the overall travel demand served by transit.

The chart on the left below shows the purpose of transit trips. Just over half, are work trips with a breakdown of:

  • 28% “professional, managerial, technical” (a group most likely to embrace work-from home),
  • 12% retail sales and service,
  • 10% general office and clerical, and
  • 3% manufacturing and construction.

This breakdown will also reflect the job locations and the relative ease of travel to them by TTC. What is not shown is the mode share for each group, something that would have to be further subdivided geographically. The overall mode share was, to no surprise, concentrated downtown, and it falls off to the outer suburbs.

The map flips when charting the change in Presto usage (a surrogate for trip counts) in the pandemic era. The greatest retention of riders occurs in the locations where overall transit mode share was low showing that these riders have much less choice in whether to travel by transit. By extension, demand in these areas did not fall as much as downtown, and compounded by service cuts, even a reduced demand could produce crowding.

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