Ontario Line 2041 Ridership Projections

Several weeks ago, when Metrolinx began publishing its Neighbourhood Updates and Station Profiles, I asked for a consolidated set of ridership estimates. The material originally presented varied slightly from location to location, depending on each profile’s author. Most importantly, the numbers showed the utilization of each station, but not the projected loads on trains.

The stations might be a nice place to visit, but the real purpose of a transit line is to move people. For that, an important planning question is how many people actually want to ride in the peak period.

Metrolinx has now supplied this info (the have also updated some of their online information), and I present it here for readers’ interest.

The table below combines information from two Metrolinx sources:

  • The station-by-station projections sent in reply to my request, and
  • The projected numbers of transfer passengers, population and jobs taken from the station profiles.

To this data I have added a few extra columns to show the degree to which demand originating at each station is in the “inbound” direction heading toward downtown, and the proportion of demand at a station that walks in or out rather than transferring from another route. (Click on the image below for a larger version.)

A few things leap out of this table, notably the variation in usage at each station, and the large variation in whether traffic originates from or transfers to other transit routes, or is “local” to the neighbourhood.

Science Centre Station is particularly striking because 86 per cent of riders boarding or alighting there in the AM peak hour are projected to transfer to or from the Eglinton Crosstown line or from the local bus routes. Considering the scale of development projected for Don Mills and Eglinton, both commercial and residential, 14% for local walking access is a surprisingly low proportion.

Pape Station also has a low proportion of walk-in trade because activity there is dominated by transfers to and from Line 2 Bloor-Danforth.

Transfers to/from GO Transit are projected at 8,600 for East Harbour and 6,300 for Exhibition, and almost all of these are GO-to-Ontario Line given the highly directional nature of GO’s demand. These are the riders that Metrolinx hopes to divert from Union Station.

Metrolinx commonly cites the 14-15k total of GO-OL transfers for the two stations as if this were the benefit for each of them. The Exhibition Station Profile claims:

Giving customers another way to transfer between GO Transit’s regional rail services and the local subway system will take pressure off of Union Station, the country’s busiest transit hub. This new interchange will help reduce crowding at Union by about 14 per cent – or 14,000 fewer people – during rush hour.

Similar text is used for East Harbour Station. Moreover, this claim did not change after the much-vaunted “across the platform” transfer connections and their supposed convenience were dropped from the plans.

Where Are Riders Going?

Published Metrolinx data do not contain cross-tabs of origin-destination pairs and so we cannot see the details of where these riders are going, but one can get an idea of the popular locations by charting the boardings, alightings and accumulated loads on the Ontario Line for each direction of travel.

Westbound demand is the strongest in the AM peak hour accumulating to just over 20k on-train passengers in the peak direction during this hour. The overwhelming sources of riders in this projection are, in declining order:

  • Line 2 at Pape Station,
  • Riders boarding at East Harbour, primarily from GO Transit, and
  • Riders boarding at Science Centre, mainly as transfer traffic from Line 5.

The primary destinations are Queen, Osgoode and Exhibition Stations in that order.

Eastbound traffic will originate mainly at Exhibition Station. This demand is comprised partly of transfers from GO Transit, and partly of walk-in trade from Liberty Village. There is no local transit transfer component.

East Harbour is the principal destination along with the two downtown subway stations.

These charts show how important both the East Harbour development and the anticipated transfer of riders from GO onto the Ontario Line are for counterpeak demand. The inbound traffic is far more oriented to Queen and Osgoode Stations (showing the “relief” function of the corridor) than it is to East Harbour.

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Ontario Line North Segment Update

On June 30, Metrolinx held an online consultation for the North Segment of the Ontario Line between Gerrard and Science Centre Stations. Much of the discussion focused on plans for the Maintenance and Storage Facility at Thorncliffe Park.

The presentation deck and video of the session are available for those who want to review the whole thing.

The agenda for the meeting called for a half-hour presentation from Metrolinx, but they ran over by almost double. To their credit they kept the meeting going until they had run out of questions from the online audience.

Since the previous update, there has been a minor change in the alignment near Millwood and Overlea. The Don Valley crossing has been shifted slightly and the entrance to Thorncliffe Park moved to the north side of Overlea Boulevard. This is simpler to build because only Millwood must be crossed, and it moves the structure further away from residences on Leaside Park Drive.

The alignment east of there including the MSF layout is unchanged.

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Metrolinx Gives Toronto the Finger, Twice

On the Toronto Executive Committee agenda for July 6, there is a report updating Council on the status of various rapid transit projects in Toronto. Notable by their absence are the Waterfront East LRT (study in progress as previously reported) and the Eglinton East LRT extension.

The truly galling part is found in two letters from Metrolinx, compounded by the abject parroting by City staff of Metrolinx creative writing in the City’s own report.

The documents are linked here:

  • Update on Metrolinx Transit Expansion Projects –Second Quarter 2021
  • Letter from Karla Avis Birch, Chief Planning Officer, Metrolinx, to Derrick Toigo, Executive Director, Transit Expansion Division, City of Toronto re the Ontario Line alignment
  • Letter from Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx to Derrick Toigo re the Ontario Line Maintenance and Storage Facility in Thorncliffe Park

The fundamental problem is that Council asked Metrolinx to consider alternatives to their design for the Ontario Line in Riverside (East Harbour to Gerrard Station) and in Thorncliffe Park (the location of the line’s storage yard).

Metrolinx chose to reply with analyses of options that were not those of concern to Council that addressed proposals from the affected communities. What Metrolinx did do was to trot out analyses of previously rejected options as if this somehow validated their position.

To give the impression that Metrolinx has “responded” to the city is a misrepresentation of what has happened, and it suggests that City staff in the Transit Expansion Division are more interested in buttressing Metrolinx’ case than answering Council’s request.

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Ontario Line East Segment Update

On June 24, 2021, Metrolinx held an online consultation session for the Ontario Line segment between the Don River and Gerrard Station.

In a distinct change from a previous round, Metrolinx did not begin by insulting the audience with claims that the session would deal with “myths and misinformation”. This is refreshing and long overdue. Metrolinx appears to be going out of its way to fine-tune the design through Riverside to produce the least side-effects as possible while preserving their preferred alignment. Although they are looking at underground alternatives, much of their work focuses on their planned scheme with a shared GO+OL corridor.

Since the previous articles I have written on this project, the East Segment Neighbourhood Update page has been substantially revised.

Readers should also refer to:

Metrolinx has revised maps of this segment to show the Ontario Line on the north side of the rail corridor rather than the “straddle” configuration previously shown.

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Raising the Rails in Riverside: Metrolinx Comments

In a recent article Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor I noted that a new set of drawings had appeared in the Ontario Line Neighbourhood Update, East web page showing a proposed change in the elevation of tracks in the shared GO/OL corridor between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations.

Here is a Metrolinx illustration showing the change. The layout as originally proposed is on top, and the revised layout is on the bottom. Note that where green space is shown neside the corridor, this does not necessarily exist as some of the Metrolinx property line is at or close to the sidewalk. The retaining wall plus noise barrier would be immediately adjacent.

I posed a series of questions to Metrolinx in an attempt to sort fact from fiction on this matter, and today had a call with their project staff to sort through the issues. The principal speakers for Metrolinx were Malcolm MacKay and Richard Tucker.

When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor? Why is this being done?

According to Metrolinx, this has been underway for at least 6 months as a collaborative effort with the TTC and City of Toronto to establish bridge clearances and other design elements.

Substandard clearances are a concern on the road network for both the City and the TTC. Those of us who follow TTC service interruption reports often read of “mechanical problems” near Queen and DeGrassi Streets. These are almost always due to damaged or broken overhead thanks either to a dewirement, or to an over-height vehicle striking the TTC wires.

A related concern is that the bridges in this corridor are about a century old, and this is an opportunity to replace them with new structures that will have lower maintenance costs

Later in the conversation, I asked whether Metrolinx was saying, in effect, that “the City made us do it”. To this they responded strongly that they are not blaming the City, but there is a 5m standard for bridge clearances that they are following. They went on to say, possibly imprudently, that there were pro and anti camps on the question of whether this work should be done.

Obviously the pro camp won out, but drawings showing the change are quite recent, and there is no mention of this in all of the studies that have been published.

What is the extent of the work, i.e. between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?

From east of the Don River to Gerrard Street. According to Metrolinx, he TTC still has an interest in the Dundas Street bridge because they are protecting for an extension of streetcar service to Gerrard Station via Dundas and Carlaw.

By how much will the track be raised?

The change varies by location, but it will be between 900mm and 1500mm according to Metrolinx. For those who still think in Imperial measure, that’s just under 3 feet to just under 5 feet.

I asked whether a plan showing the new elevations exists in the style of “roll plans” that have been provided for other corridor projects. This will probably be published along with other details for the next round of public consultations later in 2021.

What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?

Metrolinx would likely slew the existing GO tracks to create work space on one side of the rail corridor at a time. This would allow all work to be done within the corridor rather than using adjacent spaces. Metrolinx’ property is wide enough for six tracks, and this means that three could be maintained in operation by shifting them to one side while work was done on the other side. There are no switches in this segment, and therefore shifting the tracks is relatively straightforward.

If low ridership on GO continues long enough, it might be possible to reduce the corridor temporarily to two tracks giving more room to work around the live operations.

What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?

The bridges are old dating back to 1924. Metrolinx intends to replace them with new structures regardless of whether they are owned by the City or Metrolinx.

The elevation change will be entirely at Metrolinx track level. The road elevations will not change.

When I published my article, a few emails arrived suggesting what was behind this change. One claimed that the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project wanted a different track standard to support their planned operating speed. This seemed a bit far-fetched considering how close the tracks in question are to Union Station, and how short (2km) the segment is. The change in travel time from Toronto to Montreal would probably be measured in seconds.

Can you confirm or deny that at least part of the reason for the regrading is to suit HFR? If so, does the intent to use “tilting” trains change the spacing of the tracks needed for clearance?

Metrolinx replied that HFR did not play into decision making for rail heights or tilting trains. The alignment is designed to Metrolinx standards. They are not precluding HFR, but not changing bridges or track layout on HFR’s behalf.

A Question of Transparency

I will take it on faith that the City and TTC really have been working with Metrolinx for half a year on this matter, and that there may have been a debate about whether regrading the corridor and raising the bridges was actually necessary.

That said, Metrolinx published extensive studies and community presentations showing the corridor at its present elevation, and with no provision for the construction effects of rebuilding the segment from the Don River to Gerrard, not even a mention as a possibile subject for further study.

There has been no evaluation of the construction effects, and proposals regarding mitigation of the combined OL and GO effects here are based on current track elevations. This affects sound barrier heights and the amount of room available for corridor “softening” with treatments such as vegetated slopes or additional trees where room is available for them. The drawings purporting to show what the corridor would look like simply do not match what Metrolinx now plans to build.

All this is not to say that raising the corridor and improving clearances are, on their own, bad ideas. It would be refreshing to have fewer service interruptions on the streetcar network here, especially considering that over half of the fleet is based just east of this bridge at Leslie Barns and Russell Carhouse.

If this has been a City and TTC concern for months, why does the local Councillor not appear to know this could be part of the project scope?

Another obvious question must be what effect this will have on the project’s cost and duration. Who is picking up the tab?

One cannot help wondering whether it is only good fortune that this design change came to light during the current round of consultations.

What else don’t we know about Metrolinx’ intent in this and other corridors?

All of the debates about the project until now were based on a false presentation of how the enlarged use of the rail corridor would affect the neighbourhood.

This is not just a question of settling a debate among “the experts” about whether to raise the rail corridor or not. This is not a minor scope change. This is not an “oops”.

Even with the best of intentions, the basic issues are transparency in public consultation and trust in Metrolinx.

Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor

Metrolinx quietly slipped a major change in its joint Lakeshore East / Ontario Line corridor plans by way of a web page update with no accompanying announcement or explanation.

Current version of webpage

Archived copy of webpage from May 14, 2021

Metrolinx plans to raise the existing GO Transit tracks by 0.9m to 1.6m in order to increase clearances under bridges on the corridor. The west and east limits of this work along the corridor have not been announced, and there are illustrations only for the area north of Queen Street.

The previously published layouts assumed tracks would stay at the same elevation as today, with the new Ontario Line to the west and north of the GO corridor at the same level. The new layout shifts everything higher. Note that the top drawing here is a cross-section where the Metrolinx right-of-way is at its widest with open space on either side buffering the mass of the corridor.

There are significant challenges in this scale of work on a busy, live rail corridor. One does not simply bring in loads of fill overnight and jack up the tracks. Bridges are a special concern particularly in any location where all tracks occupy a common structure rather than separate spans for each track that could be individually replaced or raised.

I posed a series of questions about this to Metrolinx, but they will not be responding until Monday, June 21 at the earliest.

  1. When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor?
  2. Why is this being done?
  3. What is the extent of the work, ie between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?
  4. By how much will the track be raised?
  5. What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?
  6. What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?
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Ontario Line Downtown Segment Update

This post is the second in a series of four covering the June round of online updates to the Ontario Line project.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 9:05 am: The section on the First Parliament site has been updated with information about the location of the Parliament and other buildings provided by a reader, Michael Bethke, in the comments. With thanks for the information.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 8:00 am: A section discussing the two versions of the Metrolinx presentation deck has been added at the end of this article.

The first version of the presentation deck that Metrolinx posted contained two slides with howling spelling mistakes, but also with station diagrams that differed from those shown in the online presentation. Subsequently the “final” version of the deck was linked from their engagement page. I have updated the link to the revised deck below and have replaced the illustrations in the article. The first version is also available from my own site if Metrolinx deletes it from theirs.

From document properties in the published PDFs, it is clear that there are two different versions of the presentation deck, and the wrong one was published first.

At least Metrolinx caught the error before their online session, but they pushed out a deck with errors two hours ahead and did not flag that it had been changed on their site. Basic editing errors like street names raise issues about the care in other, more serious, parts of their work.

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

Information here is taken from the neighbourhood update for the downtown segment, the presentation deck for the June 17 meeting, and information gleaned from that meeting.

This segment runs from Osgoode Station over to the Don River. An important structural point about the Ontario Line is that the downtown segment is in bedrock unlike the Eglinton Crosstown line which is tunneled through glacial till.

On Eglinton this meant that passing under Line 1 at Yonge/Eglinton and at Eglinton West Station required structural support of the existing subway and mining under Line 1 rather than continuing with the TBMs. On Queen, the existing stations are just above the level of bedrock which will support them while tunneling proceeds 10m or more below in rock.

Projections for 2041OsgoodeQueenMoss ParkCorktown
Residents served116,50018,40023,60026,400
Jobs served1110,500150,00023,20015,700
Zero-car households18,7005,1004,1003,300
Station usage (busiest hour)212,10016,6007,3004,100
Transfers to/from Line 1 (busiest hour)2 5,7006,100
Transfers to/from surface (busiest hour)2 1,0006001,5001,900
Source: Metrolinx Neighbourhood Updates, Downtown

Notes:

  1. Because station catchment areas overlap, some people and jobs will be double counted.
  2. Station usage may include passengers arriving, leaving and transferring which is a different number from originating passengers at each station. I have asked Metrolinx for clarification on this, but they have not yet replied.
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Ontario Proposes Developments at Station Sites

The Government of Ontario has proposed that lands they plan to acquire for station entrance buildings on the Ontario Line at Exhibition, King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina stations will be redeveloped to increase transit demand at these locastions.

For a description of the stations sites, please see my previous article Ontario Line West Segment Update. The site plans are included here to put the proposed developments in context.

In the station building renderings, the eagle-eyed readers will note the variation (including the complete absence in some cases) of the “standard” Metrolinx “T” symbol. On the Crosstown line, it has been rendered at a size where it almost disappears, whereas here, in some drawings, it is on a similar scale to the “T” found at the MBTA stations in Boston.

All of the designs shown here indicate the general form (albeit not the height) of what Ontario would like to see, and everything is subject to change.

All renderings from Ontario Proposes New Transit-Oriented Communities Along Ontario Line.

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Ontario Line West Segment Update

Updated June 17, 2021 at 5:20 pm:

In the table of station usage counts, I cited the values as “all day” numbers in the original version of this article because Metrolinx own summary article showed the total value as “daily” not as “peak hourly” . I asked Metrolinx about this discrepancy, and they have not yet responded. However, they have changed the article in which “daily” was used to now say “busiest hour”. I have updated this section accordingly. Other questions to Metrolinx have not yet been answered. (Screen captures are included later in the article.)

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 17: Central downtown
  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

All drawings in this article are taken from the Presentation Deck for June 10. Street view photos are from Google Maps.

Project Schedule

A common question during the session was “when will this affect me”. The entire project is complex and will affect areas in different ways as it moves through its stages. The published schedule concentrates on pre-construction activities. In the chart below, related activities share the same colour so that, for example, the Lower Don Bridges are all yellow.

Early works that can occur before major construction include:

  • Exhibition Station reconfiguration and expansion (construction to begin imminently)
  • Lower Don Bridges (construction begins in early 2022)
  • Corktown Station (no start date shown in the plan)

There are four big contracts that will affect neighbourhoods along the route.

  • The Lakeshore East joint GO and Ontario Line corridor between the Don River and Gerrard is an “Early Work” scheduled to begin construction in the second half of 2022. This segment is controversial because of potential effects on affected neighbourhoods, and Metrolinx’ aggressive efforts to counter “myths” and “misinformation” about their project. See Metrolinx v Riverside: Where Does the Truth Lie?
  • In mid-2022 contracts for the south segment structures and for “RSSOM” (Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance) will be awarded with construction to begin in 2023.
  • The north segment structures contract will go to its RFQ stage in early 2022, with RFPs to selected proponents late that year. Contract award will occur in 2024 and construction would begin some time afterward.

For the south segment, the tunnels will be deep underground, typically about 30m down. They will be bored through rock starting from the west end of the line. Spoil removal and materials delivery will occur at the Exhibition with the tunnel portal west of Strachan Avenue and truck access to the Gardiner Expressway at Dufferin Street.

Stations will be built using a “keyhole” method by digging down from future entrance building locations and then mining outward to create station caverns for the concourses and platforms. This is similar to the approach used for a few stations on the Crosstown project to avoid excavating within streets. That is particularly important for locations where there are streetcar lines and many underground utilities.

The first stage of construction will be to tunnel, with station construction to follow once the tunnel is in place. Metrolinx has not published a detailed schedule, but station work would begin in 2024 in the south segment as tunnel work progresses from Exhibition east to the Don River. Metrolinx expects station sites to be under construction for about three years.

The major RSSOM construction in the early years of the project will be the Maintenance and Storage Facility north of Thorncliffe Park. After the tunnels and aboveground structures are complete, the RSSOM contractor will outfit tracks and systems, but this activity would largely be within the completed tunnels and guideways.

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The Long Arm of Metrolinx

Doug Ford wants his pet transit projects built now and will sweep away any opposition. His agency, Metrolinx, is more than happy to oblige if only to make itself useful.

There was a time when the Tories hated Metrolinx as a den of Liberal iniquity, but Phil Verster and the gang made themselves useful to their new masters with new plans. Ford returned the favour with legislation giving Metrolinx sweeping powers in the Building Transit Faster Act. In particular, Metrolinx has review powers over any proposed activity near a “transit corridor” (anything from building a new condo to extending a patio deck) lest this work interfere with their plans. They also have right of entry, among other things, to perform their works.

Metrolinx describes the various aspects of review in Building near a Metrolinx transit corridor

Operative language in the Act is extremely broad about “transit corridors”:

Designating transit corridor land

62 (1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may, by order in council, designate land as transit corridor land if, in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, it is or may be required for a priority transit project. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (1).
Different designations for different purposes

(2) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may designate the land for some of the purposes of this Act and not others, and may later further designate the land for other purposes of this Act. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (2)
Notice and registration

(3) Upon land being designated as transit corridor land, the Minister shall,

(a) make reasonable efforts to notify the owners and occupants of land that is at least partly either on transit corridor land or within 30 meters of transit corridor land of,

(i) the designation, and

(ii) this Act; and

(b) either,

(i) register a notice of designation under the Land Titles Act or Registry Act in respect of land described in clause (a), or

(ii) carry out the prescribed public notice process. 2020, c. 12, s. 62 (3); 2020, c. 35, Sched. 1, s. 4.

Building Transit Faster Act, S. 62,

Note that there is no requirement that land actually be anywhere near a transit project, merely that it “may be required for a priority transit project”.

“Resistance is futile” should be the Act’s subtitle.

Metrolinx has a diagram in Doing construction work near a Priority Transit Corridor which shows the bounds of their interest.

In various community meetings, the assumption has been that the “corridor” corresponds to the bounds of Metrolinx’ property, but that is not the case. A much wider swath has been defined in several corridors reaching well beyond the wildest imaginations of what might be affected lands. Needless to say this has not endeared Metrolinx to affected parties for “transparency”.

This applies to the “priority” corridors: Scarborough Subway Extension, Richmond Hill Extension, Eglinton West Extension and, of course, the Ontario Line.

In addition, there are constraints around GO Transit corridors, as well as separate Developer’s Guides for LRT projects in Toronto and on Hurontario. Note that these predate the election of the Ford government, and rather quaintly refer to the Eglinton West and Sheppard East LRT corridors. Although it is mentioned in the text, the Eglinton West Airport Extension is not shown on the map.

There is an interactive map page on which one can explore the bounds of areas where Metrolinx asserts various rights of review, control and entry. It is tedious, and one must wait for all of the map layers to load to get a complete picture. But fear not, gentle reader, I have done the work of wandering through the GTHA on this map and taking screenshots to show each line. I have attempted to maintain a consistent scale for the snapshots of the maps. All of them are clickable and will open a larger version in a new browser tab.

Readers should note that the areas of influence/control for Metrolinx corridors discussed here are separate from the effects of MTSAs (Major Transit Station Areas) on development around rapid transit and GO stations, a totally separate topic.

I will start with the Ontario Line because it is the most contentious, but Metrolinx territorial ambitions do not stop there.

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