Ontario Line South Open Houses

Metrolinx will hold two online open houses covering the draft Environmental Assessment Impact Report as it relates to the southern portion of the line from Gerrard to Exhibition.

No sessions have been announced yet for the northern portion of the line from Gerrard north to Science Centre Station.

Correction: The north segment sessions took place in late February, but somehow I missed them. I will consolidate notes about them all in due course.

I will post news from these sessions in coming days.

Ontario Line: Transit Oriented Community Designs

In a previous article, I gave a grand tour of the Ontario line showing the general layout of stations and the alignment of the route. However, Metrolinx has yet to publish anything beyond station footprints – the areas stations will occupy, and by extension the buildings that will be removed or altered to accommodate them.

See: Webinar for Smart Density: An Ontario Line Tour

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) has a parallel process for the design of Transit Oriented Communities (TOCs) which are intended to focus development at stations and, in part, to recoup the cost of construction. To date they have conducted public consultations for four locations: Corktown, Exhibition, King-Bathurst, and Queen-Spadina.

Within each site’s page there are links to the videos, presentation decks and to the detailed building plans as submitted to the City of Toronto.

The illustrations in this article are taken from these presentation decks:

The online sessions have a format familiar to those who have watched or participated in Ontario Line sessions: a lengthy presentation followed by a short, moderated Q&A. For those interested in details of specific sites, to the extent that IO revealed them, I recommend watching the videos of the consultation sessions.

The proposals shown are conceptual, and there is no guarantee that what is eventually built will include key details worked out with communities and city planners. The provincial record on transit projects and consultation is far from trustworthy.

These developments are quite large compared to what is there today. Affected communities have pushed back about the scale and density. IO has made some changes, but mainly by rearranging the physical volume of buildings while leaving their overall size intact.

A common point IO makes, just as any other developer would do, is that the neighbourhoods around stations should be judged not on their current form, but on what they will become with developments already in the pipeline. This sort of catch-22 plays out all over the city. Once a very tall building is approved, often by force of provincial decisions, not by local planning, this sets a precedent for everything that will follow.

Land nearby a transit station (defined as within 800m or a 10 minute walk) puts a great deal of the city under its umbrella. Provincially-mandated growth is a blanket excuse for larger buildings even if the resulting density greatly exceeds provincial targets.

There is a more general issue about TOCs in that they are primary residential. Transit demand is easier to concentrate with commercial buildings such as in the core because of the many-to-one commuting pattern. Residential buildings tend to generate trips outward in whatever direction there is a convenient path such as a nearby highway or transit line provided to a destination. A related issue with new residential development is the amount of parking included and, therefore, the relative attractiveness of longer road trips vs transit trips.

If a so-called transit community features parking for all of its residents, this does not give transit a “leg up”. These sites, as planned, do have a preponderance of bicycle parking over auto spaces, and many buildings have no auto parking at all. Whether this ratio survives to actual construction remains to be seen.

Another key point is timing. Occupancy of the proposed buildings is aimed at the early 2030s because they will sit on top of future stations. Even at Exhibition where the TOC development is north of the joint GO/OL corridor, construction is not slated to start until 2029.

The upside is that transit will already be there when residents move in. This is totally unlike what happened on Queens Quay where development has preceded good transit service.

To jump to a specific station, click the links below:

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Ontario Line Draft EA : Part I (Updated)

Updated April 7, 2022 at 9:45 am: Metrolinx has responded to a query about possible errors and inconsistencies in the EA. See the Errata section at the end of this article.

The Draft Environmental Assessment for the Ontario Line was published on February 7, and it is a very, very long read. In addition to the main report, there are appendices dealing with Natural Environment, Heritage, Archaeology, Socio-Economics and Land Use, Air Quality, Noise and Vibration, and Transportation and Traffic.

In this article, I will primarily review the alignment drawings provided in the EA and some of the information about station form and construction, to the extent that Metrolinx has provided this.

Notable by their absence from these documents are drawings of the actual structures above or below ground. This makes it almost impossible to assess, for example, the on street presence of the elevated structure between the north end of the Leaside Bridge and Science Centre Station, nor of new station buildings wherever the line is above ground. Underground structures, essential to an understanding of how the stations will connect to neighbouring buildings and to other transit lines, are also not shown.

I wrote to Metrolinx asking about this, and they initially referred me to the Neighbourhood Updates segment of their engagement website. There is less information there, in most cases, than in the EA or other already-public presentations (which could be out of date). I wrote again, and they replied:

Hi Steve – those additional images will be posted as soon as they are available.

We know folks are anxious to see those images and we are working to get that information available.

It is baffling how people are supposed to assess information in the EA if they cannot see what Metrolinx proposes to build.

On a similar note, there is a general problem along the line in that significant incursions on green space have yet to be detailed, and by the time the plans are actually published, it will be impossible to adjust the design. Metrolinx misled communities giving the impression that tree inventories and replacement plans would be available during the consultation period, but it is now clear that this was never going to be the case.

For additional background, please see my recent article An Ontario Line Tour and the associated webinar.

In future articles I will turn in more detail to issues such as Natural Environment, Noise & Vibration and the effects on buildings and structures along the route.

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Webinar for Smart Density: An Ontario Line Tour

Updated February 2, 2022 at 6:30am: The section on Science Centre Station at Don Mills and Eglinton has been updated with an illustration of the CreateTO proposal for the southwest and southeast corners.

This article combines the speaking notes and presentation deck for my webinar An Ontario Line Tour that streamed on February 1, 2022 under the sponsorship of Smart Density, an Architecture and Planning firm in downtown Toronto. The image below was taken from the announcement of the webinar. It shows the stations on the Ontario Line with their zones of influence drawn as 500m circles around each of them.

Image credit: Smart Density

Intro:

Thanks for coming today!

To set the stage for what will follow, here is a brief outline.

  • Origins of the Ontario Line
  • A station-by-station tour from Exhibition to Science Centre
  • Planning issues for rapid transit

Illustrations in this presentation come from many sources, but are preliminary in many cases, because the final EA is not yet published with what might be “definitive” (for now) designs.

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A Tour of the Ontario Line

On Tuesday, February 1 at 11:00 am, I will be giving a webinar about the Ontario Line for Smart Density, a planning firm in downtown Toronto.

The intent is to give a tour of the line and a general overview of how it fits, or does not, into the City along with a bit of the history of its predecessor, the Relief Line. Given the focus of Smart Density’s other webinars, I will touch on planned developments around stations on the line some of which are products of the “Transit Oriented Communities” program of Infrastructure Ontario.

Updated February 2, 2022:

The presentation including my detailed notes and a link to the video of the webinar are available in Webinar for Smart Density: An Ontario Line Tour.

Infrastructure Ontario January 2022 Update

Infrastructure Ontario has issued its quarterly update of projects that are in the planning and procurement stages. This affects several parts of the Ontario government, but my focus here is on transit projects.

The spreadsheet linked below tracks the past and current updates to show how the projects have evolved. There are two sections: one for active projects and one for projects with no currently reported info (typically for projects that are now in construction or completed, or that have been withdrawn).

Where a cell is coloured yellow, there is a change from the October 2021 report. Several cells are coloured light yellow. There is new text, but the only real change is to say “Jan-Mar” instead of “Winter”, and similarly for other seasons. This eliminates a point of confusion in past reports.

The substantial changes in this round are:

  • The Ontario Line North Civil, Tunnels and Stations contract dates have slipped by one quarter, and the contract type has changed from DBF (Design, Build, Finance) to TBD (To Be Determined). This covers the OL infrastructure work from East Harbour to Science Centre Station.
  • The Yonge North subway extension has been split into two projects: one for the tunnel and the other for the stations, rail and systems. The projected dates for the tunnel contract are unchanged, but for the stations project they are TBD.
  • A new line has been added for the Eglinton West LRT tunnel between Jane and Mount Dennis.
  • All of the GO expansion projects have slipped into 2022 for contract execution, but with dates early in the year. This implies an imminent flurry of announcements just in time for the coming election. These projects are running a few years behind their originally planned dates.
  • The contract type for the GO OnCorr project which includes future operation and maintenance of the system has changed from DBOM (Design, Build, Operate, Maintain) to “Progressive DBOM” which appears to provide earlier design input from prospective builders as well as a better (from the bidders’ point of view) allocation of risk between Metrolinx and the P3.
  • The Milton GO Station project has not been updated since October 2021. It is possible that this work is paused pending a resolution of issues between Metrolinx and CPR about all-day operation on this line.

The Scarborough Junction Mystery

As part of the GO Expansion plan, Metrolinx had intended to grade separate the junction at Scarborough Station on the Lakeshore East corridor to eliminate the conflict between frequent service on the Stouffville corridor which runs north, and on the Lakeshore line itself. Plans call for frequent, electrified service on both corridors. All Stouffville and about half of the LSE trains will be electric. Some diesel operations will remain on LSE for trains that will run beyond the end of planned electric territory at Oshawa.

Approval for this project was granted at the end of February 2021.

The Environmental Project Report for the Scarborough Junction Grade Separation TPAP was available for public review from December 22, 2020 to January 20, 2021. It has been reviewed by the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  The Statement of Completion has been issued, and the project can now proceed  to the  detailed design and implementation phase. 

Source: GO Expansion Program Website

Here is a map of the junction as it appears in the Environmental Project Report:

Four consortia were prequalified for the GO OnCorr project in May 2019, and the RFP process closed on November 30, 2021. The successful bid will be announced sometime in 2022. The consortia include major international rail operators including SNCF (France), MTR (Hong Kong), RATP (Paris) and DB (Germany).

In April 2021, transit video blogger Reece Martin posted an interview with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster on a variety of topics. Verster talked about a shift in how major contracts are handled including early involvement of proponents in the design phase. The portion of interest includes the following exchange which has been edited only to remove pauses and add punctuation.

PV: Let me give you an example Reece. Just practical examples speak a thousand words for me.

RM: Sure.

PV: We have three big projects overlapping at the new East Harbour Station that we are working with Cadillac-Fairview and the City of Toronto to get built in the Docklands area. And the three projects are: GO expansion, we want more trains on the Lakeshore East; the Ontario Line is going to have platforms at East Harbour; and then we want to build East Harbour itself which is going to be the Union Station of the east. So these are three massive projects that are intersecting.

From the really quality work that we got done by our GO Expansion team, it was evident that if we had a third platform, sort of a centre platform, in the station, we could increase the capacity of trains that can stop at East Harbour by about 8 trains per hour at the peak higher than the 12 trains we had intended. So we can now stop 20 trains an hour rather than just 12, and that 20 years from now when capacity gets constrained at Union Station, we will have saved 2 of the 16 roads. We would have freed up by having this platform in terms of reducing the switchover times between lines which then occupies capacities. So we make in effect 8 trains on 12 increase in capacity at East Harbour, we save 2 platforms out of 16 at Union Station.

But more than that at Scarborough Junction by putting a centre platform at East Harbour, a couple of kilometres down the way at Scarborough Junction, we can now avoid building a rail grade-to-grade separation which saves us $140 million.

RM: That big flyover that you guys had planned before.

PV: Exactly. Now that’s not required because of a station design choice we made further upstream that benefits Union Station as well as East Harbour as well as to the east [?].

You see this is innovation. Now this sounds really boring perhaps for other people that are not sort of rail geeks like people like you and me, but I’m telling you this is unique stuff and it’s super exciting to make these changes. I call these once in 60 year, once in 100 year type decisions that we are making now that will massively benefit this network 50, 60 years from now.

Talking Transit with the CEO of Metrolinx, posted April 15, 2021

It is quite clear that Metrolinx had a revelation about its proposed design for the LSE corridor almost a year ago, and this reflects various design changes that have occurred along the way.

  • Originally, at East Harbour Station, the Ontario Line would have “straddled” the GO corridor with the eastbound OL track on the south side, and the westbound OL track on the north side. This would have permitted across-the-platform transfers with “local” GO trains running on the outer pair of tracks while the express trains ran through on the inner pair. This arrangement was touted in an October 2019 Metrolinx blog article that remains online.
  • The straddle option turned out to be problematic not just at East Harbour, but further up the GO corridor at Riverside/Leslieville and Gerrard OL stations which would be much more complex with split platforms, as well as the need for two portals at each end of the surface-running OL segment from west of the Don River to Gerrard Street. Metrolinx abandoned this scheme, and shifted the OL to the north side of the rail corridor. The across-the-platform transfer, previously thought to be essential, was abandoned.
  • This change allows all train-to-train interchanges to occur at a concourse level under the tracks much as at Union Station. In turn, that also makes possible a platform arrangement with stopping by all GO trains, not just those on two of four tracks.
  • From a rider’s point of view, it does not matter which track a particular GO service uses, and it is a short step to allocating pairs of tracks to each of two services, rather than to local and express trains. That eliminates the need for the grade separation at Scarborough. (There are implications for Danforth and Scarborough Stations, but that’s a separate matter.)

This is all very interesting stuff, although I would hardly use the term “innovation” to describe moving away from the original straddle design (something else that was an “innovation” in its time) that way. One might ask why it took Metrolinx so long to come up with this scheme and, in the process, simplify operations, increase capacity and reduce project costs.

In a recent Twitter exchange, I asked Metrolinx to confirm or deny that the grade separation had been removed from the project. The GO Expansion team replied:

The reference concept includes minimum service level requirements – how the winning proponent chooses to do that (which grade seps to build, trains, signaling, etc.) is up to them. The contract is designed to spur market innovation in this way.

Metrolinx has completed the necessary TPAPs for all potential grade seps, so needed approvals are in place for financial close, expected in the first half of this year. Once the proponent is on board, we can confirm with certainty which grade separations will go forward. 2/2 ^pp

Tweets by @GOExpansion, January 4, 2022

In other words, the design is up to the winning proponent, even though everything on the Metrolinx website still claims that the grade separation is part of the plan including this October 2020 article in their blog which has not been removed or amended.

Twitter is not an ideal place to get into technical discussions, and it was also obvious that reconfiguration of the platforms and track allocations would have other effects at East Harbour. Therefore, I wrote to Metrolinx seeking clarification of their position.

As presented in all of the consultation materials and discussed in an article on the Metrolinx Blog, there will be a flyunder at Scarborough Junction where the outer eastbound track will connect to the Stouffville corridor via a grade separation to eliminate the conflict with through service on the Lake Shore corridor.

In an interview with Reece Martin on YouTube, Phil Verster talks about a change in the configuration at East Harbour and at Scarborough Junction that eliminates the need for the flyunder and increases capacity at Union Station. Although he does not go into the details, this implies that the allocation of LSE corridor tracks to services will change so that the Stouffville trains will use the northern pair of tracks and the LSE trains will use the southern pair. Coupled with an added platform at East Harbour and through-routing of services at Union, the capacity of the combined corridor is improved by reducing train conflicts and by improving operations at Union.

This is an interesting idea, but when I raised, via Twitter, the question of why it was not reflected in published materials, the response from the GO Expansion team was that decisions on configuration were up to whatever proponent is selected for the GO OnCorr program. That directly contradicts Phil’s enthusiastic statement that this change is happening and the decision has already been taken by Metrolinx.

The only way to reconcile these positions is to say that Metrolinx has not actually “decided” on which configuration to use, but will “suggest” the new scheme as an option for bidders. Alternately, one of the bidders already came up with this idea as part of the work on their proposal evaluation and Metrolinx has embraced it unofficially.

Can you clarify what the situation actually is?

Email from Steve Munro to Metrolinx Media Relations, January 6, 2022

Changes at East Harbour station have ripple effects, and I pursued these questions as well:

There are implications at East Harbour on a few fronts.

First, does the proposed added platform that Phil mentioned alter the alignment of tracks crossing the Don River, and what does this do to the GO and OL bridges and any early works including the Ontario Line alignment?

Second, with the new hook-up of services running through at Union, is there still a need for electrification of the Bala Subdivision (GO Richmond Hill) as a turnback facility, or will you no longer have a service that only runs west from Union and needs that turnback?

Third, one of the rationales used for the Don Valley layover has been the loss of capacity in the existing Don Yard (aka Wilson Yard) due to other projects by which, I assume, you mean the Ontario Line construction. Originally, in the straddle configuration, the OL would have had two portals one on each side of the corridor, but now it has only one on the north side. How does the revised geometry work for the existing yard tracks, the bridges, the OL portal and the connection to the Bala subdivision?

Email, op. cit.

Metrolinx replied:

Hi Steve,

We don’t have any further information to share beyond what the GO Expansion account replied. For further updates, stay tuned to Metrolinx News.

Email from Fannie Sunshine, Advisor, Media & Issues Communications, Metrolinx, January 6, 2022

And there the matter sits. Phil Verster gives a gung-ho interview about innovative design eight months ago, but nothing on the Metrolinx website reflects his comments. A request for detailed feedback nets a “stay tuned” answer.

This whole exchange begs a more delicate question: to what degree can project designs be changed at the behest of the P3 proponent after all of the public reviews are completed based on a proposed design? What other changes might be in the works for any Metrolinx project, and will they just happen without any review or consultation?

To me, the proposed change in track allocation on LSE makes sense, but why is it such a secret?

Ontario Line Downtown Construction: VI – Executive Committee Debate

On December 7, Toronto’s Executive Committee considered the long staff report on Ontario Line downtown construction effects on which I have previously reported. That report was supplemented by a staff presentation.

To watch the full presentation and debate click here [YouTube link].

Previous articles:

Although the Building Transit Faster Act gives Metrolinx the power to do whatever it wants in advancing this project, the City hopes that they will be a co-operative partner. Much of the debate turned on the effects of the long-term shutdowns, and to that end a long series of amendments was passed. Collectively, these seek to create a monitoring and reporting structure for the project and to ensure that the scope and duration of its effects are kept to a minimum.

This will be a challenging environment because unlike a TTC project, the primary relationship is between Metrolinx and their P3 partner, generically called “ProjectCo” pending a selection of a successful bidder, and the City/TTC have no power nor contractual relationship to enforce their will on the project.

Media coverage and political reaction has focused on the planned seven year closures at many sites. The staff presentation and comments repeated that the planned closures are the maximum that will be permitted, although what the City might do if the hole in the street has not been filled is anyone’s guess. The procurement includes an incentive to reduce the duration of closures, but it will be some time before we know whether “ProjectCo” will agree to a faster project at some or all of the stations.

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Ontario Line Downtown Construction: V – Traffic Effects

This is the fifth and final article in a series reviewing the construction effects of the Ontario Line downtown. It deals with overall issues across the project rather than the specific issues at each station.

In reading the report, there is a sense that working out traffic flows for motorists and trucks took a much higher priority than thinking about transit, pedestrians and cyclists.

The Ontario Line stations are projects on a scale and time frame larger than major building construction projects, and the work will be undertaken by an agency that is not noted for its sensitivity to local concerns. If Eglinton was any indication, there will be plenty of opportunity for finger-pointing between Metrolinx, the City and “Project Co.” (the placeholder name for the yet-to-be-selected P3 partner).

City Led Projects

In addition to the work of building the Ontario Line, there are other planned construction projects downtown. The list below only reaches to 2026.

The following City-led construction projects were included:

  • Gardiner Express Rehabilitation – Grand Magazine Street to York Street (2024 to 2026)
  • TTC 504 King streetcar track rehabilitation – 2024
  • Yonge Tomorrow – Reconfiguration of Yonge Street between Queen Street and College Street
  • Sewer Rehabilitation –
    • Richmond Street between Simcoe Street and John Street (2023);
    • Richmond Street between Peter Street to Spadina Avenue (2023);
    • Wellington Street between Clarence Square and Blue Jays Way (2024);
    • Front Street between Bay Street and Scott Street (2024).
  • Watermain Replacement –
    • Adelaide Street between York Street and Victoria Street (2022);
    • Dundas Street, between Church Street and Sherbourne Street (2024);
    • Front Street between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue (2026).

Congestion

The table below shows the effect of various configurations on traffic volumes and speed for the AM and PM peak periods.

  • The Base Case is the existing conditions with no added projects.
  • The “Future Background” adds in the City projects listed above, and assumes that they all happen at once. In fact they will take place at different times.
  • The “Future Total” adds in the effect of the Ontario Line construction on top of the City projects.

The base number is the projected vehicle count on each corridor at Yonge Street. The number in square brackets shows the existing travel time (Base Case) and the projected change (Future Cases) between Parliament and Bathurst Street.

King is notable by its absence in the table, but it is hard to believe it will not be affected especially with the lack of enforcement of priority measures. It will be under construction in 2024, but in other years traffic will inevitably use any available street regardless of signage or paint on the roadway.

Travel times are already considerably higher in the PM peak than in the AM. The projected changes in the AM peak are small relative to the base case because the road network can absorb the reduced capacity at that time. However, in the PM peak, travel times double (or more) across the core area.

This will have a severe effect on transit service.

Considering the cataclysmic effects shown above, this table bears close scrutiny. An immediately obvious point is that almost all of the change is the result of the City-led projects and the Ontario Line construction adds very little on top of this. But the model assumed that all of the City projects planned out to 2026 would occur at the same time rather than individually.

This is lazy modelling, and it should be redone on a year-by-year basis to evaluate the effect of taking specific chunks out of the road network as planned.

Equally important should be a model run with only the Ontario Line changes included. It is possible that the model with only all of the City projects yields so much congestion that there is no room for “growth” on that account when the OL is added to the mix.

A rather obvious question here is how construction vehicles are supposed to access the OL sites if traffic is so congested during part of the day. Indeed, one might ask whether a moratorium on truck activity during at least the PM peak will be needed.

A well-known characteristic of traffic congestion is that it can build slowly with volume, but at a critical point there is a “knee in the curve” where congestion gets much worse with only a small change in the network. This is seen on a day-to-day basis when all that is needed to snarl an otherwise open road is a curb lane blocked by a delivery truck or utility workers with a few traffic cones.

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Ontario Line Downtown Construction: IV – Moss Park & Corktown Stations

This is the fourth article in a series about the anticipated effects of construction through downtown of the Ontario Line. Because the stations at Moss Park and Corktown are similar in their construction technique, I have grouped them together.

Both stations will be built as off-street using cut-and-cover rather than mining because the entire station site can be opened for access. Effects on pedestrians are less severe, and transit stops are undisturbed.

However, the scope of work is much greater at Corktown Station because this will be a Tunnel Boring Machine launch site. Not only will this see the excavation of the station itself, but the removal of “muck” from the TBMs as they progress west across the route.

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