Over the past 20 years, the shoulder areas of Toronto's downtown have seen a tremendous amount of development. In the 2000s, the west side of downtown went from former rail lands to high density communities within the span of only a few years. In the 2010s, the east side of downtown has seen neighbourhoods like the West Don Lands transform empty brownfield lands into the Athletes Village for the 2015 PanAm Games, and then a new neighbourhood for the city.
But just across the (hopefully soon-to-be naturalized) Don River, there is a proposed development that will radically transform the land use and the transit patterns of the area: East Harbour. According to developer First Gulf, East Harbour will feature 11 million square feet of office space, enough for 50,000 workers, on 60 acres. From a transit perspective, it will act as the major transit hub for the eastern edge of downtown, with at least 2 GO Train lines, a streetcar line, and the future Relief Line Subway all intersecting at this location.
The proposed transit hub is a remarkable structure, featuring a high ceilinged glass arch over both the GO Train platforms and the future extension of Broadview Ave, on which the streetcar is located. The soaring arches evoke a sense of grandness, emphasizing the space in a fashion common to many European central rail stations. Underneath the GO and streetcar interchange, the Relief Line subway platform would be located under Eastern Ave. The design of both the transit hub and the subway station are barely more than conceptual at this point, but as you can see in the drawing below, a direct connection between the three different rail modes is envisioned.
This transit hub is valuable to the City on two different levels. On a neighbourhood level, this hub provides significantly improved transit access not only for the development site itself, but also for the surrounding South Riverdale neighbourhood. With express access to the Union Station area using GO, the CBD using the Relief Line, and local destinations using an extended Broadview streetcar, the East Harbour transit hub will make this area one of the best connected neighbourhoods in the entire GTA. The proposal also significantly improves the active transportation options in the area, including new cycling paths along the Don River. The transit hub itself also acts a bridge over the Don River, and includes a ramp on the southwest end of the station to access Corktown Common, as seen in the first image below.
On a network level, the East Harbour transit hub represents a critical interchange location outside of the downtown. The different types of services that intersect there represent a transfer point for downtown-bound commuters that has the potential to relieve crowded or overcrowded existing transit infrastructure, most notably Union Station.
By offering a transfer point for inbound GO passengers before Union, East Harbour could siphon away transfers before they even reach the Union Station complex. For example, a commuter who lives in Pickering and works at Queen & Bay can take the Lakeshore East GO line to East Harbour, transfer to the Relief Line Subway, and exit at Queen Station. Currently, this trip pattern would involve getting off at Union and transferring to a crowded Yonge line, or making a fairly long walk up Bay St. The combination of East Harbour station and the Relief Line could impact thousands of similar trip patterns.
The lack of integration between land use and transportation planning has been one of the biggest laments with the plethora of development that has taken place in the west-of-downtown area in the past 20 years or so. Projects like the King Streetcar Priority pilot project and Queen's Quay West reconstruction are two examples of the transit planning playing catch-up to the results of the land use planning. With East Harbour however, those two planning elements are proceeding in tandem, with the result hopefully being a new employment hub, anchored by a new transit hub, opening simultaneously.
As the project makes its way through the approvals process, more details and plan refinements should emerge. In the meantime, the fact that transportation and development appear to be in sync at East Harbour is cause for optimism.