"I sense a certain tension in the room." This is how one of Toronto's Design Review Panel's (DRP) members characterized the situation before them on Tuesday, April 5th. Assessing Metrolinx's plan for a grade-separated Davenport Diamond, the panel was put in the "somewhat awkward position" of providing input on a project that has put Metrolinx at odds with the City of Toronto and much of the Davenport community. "The parties need to come together and figure this out."
At issue was Metrolinx's controversial plan to build an elevated bridge to separate GO's Barrie corridor and CP Rail's North Toronto Subdivision. The proposal calls for 570-metre guideway, which would lift the GO tracks above the CP corridor, meeting grade via 400 and 450-metre berms on either side of the bridge. The project's accelerated timeline, and a perceived lack of adequate public consultation, was met with strong opposition from both local interests (spearheaded by Options for Davenport) and City Council. For the DRP, it was an unusually politicized review.
Overall, Metrolinx's plan—which features extensive landscaping by gh3—was well received by the panel, described as a "sophisticated and elegant solution," and a "compelling plan" that's "headed in a very positive direction." The integration of a vibrant public realm beneath the bridge was celebrated by the panel, with the extensive public programming (which includes a number of larger public spaces at key intersections below the bridge) and landscaping largely endorsed by the panel.
Turning to a more fine-grained analysis of the project, the panel raised questions about specific elements of the design. Of particular concern was the long-term maintenance of the infrastructure, with panelists imploring the design team to consider how the project "will look in five years" and "how it will handle slush." The size of the bermed areas was also regarded as a potential detriment to the community, with the panel commenting that "berm length should be minimized."
While decision to include an open-air skylight along the body of the bridge was seen as a positive overall, the placement of a pedestrian path directly underneath was questioned. With a path right underneath the sky-light, pedestrians would be directly exposed to the elements, while the native plantings beneath the bridge would not be able to benefit from as much direct light.
The design team was also implored to consider how the infrastructure will stand up to grafitti. The long-term aesthetic of the concrete pillars in the face of "uncommissioned artwork" was called into question, while the prominent use of stainless steel as a design element received a mixed reception from panelists. While some members of the panel argued that stainless steel "is a wonderful material that takes on the qualities of its surroundings," others felt that steel would risk overwhelming the spaces around it.
Considering the contentious nature of the project, several panel members also commented on the broader context and significance of the project. The bridge was seen as "preferable to tunneling" by panelists, who argued that a bridge "is the financially responsible thing to do." The accelerated timeline was seen to reflect "how critical it is to advance the electrification of the system," though these comments were tempered by an admitted lack of specific knowledge about the ongoing controversy. "I don't pretend to know enough about local context," one panelist concluded.
Since the review was informative in nature, the panel did not vote on the design, with the discussion meant to help guide the process. The proposal is now set to move through the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) this Spring, with construction slated to begin in mid 2017. We will keep you updated as the project continues to develop. In the meantime, a more comprehensive overview of the issue is provided in our previous editorial. Feel free to share your thoughts in the space below this page, or by joining the ongoing discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.