An upgraded transit network along the waterfront is among the top five transit projects Toronto's planning department would like to see funded, but much remains to be decided before a transit "reset" can proceed, including how the East and West arms of planned rapid transit lines would connect with each other and the subway network.
At two consultation meetings this week, planners outlined a range of potential solutions, including a 500m underground moving walkway in place of the streetcar tracks running between Union and Queen's Quay at present. That option was rejected in an Environmental Assessment performed in 2009, which found it would "create a major inconvenience for transit users" but remains an option under consideration. Other non-transit link options include bike lanes in the tunnel and the connection to the PATH system from Air Canada Centre via the recently opened pedestrian bridges over Lake Shore Boulevard and Harbour Street.
The existing loop under Union connecting to the Queen's Quay streetcars would not have the capacity to handle a greatly increased volume of streetcars or LRTs, so to keep a Union loop would require "a considerable redesign", though the relative costs of the four options have not been outlined. One of the options on the table would be to enlarge the loop to increase throughput. Another would be to run the loop at its existing capacity and have alternating trains pass straight along Queen's Quay, potentially requiring downtown-bound passengers to transfer to the next streetcar.
Perhaps the most radical possibility outlined would be a new tunnel to allow LRTs to pass through Union instead of terminating there, connecting to Queens Quay East underneath the rail corridor and Freehand Street.
Alternatively, the Western arm of Queens Quay could connect to a second terminus west of Union, with GO, SmartTrack and UPX connections. A second terminus at Liberty Village or Cherry Street was considered by Metrolinx in 2012 and concluded it would, "not effectively serve future GO Rail passenger employment destinations and current GO patrons [and raises] planning, property and infrastructure issues." However this evaluation was done before the emergence of SmartTrack, which might place its own additional burdens on Union Station. For alternative ways of dealing with future congestion at Union, see also an article we wrote in 2012.
It is clear from the profusion of potential options outlined—with no costings available, traffic projections or other relevant data—that although the need for a much-enhanced waterfront service has been long understood, planning is still at an early stage. Public feedback on this first phase (which must be presented by June 3rd) will be analysed and reported to the City's Executive Committee on June 28th. On the same day, the board of Metrolinx will also be outlining the latest news on its RER plans, including the potential location of new RER/SmartTrack stations, which may then influence which of the phase one options is put forward for detailed study in phase two.
For more information or to give your views, you can contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also share your thoughts with our forum community in the Waterfront Reset thread. The presentation given at the information sessions and recordings of the sessions are available via WATERFRONToronto.