In November 2015, Toronto City Council directed City Staff, the TTC, and Waterfront Toronto to work together on a unified vision for Toronto's waterfront. Unlike previous attempts at a transit solution for the waterfront, which had been very focused on individual projects on individual sections of the waterfront, this "reset" was intended to examine the entire waterfront, from Long Branch to Woodbine Beach, in a cohesive way.

The reset was divided into two phases. The purpose of Phase I, based on the report submitted to Council in June 2016, was to "review all relevant background material; create an overall study vision with related objectives; develop a preliminary list of improvement concepts; consult with the public and stakeholders; identify preferred concepts for further study; and develop a scope of work for Phase 2". The intent of Phase 2 is to rank the various options for each segment and determine recommended options with which to proceed. The study is expected to conclude by the of 2017.

The study area, shown below, extends from Long Branch in the west, around the Humber Bay, and then widens to include everything from Queen Street down to the Lake, before extending east to Woodbine Beach.

The Study Area for the Waterfront Transit Reset, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

In order to better identify preferred options in a more detailed way, the study area has been broken down into four segments, shown below. Segment 1 runs from Long Branch to the Humber River, which primarily focuses on roadway configuration through South Etobicoke, and on improving connections in the Humber Bay/Park Lawn neighbourhood. Segment 2 runs from the Humber River to Strachan Ave, and focuses on how best to connect the existing streetcar right-of-ways on the Queensway and through the Exhibition together. Segment 3 runs from Strachan Ave to Parliament St, encompassing what is seen by most the "Central Waterfront". This segment primarily focuses on how best to improve the connection between the Queen's Quay streetcar right-of-way and Union Station. Segment 4 runs from Parliament St to Woodbine Ave, and looks at various alignments which would best serve the future Port Lands developments, as well as the western Beaches neighbourhood.

The four segments of the Waterfront Transit Reset, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The first of two Public Consultation sessions on Phase 2 was held last week, and the presentation slides can be found here.

Segment 1 - Long Branch to Humber River

The reset study broke this segment down into two further segments for the purpose of their evaluation, the longer section to the west of Legion Road encompassing the mostly low-rise neighbourhoods of Long Branch, New Toronto, and Mimico, and a shorter section to the east of Legion Road where Lake Shore enters the increasingly dense high-rise neighbourhood of Humber Bay Shores.

From Long Branch to Legion Road, the consensus seems to be that the streetcars will remain largely in mixed-traffic operations, though improvements are recommended like Transit Signal Priority, turning movement restrictions to improve streetcar flow, and improving connections to north-south transit services, as well as to MiWay. It should also be noted that MiWay was included in some discussions, which included examining extending streetcar service into Mississauga along Lake Shore (likely to Port Credit), or extending MiWay service further east into Toronto, to Humber College Lakeshore Campus, for example, in order to enhance connectivity.

From Legion Road to the Humber River, the analysis centred around a new streetcar right-of-way along Lake Shore, and options to connect to a potential future transit hub on the First Capital Site (the former Mr. Christies plant). The sample cross-section shown is a familiar one to anyone who has followed Toronto transit planning in recent years, with in-median streetcar tracks, two general vehicle lanes in each direction, and curbside bike lanes. While the reset study acknowledges that the area is underserved by transit, a second more in-depth local study, the Park Lawn Lake Shore Transportation Master Plan, is currently being undertaken in this area.

Segment 2 - Humber River to Strachan

The focus of this segment is very much on what the City is calling the "Humber Bay Link", which is the connection between the Queensway and Exhibition streetcar right-of-ways. The study evaluated three potential options for connecting these right-of-ways, which are shown below.

Options for the Humber Bay Link, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The "Preliminary Preferred Option" is Option 2E, which uses the existing underpass at Colborne Lodge Dr to connect the Queensway right-of-way to a new right-of-way to be built along Lake Shore Blvd. It would convert Colborne Lodge Dr between the Queensway and Lake Shore to a transit and active transportation only corridor. Also, by using existing infrastructure, it has the lowest capital cost of any of the options.

The other area of interest in this segment is an update on the design of the extension of the streetcar right-of-way along the north side of the Exhibition grounds. The design is currently at 30%, and it is being coordinated with the Dufferin Bridge replacement and the reconstruction of Exhibition GO. Further funding is required to prepare more detailed designs.

Segment 3 - Strachan to Parliament

The primary focus of this section is one of the most contentious topics of this entire plan: what to do with the Union streetcar tunnel and loop. The City is examining three potential groups of options:

  • Expand the loop (Option A), 
  • Repurpose the tunnel to a moving sidewalk (Option B), or 
  • Repurpose the tunnel for alternative transit technologies (Option C).

Within Option A, there are two sub-options, which really only differ in the degree to which the streetcar loop is expanded. Option A1 would have provisions for 4 platforms, bypass trackage to access each platform separately, and would operate as a mainline station (not a terminus). Option A2 on the other hand would only have two platforms, but would have lower construction costs and complexities than Option A1.

Options A1 and A2 for the Union Loop reconstruction, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Option B is perhaps the one that has elicited the strongest opposition. The proposal is in essence to repurpose the existing streetcar tunnel that runs between Queen's Quay and Union Station to function as a pedestrian connector, featuring a moving sidewalk, similar to those at Pearson Airport. This would effectively turn streetcar service on Queen's Quay East and West into a single through line, bypassing Union Station entirely.

However, unlike the moving sidewalks at Pearson, which operate in both directions, the tunnel width would prohibit installing two sidewalks to allow for travel in either direction. Instead, the sidewalk would be configured to move in whichever direction the majority of the pedestrian traffic is going (towards Queen's Quay in the AM Peak, towards Union in the PM Peak). This would mean that anybody going against the flow would be faced with a 530 metre walk through a tunnel in order to make their connection.

Given that the 2041 projections estimate that in excess of 10,000 people would travel southbound through the tunnel during the AM Peak Hour, the travel demand is seen by many as warranting proper rapid transit. Just for comparison, Scarborough Centre, which is getting a $3.35 billion subway to service it, is projected to see just 7,400 inbound passengers during the AM Peak Hour in 2031.

It should also be noted that Toronto does not have the greatest history with keeping moving sidewalks in working order. The walkway between the Bloor and Spadina Line platforms at Spadina Station originally featured a moving walkway, but it was removed when it became time to replace it and the TTC did not have the budget for it.

Diagram of how the Funicular system would work, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Option C is using what the City is calling "Alternative Transit Technology". Specifically, the technology that is being looked at is a Dual Haul Bypass Funicular. It would operate trains that have a capacity of about 125 people every minute or so between the streetcar/LRT station at Queen's Quay and Union Station, running in the same tunnel that the existing streetcar service does. This would result in a total line capacity of about 8,250 passengers per hour per direction.

This option would require some modifications to the existing tunnel however, as passing tracks would need to be added roughly midway along the line. It would however eliminate the need for the Union Loop, as the vehicles used would be bi-directional, and simply pull in and out on the same straight stretch of track.

The forecasted travel patterns for the Union - Queen's Quay section, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The update specifically states that "all factors considered, no option has an overall advantage at this stage of analysis". One of the important factors that needs to be considered is the number of people for whom their destination is in the vicinity of Queen's Quay & Bay St (where the tunnel portal is located and where the future transfer point would potentially be), and the number of people who are destined for points beyond that area. Based on ridership estimates, the splits range from between 70/30 to 50/50 for passengers going from Union to beyond a 500 metre radius of Queen's Quay & Bay St, suggesting that it's likely than any change in mode at Queen's Quay will result in a forced transfer for the majority of passengers.

Segment 4 - Parliament to Woodbine

Like with previous segments, this segment was split up into two sub-segments, the first of which is the East Bayfront and the Port Lands. The transit planning for this sub-segment has already largely been completed as part of the East Bayfront LRT Environmental Assessment (2010), and the Port Lands and South of Eastern Transportation and Servicing Master Plan EA (2017). The LRT is to be implemented on Cherry St, Commissioners St, and the southern extension of Broadview Ave.

The second sub-segment is from Leslie St to Woodbine Ave. The forecasted transit demand for this segment is considered to be low, and thus bus-based solutions are being considered for this part of the network.

Next Steps

The slide below summarizes the conclusions of this most recent round of analysis. There is clearly an emerging set of priorities, but at the same time, some key decisions still need to be made.

The emerging priorities of the Waterfront Transit Reset, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

And there is still time to provide your input on those decisions. The second of two Public Consultation sessions is being held tomorrow, Tuesday, September 26th from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM at The Assembly Hall, 1 Colonel Sam Smith Park Drive, in South Etobicoke. If you would like to share your thoughts with UrbanToronto as well, you can join the discussion in our forum thread, or by leaving a comment below.