At their latest meeting earlier this month, Toronto's Design Review Panel was presented with the recommended streetscape plan for the Eglinton West LRT, the planned above-ground westward extension of the Crosstown LRT. Representing a stark reminder of the consequences of transit politics, City Planning and designer Perkins + Will presented roughly 11 months worth of work on the streetscape plan a mere two days after Doug Ford announced his government's transit plans for Toronto, which cast a shadow of doubt over much of the City's work to date on the Eglinton West LRT.
Before beginning their presentation, City Planning acknowledged that Ford's recent announcement could significantly impact or render redundant what they were about to show, but added that at least some of what is included in their streetscape plan can be incorporated into whatever new design is chosen. The current City Council-approved plan for the Eglinton West LRT is an above-ground extension of the line from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport, whereas Ford's plan expresses a preference to put at least a portion of the LRT underground. Ford's proposal is still vague and undefined at this point, leaving the City waiting for answers as they continue with the design of their previously approved plans.
The stretch of Eglinton running through Etobicoke presents a unique condition not seen elsewhere in Toronto. The avenue has an extremely wide right-of-way, measuring 26 metres at its narrowest and 60 metres at its widest, with the majority of the stretch somewhere around 45 metres. This is a legacy of the Richview Expressway, a planned but never built highway that would have replaced Eglinton in order to connect Highways 401/427 in the west to Black Creek Drive — which would have been widened to become a southward extension of Highway 400 — in the east. When the highway plan was adopted by Metro Toronto in 1966, the land on either side of Eglinton was reserved for the eventual construction of the expressway, resulting in the extremely wide right-of-way that exists today.
Eglinton West thus became a 'greenway' of sorts, with lawns, trees, and natural forested areas flanking the road on land slated to become traffic lanes. The majority of development on either side of Eglinton is mid-century suburban and apartment neighbourhoods, but these residential areas turn their backs on what would have been an expressway, with limited access roads and fences lining either side of the avenue.
More recently, in 2012, the lands on the north side of Eglinton were declared surplus and were transferred to CreateTO (formerly named Build Toronto), which began selling off parcels for development. Several townhouse blocks now front onto Eglinton, located within the former highway right-of-way. At the moment, however, development of these lands has been put on hold until the transit plans for this stretch are sorted out. For the time being, the majority of this stretch of Eglinton remains an undeveloped 'greenway'.
Perkins + Will are aiming to preserve and capitalize upon the greenway character of the boulevard by preserving and enhancing the public realm on either side of the street. The new LRT would travel down the centre of Eglinton, taking up one lane in each direction in its own right-of-way. Its design is inspired by the under-construction above-grade eastern portion of the Crosstown LRT through Scarborough and the Golden Mile, where the LRT cuts down the middle of the avenue with portions of the dedicated LRT lanes greened with grass and trees.
In addition to the greened median, bike lanes and a pedestrian trail will follow alongside the road, enhancing the public realm through the wide greenway. The design team is debating whether to include treed medians alongside the LRT tracks - which would reduce the space for pedestrians or cyclists on either side of the road - or to minimize trees along the median and instead provide a wider green space on the edges of the avenue.
At the western end where the LRT navigates around the spaghetti interchange of Highways 401, 427, and Eglinton Avenue, the designers are considering ways of creating a 'gateway' into the city through the use of public art, wall murals, and splashes of colour on the concrete bridges and retaining walls. The purpose would be to mark the exit and entry into the city for commuters traveling to and from the airport, as well as attempting to beautify what could be considered a bit of an eyesore.
Finally, the design team is considering enclosed, heated shelters at each of the stations to increase commuter comfort, an issue that has plagued the TTC across the city where transit users are left standing in the cold during long delays.
Panel members were in general agreement with the direction the design has taken with the Eglinton West streetscape. They recognized the importance of this unique landscape and referred to it as an "interesting piece of cultural landscape heritage". They offered some suggestions to further improve upon the proposed design.
In the debate over the treed median, most Panelists expressed a preference for not including it, instead dedicating the extra green space for the pedestrians and cyclists along the edges of the avenue. While it works along existing transit right-of-ways such as the Queensway, in this instance they preferred to fully capitalize on the existing greenway experience of the road. Other Panel members expressed indifference at the issue, saying that both solutions would work equally as well.
The Panel was happy to see the efforts at the 401-427 interchange to create a gateway marker into the city, but urged the design team to push it even further by incorporating place-making components along the full stretch of Eglinton West. They suggested exploring ways of acknowledging the heritage and identity of the different neighbourhoods that the LRT passes through and marking these in some way along the route. Panelists also commented that this could work for cyclists and pedestrians too, with cues along the trails signalling important intersections, neighbourhoods, or picturesque moments along the avenue.
Overall, the Panel was supportive of the initiative and encouraged the designers to continue on their current path, hoping that if these plans do get upended by the provincial transit announcement, that at least some of these streetscape ideas can be incorporated into the new design.
The streetscape plan is scheduled to be completed in May of this year, with the recommended concept heading to Council shortly after. We will keep you updated on all news regarding the Eglinton West LRT, but in the meantime, you can get in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.