It now may seem hard to believe, but Toronto only began to seriously address the problem of urban accessibility for those with mobility issues about forty years ago. Even more surprising, the government of Ontario passed into law the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2001, just twenty short years ago. The Act requires the government to adopt practices that eliminate barriers to participation of individuals with disabilities.
Gradually, our streetscapes and urban environments began to change. Curbs at intersections began to disappear as sidewalks sloped down to the roads. At crosswalks and intersections, sound came out of the traffic lights, and ramps and handrails began appearing outside of every building.
This evolution of the city, as necessary and overdue as it was, posed challenges with regard to how to make some of Toronto’s aging infrastructure accessible, specifically underground and most notably with the TTC. Proposed and designed in the late 1940s, the original 12-station line up Yonge Street from Union to Eglinton opened on March 30, 1954 as the “Yonge Subway” to much fanfare. Given the depth from street level to track level, it's somewhat difficult to believe those stations did not include elevators in their design to aid accessibility. In reality, and as evidenced by the grand staircases outside buildings of that era, ‘accessibility’ was not part of our common collective thinking.
“The Ontarians with Disabilities Act changed many things,” says Louis Tilatti, Senior Associate with Entuitive, a consulting engineering firm with seven offices across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom which provides services across a range of sectors and has worked with the TTC to transform its stations into Easier Access Stations for many years. “The TTC in the early 1980s first looked at improving access beginning with major stations like Union and Bloor/Yonge. That was Phase 1 of the Easier Access Station plan. There have been subsequent phases and the TTC’s goal is to have every station accessible by 2025.”
Entuitive experts have worked on six TTC stations, beginning in the 1990’s with the consulting engineering required to install elevators at Bathurst, St. Clair and Dundas West Stations. Now, their work is focused on College, Christie, and Summerhill stations providing the required engineering expertise to facilitate elevators and increasing entranceways. College Station is currently under construction, Summerhill is soon to start, and Christie is in the tender phase.
The contractors who do the excavations for these improvements rely on consulting engineers like Entuitive to determine how the work can be done so the process is structurally safe, least intrusive, protects utilities, and allows the real world to continue on with as little disruption as possible while factoring in all the structural and safety considerations required below.
“We’re involved in many sectors such as construction engineering, structural engineering, transportation, commercial and residential, building restoration as well as energy retrofits by doing analysis for sustainability and lower carbon footprints,” says Michael Meschino, Principal with Entuitive. “We are hired by government agencies like the TTC or Metrolinx, as well as developers, architects and contractors. While we work on projects across the asset life cycle, most of our transportation jobs are at the project delivery stage, involving the conceptual design phase, continuing through the working drawings and on to the construction phase of any project. Occasionally we may be involved in the master planning exercise prior to the design phase to ensure what is being planned can be structurally engineered to work.”
Excellence in consulting engineering takes technical expertise, innovation, and a little imagination, which Entuitive is bringing to the fore to transform College Station into an Easier Access Station. Urban Toronto readers of a certain ‘vintage’ may recall that before College Park was offices, courts and an event venue, the heritage building on the southwest corner of Yonge and College was Eaton’s College Street from 1930 to 1977.
An Art Deco masterpiece, Eaton’s College Street was highlighted by Eaton’s Seventh Floor, home of the 1300-seat Eaton’s Auditorium and elegant Round Room Restaurant, now restored and known as the Carlu. The Seventh Floor was the place to be in those days, with Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday all playing at the Auditorium. Famed pianist Glenn Gould was so taken by the Auditorium’s outstanding acoustics he recorded much of his music in the room.
At the outset of this project, Entuitive was faced with many unique challenges, such as the need to mitigate the impact on vehicle and pedestrian flow, which they helped to solve by a staged interior and exterior construction process. CAs a result, construction is being done on the East and West sides of Yonge Street in a separate, staged approach, even building temporary sidewalks to maintain people flows. Entuitive’s engineering is also protecting the existing adjacent structures and utilities, while maintaining existing operations of the TTC station, underground concourse retail and surrounding above ground retail, as closing Yonge Street is clearly not an option. This becomes extra sensitive when working in a dense area such as Yonge and College, especially with a heritage building built in the late 1920s and a TTC station built in the early 1950s. That means looking at old blueprints to fully understand the structure.
“We needed to understand the structural configuration and behavior of the existing subway station, so that the new additions and modifications would retain the original design intent to whatever extent possible,” says Nicholas Greven, Senior Engineer with Entuitive. “The project required that we introduce several large new openings in the existing subway station walls that were built in the 1950s, and one large new opening in the existing College Park foundation wall, which was built in the 1930s. We really had to do our homework on these existing structures before we started the work, so we could fully understand how the existing structure was designed and if it will withstand everything we’re doing.”
“When looking at the new structure we have to overlay what the old structure was and how it was designed,” says Meschino. “When we’re removing soil from over or adjacent to the existing station structure, it impacts everything. Can the existing structure withstand the new unbalanced loading conditions? Will the new work undermine or impact an existing adjacent property or utility? We need to understand the foundation and structural system of adjacent properties to ensure that we can maintain their stability and protect them from damage due to settlement during the new construction. The primary objective is to create the Easier Access Station without impacting any existing structures or utilities.”
The challenges presented at College Station illustrate how Entuitive is as much a ‘solutions provider’ as it is a consulting engineering firm, as engineering consultants are charged to solve problems generated by what the construction may pose. Depending when Entuitive is brought on in the process, they can help design to mitigate potential problems, or help solve existing problems. As an example, in the 1950s when the TTC Line 1 was built and adjacent utilities were put in place, the open cut construction and subsequent backfilling acted as a conduit for the flow of water down to Lake Ontario.
At College Park, Entuitive’s expertise in waterproofing, groundwater and rainwater control was evidenced through their design of a drainage path through the new concourse level to maintain the flow of water down Yonge Street. Furthermore, existing underground sewers were encased in concrete to protect them from damage during construction. In providing such solutions, collaboration on any project is almost as important as the engineering expertise Entuitive possesses.
“Collaboration is absolutely key and on a project like College Station, where there was collaboration with TTC, the utility companies and adjacent properties which may be impacted,” says Meschino. “We work with our client and many stakeholders. We listen to them all and thoroughly discuss the design and construction phases to understand the problem so we can design the right solution. This enables us to take a very holistic approach in our ability to look at the overall needs of the project.”
“On the technical side we develop robust models to assess all sorts of conditions,” says Greven. “We can therefore provide different options for clients and cost benefit analyses which work for everybody. Our modeling allows us to dive into the details to see how structures behave – that’s where we stand apart.”
“Our level of service during design and construction is different than others,” adds Senior Associate Chongsong Yu. “We are very quick in providing technical, sound, and reasonable responses to all parties.”
With experts having decades of engineering experience across many service areas from structural engineering to pedestrian modelling to construction engineering and bringing insights, innovation and critical thinking in providing solutions to complex challenges on almost every project, Entuitive possesses a unique skillset that adds a lot of value to its clients. “Most consulting engineering firms are involved in the design but don’t get involved in construction efforts,” says Meschino. “Entuitive works on both design and construction and that is unique. We have the in-house ability to incorporate construction thinking and methodology into what the design and structural solutions need to be.”
Accessibility is good for our community as it allows for a more equitable and inclusive access to participation in our society. Accessibility brings us closer together and TTC Easier Access Stations are part of that long process. The professional engineering expertise Entuitive provides is another step in making that inclusion a reality.
* * *
UrbanToronto’s new data research service, UrbanToronto Pro, offers comprehensive information on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal right through to completion stages. In addition, our subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, drops in your mailbox daily to help you track projects through the planning process.