Waterfront Transit Reset – or Explosion?

“I think in an ideal world, a lot of these projects would have been advanced a long time ago,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner. “We’ve approved the growth. In many instances we’ve already built it, but the transit has been lagging … Suffice it to say, we need to catch up. We desperately need to catch up.”

She’s right. But stopping and going back to square one is an odd way of catching up, particularly when you’re already behind. That’s what’s happening this fall as Toronto City staff have outlined a two-steps back proposal to “reset” the long-awaited Waterfront LRT project.

The motion that blew up plans for transit on the waterfront authorized spending $250,000 that had been earmarked to build the shovel ready East Bayfront LRT on a study of that plan. The genesis of the ‘reset’ arose from a council motion approving a full tear down and subsequent rebuilding of the Gardiner East.

The report that recommended blowing up existing plans said the following:

Recent waterfront transit planning has been ad hoc and incremental, with the result that there is no larger comprehensive plan for a transit network that can respond to the rapid transformation that is occurring along the waterfront.

That statement erases the extensive and comprehensive waterfront transit planning that has been happening since as early as 1993 with the Waterfront West LRT project.

Partially completed, the 1993 Waterfront West LRT would have built a new loop on Legion Rd. in Etobicoke and allowed for an eventual direct service to an expanded Union Loop.

1993 Union Loop Concept

The portion completed was the extension of the Queens Quay streetcar from Spadina to Exhibition Loop.

In 2003 the Central Waterfront Secondary Plan was developed; a comprehensive plan with a focus across the entire waterfront. Transit elements included making use of the transit tunnel that had been built beneath the Air Canada Centre Galleria to connect Union Loop with a new dedicated lane streetcar line to operate on Bremner/Fort York Boulevard. It would have tied in directly with portions of the 1993 plan enabling a direct route from Humber Bay Shores to Union Station. The plan also outlined the basics for what in 2010 would become the East Bayfront LRT.

In 2005, ahead of the announcement of Transit City, a comprehensive study was performed to bring forward a plan to build an expanded Union Loop.

2005 Union Loop Analysis
2005 Union Loop Structural & Technical Feasibility Analysis

In 2007 Transit City was announced building on top of the CWSP and providing some funding to perform environmental assessments. Though not completed because of funding prioritization, the 2008 assessments for the Bremner-Fort York alignment and the Dufferin-Roncesvalles alignment needed only to be dusted off and finished, if not for “The Reset”.

2008 Dufferin to Roncesvalles Alignment

By 2010 the East Bayfront LRT had undergone a full environmental assessment and preliminary plans had been drawn up. Despite having a shovel ready plan in place, inexplicably City Planning recommended that council enter into an agreement with the developers of 45 Bay Street to build a space for a future LRT platform within their site envelope. The placement of the space does not allow for either the 1993 Union Loop plan – which for some reason the 2010 East Bayfront LRT concept relied upon – or the 2005 Union Loop assessment.

With 45 Bay Street now under construction there is precious little time to correct Councils mistake before the cost increases dramatically. This has also triggered a need to amend the Environmental Assessment for the East Bayfront LRT, stopping it in its tracks. It has also seriously limits the potential of a Bremner/Fort York dedicated streetcar that would service the tens of thousands of residents of City Place and would have provided a direct connection for Humber Bay Shores residents.

The Central Waterfront Secondary Plan in and of itself was a complete plan for transit on the waterfront with a majority of the components within it being either shovel ready or requiring only incremental work to make it shovel ready.

In 2015, spurred by council’s decision to demolish and then subsequently rebuild the Gardiner East, and tying into the “Feeling Congested” framework which the Chief City Planner was very publicly promoting and inextricably tied to, the City Planning department recommended throwing out all of the work done to this point and starting from scratch. Hence “The Reset”.

As can be seen with 45 Bay Street, the effect of this has been to lose opportunities and cause delays. It has also resulted in patently ridiculous suggestions being put forward, including removing the direct streetcar access to Union Loop, and recommending quite possibly the most circuitous route from Humber Loop to CNE Loop.

Transit Reset Route in Pink. 2008 Route in Green. Existing Queen Streetcar in Blue.

(I’m told the rationale for the new routing is because the 2008 plan cannot accommodate a 7m wide swath of GO RER track side electrical equipment. If the city is unable to deck over a 7m swath alongside the rail corridor it’ll have a heck of a challenge decking over the 104m span over which the proposed Rail Deck Park will go.)

A week of work by a trained planner with access to all of the city’s EAs is all that would have been necessary to understand where we were and what the state of each section was. In fact City Planning did this, although only after “The Reset” had been approved.

Is the “reset” necessary? No. The rationale that the situation had changed since all the EA’s and plans had been developed is absurd. The world is always in flux. With the exception of City Planning recommended actions, no sites along the Waterfront Transit Reset route have seen changes that should have prompted an EA amendment, or required a substantially different design from their existing plans. City Planning demanded the reset and City Planning created the conditions to warrant a reset. The result is that we’re moving backwards on transit for the Waterfront, losing time that could have been used to move forward instead.