The State of Waterfront East Transit

by Steve Munro

Steve Munro, Toronto’s expert voice on transit, was YQNA’s guest speaker in the spring. He focused on Waterfront East Transit that we all hope to see completed in support of rapid developments along the lake.

by Steve Munro for YQNA

Better transit has been promised to Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront for years, but beyond preliminary plans, we have little to show. Developers, residents and businesses expecting fast, frequent transit might be forgiven for wondering just how they should make do with infrequent, unreliable service on the Bay, Sherbourne, Parliament and Pape buses.

Recent consultation sessions by the City, TTC and Waterfront Toronto left the feeling that this project will not see the light of day for many years, if ever. That is a product of the fascination with new rapid transit in the suburbs, ballooning cost estimates and the fiscal limitations all transit spending faces.

A quick review of the proposal: In the full build-out, the Waterfront East line mirrors the existing Harbourfront route running west from Bay Street with a new, east-facing portal, and a redesigned Queens Quay running to the realigned Cherry Street. The line would run south and east via Cherry and Commissioners to loop just west of the realigned Don River, and a branch would connect north to existing tracks on Cherry at the Distillery.

Although this looks impressive, the project would not be finished until sometime in the early 2030s, and that assumes funding will materialize. A few key elements have disappeared from the plan, or been “deferred” pending future developments and, of course, more money. These include:

• Expansion of Queens Quay Station to handle two streetcars in each direction at once
• Addition of east side entrance capacity through a planned building at 11 Bay (NE corner)
• Improved connection to the Ferry Docks
• Decorative covers of the existing west and new east portals

Construction staging will be a challenge. The project is planned in three segments: the underground portion from Union Station to Queens Quay, the Queens Quay East reconfiguration including the transit right-of-way, and the Port Lands section including a connection to Distillery Loop.

Rebuilding the tunnel and station is a major piece of work, and streetcar access to Union Station will be lost while this is underway. Feedback at consultations has strongly pushed for the service suspension to be as short as possible, but it is far from clear if the Queens Quay East segment will be started early and be in place for a temporary east-west service from Cherry westward. Even that requires a shutdown to rebuild and extend the underpass at Bay Street with a new east portal.

The redesign of Queens Quay east will likely be the first work undertaken because it does not depend on other major transit changes including Union Station and a new Cherry Street connection to the Distillery. That will bring a new streetscape, but not much transit.

One key question in the plan is whether the new line will be served initially with buses or streetcars with a temporary loop near Queens Quay and New Cherry Street. This has implications not just for Queens Quay East but for the existing western leg. The ominous term “BRT” (Bus Rapid Transit) appears on some drawings where we once saw “LRT” (a streetcar on its own right-of-way). Without access to a loop at Union, any through east-west service must use a common vehicle.

This project shows just how bankrupt the City’s claimed support of Transit Oriented Development really is. The Waterfront has grown, and plans for many more buildings are in the pipeline, but the transit service is nowhere to be seen. A transit line on a map is an excuse for high density development, but the actual transit service is only a dream.

An update on the Waterfront East projects was expected at Toronto’s Executive Committee on June 6 but was deferred to the fall. It will make its way through both the TTC and Council afterwards. This exercise will only drive home how badly delayed planning and the City’s financial position have strangled growth in a so-called “transit first” area.

See Steve Munro’s full article here.

You may also like

Leave a Comment