waterfront lrt toronto

What happened to plans for Toronto's Waterfront LRT?

While everyone was paying attention to the debate about subways vs. LRTs in Scarborough at Toronto's last city council meeting, a separate item on the agenda with more significant bearing on the city's transit future passed mostly without notice.

Perhaps this was because the motion merely called for further study of long-promised project or perhaps it's because the city's transit priorities are askew. In any case, plans for rapid transit along Toronto's rapidly intensifying waterfront are hopelessly behind the rate of development we've witnessed over the last decade.

Back in 2007, there were approved plans for a Waterfront West LRT as part of the Transit City proposal. The line was scrapped as part of Rob Ford's subway-focused agenda in 2010, but unlike some of the other LRT lines that were part of the initial master plan (e.g. the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West LRT), it was never re-approved and funded when council changed tack in 2012.

In summer of 2014, the Waterfront LRT was back on the radar thanks to a scheme from TTC CEO Andy Byford and then City Manager Joe Pennachetti to approach the provincial government directly for funding, bypassing the dithering that's characterized much of the debate at city council. That helped draw attention to the languishing transit line, but there remain no concrete plans.

What's happened since then is what's being termed the "Waterfront Transit Reset." Basically planning for the Toronto waterfront's transit needs was so neglected, that the city decided to start over with new studies and consultations regarding future infrastructure along the lakefront.

There are a lot of options on the table right now, but it will be many years before shovels are in the ground on an integrated transit plan for Toronto's waterfront.

Before work can get underway, the city needs to decide what makes the most sense in terms of building a continuous east-west connection at the foot of the city and, of course, how to fund the whole thing.

Eventually, we could see a dedicated LRT along the route of the 501 streetcar from the Humber River to Long Branch, a connection between the streetcar ROW on the Queensway and Exhibition Place leading into the core, and a new tunnel underneath Bay St. linking a potential East Bayfront LRT with the existing streetcar passage connecting Queens Quay and Union.

That's just a few highlights from a myriad of scenarios that planners have laid out, which also include more humble options like increased streetcar service along the western stretch of the 501 and the conversion of the Union-Queens Quay tunnel to a pedestrian walkway.

In other words, planners aren't short of ideas, but we're a long way from any of them coming to reality at present.

The mostly unnoticed transit item on city council's last meeting agenda was Phase 2 of the "Waterfront Transit Reset," which involves a closer study of alignment options and the creation of a business case for an integrated vision for transit in this segment of the city.

It was passed with amendments stipulating that the city should begin an immediate dialogue with the owners of the former Mr. Christie's site at Park Lawn and Lake Shore in the hopes of it housing a transit hub in the future and that the city recognize the immediate need for improved transit around the Humber Bay Shores area.

The problem is, of course, that having neglected waterfront transit for so long, there's no way for Toronto to address the needs of this area with any immediacy at all. The results of Phase 2 of the study are due in the second quarter of 2017. Only after that can one begin to dream of funding for any of these projects.

In other words, it's likely to be more than a decade until there's a light at the end of the tunnel for waterfront transit in Toronto.

Photo by Natta Summerky.


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