Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Transit vision drowns on Toronto's waterfront

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Sep 07 2012

It was a quiet milestone on the water's edge: earlier this week, with back-to-school season in full swing, students started attending class at a new George Brown College campus located near the foot of Sherbourne Street on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Formerly, the lands were derelict and unwelcoming—post-industrial with contaminated soil and nothing to offer except maybe ample parking and a decent view. But now those same lands are home to a school. Progress—finally!—on real revitalization of the city's waterfront.

That's the good news. Here's the bad.

In mid-August, the TTC announced a permanent extension of the Bay Street bus route to connect to the new college campus on the waterfront. The bus will be the only transit connection to new developments on Queen's Quay East for the foreseeable future. The East Bayfront light rail connection developers and residents were promised—and the one council recently affirmed as a priority—seems thoroughly stuck in limbo. Even with widespread support, there's no indication that any money will ever materialize for transit on this corridor.

Students, office workers and future residents of the waterfront should get used to taking the bus. It doesn't look like anything better is coming anytime soon.

Despite putting a priority on transit in their development strategies, Waterfront Toronto has continuously had to scale back on its plans for light rail. In addition to the lost momentum on Queen's Quay, the tweaked plan for the port lands—which is otherwise pretty good—also saw its transit vision gutted. Where there were once plans for immediate rail right-of-ways, new planning documents now point to only bus routes, with a provision for future LRT in the “20 to 30 year time horizon.” In other words: maybe some day, but don't hold your breath.

The only transit project Waterfront Toronto has managed to actually make reality is a dinky spur off the 504 King Streetcar route, currently under construction as part of the West Don Lands project. That line will divert streetcars from King Street, travel about 800 metres, do a loop, and then return back to King Street. Yay, fun.

And that's all we seem to be getting. The grand plan to connect that extension past Lake Shore to Queen's Quay East and further down Cherry Street, maybe linking to another line on Commissioners Street—creating a mini light rail network for new waterfront neighbourhoods—is quickly becoming just another in a long list of ambitious but ultimately discarded transit visions for Toronto.

When Waterfront Toronto first set out to develop this city's blue edge, they talked extensively about their “transit-first” approach to development. But what they're delivering is more like “transit-maybe.”

This post was originally published at on 2012-09-07T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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