Perfecting the alignment: How Toronto’s Ontario Line route was designed

The new Ontario Line will run from the Ontario Science Centre through downtown Toronto to the Exhibition and Ontario Place grounds. A closer look at the line shows it was designed to provide extra relief for the crowded TTC Line 1 and Union Station, while connecting more neighbourhoods to the subway system. In our continuing series, experts explain how the route was carefully designed to put more homes and employment areas within walking distance of the subway and create new connections to surface routes, such as buses and streetcars.

There’s a lot of reasoning behind a route.

With nearly 16 kilometres of new rail corridor, the Ontario Line will do more than relieve congestion on the TTC Line 1 subway. It will extend subway service to high-density neighbourhoods that need better transit – places like Liberty Village, King West, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park.

When planning the line, one of the most important benefits Metrolinx experts considered was placing stations in spots that link to other transit lines.

“We know that one subway line cannot solve congestion by itself,” said Devin Horne, Metrolinx manager of project planning. “That’s why the Ontario Line is designed to be part of a network solution with interchange stations to existing and future rapid transit lines and to the network of streetcar and bus routes, reaching into more neighbourhoods, and shortening trip times.”

The Ontario Line will create 17 new links to higher-order transit – to three GO Lines, 10 TTC streetcar routes, the Line 1 subway at Queen and Osgoode stations, the Line 2 subway at Pape, and the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT at the Ontario Science Centre.

Let’s start with the Crosstown connection and how it will relieve pressure on the eastern side of the Line 1 subway.

Image tshows construction at the Science Centre.

Three stations at the northern end of the line – at the Science Centre, Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park – will provide some of the more significant benefits when it comes to travel time savings. (Metrolinx photo)

The Ontario Line will begin at the Ontario Science Centre where a new transit hub will connect it to the Crosstown LRT. With LRT trains and TTC buses delivering riders to this station, the Ontario Line will divert more people away from Line 1 than the earlier Relief Line South plan, which would have started near Danforth Avenue at Pape Station.

In fact, Metrolinx projects that the new plan will reduce crowding on Line 1 at Eglinton station by 15 per cent, compared to only 3 for Relief Line South.

Additionally, a station at the Science Centre will give people from Don Mills and Victoria Village a new rapid transit option that takes them all the way downtown without having to transfer.

Three stations at the northern end of the line – at the Science Centre, Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park – will provide some of the more significant benefits when it comes to travel time savings.

There is already a huge demand for transit in this part of Toronto. On weekdays, 28,900 TTC riders take the 25 Don Mills bus – the seventh most used regular bus route in the city – and another 6,400 take the 81 Thorncliffe.

The Ontario Line will speed up commutes by giving these riders an opportunity to enter the subway system sooner. For example, travel time from Thorncliffe Park to King and Bay will be reduced from 42 to approximately 26 minutes.

The line will continue to a station at Cosburn before reaching TTC Line 2 at Pape and Danforth.

Dr. Stephen Farber, an Assistant Professor in Human Geography, and PhD student Jeff Allen found access to education and jobs via transit will improve for people living near Ontario Line.

“The benefits are concentrated among low-income, visible minority and recent immigrant populations, compared to the average benefit received across the entire population,” they wrote.

Ontario Line stations will be within a 10-minute walk for 34,000 low-income people, according to the Initial Business Case prepared by Metrolinx. Overall, it will put 154,000 new people within walking distance of rapid transit.

An image showing a Toronto street.

Ontario Line will extend subway service to high-density neighbourhoods that need better transit – places like Liberty Village, King West, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park. (Metrolinx photo)

From Pape and Danforth, the route will extend underground south to Gerrard before going above ground to take advantage of the existing GO corridor. The station at Leslieville will provide convenient access to the busy 501 streetcar and other surface connections on Queen Street East.

Like the Relief Line South, Ontario Line will have a major hub for connections at a new East Harbour station. Located near Lakeshore Boulevard and the Don Valley Parkway, it will provide a link to GO trains just east of the Don River in an area that will soon be the site of many more employment opportunities.

The Ontario line will run at surface level along the GO corridor making for direct connections with GO and TTC services. This will be much simpler than the Relief Line South, which was to have been buried so far below the Don River as to require four-and-a-half minutes to get out of the tunnel and reach a connection at the surface.

“When the Relief Line South was being contemplated, the stations for the subway and for GO trains were not going to be in the same place at East Harbour, which would have been terribly inconvenient for people,” said Daniel Cicero, Sponsor for the Ontario Line. “This alignment allows us to put the connection between the two lines in one place.”

This easy connection at East Harbour will give GO Train commuters an option to connect to the subway without going through Union Station – a big part of the reason why this plan will reduce crowding there by 13 per cent.

After the Ontario Line crosses the Don River, it will stop at two new stations – Corktown and Sherbourne – before connecting with Line 1 subway and streetcar services at the Queen and Osgoode stations.

Heading west below Queen Street, the next stop will connect with the 510 Spadina streetcar before making a southern turn.

Image shows a street with a pedestrian.

The view on McGee Street, south of Queen St. East. (Metrolinx photo)

The station at Bathurst and King will put condominiums and businesses along King West on the line, with connections to both the 504 King and 511 Bathurst streetcars.

“It’s one of the hot spots for tech jobs,” said Horne. “It’s a great mixed-use neighbourhood with both residential and employment uses, and it is places like that where rapid transit flourishes.”

Finally, the Ontario Line will bring the subway system in close proximity to Liberty Village, easing crowding for condo dwellers who now use the busy 504 King streetcar line.

Current research shows there are 18,900 people and 24,100 jobs within 500 metres of the station, and that number will continue to grow. By 2041, there will be approximately 5,400 people boarding trains in the morning peak at Exhibition station (including transfers from GO), and 1,800 people getting off here.

In addition to rush-hour commuters, this station will welcome riders to Exhibition Place and Ontario Place for sports, concerts, the CNE, trade shows and other attractions.

Since the Ontario Line will be above ground at the existing Exhibition GO station, commuters on the Lakeshore West Line will have an easy connection between the two.

As with the East Harbour station, this connection will give GO Train riders an entry to the subway system that avoids the need to go to Union Station.

The terminus at Exhibition, like the one at the Science Centre, will be designed with a long-term intention to eventually extend Ontario Line even further, to more neighbourhoods.

“It’s a standard practice on any transit line that you protect for future expansion,” said Michael Tham, deputy technical director for the Ontario Line. “We are protecting for future expansion westward and northward.”

To read more about the Ontario Line route, please click here.

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx Senior Advisor.