How Metrolinx is continuing the conversation around the Ontario Line during a time of social distancing

When you have questions about the Ontario Line, Metrolinx is here to help. While COVID-19 has impacted things, the team behind the subway route is still available. Virtual tools are being expanded to keep the conversation going and provide opportunities to share feedback. In the weeks ahead, virtual open houses and engagements will provide more information about the Ontario Line and give you an opportunity to share input. 

As surely as transit lines offer rides in both directions, planning for those lines must also include a two-way information exchange.

Those conversations have typically been face-to-face, but like almost everything else in our lives, they have changed since COVID-19. Before the pandemic, very well attended town hall gatherings on the project were held in late January and early February 2020.

The turnout was a clear demonstration of the appetite for more information about the line. These evenings provided opportunities for people to share their ideas directly with Metrolinx staff, whether that was through one-on-one conversations or in the surveys they filled out.

This engagement was mirrored online for participants who couldn’t make it to any of the in-person events.

Image shows an online meeting taking place.
Look familiar? Members of Ontario Line’s community relations team gather in an online meeting. (Metrolinx image)

Later in 2020, virtual consultations quickly became the norm in response to social distancing and stay-at-home measures introduced to help deal with the pandemic. In the fall, an extensive round of virtual engagement followed the release of neighbourhood updates for the West, Downtown, East and North segments and was held entirely online. With robust website updates including track and platform details and neighbourhood maps, the Metrolinx Community Relations team collected feedback via email, phone and in video conference meetings.

Well now, amid continuing COVID-19 safety measures, the next neigbourhood meeting will also take place online.

Keep checking Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine for more information on virtual events that will be taking place this spring.

Online meetings have emerged as an important tool for community engagement through a year of lockdowns and social distancing.

In recent years – especially prior to COVID-19 – residents in neighbourhoods surrounding transit construction became accustomed to bumping into the Metrolinx Community Relations team. They were found setting-up information tables in libraries, bringing pop-up displays to condo lobbies, meeting people in coffee shops and at work in community offices.

The places where the conversations happen have changed, but the dialogue has continued.

“We are constantly having conversations with interested members of the public and community groups, so they can learn more about the project and provide feedback,” Vandezande says “Wherever possible, our project team incorporates that feedback into our plans.

“Building transit in a city of unique neighbourhoods means we have a lot to learn about the places and people who will be impacted, so now, we just need to get ourselves accustomed to a new mode of connecting with each other.”

Looking forward, community offices in neighbourhoods along the line will offer additional locations for discussions between Metrolinx and local community members. Although the openings have been delayed by the pandemic, storefront meeting places remain an important part of the Metrolinx plan.

With geotechnical drilling underway to help the technical team learn more about the ground the tunnels will go through, work crews have been active in several neighbourhoods along the route.

Advance notice about the work is more important than ever before, especially since so many people are working from home during the pandemic. That’s why the Metrolinx Community Relations team has ramped up efforts to provide notice about when crews will be working along various parts of the line. While following safety procedures, team members have visited residents who’ve had questions or concerns.

Since the pandemic has impacted in-person conversations, digital public engagement is now even more critical for the Ontario Line and other projects that are reaching key milestones. Metrolinx has been using this approach for years with its websites and social media channels, and its online presence is growing.

“It’s something we’ve been passionate about as an organization because of the many benefits offered from online engagement, largely around inclusivity and accessibility,” said Peter Bailey, the Metrolinx manager for Digital Public Engagement.

Bailey noted three major benefits of the online approach. First, people can choose the most convenient time and place to participate; second, they can take as long as they like to review and consider the materials that most important to them; and third, the feedback is posted publicly so participants are able to benefit from each other’s submissions, thinking and ideas.

“We will also keep rolling out live-interactions through virtual meeting tools to ensure we’re safely getting to know the community, understanding shared interests with people and building the relationships that are vital to making this project a success,” Bailey said.

Environmental reports covering the existing conditions along the line and for early works at Exhibition Station for things like noise and vibration, cultural heritage and traffic, were completed and released for public feedback.  Several additional reports will follow, including early works reports for the joint rail corridor through Riverside and Leslieville as well as the Lower Don Bridges and the detailed Environmental Impact Assessment Report that provides a full analysis of the line.

To reach Metrolinx directly regarding the Ontario Line project and construction, call 416-202-5100, send an email to OntarioLine@metrolinx.com or visit Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine to learn more and sign up for e-newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Editor’s note – This story was updated on March 31, to reflect a change in a planned open house.

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx Senior Advisor