TTC tunnel mishaps spark calls for Queens Quay design review

Cars ending up down the streetcar tunnel is the latest issue with Queens Quay for members of TTC board. There is concern that confusion caused by the layout and signage may have contributed to accidents with cyclists and pedestrians.

Waterfront Toronto open to suggestions and says much has been learned

There's usually a lot going on along Queens Quay and drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and streetcar drivers have to pay attention. Waterfront Toronto says this is a unique part of the city and people have to learn how to share the space. (CBC)

Waterfront Toronto is defending its design for the revamped Queens Quay despite criticism from a TTC board member who calls it confusing and says it needs a rethink.

Alan Heisey, vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission board, has asked for a review of the entire LRT right of way, which has had issues with drivers entering the tunnel meant for streetcars only. So far, 25 vehicles have ended up in the tunnel since the revitalized street reopened in 2015.

The most recent incidents happened earlier this month, when two motorists drove down the tunnel in a week, prompting the TTC to announce it is installing a gate.

"The question is not just the tunnel. The question is the overall design of Queens Quay. It is not clear. It's not understandable," said Heisey.

Streetcar service was disrupted after a car drove into the tunnel at Queens Quay and got stuck on Sunday, December 31, 2017. (CBC)

"This is what happens when designers design places, but don't design workable places. And I don't think transportation engineers and the TTC had enough input into the design of the Queens Quay LRT and it's a cautionary tale for what should not happen east of Yonge."

Interim TTC CEO Rick Leary said city and TTC engineers will be conducting a review of the right of way.

"They're going to take a look at that whole length and see what we can do possibly differently and report back," said Leary "All the way along the line. We'll look at the length of the line."

TTC vice chair Alan Heisey has also accidentally found himself driving on the Queens Quay LRT right of way. He's also been in an accident while riding a bicycle in the area. And he says the design of the entire stretch needs to be reviewed. (Youtube)

Christopher Glaisek, the vice president for planning and design at Waterfront Toronto, says the agency is open to any feedback, but points out there are ongoing efforts to monitor the street's performance and to make adjustments to the layout of the street as required.

And he says designing the revitalized Queens Quay involved city transportation staff, the TTC and traffic engineers from two international firms 

This car was pulled out of the Queens Quay streetcar tunnel on March 17, 2018. The TTC says after 25 cars have ended up stuck, it will look at installing a gate outside the tunnel. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)

"It was not just designed just by planners. It was certainly design in a collaborative group," Glaisek said. "But it is an atypical configuration and so it has posed some challenges." 

Glaisek said the issue with vehicles entering the streetcar tunnel has required new signs to give drivers better cues about how to use the street.

"All the adjustments, all that learning will be fed into the design of the street going east," Glaisek said.

Another complaint about the Queens Quay redesign — with its multiple modes of transportation sharing the same stretch — has been some confusion about where cyclists should be.

Yvonne Bambrick, author of The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, says the Martin Goodman Trail — which runs from the Beach in the east through Queens Quay to the Humber River in the west — is actually a "mixed use" path and not solely for bikes.

Christopher Glaisek of Waterfront Toronto says the city, TTC and transportation planners were consulted in the design of the revitalized Queens Quay. But the agency is open to feedback and will incorporate what it's learned for the eastern portion of the street. (Waterfront Toronto)

"In the Queens Quay section there's dedicated pedestrian sidewalk space and you also have what feels like to those on bike like a cycle track, but it's actually a shared trail," said Bambrick, "So you have people jogging there, tourists walking, people with dogs and kids and people who don't understand the differences in those spaces."

Bambrick says then there are the weekend warriors clad in spandex who are out for a good workout and they want to ride fast.

"Some of those types of uses mix poorly in this area, unfortunately," said Bambrick, who got in a collision with another cyclist on Queens Quay bike path last year.

Yvonne Bambrick, author of the 'The Urban Cycling Survival Guide,' says some cyclists may not know the trail is for mixed use in this area. (CBC)

Glaisek at Waterfront Toronto says the popularity of the area for cyclists was clearly underestimated.

"In a way, Queens Quay was more successful than we expected it to be in terms of the number of users," he said, adding planners had expected 40 cyclists an hour, whereas staff have observed as many as 500 cyclists an hour.

"Which makes it the busiest cycling facility in the city by a factor of two  and I don't think we quite anticipated the level of intensity of use," Glaisek said.

He says in retrospect they would have used a different design had they known there would be so many cyclists.

"That is another aspect that we will certainly look at with the eastern portion of the street," Glaisek  said.