Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit

A front row seat to Toronto’s Carmaggedon

The new Union Station Bus Terminal doesn’t work with Toronto’s weekend traffic. On Saturday, July 2, it took nearly an hour to get off the Gardiner and into the terminal.

On Saturday, my spouse and I decided to take advantage of the GO Transit weekend day pass and take the train to Hamilton for a short excursion. We did some shopping on James Street North in Downtown Hamilton and on Ottawa Street in the city’s east end, where there’s a great cluster of fabric, decor, and antique shops, as well as cafes and restaurants.

The new weekend passes, which cost $10 for one day and $15 for two days, have been a major contributor to GO Transit’s ridership recovery. Though weekend ridership has recovered to 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels (despite lower service levels on many routes), weekday ridership is only half of what it was in 2019.

On our return trip to Toronto, we decided to take the Route 16 express bus, departing from Hamilton GO Centre at 3:30. As the train between Union and Hamilton’s West Harbour Stations runs only every hour, it seemed that the express bus to Union Station would be the fastest and most convenient option. How wrong we were.

A line of GO buses attempting to turn left from Lake Shore Boulevard to Yonge Street

As we were among the first to board the double-decker bus, we had front row seats to Toronto’s Carmageddon.

Despite it being a beautiful afternoon on the long weekend, the ride on Highway 403, the Queen Elizabeth Way, and the Gardiner Expressway was uneventful, with only a few spots where traffic moved slowly. Until the bus got off the York-Bay-Yonge ramp, we were making decent time. That is when we were confronted with a long line of cars and trucks, all trying to turn north on York, Bay, and Yonge Streets.

The new Union Station Bus Terminal, located on the north side of the westbound Lake Shore Boulevard lanes, requires buses coming from the west to turn left on to Yonge Street from eastbound Lake Shore, and then turn left again onto westbound Lakeshore before turning right into the terminal itself.

After finally turning north from eastbound Lake Shore Boulevard, private vehicles, a Rider Express bus, and GO Transit buses attempt to turn left onto a gridlocked westbound Lake Shore Boulevard

But with construction obstructing two westbound lanes of Lake Shore at Bay Street, drivers leaving the first of two Blue Jays games that afternoon (a rare doubleheader hosting the Tampa Bay Rays), and other drivers arriving for the evening Jays game, an Eric Church concert at Scotiabank Arena, along with the usual weekend traffic, traffic could not move, creating literal gridlock. Police or traffic wardens that could monitor and manage the gridlock were nowhere to be seen.

Motorists jam the intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard West and Yonge Street
One driver expresses his frustration with the traffic

At 5:50, 2 hours and 20 minutes after the bus departed Hamilton GO Centre, we were let out on the curb outside the terminal entrance. In response to the backlog of buses attempting to enter and exit the Union Station terminal, GO cut back the Route 16, meeting the half-hourly Lakeshore West train service at Aldershot Station (one stop short of West Harbour). Several Route 16, 21, and 31 trips were cancelled due to the traffic in the downtown core, requiring some customers in places like Milton and Georgetown to wait an entire hour for the next bus.

After similar gridlock conditions on Sunday, July 3, Route 21 (Milton Corridor) and Route 31 (Kitchener Corridor) buses were rerouted to Port Credit GO, requiring a transfer to trains there.

The new terminal’s location is excellent for consolidating all intercity bus and rail services and is much safer than the old Union Station Terminal or the dilapidated Metro Toronto Coach Terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets. Direct, indoor connections can be made with the subway, several hotels, Scotiabank Arena, and to the vast PATH system of underground walkways. Its major failure, however, is the lack of dedicated bus lanes to speed highway coaches in and out of the facility.

On Lake Shore Boulevard. The bus entrance to the Union Station terminal is at right

There is an exceptionally wide sidewalk on the north side of Lake Shore approaching the bus entrance to the terminal, and an extremely short bus lane in front of the terminal’s entrance and exit. It is no wonder why some private coach operators, such as FlixBus and Onex, opt for on-street stops, rather than the terminal used by GO, Megabus, Rider Express, TOK, and Ontario Northland.

Toronto’s shortest and least-effective bus lane, in front of the Union Station Bus Terminal. Note the sign reading “be patient – drive with care” above.

A dedicated bus lane for the entire distance between Yonge and Bay Streets would undoubtedly improve operations. A dedicated left turn lane from Yonge to westbound Lakeshore would also allow easier access to the terminal from the west, where the majority of GO and intercity coach buses arrive from. Similar dedicated left turn lanes at Queen Street and Central Park Drive in Brampton allow Brampton Transit buses to quickly enter and exit the Bramalea Terminal. Better traffic management, including police enforcement, would help ensure a clear path for transit and coach buses.

The gridlock continued west of Bay Street, as motorists lined up to get to the Gardiner Expressway or go west on Lake Shore Boulevard

GO Transit’s reaction, to reroute buses to the already-crowded Lakeshore West Train, is not a sustainable solution, though it is the only effective tool it has at the moment. Though Route 16 passengers are not taken far out of their way with a transfer at Aldershot GO, the detour is more onerous for some Route 21 and all Route 31 passengers forced to backtrack to Port Credit GO for a forced transfer there.

Stouffville and Barrie Corridor passengers were spared the hassles with the return of weekend train service earlier this year. Unfortunately, Canadian Pacific’s control of almost the entirety of the Milton Corridor precludes midday, evening, and weekend train service, but there’s an opportunity to finally bring limited weekend train service to the Kitchener Corridor. GO Transit already offers an hourly midday and evening weekday train service to Mount Pleasant Station in Brampton, despite CN’s control of the corridor west of Bramalea Station.

Track improvements completed nearly 20 years ago (an additional track between Bramalea and Mount Pleasant and a second platform at Brampton GO Station) provides the capacity for hourly GO trains and CN’s freight operations. Weekend Route 30 bus service between Kitchener and Bramalea can provide a reasonable and reliable bus link until corridor improvements, such as new passing tracks, are completed between Georgetown and Kitchener.

As I was sitting in traffic for an hour, I found myself aggravated once again by Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro lobbying the city to end the Sunday closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West to allow for the city’s (much-diminished) Active TO program. In a letter addressed to Mayor John Tory, General Manager of Transportation Services Barbara Gray, and the city clerk, Shapiro argued that “removing one of the only ways into and out of the downtown core would be extremely challenging to our fans” claiming that “on the days when Active TO has been in effect on Lake Shore, our local fans have experienced significant transit delays because traffic is grinded to a halt on all downtown routes.” (It is worth noting that the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rogers Communications. The mayor of Toronto, a former Rogers executive, remains involved with the Rogers family trust.)

The Lake Shore closure allowed cyclists and runners to bypass the overcrowded Martin Goodman Trail along Toronto’s Western Beaches, on a section of roadway paralleled by GO Transit’s Lakeshore Corridor. The traffic congestion last weekend was completely unrelated to ActiveTO (which is now suspended on Lake Shore Boulevard, partly due to Shaprio’s lobbying) and transit riders, who make up a large percentage of the Blue Jays’ fanbase, were left in the mess that motorists made.

2 replies on “A front row seat to Toronto’s Carmaggedon”

Excellent summary of the issues around the new Union Station Bus Terminal. It is supremely disappointing that the bus lane along westbound Lakeshore still hasn’t been extended into the vacant space illustrated in your photo with the 21P bus.

We need to pressure Metrolinx and the City to fund that very cheap and high-benefit road modification.

Dedicated bus lanes and turn signals need to happen ASAP. It’s low-hanging fruit that could make a world of difference.

I can’t help but to also think that direct bus-only Gardiner-access a la Port Authority Bus Terminal should have been built into the station too.

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