The Toronto waterfront project seeks to remove all vestiges of the area’s industrial harbor history and maximize the recreational and scenic advantages of Lake Ontario. © West8
An expansive project seeks to revamp Toronto’s waterfront into a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly space that beckons both tourists and residents to enjoy the shores of Lake Ontario.
January 22, 2013—The dramatic transformation of the Toronto waterfront on the shores of Lake Ontario took another step forward recently when work began on a project to revitalize Queens Quay, a vital street that is home to multimillion-dollar condos, restaurants, and shops. The street is an overworked remnant of the area’s past as an industrial harbor.
The lead designer on the project is a joint venture of West 8, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and DTAH, Toronto. The team won a design competition held by Waterfront Toronto in 2006 by presenting a bold vision for the area that included, amongst many other distinct elements, undulating wooden decks, a water’s edge promenade, and the revitalization of Queens Quay.
The transformation of Queens Quay from an industrial thoroughfare with a reputation in the city as being both ugly and congested into a beautiful tree-lined waterfront destination will provide a greater challenge, according to Jelle Therry, MLA, a landscape architect with West 8 and the design manager on the project.
“Today, Queens Quay is an area where you don’t want to be,” Therry says. “It’s not very comfortable. It’s not very easy. It’s not a very beautiful space to be in. Queens Quay is a very important road within the network of Toronto. We’ve learned that the way it works today is not always as efficient as it should be.”
The expansive program will reinvent the Lake Ontario waterfront as
an area that beckons tourists and residents alike to the water.
Working with an engineering team that includes the Toronto offices of Arup and MMM Group, the team has developed a solution to improve traffic flow while essentially reducing the four-lane street to two lanes, Therry said.
The area is popular with tourists and illegal parking in traffic lanes is rampant. Because there are currently two lanes in each direction, that illegal parking forces traffic into a single lane, but in a random, uncontrolled manner. By reducing traffic to one lane, and adding dedicated turn lanes at intersections and lay-bys, illegal parking becomes more difficult and flow will be improved.
The abolition of the two traffic lanes enables the design and engineering team to create an expansive new promenade, a bicycle path, and a double row of trees. The promenade will be covered with a mosaic of red and gray granite pavers incorporating a leaf motif.
The project is being developed by Waterfront Toronto, an organization formed by the governments of Canada, Ontario, and Toronto to revitalize the city’s waterfront area. The organization was established in 2001, tasked with converting the former industrial areas around the lake into desirable areas in which to live, work, and visit.
The redevelopment includes red and gray granite-covered
promenades along the water; undersea construction will protect
wildlife and habitats. © West8
The Queens Quay project presents daunting challenges. The busy street needs to be open at all times, even as mass transit rail is installed, the promenades are laid, and traffic patterns shift. Area businesses want the sidewalks to remain open at all times. And because the area is very popular with summer tourists, the bulk of the work must be performed beyond those peak times.
“There is a whole staging plan behind it,” Therry says. “How do you build the street while the street needs to be open and functional?”
The team has developed a complex, three-stage process of shifting traffic patterns to accomplish that goal, which will be further complicated by the complex underground challenges waiting for them. Although the area is home to gleaming condominium developments in which units sell for millions of dollars, some of the infrastructure beneath the street is more than 100 years old.
“So a further dilemma we are facing is that we need to replace all of those utilities, but make sure that the adjacent condominiums and the people who are living there keep their power to run their air-conditioning or take a shower,” Therry says. “That is one of the big challenges in construction now. How do you replace that while keeping the system running?”
Queens Quay is built on poor-quality lake-fill soils. That, coupled with the industrial nature of the area in the past, means the team will almost certainly find and remediate contaminated soils during the project, Therry says.
The team plans to use Silva Cells—modules that suspend pavement while leaving room beneath for soil and water drainage, produced by the global supplier DeepRoot—as well as specialized soils for the extensive tree plantings they are planning. This will increase the life expectancy of the trees to 25 years, in a city in which street trees last an average of 7 to 10 years.
“We are investing a lot in a system to give the tree what it needs,” Therry says. “Basically, a tree needs light, needs air in its root zone, it needs good soil for stability, and it needs water. So a lot of money is put into the ground. If you build a road straight on top of the roots of a tree, you know that that tree will die. It won’t have what it needs. With a Silva Cell in place, you can give the tree what it needs. You can put beautiful earth in it. You can put an irrigation system in it.”
The stakes for the project are high. Waterfront Toronto has set the Avenue Champs-Elysées in Paris as a model to emulate.
“So Queens Quay will become a very beautiful, strong, double row of tree promenade,” Therry says. “Then we will make the connection with the water, by means of a wooden waterfront boardwalk. The primary objective of the design vision is really to provide for activity and life along the water of the lake of Ontario. It’s really to create this atmosphere that will attract and make you walk along the lake.”