Rendering of the UP Express by Metrolinx

Rendering of the UP Express by Metrolinx

Many cities have rail links to their airports, including Vancouver, New York, London, Amsterdam, and Paris. Although many of these are cities historically built on rail lines, municipalities built during the postwar era are now adding trains to add sustainable transportation options to their transit systems. Toronto will join in next spring with the Union-Pearson Express (UPX), set to open for service in time for the Pan Am Games in July 2015. This long-awaited service will take only 25 minutes and offer travellers luggage racks, luggage tags, and wi-fi. It will make only two stops (Weston and Bloor West GO Stations), reaching top speeds of 79 km/h. It’s particularly needed in Toronto, where traffic in Mississauga has increased to unmanageable proportions in the past few years. Current options include express buses run by the TTC, but for many in the region a bus stop or route is too far awa to make the trip viable by transit.

However, since September Metrolinx officials have been fending off accusations that the cost of the UPX service will prevent many from using it–at least on a regular basis. Metrolinx chair Bruce McQuaig played the elitism card, saying that the train is “meant to be an extension of the airport experience, rather than a daily commuter service.” (As if people most people using Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ) don’t fly economy and take the cheapest alternative to the airport). The real goal is to help Metrolinx recover operating costs–estimated at $79 million annually.

The UPX fares were finally announced this week. Riders will pay $27.50 for a one-way trip, dropping to $19 for Presto card users. Airport workers can also purchase a $300 monthly pass which would work out to $7.50 per ride if they used it for 40 rides per month. Presto, at the moment, really only makes sense for those who cross the region on a regular basis: 1.3 million riders per month use it to access ten transit systems in the region, including Durham Region Transit, Mississauga’s MiWay, and the Hamilton Street Railway. Presto will be fully implemented by 2016–currently only a handful of TTC subway stations and the 510 Spadina streetcar have Presto card scanners.

Luckily, the UPX won’t be the only option to get to YYZ. The 192 Airport Rocket bus, which currently runs from Kipling Station to the airport, has a daily ridership of 4,500, is equipped with luggage racks and makes only three stops on its 20-minute trip to/from Terminal 1. The bus runs every 10 minutes for most of the day and costs the same as a regular bus, subway, or streetcar. The TTC is interested in doubling its ridership in 2015, and will spend $100,000 on efforts to raise its visibility. So the Rocket remains an option for those who can’t afford the money train.

imagesJohn Tory hasn’t been sworn in as mayor yet, but he’s already trying to undo some of the damage Rob Ford did to the transit system in the past four years. War on the car? Let’s talk about a war on transit.

Don Peat of the Toronto Sun and Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail reported today on the cuts Ford imposed to bus service in 2011 and 2012, which saved the TTC around $18 million but resulted in significant service reductions on 41 bus routes and a further reduction along 63 other routes. Loading standards were also rolled back to 2004 levels, which is no surprise to anyone taking transit in Toronto today–the level of overcrowding is almost unbearable on many routes. Today’s TTC service is bursting at the seams with increased ridership, yet they have boasted budget surpluses in recent years reflecting their decreased spending on services. Does this make sense?

Tory has already asked TTC CEO Andy Byford to look at ways to restore these services and source the necessary vehicles, in order to have an immediate impact on the city’s transit problems. Funny–I think I remember someone else campaigning on a promise of increasing bus service because it would have the most impact on users for the lowest cost. Oh right–it was Olivia Chow. Interesting how nobody took her seriously on this except the TTC, which proposed 10-minute service on a network of bus routes in its extensive service improvement report, quietly released just before the election. The TTC also proposed solutions like time-based transfers and all-door boarding, two user-oriented options that other cities have been using for years.

Tory has also asked Byford to investigate whether it’s possible to move more quickly on the new signalling system that will allow subway trains to run more frequently (every 90 seconds), now scheduled for completion in 2020. Improvements to the system, as well as track upgrades, currently cause frequent daily delays on the subway. Tory has asked for a cost breakdown of the TTC’s proposed service improvements, and advice on which ones could be implemented quickly.

Quick wins will be necessary for Tory to prove that he is serious about improving transit, his key election promise.

 

In what was surely the most-anticipated municipal mayoral race of my lifetime, October 27th marked the finish line: election day. With Rob Ford registering his intent to run again on January 2nd, the 10-month race was on. Ford’s two foes in this race, John Tory and Olivia Chow, were the only others in that mattered–although dozens of other candidates ran for mayor. The debates were focused on these three from the get-go–and when the Ford brothers’ shocking last-minute switch occurred on September 12th, Doug Ford merely stepped into his brother’s place as Rob ran instead for the Etobicoke North riding he had represented for a decade (2000-2010). Would Ford Nation embrace Doug as they had embraced Rob?

Tonight’s results were a resounding “No!” With a record-breaking 60% voter turnout, Toronto has chosen John Tory as mayor.

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city. Turnout was markedly higher in Toronto than its adjacent cities–just 38% in Mississauga, 36% in Brampton, and 26% in Oshawa.

How did Tory win? Or rather, how did the Fords lose? The public had gotten sick of the drama that was city hall, ironically from a mayor who was elected to reduce government waste and inefficiency. For many, the last-minute substitution of one Ford for another was simply too much to take. Suspicious voters turned out in droves to force the Fords out–but only in the mayoral race. Rob has been re-elected as city councillor in Ward 2 Etobicoke–cancer treatment and all. Olivia Chow entered the race strong, but many analysts and journalists say that she began to lose traction in the summer–for reasons nobody has been able to figure out. Tonight on CBC, journalists said she ran “too sensible” of a campaign, “always took the high road”, and noted that the twin spectres of racism and sexism had reared their ugly heads during the past few months; ironically a female journalist covering the results criticized Chow as “too nice”, a descriptor that would likely not be applied to a male candidate. Indeed, in the male-dominated arena of debates (or shouting matches), it was difficult for an intelligent and sensible woman to win over two candidates who alternately proposed pipe dreams and vague ideas with equal amounts of bluster–difficult, as well, to withstand members of the public who taunted her ethnocultural background or gender. By summer, the race had become about one issue: transit. Tory introduced his SmartTrack idea which, although vague and lacking a realistic funding strategy, gained remarkable traction with the public over Chow’s simpler, cheaper plan–by the time Doug Ford developed a plan for relieving congestion, late in September, the voters had already decided.

Those voters who may have liked Rob Ford’s fiscally prudent promises the first time around, but blanched at his drug and alcohol abuse issues, may have also been drawn to Tory as a fiscal conservative. In this area, leftist Chow stood no chance–even though in many cases her proposals were fiscally responsible (more so, in some cases, than her opponent Tory), the public knows her as an NDP Member of Parliament, which in their eyes means spending on socially relevant causes instead of balancing the budget. As Toronto Star columnist Royson James wrote, “They wanted Ford without the drama.”

Finally we have the polls, which beginning in August, have traced Tory’s rise to power. In many races in recent history (including the 2011 federal, 2012 Alberta provincial, and 2014 Ontario provincial elections) polls have been wildly inaccurate. It is worthwhile to note that polls did not correctly predict the winners of any of these major races–but they did tonight. Those who remained undecided until around Labour Day, which in Toronto circles seems to be when the race shifts into high gear, were subjected to a barrage of convincingly scientific-sounding polls that told them Tory was in the lead. Numerous articles urged Chow to give up the race in order to avoid splitting the vote, and many urged Torontonians to vote strategically against Ford.

Tory was the least controversial in comparison to Chow or Ford. Freelancer John Barber calls Tory “as boring as Nebraska” under the headline “Boredom replaces noise and strife at city hall.” Like others before him, Barber describes Tory’s program as “comfortingly vague, building on his natural strength as an inoffensive character.” As so often happens in politics, it was an election based on who the public didn’t want in office, rather than who they did want. As many have written, this race always had to be about getting rid of Rob and restoring Toronto’s internationally tarnished reputation–the highest voter turnout since Toronto’s 1998 amalgamation illustrates this. Neighbouring municipalities, with less spectacular, media-hogging candidates, had voter turnouts as low as 23% tonight. Tory inherits the difficult task of bridging a divided Toronto–less divided than in 2010, perhaps, but divided nonetheless–a task he promised to undertake as the Great Healer.

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory's support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory’s support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green. Ford largely swept the eastern and western suburbs with 34% of the vote, leaving Tory and Chow to pick up the urban votes (40% and 23% respectively).

Toronto map 2010

Four years ago, the urban-suburban divide was even greater than it was today, showing almost exactly the divide between the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto (in purple) and the suburbs that joined it in 1998 (East York, Scarborough, North York, York, and Etobicoke, in blue).

Yesterday urban planners Asher Mercer (Urban ID Consulting) and Edward Nixon (EN Consulting Group) hosted a walk along Queen Street as part of their project, The People’s Queen Street, which is attempting to reimagine the major east-west corridor as a public space prioritizing people. Partnering with the Toronto Community Foundation, Evergreen Foundation, the Centre for Social Innovation, and 100 in One Day Toronto, Urban ID Consulting and ED Consulting Group are organizing several events from summer 2014 until spring 2015 to help people experience the street in new ways and think about ways in which it could be redesigned as a better space for pedestrians.

Yesterday’s walk began at Neville Park, where the 501 Queen streetcar begins (Neville Loop) and continued all the way to Queen and Roncesvalles. Joined by intrepid walkers from Toronto Trails and Ontario Walks, a group of about 35 walkers crossed the city, stopping to think about development opportunities at Queen and Broadview, view historic Ashbridge House and Campbell House, and finish the day at Beaty Boulevard Parkette. The walk is about 17km in total, but I focus here on the first 5.7 km east of Broadview.

Neville Loop is a small unimposing turnaround for the streetcar (albeit with quite a long history as the City of Toronto’s easternmost streetcar loop) across from the Art Deco-styled R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, which writer Derek Flack characterized as “one of Toronto’s most beautiful and mysterious buildings.” For our purposes, the westernmost corner of Neville Park provided a natural meeting place and amphitheater for Asher and Edward to introduce the purpose of the walk today and invite participants to submit their comments, tweets, and photos to the project website.

We began at a brisk pace on Queen, taking in some of the built form that spoke of an earlier main street. On the way, we passed a number of historic buildings, like Black’s Veterinary Hospital (founded in 1911) and the Ashbridge Estate, which are well known: Toronto’s Ashbridge’s Bay was named for Sarah Ashbridge, in recognition of her position in one of the city’s founding families. Other lesser-known marvels included the tiny Fox Theatre (opened in 1914) and the Beaches Library (whose original structure was a Carnegie library). Queen Street East has that intrinsically interesting pedestrian atmosphere of the early 1900s, with the recurring main street urban form of a two-storey brick structure with apartments over the shops, punctuated by unfortunate modernist intrusions, as I’ve shown in the photos below. You can tell the street was gradually widened, giving even the most charming main street areas very narrow sidewalks.

It’s also impossible to ignore the hipster influence on the street, as the traditional dry cleaners and butchers of The Beach give way to coffee shops and restaurants in the popular neighbourhoods of Corktown, Riverside, and Leslieville. The urban redevelopment of the New Broadview Hotel and the Riverside Square project (check out streetcar.ca for more details) will continue this character shift towards upscale urban living. Displacement of the current residents is seen as a necessity: Streetcar Developments has been working with the City of Toronto and Woodgreen Community Services to assist transition of the existing residents to other community housing. Aaron Knight from Streetcar met us to explain some of the changes that will happen near this historic intersection, particularly the south side of the street meeting Munro, which will be reinvisioned as a pedestrian and urban space open to the public.

From Queen and Broadview, the group continued west on to Campbell House, and finished up at Queen and Roncesvalles. If you have any thoughts on Queen Street, and how to improve its public realm and pedestrian amenities, share them with Asher and Edward at peoplesqueenstreet.org/queenstsurvey, on their Facebook group, or on twitter.

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The Fox theatre (opened in 1914 as “the theatre without a name”)

 

The pedestrian amenities are minimal east of Woodbine

The pedestrian amenities are minimal east of Woodbine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beaches Library

Beaches Library featuring a one-ton sculpture of an owl (Philip H. Carter, Ludzer Vandermolen), was one of Toronto’s original Carnegie libraries

Bike parking and seating in front of the Beaches Library

Bike parking and seating in front of the Beaches Library and Kew Gardens, offers a much better pedestrian realm

 

Bam! Breakfast and Bistro displays one of many colourful murals along Queen Street East

Bam! Breakfast and Bistro displays one of many colourful murals along Queen Street East–but note the narrow sidewalk

 

Much more space for pedestrians, but no amenities

Much more space for pedestrians, but no amenities at Queen and Northern Dancer Blvd. (named for the horse, as the Greenwood Racetrack was here until 1994, before it was demolished and replaced by Greenwood Park). I’m guessing the owner of this building would be able to attract tenants with some seating, bike racks, and public art

 

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Squeezed for space at Eastern Ave.–it’s difficult to get around the bus shelter. Why not just ask building owners to construct an overhang?

 

Another pedestrian desert at the Alliance Theatre (Beaches) just west of Eastern Ave.

Another pedestrian desert at the Alliance Theatre (Beach) just west of Eastern Ave. that could easily be improved with some seating–who doesn’t need somewhere to wait when meeting friends for a movie?

 

Velotique making an imprint on the urban fabric at Queen and Rhodes

Velotique making an imprint on the urban fabric at Queen and Rhodes

 

Playground and chain link fence protecting the private realm at Queen and Craven

Playground and chain link fence protecting the private realm at Queen and Craven (see below for the north side view) makes the street uninviting for pedestrians

 

The northern side of the street at Queen and Craven shows a very different view--the old main street shops

The northern side of the street at Queen and Craven shows a very different view–the old main street shops. Again, note how little space there is for pedestrians, especially when signage and street trees are added.

 

Ashbridge Estate, the remains of Sarah Ashbridge's plot of farmland that stretched south to the lake

Ashbridge Estate, the remains of Sarah Ashbridge’s plot of farmland that stretched south to the lake. Ashbridge’s Bay and Ashland were named after her.

 

The street in front of the Ashbridge Estate feels like a country road with its white picket fence

The street in front of the Ashbridge Estate feels like a country road with its white picket fence

 

East End Garden and Hardware Centre spilled out onto the south side of the street with its Halloween display

East End Garden and Hardware Centre spills out onto the south side of the street with its Halloween display, taking advantage of its private space.

 

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Black's Toronto Veterinary Hospital, just west of Carlaw, (opened in 1911) gives a glimpse of the old main street

Black’s Toronto Veterinary Hospital (opened in 1911), just west of Carlaw, gives us a glimpse of how buildings used to meet up with the old main street: with a sidewalk, lawn, and garden.

 

Queen and Coxwell has vestiges of the past, but the pedestrian realm is barren here

Queen and Coxwell has vestiges of the past in the Woodgreen Pharmacy, but the pedestrian realm is barren here. Note the brick only faces Queen Street, obviously the higher impact was needed on this street over Coxwell.

 

Slices of Canadiana--Canada Dry, immigration/citizenship, and the streetcar

Slices of Canadiana–Canada Dry, immigration/citizenship, and the streetcar. In the Leslieville area now, the sidewalk is far too narrow for the amount of foot traffic the newer shops and services attract.

 

Queen and Broadview, until recently home to Jilly's adult entertainment. The New Broadview Hotel is currently undergoing a major redevelopment through Streetcar Development

Queen and Broadview, until recently home to Jilly’s adult entertainment and a residential hotel with long-time residents. The New Broadview Hotel, which dates back to 1893, is currently undergoing a major redevelopment through Streetcar Developments. It’s the kind of project that could change the character of this intersection for decades in the future.

 

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“Time is Money. Money is Time.” street art at Queen and Broadview

 

Aaron Knight of Streetcar Developments tells us about the redevelopment opportunities for the space currently devoted to a car dealership (south side of Queen at Munro). Redevelopment will see the space as an extension of the public realm.

Aaron Knight of Streetcar Developments tells us about the redevelopment opportunities for the space currently devoted to a car dealership (south side of Queen at Munro). The redevelopment project Riverside Square will see the space as an extension of the public realm.

 

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about efforts by Line Six to crowdfund a pilot Liberty Village express bus to Union Station. This week the project is up and running, having raised their target of $2,500. For a $25 donation, passengers were guaranteed a seat, free coffee and wi-fi on their commute, a lot more than the overcrowded King streetcar can offer them.

Line Six has other routes under consideration, like Junction to Union, Yonge and Eglington to Union, The Beach to Union, and Humber Bay to Union. The first three to receive 500 votes will get a route.

The TTC hasn’t weighed in on the pilot in any detail yet, probably since traffic and transit have been top issues in this year’s election–even Canadian Automobile Association members rank transit as a top election issue. Of 3,411 CAA members asked to name top election issues, 71% said road improvements, 55% said reducing congestion and 44% said transit improvements. If this sample is representative of CAA South Central Ontario’s 1.9 million members, it’s significant enough to make local politicians sit up and take notice of alternatives like Line Six that aim to relieve overcrowded transit systems.

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Screen shot from the video series

A series of new videos developed by David Crowley, local transportation consultant and the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Toronto shows very clearly how Toronto’s transit problems began–and how we can get ourselves out of this mess. The research, relying on data from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, has been peer reviewed for accuracy and would make an excellent starting point for discussions in urban planning or geography classes, high school civics classes, among community groups seeking to understand the issues in this region, and for political representatives and public sector employees. Click on the links below to watch the videos–each is under four minutes in length.

Understand Transit History (How we Got Into This Mess) outlines how the transit process has become overly politicized, with politicians proposing solutions that aren’t logical, just to get short-term votes. On the other hand, systems like GO regional rail were planned to serve the greatest number of riders, long before traffic was choking our city, and has consistently expanded to accommodate new suburban growth. As a result, 2 in 5 downtown workers commutes in from the outer suburbs and over 75% of them take transit.

The Biggest Problem (Overcrowding on the Subway System) shows the rapid increase in commuters from York Region, almost half of whom use the TTC–the number of riders from York Region to downtown almost doubled from 1986-2006. York Region Go Train usage, on the other hand, is 25% lower than Peel, Halton or Durham Regions for the downtown commute.

Too Many Rapid Transit Proposals (But Few Solutions) have been designed to win short-term voter support, e.g. the Sheppard subway extension and proposed Scarborough subway. Neither addressed serious overcrowding issues on the existing system or inadequate bus service. All-day service on all the GO Train lines are not competitive financially, but increasing service on the lines running through York Region could help address overcrowding on the TTC and serve Scarborough. Integration of fares between GO and the TTC is also needed.

Take the Politics out of Transit Planning shows the economic strength of Toronto’s downtown as a direct result of the GO Train and TTC systems and outlines the problems that would occur if that was not the case. The main point here is that transportation planning decisions should be designed by transportation experts and approved by politicians–not the other way around.

For those of you confused by the plethora of candidates in Toronto’s upcoming election, Women in Toronto Politics has developed an easy to understand Position Primer. Simply type in your postal code and you’ll be able to instantly compare candidates’ positions in your ward on a number of key issues:

  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Employment
  • Affordable housing
  • Newcomers
  • Poverty
  • Public services
  • Taxation
  • Infrastructure
  • A key ward issue

 

The Position Primer is based on a survey that asked candidates for their positions on 10 issues in 350 characters or less. The unedited answers are yet another method for residents to learn about the key issues in their local areas before election day, October 27th.

 

crosstownroutemapThe Province of Ontario will issue green bonds to help raise money for construction of the Eglington Crosstown LRT, making it apparently the first government in Canada to use such a funding tool to pay for infrastructure. Premier Kathleen Wynne mentioned green bonds as a possible funding mechanism in her spring campaign.

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 and can be issued for a specific project, a combination of projects, or to contribute to a fund for interrelated green investments (e.g. water treatment facilities using green technologies). The Economist reported in July 2014 that over $3 billion in green bonds were sold in 2012, skyrocketing to almost $20 billion in the first half of 2014. Although this is still only a fraction of the bond market, The Economist noted that “compared with most streams of income for environmental purposes, it is huge” and that the green bond market “appeared out of nowhere”.

The Ontario green bond program will be used to fund a range of sustainable projects across the province:

  • public transit
  • clean energy
  • energy efficiency and conservation
  • forestry, agriculture and land management
  • climate adaptation

 

The Eglington Crosstown, part of Metrolinx’ 25-year, $50 billion strategic plan The Big Move, is expected to be finished in 2020 at a total cost of $5.3 million. About $500 million is expected to be raised through green bonds.

rob-fordMayor Rob Ford has dropped out of Toronto’s mayoral race following this week’s shocking news on his health. Following severe abdominal pain earlier this week, the mayor was hospitalized on Wednesday and underwent a biopsy of a large mass in his abdomen yesterday. Results won’t be known until next week, and Ford could have remained on the ballot if he so chose. However, he seems to be playing it safe and attending to his health–something he has historically avoided doing. During the past two years of drama over Ford’s addiction issues, he steadfastly refused help until this spring, when he spent some time at a rehabilitation facility addressing alcohol dependency.

The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, will run instead, but will may not have the same polling numbers as Rob. Doug had been a councillor representing Etobicoke North (Ward 2), but Rob will now replace him in that race. Rob Ford was the Ward 2 councillor from 2000-2010.

Today was the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the race–low-polling candidates David Soknacki and Sarah Thomson withdrew last week. Candidate John Tory, currently polling in the lead, will face off with Olivia Chow, who until today polled in third place after Ford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA bike_lanes.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoThe City of Toronto officially opened separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street in June 2013. Six months later, The Grid examined the success of the lanes and found that several barriers still existed for cyclists: the curb separating the lanes from traffic could be easily driven over, and cars and delivery trucks routinely blocked the lanes despite the threat of a $150 fine. Conflicts with pedestrians and right-hand turning cars were also an issue.

But today’s news yielded different views. The Toronto Star reported that since opening, the number of cyclists using Sherbourne Street has tripled to an average of 2827 daily, up from an average of 955 daily in 2011. Even after subtracting the 800 daily riders who may have switched from Jarvis Street since its lanes there were removed, that’s still double the riders on Sherbourne post-lane separation.

Cycle Toronto, which advocates safe cycling as an essential part of a sustainable transportation network, would like all the mayoral candidates to commit to building 100 km of separated bike lanes on larger streets (like Eglington, Richmond, and Adelaide) and 100 km of designated lanes on smaller residential roads. They would like to see Toronto’s cycling mode share increase from 1.7% to 5% by 2016.