Goin’ to Kansas City

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Bus and streetcar, Downtown Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri made news this month when its City Council voted unanimously to include a plan for free fixed-route public transit in the next city budget. Though that budget would still have to be passed in the New Year, the mayor’s support for the measure is a promising sign. Though it will cost $8 million, local politicians support the idea as it will benefit low income riders.

It is worth noting that Kansas City Area Transit Authority’s 2016 annual ridership was just over 14 million a year, while the cost recovery rate was just 12 percent. It would be much harder to offer free transit in Toronto. The TTC’s cost recovery rate is 68%, with transit fares bringing in over $1.2 billion a year. Though a two-hour transfer and free children’s fares were recently introduced, there’s little chance that the City of Toronto would agree to funding fare-free transit. In any case, Kansas City’s experiment will be interesting to watch.

Kansas City was a more interesting city than I expected; I am glad I made the impromptu trip. There are a few Toronto connections, including a streetcar that traveled the continent, a restored Union Station, and a 1920s shopping plaza whose concept was imitated 80 years later in Don Mills.

I enjoyed an evening at a jazz club at the 18th and Vine Historic District and local barbecue. Besides transit, I also got around on an electric pedal assist bike that’s part of the local bike share. It’s friendly, urban city, definitely worth a visit.
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Five years of musings

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Here I am, back in 2015

Today, December 7, 2019, marks the fifth anniversary of my personal blog, Marshall’s Musings.

I started this website as a place to archive the maps I was making in 2014 after the municipal election. I had mapped poll-by-poll results for each ward, showing how each area voted for mayor and councillor; a few followers on Twitter suggested I start a blog to provide a permanent home for those maps.

After that, I kept the blog going, first mapping council votes (such as the decision to rebuild the east section of the Gardiner Expressway, but also commenting on transit issues, road safety, and local history. Occasionally I’ll write about my cycling trips or other travels, but it’s clear that transit is the most popular topic on this website.

This blog, along with well as my occasional contributions to Spacing magazine, TVO, and Torontoist (now defunct), has provided me with some influence within Toronto’s urbanist circles. Recently, I have been invited to comment on podcasts and in person at a transit summit in Guelph. I’m thankful for those opportunities. It has been a privilege, and I will try to be mindful of that.

Thank you!


The five most-read posts in five years of Marshall’s Musings:

  1. GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking (November 2015)
  2. Ontario’s failed downtown malls (February 2018)
  3. Mapping the 2018 candidates for Toronto’s 47 wards (July 2018)
  4. Not so fair-by-distance: GO Transit’s problematic fare system (November 2015)
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Islington Avenue: deadly by design

IMG_6266-001Memorial to 77-year old Pasquina Lapadula in front of her apartment building on Islington Avenue north of Finch

On Thursday, November 29 at 6:30AM, Pasquina Lapadula left her Islington Avenue apartment building and crossed the street in front of her home. Soon after stepping out, she was struck and killed by the driver of an SUV traveling northbound. The driver then fled the scene. Sadder still, drivers passed the scene without stopping to help.

Toronto police are looking for a dark coloured SUV with bright headlights and fog lights. They have yet to find the driver and lay charges.

According to the Toronto Star, 37 pedestrians have been killed on Toronto’s streets. Of those, 24 were 60 years old or over. Since 2007, 410 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets; 238 of those were aged 60 or older. November 2019 was an especially deadly month; Lapadula was the third older pedestrian killed in Toronto in just three days.

Though blame can be laid at the driver, who despite having ultra-bright headlights and fog lights, struck Lapadula and sped away afterwards, this part of Islington Avenue, like many other suburban roads in Toronto, is deadly by design.

IMG_6283-001Islington Avenue looking south from Aviemore Drive towards Finch Avenue

The collision took place at Aviemore Drive in Humber Summit, in Toronto’s northwestern corner, near the boundary between the former cities of Etobicoke and North York. The area was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, when automobile-centric planning was at its peak.

Islington Avenue is five lanes wide between intersections, including a striped middle lane that turns into left turn lanes at intersections. Sidewalks are separated by wide boulevards, and there are long distances between traffic signals.

The road has a slight curve north of Finch Avenue, with a hill down towards the East Humber River at Finch. From Aviemore Drive, it is a 220 metre walk south to the crosswalk at Finch Avenue and 430 metres north to the traffic signals at Milady Road. Just south of Aviemore Drive are entrances to Gord and Irene Risk Park and Recreation Centre and Rowntree Mills Park.

As the speed limit is unposted on this section of Islington Avenue, by law, vehicles may only go a maximum of 50 kilometres per hour. However, the road design encourages speeds far greater than the limit.

IMG_6299-001TTC bus stopped in bay in front of Pasquina Lapadula’s apartment building

As on Don Mills Road north of Finch, TTC buses stop in bus bays instead of on the street itself. These bus bays were not designed for the benefit of transit, but instead for the convenience of private motorists. Buses stopping get out of the way of traffic, and then must merge back in. (A law requiring other motorists to do so exists, but is never enforced.)

Everything about the road design is designed for high vehicle throughput, with little consideration for pedestrian safety.

IMG_6248-001Islington and Finch Avenues

It is true that Pasquina Lapadula could have walked 220 metres down to Finch Avenue, and depending on her destination, another 220 metres back up the hill. The traffic signals and painted crosswalks would have provided additional safety. But the intersection of Finch and Islington itself is problematic.

The intersection sits on a large viaduct over the East Humber River. Right turn slip lanes are found on the southwest and northeast quadrants, allowing right-turning traffic to pass by quickly while requiring pedestrians to cross an additional lane of traffic governed only by a yield sign. Buses on Finch stop at bus bays at the far side of the intersection, further lengthening the distance pedestrians must cross.

IMG_6255-001Slip lane from Finch to Islington

I was frustrated when two Toronto councillors advocate giving out reflective armbands for pedestrians to wear, especially as one of those councillors opposed road safety initiatives in her own ward. I was angered the Toronto Star’s editorial board ignore city data, their own reporters and columnists, and pedestrian and cycling advocates to back those two suburban councillors.

This was especially tone deaf given the Toronto Police Service’s abandonment of traffic enforcement, the epidemic of pedestrians being killed in the last two years, and the disturbing number of hit-and-runs. Armbands would not have saved Pasquina Lapadula’s life when she was confronted by the driver of a speeding SUV, with blindingly bright headlights and fog lights.

This is why we need real Vision Zero measures like lower speed limits, more safe pedestrian crossings, road re-engineering to slow down vehicles, complete streets, and effective police enforcement.

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Zero vision in suburban Toronto

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Though the city of Toronto has made some progress towards safer streets recently, the lack of police enforcement of traffic laws, the reluctance to spend serious money on road redesign, and the attitudes of some city officials continue to be obstacles towards making Toronto a safe place to walk and cycle.

As part of the city’s Vision Zero 2.0 Plan, City Council voted in July to reduce speed limits from 60 km/h to 50 km/h on 37 sections of arterial roadways across the city, and from 50 km/h to 40 km/h on five more roads. Councillors Ana Bailão and Jim Karygiannis moved to extend several of these sections. However, rookie councillor Cynthia Lai (Ward 23-Scarborough North) moved to amend the item to remove three sections of arterial roads in her ward:

  • Brimley Road from Sheppard Avenue East to Steeles Avenue East,
  • Markham Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East, and
  • McCowan Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East.

Councillor Lai claimed that her constituents were concerned about gridlock in her ward and opposed the speed restrictions. Scarborough is especially dangerous for pedestrians as it has the most kilometres of high-speed arterial roads in the city and the longest distances between crosswalks.

High speeds and dangerous driving are major problems in Ward 23, a part of the city that I visit a few times a month. Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads are designed solely for car traffic: they are lined by plazas, warehouses, and backyard fences. Traffic signals are often far apart. Markham and McCowan Roads are also high-speed thoroughfares connecting Markham to Highway 401.

Walking along McCowan Road between Finch and Steeles earlier this year, my spouse and I encountered a pedestrian refuge smashed in by a motorist. The refuge island was protected by reflective signage, as well as metal barriers, and was installed to help pedestrians cross at a TTC bus stop, though pedestrians are not given the right of way.

IMG_1644Smashed pedestrian refuge island on McCowan Road

This is why it was so disappointing to see Councillor Lai organize a “Senior Pedestrian Safety Initiative” with Toronto Police at Woodside Square, a community mall at the corner of McCowan Road and Finch Avenue. Councillor Lai, her staff, and local police were “educating” seniors about pedestrian safety, while giving out reflective armbands. Councillor Lai claimed it was part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy, and she doesn’t “think we should blame anybody.”

This was just days after a police report showed a severe decline in traffic tickets issued and extremely limited police enforcement of unsafe driving in Toronto. On the Friday before, two seniors were seriously hurt when crossing the street.

Needless to say, Councillor Lai and the Toronto Police taken to task by road safety advocates and even fellow councillors. Jessica Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets called it a “form of victim blaming.”

Supporting Councillor Lai’s position, on Monday November 25, Councillor James Pasternak said “wearing high visibility clothing or reflective gear is a key part of keeping everyone safe, including pedestrians, construction workers, cyclists, police officers and crossing guards. Let’s make VisionZeroTO work.” Councillor Pasternak is Mayor John Tory’s handpicked chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, which among its duties is ensuring the safety of Toronto’s road infrastructure.

Vision Zero 2.0 says nothing about armbands. Instead, the plan includes reducing speeds, road design improvements, and safer crossings at TTC stops.

Though it is always a good idea for pedestrians to be aware of their surroundings and be predictable when crossing the street, most of the responsibility falls on the city, which designs the roads, the police, who have abandoned their duty to protect road users, and drivers, who are licensed and insured to operate multi-tonne vehicles. The rash of hit-and-runs after pedestrians were struck is especially alarming.

In Waterloo, a crossing guard performing her duties was struck and seriously injured by the driver of a F-150 truck, who then fled the scene. This was the despite the school guard wearing a reflective vest, carrying a stop sign, in a marked school crosswalk. No amount of high-visibility clothing will protect pedestrians from dangerous drivers, who in Toronto this year, killed pedestrians walking on sidewalks, and injured pedestrians in transit shelters.

Ironically, Woodside Square itself was hit twice by drivers in the last two years. In December 2017, a motorist crashed through both sets of doors at the mall entrance closest to Shoppers Drug Mart. In February 2018, a motorist, possibly dealing with medical problems, crashed into several cars and into a Subway restaurant at the mall. High-visibility clothing would not have helped in either of those cases.

It’s unfortunate that a city councillor will choose giving out reflective armbands over effective speed reductions, road redesign, and traffic enforcement. Hopefully, Councillor Lai will take the criticism to heart and do better for Ward 23.

Post script: A staff report to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee in October 2019 continued the recommendation for speed reductions in Ward 23, citing minimal impacts to travel times, and the dangerous conditions on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads. Staff noted that there have been 6 fatalities and 20 serious injuries incidents on those three road segments. On October 29, Council voted to lower the speed limits on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads against Councillor Lai’s objections.

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Addressing the Toronto Police Services Board

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Earlier today, on behalf of Walk Toronto, I made a deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board addressing the lack of traffic enforcement in the City of Toronto. After criticism from organizations such as Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, and Friends and Families for Safe Streets, the Toronto Police now plans to initiate a “Vision Zero enforcement team,” with the city funding the annual $1 million cost.

As anyone who walks or cycles in the City of Toronto knows, aggressive, distracted, and careless driving is commonplace. They also know that apart from the well-publicized blitz, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) have not responded to the carnage on our streets.

I spoke to express our disappointment of how the TPS completely failed vulnerable road users by not engaging in meaningful traffic enforcement and calling for a return to making this a priority. Similar deputations were made by John Sewell, former mayor and police critic, Keagan Gartz from Cycle Toronto, and Jessica Spieker from Families and Friends for Safe Streets.

I found it was a bit intimidating. it was my first formal deputation in a long time, and I sat at a table in front the board, including Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory. But I did it! Next time I depute, I should find it easier.

Mayor Tory, to his credit, convinced fellow police board members that the traffic enforcement team be made permanent, and funded from the Toronto police budget, starting in 2020. This motion passed unanimously.

It is not enough, of course, but it’s an acknowledgement that we desperately needed. Walk Toronto and our partners will continue to push for safer streets.

Unfortunately, Chief Saunders chose to blame airpods for the epidemic of pedestrian injuries and deaths, ignoring experts and the city’s own data:

Chief Saunders and the board had the opportunity to ask questions of any member of the public who took the time to craft and make deputations today at Police Headquarters. Regretfully, they chose not to do so.

Below is the complete text of my deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board. You can watch the whole meeting here (I speak just after the 1:00 mark).

Vision Zero is an internationally recognized set of road safety tenets that aims to reduce all fatalities and severe injuries in a municipality to zero over the course of a year, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians.

Road design, engineering controls and enforcement are all essential pillars for reducing road violence on our streets. Road improvements force vehicle operators to slow down and take notice, while improving the visibility and safety of vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

In the meantime, the City of Toronto has focused on reducing speed limits, adding traffic signals, and designating school safety zones and senior safety zones. But this has been more about putting up signs. Signs have no effect If there are no consequences for disobeying them.

At Walk Toronto, we have noted the lack of police enforcement of safe speeds, red light running, illegal turns, and distracted driving. There may be the occasional well-publicized blitz, but for the most part, motorists in Toronto know that they can get away with risky and dangerous behaviour because the likelihood of being caught is negligible. At best, Toronto’s response to road violence has been reactive, rather than proactive.

To date, 34 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets in 2019; in 2018, 42 pedestrians were killed. Not just on city streets, but on sidewalks, at bus stops, and even inside a bus shelter. Earlier this year, a home was struck in East York. Meanwhile, police are being deployed downtown not to protect pedestrians, but to ensure traffic isn’t impeded at busy intersections during rush hours.

We were outraged – but not shocked – by a recent Toronto Star report that found that the number of traffic tickets issued dropped from 700,000 in 2010 to just 200,000 in 2018, and that there are no officers assigned to full-duty local traffic enforcement. This is despite a growing city, an ageing population, and enhanced provincial penalties for distracted, reckless, and impaired driving introduced over the last few years.

The Toronto Police Service has failed the city’s most vulnerable road users.

Though red-light cameras, photo radar, and automated school bus “stop” signs are useful tools, there is no substitute for old-fashioned police enforcement. Additional new dedicated officers are a good step in recognizing this failure, as long as enforcement does not target indigenous, racialized, and other communities that are already disproportionately affected by policing. In the end, we need both better designed streets and a renewed direction that the Toronto Police Service will have no tolerance for unsafe driving in Toronto.

Thank you.

Posted in About me, Cycling, Roads, Toronto, Walking | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A review of GO Transit’s fare structure

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Four years ago, I wrote about GO Transit’s problematic fare structure. Though GO Transit claims to charge passengers based upon a fare-by-distance structure, fares for travelling short distances were disproportionately high compared to long-distance rides from outer suburban stations. In 2015, I also found significant fare differences between corridors, with Kitchener Line passengers paying the most per distance traveled.

Since my original post, some changes were made to the GO Transit fare system:

  • In 2016, a tiered fare increase was applied, with the lowest fares frozen (for example, Union Station to Mimico, Bloor, or Danforth), with fare increases between  40 and 60 cents per ride dependent on distance traveled. Those fare increases applied to Presto fares, though with a discount (11.15% less than the cash fare).
  • In January 2018, a $1.50 fare discount was introduced for Presto card users transferring between TTC and GO. However, the Ford government announced it would no longer subsidize the TTC-GO fare discount, threatening its continuation.
  • In April 2019, GO fares for trips less than 10 kilometres were reduced, with the minimum cash fare going from $5.30 to $4.40, with the minimum Presto fares reduced from $4.71 to $3.70. A passenger headed from Union Station to Exhibition Place could choose to take a local TTC streetcar fare ($3.10 with a Presto Card) or the direct GO train ride (just 60 cents more). At the same time, the cash fares for trips longer than 10 kilometres were increased by 4%, while Presto fares were increased by 3%. 

The good news is the eventual reduction of short-distance fares have gone a long way towards flattening the fare/distance curve.

There were also some major service changes over the last four years. Two new GO stations were opened: Downsview Park (which offers a direct connection to the new TTC subway extension to York University and Vaughan), and Gormley, a station built next to Highway 404 on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Additional trains were added to Kitchener, new peak-period trains to and from Niagara Falls were introduced, evening trains added on the Kitchener Line, and this month, weekend trains were introduced on the Stouffville Line. But connecting bus routes to Cambridge, Bolton, and between Milton and Oakville were eliminated, with other bus trips cancelled across the system. Continue reading

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Transit Summit in Guelph this Saturday, November 9

4003585727_e8125d19a3_o.jpgCoach Canada bus to Hamilton, September 2009

This Saturday, I will be joining fellow transportation advocates and experts in Downtown Guelph for the First Annual Transit Summit & Town Hall organized by Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG).  I’ll be speaking about the gaps in regional and intercity transit in Guelph and Southwestern Ontario.

In the 1980s, there were direct buses from Guelph to Toronto, Brampton, Kitchener, Hamilton, Fergus and Elora, and Owen Sound. There were five VIA trains a day in each directions between Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener, and London. Though there are far more buses departing from Guelph than in the 1980s, they are mostly operated by GO Transit, all leading east towards Brampton and Mississauga. GO Transit rail service has improved, but it is still geared towards Toronto-bound commuters. Getting between Guelph and Hamilton by bus requires a transfer at Square One in Mississauga.

I wrote about these gaps before on my own blog and for TVO. I will be speaking more about them — and possible solutions to the problem — on Saturday.

Intercity bus links in Midwestern Ontario in 1983 and 2019.
The 1983 map is an excerpt from Ontario Intercity Guide published by Ontario Ministry of Transportation; the 2019 is an edited version of the same image. 

Other speakers at the Transit Summit include representatives from TTCRiders, TransportAction, and officials from the City of Guelph and Guelph Transit. The summit and town hall will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Downtown Guelph on Saturday November 9 from 12:00 to 5:30 PM.

You can register on TAAG’s website until Friday November 8.

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