From the vaults: the end of Yonge Street

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Note: This article was previously published in Spacing Toronto on April 13, 2011.

One of Toronto’s greatest debates concerns Yonge Street’s controversial claim as “the World’s Longest Street.” Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records published Yonge Street’s status as the true record until 1999; a bronze art installation in front of the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas has a map of Yonge Street extending to Rainy River.

This claim rests on the rather tenuous claim that that the 1,896 kilometre length of Yonge Street from Queen’s Quay on Toronto’s Harbourfront to Rainy River via Highway 11, at the Minnesota-Ontario border is in fact, the longest continuous “street.”

While a popular claim, I’ve been a skeptic of this local legend. Highway 11 and Yonge Street have never been one in the same, especially after the downloading of Highway 11 south of Barrie by the Harris government in the late 1990s.

In 1920, Yonge Street was added to the Ontario provincial highway systemas Highway 11, which extended from Downtown Toronto as far as the end of Simcoe County, at the Severn River north of Orillia, where an unnumbered highway continued through the unincorporated Districts of Muskoka, Parry Sound and Nipissing to North Bay. In 1937, Highway 11 assumed the Severn River-North Bay portion and the newly-completed North Bay-Hearst section.

During the Second World War, the section between Nipigon and Hearst was completed; it finally provided a complete provincial highway link between the Manitoba and Quebec borders and formed a crucial part of the Trans-Canada Highway until the more direct Highway 17 link from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa was completed in the 1960s. Indeed, Highway 11 could still claim as the longest signed route within a sub-national entity but several national routes, such as US Interstates and US highways, are longer. In fact, the last reference to Yonge Street on Highway 11 north of Holland Landing is a short section of former Highway 11 in south Barrie.

The original Yonge Street , named for a friend of the Simcoe family, did not have such lofty ambitions. Yonge Street was built as a rough, yet straight path from Toronto Harbour to the Holland River near Lake Simcoe (then called Lake aux Claies) under the direction of John Graves Simcoe. Work started in 1794, one year after Toronto’s founding as the Town of York. From Lake Simcoe, a water route via Lake Couchiching and the Severn River provided a rudimentary alternative route for the defense of Upper Canada and British possessions from the Americans and a early settler route. Later, during the War of 1812, Penetanguishene Road between Barrie and the new garrison and naval base (the road’s namesake on Georgian Bay) was built to shorten the original route.

Other early roads radiating from Toronto included Dundas Street, which struck west to London from the corner of present-day Queen Street and Ossington Avenue, and Danforth and Kingston Roads, which led east.

By the time Highway 11 was established a over century later, Yonge Street was a major route with regular towns and villages from Aurora south. It hosted  radial cars from the CPR tracks in North Toronto to Aurora (at which point the Metropolitan Railway veered east from Yonge to serve Newmarket, Keswick and Sutton) and hosted city cars south of the CPR tracks. In 1920, the new Highway 11 branched north-west of Yonge Street in Holland Landing on a route built in 1824 to serve Bradford, Barrie and points north mostly using existing concession-system roads.

While Highway 11’s official southern terminus was at the foot of Toronto Harbour until the great highway downloadings of the 1990s, Metropolitan Toronto maintained Yonge Street south of Steeles. After 1997, Highway 11, including most of Yonge Street, was formally downloaded in its entirety south of  Barrie. It is now officially referred only by its municipal or county names and numbers – Yonge Street/Regional Road 1 through most of York Region (the part where it separates from Yonge Street near Bradford is still known as Highway 11) and Simcoe County Road 4 from Bradford to Barrie.


The end of Yonge Street, north of Holland Landing

Today, north of Newmarket, a modern 4-lane highway leaves the Yonge Street alignment west to Bradford. To continue on Yonge Street requires a right turn off the through Highway 11. But Yonge continues directly north as a two lane county road through the village of Holland Landing, before ending just north of Queensville Sideroad in the Holland Marsh. A short section picks up again off a dead-end section of Ravenshoe Road just west of Keswick, but by this point, it is merely a farm access lane and not even marked on many maps or on street signs.

15540631992_dca9827451_kYonge Street continues as a mud path north of Ravenshoe Road near Keswick.

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An exciting future for Old City Hall

IMG_8119-002Activist New York exhibition, Museum of the City of New York, January 2015

During my last visit to New York City, in January 2015, I visited the Museum of the City of New York. I spent several hours exploring the museum, which is dedicated to telling the story of the city and its inhabitants. The exhibit that fascinated me the most was a temporary exhibition called “Activist New York” which covered everything from campaigns for and against religious tolerance in the 1600s to the struggles for LGBT rights in the last several decades. With rich and trying history of human rights struggles in our city, I felt that this is exactly the type of exhibition that would fit a potential City of Toronto Museum.

osgoode-oasis_30887205805_oOld City Hall’s clocktower overlooks Nathan Phillips Square and Osgoode Hall

With new plans for Old City Hall currently being studied, the dream of a civic museum worthy of the City of Toronto is one step closer to reality. With provincial courts due to vacate E.J. Lennox’s Richardsonian Romanesque masterpiece, the City of Toronto is looking to re-purpose the building for new public and private uses, including a new enclosed courtyard. Retail and commercial uses — such as shops, cafes, educational spaces and offices — would be sympathetic to the historic structure. But the highlight is a proposed 100,000 square foot museum, comparable in size to that in New York.

There’s still the risk that City Council won’t approve a new museum, which would be expensive to build and may not, in itself, be a money-maker. But as a city-building initiative, it’s necessary, like a new major downtown park.

I attended the public consultation meeting at Metro Hall last night; I wrote more about it in Torontoist.

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GO Transit’s Grimsby problem

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The Bruce Trail near Fifty Road, November 6, 2016

On Sunday, November 6, I took advantage of an unseasonably warm November day to go hiking on the Bruce Trail. I started in Grimsby and hiked for 23 kilometres west to the Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument in Hamilton. The hike was lovely as there was still some fall foliage left to enjoy, and the views above the Escarpment over Niagara vineyards and Lake Ontario were spectacular.

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View of Downtown Grimsby and Lake Ontario from the top of the Niagara Escarpment

In order to do this six hour, one-way hike, I took the train to Grimsby, and began my trip from there (enjoying a coffee and snack at a great local coffee shop first). Upon arriving at Stoney Creek, I took a Hamilton Street Railway bus downtown for dinner before taking a GO bus back to Toronto.

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View from the lookout at Devil’s Punch Bowl Conservation Area towards Hamilton Harbour

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The Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument, where I ended my hike as the sun began to set


When I go for a bike ride or a hike, whether it be a solo trip or a hike with friends, I like to plan the trip in advance, and to think about the transportation options for getting there. And so I come once again to thinking about Grimsby, GO Transit, VIA Rail, and local transit.

There is currently only one train each way between Toronto and Niagara Region — Amtrak’s Maple Leaf, which is operated by VIA crews on the Canadian side of the border. The Maple Leaf takes 12 hours and 30 minutes to get from Toronto’s Union Station to New York’s Penn Station, including a stop at the border for customs and immigration checks. Other delays, such as freight traffic and even ship traffic on the Welland Canal, make this train commonly late for Niagara passengers headed to Toronto in the evening. There was once a second daily VIA train between Toronto and Niagara Falls, scheduled to serve commuters, but it was cut by the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government in 2012.

img_6547-001Downtown Grimsby

GO Transit operates a summer weekend train service between Toronto and Niagara Falls, making stops at Port Credit, Oakville, Burlington, and St. Catharines, but not at Grimsby. GO Transit also operates a year-round bus service — Route 12 — that follows the QEW between Burlington GO Station and Downtown Niagara Falls, stopping at several park and ride lots and at Fairview Mall in St. Catharines, a secondary hub for local transit in that city.

The Maple Leaf Train leaves Union Station at 8:20 AM, 7 days a week, and arrives at Grimsby just after 9:30 AM, stopping only at Oakville and Aldershot. Taking GO Transit, it takes nearly two hours to get to the park and ride at Casablanca Boulevard, including the transfer time at Burlington Station.

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GO Transit Route 12

The Grimsby Amtrak/VIA station is located on Ontario Street, at a site picked by the Great Western Railway in 1853. It is a mere 5-10 minute walk to Downtown Grimsby, located in the centre of that community’s population. The GO Transit park and ride is located at the west end of town, at Casablanca Boulevard. The planned GO Transit Rail Station is located nearby. The bus stop and proposed rail station is located 3.5 kilometres from Downtown Grimsby, or a 45 minute walk.

img_6544-001Grimsby Station

The current railway station at Grimsby consists of only a small shelter and indoor waiting area, along with a small parking lot for VIA customers. The platform is small, about one rail car’s length. The VIA Rail Canada sign is almost as large as the station building itself. But for me, the railway station’s location was far more convenient than the GO bus stop at Casablanca Boulevard.

A new station at Casablanca Boulevard offers several advantages for GO Transit: easy access to the Queen Elizabeth Way, plenty of undeveloped land for a parking lot, and room for a platform for GO Transit’s 10-car and 12-car trains. But the location is not friendly for customers who wish to walk or cycle to the train, and without a local transit system, it’s inaccessible for many potential Grimsby commuters unless they were to take a taxi, get a ride, or drive their own car.

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Overlooking the QEW/Casablanca Boulevard interchange and the proposed location of the Grimsby GO Station. GO buses serve the park-and-ride lot in the middle ground. Note the clear view across the lake to Toronto.

I have argued here before that GO Transit has an unfortunate record of catering to motorists while mostly ignoring the needs of many of its current and potential customers. GO Transit’s need for large parking lots often precludes locating stations in more urban locations. By providing ‘free’ parking, GO forces all passengers to subsidize those who drive alone to its stations.

Of course, GO Transit is going to build Grimsby Station at Casablanca Boulevard; it was announced earlier this year as part of a GO service expansion project. But a useful local transit system, scheduled to connect with GO trains and buses, offering fare integration, can mitigate this problem. Transit riders shouldn’t be told to take a hike.

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Leadership, John Tory style (part 2)

We’ve seen it before: when cornered on an issue, Mayor John Tory will get defensive, flustered, and counter with disingenuous remarks. Police carding was one such issue, so was the Gardiner East. Today, as Mayor Tory defends his SmartTrack proposal, he’s doing the same thing.

After a staff report on SmartTrack — originally planned for a week ago at the scheduled Executive Committee — became public, we learned more details about the watered-down transit plan that was Tory’s signature campaign promise. (Read Steve Munro’s article in Torontoist for more details.)

  • In 2014, John Tory promised that his “London Style” surface rail subway would open in just seven years. Now, we find out that it won’t be completed until 2025-2026.
  • Only six new stations will be added to GO Transit’s existing stops on the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors; the GO RER system planned by Metrolinx will stop at the same stations as SmartTrack, blurring the lines further between the province’s plans and Tory’s promises.
  • The City of Toronto will be on the hook for all LRT operating expenses, while the Province/ Metrolinx will continue to own the infrastructure.
  • The City of Toronto would be on the hook for some of the GO RER expenses, such as 15 percent of required grade separations, such as at Steeles and Finch Avenues in Scarborough.
  • The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT west extension to Pearson International Airport, which replaced part of the original SmartTrack alignment planned using outdated Google Maps satellite imagery, may not be built beyond the planned Renforth Gateway Hub, the eastern end of the Mississauga Transitway.
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) will not be enough to fund the construction of SmartTrack and the LRT extension; development charges and a property tax hike would be required to fund SmartTrack’s construction.

smarttrack_fbThe original SmartTrack plan that John Tory campaigned on in 2014

These are serious concerns, and it is worth asking whether Toronto should remain committed to this plan. After all, the Relief Line Subway remains unfunded, even though it is a top priority for city planning staff. And there’s that $3.2 billion one-stop subway extension to Scarborough Centre, which might become even more expensive if so-called “Subway Champions” Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and Liberal MPP Brad Duguid get their way with a proposed realignment.

(Interestingly, a SmartTrack/RER stop at Lawrence East may not be able to be built before the one-stop subway extension is opened — a Scarborough RT station is in the way. This isn’t good news for transit riders on the 54 Lawrence East bus, which will lack a rapid transit connection in Scarborough.)

Mayor John Tory’s response is to ask “what’s their plan?” instead of listening and responding to critics. It’s certainly not a productive or mature reaction to very valid concerns.

There were several alternative plans made by rival candidates in 2014 — Olivia Chow and David Soknacki backed returning to the cheaper and longer Scarborough LRT replacement, and building the Downtown Relief Line subway. Chow also proposed additional bus services, which was mocked by Tory’s campaign as no real plan for transit. Once Tory was elected, the TTC ended up implementing much of Chow’s bus plan, including restoring most of Rob Ford-mandated service cuts and adding new express and night routes.

Last week, John Tory also rejected — yet again — the new ward boundaries recommended by the Ward Boundary Review Team, independent consultants who came up –twice — with a 47-ward solution meant to reflect population growth (especially downtown and in central North York) and imbalances in ward populations and councillors’ workloads. The Executive Committee voted against the mayor, backing the 47-ward option, but staff warn it might be too late now for the 2018 election. That might suit Tory’s political agenda, but it’s a blow against local democracy.

Bottom line: Olivia Chow has no plan for transit. She is not a leader.
– John Tory, 2014

So no, John Tory, you’re not a leader. You have failed to acknowledge your errors, you haven’t listened to critics, you’re stubborn, and you lash out when things don’t go your way. And you won’t listen to experts because you don’t like what they have to say. At one point, you claim your critics don’t have any alternative plans to SmartTrack, at other times, you mock the very plans that critics suggest.

So far, John Tory’s critics have been correct about his transit plan. Maybe it’s time to listen.

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Mapping Mayor Tory’s support on Council

Matt Elliott, columnist for Metro Toronto, is one of Toronto’s greatest observers of local politics. One great service that he does is keep track of all important votes at Toronto City Hall. Originally, this work tracked each councillors’ support for Mayor Rob Ford from 2010 through 2014; now his scorecard tracks how each councillor voted according to Mayor John Tory’s agenda. The Council Scorecard spreadsheet is available here.

In 2014, I created several maps using Elliott’s data that helped to show how Rob Ford lost control of City Council. In Ford’s first year, he was able to count on the support of 22 councillors, enough to get most of his agenda passed. But by 2014, only two councillors – Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7) and Rob’s brother, Doug (Ward 2) voted with the mayor at least 70 percent of the time.

I felt it was about time to map how well Mayor Tory is doing.

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Team Tory Score, as of December 2015

In his first year as mayor, from December 2014 to December 2015, Tory enjoyed the support of over half of Toronto City Council; 24 of 44 councillors voted with the mayor at least 70 percent of the time. Important votes on budget austerity, council appointments (such as Police Board Chair and Tory friend, Andy Pringle), approving the “Hybrid” option for the Gardiner Expressway, and approving Uber’s operations in Toronto were all passed.

But there were some surprises. Many key Tory supporters voted against the mayor on a motion introduced by Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) to ask the province not to support ranked ballots. The mayor, who supported the electoral reform, lost that vote.

In that first year, most other councillors provided some support, voting with the mayor at least 30 percent of the time, including former mayor Rob Ford (Ward 2). The wards that these councillors represent are marked in orange. Generally, these wards are represented by centrist or left-leaning councillors such as Josh Matlow (Ward 22), Maria Augimeri (Ward 9) and Shelley Carroll (Ward 33).

Only two councillors — Mike Layton (Ward 19) and Joe Cressy (Ward 20) voted opposite to Mayor Tory over 70 percent of the time in 2015.

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Team Tory Score, as of July 2016. Votes from the October 2016 Council Meeting not yet included. 

So far in 2016, the divide between the allies of the mayor and his opposition widened. Only ten councillors were left in the middle (all centre-left), while five councillors — Gord Perks (Ward 14), Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27), Paula Fletcher (Ward 30), Janet Davis (Ward 31), and Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8) joining the opposition. With the exception of Ward 2, vacated after Rob Ford’s death, all councillors from Etobicoke and Scarborough became clear Tory allies.

It’s worth noting few normally centrist councillors, who were very effective in opposing Rob Ford’s agenda last term, are now staunch allies, including Paul Ainslie (Ward 43), and Bailão (Ward 18). Both are members of Tory’s Executive Committee; Ainslie, a centre-right councillor who has earned my great respect, was also appointed chair of the Government Management Committee.

Opposition to Tory’s agenda from councillors in the Toronto-East York region might help to explain why the Executive Committee, hand-picked by Tory and his transition team, did not have much enthusiasm for the 47-ward solution recommended by consultants on the Toronto Ward Boundary Review team. To reflect population growth, Downtown Toronto would get three new councillors in 2018, as would central North York. One ward would disappear in Toronto’s west end; incumbent councillors Ana Bailão (Ward 18) and Cesar Palacio (Ward 17), both Tory allies, are the most affected by that change. In May, the committee requested that the consultants go back to the drawing board and look at a new 44-ward option, as well as ward boundary options consistent with provincial and federal ridings. The consultants did that, and are once again recommending the 47-ward option.

Almost half-way through his term, Mayor Tory has a confident and strong hold on Council, which has so far supported an agenda of austerity, along with major (and in my view, unwise) transportation infrastructure projects like the Scarborough Subway and the Gardiner East reconstruction.

It is worth noting as well that apart from Bailão, all councillors from “downtown” wards were frozen out of Tory’s inner circle, even though many downtown and midtown wards enthusiastically voted for Tory in the 2014 election. Furthermore, most of the same councillors that support Tory at least 70 percent of the time also supported Ford’s agenda in 2011 and 2012. Key supporters of Ford’s early agenda went on to sit on John Tory’s Executive Committee.

While there’s a slightly conservative bent to Toronto City Council, left-leaning mayor David Miller was able to work with centrists and conservatives, including suburban councillors, to implement his agenda, appointing several to key boards and committees. Tory, on the other hand, has frozen out council’s progressives, perpetuating an urban-suburban divide.

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Mayor Rob Ford’s allies and foes in 2011

It’s possible that Tory’s hold on power will slip as councillors get restless, or if there’s a backlash to cuts to city services such as the TTC or the Toronto Public Library. After all, Rob Ford’s hold on power slipped long before the crack scandal as residents fought back against budget cuts, and council quashed the Ford Brothers’ attempt to build a Ferris wheel and mall in the Portlands.

The mid point between municipal elections is coming up, and there’s an opportunity to make changes to committee and board appointments. There’s still an opportunity for new alliances to be made and for goals to change to support a growing city and address growing economic disparity.

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Ridership has tripled on UP Express, but we can do even better

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When UP Express — Toronto’s rail link to Toronto Pearson International Airport – -launched on June 6, 2015, the one-way fare between Union Station and Pearson Airport was set at $27.50, or $19.00 with a Presto card. At the time, Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with planning and integrating transportation services in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and the parent agency of GO Transit, expected that ridership would hit 5,000 passengers a day in a year. But after its launch, ridership sunk instead. 

By January 2016, only an average of 1,967 passengers a day rode UP Express, so Metrolinx cleaned house and lowered the fares. The one-way cash fare was reduced from $27.50 to $12, and from $19 to $9 with a Presto card, and fares between Union and Bloor and Weston stations were reduced to match the GO Transit fares for the same trips. Since the new fare structure was introduced, UP Express ridership has more than tripled. By June 2016, the daily average ridership increased to 7,657.

Despite the ridership growth, and the utility of the rail service for local residents near Bloor and Weston Stations, there’s still more that can be done to make the most of the $456 million spent to build the line.

The airport region is a major employment centre, yet is difficult to serve by public transit. Fare integration between UP Express, GO Transit, MiWay and Brampton Transit could be an important a first step in creating a full regional rail network, a concept that Mayor John Tory pitched as “SmartTrack.”

Airport LinksTransit connections at Pearson Airport. UP Express, if it offered fare integration with the TTC, MiWay and Brampton Transit, would be an invaluable part of the Toronto area’s transit network

UP Express’s ridership increase is a good news story. But there’s so much more utility that can be leveraged.

I discuss the UP Express ridership trends further in Torontoist

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To Stratford by Train

IMG_6135-001.JPGVIA Train 85 at Stratford Station, October 8, 2016

On Thanksgiving weekend, my partner and I made the trip out to Stratford to get away from Toronto for two days and see two shows: Macbeth and The Hypochondriac. Both plays were excellent, and we had a lovely time strolling through Stratford’s downtown and parks as well. We took the train to Stratford, unfortunately it’s not a very convenient option for festival goers, nor for anyone visiting Stratford or for those who live there.

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