Deadly by design: Supertest Road

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On Tuesday, January 21, a 26-year-old woman was struck and killed by the driver of a tractor-trailer at the corner of Supertest Road and Alness Street in North York. According to police, the truck driver was making a right turn from Supertest south to Alness when he hit the pedestrian.

Last week, I paid a visit to the intersection, located in an industrial area off Dufferin Street, just south of Steeles Avenue. It was immediately apparent that pedestrians are an afterthought in this part of the city, and tragedy was inevitable.

The intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest cornerThe intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest corner

I took the 105 Dufferin North bus from Sheppard West Station and got off at Supertest Road before walking west towards Alness Street. I pressed the beg button to cross Dufferin, but it did not work, so I crossed with the solid “don’t walk” sign. At least I had enough time to cross before traffic on Dufferin got the green light. With a bus stop at the intersection, G. Ross Lord Park to the east, and a busy supermarket on the southwest corner, there is no excuse for a malfunctioning pedestrian signal. In fact, the walk signal should appear by default.

As I walked westward on Supertest, the lone sidewalk on the south side of the street came to an end at an industrial driveway about halfway between Dufferin and Alness. With the snow, I was forced to walk on the street, which was busy with cars and trucks. Without any sidewalk, anyone using a wheeled device would also be forced on the street.

End of sidewalkThe only sidewalk on Supertest Road comes to an end halfway between Dufferin and Alness

With my smartphone, I recorded my walk along the curb towards Alness Street, avoiding the snowbanks, debris, and motor traffic. It was not a pleasant walk.

The intersection of Supertest and Alness is a signalized intersection, with pedestrian signals and crosswalks on all four sides. Alness has a through sidewalk, but only on the east side of the street. The intersection is surrounded by a scrapyard on the southwest corner, a bank on the northwest corner, and warehouses to the east. The missing sidewalk on the south side Supertest east of the intersection resumes west of Alness.

The traffic lights are on a timer, and walk signals automatically appear, so there are no beg buttons at Alness and Supertest. What I noticed during my visit is that motorists will regularly rush to get through an amber signal, sometimes running a red. Truck drivers make wide right turns. Though the area is not pedestrian friendly, I did note several pedestrians in the area, running errands at the bank or walking to and from several of the nearby businesses.

Truck turning from Supertest to Alness

Finally, I noted the sharrows, the signed bicycle route on Supertest Road, and the TTC stop on the north side. The cycle route is supposed to connect G. Ross Lord Park on the east side of Dufferin to Flint Road to the west and south to the Finch Corridor Recreational Trail, but it’s not an enticing place to bike. Meanwhile, the TTC stop, for the limited-service 117 Alness route, is inaccessible without a sidewalk leading to it.

Looking west on Supertest RoadLooking west on Supertest Road, with the sharrow, TTC stop, and bike route sign on the right

Everything about this industrial intersection was designed to fail pedestrians and cyclists. Last week, it did exactly that.

Posted in Infrastructure, Roads, Toronto, Walking | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Survey says… Torontonians demand safer streets

IMG_3729A mock-up of a re-imagined Danforth Avenue, Summer 2019

Yesterday, I met with fellow road safety advocates Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto, Gideon Forman from the David Suzuki Foundation, and Jessica Spieker, from Friends & Families for Safe Streets. The occasion was to publicize a new poll commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation that gauged Torontonians’ support for action on road safety as well improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, including two projects planned for Yonge Street — YongeTOmorrow  in the Downtown Core and Transform Yonge in North York.

Almost 90 percent of Torontonians are concerned about road safety, with close to 70 percent responding that the city is “is not doing enough.” Furthermore, 72 per cent of respondents are in favour of the changes planned for Yonge Street, and 80 percent of respondents want the city to build more protected bike infrastructure.

On behalf of Walk Toronto, I was quoted by CBC journalist Lauren Pelley in her report, quoting the number of pedestrians killed in 2018 and 2019, noting “two pedestrian deaths this week — one in Brampton, one in Toronto — and those were both hit-and-run collisions. And it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen all over the city.”

These poll results indicate an appetite for change. Hopefully Toronto City Council will take notice.

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Some love for Ontario’s municipal flags

Flag of TorontoThe flag of the City of Toronto, designed by Renato De Santis, is an example of a very good civic flag

I was in Orillia last week, mainly to check out the new Simcoe County Lynx bus system. While there, the flag flying from the Opera House (formerly the city hall) caught my attention. Most municipal flags are boring, usually consisting of the town or city’s coat of arms, shield, or logo on a plain background.

Orillia municipal flag, with a yellow sun in the middle

But Orillia’s flag is different. It has waving blue and white waves, with two green triangles facing the centre, and a bright yellow sun in the middle. The symbolism wasn’t difficult to figure out: the city’s position on the narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching, with the sun being a nod to Orillia author Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, a light, humourous collection of short stories about the denizens of Mariposa, a thinly-veiled fictionalization of Orillia.

Yet Canadian cities that boast populations twenty or thirty times that of Orillia can’t boast having such a fine flag.

For the most part, we don’t think about state, provincial, and municipal flags, and that’s a pity. In the few cities that have an unique and powerful flag, they have become part of that city’s iconography. Unfortunately, though Toronto does have a very good civic flag, we don’t fly it like it should.

According to the North American Vexillological Association, there are five principles for creating a good flag:

  • Keep it simple — so simple, it can be drawn by a child from memory
  • Use meaningful symbolism
  • Use two or three basic colours
  • Never use lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive or be related

Canada’s flag, adopted in 1965, adheres to these principles perfectly. It uses just two basic colours: red and white. With a large red maple leaf in the middle, it’s easily recognizable around the world. While a child might not get the eleven-point maple leaf exactly right, it’s otherwise easy to draw from memory.

There are, of course, exceptions to these principles.

Maryland’s complicated state flag, based on the coat of arms of colony founder Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, is distinctive and popular, nearly as common as the US flag. California’s state flag is emblazoned with the words “California Republic” but it has significant historical meaning. The flag of South Africa, adopted in 1994, has six colours, but by merging the Pan-African colours of the African National Congress with the red white and blue of Britain and the Netherlands, it represents unity in the post-apartheid era.

Flags of Maryland, California, and South Africa, notable exceptions to the rules

For the most part, famous and great civic flags adhere to these principles. The flags of Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, and Tokyo all stand out. In Chicago and Amsterdam, these flags are proudly flown from private homes and watercraft, found on t-shirts and souvenirs, and well known around the world. The bear from Berlin’s flag is almost as popular as the Ampelmännchen. Though Amsterdam’s flag’s origins go back centuries (the “x”s are actually St. Andrew’s crosses), it looks bad-ass, and on-brand for a city famous for its tolerance.

Great civic flags: Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Tokyo

Compared to the great examples above, Ontario’s provincial flag is just bad. Compare the provincial red ensign with the flag of Manitoba, and then compare it to the Franco-Ontarien flag.

The Ontario and Manitoba flags, British red ensigns defaced with the provincial shields, were only adopted in 1965 and 1966 as conservative reactions to the new flag of Canada. The two flags are difficult to tell apart from a distance, and they both contain the St. George’s cross (representing England) twice: once in the union flag in the canton, and again in the shield. There’s very little Ontario to be found. (At least the Manitoba flag contains a bison, a recognizable symbol of that province.)

Meanwhile, the Franco-Ontarien flag is immediately recognizable, with the fleur-de-lis and a stylized trillium, the provincial flower, representing the French-Canadian presence in Ontario.

Like Orillia, there are a few other civic flags in Ontario that get it right.

Flags of Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto

Thunder Bay’s flag depicts a rising sun above Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant, a prominent natural landmark across the water. The flag of Hamilton includes a yellow cinquefoil, the badge of the Clan of Hamilton, with a steel chain with six large links representing the steel industry and the six municipalities amalgamated into the modern city. The flag of Ottawa contains the civic logo, with the points representing waterways and the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Finally, the flag of Toronto has an abstract depiction of Toronto’s city hall, with a maple leaf where the council chamber sits. The two towers also make a “T.”

It’s a shame that Toronto doesn’t make more of its simple, yet great flag.

Unfortunately, most flags look like those used by Ontario’s third and fourth largest cities.

Mississauga’s flag violates most of the principles listed above by including the name of the place it represents, with the addition of “incorporated 1974” at the bottom. In the middle is the civic shield, with the typical trappings: a cog representing industry, a lighthouse representing a port (Port Credit), a waterwheel, a stalk of wheat, and wings, possibly representing Pearson Airport. Though Mississauga is a proud city with its own identity, this flag doesn’t appear except in front of civic buildings.

Brampton’s flag is just the civic shield on a white background, again with similar trappings: a bushel of wheat, a plow, a steam locomotive, and a beaver. According to the city’s website, the gold colour and castle top signify the city’s relation with the small Cumbrian town of Brampton, England. The shield dates from the small rural town before post-war growth, with only a pine tree in the middle to represent the old township of Chinguacousy it merged with. There’s no recognition of Brampton’s modern identity as a multicultural city.

But at least they’re not as bad as the worst city flag identified by the North American Vexillological Association, that of the city of Pocatello, Idaho, which manages to include the city slogan, a trademark, and a copyright notice. After some embarrassment, the city came up with a new, much better flag.

Old Flag of PocatelloThe former flag of Pocatello, Idaho

It would be wonderful to see Brampton and Mississauga come up with better designs. Brampton’s new logo and slogan, Flower City, better represents the city’s history and ambitions. A pretty good flag could be made out of that.

As for Toronto, let’s embrace our flag more. It’s a fine one and far better than the province’s. As Torontonians generally think of themselves as Canadian first, Torontonian second, and Ontarian third, perhaps we should give our municipal banner more love.

Posted in Brampton, Design, Ontario, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Disappearing GO-TTC fare discount a major blow to regional transit in Toronto

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Updated January 22, 2020

The TTC-GO fare discount will officially come to an end on Tuesday March 31, 2020, with the TTC and Metrolinx unable to come to agreement to keep the fare subsidy going without provincial support.

As I argue below, this is a major blow to any hopes for an integrated regional transit system throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Subsidized transfers reduce the need to build expensive parking lots and garages, encourage more passengers to ride transit, especially in off-peak periods, and reduce the potential of major GO Transit expansion projects planned or underway.



Originally published July 12, 2019:

Earlier this week, transit riders learned that the fare discount for connecting between GO Transit and the TTC would soon come to an end.

The provincial Liberal government introduced the discounted double fare in 2017. It reduced the cost of a trip taken on both GO and TTC by $1.50 if the fare was paid on a Presto fare card. For many years, there were discounted transfers between GO and suburban transit agencies, but this was the first time such a discount was offered to TTC passengers.

The Liberals also planned discounts for transferring between suburban bus systems such as York Region Transit and Miway, subsidies that would have been covered by the provincial carbon pricing scheme. This would have reduced the impact of another fare barrier. (A short bus trip across Steeles Avenue costs nearly $7.)

When the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government was elected, the provincial climate change plan was scrapped, along with those planned fare changes. Now, the province will not renew the $18.5 million annual subsidy for linked GO-TTC fares, though it did introduce free fares for children on GO Transit.

This will especially affect commuters to York University, who previously enjoyed a one-seat ride to the heart of the campus on YRT and GO buses. When the subway extension opened, YRT retreated to terminals north of Steeles Avenue, forcing a transfer to the subway or a long walk across six lanes of traffic and campus parking lots. GO Transit, too, moved to a new terminal at Highway 407, two subway stops from campus. While GO commuters at least saved $3.00 a day with the discounted double fare, YRT commuters got nothing. (Of all the suburban agencies, only Brampton Transit continues to serve the campus.)

This is also a blow to what’s left of SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s signature transit plan that was once pitched as “London-style surface rail.” At first, SmartTrack was a 53-kilometre heavy-rail line, mostly piggybacking on existing GO Transit corridors, but including a problematic western branch to the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga, all on an integrated TTC fare. Eventually SmartTrack just consisted of more frequent, electric GO service, along with additional station stops and fare integration. This was much more realistic, but it distracted from other needs such as the Relief Line and GO’s own RER regional rail plan.

Lower GO fares for short trips and the TTC-GO fare discount were all part of this scaled-back version; as late as last year, Tory called additional fare integration a “critical component” of his pitch. Eliminating the fare discounts is yet another blow to SmartTrack.

As Jonathan English points out in Urban Toronto, the GO rail network represents “tremendous infrastructure that could greatly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians.” But it lies “letting it lie mostly dormant because we won’t make the comparatively small operating funding investments required to improve the service and make the fares fair.”

The $18.5 million annual cost is a small price to pay for improving transit accessibility and utilization of our existing corridors. Increasing that annual subsidy to reduce the cost of transfers between the TTC , York Region, Brampton, and Mississauga would, too be a worthwhile investment.

Sadly, the current provincial government does not see the value in promoting fairer fare systems, nor regional transit in general. In response to budget cuts, Metrolinx reduced or eliminated service on five GO bus routes last month, and more may be to come. While there may be enthusiasm for building a new “Ontario Line” and a subway extension to Richmond Hill, there’s little regard for the actual transit rider.

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A patchwork of new intercity connections in Ontario

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RideNorfolk buses at Norfolk County Hall, Simcoe

Over the last three years, I wrote about the gaps in intercity rail and coach services in Ontario, and how some companies were working to fill them.

In Northern Ontario, Ontario Northland and Kasper Transportation worked to fill the void left by Greyhound’s departure from Western Canada, with both companies offering new links to towns such as Hearst and Fort Francis.

Unfortunately, there have also been some setbacks. Wroute, a shared taxi service in the Kitchener-Guelph-Hamilton triangle, was operational for less than a year. Though GO Transit added new weekday trains between Guelph and Kitchener, none allow for Kitchener-bound commutes, and there has not been interest in serving those gaps identified by Wroute.

Outside of Northern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe, many cities and towns remain disconnected from nearby communities and larger centres. Though every city and town in Ontario had daily bus and/or rail service in the 1980s, many communities are now completely inaccessible for anyone without access to a car. Though GO Transit expanded to Peterborough, Brantford, Niagara, and Kitchener in the last fifteen years, they are extensions of GO’s radial network from Toronto rather than a true intercity network.

St. Thomas, population 41,000, is the largest city in the province without any passenger links, despite being a short drive to London. Many other cities and towns — particularly in Midwestern and Eastern Ontario — find themselves in similar situations. A few other cities, such as Sarnia (which has just one train a day each way to London and Toronto), are grossly under-served.

But thanks to municipal innovation and a new provincial grant program, this is finally changing. Though several municipalities addressed this problem early on, three new inter-municipal bus systems began operations in 2019, with many more launching this year.

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Unfair GO fares on the Highway 407 Corridor

GO bus with bicycle

Since 1967, GO Transit’s primary focus has been its commuter rail lines radiating from Downtown Toronto, sometimes to the detriment of other transit needs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, with bus routes complementing and supplementing that rail network. But twenty years ago, the regional transit service launched a new bus route that connected York University with suburban GO stations and bus terminals, filling in a gap and setting a precedent for expansion to other university and college campuses.

Late last year, I analysed the GO Transit rail fare structure that centres on Toronto Union Station, following up on previous work. GO Transit claims to operate on a fare-by-distance structure, this is not quite the case. Generally, the longer one travels, the less the passenger pays per distance traveled. 

Though the GO Transit fare structure was recently improved with new lower fares for short trips, there are still significant fare inequities and discrepancies, with Barrie and Richmond Hill Corridor passengers paying the least per kilometre traveled, and Kitchener Corridor passengers paying the most. 

The fare discrepancies on the Highway 407 corridor — which is made up of eight bus routes that serve the Highway 407 bus terminal and TTC subway station in Vaughan — are even greater than that on the rail network. A passenger going from Markham GO Station, 27 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will only pay $3.70 with a Presto card. A passenger from Bramalea GO Station, just 18.7 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will pay over two dollars more. 

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A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars

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On December 29, 2019, the Toronto Transit Commission’s venerable Canadian Light Rail Vehicles disappeared from the city’s streets. To mark the occasion, six CLRVs, offering free rides, were put into service on Queen Street between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM before a ceremonial last run to Russell Carhouse in Toronto’s east end.

The first six CLRVs, 4000-4005, were built by SIG in Switzerland, and entered service on the 507 Long Branch route on September 30, 1979. An additional 190 streetcars were built by Hawker-Siddeley in Thunder Bay, with the last cars arriving in 1981. Those were followed by 52 articulated ALRV streetcars, which were delivered between 1987 and 1989, and retired earlier this year.

The CLRVs were unique to Toronto, designed by and for the TTC. Other North American cities that still operated streetcars in the 1970s opted for different designs to replace their ageing PCCs, though Boston have the CLRVs a try.

Several CLRV and ALRV streetcars will be preserved at transit museums, including the Halton County Radial Railway near Rockwood, Ontario; two CLRVs will remain on TTC property for special events.

With the arrival of the last of the 204 Bombardier Flexity low floor streetcars this month and the retirement of the CLRVs, the entire TTC fleet is now 100% wheelchair accessible and fully air-conditioned. Gone, too, with the CLRVs are back-lit vinyl destination signs, treadle rear doors that open by stepping on the stairs, and windows that open at face level and the warnings to keep arms inside.

Streetcar 4124 on December 29, 2019Streetcar 4124 picks up passengers at Yonge Street, December 29, 2019

Though the accessibility and the capacity of the new Flexity streetcars represent major improvements, I will miss the old CLRVs, and not just because they’re the last transit vehicle in Toronto that are older than I am. I was fascinated by Toronto’s streetcars at an early age. As a child growing up in Brampton, I would lobby hard to ride Toronto’s subways and streetcars whenever we went downtown as a family. My parents took me on a ride on the 501 Streetcar between downtown and Parkdale (with lunch at Harry’s Charbroiled Burgers when it was across from the Gladstone Hotel) when I was seven.

IMG_6907-001Streetcar 4178, A Streetcar Named Toronto, at Greenwood Avenue, December 29, 2019

Once I was old enough, at age thirteen, I was making my own trips to Toronto, taking GO Transit trains from Downtown Brampton or Mississauga Transit buses from Shoppers World and Square One to the subway, buying a day pass, and then spending a day wandering the city. The high floor CLRV and ALRV streetcars with their open windows offered great views of the city rolling by.

I continued to ride the rocket regularly when I attended university, taking advantage of breaks between classes to ride further out into the suburbs, eventually riding nearly every bus route in the city. Even after I moved to Toronto, a streetcar ride was an affordable delight (as long as I wasn’t in a rush).

IMG_6927-001.JPGShort turn: Swiss-built CLRV 4001 turns into Wolesley Loop at Bathurst and Queen

My favourite seats were right at the back, with the curved rear with great views on three sides, similar to the bullet lounge at the end of VIA Rail’s Canadian and Ocean trains. The single seats on the operator’s side of the streetcar were also favourites.

Though the last of Bombardier’s 204 new Flexities have finally arrived, there is still a streetcar shortage in Toronto. The 505 Dundas and 502/503 Kingston Road routes continue to be operated with buses. Many of the new vehicles planned for Dundas and Kingston have been reallocated to King Street, where the transit priority project resulted in a significant increase in ridership. The TTC wishes to purchase 60 more streetcars to fully furnish the existing demand and support expansion on the waterfront, but funding isn’t yet available.

Unfortunately, buses will have to fill in those gaps as the CLRVs disappear.

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Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates

Thanks for the memories!

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