Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Roads

Highway 401 revisited

Earlier in September, I paid a visit to Woodstock, Ontario, to check out one of several new intermunicipal transit services that launched across the province this year. While in Woodstock, I paid a visit to the Highway 401 interchange at Highway 59.

In 1968-1969, London, Ontario artist Jack Chambers painted 401 Towards London No. 1, which depicts a tranquil scene from the Highway 59 overpass, looking west. The highway, just two lanes in each direction, bends slightly to the southwest as it heads towards London and Windsor. On either side, autumn trees, farm fields, and gentle hills stretch out. The only buildings visible are farm silos, and two truck terminals on the north side of the highway. Only a few vehicles on Highway 401 are visible in the scene.

Chambers became well known for photorealism in his work. The scene in 401 Towards London No. 1 is slightly askew, as if this was a Kodachrome snapshot.

Jack Chambers, 401 Towards London No. 1. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
A larger version can be found here.

Highway 401 was only fully completed between Windsor and the Quebec border in 1968, the year the painting was started, though the section between Woodstock and London was completed in 1957, bypassing an especially congested section of Highway 2. Like many interchanges built by the province in the 1950s and early 1960s, the junction of Highways 59 and 401 was an eight-ramp cloverleaf.

A contemporary view towards London

By the 1990s, Highway 401 was widened to six lanes. The cloverleaf interchange, like most others in Ontario, was removed and replaced by a simpler interchange. (As traffic levels increased, the danger of vehicles entering and exiting the highway with little space to merge became apparent.)

Woodstock’s sprawl caught up to the highway, with new warehouses, motels, subdivisions, and a hospital joining the original freight terminals. Though the distant trees and hills are the same as those in Chambers’ painting, the gentle curve in the distance remains the easiest way to match the two views, fifty years apart. Highway 59 itself was downloaded by the province in 1997. To the south, the old highway is Oxford County Road 59. To the north, it is simply Norwich Street.

Breezewood, Ontario: former Highway 59 looking north towards central Woodstock, where chain hotels, restaurants, and gas stations line the road

As I climbed over guardrails and navigated sidewalk-less embankments and road shoulders to capture the contemporary image of Jack Chambers’ painting, I was surprised by two things. The first were fully AODA-compliant crossing treatments at the highway ramps, despite there being no safe and marked way to get to those crosswalks.

I had to climb over the guardrail to get to this crosswalk at the westbound ramps to Highway 401

I was even more surprised to see an engraved version of the Jack Chambers painting embedded in the guardrail. When the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) rebuilt the overpass in 2017-2018, it thoughtfully included this nod to a local artist.

Plaque embedded in the guardrail at the Highway 59 overpass in Woodstock

Unfortunately, given the isolation of the plaque, few will actually see it, even if thousands pass by it daily. Larger signs mark the overpass as the Constable Jack Ross Memorial Bridge, in honour of a Ontario Provincial Police officer.

But it will always be the Jack Chambers bridge to me.

A larger sign right above the Jack Chambers plaque commemorates a different Jack

Though 401 Towards London No. 1 has long been one of my favourite Canadian paintings, it is not typically on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I would love to see this work put on permanent display, either at the AGO, or at another gallery that will appreciate the ode to Ontario’s mother road.

Categories
About me Cycling Design Infrastructure Roads Toronto

Yonge, tomorrow

Over the past few years, I have been involved with the YongeTOmorrow project on behalf of Walk Toronto. It has been a very interesting and worthwhile experience being part of a stakeholder advisory group. Allied organizations working towards a more exciting and sustainable Yonge Street include Cycle Toronto, 8 80 Cities, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

After several rounds of public consultations and stakeholder meetings, you can now see what the proposed changes to Yonge Street will look like.

Rendering of proposed changes to Yonge Street , looking north towards Dundas Square. In this section, northbound traffic is permitted, with two-way cycling, and much wider sidewalks, along with new trees and improved street furniture.

Though the selected concept is not perfect, the proposed changes will provide significant improvements to Yonge Street between Queen and College Streets. These include wider sidewalks, patio space, bike facilities, and a pedestrianized zone between Dundas Square and Edward Street, allowing for better circulation, more flexibility for special events, and a more pleasant street.

With more high-rise development on the way (including the redevelopment of the Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street), it is only right that more space be given to residents, students, employees, and visitors. Compromises in the plan allow for access to parking garages, permit taxi and other vehicle drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as business deliveries.

I encourage you to have a look and provide your feedback. The online survey is available until September 30.

Categories
Brampton Ontario Transit Travels

Stranded at Bramalea GO: Metrolinx’s missed connections

Temporary bus terminal, Bramalea GO Station
The inhospitable temporary bus terminal at Bramalea GO Station

On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.

Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.

From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.

If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.

Categories
Roads Walking

Opening up the streets in Toronto and Guelph

Toronto’s Danforth Avenue has been transformed with new protected bike lanes and patio spaces

In the last few days, I visited Toronto’s Danforth Avenue and Downtown Guelph to see how municipalities can support local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Danforth Avenue, new interim bicycle lanes were installed between Broadview Avenue and Dawes Road, spanning three business improvement areas (Broadview Danforth, Greektown, and Danforth Mosaic). With the new bike lanes, dedicated spaces for restaurant patios were installed in the curb lanes. The new patios extended beyond restaurant storefronts, with spray-painted demarcations to mark each business’ territory. This gave businesses with limited or no indoor seating plenty of room to serve customers and recoup some of the lost business due to the pandemic.

Where one patio space begins and where another ends: Greektown on the Danforth

Though most curbside patio space was allocated to businesses, Muskoka chairs placed within the Destination Danforth area are free for anyone to sit, no purchase required. This helped make the setup perfect for pedestrians out for a stroll or headed to nearby businesses.

While cyclists are thrilled to get the new bike lanes (the Bloor-Danforth lanes will soon extend as far west as Runnymede Road once construction is complete on Bloor Street West), walking along the Danforth was the best way to see the changes.

Muskoka chairs on the left are may be used by anyone, while tables on the right allows a local restaurant to seat customers while maintaining physical distancing

In Downtown Guelph, the intersection of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets was closed to allow restaurants, bars, and breweries to operate large open air dining areas, in what is called the Downtown Dining District. Unlike The Danforth, patio areas allocated to local businesses in Guelph are enclosed with fences or ropes, but the centre of the street is free to walk or bike through.

The corner of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets, Guelph

Though the Downtown Dining District will only continue through Labour Day, the area was busy on a Wednesday afternoon and early evening. Most restaurants have been able to operate entirely with outdoor seating — thanks to generous canopies and umbrellas to provide protection from the sun and rain. This provides additional protection for restaurant staff and patrons. Though Phase 3 is in effect across the province (allowing for limited indoor dining), the fresh air is preferable.

Macdonell Street looking towards the Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate

Though it took a pandemic to rethink how we use our streets, it is nice to see these changes. Perhaps Guelph could make the Downtown Dining District an annual tradition, attracting visitors from nearby cities, like Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps the Destination Danforth changes also become permanent as well – after all, Torontonians love open streets and festivals.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road

Roadside memorial to a three year old boy at The East Mall and  Montebello Gardens,
near Burnhamthorpe Road, Etobicoke

On Tuesday, August 11, just after 11AM, a father and his two children were attempting to cross The East Mall north of Burnhamthorpe Road. They were crossing from the west side of the minor arterial street, where there is the main entrance to a long term care home, to the corner of Montebello Gardens, a short residential street on the east side.

As the three pedestrians were crossing, an 81-year-old woman driving a black SUV turned left from Montebello Gardens to go south on The East Mall, crashing directly into the family.

All three pedestrians were rushed to hospital. A three-year-old boy was soon pronounced dead, while a seven-year-old girl was taken to a trauma centre. The driver remained on scene. It is not certain if charges will be laid.

The three-year-old’s death came only a day after the Toronto Star’s Ben Spurr reported that 2020 has been the safest year for pedestrians and cyclists since at least 2007. There were 63 collisions resulting in serious injury or death in the period from January 1 through July 1, down from an average of 99. The decline can be explained by considerably reduced traffic since COVID-19 lockdowns began in mid March, and by fewer pedestrians on city streets.

As traffic picks up with the loosening of restrictions and as people go out for strolls and exercise for physical and mental health, the need for improved road safety and a commitment for real Vision Zero implementation, especially in Toronto’s suburbs, remains crucial. The area near where the young boy was killed last week just shows how much further we need to go.

TTC bus stop on The East Mall, north of Keene Avenue

I visited The East Mall on a sunny Friday afternoon. I took the 111 East Mall bus from Kipling Station to Keane Avenue, the first stop north of Burnhamthorpe Road. The bus stop has a nice, clean shelter and a large concrete pad, but no where safe to cross the street. On the other side, there is a southbound stop for buses heading towards Cloverdale Mall and the subway, and Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute, a high school specializing in programs for mature students and adult learners.

The intersection of The East Mall and Keene Avenue, looking north. Burnhamthorpe CI is behind the southbound bus stop A sign warns drivers of a winding road, with an advisory speed of 30 km/h.

A signalized pedestrian crossover exists further north, in front of West Glen Junior Public School, but the next TTC stop, at Capri Road, is at yet another unsignalized intersection. The distance between Burnhamthorpe Road to the south, and the pedestrian crossover is over 550 metres, and neither designated crossing is visible from Keene Avenue nor Montebello Gardens due to the winding nature of The East Mall.

This part of Toronto has seen plenty of tragedy this year. The Eatonville Care Centre was one of several long term care homes where the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed due to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 amidst poor working and sanitary conditions documented by CAF medical staff. Forty-two residents died during that outbreak.

Eatonville Care Centre, with the roadside memorial in the background

The presence of a long term care home, a library branch at the southeast corner of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, two nearby schools, and a large Loblaws supermarket and pharmacy on the southwest corner should have made this area a priority for improved, safer road infrastructure. Speeds along The East Mall are much higher than the posted 40 km/h limit, while the winding, roadway limits both drivers’ and pedestrians’ fields of vision. There should be no excuse for such long distances between safe pedestrian crossings, especially with the vulnerable populations living in this area.

Though the driver who killed the three-year-old boy was carelessly turning from a side street, and not speeding along The East Mall, another tragedy is inevitable without significant changes. Meanwhile, The East Mall is similarly laid out south of Burnhamthorpe, where there are older rental towers and townhomes and new condominium towers going in, yet nothing is done to calm traffic along a winding, busy street.

Though the intersection of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road is signalized, it is also a dangerous intersection to cross. Burnhampthorpe Road widens to four westbound lanes leading towards Highway 427, while wide turning radii make it easy for motorists to turn right at all four corners. Drivers, rushing on and off Highway 427 take little notice or care for pedestrians, as I experienced trying to cross the street.

An Uber/Lyft driver in a red Nissan sedan and a Land Rover SUV driver turn left from The East Mall to Burnhamthorpe Road towards Highway 427 after the advance green signal disappears and the walk signal turns on, with me starting my crossing

While motorists are treated to generous geometries and easy turns, pedestrians are only an afterthought, despite the library, supermarket, offices, and several bus stops used by TTC and Mississauga bus routes. Meanwhile, a new townhouse complex on the northwest corner will add even more pedestrians to this area.

The intersection of Burnhamthorpe and The East Mall encourages high speeds, with pedestrians only an afterthought

This part of Etobicoke is simply unforgiving of pedestrians and cyclists — it is one of only a few parts of the city where no ActiveTO measures have been introduced and where the local councillor, Stephen Holyday, has demonstrated consistent opposition to safe and effective active transportation measures. Holyday describes himself as taking “a tough stance against congestion-causing initiatives” such as bike lanes and the King Street Transit Pilot. He was only one of two councillors to vote against the ActiveTO bike plan in May.

If we value lives, support healthy lifestyles, and are deeply committed to Vision Zero, central Etobicoke will need to see big changes.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Travels

A driver’s case for banning right turns on red lights

Entering Montreal on Autoroute 20, with a sign reminding motorists of the blanket ban on right turns on red on Montreal Island

During the August long weekend, my spouse and I rented a car and drove to Montreal. Normally, I take the train, as it’s a long and boring drive on Highway 401, while VIA Rail offers a quiet, relaxing, and more interesting ride. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, driving seemed like a good idea. (In doing so, I finally drove the entire length of Highway 401 — I had not yet done the section between Cornwall and the Quebec border).

Despite Montreal’s infamous potholes, never-ending construction, and stereotypically aggressive motorists, I found driving around the city less stressful than in my own home city of Toronto. It may sound counter-intuitive, but a big reason for this was the city’s blanket ban on right turns on red.

Outside of North America, turning movements on red lights are generally prohibited. They were only widely introduced to the United States as part of an energy-saving measure in the 1970s, as a response to the first oil shock; a regulation was written into a 1975 federal bill that provided federal aid to states provided that they permit right turns on red lights (along with carpool programs and energy, thermal, and lighting efficiency measures), though many western US states had such laws on their books much earlier.

U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act, 1975, Section 362(c)

Each proposed State energy conservation plan to be eligible for
Federal assistance under this part shall include —
 (1) mandatory lighting efficiency standards for public buildings
 (except public buildings owned or leased by the United States);
 (2) programs to promote the availability and use of carpools,
 vanpools, and public transportation (except that no Federal funds
 provided under this part shall be used for subsidizing fares for
 public transportation);
 (3) mandatory standards and policies relating to energy efficiency
 to govern the procurement practices of such State and its political
 subdivisions;
 (4) mandatory thermal efficiency standards and insulation
 requirements for new and renovated buildings (except buildings owned
 or leased by the United States); and
 (5) a traffic law or regulation which, to the maximum extent
 practicable consistent with safety, permits the operator of a motor
 vehicle to turn such vehicle right at a red stop light after
 stopping.

The Province of Quebec was the last subnational holdout in North America, permitting the practice in 2003. However, the City of Montreal continued to outlaw turns on red, following New York City’s continued prohibition, while Mexico City introduced a new prohibition in 2018.

North Americans may have given up the small cars that they began driving in the 1970s in favour of SUVs and aggressively styled pickup trucks (whose proportions and poor sightlines increase the danger to pedestrians), but we continue to cling to the right turn on red as a matter of convenience.

In my experience, though, I found driving less stressful when I knewI could not turn on red. I did not have to worry about a driver behind me inching forward, pressuring me to move past the stop line and into the intersection so they could turn. If I was waiting to turn right, I knew I could relax and wait for the green signal before I had to try to make the maneuver. The leading pedestrian interval common in central Montreal (which also allows through traffic — including cyclists — to go first) made pedestrians easier to see and predict as I was making my turn.

Montreal’s leading pedestrian interval signal

I might have saved a minute or two on each car trip had I been able to turn on a red light. But it did not feel like much of a difference. The reduced stress was worth it.

As a pedestrian and as a cyclist, I appreciated turn-on-red prohibitions whenever I was in a city where they are in place, as I did not have to worry about right-turning motorists not seeing me as I crossed at a street corner, or those motorists who rush red lights or refuse to stop before turning. As a driver, I appreciated it too.

Categories
About me Brampton Toronto Transit

Podcast News

This week, I appeared on two podcasts, talking about municipal open data, crowdsourced mapping projects, and Brampton’s success in building suburban transit ridership.

For Spacing Radio’s Future Fix series, I spoke about a recent Walk Toronto initiative to map sidewalk pinch points during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We used Google Maps to pinpoint specific locations where queues to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses and services made physical distancing difficult or impossible.

Through Walk Toronto’s social media accounts, we asked Torontonians where these locations were, then submitted a list to city staff and public health officials. Not long afterwards, CurbTO was announced to address this specific problem, the first of several initiatives that recognized the need to get outside.

Also on the podcast are Shabnem Afzal, road safety manager for Surrey, British Columbia, speaking about that city’s Vision Zero plan, and Halifax City Councillor Waye Mason, who spoke about that city’s interactive map that allows its citizens identify spots where safe street interventions are needed.

Just before the pandemic hit, I spoke with Helen Lee and Vincent Puhakka of the new podcast The Next Stop about Brampton Transit’s success, and the implications for other suburban transit agencies. Also on the podcast are Brampton Transit General Manager Alex Milojevic and Mayor Patrick Brown.

I hope you have a listen to each of these podcasts, and consider subscribing.

Categories
History Roads Toronto Transit

The story of Stop 17

IMG_8086-001
Stop 17 Variety, 2835 Kingston Road

Kingston Road is one of Toronto’s oldest and most important thoroughfares. Sections of the road were first laid out by Asa Danforth in 1799, though a straighter, more direct route was established by the early 1800s. By the 1830s, it was a busy stagecoach route, connecting Toronto with Cobourg, Belleville, and Kingston.

As Toronto grew into a major city, Kingston Road was an obvious route for a radial railway line serving Scarborough Township; by 1906, radial cars extended as far east as West Hill, near Morningside Avenue. The radial line’s stops were numbered from the beginning of the line, first at Queen Street and Kingston Road, then at Kingston and Victoria Park Avenue after the TTC took over city operations.

Kingston Road, east of Bellamy Road, 1918: a rural scene. This siding, Mason’s Switch, was Stop 22. The house on the far left of the photograph still stands at the corner of Kingston and Mason Roads.
From Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 148.

Stop 0 was at the city limits at Victoria Park (with connections to TTC streetcars). Stop 14 was Halfway House at Midland Avenue. Stop 26 was the Scarborough Post Office, near today’s Scarborough Golf Club Road, and Stop 35 was the end of the line, at West Hill.

With increasing automobile ownership and new intercity bus lines in the 1920s, Kingston Road was busier than ever, becoming part of the new provincial highway system, but ridership on the radials declined, especially after the TTC extended city streetcars east to Birchmount Avenue in 1928, leaving behind a mostly-rural service. Radial service was cut back to Stop 26 in 1931, and completely replaced by buses in 1936 (the 86 Scarborough bus route is the modern legacy).

Stop 14, in front of Halfway House in 1955.
Photo by James V. Salmon, from the Toronto Public Library collection.

Despite the switch to buses, the stop numbers carried on for many years, listed in TTC timetables through the 1950s. Locals would often refer to stop numbers instead of street intersections. Stop 17, at Kingston Road and St. Clair Avenue East, is one example that has lingered on. A mural on the side of Stop 17 variety depicts a green radial car in front of the Scarborough High School), with a cow blocking the way of a truck looking to pass.

Mural at Stop 17 Variety

Scarborough High School, on the opposite corner of the variety store, was built in 1922, expanded several times, and later renamed R. H. King Academy. The original building was torn down in 1976, but the entrance way, depicted in the mural, was retained.

Arched entrance way to the demolished original section of Scarborough High School

Nearby, towards Brimley Road, several older motels date from the motoring era, when Highway 2 was the main route into the city. Though Highway 401 drew some of the traffic away in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the completion of the Don Valley Parkway (which provided a direct route downtown) and the rise of chain hotels saw a decline in independent motels along Kingston Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. Some have been repurposed as shelters, while others, like the Hav-A-Nap, diversified by offering paid parking for nearby Bluffers Park.

Hav-a-Nap Motel, with the Americana Hotel just behind
Categories
Brampton Infrastructure Politics Transit

Terminal Gateway: how bad decisions will affect the safety thousands of daily transit riders

Brampton Gateway Terminal from the southeast corner of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue, Brampton

Last month, Metrolinx held a virtual open house to present information on the progress of the Hurontario LRT project, planned work, and details on some of the stops along the line. For now, roadwork is limited to median removal and utility relocation, but by next year, heavy construction will commence along the 18-kilometre long corridor.

I was hoping to get some information on the northern terminus, at Steeles Avenue in Brampton, but no details were provided. I took the opportunity to ask specific questions about the transfer between the LRT and local buses, but I was disappointed by the answer.

If Metrolinx goes ahead with their plans for a minimal station on the south side of the intersection, anyone connecting between modes will be forced to cross two sides of a busy, hazardous intersection at grade, impacting both accessibility and safety. We can thank politicians on the 2014-2018 Brampton City Council for this situation, which provide just one of many examples of how systemic racism manifests in transit decision making.