Farewell to to Bathurst Manor Plaza

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This Sunday July 31, another suburban shopping plaza in Toronto will close for good. For over 50 years, Bathurst Manor Plaza, at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and Overbrook Place, served the local community. At its peak, it had Sunnybrook Market, a local grocery store, a Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO, and a CIBC bank branch. It also had several clothing stores, an optician, restaurants, cleaners, an a video store. These may not be the types of businesses that would attract customers from far away, but they were the types of stores essential to the local community. It also had a gas station and service centre, which was later occupied by a kosher pizza restaurant. The plaza’s second floor houses doctors’ and dentists’ offices, lawyers, and other services.

There was also Goodman’s China and Gifts. Known for wedding registries, it was where my father would go (all the way from Brampton) to get fine crystal gifts, for my mother’s birthday or wedding anniversary, often bring my brothers and I along. I still remember friendly Mr. Goodman behind the counter, who always had a twinkle in his eye and loved seeing us kids with our father in his store. This is why I felt particularly sad visiting this plaza for the last time earlier this week.

Canadian Jewish News has a very good article that discusses the history and future of Bathurst Manor Plaza.

IMG_3825-001The abandoned Goodman’s China store

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Suburban cycling infrastructure: the 416 versus the 905

IMG_2051-001Riding along the McNicoll hydro corridor in northern Scarborough

Earlier this summer, I took two rides from my downtown apartment to suburban locations. On one ride, I biked northeast to Agincourt, on another trip, I biked to Downtown Brampton on a route that took me past the Humber River and Etobicoke Creek. I experienced different standards for on-street and off-road cycling routes. The City of Toronto generally does better, but suburban cycling infrastructure generally depends on off-road trails, rather than on-street bike lanes and cycle tracks.

In the urban, central part of Toronto, bike lanes and cycle tracks (separated bike lanes located along major streets) are the predominant form of cycling infrastructure. While there are some bike lanes in suburban Toronto and in other municipalities like Mississauga and Brampton, most bike routes, if they exist, are off-road multi-use trails, in ravine or hydro corridors, or alongside major roads, like sidewalks.

Multi-use paths are pleasant to ride on, but they’re often treated as recreational trails, rather than transportation corridors. Most paths are not cleared of snow in the winter (winter cycling really should be encouraged), and they are often isolated from the adjacent road network and local destinations, and they can meander, rather than follow straight lines. Road crossings can often be awkward.

Bike lanes, which offer less protection from motorized traffic at least are integrated with the rest of the street grid, and are generally more direct. But on fast-moving suburban arterials, they aren’t ideal without separation. This is where the side-of-road path comes in.

IMG_2305-001Shared pathway, Derry Road, Mississauga

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Toronto’s new rapid transit plan

Yesterday, City Council decided, by a vote of 27-16, to go ahead with the $3.1 billion one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway to Scarborough Centre, rejecting Councillor Josh Matlow’s last-ditch attempt to resurrect the LRT replacement and extension of the ageing Scarborough LRT line. Council — Mayor Tory included — also voted to spend resources studying three more suburban subway extensions and a re-alignment of the proposed Relief Line subway backed by the local councillor.

Unfortunately, the chance of going back to the less-expensive, yet longer seven-stop light rail line is slim-to-nil at this point. In my view, it’s time for transit advocates that backed the LRT to focus their energies elsewhere. Like Metrolinx’s fare integration strategy, and the plans for other LRT lines, such as the eastern and western extensions of the Eglinton-Crosstown.

TT - Scarborough VoteHow council voted on Councillor Matlow’s motion to resurrect the LRT option for Scarborough

In order to ensure that he had enough votes, John Tory entertained Ward 39 Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ motion for a study on an extension of the Sheppard Line from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Centre. (There’s a LRT proposed for Sheppard East, but no matter.) Karygiannis’ motion passed, as well as several other councillors’ pet subway projects. Ward 10 Councillor James Pasternak has long pushed for a Sheppard Subway extension west between Sheppard-Yonge and Downsview Stations, and he successfully got that included as well. Finally, Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) got a study approved for a subway extension in his ward as well, resurrecting a long-dormant proposal for a subway extension from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.

It’s worth noting that all three right-leaning councillors are reliable votes for John Tory.

Downtown, Paula Fletcher (Ward 30) moved that staff re-examine the Relief Line, moving the recommended alignment from under Pape Avenue to Carlaw Avenue between Gerrard and Queen Streets. This would shift the planned — yet unfunded — subway line two blocks west. The Pape alignment was chosen for ease of construction and operation (the line must curve from north to west just south of Queen Street), and is only two blocks away. That study will cost $520,000 and staff time.

All these new studies are illustrated below. For clarity’s sake, the Sheppard East LRT, the Scarborough LRT proposal, and the existing Scarborough RT (Line 3) are removed. You can read more about how the votes went down on Steve Munro’s site.

Transit Plan July 2016The map of planned, approved and existing rapid transit lines, and those extensions and re-alignments approved for study

The “subways, subways, subways” sentiment is alive and well at City Hall, even if Rob Ford has passed on. And despite the thirst for expensive new subway lines,  Mayor Tory is still backing an austerity agenda at City Hall. Apart from the decorum, not much has changed in the mayor’s office.

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The difference between the Fords’ Subway Plan and John Tory’s Subway Plan

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The Rob Ford/Doug Ford Subway Plan, circa 2014

The above is the subway plan promoted by Rob Ford, and later Doug Ford, in the 2014 municipal election. Thanks to today’s pandering to suburban councillors demanding their own subway lines, below is the John Tory-backed subway plan.

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The John Tory Subway Plan, circa 2016

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The Truth About SmartTrack

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In 2014, John Tory, mayoral candidate, promised to deliver a 58 kilometre-long “London-style surface rail subway” that would provide much-needed relief to the overburned TTC subway system. In 2016, we  finally know how unrealistic Tory’s transit fantasy turned out to be. The province announced several new stations along its existing GO Transit lines, which will serve Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail (RER) trains.

At best, SmartTrack — John Tory’s signature transit plan — represents the City of Toronto’s buy-in to GO RER, a worthwhile project to provide better rail service to suburban Toronto and the 905. But at worst, SmartTrack is a failure to deliver on a key election promise, as flawed as it is. But in order for the Mayor to save face, the SmartTrack brand will likely never go away.

I write more about the latest transit developments in Torontoist.

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Thoughts on Newmarket’s new Rapidway

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In September, 2013, I wrote a post in Spacing Toronto called “York Region’s Rapidways: the good, the bad and the ugly.” I went out to Markham to ride the first of York Region’s VivaNext Rapidways. With the recent opening of a similar Rapidway in Newmarket, and a new Viva Route on Davis Drive, I made a trip north a few weeks ago to check it out.

Viva is the brand used by York Region Transit for its network of limited-stop, proof-of-payment bus routes. When first launched in September, 2005, Viva was strictly a “BRT-lite” operation. Unlike regular YRT routes, the buses are fancier and more comfortable, the stops less frequent, and to speed up service, Viva operates on a proof-of-payment system where fares are purchased in advance from machines at Viva stops. and limited stops. A decade ago, all Viva corridors were supposed to be served by buses operating every 15 minutes or better, 7 days a week.

But a few years later, the cutbacks began to happen as York Region reduced funding for transit operations. Viva Green, connecting Markham to the TTC’s Don Mills Station, became a rush hour only route. Viva Orange, connecting Vaughan to Downsview Subway via York University was cut back as well and now only operates every 30 minutes outside of rush hour. Even Viva Purple (York University – Markham) had its operating times cut back. Worse yet, YRT reduced service on connecting conventional bus routes that feed the Viva system.

But while the region was reducing its spending on transit operations and raising fares, it was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on VivaNext, the region’s rapid transit plan. The plan calls for separated median right-of-ways on Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive, known as Rapidways, as well as two TTC subway extensions. York Region lobbied for, and got, a subway extension to Highway 7 in Vaughan which will open next year; it has also lobbied for an extension to the Yonge Subway from Finch Station to Richmond Hill. York Region, with its political clout, may just get that too.

Spending billions of dollars on building transit, without properly funding the services that use and feed into that fancy new infrastructure is a problem. This is what’s wrong with York Region Transit.  Continue reading

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What do I know? I’m just a downtown elitist

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I once described Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong as the city official that “knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” In 2014, Minnan-Wong complained about the costs of building new washrooms at the soccer fields at Cherry Beach, holding up a sign that simply said “$600,000.” That photo of Minnan-Wong, scowling for the cameras, trying to generate some outrage in an election year, was meme gold and so was parodied in the #TOpoli Twittersphere.

At $600,000, yes the washrooms were expensive. But as they were built in an isolated part of the Portlands, they required a new connection to the nearest watermain; a sewage tank had to be constructed as well, being so far from existing lines. The city has a mandate to provide quality parks and recreational facilities. Minnan-Wong, along with the Fords, also complained about the costs of umbrellas at Sugar Beach, a popular new waterfront park.

In 2016, under Mayor John Tory’s administration, we have a City that doesn’t know the cost of some things (like the Scarborough Subway) nor does it know the value of other, smaller things, like the Toronto sign.

The Toronto sign, placed on Nathan Phillips Square ahead of last year’s Pan Am Games proved to be incredibly popular with residents and tourists alike. The LED backlighting allows the sign to be coloured at night to mark any holiday or any important current or special event. The $100,000 climbable sign (reminiscent of the successful “I amsterdam” signs) was supposed to be temporary, and will have to be replaced within three years. A staff report estimate the cost of major repairs to the existing sign, and a new mobile sign, would cost $421,700 over two years. This would be money well spent.

But some councillors, including Etobicoke’s Stephen Holyday and Scarborough’s Raymond Cho, would rather privatize the sign, perhaps selling it off. At least Councillor David Shiner, a fiscal conservative, called it “a potent symbol of Toronto pride and unity” after amalgamation, but even he questioned the need for paying for city staff to maintain the sign. A strong argument could be made that the costs to maintain the sign should come from Tourism Toronto and the local tourism industry, but calls from some quarters to sell it off are ridiculous.

Last Friday, we learned that the estimated cost of building the one-stop, six kilometre subway extension to Scarborough Centre jumped from $2.0 billion to $2.9 billion. But unlike cycling infrastructure or fully funding an effective Vision Zero program to protect vulnerable road users, the mayor, key council allies, and provincial MPPs remain hell-bent on building it.

Scarborough Centre MPP Brad Duguid, a powerful cabinet minister in the provincial Liberal government, quoted in the Toronto Sun, said that critics of the subway plan “…have been yapping away on this project from Day 1 and the vast majority of those critics come from fairly elitist downtown views of the city. People in Scarborough and the suburbs of Toronto count as well.” Duguid claimed that “the area surrounding the new [Scarborough Centre] station is growing fast.” Never mind that population and employment densities are not very high along the subway route, even in Scarborough Centre, and no major commercial development has come to central Scarborough since the 1990s.

On Metro Morning, Duguid, a former city councillor who endorsed John Tory’s mayoral bids in 2003 and 2014, doubled down on his previous rhetoric. He repeated false claims about Scarborough Centre’s growth, claimed Scarborough residents have paid for downtown subway expansions, he even stated that the Scarborough Subway “transcends politics” (which earned a guffaw from host Matt Galloway).

I live downtown, and I don’t use the subway; like many who live here, I walk to work. Many others cycle, or take overcrowded streetcars on King and Queen Streets. The Yonge Subway is overcrowded from commuters from outside the downtown core. Most downtowners wouldn’t directly benefit from a Relief Line either, but it’s an essential part of the network. The last subway built in Downtown Toronto was in 1966. I’m hardly an “elitist” either; I rent my apartment. I don’t enjoy many luxuries, and I certainly don’t hold a position of power or influence. I simply want the best transit for the best price; the Scarborough LRT, along with GO Transit RER and the Eglinton-Crosstown and Scarborough-Malvern light rail corridors represent the right investment for the eastern half of Toronto.

We’re content to keep up an underused section of the Gardiner at greater expense than an urban boulevard, at the cost of lost development opportunities on the eastern waterfront. We’re committed to a $2.9 billion, 6 kilometre one-stop extension when a 10 kilometre, 6-stop LRT would cost $1.8 billion, funded entirely by the province. But we’ll complain about umbrellas and washrooms, budget too little for road safety plans, and question the costs of maintaining a popular sign at City Hall. I love this city, but sometimes Toronto still gets me down.

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