What’s going on in Downtown Brampton?

IMG_6139-0015 Railroad Street, on the City of Brampton’s heritage registrar, is one of several houses recently boarded up in Downtown Brampton

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how Metrolinx, the Province of Ontario’s regional transportation authority, had purchased several houses and two office buildings in Downtown Brampton. The intention at the time was to build a new surface lot to accommodate GO Transit commuters, a symptom of the commuter transit system’s dependence on providing parking.

Metrolinx is responsible for GO Transit, the UP Express airport rail link, the Presto farecard, and planning and constructing transit infrastructure in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Since my 2016 blog post, three dwellings — 28A and 28B Nelson Street West, a semi-detached house, and 42 Elizabeth Street North — were demolished, but there was little other visible change until this month. Now eight more houses — on Elizabeth Street and Railroad Street have been boarded up and their electricity disconnected, including at least one rooming house that was occupied until very recently. The two office buildings — 29 and 37 George Street — are also emptying out.

Four of these properties — 30 Nelson Street West, 46 and 50 Elizabeth Street North, and 5 Railroad Street — are listed by the City of Brampton as containing heritage resources.

IMG_6153-001Offices at 37 George Street are moving out

So what exactly is going on? Why has Metrolinx purchased twelve homes and two offices in Downtown Brampton? Is it for a surface parking lot as previously reported in 2016? Or does this have to do with recent plans for a new Brampton campus of Ryerson University?

The City of Brampton has been assembling land and buildings nearby, including 8 Nelson Street West, a six-storey office building above the downtown bus terminal. The city also owns the old Loblaws store on the southeast corner of George and Nelson Street. As Bramptonist‘s Divyesh Mistry found, Metrolinx noted “…continued collaboration between Metrolinx staff […] with the City of Brampton and Ryerson University on the Brampton Station redevelopment.”

Houses on Elizabeth Street North recently vacated and boarded up. 

If this land assembly is, in fact, to support a yet unannounced Ryerson University campus site on this block or on the existing Brampton GO Station parking lot, then this is on the whole very good news, though I remain concerned about the loss of downtown housing, particularly rooming houses and affordable apartments that some of older homes in the area have been divided into. A downtown campus with excellent transit links — GO Transit and several Brampton Transit bus routes — makes more sense than Milton’s plans for a greenfield campus for Wilfrid Laurier University distant from GO Transit’s bus and rail lines.

IMG_6149-00146 Elizabeth Street North, a rooming house with heritage status, is now boarded up, with the electricity disconnected. 

Unlike a competing university campus site near Etobicoke Creek backed by New Brampton (a politically influential group of local business and landowners who also opposed the Hurontario-Main LRT route), the GO Station and the Nelson/Railroad/Elizabeth Street buildings are outside the historical floodplain and can be built quicker.

If the existing GO Transit parking lot were to be used for Ryerson’s Brampton campus, then an alternative parking site would be required — hence the recent purchase and the demolition of these homes and offices. The construction of a new surface lot in an designated “anchor hub” — where rapid transit lines meet and urban intensification is encouraged — would be most unfortunate, but I hope that it will not be a long-term solution. On the other hand, a new university campus is exactly the type of land use that should be located at an “anchor hub.”

So far, local officials have kept very quiet about the land assembly on the block surrounded by George, Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets, perhaps waiting for approvals from the province and Ryerson University before making a public announcement. But with residents and office tenants displaced and houses boarded up suddenly, confirmation of these plans should come soon.

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Pedestrian flags at crosswalks are not a solution

IMG_0772-001Pedestrian crossing in Dartmouth Nova Scotia equipped with pedestrian flags

Toronto Star article this weekend profiled three elementary school students installing pedestrian flags at local residential intersections near their school in Leaside. Pedestrian flags are not a new idea; they have been common in Halifax and other communities in Nova Scotia for several years. (I wrote about this before on my blog after visiting Halifax this past summer.)

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. Eleven-year old Arnav Shah describes their use in the Star: “what happens is when a pedestrian comes to cross, they look both ways, the regular stuff, maintaining eye contact with the drivers, and then they put the flag up and walk across. Not only does this make them more visible, but makes them (the drivers) more aware of the problem at hand.”

Residents have complained about additional traffic in the neighbourhood as impatient drivers use residential streets to avoid transit construction on nearby Eglinton Avenue. Photos in the article show the flags being used at the corner of Rumsey Road and Donlea Drive, near the school. The intersection is already controlled by a four-way stop, it is located in a signed school zone, and the local speed limit is 40 km/h.

The local councillor, Jon Burnside,  rightly praised the children for taking initative. But he added that “…it’s also a sad commentary on the state of our roads and the way people drive.” He’s right. Burnside further adds that adults “can take some cues from the kids’ creativity.”

If we need bright flags to cross the street at a designated crosswalk because motorists wouldn’t see pedestrians otherwise, then we’ve failed to provide safe infrastructure. The adults — namely Toronto’s mayor and city council — have resisted investing in safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

The city has put up signs on wide five-lane and seven-lane roads designating them as “Seniors Safety Zones” but has done little to actually make those roads safer for the pedestrians using them. The mayor and the committee responsible for roads and infrastructure rejected making Yonge Street in North York safer and more pleasant to walk and cycle, deferring to motorists instead. And last week, it responded to a child killed while crossing the street in a residential area by closing a walkway to the school yard and not doing anything to slow down motorists speeding in a school zone.

Simply installing flags at crosswalks for pedestrians to carry would be in line with Toronto’s ineffectual Vision Zero program. While I can admire the children’s action, I would really like to see this taken much farther by the leaders in charge.

Correction: the local councillor quoted in the Toronto Star is Jon Burnside, not John Campbell. I regret the error

Posted in Roads, Toronto, Walking | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The wrong answer to a tragic death of a boy walking home from school

IMG_6001-001.JPGKennedy Public School, where 11-year old Duncan Xu was in Grade 6. He was struck and killed on an adjacent residential street while walking home on Tuesday, February 27. 

On Tuesday, February 27, around 3:30 PM, Duncan Xu, an 11-year old boy, was struck and killed by a motorist in a residential neighbourhood in north Scarborough. He was the tenth pedestrian killed on Toronto’s streets in 2018, and the second child killed on their way home from school.

Duncan Xu was crossing Canongate Trail at Ockwell Manor Drive, near the school, when he was hit by a motorist driving north on Canongate. The intersection does not have a crosswalk, but is only 70 metres north of an intersection controlled by a four-way stop. Canongate Trail a residential street lined with houses, and has a 40 km/h speed limit. The collision occurred right in front of a school zone sign.  Despite its residential nature, Canongate Trail acts as shortcut for non-local traffic avoiding the busy intersection of Steeles Avenue and Kennedy Road.

I visited the neighbourhood today to better understand the conditions in which a child is killed crossing the street on his way home to school, and the local councillor’s “solution” to that problem.

Map of the neighbourhood surrounding Kennedy Public School, including the location where Duncan Xu was hit, and the walkway that will close on Monday morning.

IMG_6027-001Looking north on Canongate Trail at Ockwell Manor Drive, where Duncan Xu was killed. A memorial is at the curb. Note the speed limit sign, as well as the school zone sign, and also the heavy traffic on Canongate. 

In the Toronto Star, school principal Kevin Liu described the traffic on Canongate as a problem: “I think we’re getting some thorough traffic, not necessarily residents, cutting through this neighbourhood to avoid a left-hand turn at Kennedy and Steeles during rush hours.”

The school has long had concerns about their students’ safety.  Initiatives implemented in 2017 included new turning restrictions onto Elmfield Crescent, onto which the school fronts, and parking and stopping restrictions to better manage traffic from parents dropping off and picking up their children. A crossing guard is stationed at the corner of Canongate and Elmfield.

Canongate is wide as far as local residential streets go. There are no attempts at traffic calming, such as speed humps, bump-outs or curb extensions, or effective traffic enforcement. There are several all-way stop signs on Canongate, but these on their own are not effective in slowing down motor traffic; rolling stops are common as well. When I visited the area today, I found that motorists accelerate quickly headed northbound from the Percell Square/Canongate intersection, and the 40 km/h speed limit is often not adhered to.

Speeding motorist passes memorial to Duncan Xu on Sunday, March 4

Sadly, the local councillor, Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39), has not championed measures to reduce and slow down traffic on Canongate Drive, despite local concerns. Instead, the councillor decided to unilaterally close a walkway linking the rear schoolyard with Canongate Trail, close to where Duncan was killed. Duncan used the walkway before trying to cross the street.

Duncan Xu might not have crossed the street at a crosswalk, but he would still be alive had all motorists driven with the due care and speed befitting a school zone as children are heading home.

The walkway is a convenient route for students to walk to school. It also connects residents to a nearby park. Councillor Karygiannis claimed that he proposed it earlier, but that local residents and the school refused it. Principal Liu said that he never heard about the proposal.

The walkway Councillor Karygiannis will unilaterally close on Monday morning after Duncan Xu’s death

On Monday morning, Councillor Karygiannis will make a show of closing the path and put out a media advisory indicating his intent. Orange plastic netting was already placed at both entries to the path, which cuts between two houses in preparation of the closure. But this is a classic case of “Zero Vision,” rather than Vision Zero, measures to improve road safety, such as improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and re-engineered roads that the city is at least nominally committed to.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis media advisory

Media advisory from Ward 39 Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ office announcing the closure of the pathway

Closing the walkway will only serve to reduce walking to school, and increase traffic. It will do nothing to solve the problem of fast-moving cars in a residential area, nor will it necessarily prevent children from unsafely crossing the street. It’s the type of inexpensive, easy fix that make politicians look like they’re doing something, but without making the necessary changes to prevent future fatalities.

Traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, tighter curbs at intersections, extending the curbs out at intersections, and planters would force motorists to slow down, and would be more effective than stop signs. More should be done to discourage impatient drivers from using the residential area as a shortcut. More should be done to encourage students to walk to school, rather than discouraged by closing walkways. Walking audits would allow the community to provide input. And this should be done around every school.

The safety of pedestrians, especially children, should not be left to half-measures.


Updated map of pedestrian fatalities on Toronto’s streets.

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The John Tory Way

Yonge Street looking south from Richmond Hill

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson changes his name to Max Power, after he’s ridiculed for sharing the name with a buffoonish television character. It’s not a great episode — it came out at the time the show was in transition from its glory years to the “Zombie Simpsons” era — but it has a few good laughs.

There’s one good memorable quote:

— “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!”
— “Isn’t that the wrong way?”
— “Yeah, but faster!”

On important transportation projects, the John Tory way is the wrong way, but costlier. We’ve seen this several times during his mayoralty.

When it came time to replace the underused eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, Tory and his suburban allies on council voted in favour of a more expensive “hybrid” option that maintains much of the elevated highway, instead of a cheaper at-grade option that would provide a better pedestrian realm on the Eastern Waterfront and better support new development.

In Scarborough, Tory stubbornly supports building a one-stop subway extension that was last estimated to cost $3.35 billion dollars, instead of supporting a seven stop LRT route from Kennedy Station that would extend the existing grade-separated Scarborough RT route to Centennial College and Sheppard Avenue. A proposed SmartTrack station at Lawrence East (whose estimated construction cost has risen from $26 million to $155 million) may not be able to be built while the Scarborough RT is still in operation.

And on February 27, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) voted against plans backed by city staff, the local councillor, John Filion, and many residents and road safety advocates, to transform Yonge Street in North York Centre between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. This section of Yonge Street is due for reconstruction, hence the opportunity to rethink the street to better serve the community.

The REimagining Yonge Street plan seeks to improve the pedestrian realm with widened sidewalks, would add new cycling infrastructure. To make room for these improvements, two traffic lanes — used for street parking outside of weekday rush hours — would be removed. This stretch of Yonge Street has seen many new condominium towers built over the last decade, and there are three subway stations serving this stretch of Yonge Street.

Mayor Tory, who has the power to select committee chairs and members, stated his preference for the status quo on Yonge Street, suggesting that the bike lanes be moved one block west, to Beecroft Avenue. PWIC moved for this alternative option as well, even though city staff reported that the change would cost an additional $20 million.

YongeCrossSectionYonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues would have seen new separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and new public art. (From the EA materials.)

The decision to maintain the status quo on Yonge Street benefits commuters outside of Toronto more than local residents, so it is puzzling why Mayor Tory has declared his support — once again — for an option that puts drivers first. Nearly three-quarters of rush-hour drivers on Yonge Street through North York come from York Region. A majority of residents take transit, walk, or cycle; they would benefit from a safer, more pleasant street. Moving the bicycle route to Beecroft Avenue serves to move cyclists out of the way of cars, rather than providing a direct route with better access to transit, shops, and homes.

With Doug Ford focused on the Ontario Progressive Conservative party leadership race, there are — as of yet — no high-profile challengers to Mayor Tory’s re-election bid. There is no need to pander to a voting bloc angered by a so-called “war on the car” unless Tory actually supports suburban commuters over his own constituents. And this decision will only cost more money.

Once again, Mayor John Tory has chosen the wrong way.

Posted in Cycling, Politics, Roads, Toronto, Urban Planning, Walking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ontario’s failed downtown malls

IMG_0392.JPGBayside Mall, formerly the Sarnia Eaton Centre, on a Saturday morning in 2013. Most stores are vacant or occupied by non-profits or independent businesses.

The Toronto Eaton Centre, large, famous, and vital, is only one of many malls built in the downtown cores of Ontario cities between the 1960s and 1990s. From Thunder Bay to Cornwall, the construction of new enclosed shopping centres were seen as a necessary tool to keep the old city centres vibrant and relevant in the face of competition from new suburban malls. But only in the province’s two largest cities did the concept work. Elsewhere, these urban shopping complexes were left largely vacant within ten years of opening, when leases expired. When the Eaton’s department chain went bankrupt in 1997, huge voids were left behind that developers and municipalities struggled to fill.

The Toronto Eaton Centre was opened in two phases between 1977 and 1979. It added hundreds of shops and new office space to Downtown Toronto, anchored by a new Eaton’s flagship and was connected to the Simpson’s store across Queen Street. Today, the Eaton Centre is Canada’s second largest mall (including the Hudson’s Bay/Saks Fifth Avenue building) and the Toronto region’s second most productive shopping centre in terms of sales per square metre. In Ottawa, the downtown Rideau Centre, opened in 1983, is the busiest and most productive mall in that region (Retail Council of Canada, 2016).

But elsewhere in Ontario, downtown malls — mostly built with municipal and/or provincial government support — have been, without exception, commercial and urban development failures. Not only did they suffer from high vacancy rates, they helped to wreck the downtown cores they are located in rather than foster the economic revitalization they once promised.

Continue reading

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Mapping Toronto’s approved new ward boundaries


On Monday, October 22, 2018, Torontonians will be electing a new city council. And for the first time since 2000, Toronto’s ward boundaries will be changing.

When the new council is formed on December 1, 2018, there will be 47 wards, up from 44. Downtown Toronto will gain three new seats, and North York will gain one, but one seat is lost in Toronto’s west end, in an area currently represented by Wards 14, 17, and 18. Seven wards in Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough will remain unchanged.

Earlier this week, the City of Toronto added the new boundaries to its open data catalogue, so I used the data to create an interactive Google map. This map, embedded below, shows both the current 44 wards, and the approved new 47 wards. Each of the two ward boundary layers can be turned on and off.

Google map showing current and approved new ward boundaries

These new ward boundaries are the result of a long four-year study and consultation process, and represent a compromise that improves representation in high-growth areas, while minimizing the loss of council representation elsewhere. Several other options were explored, including reducing the number of councillors to 25, but they were rejected by the consultants hired by the city to draw the new wards; they were also unpopular among members of the public who attended the consultations.

While Toronto City Council approved the new boundaries in November 2016 (despite Mayor John Tory’s opposition), Councillors Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7) appealed the new boundaries to the Ontario Municipal Board. Happily, the OMB dismissed the two councillors’ complaints last month. Both councillors are likely to run for re-election in modified versions of their existing wards.

I will update the interactive map, adding candidate names for each of the new wards. Nominations are open from May 1, 2018 through July 27, 2018.

Thanks to Gil Meslin (@g_meslin), who altered me to the fact that the new ward boundaries were available on the city’s website. 

Posted in Election, Maps, Politics, Toronto | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The same tired pedestrian safety campaign ignores the real issues


After five pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets during the two weeks of 2018, Toronto Police have announced another pedestrian safety campaign promising increased enforcement and education efforts. Sadly, I do not have faith that the local police service will properly address the safety of vulnerable road users.

Police are once again advising pedestrians to avoid crossing mid-block, to make eye contact with motorists before crossing the street, remove earphones and hoods when crossing, put away mobile devices, and be visible. These are all generally good ideas, but they ignore the larger issue — aggressive and inattentive motorists are most at fault.  Most collisions in which pedestrians are seriously injured and killed are in the suburbs, and not in the downtown core, where most pedestrian safety blitzes take place. And some of the advice the police gives pedestrians is not that helpful.

Previous pedestrian safety campaigns have targeted downtown pedestrians crossing with a flashing hand countdown signal or distracted by their phones. The message is usually the same: in 2012, Toronto police were also saying to “cross the street as if your life depends upon it,” the same as this year’s message. Targeting downtown walkers is an easy way to get a message across, but it is not a very effective one, yet we see it every year.

Statistics collected by the City of Toronto show that most pedestrians hit by motorists were crossing legally in a crosswalk, with the right of way. This latest campaign ignores that very fact.

On January 7, Jessica Renee Salickram was killed trying to cross the street after getting off a TTC bus at Steeles Avenue East and Eastvale Drive, on Toronto’s border with Markham. The intersection does not yet have a traffic signal, and it is nearly 300 metres from the nearest signalized crossing, at Tapscott Road. The eastbound TTC bus stop does not even have a sidewalk, one of many inaccessible bus stops in suburban Scarborough. This was not a mid-block crossing, as it was at an intersection. The TTC has since suspended service at this stop, but that is not an acceptable solution.


Pedestrian fatalities in Toronto in 2018

The Toronto Police’s advice to make eye contact with motorists is often difficult — persons with visual impairments have as much right to cross as anyone else. It is also very difficult to make eye contact with distracted motorists, and drivers in cars and trucks with deep-tint windows. Police are advising pedestrians to cross at crosswalks, yet they are often blocked by vehicles.

It’s pretty much impossible to cross the street safely when the crosswalk is blocked. 

Global News has found that the Toronto Police Service has been issuing far fewer traffic tickets in recent years. Last November, Global reported that Toronto police issued half the number of Highway Traffic Act infractions — fines for speeding, running red lights and stop signs and other unsafe driving — were down by half between 2011 and 2016, as well as a significant drop in impaired driving charges during the same time. It seems wrong that pedestrians are once again being targeted while bad drivers are let off the hook.

As I have written here before, civic leaders have not taken pedestrian and cyclist safety seriously enough. There are a few token gestures to Vision Zero, but “Senior Safety Zones” and reduced speed limits on a few streets are not enough to send the message that we truly value the lives of all vulnerable road users — particularly children and seniors, who are disproportionately at risk. One more quick and easy police blitz on pedestrians at busy downtown intersections does not address the problem.

Posted in Toronto, Walking | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments