Punkeydoodle’s Corners and the world’s highest numbered address

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Last weekend, I went for a ride in Waterloo Region, particularly in Wilmot Township, to the west of Kitchener-Waterloo. Despite some deceptively difficult hills and a strong headwind going back east, it was a very pleasant ride. Outside of Toronto, motorists seem to be quite courteous towards cyclists, with most giving me plenty of room. It helped too that many of Waterloo Region’s rural roads have paved shoulders.

I made several stops along the way, including Castle Kilbride in Baden, a wonderfully preserved Victorian home. It was built by the Livingston family, who made their fortune in flax and linseed oil. The house, a national historic site, is now a museum operated by Wilmot Township.

Castle Kilbride.JPGCastle Kilbride

I biked as far west as the interestingly named hamlet of Punkeydoodle’s Corners, located at the point where Waterloo Region, Perth County, and Oxford County meet.

Though the origin of the crossroads’ name is not known for sure, the most common theory is that a local innkeeper on the old Huron Road (an early colonization road that connected Guelph with Goderich on Lake Huron) like to sing “Yankee Doodle,” but it sounded more like “Punkey Doodle” to his patrons. The hamlet is now bypassed by Highways 7 and 8, and local business migrated to nearby New Hamburg, located on the railway.

The Punkeydoodle’s Corners signs are commonly stolen, and one of the signs was obviously missing when I visited. But there’s one more claim to fame: the world’s highest street address number: 986039 Oxford-Perth Road.

986039.jpg986039 Oxford-Perth Road, a private residence with what is probably the highest numbered address in the world. Road markers for Oxford County Road 24 and Perth County Road 101 are in the background. 

In many parts of Ontario, rural addresses have a six-digit number, often known as 911 or fire numbers. In Dufferin County, for example, the first two digits refer to the road itself, with each rural road assigned an unique number. Each road is then broken down into sections, represented by the third digit. The last three digits indicate the distance — in decametres — from the beginning of the road section to the property’s entrance, with even numbers on the west or south side of the road.

Before 911 numbers were introduced, addresses might only consist of a family or business name, rural route number and the name of the village or town with the nearest post office, or by the property’s lot and concession numbers.

For example, 795112 3rd Line East, Mono, is the address of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The number 79, an odd number, has been assigned to the 3rd Line East of Hurontario Street (which runs north-south), while the third digit, 5, represents the section of 3rd Line East north of Mono Centre Road. The entrance to the park is 1.12 kilometres north of Mono Centre Road, on the west side of the road.

This system allows emergency responders to pinpoint an address quickly and accurately. This is especially important in rural areas, where emergency personnel may be volunteers arriving in their own vehicles. In many parts of southern Ontario, rural roads may simply go by a name, or they may also have a highway or county road number, or still be known by their concession or line numbers. Urban areas, like Orangeville and Shelburne in Dufferin County, have their own numbering systems, separate from the rural 911 addresses.

Each county may have a slightly different system, but they all have the same purpose. 986039 Oxford-Perth Road just happens to be in the far southeast corner of Perth County, hence its high number. The lowest address numbers in rural Perth County can be found in the northwest corner, near Molesworth.

It’s worth noting that not all rural areas developed similar numbering systems. In Toronto and York Region, road addresses are based on their origin point. For east-west streets that cross Yonge Street, street numbers start on other side. For example, Yonge Street’s numbering starts at 1 Yonge Street, the Toronto Star Building, and ends at 21137 Yonge Street, where it unceremoniously disappears into the Holland Marsh. 

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The future of Downtown Brampton

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Metrolinx-owned houses on Railroad Street, Brampton

Over the last three years, I have been following developments in Downtown Brampton, especially lands surrounding the Brampton GO Station. In April 2016, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit, began buying properties in the northwest corner of Brampton’s downtown core, including twelve houses and two low-rise office buildings. The land assembly was for a new surface parking lot, an odd choice for a transit agency that was otherwise interested in promoting compatible land use and transit connections in designated urban centres.

It was later revealed that Metrolinx, Ryerson University, and the City of Brampton were working on a new downtown satellite campus, with the main academic building to be constructed on part of the GO parking lot, north of the rail corridor. While the construction of more surface parking in a downtown core was still a bad idea, at least there was a reason behind the land assembly. The new Ryerson site would make use of other city resources, such as the Rose Theatre and the planned Centre for Innovation (CFI). The CFI would include academic space and a central library, to be built on city-owned land south of the GO station and bus terminal.

university mapPrevious plans for Downtown Brampton, including the Centre for Innovation and the Ryerson campus on the GO Transit lot. Replacement parking would be built on land assembled south of the rail corridor. 

In October, the newly elected Conservative government cancelled provincial funding for Brampton’s Ryerson campus, as well as other suburban satellite universities planned in Markham and Milton. While Brampton and Ryerson decided to continue working on a scaled-back development including a new centre for cybersecurity, a new plan was developed for downtown revitalization. Details are available in the May 15, 2019 Committee of Council agenda.

Here’s a simplified summary of the new plan:

  • The CFI will now be built on the north side of Nelson Street West, between Main Street and George Street, on the site of the existing downtown bus terminal, a 6-story office building constructed in 1989, and an older two-storey commercial block. The office building, though only thirty years old, is reported to be in poor condition. The new 15,700 square metre (170,000 square feet) CFI will include the central library, education space, event space, and retail. It may also include additional floors for offices.
  • The bus terminal will be expanded, as the existing facility is too small to accommodate GO and Brampton Transit buses. There will also be room for a new third track through Downtown Brampton, essential for frequent two-way GO service between Toronto, Brampton, and Kitchener.
  • The City of Brampton will likely build a temporary terminal on the south side of Nelson Street to accommodate the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of the CFI and terminal. This land, also owned by the city, is currently occupied by a surface lot and an old commercial building that was originally a Loblaws store. Retail tenants are being evicted from all of the above properties.
  • The city is also interested in using the two office buildings purchased by Metrolinx for short-term academic and administrative purposes as the new CFI is being built.
  • The houses on Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets acquired by Metrolinx will still be torn down, but without the imminent construction of the Ryerson building, a new parking lot is no longer planned. It is possible that the block will see transit-oriented development in the long term.

IMG_6155-001Vacated office buildings at George and Nelson Streets that may see new life under the city’s new plans

The map below illustrates the revised downtown plans.

It remains a shame that Metrolinx decided to buy up a whole city block and displace dozens of residents (among the properties it acquired were two heritage houses and a rooming house), especially now that the Brampton Ryerson campus is being scaled back. But the city desperately needs a central library, and happily, Ryerson remains interested in partnering with Brampton. It’s good to see that transit expansion, including a larger bus terminal and GO rail expansion, are part of the plans.

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Mind the gap: as Waterloo’s light rail line opens, other connections close

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ION LRT service will finally commence Friday June 21

Early in 2019, I had the opportunity to take a trip on Wroute, a new service that connected Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington. Wroute was an interesting concept, a privately-operated option with characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tried to fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. Unfortunately, Wroute ended operations on Thursday May 2.

As I wrote in my article for TVO, fares were too high for a regular commuter, costing $20 for a single ride between Guelph and Kitchener, and $28 between Guelph and Aldershot, more than double the equivalent GO Transit fares.

IMG_8407-001Wroute Testla at Guelph Central Station, January 2019

When Waterloo Region celebrates the opening of the ION LRT on June 21, the bus system in Kitchener-Waterloo will be restructured to better connect with the corridor. Despite the improvements within Waterloo Region, links are still needed to surrounding communities. Hamilton and Guelph remain largely disconnected. With a growing employment base in Kitchener-Waterloo, as well large university and college campuses in all four city-regions, filling the gap is more important than ever.

Hopefully this will come done soon.

 

 

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The streetcars of Hiroshima: a symbol of resilience

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), with modern Hiroshima rising beyond. Despite its fame, there’s so much more to the city than the memorials.

My wife and I recently came back from an 18-day trip to Japan. It was my first time visiting the country. We stayed in three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, though we made good use of our Japan Rail Passes and made several day trips as well.

Despite hundreds of years of history, Hiroshima is best known as the city upon which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, in the final weeks of the Second World War. The memorial (originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, but widely known as the A-Bomb Dome) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stands as a reminder of the destructive force and tragedy of modern warfare.

Most tourists to Hiroshima may only visit the Peace Memorial Park and associated memorials, or take a ferry to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine and its famous floating gate. But what’s remarkable about Hiroshima is the city’s resilience and pride, and there is much more to see, do, and taste. For me, one of those things is the city’s streetcars.

The Hiroshima Electric Railway, known as Hiroden for short, operates Japan’s largest street railway network, as well as many local buses and ferries. While most Japanese cities abandoned their streetcars after the Second World War, Hiroshima made a conscious decision to retain its streetcars; they are a symbol of Hiroshima’s resilience. Though 108 out of Hiroden’s 123 streetcars were damaged or destroyed, seven days after the blast, service resumed on the suburban Miyajima line.

IMG_0264-001Map of the Hiroden streetcar network, with information in Japanese, English, Korean and simplified Chinese

Today, Hiroden operates 271 streetcars, and it has an eclectic fleet. All streetcars are double-ended, and articulated cars operate with both an operator and a conductor. Passengers pay on exit, though customers using a farecard must tap on and off. (The city fare is a flat 180 yen, though an additional fare is charged on the Miyajima Line.)

IMG_0279-001Two newer Hiroden low-floor streetcars pass each other on Aioi-dori. 

Among Hiroden’s assets are two vehicles (#651 and #652) that survived the atomic blast. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hiroshima purchased used streetcars from other cities that were abandoning their systems, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, some of which still operate today. New articulated low-floor streetcars augment the streetcar fleet, providing barrier-free transit. A complete description of the Hiroden fleet is available on the local transportation museum’s website.

IMG_0794-001Streetcar #1912 was built in 1957 for Kyoto’s municipal railway. It was acquired by Hiroden when Kyoto abandoned its streetcar system in 1978.

Continue reading

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A “fantastic bonanza:” another transit plan up in smoke?

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On the CBC radio program Metro Morning on March 28, Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke about his concerns regarding Premier Doug Ford’s plans to upload the city’s subway system, as well as Ford’s intentions to build new subway extensions to Richmond Hill and Scarborough Centre, bury the Eglinton West LRT, and start the long-planned Relief Line. Instead of a conventional subway, the Relief Line envisioned by the province would use a “new technology,” despite planning and engineering underway for a subway, using an existing subway yard for Relief Line train storage.

But Tory, who has been passive so far about the province’s plans, was hopeful that the unspecified new technology proposed for the Relief Line would be a “fantastic bonanza” for Toronto, but he added that he didn’t know for sure what would come of the new plan.

It is curious that Tory called this hostile takeover a “fantastic bonanza.” Bonanza was a long-running Western television show, starring Lorne Greene as the patriarch of the Cartwright family, owners of a vast ranch on Lake Tahoe. Bonanza was famous for its theme music and opening credits, which featured a burning map of the Cartwrights’ Ponderosa ranch before introducing the cast.

Opening theme for Bonanza

Bonanza’s burning map is a great metaphor for Toronto’s transit planning. Newly elected mayors and premiers burn the maps left behind by their predecessors, and time is wasted on new feasibility studies and engineering reports, ready just in time for someone else to get elected with yet another idea. Plans come and go, but hardly anything ever gets built.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. After a prolonged spurt of subway construction in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, momentum was lost. In the 1980s, Bill Davis’ Progressive Conservatives insisted on a novel linear-induction rail system for Scarborough, rather than the light rail project already underway. The Liberals, under David Peterson, proposed several subway lines, though it was scaled back under NDP Premier Bob Rae. In 1994, work started on the first phases of the Eglinton and Sheppard subways. When Mike Harris’ government was elected in 1995, they cancelled Eglinton, filling in a hole already dug for the tunnel boring machines.

There was new hope in 2003, when a new Liberal provincial government was elected, and David Miller, an urban progressive, became mayor of Toronto. While the province’s top priority was the extension of the Spadina Subway to York University and Vaughan, it was willing to help fund major improvements to GO Transit, along with new light rail systems in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, and Mississauga-Brampton. It also committed to Miller’s proposed Transit City LRT network, including a fully grade-separated replacement of the ageing Scarborough RT.

There were valid criticisms of Transit City — there were too many transfers to get around the top of the city, there was no Relief Line, and a few of the proposed lines, like parts of the Jane and Don Mills LRTs, were too difficult to build as surface rail projects. But because of Miller, the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is well underway, and preliminary work continues on Finch Avenue West.

Work would have also started on the Scarborough RT replacement and expansion and the Sheppard East LRT, had Rob Ford not been elected in 2010, promising “subways, subways, subways” and burning the transit maps for which new projects were planned and being built. Seven funded LRT stops in Scarborough became three unfunded subway stops. Overestimating Rob Ford, and hoping to keep seats in Scarborough, the Liberal government folded to his demands, and work stopped on the LRT replacement.

Rob Ford’s disastrous term was followed by John Tory’s twin obsessions of SmartTrack and an austerity agenda, at a time when the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subways were overwhelmed by demand caused by a growing population and a booming economy — hardly the conditions that demanded low spending on civic services and infrastructure and yet another half-baked transit plan.

smarttrack_fbSmartTrack map from the 2014 John Tory campaign

Tory promised that it would only take seven years to build SmartTrack, which would mostly use existing railway infrastructure, along with a new section of track in Etobicoke, on land already sold off for development. Tory’s insistence on SmartTrack further delayed momentum on the Relief Line. Though Tory remained committed to the Scarborough subway extension over the approved and funded LRT, it was reduced to a single stop as costs ballooned, while the subway and SmartTrack threatened to cannibalize each other. We don’t hear much about SmartTrack anymore, but at least Tory has come around on the Relief Line.

But Doug Ford’s latest musings make it clear why the planned subway upload is so dangerous.

19817903155_db9d9bb379_o.jpgCanada Line in Richmond, British Columbia

So what now for the Relief Line?

Despite the inevitable Simpsons monorail jokes (Doug Ford did promise a monorail on Toronto’s waterfront when he was a city councillor in 2011), the new technology the province is considering is likely an automated light metro line, similar to the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line links Vancouver’s city centre with the international airport and the suburb of Richmond. It was built as a private-public partnership (P3) project, in which a private company was contracted to design, build, and operate the line. It’s an attractive option for a conservative government: P3s promise to be cheaper to build and operate than a conventional public project.

But the Canada Line has problems. Though trains are frequent, it was built too small to accommodate growth. The outer terminals at Vancouver airport and Richmond-Brighouse are both single track/single platform. Station platforms are too short — only 40 metres long — to increase train sizes. And as many stations are underground, it’s too expensive to extending platforms to fit larger trains. Some relief is coming, but even then, the maximum capacity of the Canada line is 15,000 persons per direction per hour, far less than Vancouver’s SkyTrain lines or Toronto’s subway. If this is the route Toronto takes, it won’t be long before the Relief Line itself will need relief.

Once again, I fear that Toronto will continue to spin its wheels thanks to the Ford circus. And it’s a shame — though sadly not surprising — that Mayor Tory isn’t fighting back.

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The story of Toronto’s streetcar “bull’s eyes”

7566316174_524a59174e_o.jpgReplica of Toronto Railway Company streetcar #327 operates at the Halton County Radial Railway museum, with the unique glass bulbs visible below the metal “Belt Line” sign. Photo taken June 2012

In 1891, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) was created, taking over the city’s streetcar system from its predecessor, the Toronto Street Railway. The TRC quickly began electrifying Toronto’s transit network, operating fifteen routes across the city. Electric streetcars were faster than horse-drawn trams, and passengers had difficulties figuring out which streetcar was theirs at night.

This was a problem as many streetcar routes overlapped. For example, Dupont and Avenue Road streetcars operated on Yonge Street south of Bloor, and Belt Line and Yonge streetcars both ran on Front Street. While the TRC had metal signs on the top and sides of each streetcar to denote the route, they weren’t illuminated. With electric light still in its infancy — arc lamps were too intense while early incandescent lamps were too dull to adequately illuminate route signs — the TRC developed an ingenious solution: uniquely coloured glass bulbs mounted on the roof, lit by interior lights. These lights became known as “bull’s eyes.”

Under this scheme, the Yonge Streetcar could be identified by one blue light, while the Broadview Streetcar could be identified with red and green lights. This system required passengers to memorize their route’s colours, and as new routes were introduced, changed, or withdrawn, it became cumbersome. Eventually, lighting technology caught up: while back-lit destination signs were possible by 1910, the TRC became hesitant to spend any capital funds to modernize its fleet or expand the streetcar railway network. The City of Toronto was forced to start its own streetcar system, the Toronto Civic Railway, to serve outlying neighbourhoods.

Though the Ontario Railway Board (predecessor to the Ontario Municipal Board) refused to force the TRC to expand the street railway network beyond the 1891 boundaries, it ordered the TRC to install backlit route signs. These new signs were introduced in February 1913, and those unique coloured bulbs disappeared by 1915. Six years later, the TRC’s franchise was up, and the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission came into being.

In 1935, the TTC re-introduced “bull’s eyes” to its streetcar fleet. Officially known as an advance light, a single roof-mounted light, which gave off a blue-green hue, was designed to let waiting passengers know a streetcar was on its way. At the same time, the TTC installed dash lights, which both illuminated advertising cards and provided additional lighting, a useful safety feature.

IMG_7929-001.JPGTTC PCC Streetcar #4549 on Queen Street West in September 2018

New PCC streetcars, which began arriving in 1938, were built with the advance lights already installed. By 1940, all streetcars, including the remaining wooden cars acquired from the Toronto Railway Company, were equipped with advance lights. After the Second World War, PCC streetcars purchased from cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City, were similarly fitted with the roof-mounted lamps.

IMG_8717-001.JPGCLRV streetcar on Queen Street East, with two blue-green advance lights above the back-lit destination sign. 

By the 1970s, the TTC decided to maintain its street railway fleet after planning for their eventual replacement with buses and subways, and sought a replacement fleet for its ageing PCCs. The new Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) were designed with dual advance lamps, mounted within the streetcar body, immediately above the destination sign.

Advance lights were introduced to TTC buses starting in the mid-1990s, as new wheelchair-accessible vehicles were added to the fleet, starting with high-floor Orion V and Nova RTS buses, and continuing with newer low-floor vehicles. Blue lights indicated that the bus was accessible. As a bonus, when combined with new digital orange LED destination signs, the bus advance lights served to further improve the visibility of approaching transit vehicles.

11041809023_47fc64e5e7_o.jpgNova articulated bus with orange LED destination sign and blue LED advance lights indicating it is an accessible vehicle

The new Bombardier Flexity streetcars are similarly equipped with new blue LED lights, as they too are fully accessible vehicles. While blue advance lights are unique to TTC buses, the new light rail vehicles for Waterloo Region’s ION LRT, also built by Bombardier, sport similar blue lights.

IMG_8421-002.JPGION LRT vehicle undergoing testing in Kitchener, February 2019

Sources:
John F. Bromley and Jack May: Fifty Years of Progressive Transit (Electric Railroaders’ Association, 1973)
Mike Filey: Not a One-Horse Town: 125 years of Toronto and its Streetcars (Firefly Press, 1990)

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Filling the gap in Southwestern Ontario

9119948871_f1716baa80_oWhile there’s GO train service between Toronto, Guelph, and Kitchener, it’s inadequate for the regions’s transportation demands 

Earlier this year, I took a ride on Wroute, a new service connecting Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington that has some characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tries fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. It’s an interesting concept, but it is not enough to move commuters quickly, reliably, frequently and, most important, affordably.

I spoke with two Kitchener residents — James Bow, author and webmaster of Transit Toronto, and Brian Doucet, Canada Research Chair in cities planning at the University of Waterloo — to find out what the region really needs.

You can read the full article at the TVO website here.

IMG_8407-001.JPGTesla operated by Wroute at Guelph Central Station

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