Categories
Cycling Toronto

Exploring Toronto by bike: A circle tour around the city

IMG_4182-001A friendly deer passes me as I make my up the Humber River trail

One of my favourite things to during the summer s taking long weekend bicycle rides. A few of these rides have been multi-day trips, such as the Niagara Region Circle Route tour I took on Victoria Day weekend, or my ride from Hamilton to Port Dover and return last summer, but many have been day trips. Hamilton is one of my favourite destinations; it’s about 85 kilometres from my home to Downtown Hamilton via the Waterfront Trail, Burlington Beach and the Cannon Street cycletrack. I’m not a terribly fit cyclist, and I take many breaks (for a late lunch, to take photos, or for rest) but if I leave home by 11 AM, I’ll be in Hamilton around 6 or 7 PM. For me, it’s all about enjoying the ride; when I ride alone, I find that it’s great alone time.

But you can stay in the city and enjoy a long, leisurely ride. There are many reasons why you might want to stay in Toronto: there’s no need to carry a repair kit; you’re never too far from a TTC bus route (all buses are equipped with bike racks) if you need to end the ride early for any reason. And it’s a great way to explore the city.

I recently spent a Sunday afternoon going for a nearly five-hour ride, a circle route from my downtown apartment back downtown, following the Humber River, the new Finch Hydro Corridor path, and the Don River, a 73-kilometre ride in total. I stayed away from Lake Ontario, avoiding the PanAm Games-related detour and general chaos near Exhbition Place.

I passed by historical landmarks, made multiple crossings of the Humber and Don Rivers, rode through dozens of parks and swallowed at least a few flies. The Humber Trail even makes use of the long-abandoned Toronto Suburban Railway; it makes use of the piers that once supported that electric railway’s trestle over the Humber River.

The map below illustrates the route that I took, which brought me through five of the six former municipalities that were joined to create the City of Toronto (sorry, Scarborough).

I often see wildlife when I ride outside Toronto, but I did not expect come so close to it on this trip. But along the Humber River Trail, north of Highway 401 and Albion Road, a youngish deer was wandering down the path, grazing. I stopped my bicycle and just watched, the deer kept coming closer, cautiously walking right past me. Only a few hundred metres north at one of many trail crossings of the river, I spotted a doe and a fawn crossing.

IMG_4187-002Deer fording the Humber River

With the completion of the Martin Goodman Trail on Queen’s Quay, it’s almost possible to complete this circle route without riding on city streets. But there are several minor gaps (such as the Lower Humber Trail at Stephen Avenue in Etobicoke) and some very aggravating gaps.

One of the worst gaps in Toronto’s recreational cycling network is between the Humber River trail and the Finch Hydro trail, where there is simply no safe cycling route to bridge this 3.5 kilometre distance. I survived cycling under Highway 401 on Finch Avenue, but it is not an experience that I advise doing on your own. However, the newly-constructed connection between the Finch corridor and the East Don River trail was seamless and pleasant.  There’s a gap on the East Don trail between Duncan Mill Road and Don Mills, but it is well signed; happily, this will be partially fixed with an extension of the Don Mills trail to York Mills Road.

The Humber Trail-Finch Hydro Corridor Trail gap in North York

IMG_6836
One of the scariest places that I have ever cycled. 

Happily, these gaps that I mention are on the City of Toronto’s radar. The city is in the process of updating its cycling network plan; city staff, along with consultants IBI group and Vélo Québec, are looking for comments on the new draft cycling project map. There are many other opportunities to improve cycling connections for recreational and utilitarian cycling; I encourage you to have your say.

Below, a few more photos on my ride around Toronto.

Categories
Brampton Politics Transit

Updated: The Toronto Star’s shameful reporting on the Hurontario-Main LRT

IMG_6655

As of Tuesday, July 28, the Toronto Star has not published any letter to the editor responding to last Tuesday’s front-page article by San Grewal questioning the ridership of the northern section of the Hurontario-Main LRT, or any corrections. I find myself very much disappointed by this. I know I was not the only reader to submit a letter to San Grewal’s poor reporting, to which I link below.

Here is the letter that I wrote and submitted on July 21, 2015:

Dear Editor,

I wish to express my disappointment with the publication of a badly researched and one-sided article by San Grewal on the opposition to the Hurontario-Main LRT.

The article starts with by getting its numbers wrong. In the second paragraph, it claims that the LRT’s capacity will be 15,000 riders per hour per direction (PPHPD). This is false. The City of Brampton’s own staff report, which recommended that council approve the funded Main Street LRT [which can be found here:http://www.brampton.ca/EN/City-Hall/meetings-agendas/PDD%20Committee%202010/20150622pis_H10.pdf], states that the maximum capacity of the LRT is 7200 PPHPD, less than half the figure Grewal claims.

The comparison to the Sheppard Subway, which Grewal appears to take at face value, is especially inappropriate. The Sheppard Subway cost nearly $1 billion when it was constructed 15 years ago. The section of the LRT between Steeles Avenue and Downtown Brampton will be built entirely on the surface, and comprise only a short section of the corridor’s entire length. It is worth repeating that the province will be funding the entire project; any deviation from Main Street would be more expensive and will cost Brampton taxpayers more.

The Hurontario-Main LRT is not only a transit project; it is a city-building exercise that will help direct investment and urban intensification in Brampton and Mississauga. The light rail project will connect three GO Station and several urban centres identified for growth, including Brampton’s Downtown Core.

San Grewal’s article is misleading, one-sided and irresponsible. I expect better from the Toronto Star.

Sincerely,

Sean Marshall

The original post follows:

Categories
Brampton Politics Transit

Why Brampton’s Main Street needs the LRT

IMG_6655

For the first twenty-five years of my life, I lived in Brampton. I still have family and friends who live there, and while I was happy to move to a place of my own in Toronto (first in North York, later to the old City of Toronto), I still have a soft spot for my hometown, even if it is a gigantic, sprawling auto-centric suburb.  Tonight, it has the opportunity to vote for a transit project that will help to transform its long-neglected downtown core into a thriving urban centre.

Nearly a century ago, Brampton was a small town of about 5,000 people; the junction of two railways: the Grand Trunk mainline between Toronto and Chicago, and the Canadian Pacific branch line to Orangeville, Owen Sound, and other points in Midwestern Ontario. It was the seat of Peel County, with a beautiful 1867 Italianate courthouse, with a registry office and jail behind. Brampton had all the trappings of a prosperous rural service centre, including a hospital, a Romanesque federal building, a Carnegie Library, six historic brick or stone churches, a movie and vaudeville theatre, an armoury, and a fire hall. While there were manufacturing concerns by the railway junction  – both the Hewetson Shoe Company and Dominion Skate manufactured footwear – the leading industry was horicultural. The massive Dale and Calvert greenhouse complexes exported flowers and bulbs across Canada; as a result Brampton’s nickname was “Flower Town.” Grand houses lined Main Street, showing off the town’s booming economy.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that Brampton began the transition from a small industrial and civic centre into a suburb of Toronto. In 1960, a new mall, anchored by Steinberg’s and Woolworth’s, opened south of downtown, new schools and factories, including a large American Motors assembly plant, opened here as well. In 1974, the same year that the first GO Train departed from Brampton for Toronto, the town was amalgamated with sections of several surrounding rural townships, becoming a city of nearly 100,000. Today, Brampton has a population of nearly 600,000.

Apart from the greenhouses, which disappeared by 1980, and the hospital, which moved across town in 2008, all of the buildings I described are still standing (or in the case of Dominion Skate, partially standing). Downtown Brampton is blessed by its collection of historic buildings; many of these structures are lovingly preserved. The old Thomas Fuller designed Dominion Building on Main Street, which later became a police station and then a pub, was renovated and now has a Starbucks. GO Transit and VIA Rail still use the 1907 Grand Trunk Station. The Hewetson Shoe Factory is now a loft commercial space, and the old county buildings were preserved and now house the innovative Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives.

While there’s lots of great built heritage in Downtown Brampton, but downtown struggles with retail vacancies; condominium towers built in the last decade have had difficulty with sales. A new condo tower planned for the Dominion Skate building, right across the tracks from the GO/VIA station, did not get built; it sits in a half-demolished state, awaiting a new use. Also awaiting a reuse is the old Capitol Theatre, which closed as Brampton’s civic performing arts centre when the new Rose Theatre opened at Brampton’s historic “Four Corners” in 2006. There’s the popular Gage Park, with its 25-year old skating path (which has since been copied in Etobicoke and elsewhere), but most attempts at urban renewal have been, at best, only partially successful.

IMG_6642Thomas Fuller’s 1889 Dominion Building, Brampton

Tonight, Brampton City Council will hold a special meeting to decide the fate of its section a fully funded $1.6 billion light rail project proposed for the Hurontario-Main Street corridor from Port Credit to Downtown Brampton. The LRT, which will be funded entirely by the Province of Ontario, will connect three GO corridors, the urban centres of Port Credit and Brampton, several major employment clusters, and Mississauga’s modern city centre, which includes Ontario’s largest mall.

While most of the LRT route would operate in a reserved median in the centre of the street, in Downtown Brampton, it would operate in mixed traffic on the surface. It would require no private property, though it would require eliminating some surface parking on Main Street and turn restrictions at some intersections and driveways.

The newly-elected mayor of Brampton, Linda Jeffrey, is in favour of the project, including the planned Main Street alignment, but at least five of ten councillors are against it. Tonight’s vote will be a nail-biter, a meeting for which a record 130-plus residents are registered to depute on this item; the city is clearly divided on this project.

Opponents claim that the project mostly benefits Mississauga, and that light rail running along Main Street would ruin its heritage character, and would threaten the Saturday farmers market, which is set up on a closed Main Street. They also argue that the removal of street parking would hurt downtown businesses. These arguments are, of course, bunk; the heavy traffic, including light trucks and frequent buses do plenty to mar Main Street’s heritage; trams and light rail trains run through historic European cities like Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, and Istanbul; the farmers market could simply re-locate to the new Garden Square or onto Queen Street. There are four large city-owned off-street parking garages with room to spare. These arguments are convenient strawmen hiding true NIMBY attitudes.

8228039505_d6d424f22d_oThe Peel County Courthouse, now the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)

It is true that most of the route passes through Mississauga; it’s also true that the larger city to the south enjoys more benefits from residential and employment growth on its portion of the corridor. Main Street follows Etobicoke Creek north of Steeles Avenue; this limits new development. However, lands between Shoppers World (which has been losing major retail tenants like The Bay and Target) and Highway 407 are prime opportunities for intensification, as is the largely-vacant Brampton Mall at Nanwood Avenue. But the intermodal connections at Downtown Brampton and the opportunity to revitalize the downtown core make up for these drawbacks.

Last year, at a 10-1 decisive vote, City Council voted against the proposed route, ordering staff and consultants to evaluate alternative alignments.

These alternatives, nine of which were studied, included one that follows Etobicoke Creek through a floodplain and residential backyards. Other routes would have taken passengers far out of the way on McLaughlin or Kennedy Roads to reach the downtown core. A tunnel under Main Street, which would cost the City of Brampton $380 million, was looked at as well. Staff came back to Council in June with a report that evaluated all these possible alternatives and re-recommended the original surface alignment as being the most fiscally and technically responsible option and the best for transit users and for city-building.

IMG_6675The Etobicoke Creek LRT alignment, proposed as a by-pass of Main Street

The Hurontario-Main LRT is the boost Downtown Brampton needs. While expanded GO rail service will come, most Brampton commuters aren’t headed to Toronto’s financial core; they’re commuting to jobs elsewhere in Brampton, in Mississauga, and in other suburbs, and inter-suburb transport is lacking. Creating a higher-order transit network requires nodes, and Downtown Brampton, one of only a few historic and walkable neighbourhoods in Toronto’s suburban belt, is an ideal place for such a node. Not only is there the connection to GO and VIA trains (which would also benefit commuters to and from Mississauga, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and elsewhere), but there are many opportunities for residential and employment intensification downtown, and along the Main Street corridor. Vacant storefronts that pockmark Main and Queen Streets say to me that more foot traffic is needed to revitalize these buildings. The LRT will help, not hinder, this goal.

If Brampton votes a second time against the Hurontario-Main LRT, it will still be built, but will terminate at Steeles Avenue, four kilometres south of the downtown core. It will require a transfer to northbound buses at a third-rate shopping mall rather than at an urban transit hub with intercity rail connections. It would be a decision that Brampton will come to regret; offers of provincially funded transit don’t come around very often.

Voting no will be, to put it mildly, a lost opportunity. Hopefully, Brampton City Council will see the sense of going with the province’s offer of a fully-funded LRT corridor.