Brampton Politics Transit

On Brampton’s short-sighted Hurontario-Main LRT decision

LRT mockup at Gage Park, Brampton

On late Tuesday night (actually, early Wednesday morning) Brampton City Council made disappointing and harmful decision by voting against the Hurontario-Main LRT, a 23.2 kilometre, $1.6-billion light rail line, whose construction costs would be fully covered by the province. This followed another marathon meeting back in July in which a final decision was delayed to allow for further study and a possible compromise.

The mayor, Linda Jeffrey, and four councillors (Gurpreet Dhillon, Pat Fortini, Marco Medeiros, and Gael Miles) supported the project, but six councillors (Jeff Bowman, Grant Gibson, Elaine Moore, Michael Palleschi, John Sproveiri, and Doug Whillians) voted against. The final vote was 7-4 against the LRT, with Jeffrey mistakenly voting with the majority, but the 6-5 vote against a modified downtown routing in an last-minute attempt to sway opponents should be considered the true decision.

Light rail transit will still be coming to Brampton – construction will start in 2018 – but it will terminate at Shoppers World at Steeles Avenue, with only three stops completely within Brampton’s borders. Nearly four kilometres and four stops have now disappeared, including the crucial terminal at Brampton GO Station. The map below shows the Hurontario-Main LRT route, with the eliminated sections in red. (A short section of the LRT’s route in Port Credit was eliminated due to community opposition; it would have brought light rail transit closer to Port Credit’s bustling core. The Hurontario LRT will now terminate adjacent to the Port Credit GO Station, north of Lakeshore Road.)

The Hurontario-Main corridor was selected for LRT simply because it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the Greater Toronto Area outside the City of Toronto; it connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors, it would help urbanize south Brampton and several neighbourhoods in Mississauga. It’s part of a larger regional network, yet six city councillors in Brampton, looking out for narrow, local interests, sunk it.

Now transit advocates elsewhere are looking to capitalize on Brampton’s loss: at least $200 million of the province’s money won’t be spend. For example, advocates in Hamilton are looking for an opportunity to expand their funded LRT network with Brampton’s cash.

The Hurontario-Main LRT, after Tuesday’s vote. 

The arguments against the LRT included heritage concerns (as if trams aren’t found in the centres of historic cities such as Vienna, Istanbul, Brussels, and Amsterdam), claims of low ridership (which were written about by the Toronto Star’s San Grewal), concerns about operating expenses. Some councillors suggested that Queen Street should get LRT first. Others took exception to the fact that most of the route (17.6 kilometres, 19 stops) would be in Mississauga, while only a quarter of the line would operate within Brampton (5.6 kilometres and eight stops) But one cannot dismiss the NIMBY factor – some of the biggest opponents were wealthy homeowners on Main Street. Even former Premier Bill Davis, long regarded as a friend of cities and public transit, came out publicly against the LRT. Davis will long be remembered for stopping destructive expressways, but won’t support public transit when it runs down his street.

Opponents suggested other routes, or tunneling under Main Street. But those alternatives were more expensive, more difficult, less convenient for riders, and weren’t going to be funded by the province. These suggestions were studied by city staff and outside consultants and rejected.

Yes, Queen Street is Brampton Transit’s busiest corridor. Yes, the ridership will be lower north of Steeles Avenue than through central Mississauga. Yes, there will be some traffic impacts on Main Street.

But there’s no current planning study for a potential Queen Street LRT; a route hasn’t been chosen (would it go to the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan? York Region would have to be on board), there’s no funding on the table, and the Hurontario corridor in Mississauga is a lot busier than Highway 7 in York Region. And yes, Mississauga benefits more from the LRT. But Mississauga has a larger population, a much larger transit ridership, and more jobs. By connecting to Downtown Brampton, the LRT increases mobility for the entire region, connects to the Kitchener GO line, and allows for direct transfers to the 501 Queen Zum, Brampton’s busiest bus route. It is part of a regional transit network; it would have made it a lot easier for trips, for example, between Downtown Guelph and Mississauga City Centre.

10671927_oriToday’s news that anti-LRT councillors are now going to seek federal funds for transit expansion makes me want to tear my hair out. This image of Frank Grimes pretty much describes how I’m feeling right now.

Just adding to my frustration, I read today that Councillor Bowman, who helped sink the Main Street section of the LRT, is now going to look for transit funding from the newly elected Liberal federal government. In the article, Bowman suggests that since Brampton elected five new Liberal MPs, helping to defeat the Conservatives, it was time to “leverage” that support. Payback, if you will. But there are no other plans to hold up, nothing that’s “shovel-ready.” There will be no ribbon-cuttings for Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers to attend anytime soon.

If looking for money from a new federal government – one that’s so far very friendly with their provincial counterpart – it would have looked a lot better to have approved the transit that the province, and a majority of Bramptonians, wanted, and then ask for additional funds to build on that. Advocating for a potential Queen Street LRT would be a lot when there’s an existing line to connect it, and a strong transit-focused hub to anchor it.

So, to sum up, Brampton city councillors threw away at least $200 million for a light rail project that they didn’t want, a gift-wrapped transit opportunity from the provincial Liberal government. Now they will be looking for new transit funding for alternative transit routes, which have yet to be planned, from the federal Liberal government. Good luck with that. 


Happy October 21, 2015


The makers of Back to the Future Part II didn’t predict selfies, did they?

The joys of living close enough to work to walk there includes passing by the Rogers/CityTV building at Dundas Square. where a DeLorean, fitted out like the one used in the film trilogy, was on display. In the franchise’s “history,” October 21, 2015 was the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly arrived in a time machine from 1985 in an attempt to save Marty’s future children from trouble.

We have no hoverboards, no flying cars, the Chicago Cubs probably aren’t going to win the World Series, but we also (thankfully) have no double ties. But advances in communication, particularly the smartphone, is just one way in which we are more “futuristic” than the film predicts.

Happy Back to the Future Day, everyone!

IMG_0471IMG_0475  IMG_0477

Cycling Travels

A ride through Midwestern Ontario, Part II

IMG_6019-001The Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, part of a network of rail trails that join together in the City of Brantford

Previously in this blog, I described the first day of a two-day ride through Midwestern Ontario, between Guelph and Kitchener via West Montrose and St. Jacobs. I rode through Ontario’s only authentic covered bridge, along infrastructure created for both cyclists and carriages, and through several picturesque towns and villages.

Midwestern Ontario is a term that I generally use to describe the part of the province west of the Greater Toronto Area, yet outside the flat, prairie landscapes of Southwestern Ontario (Essex, Lambton, and Kent Counties). The rural landscape is marked by gentle rolling hills, livestock and cash crop farms, as well as cities and towns adjusting to a post-industrial economy. Brantford was once the capital of Canada’s once massive farm implement industry, but now not even the factories remain. Kitchener-Waterloo’s diverse heavy manufacturing concerns have mostly left; but there’s now a strong knowledge economy. Galt (now part of Cambridge) and Paris straddle the Grand River, their grand stone churches and commercial blocks make these some of Ontario’s most picturesque.

Electric and steam railways — the Grand River Railway, the Lake Erie & Northern, the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo, the Grand Trunk, the Canada Southern — tied many of these communities together; now highways do. But many those abandoned railways have found new purpose as hiking and cycling trails; Brantford is at the heart of this new network.

The second day’s ride, on August 30, took me from Downtown Kitchener, where I stayed overnight, through Cambridge, I then followed the Grand River closely to Brantford. After a stop in Brantford, I took the former TH&B railway corridor into Downtown Hamilton, where I enjoyed dinner and refreshments before loading my bike on a GO Transit bus and rode back home to Toronto. I completed a similar trip in 2012; I wrote about that ride in Spacing.

Photos and commentary follow.

Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s homeless shelters: an interactive mapping exercise

Earlier this week,  I mapped the locations of Toronto’s homeless shelters for Torontoist. While there are shelters located across the city, the capacity is located almost entirely within the old city of Toronto, especially in the Downtown east side, between Church Street and the Don River. This is despite the fact that the need for shelters, like all social services and affordable housing, is city wide. I obtained the homeless shelter data from the City of Toronto’s Open Data catalog.

Unlike previous mapping exercises, I used CartoDB to create an interactive map, rather than relying on Quantum GIS (open source GIS software) or ESRI ArcGIS (software developed and maintained by the leading GIS firm) to create static maps. Importing data into CartoDB is quite easy; the selection of simple base maps is also very helpful. Creating legends and classifications had a bit of a learning curve, but on the whole, I was quite pleased with the result.

Politics Toronto Transit

Not so FAST: SmartTrack gets a lobby group, raises many questions (Updated)

I find myself feeling frustrated, worn down, and at times angry about this federal election that’s thankfully coming to an end on Monday. As a progressive voter, I’ve been disappointed by Thomas Mulcair and the New Democrats, for reasons that Desmond Cole explains so very well in today’s Toronto Star. (Locally, I ‘ve been supporting the NDP’s Linda McQuaig in Toronto Centre, whose progressive credentials are impeccable.) The bright side is that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are going down to an almost-certain defeat, hopefully taking their narrow and divisive targeted politics with them. My wish is for a minority government in which the Liberals and New Democrats share power; this may check the Liberals’ record of running left and governing right.

Happily, Torontonians also have the Blue Jays and municipal politics to watch. Last night, we all got to watch the strangest seventh inning in baseball history; today, we get to snicker at the efforts of an Astroturfing crew of lobbyists pushing SmartTrack – a mayoral campaign slogan masquerading as a transit plan. Municipal politics may be at times just as depressing as provincial or federal politics, but at least it’s a lot more fun.

The Toronto Star’s fantastic transportation reporter, Tess Kalinowski, reported on a new booster group, known as FAST (Friends & Allies of SmartTrack). Its spokesperson would be Alvin Curling, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister and Speaker of the Provincial Parliament. Other members of its Public Advisory Board include Kyle Rae, former city councillor who is now a City Hall lobbyist, and three prominent lawyers  – Andrea Geddes Poole, Michael Brooks, and David S. Young. Also involved is one Tom Allison. 

According to a press release, FAST claims it’s “here to advocate for SmartTrack and to educate the public about how it could make a huge difference in cutting congestion and moving people around the region.” It would raise funds “devoted to creating a variety of awareness campaigns such as town halls and informational videos.” 

FAST’s website – launched today – is comically full of spelling and syntax errors, misinformation, and complete fabrications of basic facts. Here are just a few.

Cycling Travels

A ride through Midwestern Ontario, Part I


Just prior to Labour Day weekend, I went on a two-day bike excursion west of Toronto, starting in Guelph, staying in Downtown Kitchener, and finishing my ride in Downtown Hamilton. [Part II, Kitchener to Hamilton is here.]

I find that cycling long distances, especially in the countryside, is valuable “me” time. I go at my own place, which is great, because I do not have the stamina nor the build for keeping up with seasoned road cyclists. In my opinion, well-maintained rail trails are excellent — there are no hills to climb, no traffic to deal with (except where the trail crosses busy country roads), and there is much peace and quiet. Fellow trail users are friendly, a nod, a hello, or a wave are normally exchanged by passing cyclists or pedestrians.

On the first day of this 160-kilometre ride, I rode from Guelph, through West Montrose, Elmira, and St. Jacobs to Downtown Kitchener. I stopped at a covered bridge, rode through several charming small towns, sampled the beers of a craft brewery celebrating its second anniversary, and checked out some interesting cycling infrastructure shared by a very different form of muscle-powered transport.

I don’t have a car, so planning rural rides are little bit more challenging. Happily, for most out-of-town ride I rely on GO Transit’s trains and buses, which provide an opportunity for one-way or “open-jaw” trips without worrying about the logistics of organizing shuttle rides. In the last few years, I’ve used GO Transit to get to/from Uxbridge, Lindsay and Peterborough, Hamilton (and on to Port Dover by bike), Niagara Region, Georgetown and Newmarket, and Barrie (and on to Orillia and Midland), these cities served by GO are all great places to start or finish a ride.

IMG_4943-002Downtown Guelph. The Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate dominates McConnell Street (photo taken earlier this year)

On a pleasant Saturday, I loaded my bike on the rack took a GO bus from the Union Station Bus Terminal to Guelph, a long bus ride that took nearly two hours. GO Transit’s buses are quite comfortable; if you’re planning to bring a bike along, just be sure to arrive early to make sure you get one of the two bike rack spots.

Election Maps Toronto

A disappointing step backwards for ranked ballots

I’ve long been a fan of ranked ballots, a voting system that Dave Meslin and the good people at RaBIT have been promoting for a long time. At the municipal level, ranked ballots —also known as instant run-off voting — is a simple, yet effective way of improving local democracy.

Ranked ballots ensure that politicians are elected because they can enjoy the support of a majority of electors, so they are fairer than the first-past-the-post system we currently use to elect city councillors. To some degree, it reduces the advantage that incumbent councillors enjoy due to name recognition, and they promote diversity in local politics. I think they’re a better idea than term limits, recalls, or municipal parties.

The provincial government is currently reviewing the Municipal Elections Act; reforms may allow municipalities to adopt ranked ballots. At first the City of Toronto seemed to be eager to sign on; in 2013, Council adopted a motion to ask the province to allow ranked ballots to replace the current electoral system; more recently Mayor John Tory expressed his support for the idea.

But during a recent council meeting, newly-elected Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) just threw a wrench into the works. Calling ranked ballots “confusing,” he put forward a motion to ask the province not to allow ranked ballots. It passed, 25-18.

The map below illustrates the result of that vote by ward.

Ranked ballots vote

Incumbent councillors might be wary of ranked ballots, especially if they face multiple opponents. Fifteen councillors (and Mayor Tory) were elected with less than 50% of the vote; they would be vulnerable to ranked ballots. Three of those councillors: Ana Bailão (Ward 18), Joe Cressy (Ward 20), and Raymond Cho (Ward 42), were brave enough to vote the right way on Di Ciano’s motion.

Conversely, councillors such as Norm Kelly (Ward 40, who won with 86% of the vote), Michael Thompson (Ward 37, 84%) and Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, 83%) voted for the motion. Justin Di Ciano himself won with 54% of the vote in Ward 5. The “yes” votes were mostly from Council’s right wing, but left leaning councillors such as Maria Augimeri (Ward 9) and Paula Fletcher (Ward 30) joined in. Augimeri would have almost definitely lost in 2010 had ranked ballots been adopted; it’s possible that Fletcher would have been voted out in 2010 and in 2014 under this voting system.

2014 Election - Councillor win percentMap of the share of votes each councillor was elected by in 2014.  

The fight for ranked ballots is far from over; Mayor Tory still has plenty of political capital and sway with the provincial government. I’m hopeful that council will reverse itself yet again.

In happier news, Council voted 25-18 in favour of asking the province to allow non-citizen permanent residents to vote in municipal elections. As local government is closest to the people, and makes decisions that affect most individuals on a day-to-day basis, I am in favour of such a move. That said, I still believe that electing federal and provincial representatives should remain a privilege afforded to Canadian citizens.

Maps Politics Toronto

Exploring the downtown federal election races: Part II

Back in April 2015, I looked at the impact of changes to the new federal electoral districts in three key downtown races: Toronto Centre, University-Rosedale, and Spadina-Fort York. The three downtown ridings were created by splitting two larger electoral districts, Trinity-Spadina and a larger Toronto Centre.

As a downtown resident and political junkie, I was very interested in how previous election results would look with the new electoral districts. Could Toronto Centre, long held by the Liberals, go orange with Rosedale and Yorkville lopped off? Would University-Rosedale and Spadina-Fort York become Liberal bastions with the new boundaries?

When I wrote the original post, the Liberal Party had nominated candidates in all three ridings — Chrystia Freeland in University-Rosedale, Adam Vaughan in Spadina-Fort York, and first-time candidate Bill Morneau in Toronto Centre. I wrote more about all six candidates (and some of my personal opinions) in the original post.

Back in April, the New Democrats nominated Jennifer Hollett in University-Rosedale and Linda McQuaig in Toronto Centre, but had yet to choose a candidate in Spadina-Fort York to run against Adam Vaughan. Vaughan, who took Trinity-Spadina in a 2014 by-election, was a popular Toronto city councillor. There were rumours that prominent criminal defense James Lockyer and former MP and mayoral candidate Olivia Chow were both considering running, but in late July, Chow formally sought, and won, the nomination.

After the 2014 municipal election, in which Chow came in third place in the race for mayor, she accepted a position at Ryerson University. I expected that she was going to sit this election out, but I was proven wrong.

All three ridings are proving to be interesting races. The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and Green Party have also nominated candidates in all three electoral districts, but only the Liberals and NDP are competitive.

In this post, I added results and maps from the 2008 election, when the Harper Conservatives won a minority government, the Liberals were led by Stéphane Dion and the New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton, came in fourth place in the seat count (after the Bloc Québécois) with 30 seats. Perhaps the 2011 election, in which the Bloc was nearly eliminated, the NDP became the Official Opposition and the Liberals relegated to third place, was an anomaly.

Toronto Centre 2008-2013 Toronto Centre election results, 2008-2013

In Toronto Centre, the NDP kept gaining support since the 2008 election, yet the Liberals held on with comfortable margins in 2011 and 2013. In the 2013 by-election, triggered by Bob Rae’s retirement from electoral politics, the CPC vote share collapsed (as did voter turnout), and Linda McQuaig, the new NDP standard-bearer, more than tripled the NDP’s share of the vote in 2008.

Trinity-Spadina 2008-2014Trinity-Spadina election results, 2008-2014

The NDP’s Olivia Chow, elected MP in 2006, was re-elected in 2008 and 2011. But her resignation in 2014 to run for Mayor of Toronto triggered a by-election in which Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan took the riding for the Liberals in a by-election held on June 30, in the middle of the Canada Day long weekend. Voter turnout was a miserable 31.9%.