Last month, Metrolinx held a virtual open house to present information on the progress of the Hurontario LRT project, planned work, and details on some of the stops along the line. For now, roadwork is limited to median removal and utility relocation, but by next year, heavy construction will commence along the 18-kilometre long corridor.
I was hoping to get some information on the northern terminus, at Steeles Avenue in Brampton, but no details were provided. I took the opportunity to ask specific questions about the transfer between the LRT and local buses, but I was disappointed by the answer.
If Metrolinx goes ahead with their plans for a minimal station on the south side of the intersection, anyone connecting between modes will be forced to cross two sides of a busy, hazardous intersection at grade, impacting both accessibility and safety. We can thank politicians on the 2014-2018 Brampton City Council for this situation, which provide just one of many examples of how systemic racism manifests in transit decision making.
Originally, the LRT was going to continue north along Main Street to Downtown Brampton, providing a direct connection to the Kitchener GO Transit Line, the 501 Queen Zum route (Brampton’s busiest transit corridor), and to a provincially-recognized growth hub.
In anticipation of both the LRT construction and urban development of the Shoppers World lands, a new transit terminal was built on the northwest corner of Steeles Avenue and Main Street in 2012. It was designed to allow easy transfers to a LRT stop, with crosswalks on the south (at Steeles Avenue) and at the north (at the bus exit driveway) that would connect with the train platforms in the middle of Main Street. Passengers would only need to cross three or four lanes to change modes.
But despite the future-ready Brampton Transit terminal, and several public consultations, Brampton City Council was lobbied hard by affluent, mostly white, homeowners on Main Street (including former premier Bill Davis) and several downtown business owners, who opposed a surface transit corridor. Though they cited heritage concerns and potential low ridership (as Main Street parallels the Etobicoke Creek ravine part of the way, land that can not be developed), their concern was for their own land. The needs of thousands of daily transit riders were dismissed.
After two antagonistic and divisive debates in 2015, Brampton Council voted against the LRT by a 6-5 vote, with the mayor in support, but unable to convince enough members of the nearly all-white council. (In 2016, Brampton’s population was 73% visible minority according to the Census). That council explored other, less direct alignments for the LRT, but it lost provincial funding for the section north of Steeles Avenue. City staff directed Metrolinx to move the Brampton Gateway stop planned for the north side of Steeles, adjacent to the new bus terminal, to the south side of Steeles, in order to accommodate any longer, alternative route.
Though a pedestrian tunnel was proposed by the City of Brampton in 2017 to mitigate the transfer problem, this tunnel was noted as being out of scope of the Hurontario LRT project by Metrolinx staff.
With the stop relocated to the south side of Steeles Avenue, passengers disembarking from the LRT will be required to cross up to twelve lanes of traffic to access all connecting buses and Shoppers World, depending on the final layout of the Steeles/Hurontario/Main intersection.
Currently, the intersection features six lanes of through traffic in all directions, dual left turn lanes, and right-turn slip lanes on all sides. Traffic signals must cycle through four distinct phases to handle the high volumes of cars, trucks, and buses. Furthermore, the intersection is notoriously dangerous, with a pedestrian killed just last October.
With the election of a more progressive and diverse council in 2018, City Hall moved by a vote of 11-0 to reverse the old council’s decisions. Recently, council directed staff to work on design for the Brampton Gateway stop in its original position. Unfortunately, in its recent virtual open house, Metrolinx is standing by its decision to maintain the stop at the southern end of the intersection.
Meanwhile, Brampton is proceeding with a renewed Main Street corridor study.
For the cost of a few hundred metres of track and one more signalized intersection, it is prudent for Metrolinx to move the Brampton Gateway stop back to where it belongs. Brampton has moved on from its foolish fantasies of tracks on Kennedy or McLaughlin Roads, recognizing the futility of those alignments and their disservice to transit riders. As work is only underway on utility relocation and the new maintenance and storage facility, it is not too late to correct this wrong.
But for this to happen, local and municipal politicians need to push hard for their constituents. Are city councillors aware of the safety issues with the south side LRT terminus? Where is PC Brampton South MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria, whose riding encompasses three corners of the Steeles/Hurontario/Main intersection, and NDP Brampton Centre MPP Sara Singh?
If there is no action to fix the Gateway Terminal issue, we have let the wishes of a few vocal, well-connected residents and landowners triumph over the safety of a racialized majority. Though the old council’s motives were not guided by racism per se, the effects of those decisions had a lasting impact on many more transit riders than a few affluent homeowners. Perhaps those politicians elected in 2018 can correct the mistakes made by their predecessors.