Categories
Brampton Ontario Transit Travels

Stranded at Bramalea GO: Metrolinx’s missed connections

Temporary bus terminal, Bramalea GO Station
The inhospitable temporary bus terminal at Bramalea GO Station

On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.

Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.

From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.

If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.

Categories
Roads Walking

Opening up the streets in Toronto and Guelph

Toronto’s Danforth Avenue has been transformed with new protected bike lanes and patio spaces

In the last few days, I visited Toronto’s Danforth Avenue and Downtown Guelph to see how municipalities can support local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Danforth Avenue, new interim bicycle lanes were installed between Broadview Avenue and Dawes Road, spanning three business improvement areas (Broadview Danforth, Greektown, and Danforth Mosaic). With the new bike lanes, dedicated spaces for restaurant patios were installed in the curb lanes. The new patios extended beyond restaurant storefronts, with spray-painted demarcations to mark each business’ territory. This gave businesses with limited or no indoor seating plenty of room to serve customers and recoup some of the lost business due to the pandemic.

Where one patio space begins and where another ends: Greektown on the Danforth

Though most curbside patio space was allocated to businesses, Muskoka chairs placed within the Destination Danforth area are free for anyone to sit, no purchase required. This helped make the setup perfect for pedestrians out for a stroll or headed to nearby businesses.

While cyclists are thrilled to get the new bike lanes (the Bloor-Danforth lanes will soon extend as far west as Runnymede Road once construction is complete on Bloor Street West), walking along the Danforth was the best way to see the changes.

Muskoka chairs on the left are may be used by anyone, while tables on the right allows a local restaurant to seat customers while maintaining physical distancing

In Downtown Guelph, the intersection of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets was closed to allow restaurants, bars, and breweries to operate large open air dining areas, in what is called the Downtown Dining District. Unlike The Danforth, patio areas allocated to local businesses in Guelph are enclosed with fences or ropes, but the centre of the street is free to walk or bike through.

The corner of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets, Guelph

Though the Downtown Dining District will only continue through Labour Day, the area was busy on a Wednesday afternoon and early evening. Most restaurants have been able to operate entirely with outdoor seating — thanks to generous canopies and umbrellas to provide protection from the sun and rain. This provides additional protection for restaurant staff and patrons. Though Phase 3 is in effect across the province (allowing for limited indoor dining), the fresh air is preferable.

Macdonell Street looking towards the Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate

Though it took a pandemic to rethink how we use our streets, it is nice to see these changes. Perhaps Guelph could make the Downtown Dining District an annual tradition, attracting visitors from nearby cities, like Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps the Destination Danforth changes also become permanent as well – after all, Torontonians love open streets and festivals.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road

Roadside memorial to a three year old boy at The East Mall and  Montebello Gardens,
near Burnhamthorpe Road, Etobicoke

On Tuesday, August 11, just after 11AM, a father and his two children were attempting to cross The East Mall north of Burnhamthorpe Road. They were crossing from the west side of the minor arterial street, where there is the main entrance to a long term care home, to the corner of Montebello Gardens, a short residential street on the east side.

As the three pedestrians were crossing, an 81-year-old woman driving a black SUV turned left from Montebello Gardens to go south on The East Mall, crashing directly into the family.

All three pedestrians were rushed to hospital. A three-year-old boy was soon pronounced dead, while a seven-year-old girl was taken to a trauma centre. The driver remained on scene. It is not certain if charges will be laid.

The three-year-old’s death came only a day after the Toronto Star’s Ben Spurr reported that 2020 has been the safest year for pedestrians and cyclists since at least 2007. There were 63 collisions resulting in serious injury or death in the period from January 1 through July 1, down from an average of 99. The decline can be explained by considerably reduced traffic since COVID-19 lockdowns began in mid March, and by fewer pedestrians on city streets.

As traffic picks up with the loosening of restrictions and as people go out for strolls and exercise for physical and mental health, the need for improved road safety and a commitment for real Vision Zero implementation, especially in Toronto’s suburbs, remains crucial. The area near where the young boy was killed last week just shows how much further we need to go.

TTC bus stop on The East Mall, north of Keene Avenue

I visited The East Mall on a sunny Friday afternoon. I took the 111 East Mall bus from Kipling Station to Keane Avenue, the first stop north of Burnhamthorpe Road. The bus stop has a nice, clean shelter and a large concrete pad, but no where safe to cross the street. On the other side, there is a southbound stop for buses heading towards Cloverdale Mall and the subway, and Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute, a high school specializing in programs for mature students and adult learners.

The intersection of The East Mall and Keene Avenue, looking north. Burnhamthorpe CI is behind the southbound bus stop A sign warns drivers of a winding road, with an advisory speed of 30 km/h.

A signalized pedestrian crossover exists further north, in front of West Glen Junior Public School, but the next TTC stop, at Capri Road, is at yet another unsignalized intersection. The distance between Burnhamthorpe Road to the south, and the pedestrian crossover is over 550 metres, and neither designated crossing is visible from Keene Avenue nor Montebello Gardens due to the winding nature of The East Mall.

This part of Toronto has seen plenty of tragedy this year. The Eatonville Care Centre was one of several long term care homes where the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed due to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 amidst poor working and sanitary conditions documented by CAF medical staff. Forty-two residents died during that outbreak.

Eatonville Care Centre, with the roadside memorial in the background

The presence of a long term care home, a library branch at the southeast corner of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, two nearby schools, and a large Loblaws supermarket and pharmacy on the southwest corner should have made this area a priority for improved, safer road infrastructure. Speeds along The East Mall are much higher than the posted 40 km/h limit, while the winding, roadway limits both drivers’ and pedestrians’ fields of vision. There should be no excuse for such long distances between safe pedestrian crossings, especially with the vulnerable populations living in this area.

Though the driver who killed the three-year-old boy was carelessly turning from a side street, and not speeding along The East Mall, another tragedy is inevitable without significant changes. Meanwhile, The East Mall is similarly laid out south of Burnhamthorpe, where there are older rental towers and townhomes and new condominium towers going in, yet nothing is done to calm traffic along a winding, busy street.

Though the intersection of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road is signalized, it is also a dangerous intersection to cross. Burnhampthorpe Road widens to four westbound lanes leading towards Highway 427, while wide turning radii make it easy for motorists to turn right at all four corners. Drivers, rushing on and off Highway 427 take little notice or care for pedestrians, as I experienced trying to cross the street.

An Uber/Lyft driver in a red Nissan sedan and a Land Rover SUV driver turn left from The East Mall to Burnhamthorpe Road towards Highway 427 after the advance green signal disappears and the walk signal turns on, with me starting my crossing

While motorists are treated to generous geometries and easy turns, pedestrians are only an afterthought, despite the library, supermarket, offices, and several bus stops used by TTC and Mississauga bus routes. Meanwhile, a new townhouse complex on the northwest corner will add even more pedestrians to this area.

The intersection of Burnhamthorpe and The East Mall encourages high speeds, with pedestrians only an afterthought

This part of Etobicoke is simply unforgiving of pedestrians and cyclists — it is one of only a few parts of the city where no ActiveTO measures have been introduced and where the local councillor, Stephen Holyday, has demonstrated consistent opposition to safe and effective active transportation measures. Holyday describes himself as taking “a tough stance against congestion-causing initiatives” such as bike lanes and the King Street Transit Pilot. He was only one of two councillors to vote against the ActiveTO bike plan in May.

If we value lives, support healthy lifestyles, and are deeply committed to Vision Zero, central Etobicoke will need to see big changes.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Travels

A driver’s case for banning right turns on red lights

Entering Montreal on Autoroute 20, with a sign reminding motorists of the blanket ban on right turns on red on Montreal Island

During the August long weekend, my spouse and I rented a car and drove to Montreal. Normally, I take the train, as it’s a long and boring drive on Highway 401, while VIA Rail offers a quiet, relaxing, and more interesting ride. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, driving seemed like a good idea. (In doing so, I finally drove the entire length of Highway 401 — I had not yet done the section between Cornwall and the Quebec border).

Despite Montreal’s infamous potholes, never-ending construction, and stereotypically aggressive motorists, I found driving around the city less stressful than in my own home city of Toronto. It may sound counter-intuitive, but a big reason for this was the city’s blanket ban on right turns on red.

Outside of North America, turning movements on red lights are generally prohibited. They were only widely introduced to the United States as part of an energy-saving measure in the 1970s, as a response to the first oil shock; a regulation was written into a 1975 federal bill that provided federal aid to states provided that they permit right turns on red lights (along with carpool programs and energy, thermal, and lighting efficiency measures), though many western US states had such laws on their books much earlier.

U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act, 1975, Section 362(c)

Each proposed State energy conservation plan to be eligible for
Federal assistance under this part shall include —
 (1) mandatory lighting efficiency standards for public buildings
 (except public buildings owned or leased by the United States);
 (2) programs to promote the availability and use of carpools,
 vanpools, and public transportation (except that no Federal funds
 provided under this part shall be used for subsidizing fares for
 public transportation);
 (3) mandatory standards and policies relating to energy efficiency
 to govern the procurement practices of such State and its political
 subdivisions;
 (4) mandatory thermal efficiency standards and insulation
 requirements for new and renovated buildings (except buildings owned
 or leased by the United States); and
 (5) a traffic law or regulation which, to the maximum extent
 practicable consistent with safety, permits the operator of a motor
 vehicle to turn such vehicle right at a red stop light after
 stopping.

The Province of Quebec was the last subnational holdout in North America, permitting the practice in 2003. However, the City of Montreal continued to outlaw turns on red, following New York City’s continued prohibition, while Mexico City introduced a new prohibition in 2018.

North Americans may have given up the small cars that they began driving in the 1970s in favour of SUVs and aggressively styled pickup trucks (whose proportions and poor sightlines increase the danger to pedestrians), but we continue to cling to the right turn on red as a matter of convenience.

In my experience, though, I found driving less stressful when I knewI could not turn on red. I did not have to worry about a driver behind me inching forward, pressuring me to move past the stop line and into the intersection so they could turn. If I was waiting to turn right, I knew I could relax and wait for the green signal before I had to try to make the maneuver. The leading pedestrian interval common in central Montreal (which also allows through traffic — including cyclists — to go first) made pedestrians easier to see and predict as I was making my turn.

Montreal’s leading pedestrian interval signal

I might have saved a minute or two on each car trip had I been able to turn on a red light. But it did not feel like much of a difference. The reduced stress was worth it.

As a pedestrian and as a cyclist, I appreciated turn-on-red prohibitions whenever I was in a city where they are in place, as I did not have to worry about right-turning motorists not seeing me as I crossed at a street corner, or those motorists who rush red lights or refuse to stop before turning. As a driver, I appreciated it too.