On December 20, 2020, the newest section of York Region’s Viva Rapidways opened for service on Yonge Street between Highway 7 and Major Mackenzie Drive. I have been critical of York Region’s rapid transit projects for several reasons: they are underutilized, they are poorly designed for pedestrians, and without frequent service and convenient connecting routes, the money spent on fancy new infrastructure ends up becoming a questionable investment.
At least the new Yonge Street Rapidway would serve York Region’s busiest transit corridor, supporting new high-density development in Richmond Hill. Unlike on Highway 7 or in Newmarket, there are no two-phase pedestrian crossings on this part of Yonge. Unfortunately, a botched connection between the new Rapidway at Major Mackenzie Drive created a new problem for the YRT/Viva transit network.
This issue — along with the other problems with York Region’s Rapidways that I discussed previously — should be held up as lessons on what not to do when building new transit rights-of-way in street medians, be it on Hurontario Street in Mississauga and Brampton, planned BRT lines on Dundas Street in Mississauga, or Queen Street in Brampton.
Though Yonge Street is wide enough for dedicated bus lanes, along with bike lanes and two general traffic lanes between Highway 7 and Major Mackenzie, the roadway narrows through Richmond Hill’s historic downtown. Through Downtown Richmond Hill, Viva buses and cyclists rejoin general traffic, and parking is permitted in the curb lanes outside of weekday rush hours.
Because of this traffic constraint, the Viva bus stops are located one block south of Major Mackenzie, at the intersection of Yonge Street and Elmwood Avenue and Hopkins Street. Pedestrians intending to get to the Viva bus stops from Major Mackenzie Drive and Downtown Richmond Hill must walk that extra block south on the sidewalk, push the beg button to cross Yonge Street at Elmwood/Hopkins and backtrack to the bus platform.
To dissuade pedestrians from making the shorter, direct route across Yonge Street north of the Viva stop, temporary barriers were set up, an indication that natural human behaviour was not thought out during the design phase. YRT transit enforcement officers are regularly stationed as well to lay jaywalking charges against those who try to take the shortest path, including those transferring from east-west buses on Major Mackenzie.
This poor design is especially bad considering that this is one of the busiest transfer points on Yonge Street in York Region. Combined, Routes 4 and 25 make Major Mackenzie Drive the busiest and most frequent conventional (i.e., non-Viva) transit corridor in York Region. Therefore, hundreds of transit riders must walk longer distances and cross more lanes of traffic than previously when the curbside Viva stops were adjacent to the intersection.
The second busiest conventional route is 20 Jane, which connects to the new Vaughan hospital site, Vaughan Mills mall, the subway and (via an unnecessarily long walk) York University. A new Viva route was planned to serve the Jane and Major Mackenzie corridors between Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station and Richmond Hill GO Station, just east of Yonge Street, originally planned to commence with the opening of the subway extension, which occurred in December 2017. However, Viva Silver’s start date has been delayed several times; as of February 2021, there is no indication on when service would begin. When Viva Silver service finally begins, this will be an even busier transfer point.
If you need to put up temporary barriers and deploy enforcement officers to ticket your own customers trying to access your service, you probably made some serious mistakes. User-centred design must be part of any transit project, and transit riders must be made to feel as welcome as possible. Once again, York Region got this wrong. Hopefully, future transit projects learn from these mistakes, rather than repeat them.