On Thursday, August 12, I rode the train to the very end of the Richmond Hill Line to check out GO Transit’s newest station.
In 2017, I made a similar trip to Gormley Station, just to the south of Bloomington GO, soon after that station opened to the public. Four years ago, I was critical of Metrolinx’s failures to support the urban intensification of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by building new stations on the Greenbelt, on lands that will not support transit-oriented development.
Though I came away from Gormley Station disappointed, I wanted to see Bloomington Station for myself and give it an honest assessment. I came away with mixed feelings.
Most GO Stations outside the old City of Toronto put free car parking ahead of all other considerations. Some stations, such as Unionville, were even moved to sites where large surface lots could easily be built. Hamilton GO Centre, opened in 1996, was an exception: an urban station that combined a restored heritage building with a large bus terminal. A few other newer stations, such as Mount Pleasant in Brampton and Mount Joy in Markham, still had large surface parking lots, but also had easy walking connections to adjacent neighbourhoods. In Guelph and Kitchener, GO Transit used existing downtown stations instead of suburban stations, and Allandale Waterfront Station is located right across the street from Barrie’s gorgeous Kempenfelt Bay.
Gormley and Bloomington Stations represent a return to GO Transit’s old ways of putting parking ahead of all other considerations, despite Bloomington’s modern design.
Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for planning and constructing transit infrastructure in the GTHA and for operating GO Transit, opened Bloomington Station on June 28, 2021. The station is located on Bloomington Road, adjacent to Highway 404, on the boundary between Richmond Hill and Aurora.
The station is built around a three-storey parking garage tucked into a hill, with the train platform and station amenities (an enclosed waiting room with washrooms and a ticket counter) on the second level. At the lower level, there is a six-bay bus loop almost directly below the rail platform, minimizing the distance between train and bus. Elevators, stairs, and ramps connect the three levels of parking, the bus bays, and the train platform.
The station’s central atrium, which contains the pedestrian passages between parking levels, station, and platforms, is the architectural highlight. Above the parking areas, solar panels collect some of the energy required to light and heat the station.
In its blog, Metrolinx expressed pride in the new station, noting it was built to achieve LEED Gold certification through features such as energy efficient lighting, a water-permeable surface lot, stormwater management, and a pond for local wildlife with an underground passage to help animals migrate away from the station complex. Like most new GO platforms, Bloomington’s train platform is heated to allow snow and ice to melt, reducing salt usage. Finally, as far as suburban GO stations go, Bloomington’s footprint is quite compact. It cost $82.4 million to build the new station.
Despite these innovations, a LEED certification can only go so far when the GTHA’s newest transit station is only accessible by car, with over 1,000 parking spaces. Though transit ridership is down significantly during the ongoing pandemic, especially on GO’s Richmond Hill Line (which operates only in the weekday peak-period direction and currently uses four-car trains), there are no ongoing connections from Bloomington GO Station operated by GO buses or York Region Transit.
Though several GO rail stations do not have any local transit connections only Bloomington and Gormley have no bus connections at all. (In April 2020, YRT discontinued the limited-service Route 15 that ran past Gormley Station). At Acton, Georgetown, and Lincolnville, which also do not have any local transit connections, passengers can still connect to GO buses for points beyond, or make a return trip.
The only bus operating at Bloomington Station’s loop is GO Route 61, which provides supplemental weekday service between Union Station and Bloomington GO. But the last Route 61 bus leaves for Union at 1:55 PM.
The nearest in-service bus stop is over one hour’s walk away, near Bloomington Road and Yonge Street. At least there was a paved shoulder along the busy five-lane road between the GO station and Bayview Avenue, where motorists were driving well in excess of the 80 km/h speed limit.
At Bayview Avenue, a sidewalk leads westerly to Yonge Street, with new residential subdivisions lining the south side of Bloomington Road. I noted a bus stop as I was walking west towards Bayview Avenue; alas, it was only for a high school special route.
As I was nearing Yonge Street, I noted that the new subdivisions were set back far from the road, with many of the houses built with three-car garages. Building enough transit ridership here to support even a limited service bus route is going to be very difficult.
One hour and 8 minutes later, I arrived at the bus stop at Yonge Street, the closest place to Bloomington GO Station where I could get a bus to continue my journey.
Bloomington Station’s small footprint and environmental features might actually make it an ideal basic station design for more urbanized locations in the GTHA, where the compact design and logical layout could support easy bus connections and short walks to residential and employment areas. I liked the simplicity of the bus connections at Bloomington — if only there were any buses to connect to.
But Bloomington’s LEED Gold certification means little when it does not support sustainable development or sustainable access to the station.
Though its location adjacent to Highway 404 may entice some commuters to switch to parking at Bloomington and commuting downtown by train, Gormley, just one station to the south, already achieves a similar purpose.
For now, Bloomington Station is just a Garage Mahal — a grand monument to the old way of doing things at GO Transit.