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Infrastructure Roads Transit

A welcome revision at Major Mackenize

Earlier this year, I wrote about a major malfunction at a new Viva Rapidway station near Downtown Richmond Hill. The Major Mackenzie station on Yonge Street was built one block south of the busy east-west arterial road; passengers taking Viva buses were forced to walk from Major Mackenzie Drive south to the intersection of at the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Hopkins Street, push a “beg button” and wait to cross to the bus platforms in the middle of Yonge.

The reason for this unusual situation was that the Yonge Street right-of-way narrows through Downtown Richmond Hill. At Major Mackenzie Drive, northbound Viva buses must enter mixed traffic for approximately two kilometres before returning to a median busway. (The northbound traffic signal at Major Mackenzie has a dedicated transit phase that allows Viva buses to exit the median ahead of general traffic.) This required the median Viva bus stop (called a VivaStation) to be located considerably south of the intersection of Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive.

Back in February, temporary barriers and YRT transit enforcement officers were used to dissuade transit customers from Back in February, temporary barriers and YRT transit enforcement officers were used to dissuade transit customers from taking the faster and direct, yet more dangerous, route to Major Mackenzie Drive and connecting east-west buses by crossing midblock north of the platform, the faster and direct, yet more dangerous, route to Major Mackenzie Drive and connecting east-west buses.

The Major Mackenzie VivaStation and layout, February 2021

To my pleasant surprise, York Region fixed its mistake. Though the revised station is not ideal (it is still a long walk from Major Mackenzie Drive itself), a new walkway alongside the east side of the bus right-of-way from the VivaStation to the Major Mackenzie intersection makes the transfer to and from buses on Major Mackenzie much simpler.

Looking south from Major Mackenzie Drive

Just north of the bus platforms, a signed crosswalk allows passengers to go from the walkway and northbound platform to the southbound platform on the west side of the bus right-of-way.

Looking north towards Major Mackenzie Drive at the new crosswalk, which allows passengers to go between the southbound bus platform to a new walkway connecting the Major Mackenzie VivaStation to its namesake street.

Permanent metal rails prevent passengers from crossing Yonge Street until they get to the signalized intersection at Major Mackenzie. But transit enforcement officers were nowhere to be seen on this visit, on a Friday afternoon.

Metal barricades deter pedestrian crossings outside of signalized crosswalks.

Unfortunately, to make room for the walkway between the station and Major Mackenzie Drive, the northbound bicycle lane was cut, and replaced with “sharrows.” Though the new bicycle lanes on Yonge ended at Major Mackenzie (not enough room if you have to maintain four through traffic lanes through a historic town centre), this diminishes the gains cyclists made with the reconstruction of Yonge Street for the BRT lanes.

When surface transit projects — like the Viva Rapidways — are designed to fit into existing suburban roadways, compromises to the passenger experience are made. At Richmond Hill, this meant maintaining two traffic lanes in each direction while trying to squeeze a bus rapid transit station into the roadway. This resulted in the original blunder, which should have been thought though earlier in the planning stages.

The fix is not perfect, but it at least addresses the problems with the Major Mackenzie BRT station. Perhaps, one day, we will plan for transit, walking, and cycling first in places like Downtown Richmond Hill, rather than planning for private motor traffic first.

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