Categories
Intercity Rail Ontario Transit

Mapping Ontario’s transit connections

T:GO inter-community transit van at Woodstock VIA Rail station, September 2020

November 9, 2020: I made several updates to the interactive map, including the addition of PC Connect in Perth County, which launches next Monday. I mapped Port Hope’s transit connection to Cobourg, as suggested by one of the readers, and corrected a few minor errors. The updated map can be found here.


October 15, 2020

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several new inter-community transit services launched in Ontario during the last few months.

Last August, T:GO began service on four routes radiating from Tillsonburg, where there was already an in-town circulator service. Mondays through Fridays, twenty-seater vans operate between Tillsonburg, Norwich, Woodstock, Ingersoll, and other communities, offering connections to Woodstock Transit, the hospital, and the VIA Rail Station.

In September, the City of Owen Sound, Grey County, Middlesex County, the town of Strathroy-Caradoc, and Prince Edward County all launched their own services, connecting rural communities and small towns to larger centres such as London, Guelph, and Belleville. In addition, Simcoe County expanded its Linx bus service to serve Alliston and Beeton, and other services, suspended during the early days of the pandemic, resumed operations. Also this year, Niagara and Durham Regions expanded their rural on-demand transit services.

GOST minibus at Owen Sound Transit Terminal

All these new services help to fill the gaps left behind by private coach companies; these have become especially vital as Greyhound Canada suspended all operations in Ontario and Quebec this year (after abandoning Western Canada in 2018), and Coach Canada (operating as Megabus) cut service on some of its routes.

While these new intercommunity routes help to serve local needs, there is a wide variety of service provided in rural and small town Ontario. But without provincial coordination, it is nearly impossible to keep track of them all, never mind plan a trip.

So I went ahead and mapped them all the best I could. Clicking on each route brings up a pop-up window containing further information, including a link to each agency’s website, where available.

Link to interactive map

Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

Finding a washroom during Toronto’s pandemic winter

Sugar Beach in the wintertime

Update November 28, 2020: I have added the list of 51 temporary portable toilets that the city has or will be adding to its parks this winter as part of an effort to encourage Torontonians to get outside for winter walks. Many of these locations are along the major ravine paths, including the Don and Humber Rivers. Most location descriptions were easy to locate, though others were quite vague. I did the best I could with the information given. I also added the toilet locations at Tommy Thompson Park, which is operated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

There remain some critical gaps, including the absence of Guild Park in Scarborough and along the waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Marie Curtis Park, but on the whole, this is a positive development. The city also announced new winter maintenance of additional park paths, though ideally, this service would be extended along the entire ravine network.



As of Monday, November 23, Toronto and Peel Region will be in another lockdown. Non-essential businesses and services will close or be open only for take-out and curbside pickup. Gyms, patios, and salons will all be closed. Though we may not be able to socialize with friends and extended family, we can still go for walks, runs, and bike rides to maintain our physical and mental heath.

But with indoor dining prohibited since October in Toronto, and most malls closing down, finding a washroom has become much more difficult. Many outdoor park washrooms are not winterized, so they must close as well. For many of us, having access to open and accessible washrooms is a necessary when leaving the home for long periods of time.

Happily, the City of Toronto has identified over 40 park washrooms that will be open during the winter months, with the promise of more to come, including portable toilets placed in strategic locations.

Though there is a list of washrooms open (or soon to open) on the city’s website, they are listed in alphabetical order, without easily-accessible location information. I took the liberty of mapping each park washroom location, as well as selected other city-owned public washrooms accessible seven days a week.

Though winterized public washrooms can be found across the city, there are a few areas left unserved, including the Etobicoke waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Long Branch, the eastern Scarborough waterfront parks, including Guild Park and the Port Union/Rouge Beach area, and northwestern Etobicoke. Ideally, every Torontonian should live within walking distance of a four-season park.

Even with the impending lockdown, there are some other washrooms that will remain available when necessary. GO Transit has kept washrooms at its stations accessible even during the Spring 2020 lockdown. On the Lakeshore Line, stations are open seven days a week, including Guildwood and Rouge Hill. Many supermarkets have public washrooms as well.

I hope that there will be improved four-season access to public washrooms this year, and every year going forward. Simple outdoor activity, including long walks, are one of the safest and easiest things we can do to keep ourselves happy and busy.

I will update the map as more washroom facilities open.

Categories
History Intercity Rail Ontario

The world’s smallest Union Station

Just south of St. Thomas — Ontario’s Railway City — sits a small stucco-clad shelter, just below the Sparta Road bridge. Until 1957, electric trains of the London & Port Stanley Railway would regularly pass this little, unstaffed station serving the nearby community of Union.

There are dozens of union stations across North America, several of which are still in regular passenger service. Toronto’s Union Station is the continent’s second-busiest railway station, surpassed only by New York’s Penn Station. Union Stations in Chicago, Washington, and Los Angeles are among the top fifteen in Canada and the United States, while other grand union station buildings still greet rail passengers in Winnipeg, Kansas City, and Denver.

Union Station, with Kansas City's skyline behind
Kansas City’s Union Station, with downtown skyline backdrop

Union stations, by definition, are passenger facilities used by two or more railways. They allowed for shared services and passenger convenience, though they required ample access to each railway’s tracks. Toronto’s Union Station, for example, was built for the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific Railways, which both had rail corridors following the waterfront into Downtown Toronto. Ottawa, too had a Union Station that was used by CN and CP until 1966 (and in earlier years, New York Central trains called at Ottawa’s Union Station).

In some cases, a union station might be a small depot at the junction of two railways. The small Inglewood Station in Caledon was technically a union station as it was used by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Great Hall, Chicago’s Union Station

Of course, the little Union Station in rural Elgin County was never a true union station. It was merely a flag stop for the L&PS, where awaiting passengers would signal their intention to board by lowering a wooden board affixed to a pole next to the station shelter.

The L&PS Railway opened in 1856 to connect London to nearby St. Thomas and to Port Stanley, giving the growing city access to Lake Erie. In 1913, the City of London, which owned the line, upgraded and electrified the railway under the direction of then-mayor Adam Beck, who championed public hydro electricity and a proposed network of electric railways across the province.

Though bulk freight was the railway’s bread-and-butter — it connected with a train ferry service to Ohio — the L&PS operated regular local passenger service connecting two cities, four separate railways (CN at London and the Wabash, Michigan Central, and Pere Marquette Railroads at St. Thomas), and the popular summer resorts and cottages at Port Stanley.

With improved highways and increased auto ownership, the L&PS ceased passenger service in 1957, though there was regular bus service until the 1990s. Today, it is impossible to get between London, St. Thomas, and Port Stanley without a car. The railway was sold to CN in the early 1960s. CN used the railway to access a new Ford assembly plant as well as local industry in London and St. Thomas, but eventually ceased freight service south of St. Thomas.

The abandoned track south of St. Thomas was acquired by the Port Stanley Terminal Railway, which today operates family-friendly excursions from the former L&PS station in Port Stanley. Though you can no longer board a train at Union, you can still watch trains go by. A restored LP&S interurban passenger car can be found at the Halton County Radial Railway museum near Rockwood.

Passing by Union Station, riding the PTSR excursion train
Categories
Parks Toronto

A failure to communicate: a small, but meaningful example of the terrible messaging during this pandemic

On November 4, signage scattered around Allan Gardens leads visitors to locked doors

The ongoing pandemic, to quote the prime minister, “really sucks.” Ontario has been subjected to various levels of lockdowns and restrictions for nearly eight months now as COVID-19 case counts continue to be high. Restaurants, bars, cinemas, and gyms are currently closed in Toronto, as are most other indoor venues. Many of us are — if we’re lucky — working from home, but shut off from meaningful socializing from family, friends, colleagues, and allies. Many are left unemployed with few job openings out there. Those still working in factories, warehouses, public institutions, kitchens, and stores face increased pressures without many of their supports.

That leaves only a few outlets for selfcare: the support of immediate family, outdoor exercise, and passive entertainment such as streaming shows and movies online. Though I am working on several interesting projects here at home, I can attest that Zoom calls, Facebook chats, and occasional phone-calls are no substitute for in-person social interaction. Regular walks have been essential to my mental health, which has suffered during the pandemic. With so much construction in my neighbourhood, there has been one nearby oasis: the conservatory at Allan Gardens.

Sadly, that’s no longer an option, and I found that out the hard way. Though it is a minor complaint given the much larger failure to control the virus here in Ontario and properly communicate important public health information and advice, it’s just a microcosm of the mixed messaging from all levels of government that we have been enduring since February.

“Urgent notice” – anyone who continues past the signs directing visitors to the designated entrance to the Allan Gardens Conservatory is greeted with this notice indicating that the building is closed until further notice
Categories
Ontario Transit

Why Durham Region is going the microtransit route during the pandemic – and what it means for other transit systems

Durham Region Transit and GO Transit buses meeting at Durham College/Ontario Tech University

Previously on this site, I expressed my skepticism about Durham Region’s commitment to improving transit service. But in the five years since, the region east of Toronto has done exactly that by creating a route grid along major corridors, fusing together a network from four separate municipal systems.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has seen transit ridership plummet across the province, followed by service cuts to match the reduced demand, Durham is doing two interesting things: firstly, it is adding additional service on its main corridors, and it is replacing twenty-five low ridership routes with on-demand transit.

In my latest article for TVO.org, I take a closer look at Durham Region Transit’s response to shifting ridership during a pandemic and the benefits and pitfalls of microtransit as a potential solution.

Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Roads

Highway 401 revisited

Earlier in September, I paid a visit to Woodstock, Ontario, to check out one of several new intermunicipal transit services that launched across the province this year. While in Woodstock, I paid a visit to the Highway 401 interchange at Highway 59.

In 1968-1969, London, Ontario artist Jack Chambers painted 401 Towards London No. 1, which depicts a tranquil scene from the Highway 59 overpass, looking west. The highway, just two lanes in each direction, bends slightly to the southwest as it heads towards London and Windsor. On either side, autumn trees, farm fields, and gentle hills stretch out. The only buildings visible are farm silos, and two truck terminals on the north side of the highway. Only a few vehicles on Highway 401 are visible in the scene.

Chambers became well known for photorealism in his work. The scene in 401 Towards London No. 1 is slightly askew, as if this was a Kodachrome snapshot.

Jack Chambers, 401 Towards London No. 1. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
A larger version can be found here.

Highway 401 was only fully completed between Windsor and the Quebec border in 1968, the year the painting was started, though the section between Woodstock and London was completed in 1957, bypassing an especially congested section of Highway 2. Like many interchanges built by the province in the 1950s and early 1960s, the junction of Highways 59 and 401 was an eight-ramp cloverleaf.

A contemporary view towards London

By the 1990s, Highway 401 was widened to six lanes. The cloverleaf interchange, like most others in Ontario, was removed and replaced by a simpler interchange. (As traffic levels increased, the danger of vehicles entering and exiting the highway with little space to merge became apparent.)

Woodstock’s sprawl caught up to the highway, with new warehouses, motels, subdivisions, and a hospital joining the original freight terminals. Though the distant trees and hills are the same as those in Chambers’ painting, the gentle curve in the distance remains the easiest way to match the two views, fifty years apart. Highway 59 itself was downloaded by the province in 1997. To the south, the old highway is Oxford County Road 59. To the north, it is simply Norwich Street.

Breezewood, Ontario: former Highway 59 looking north towards central Woodstock, where chain hotels, restaurants, and gas stations line the road

As I climbed over guardrails and navigated sidewalk-less embankments and road shoulders to capture the contemporary image of Jack Chambers’ painting, I was surprised by two things. The first were fully AODA-compliant crossing treatments at the highway ramps, despite there being no safe and marked way to get to those crosswalks.

I had to climb over the guardrail to get to this crosswalk at the westbound ramps to Highway 401

I was even more surprised to see an engraved version of the Jack Chambers painting embedded in the guardrail. When the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) rebuilt the overpass in 2017-2018, it thoughtfully included this nod to a local artist.

Plaque embedded in the guardrail at the Highway 59 overpass in Woodstock

Unfortunately, given the isolation of the plaque, few will actually see it, even if thousands pass by it daily. Larger signs mark the overpass as the Constable Jack Ross Memorial Bridge, in honour of a Ontario Provincial Police officer.

But it will always be the Jack Chambers bridge to me.

A larger sign right above the Jack Chambers plaque commemorates a different Jack

Though 401 Towards London No. 1 has long been one of my favourite Canadian paintings, it is not typically on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I would love to see this work put on permanent display, either at the AGO, or at another gallery that will appreciate the ode to Ontario’s mother road.

Categories
About me Cycling Design Infrastructure Roads Toronto

Yonge, tomorrow

Over the past few years, I have been involved with the YongeTOmorrow project on behalf of Walk Toronto. It has been a very interesting and worthwhile experience being part of a stakeholder advisory group. Allied organizations working towards a more exciting and sustainable Yonge Street include Cycle Toronto, 8 80 Cities, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

After several rounds of public consultations and stakeholder meetings, you can now see what the proposed changes to Yonge Street will look like.

Rendering of proposed changes to Yonge Street , looking north towards Dundas Square. In this section, northbound traffic is permitted, with two-way cycling, and much wider sidewalks, along with new trees and improved street furniture.

Though the selected concept is not perfect, the proposed changes will provide significant improvements to Yonge Street between Queen and College Streets. These include wider sidewalks, patio space, bike facilities, and a pedestrianized zone between Dundas Square and Edward Street, allowing for better circulation, more flexibility for special events, and a more pleasant street.

With more high-rise development on the way (including the redevelopment of the Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street), it is only right that more space be given to residents, students, employees, and visitors. Compromises in the plan allow for access to parking garages, permit taxi and other vehicle drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as business deliveries.

I encourage you to have a look and provide your feedback. The online survey is available until September 30.

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.