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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.

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About me Brampton Toronto Transit

Podcast News

This week, I appeared on two podcasts, talking about municipal open data, crowdsourced mapping projects, and Brampton’s success in building suburban transit ridership.

For Spacing Radio’s Future Fix series, I spoke about a recent Walk Toronto initiative to map sidewalk pinch points during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We used Google Maps to pinpoint specific locations where queues to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses and services made physical distancing difficult or impossible.

Through Walk Toronto’s social media accounts, we asked Torontonians where these locations were, then submitted a list to city staff and public health officials. Not long afterwards, CurbTO was announced to address this specific problem, the first of several initiatives that recognized the need to get outside.

Also on the podcast are Shabnem Afzal, road safety manager for Surrey, British Columbia, speaking about that city’s Vision Zero plan, and Halifax City Councillor Waye Mason, who spoke about that city’s interactive map that allows its citizens identify spots where safe street interventions are needed.

Just before the pandemic hit, I spoke with Helen Lee and Vincent Puhakka of the new podcast The Next Stop about Brampton Transit’s success, and the implications for other suburban transit agencies. Also on the podcast are Brampton Transit General Manager Alex Milojevic and Mayor Patrick Brown.

I hope you have a listen to each of these podcasts, and consider subscribing.

Categories
About me Toronto Walking

A week of social distancing in Toronto

Overlooking Eaton Centre, March 19 2020

Ten days ago, I spent the day at City Hall and addressed the Infrastructure and Environment Committee. While I was following news of a novel coronavirus that was affecting China, Italy, and Iran, it wasn’t on my mind that day.

What a difference a few days makes.

On Thursday, the province announced that elementary and high schools would close for a three-week-long March Break in an effort to contain an outbreak here. One by one, universities and colleges cancelled in-class lessons, with instructors having to move the remainder of their classes online. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Travel restrictions came into place. Restaurants were asked, then forced, to close for dine-in guests. Theatres, cinemas, and some retail chains followed suit. Most office workers were now working from home. Libraries, recreation centres, and even outdoor skating rinks were all shut down.

By Monday, March 16, the city was quiet.

My spouse and I live in an apartment downtown, without a car, so we’ve been going on short walks in the neighbourhood, careful to keep our distance from others (this has been tough to do in supermarkets as I pick up essential food and supplies). But I find the walks are necessary for my mental well-being. They’re also surreal.

Though most stores in the Eaton Centre were open on Monday (Apple and Nike were among the first to voluntarily close all their retail stores), by Tuesday, nearly half were closed. On Thursday, only a handful were open, including, controversially, EB Games.)

The last time I saw the mall so empty during daytime hours, was walking back towards Union Station to go home from Ryerson University on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Eaton Centre March 19 2020Keeping distance inside Eaton Centre, Thursday, March 19, 2020

As a condition for permitting the mall’s construction in the 1970s, the City of Toronto required permanent, twenty-four hour public access along the corridor between Shuter Street and James Street, behind Old City Hall. This concession was made because the new mall required several east-west public streets to be closed between Queen and Dundas Streets.

As a matter of practice, most of the mall’s corridors remain open during all hours, providing access to local streets and two subway stations. The only time I encountered locked doors was during the 2010 G-20 Summit fiasco.

York Concourse, March 16 2020GO Transit’s York Concourse at Union Station during the afternoon rush hour on Monday, March 16

Meanwhile, other busy public spaces, such as the GO Transit concourse at Union Station were also eerily quiet. While it is good that most are able to heed the calls from public health officials and political leaders to stay home where possible, I hope that we can continue to build transit, and not enter another lost decade of service cuts and ignoring needs for more infrastructure.

Busy streets, like Bloor and Queen, are also quiet. With no where to go, there’s very little traffic.

"Hug Me" Queen Street West, March 19 2020The “Hug Me Tree” on Queen Street West

Though I want to remain optimistic, I suspect it won’t be until the end of April at least before some of the social distancing requirements are relaxed. Though it’s tough for many of us, it is necessary to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and the population as healthy as possible.

We’ve been streaming more movies and television shows and playing party games remotely with family and friends online, with audio and video links to keep us engaged with each other. Sometimes on our walks, we’ll order takeout from some of our favourite independent restaurants and coffee shops.

These are some of the little things that can be done when very little is asked of most of us.

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Categories
About me Politics Toronto Walking

On right turns, advocacy, and civic democracy

DeputationOn Wednesday, March 11, I deputed to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee at Toronto City Hall in support of a motion by Councillor Mike Layton to have city staff examine and report back on expanding right turn on red (RTOR) restrictions in the City of Toronto.

Though I had the time and willingness to attend the committee meeting and speak to city councillors, I attended on behalf of Walk Toronto, and the motion was primarily written by my colleague Daniella Levy-Pinto, with input from myself and several other steering committee members.

I found myself much more relaxed deputing this time, especially compared to my deputation late last year to the Toronto Police Services Board. Taking a continuing education course on public speaking and presentations helped, as did increased confidence, and a less intimidating environment.

Fellow advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets’ Jess Speiker spoke first to the motion, at 21 minutes; I speak at the 26 minute mark.

We argue for blanket RTOR prohibitions, rather than simply at selected intersections, for several reasons. red A citywide or neighborhood ban of right on red would eliminate the cost of creating, installing, maintaining, and replacing prohibition signs at each intersection. Too many signs create a visual overload. Furthermore, eliminating right turns on red only at selected locations is problematic in terms of predictability: some vulnerable road users will have difficulty determining what rules are in place at a particular intersection; Montreal, New York, and Mexico City already prohibit right turns on red. It’s time that Toronto seriously debate the idea, and work towards implementing such a ban.

Meanwhile, while the city has implemented leading pedestrian signals at many intersections, their effectiveness is limited by allowing right turns during the leading pedestrian signal, when the red light is still on. Montreal, which has a slightly different implementation, allows through traffic, including cyclists, to proceed with the first few seconds of the walk signal, while turning vehicles must wait.

Though the Infrastructure and Environment Committee adopted Councillor Layton’s motion, it also passed amendments proposed by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Minnan-Wong’s amendments asked for, among other things, a report on the impact that Vision Zero measures have on traffic conditions, and how those traffic delays and congestion have increased stress on drivers.

So, by the deputy mayor’s logic, congestion and traffic safety measures are causing drivers to be aggressive and that is why pedestrians and cyclists continue to be killed on our streets.


Wednesday made for a good lesson on the challenges of grassroots advocacy and participating in local democracy. Recently, City Council voted to increase security at city hall by requiring all visitors to submit to bag searches and metal detector scans, hardly a friendly sight at Toronto’s seat of governance, originally designed to be a welcoming place for all people. Although the committee meeting started at 9:30 AM, it broke for lunch at 12:30, before getting to Councillor Layton’s motion. That meant that I had to leave for lunch, line up again and go through security, before speaking around 2:00 PM. Any citizen with a day job or other commitments wishing to participate in local democracy is at a disadvantage.

But I am glad I had the time and opportunity to speak up for something important.

Categories
About me Cycling Toronto Walking

Survey says… Torontonians demand safer streets

IMG_3729A mock-up of a re-imagined Danforth Avenue, Summer 2019

Yesterday, I met with fellow road safety advocates Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto, Gideon Forman from the David Suzuki Foundation, and Jessica Spieker, from Friends & Families for Safe Streets. The occasion was to publicize a new poll commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation that gauged Torontonians’ support for action on road safety as well improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, including two projects planned for Yonge Street — YongeTOmorrow  in the Downtown Core and Transform Yonge in North York.

Almost 90 percent of Torontonians are concerned about road safety, with close to 70 percent responding that the city is “is not doing enough.” Furthermore, 72 per cent of respondents are in favour of the changes planned for Yonge Street, and 80 percent of respondents want the city to build more protected bike infrastructure.

On behalf of Walk Toronto, I was quoted by CBC journalist Lauren Pelley in her report, quoting the number of pedestrians killed in 2018 and 2019, noting “two pedestrian deaths this week — one in Brampton, one in Toronto — and those were both hit-and-run collisions. And it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen all over the city.”

These poll results indicate an appetite for change. Hopefully Toronto City Council will take notice.

Categories
About me

Five years of musings

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Here I am, back in 2015

Today, December 7, 2019, marks the fifth anniversary of my personal blog, Marshall’s Musings.

I started this website as a place to archive the maps I was making in 2014 after the municipal election. I had mapped poll-by-poll results for each ward, showing how each area voted for mayor and councillor; a few followers on Twitter suggested I start a blog to provide a permanent home for those maps.

After that, I kept the blog going, first mapping council votes (such as the decision to rebuild the east section of the Gardiner Expressway, but also commenting on transit issues, road safety, and local history. Occasionally I’ll write about my cycling trips or other travels, but it’s clear that transit is the most popular topic on this website.

This blog, along with well as my occasional contributions to Spacing magazine, TVO, and Torontoist (now defunct), has provided me with some influence within Toronto’s urbanist circles. Recently, I have been invited to comment on podcasts and in person at a transit summit in Guelph. I’m thankful for those opportunities. It has been a privilege, and I will try to be mindful of that.

Thank you!


The five most-read posts in five years of Marshall’s Musings:

  1. GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking (November 2015)
  2. Ontario’s failed downtown malls (February 2018)
  3. Mapping the 2018 candidates for Toronto’s 47 wards (July 2018)
  4. Not so fair-by-distance: GO Transit’s problematic fare system (November 2015)
Categories
About me Cycling Roads Toronto Walking

Addressing the Toronto Police Services Board

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Earlier today, on behalf of Walk Toronto, I made a deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board addressing the lack of traffic enforcement in the City of Toronto. After criticism from organizations such as Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, and Friends and Families for Safe Streets, the Toronto Police now plans to initiate a “Vision Zero enforcement team,” with the city funding the annual $1 million cost.

As anyone who walks or cycles in the City of Toronto knows, aggressive, distracted, and careless driving is commonplace. They also know that apart from the well-publicized blitz, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) have not responded to the carnage on our streets.

I spoke to express our disappointment of how the TPS completely failed vulnerable road users by not engaging in meaningful traffic enforcement and calling for a return to making this a priority. Similar deputations were made by John Sewell, former mayor and police critic, Keagan Gartz from Cycle Toronto, and Jessica Spieker from Families and Friends for Safe Streets.

I found it was a bit intimidating. it was my first formal deputation in a long time, and I sat at a table in front the board, including Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory. But I did it! Next time I depute, I should find it easier.

Mayor Tory, to his credit, convinced fellow police board members that the traffic enforcement team be made permanent, and funded from the Toronto police budget, starting in 2020. This motion passed unanimously.

It is not enough, of course, but it’s an acknowledgement that we desperately needed. Walk Toronto and our partners will continue to push for safer streets.

Unfortunately, Chief Saunders chose to blame airpods for the epidemic of pedestrian injuries and deaths, ignoring experts and the city’s own data:

Chief Saunders and the board had the opportunity to ask questions of any member of the public who took the time to craft and make deputations today at Police Headquarters. Regretfully, they chose not to do so.

Below is the complete text of my deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board. You can watch the whole meeting here (I speak just after the 1:00 mark).

Vision Zero is an internationally recognized set of road safety tenets that aims to reduce all fatalities and severe injuries in a municipality to zero over the course of a year, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians.

Road design, engineering controls and enforcement are all essential pillars for reducing road violence on our streets. Road improvements force vehicle operators to slow down and take notice, while improving the visibility and safety of vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

In the meantime, the City of Toronto has focused on reducing speed limits, adding traffic signals, and designating school safety zones and senior safety zones. But this has been more about putting up signs. Signs have no effect If there are no consequences for disobeying them.

At Walk Toronto, we have noted the lack of police enforcement of safe speeds, red light running, illegal turns, and distracted driving. There may be the occasional well-publicized blitz, but for the most part, motorists in Toronto know that they can get away with risky and dangerous behaviour because the likelihood of being caught is negligible. At best, Toronto’s response to road violence has been reactive, rather than proactive.

To date, 34 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets in 2019; in 2018, 42 pedestrians were killed. Not just on city streets, but on sidewalks, at bus stops, and even inside a bus shelter. Earlier this year, a home was struck in East York. Meanwhile, police are being deployed downtown not to protect pedestrians, but to ensure traffic isn’t impeded at busy intersections during rush hours.

We were outraged – but not shocked – by a recent Toronto Star report that found that the number of traffic tickets issued dropped from 700,000 in 2010 to just 200,000 in 2018, and that there are no officers assigned to full-duty local traffic enforcement. This is despite a growing city, an ageing population, and enhanced provincial penalties for distracted, reckless, and impaired driving introduced over the last few years.

The Toronto Police Service has failed the city’s most vulnerable road users.

Though red-light cameras, photo radar, and automated school bus “stop” signs are useful tools, there is no substitute for old-fashioned police enforcement. Additional new dedicated officers are a good step in recognizing this failure, as long as enforcement does not target indigenous, racialized, and other communities that are already disproportionately affected by policing. In the end, we need both better designed streets and a renewed direction that the Toronto Police Service will have no tolerance for unsafe driving in Toronto.

Thank you.

Categories
About me Intercity Rail Ontario Transit

Transit Summit in Guelph this Saturday, November 9

4003585727_e8125d19a3_o.jpgCoach Canada bus to Hamilton, September 2009

This Saturday, I will be joining fellow transportation advocates and experts in Downtown Guelph for the First Annual Transit Summit & Town Hall organized by Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG).  I’ll be speaking about the gaps in regional and intercity transit in Guelph and Southwestern Ontario.

In the 1980s, there were direct buses from Guelph to Toronto, Brampton, Kitchener, Hamilton, Fergus and Elora, and Owen Sound. There were five VIA trains a day in each directions between Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener, and London. Though there are far more buses departing from Guelph than in the 1980s, they are mostly operated by GO Transit, all leading east towards Brampton and Mississauga. GO Transit rail service has improved, but it is still geared towards Toronto-bound commuters. Getting between Guelph and Hamilton by bus requires a transfer at Square One in Mississauga.

I wrote about these gaps before on my own blog and for TVO. I will be speaking more about them — and possible solutions to the problem — on Saturday.

Intercity bus links in Midwestern Ontario in 1983 and 2019.
The 1983 map is an excerpt from Ontario Intercity Guide published by Ontario Ministry of Transportation; the 2019 is an edited version of the same image. 

Other speakers at the Transit Summit include representatives from TTCRiders, TransportAction, and officials from the City of Guelph and Guelph Transit. The summit and town hall will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Downtown Guelph on Saturday November 9 from 12:00 to 5:30 PM.

You can register on TAAG’s website until Friday November 8.

Categories
About me Toronto Transit

Toronto’s Transit Secrets

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Earlier this week, I attended a book launch at the Spacing Store at 401 Richmond Street West here in Toronto. While I have been to numerous book launches, often to support friends and colleagues, it was the first time it was for a book that I contributed to.

As some of you may know, I am an occasional contributor to Spacing Magazine and Spacing’s website. My writing has allowed me to think and learn more about Toronto, and meet fellow engaged Torontonians. Spacing’s latest book, 25 Toronto Transit Secrets, contains stories, photographs, and maps that detail both the history and the operations of the TTC. For my part, I wrote about the ghostly reminders of abandoned streetcar routes, the history of the convoluted Harbord Streetcar, and what happens to the TTC’s streetcars when they’ve reached the end of the line.

There are many other great stories as well. Read about the TTC’s safety mascot, Barney the Beaver, Toronto’s two ghost stations (Lower Bay and the lesser-known Lower Queen) and a history of the ferry service to Toronto Islands.

25 Toronto Transit Secrets is edited by Dylan Reid and Matthew Blackett, who both deserve a lot of credit. Any writer knows that their work is dependent on editors not only proof-reading their work, but also providing guidance and support. I am always grateful for their encouragement and providing the opportunity to be published.

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About me

A farewell to 2017

IMG_0129-001At the top of the Franey Trail, Cape Breton National Park

For me, 2017 was a great year. In June, I wrote about my life up to that point, looking back at some of the challenges I faced over the years, my ability to overcome them, and my accomplishments. I wrote that shortly before I got married to an amazing life partner, and together, we look forward to many great things.

Elisa and I honeymooned out East, touring the Cabot Trail, Prince Edward Island, and Halifax before taking the train back home. We also visited Point Pelee for the first time, and made trips to Detroit, Chicago, and across Ontario, to places like Southampton, Sudbury, and Collingwood.

I met a few new friends in 2017, and I also got to know some great people even better. Along with our own wedding, Elisa and I got to help celebrate three others this year.

In Brockville, exploring the newly re-opened historic railway tunnel, I spent a few hours catching up with a high school friend who moved from Brampton to a town in Eastern Ontario. That was one of this year’s nice simple highlights. Day trips with friends and groups walks with others were another thing that made this year good. But also in 2017, I lost contact with a few people I knew, including another of my best friends from high school. I regret not keeping in closer contact; social media has its limitations.

At my full time job, I stood up in front of an audience at an industry event, presenting the work that I did on an interesting interactive map that I developed. This year was one of  the most challenging years I had at work, but also one of the most fulfilling.

2017 also marks the tenth year since I started writing on urban issues and transportation for fun. Spacing is one of my favourite publications, and it has been an honour to write for them on occasion. My first blog post described some of the places where Toronto’s old streetcars were sent to once they were retired by the TTC; my latest contribution, a full-page spread in the Fall 2017 issue of the print magazine, highlighted all the major transit projects across Canada planned or in progress. This year, I also wrote for Torontoist and TVO, and of course, in my own blog.

IMG_1524.jpgNation on the move: my latest article in Spacing

In 2018, I look forward to many things: a trip to see family and new places in Europe, catching up with friends, having some more writing opportunities, new challenges at work, and a municipal election, where three new wards will help deliver some new faces to Toronto City Council. Maybe, too, there will be a strong mayoral candidate worth supporting.

My top six posts of 2017

These six articles might not be the most read, but they are among my favourite posts in 2017. They all deal with some of my favourite subjects: urban planning, transit, and local history.

  • Ontario’s land use scandal: Another greenfield hospital for Niagara: A commentary on poor land use planning decisions (which I have discussed previously on this blog) which puts major health and educational institutions far from where people live, on sites difficult to serve by transit.
  • Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar: The history of Hallam Street in west end Toronto and the Harbord Streetcar, which was one Toronto’s most interesting carlines until it was abandoned in 1966.
  • How intercity bus service is failing Ontarians: my first article for TVO, I examine how the intercity bus network in Ontario declined since the 1980s, and how many communities in the province have since become disconnected.
  • A need for high speed rail reality: an article I posted to Spacing, as I express my skepticism for the province’s proposal for a high speed rail line between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London, with a possible extension to Windsor. It’s an interesting contrast to the neglect paid to rural bus services.
  • Toronto’s Zero Vision and the folly of Seniors Safety Zones: Putting up a few new signs as part of a reluctant response to an unacceptable level of road violence isn’t  Vision Zero, it’s Zero Vision. As a pedestrian advocate and co-founder of Walk Toronto, I believe that the city does a lousy job of protecting its residents from injury and death on its roads.
  • Rosedale NIMBYs Push Back Against Four-Storey Condo: There are few things more fun than writing about entitled, unreasonable NIMBYs.