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
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
Ontario Toronto Travels

Signs of the times in Northwestern Toronto

Un-plated rental cars stored in the Woodbine Centre parking lot

In a distant corner of Woodbine Centre’s parking lot, dozens of late model cars and trucks sit with their licence plates removed. These are all rental cars, left idle due to the collapse of demand during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Friday, Hertz — the United States’ second-largest car rental company — filed for bankruptcy. Hertz’s brands include Dollar and Thrifty.

Woodbine Centre, a once-vibrant mall in northwest Toronto is a short drive from Toronto-Pearson International Airport, making it an ideal place to store the suddenly surplus fleets. Though in the 1980s and 1990s, Woodbine boasted cinemas, two-full line department stores, Zellers, and dozens of national chain stores, it has lost most of its cachet, with both Sears and Zellers gone, and Hudson’s Bay barely hanging on. Its parking lot was typically half-empty in recent years.

Though the demand for rental cars, especially at the airport, have dried up, many neighbourhood car rental branches remain open, offering attractive rates for daily and weekly rentals. I have taken advantage of the low prices right now (often as cheap as $25 a day on a multi-day rental) to run errands, go for short drives, conduct some field research for future articles and projects, and visit nearby provincial parks and regional forests for physically-distant nature hikes. I am also able to help family members by delivering groceries and medications. With the surplus of available cars, upgrades from the intermediate or standard car booking can be expected. (I was given a Mercedes-Benz E-class a few weeks ago, though I had booked a standard sedan.)

Though we live downtown, my partner and I prefer to shop at a Chinese grocery store in Scarborough, which is calmer, better organized, and better stocked than our local stores (flour, rice, and meat are plentiful). Having a car makes it easy to carry a large load, reducing the number of grocery trips required.

Across the street from Woodbine Centre, in another parking lot, there is another sign of the times: an overflow lot for Humber College has been transformed into a drive-through COVID-19 assessment centre. At 12:30 on Monday, May 25, the centre, which is normally open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, was already full, and not accepting any more patients who were looking to be tested.

While Premier Doug Ford urged anyone worried about having COVID-19 or being in contact with anyone with it last Sunday, it’s not surprising to see the huge demand. While the change in eligibility is good news, it is troubling that actually getting tested may take so long.

Full COVID-19 assessment centre in North Etobicoke

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Ontario Roads Walking

Room to share: How cities can make physical distancing work

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Blackfriars Bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists in London, Ontario

For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.

In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.

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Cyclists on Howden Boulevard, Brampton

In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.

This was one of my favourite articles I have written so far. 

 

Loblaws queue on Church Street
Queue on Church Street at Carlton to enter Loblaws supermarket

With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.

The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

A sudden drop in transit usage across the Toronto Region

IMG_6299-001Last week, I wrote about how several TTC routes were facing overcrowding, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a severe drop in system-wide ridership since early March. I shared this analysis on Spacing’s website, and Ben Spurr at the Toronto Star reported more about the story this week.

Though detailed ridership data is not freely accessible, I wanted to see how ridership on the TTC, GO Transit, and other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit agencies was faring. Helpfully, the team behind the Transit app, a trip-planning smartphone tool, made their usage data available to transit agencies, journalists, and data nerds to track transit demand during the pandemic. Although there are some limitations to using this data (more on that later), it’s an excellent metric for tracking transit ridership for dozens of major transit authorities across Canada and the United States, representing nearly every major metropolitan region.

The numbers used to determine transit ridership demand is based on usage of the Transit app. (While Transit is one of several apps that can be used to plan trips, including Metrolinx’s own Triplinx app, Transit is my favourite). Normal usage is defined by Transit as app sessions observed on the same day of the week one year ago, averaged over three weeks and corrected for yearly growth in the corresponding transit agency. Hence, a rapidly-growing system, such as Brampton’s, can be represented accurately by the app.

Data was available for every transit agency in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, apart from paratransit services (e.g. Wheel-Trans, Transhelp, DARTS, etc.) and Milton and Caledon Transit, the smallest fixed-route services. The graph below shows the how the usage of the Transit app fluctuated based upon the expected value, reflected as a percentage.

GTHA Transit app usage from Feb 15 2020
Transit app usage compared to expected for GTHA transit agencies, February 15 to April 6, 2020 (click for larger image)

Note how the actual Transit app usage dropped by over 40% for every transit agency on Monday, February 17, which was Family Day, a provincial holiday in Ontario. Most transit services were operating on a weekend or holiday service, while students and many workers did not take transit. This was likely compared with normal Mondays, hence the one-day drop.

It wasn’t until the second week of March that ridership began to decline as the number of COVID-19 cases began to surge in Canada and the United States, and governments began announcing new measures to reduce the rate of infection. On Thursday March 12, Ontario announced that public schools, scheduled to close for March Break, would stay closed for two additional weeks (the shutdown has since been extended). That day, the National Basketball League suspended the season, followed quickly by all other sports leagues. Employers began to implement contingency measures, such as work-from-home arrangements. By Monday the 16th, all restaurants were closed to sit-down clientele, and most entertainment venues closed.

By the week of March 29, transit demand was down by 75 to 82 percent across the Greater Toronto Area. Although many workers were either laid off or were sent home to work, employees in the healthcare, personal care, logistics, essential retail service (i.e. grocery workers), and food manufacturing industries remained on the job. This is evident in the difference between the demand for the subway (-81%) and the surface network (buses and streetcars, -76%) as they serve very different employment centres. Transit’s numbers are comparable to the TTC’s own ridership estimates.

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Map depicting estimated drops in transit demand for GTHA transit agencies compared to expected use for week of March 29 to April 5, 2020. Data from Transit app.

Brampton Transit had the lowest estimated reduction in demand, at -75%. This could be for the same reasons that several bus routes in Toronto saw crowding despite a system-wide drop in ridership. Brampton’s population is relatively lower-income than many other suburban municipalities in Halton, Peel, and York Regions. Brampton also has many large food processing employers, such as Maple Lodge Farms, and many warehouses and distribution centres, including two major Amazon Fulfillment Centres. Brampton Transit connects to other major manufacturing and logistics employment areas in Mississauga, Vaughan and Toronto, including Pearson Airport.

Oakville Transit had the greatest drop, which can be explained by two factors. The first is that Oakville, is a relatively more affluent municipality, with fewer logistics and food industry employers. Secondly, its bus network is designed entirely to connect with GO Transit’s Lakeshore Line, which feeds Downtown Toronto. Therefore, the ridership dependent on Oakville Transit is more likely to be working from home than Brampton’s.

It must be noted that Transit’s figures are not the same as detailed ridership numbers collected by each transit agency. For example, Metrolinx cited a 90% drop in ridership across the GO Transit train and bus network, compared to Transit’s 79% estimate drop. Nonetheless, Transit’s data is a valuable metric.

With the sudden drop in ridership, there’s also a sudden drop in revenue. While many systems, including Brampton Transit and GO Transit have made service reductions, they have been careful to ensure enough capacity remains to safely meet demand. Every system has also increased vehicle and station cleaning, and most have stopped collecting fares to protect both passengers and operators. Just like laid-off employees, students, and freelance workers, transit too will need a bailout of some kind to rebuild lost ridership and maintain safe and healthy services.

Transit projects such as the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, the new relief transit service for central Toronto (be it the Relief Line or Ontario Line), and GO Transit expansion must go on, as does the progress made in building ridership at suburban systems such as Brampton and Durham Region.

Categories
Ontario Politics Toronto Transit Walking

The consequences of losing the GO-TTC discount

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When the Toronto subway system was extended by six stops to York University and Vaughan, it marked the first time the TTC’s rapid transit system extended beyond the city’s boundaries. But it also exposed a major failing of the Golden Horseshoe’s transit structure: the complete lack of fare integration.

In 2017, the provincial government announced a new fare discount between the TTC and GO Transit, which operates the region’s commuter rail and bus network. This $1.50 fare discount, available to Presto card users, was funded by the previous Liberal government’s fledgling cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme, with the promise of further fare adjustments (such as discounts for transferring between the TTC and other suburban transit agencies, such as York Region Transit and Miway) to come.

With the election of the Progressive Conservatives in 2018, the cap-and-trade scheme was cancelled, and with it, the continued funding for the GO-TTC fare discount. That discount is set to come to an end on March 31, 2020. Neither the cash-strapped TTC or Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit and transit planning, will step up to make up the difference.

IMG_7865-001GO Transit buses used to stop right in front of Vari Hall, in the heart of York University’s campus

Though many regular GO rail commuters will feel the impact of the loss of the fare discount, the impact on York University students and staff will be especially felt. That’s because the new subway extension was planned to remove GO Transit buses from the heart of the campus to a purpose-built terminal at a remote new subway station next to Highway 407. I recently wrote about the problematic fare structure on those GO buses serving Highway 407 Station. Now, those commuters going two more stops will pay $6.40 a day in TTC fares on top of those expensive GO fares.

Unless they decide to walk to campus.

On Thursday, March 5, I tried do just that. It was not a pleasant experience.

Highway 407 Station features a large bus terminal for GO Transit and YRT buses, a passenger drop-off and pick-up area, and a commuter lot. But it was not built with pedestrians in mind. That’s understandable. The only places within a few minutes’ walk are Beechwood Cemetery across the street, a warehouse, and the employee entrance to a major UPS parcel centre.

The main — and only authorized — entrance is on the opposite side of Jane Street, facing the passenger drop-off/pick-up area and the parking lot. It is quite clear in the design that most passengers would be transferring between bus and subway, perhaps with the idea that the fare boundary issue would be resolved by the time the station was open.

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Jane Street, with the entrance to Highway 407 on the right, and Beechwood Cemetery on the left

The vertical circulation prioritizes bus-subway connections. At the bus platform level, I spotted a sign that said “to street, subway” leading to a downwards escalator. But it led me past the mezzanine level straight to the subway fare gates. I had to climb halfway up to get to the entrance doors.

IMG_7848-001The stained glass at Highway 407 glows in the late afternoon sun. But it doesn’t take away from a poor user experience.

Once outside, I noted that the pedestrian path between the parking lot and the passenger waiting area was completely covered by a giant dirty snow pile. It’s clear that pedestrians are not welcome here.

Snow left on the only legal sidewalk leading out of Highway 407 Station

The circuitous route is designed to keep pedestrians out of the way of the buses entering and exiting the station. But I was left wondering why a shorter, direct, and snow-free route was not designed into the station plan at the beginning. It would have cut a few minutes from my efforts in leaving the station.

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Pedestrians are barred from the more direct route into the station, even though the bus terminal is not a TTC fare-paid area.

Eventually, I made it to Jane Street, and began walking south towards Steeles Avenue and campus. The narrow sidewalk hugs Jane Street, and right into a splash zone under the CN Railway underpass.

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An unpleasant walk along Jane Street

After twenty-seven minutes, I made it to Pioneer Village Station, which was designed with two separate bus terminals. YRT buses use the smaller bus loop on the north side of Steeles Avenue, outside the fare-paid area. TTC buses use a larger terminal south of Steeles Avenue, on the York University lands. YRT passengers headed to campus must cross Steeles Avenue at grade as the mezzanine level underneath is fully within the TTC fare paid zone. Technically, one could transfer from GO to the YRT 20 Jane bus at Highway 407 Station (with a Presto card, it would cost only $1 each way with the YRT-GO co-fare). But it would still only get you part of the way to campus.

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After 35 minutes, I made it from the GO bus platform at Highway 407 Station to the Life Sciences Building at York University, on the northwest corner of the central campus, with another 5-10 minutes to major buildings such as Vari Hall or Scott Library. This was at a relatively quick pace (I’m an able-bodied thirty-something man), in quite pleasant weather. A rainy or bitterly cold day would be quite a different matter. Therefore, most will be forced to pay $3.20 each way (the current TTC Presto fare).

The subway, with the major GO and YRT terminals off campus, was designed for a new fare structure where students and university staff wouldn’t be penalized for having to transfer one or two subway stops to get to the middle of campus. The most we got was a fare discount for GO Transit riders, with nothing for YRT commuters. (Only Brampton Transit continues to directly serve York University.) And now that meagre fare concession is going away, because no one wants to pay for it.

Sadly, this is just further evidence of how we get transit so wrong in the Golden Horseshoe, despite it being the country’s economic heartland.


Transit advocacy group TTC Riders, along with allies at York University, have been calling on Queen’s Park to continue to fund the fare discount. You can find out more here.

I also expect that the opposition New Democrats will submit a motion in the legislature to maintain funding for the discount next week. I’ll update this post as necessary.

Categories
History Infrastructure Maps Ontario Roads

One hundred years of Ontario’s provincial highways

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On February 26, 1920, Ontario’s provincial highway network was born. That year, 16 highways were established across southern Ontario, between the Ottawa and Detroit Rivers. These highways, previously maintained by townships and counties, connected the province’s largest cities and provided important links to Quebec and the United States.

In 1925, these highways were assigned numbers 2 through 17, in rough order from west to east. There was no Highway 13; instead, the Port Hope-Peterborough Highway was assigned Route 12A. Highway 2, alternatively known as the Trans-Provincial Highway, extended from Windsor to the west to the Quebec border in the east, continuing eastwards as Quebec Highway 2. (That province renumbered its entire highway system in the 1960s and 1970s.) Meanwhile, Highway 15, connecting Kingston and Ottawa, took a deviating “S” shaped route via Perth. Highway 7 only went as far east as Brampton. While the province used triangular highway markers at the time, in 1930, they were renamed “King’s Highways” and assigned crowned highway shields still in use today.

The map below illustrates the highway system at the time.

1920OntarioOntario Provincial Highways, 1925 (click for larger version)

Several of Ontario’s first highways no longer exist. Highway 12A was later renumbered to Highway 28; that first section was later downloaded to Northumberland and Peterborough Counties. The first section of Highway 14, which originally ran between Foxboro and Picton via Belleville, was later integrated with the longer and more important Highway 62. The short stub of Highway 14 between Foxboro and Marmora was also downloaded in the 1990s.

But Highway 11, formed out of Yonge Street and the Barrie-Muskoka Highway, eventually became the province’s longest and one of its most famous highways (even if it never was the world’s longest street). To mark the occasion, I wrote about Highway 11’s history for TVO. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Ontario’s highways, nearly 100 years of digitized provincial road maps are available on the Archives of Ontario website. I also suggest visiting The King’s Highway website, which contains histories and photographs for most of Ontario’s highways.

Categories
Brampton Design Ontario Toronto

Some love for Ontario’s municipal flags

Flag of TorontoThe flag of the City of Toronto, designed by Renato De Santis, is an example of a very good civic flag

I was in Orillia last week, mainly to check out the new Simcoe County Lynx bus system. While there, the flag flying from the Opera House (formerly the city hall) caught my attention. Most municipal flags are boring, usually consisting of the town or city’s coat of arms, shield, or logo on a plain background.

Orillia municipal flag, with a yellow sun in the middle

But Orillia’s flag is different. It has waving blue and white waves, with two green triangles facing the centre, and a bright yellow sun in the middle. The symbolism wasn’t difficult to figure out: the city’s position on the narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching, with the sun being a nod to Orillia author Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, a light, humourous collection of short stories about the denizens of Mariposa, a thinly-veiled fictionalization of Orillia.

Yet Canadian cities that boast populations twenty or thirty times that of Orillia can’t boast having such a fine flag.

For the most part, we don’t think about state, provincial, and municipal flags, and that’s a pity. In the few cities that have an unique and powerful flag, they have become part of that city’s iconography. Unfortunately, though Toronto does have a very good civic flag, we don’t fly it like it should.

According to the North American Vexillological Association, there are five principles for creating a good flag:

  • Keep it simple — so simple, it can be drawn by a child from memory
  • Use meaningful symbolism
  • Use two or three basic colours
  • Never use lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive or be related

Canada’s flag, adopted in 1965, adheres to these principles perfectly. It uses just two basic colours: red and white. With a large red maple leaf in the middle, it’s easily recognizable around the world. While a child might not get the eleven-point maple leaf exactly right, it’s otherwise easy to draw from memory.

There are, of course, exceptions to these principles.

Maryland’s complicated state flag, based on the coat of arms of colony founder Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, is distinctive and popular, nearly as common as the US flag. California’s state flag is emblazoned with the words “California Republic” but it has significant historical meaning. The flag of South Africa, adopted in 1994, has six colours, but by merging the Pan-African colours of the African National Congress with the red white and blue of Britain and the Netherlands, it represents unity in the post-apartheid era.

Flags of Maryland, California, and South Africa, notable exceptions to the rules

For the most part, famous and great civic flags adhere to these principles. The flags of Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, and Tokyo all stand out. In Chicago and Amsterdam, these flags are proudly flown from private homes and watercraft, found on t-shirts and souvenirs, and well known around the world. The bear from Berlin’s flag is almost as popular as the Ampelmännchen. Though Amsterdam’s flag’s origins go back centuries (the “x”s are actually St. Andrew’s crosses), it looks bad-ass, and on-brand for a city famous for its tolerance.

Great civic flags: Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Tokyo

Compared to the great examples above, Ontario’s provincial flag is just bad. Compare the provincial red ensign with the flag of Manitoba, and then compare it to the Franco-Ontarien flag.

The Ontario and Manitoba flags, British red ensigns defaced with the provincial shields, were only adopted in 1965 and 1966 as conservative reactions to the new flag of Canada. The two flags are difficult to tell apart from a distance, and they both contain the St. George’s cross (representing England) twice: once in the union flag in the canton, and again in the shield. There’s very little Ontario to be found. (At least the Manitoba flag contains a bison, a recognizable symbol of that province.)

Meanwhile, the Franco-Ontarien flag is immediately recognizable, with the fleur-de-lis and a stylized trillium, the provincial flower, representing the French-Canadian presence in Ontario.

Like Orillia, there are a few other civic flags in Ontario that get it right.

Flags of Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto

Thunder Bay’s flag depicts a rising sun above Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant, a prominent natural landmark across the water. The flag of Hamilton includes a yellow cinquefoil, the badge of the Clan of Hamilton, with a steel chain with six large links representing the steel industry and the six municipalities amalgamated into the modern city. The flag of Ottawa contains the civic logo, with the points representing waterways and the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Finally, the flag of Toronto has an abstract depiction of Toronto’s city hall, with a maple leaf where the council chamber sits. The two towers also make a “T.”

It’s a shame that Toronto doesn’t make more of its simple, yet great flag.

Unfortunately, most flags look like those used by Ontario’s third and fourth largest cities.

Mississauga’s flag violates most of the principles listed above by including the name of the place it represents, with the addition of “incorporated 1974” at the bottom. In the middle is the civic shield, with the typical trappings: a cog representing industry, a lighthouse representing a port (Port Credit), a waterwheel, a stalk of wheat, and wings, possibly representing Pearson Airport. Though Mississauga is a proud city with its own identity, this flag doesn’t appear except in front of civic buildings.

Brampton’s flag is just the civic shield on a white background, again with similar trappings: a bushel of wheat, a plow, a steam locomotive, and a beaver. According to the city’s website, the gold colour and castle top signify the city’s relation with the small Cumbrian town of Brampton, England. The shield dates from the small rural town before post-war growth, with only a pine tree in the middle to represent the old township of Chinguacousy it merged with. There’s no recognition of Brampton’s modern identity as a multicultural city.

But at least they’re not as bad as the worst city flag identified by the North American Vexillological Association, that of the city of Pocatello, Idaho, which manages to include the city slogan, a trademark, and a copyright notice. After some embarrassment, the city came up with a new, much better flag.

Old Flag of PocatelloThe former flag of Pocatello, Idaho

It would be wonderful to see Brampton and Mississauga come up with better designs. Brampton’s new logo and slogan, Flower City, better represents the city’s history and ambitions. A pretty good flag could be made out of that.

As for Toronto, let’s embrace our flag more. It’s a fine one and far better than the province’s. As Torontonians generally think of themselves as Canadian first, Torontonian second, and Ontarian third, perhaps we should give our municipal banner more love.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

Disappearing GO-TTC fare discount a major blow to regional transit in Toronto

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Updated January 22, 2020

The TTC-GO fare discount will officially come to an end on Tuesday March 31, 2020, with the TTC and Metrolinx unable to come to agreement to keep the fare subsidy going without provincial support.

As I argue below, this is a major blow to any hopes for an integrated regional transit system throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Subsidized transfers reduce the need to build expensive parking lots and garages, encourage more passengers to ride transit, especially in off-peak periods, and reduce the potential of major GO Transit expansion projects planned or underway.



Originally published July 12, 2019:

Earlier this week, transit riders learned that the fare discount for connecting between GO Transit and the TTC would soon come to an end.

The provincial Liberal government introduced the discounted double fare in 2017. It reduced the cost of a trip taken on both GO and TTC by $1.50 if the fare was paid on a Presto fare card. For many years, there were discounted transfers between GO and suburban transit agencies, but this was the first time such a discount was offered to TTC passengers.

The Liberals also planned discounts for transferring between suburban bus systems such as York Region Transit and Miway, subsidies that would have been covered by the provincial carbon pricing scheme. This would have reduced the impact of another fare barrier. (A short bus trip across Steeles Avenue costs nearly $7.)

When the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government was elected, the provincial climate change plan was scrapped, along with those planned fare changes. Now, the province will not renew the $18.5 million annual subsidy for linked GO-TTC fares, though it did introduce free fares for children on GO Transit.

This will especially affect commuters to York University, who previously enjoyed a one-seat ride to the heart of the campus on YRT and GO buses. When the subway extension opened, YRT retreated to terminals north of Steeles Avenue, forcing a transfer to the subway or a long walk across six lanes of traffic and campus parking lots. GO Transit, too, moved to a new terminal at Highway 407, two subway stops from campus. While GO commuters at least saved $3.00 a day with the discounted double fare, YRT commuters got nothing. (Of all the suburban agencies, only Brampton Transit continues to serve the campus.)

This is also a blow to what’s left of SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s signature transit plan that was once pitched as “London-style surface rail.” At first, SmartTrack was a 53-kilometre heavy-rail line, mostly piggybacking on existing GO Transit corridors, but including a problematic western branch to the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga, all on an integrated TTC fare. Eventually SmartTrack just consisted of more frequent, electric GO service, along with additional station stops and fare integration. This was much more realistic, but it distracted from other needs such as the Relief Line and GO’s own RER regional rail plan.

Lower GO fares for short trips and the TTC-GO fare discount were all part of this scaled-back version; as late as last year, Tory called additional fare integration a “critical component” of his pitch. Eliminating the fare discounts is yet another blow to SmartTrack.

As Jonathan English points out in Urban Toronto, the GO rail network represents “tremendous infrastructure that could greatly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians.” But it lies “letting it lie mostly dormant because we won’t make the comparatively small operating funding investments required to improve the service and make the fares fair.”

The $18.5 million annual cost is a small price to pay for improving transit accessibility and utilization of our existing corridors. Increasing that annual subsidy to reduce the cost of transfers between the TTC , York Region, Brampton, and Mississauga would, too be a worthwhile investment.

Sadly, the current provincial government does not see the value in promoting fairer fare systems, nor regional transit in general. In response to budget cuts, Metrolinx reduced or eliminated service on five GO bus routes last month, and more may be to come. While there may be enthusiasm for building a new “Ontario Line” and a subway extension to Richmond Hill, there’s little regard for the actual transit rider.

Categories
Ontario Transit

A patchwork of new intercity connections in Ontario

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RideNorfolk buses at Norfolk County Hall, Simcoe

Over the last three years, I wrote about the gaps in intercity rail and coach services in Ontario, and how some companies were working to fill them.

In Northern Ontario, Ontario Northland and Kasper Transportation worked to fill the void left by Greyhound’s departure from Western Canada, with both companies offering new links to towns such as Hearst and Fort Francis.

Unfortunately, there have also been some setbacks. Wroute, a shared taxi service in the Kitchener-Guelph-Hamilton triangle, was operational for less than a year. Though GO Transit added new weekday trains between Guelph and Kitchener, none allow for Kitchener-bound commutes, and there has not been interest in serving those gaps identified by Wroute.

Outside of Northern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe, many cities and towns remain disconnected from nearby communities and larger centres. Though every city and town in Ontario had daily bus and/or rail service in the 1980s, many communities are now completely inaccessible for anyone without access to a car. Though GO Transit expanded to Peterborough, Brantford, Niagara, and Kitchener in the last fifteen years, they are extensions of GO’s radial network from Toronto rather than a true intercity network.

St. Thomas, population 41,000, is the largest city in the province without any passenger links, despite being a short drive to London. Many other cities and towns — particularly in Midwestern and Eastern Ontario — find themselves in similar situations. A few other cities, such as Sarnia (which has just one train a day each way to London and Toronto), are grossly under-served.

But thanks to municipal innovation and a new provincial grant program, this is finally changing. Though several municipalities addressed this problem early on, three new inter-municipal bus systems began operations in 2019, with many more launching this year.