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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.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

Unfair GO fares on the Highway 407 Corridor

GO bus with bicycle

Since 1967, GO Transit’s primary focus has been its commuter rail lines radiating from Downtown Toronto, sometimes to the detriment of other transit needs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, with bus routes complementing and supplementing that rail network. But twenty years ago, the regional transit service launched a new bus route that connected York University with suburban GO stations and bus terminals, filling in a gap and setting a precedent for expansion to other university and college campuses.

Late last year, I analysed the GO Transit rail fare structure that centres on Toronto Union Station, following up on previous work. GO Transit claims to operate on a fare-by-distance structure, this is not quite the case. Generally, the longer one travels, the less the passenger pays per distance traveled. 

Though the GO Transit fare structure was recently improved with new lower fares for short trips, there are still significant fare inequities and discrepancies, with Barrie and Richmond Hill Corridor passengers paying the least per kilometre traveled, and Kitchener Corridor passengers paying the most. 

The fare discrepancies on the Highway 407 corridor — which is made up of eight bus routes that serve the Highway 407 bus terminal and TTC subway station in Vaughan — are even greater than that on the rail network. A passenger going from Markham GO Station, 27 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will only pay $3.70 with a Presto card. A passenger from Bramalea GO Station, just 18.7 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will pay over two dollars more. 

Categories
Ontario Transit

Going for a ride on the Bolton Bus

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Caledon, a town of 66,000 located northwest of Toronto, is known for charming villages, fall colours, and horse farms. Its most popular landmarks include the waterfall at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, the unique Cheltenham Badlands, and the vast Albion Hills Conservation Area. Much of the municipality lies within Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt protected areas, with lands set aside for farms, estates, parks, and golf. That’s how many Caledonians like it.

Despite its green reputation, Caledon is urbanizing its southeastern quadrant, filling it up with warehouses, truck terminals, and low-density residential subdivisions, all adjacent to the built-up areas of Brampton and Vaughan. Bolton, once a small village, now has a population of 20,000. New subdivisions north of Mayfield Road are indistinguishable from Brampton’s residential development.

Though two GO Transit bus routes ran through Caledon, it had no transit system of its own. This was becoming more of a problem as new warehouses employing thousands of workers opened GO Transit’s buses were scheduled to connect with trains to and from Downtown Toronto, not to serve reverse commuters. Though Brampton Transit operated several routes close to Caledon’s borders, it could not extend north of Mayfield Road without an agreement with the town.

Despite Caledon’s historical resistance to public transit, its attitude slowly changed for the better.

In May 2010, Brampton Transit’s 30 Airport Road bus was extended to the AMB (now Prologis) warehouse complex just north of Mayfield Road. This was done at the request of AMB, though the Town of Caledon had to agree to the request for service.

In 2015, Caledon began to study the need for a local transit system, retaining consultants from Steer Group to evaluate and develop options for new transit services, including routes, operators, and service hours. In April 2019, the report to council recommended starting with a route on Kennedy Road in Mayfield West (contracted by Brampton Transit) and a route connecting employment areas in Bolton with Brampton Transit and YRT at Highways 7 and 50 (contracted to a third party), with a demand-response service within Bolton and an extension of a future Brampton Transit route along Mayfield Road provided within a second phase.

Meanwhile, GO Transit announced the abandonment of Route 38 in June, citing the planned new local transit service as justification for the cut, even though it wasn’t yet setup. Though GO partially restored the service (two daily round trips to Malton GO continue, for now), it remains a short-term solution.

The Mayfield West service — Brampton Transit Route 81 — began in September, connecting with the 502 Züm at Sandalwood Parkway. On Monday, November 11, 2019, the Bolton Route began service, contracted to Voyago. Both routes operate on 30 minute frequencies, weekday peak hours only.

IMG_4900-001.JPGNew Brampton Transit stop on Kennedy Road in Caledon

The two separate agreements don’t work that well for creating a unified transit service.

Though Route 81 and the Bolton Route both have a $4.00 cash fare, the Brampton Transit-contracted service operates on that agency’s fare structure. There’s a discount for Presto card users and a two-hour transfer valid on any other Brampton Transit route. The 80 cent co-fare to and from GO Transit also applies (Route 81 connects with the frequent 502 bus to Downtown Brampton). It’s a good deal for residents in west Caledon.

However, the Voyago-contracted buses serving Bolton are only equipped with a fare box, and only accept $4.00 cash fares. There are no free transfers to or from connecting buses at Highways 7 and 50. (Brampton Transit routes 501 Züm, 1, 23, and 36 connect there, as does YRT route 77. It’s a few minutes’ walk to BT routes 31 and 50.)

Last week, I took the new Bolton bus to get a feel for the new service. The Bolton line operates with two minibuses with twenty seats each and a spot for mobility devices at the rear. Within Bolton, the bus makes a long loop, primarily serving the industrial area in the southwestern quadrant.

I boarded an afternoon bus from Highway 7 at 3:26 PM and rode to Downtown Bolton. I returned on the bus leaving Bolton at 4:30 PM. I was the only passenger each way; I was told by one driver that was typical. By riding the bus, I was able to learn about some of Caledon’s challenges.

Transit options from Caledon council reportCaledon Transit high-priority route options from the April 2019 council report

If the Bolton Line were integrated with York Region Transit and Brampton Transit and made more stops within Brampton. There are several major employers on the Vaughan side of Highway 50, including XPO Logistics, Home Depot, and the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. Additional stops at Major Mackenzie/Coleraine, Rutherford/Castlemore, Trade Valley/Bellechase, and Zenway/Cortrelle would make the bus more accessible and useful to residents and employers. Another stop at Queen Street (Highway 7) and Gore Road would improve connections to Route 50, which serves Humber College.

Those additional stops would likely require a third bus, but the current route struggles to maintain a 60-minute round trip even with the limited stops currently in place. But with fare integration and local service, it could then attract more passengers, defraying the cost of the additional vehicle and operator.

In the long term, it would be good to see more cooperation with Brampton Transit, especially as Brampton continues to develop new subdivisions and industrial lands in the northeast, in the areas bordering Caledon and Vaughan. If GO Transit goes ahead and abandons the remnant of Route 38 an express route between Bolton and Malton GO will still be necessary; ideally, that would would be a partnership between Brampton and Caledon.

Hopefully, Caledon will continue its commitment to building a transit service within its urbanized area. Despite very low ridership at present, the potential is there as population and employment continue to grow. It will take time to tweak the service, improve connections, and build ridership that can count on affordable, reliable transit.

It’s also time for Halton Hills — now the last GTHA municipality without local transit — to step up and follow Caledon’s lead.

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
History Ontario Travels

The long way to Pembroke

IMG_4409-001Layover at Barry’s Bay

A few weeks ago, I went for another long-distance bus trip. I started my journey in Downtown Toronto, and continued on to Peterborough and Pembroke, before arriving in Ottawa late in the evening.  Apart from the Toronto-Peterborough leg aboard a packed, delayed bus, this was the most pleasant of all my long-distance bus trips.

Greyhound’s Peterborough-Pembroke route only operates a few days a week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is one of the last rural bus routes operated by Greyhound Canada as most remaining routes operate on highways between large urban centres. The bus follows Highways 28, 62, and 60, stopping at small towns such as Bancroft, Maynooth and Barry’s Bay. North of Lakefield, the route passes through the Canadian Shield, with its lakes, rocks, and trees.

As I traveled on last Friday in September, the fall colours were almost at their peak in the Haliburton Highlands, making this an especially scenic ride. There was an informal fifteen-minute stop in Barry’s Bay, enough time to get a decent coffee and a snack.

IMG_4404-001The view from Highway 28 near Bancroft, September 27

At Bancroft, we passed by the old Central Ontario Railway Station. Passenger service ended in the 1950s, while the tracks were torn up in the 1980s. The station was preserved and is now a local museum. In front, a dozen citizens took part in a local climate strike that took place across Canada, part of the Global Week for Future. It was nice to see residents take part, even in small town Ontario.

IMG_4406-001.JPGClimate strikers in Bancroft. The former railway station stands behind

At Pembroke, I had several hours before the Ontario Northland bus departed for Ottawa. While Pembroke’s downtown core could use some TLC, it has great bones and a great collection of heritage buildings, including a late Victorian post office, its late Art Moderne replacement, the historic Renfrew County courthouse, solid commercial blocks, and a fascinating library.

IMG_4455-001Downtown Pembroke

IMG_4478-001.JPGIMG_4420-002.JPGPembroke’s post offices. The 1888 building, designed by Thomas Fuller, is now City Hall. The 1950s replacement, on the left, still houses Canada Post. 

Pembroke’s public library is especially unique, as it looks like it could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1914, it was designed by Francis Conroy Sullivan, a Canadian-born architect who studied under Wright in Chicago before establishing his firm in Ottawa. Expansions and renovations have remained faithful to the Prairie Style architecture.

IMG_4475-001Entrance to the Pembroke Public Library

IMG_4472-001.JPGLibrary interior

Though Pembroke was served by three different railways — the Canadian Pacific transcontinental mainline, a branch of the Canada Atlantic that operated between Montreal and Parry Sound, and the Canadian Northern — all tracks were removed by 2013, when Canadian National ripped up the Beachburg Subdivision. None of the station buildings survive, but the abandoned rights-of-way are still intact. At the west end of town, a long trestle now carries a snowmobile trail where the CN mainline once crossed the Indian River.

IMG_4437-002Former CN trestle, Pembroke

The removal of the CN and CP routes through the Ottawa Valley were especially unfortunate, as all through freight and passenger traffic across Canada must now pass through Greater Toronto. This was the result of cost-cutting and the loss of local rail customers, such as lumber and pulp industries. The Commonwealth Plywood plant in Pembroke still stands as a reminder of the industrial past of the Upper Ottawa Valley.

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Abandoned Commonwealth Plywood plant

The last passenger train, VIA’s Canadian, called at Pembroke in 1990. But there are two daily bus trips in each direction between Ottawa and North Bay/Sudbury, one operated by Greyhound, the other by Ontario Northland. From Pembroke, I was able to take a Northland bus that left at 9:00 PM, arriving in Ottawa by 11:00 PM. This gave me plenty of time for dinner after a long walk around town.

My trip to Pembroke made for a pleasant detour, giving me a chance to see another part of Ontario.

Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Transit Travels

O-Train impressions: this is what LRT looks like

IMG_4614-001Confederation Line train approaching Tremblay Station

Last weekend, I visited Ottawa to check out the new Confederation Line LRT. Canada’s newest rapid transit line, delayed by two years, finally opened on Saturday, September 14. It is the second LRT to open in Ontario this year; Waterloo Region’s ION service opened in June.

The new 13-station Confederation Line includes a 2.5-kilometre tunnel under Downtown Ottawa, with three stations deep underground. Phase 2 will add 15 more stations to the Confederation Line. I was impressed with the speed, accessibility, and capacity of the new LRT, though I noticed a few flaws, some of which hopefully will be corrected.

The Confederation Line is not the Ottawa Region’s first rapid transit project, however. The Transitway first opened in 1983, one of the world’s first true bus rapid transit systems. Rapibus, a BRT corridor in Gatineau similar to the Transitway, opened in 2013. In 2001, the Trillium Line, a diesel light rail service, opened. It operates on a disused Canadian Pacific Railway corridor through Carleton University. Collectively, the Confederation Line (Line 1) and the Trillium Line (Line 2) are marked at the O-Train.

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Trillium Line DMU train approaching Carleton University

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O-Train and bus rapid transit map from the OC Transpo website. The Confederation Line is marked on maps and signs as Line 1; the diesel Trillium Line as Line 2.

The first phase of Line 1 replaces the busiest section of the Transitway, including the congested on-street downtown section on Albert and Slater Streets. Though most sections of the Transitway are grade-separated — following the Queensway (Highway 417) on the east end and an abandoned railway corridor on the west end — the downtown section was the weak link. As OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit agency operated dozens of suburban express routes into the Transitway during weekday peak periods, lines of buses would often stretch for blocks, an especially inefficient transit operation.

6205682867_7d38a920b6_o.jpgBus congestion on the Mackenzie King Bridge in Downtown Ottawa in 2011

With most buses gone from the downtown core, the LRT allows for much more efficient operations, even if many commuters no longer enjoy a one-seat ride to work.

At several stations, including the Transitway connections at Blair, Tunney’s Pasture and Hurdman, fare-paid areas allow passengers to move between bus and train without having to tap at faregates or show fare payment to the bus operator, like many TTC subway stations. This helps to ensure the LRT is a backbone to a strong feeder bus network, rather than a stand-alone operation.

Most stations are equipped with escalators as well as multiple stairways. There were two side-by-side elevators at most points, providing the necessary redundancy to ensure full barrier-free accessibility. Access is controlled with fare gates like those in Toronto, where Presto cards, paper tickets, and transfers provide access to platform level. All O-Train stations are identified by a simple red circle at each entrance that looks similar to a Lifesaver candy.

IMG_4483-002.JPGDowntown entrance to Lyon Station, with the O-Train “Lifesaver” totem

Unfortunately, some of those rail-bus connections require a long walk outside, such as at Hurdman Station. This was probably the greatest flaw I experienced during my visit last week. Though it was tolerable on a sunny September afternoon, it would be extremely unpleasant in winter or during a rainstorm. It’s unfortunate that the bus terminal was not better thought out to minimize distances between buses and train platforms.

Ottawa - Hurdman Station
Bus bay E at Hurdman Station. The bus in the distance is in front of the entrance to the train platforms

A long-term challenge for the Confederation Line is the ability to direct transit-oriented development around many of the new stations. Though Hurdman Station is major transfer point with the Southeast Transitway, it is located in a floodplain next to the Rideau River. Iris and Blair Stations are located within highway interchanges. There is more potential around Pimisi Station (in the Lebreton Flats, which are already seeing new urban development), St-Laurent (where a second-tier mall could be urbanized), and possibly Cyrville. But all east-end stations are limited by the Queensway.

These bus transfer and land use concerns were also raised by Alex Bozikovic at the Globe and Mail.


Vicinity of Hurdman Station
To the west, however, there is lots of potential for the government office complex at Tunney’s Pasture, which is surrounded by thousands of surface parking lots, as well as eastern Phase 2 stations, which will follow former railway and streetcar corridors, allowing for infill development and urbanization.

IMG_4502-001Train arriving at the Tunney’s Pasture terminal

Light rail transit is misunderstood in Toronto, where it is often equated with streetcars, rather than a flexible rapid transit solution. Indeed, light rail covers a wide spectrum, from traditional streetcars, like the TTC’s legacy street railway, to fully grade-separated high-speed LRTs, like Ottawa’s new line. (The Waterloo ION LRT, with a mix of reserved lanes, median operation, and off-road segments, fits somewhere in between.)

The Confederation Line’s average speed is 31 km/h, with a top speed of 80 km/h. In comparison, TTC Line 1 has a weekday average speed of 28 km/h, and the 501 Queen Streetcar has an average speed of just 9.9 km/h during the morning rush hour. The Waterloo ION LRT currently has an average speed of 21 km/h.

It is worth noting that the Scarborough RT replacement, once fully funded and ready to start construction six years ago, would have been just as fast and smooth as the Confederation Line. Instead, our local and provincial politicians continue to spin their wheels on planning a subway extension that’s going nowhere. Meanwhile, Ottawa has already started work on Phase 2 of its light rail network.

IMG_4493-001The end of the beginning: the old Transitway is visible west of Tunney’s Pasture, where Phase 2 of the Confederation Line will continue towards Baseline and Moodie Stations

The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT will have a long underground segment, with two-car LRT trains similar to those used in Ottawa. When that opens — planned for late 2021 — Torontonians will finally get a taste of high-order light rail transit.

Categories
Ontario Roads

The north needs roads

IMG_2905.JPGNipigon River Bridge, August 2019

In January 2016, a bridge over the Nipigon River failed. Located roughly 100 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, it formed part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The only east-west link between Western and Eastern Canada was severed, with the only detour through the United States.

Climate change, road safety, and access to remote First Nations communities are some of the unique challenges facing Northern Ontario, where highways are especially important. Though highways fall under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has a role in funding infrastructure and economic development.

I examine these issues in more detail in my latest article on TVO’s website.

Categories
Intercity Rail Ontario Travels

Trekking across Northern Ontario

IMG_2761-001.JPGVIA RDC train about to depart Sudbury for White River

Last month, I embarked on a journey from Toronto to Thunder Bay, a distance of over 1,300 kilometres. My journey took me nearly three days as I opted to travel by bus and rail, rather than by car or by air. Though I had to take three separate trips to accomplish it (an Ontario Northland bus, a VIA Rail RDC train, and a Kasper Transportation mini-bus), it was a very interesting trip.

IMG_2768.JPGUnloading a canoe from the RDC on the Spanish River, northwest of Sudbury

Once I arrived in Thunder Bay, I rented a car. Though I know Northeastern Ontario quite well, I had yet to visit Northwestern Ontario (a brief stop in Sioux Lookout on VIA’s Canadian notwithstanding). There are several beautiful provincial parks within a short drive of Thunder Bay, and the city itself has a few interesting sights. Highway 17 along the Lake Superior shoreline is probably Ontario’s most scenic drive.

Travelling without a car has its challenges, especially as the traveler is at the mercy of sudden schedule changes, traffic delays, and other hiccups, but it is still possible to get across Northern Ontario even after Greyhound’s withdrawal from Western Canada and Northern Ontario last year.

I wrote about my experience for TVO.

KasperBusWhiteRiver.JPGKasper Transporation bus at White River – filling the gap left by Greyhound