Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

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Parks across Canada are closed, with the exception of walking through

On Saturday April 11, during the Easter long weekend, the City of Toronto announced that a team of over 350 police officers and bylaw enforcement officers would shift from an education-based campaign of verbal and written warnings to people congregating and using closed amenities in parks to a zero-tolerance ticketing campaign. Tickets for violating orders — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — include a fine of up $1,000.

In the press release, the city listed twenty parks specifically targeted for enforcement. Though most are located in the old City of Toronto and along Lake Ontario, there are several others located in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

The list of parks include several along Toronto’s waterfront, including Humber Bay Park, Woodbine Beach, and Bluffers Park. It also includes several small downtown parks adjacent to recent high rise residential development, including Corktown Common, College Park, and Allan Gardens. Large suburban parks known for family gatherings and picnics, such as Earl Bales, G. Ross Lord, and Sunnybrook Parks are also on the list.

These parks are illustrated in the map below.

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Parks targeted by the City of Toronto for stricter enforcement (click for larger image)

Though many of us are at home, working remotely or waiting for schools and workplaces to reopen, those employed in essential industries and services do not have a choice. For the rest of us not required to self-isolate, an occasional walk or bicycle ride is good for our mental and physical well-being. It may be necessary to pick up food and prescriptions.

For those of us without yards and quiet residential neighbourhoods, going outside means either navigating narrow and occasionally crowded sidewalks, or going to nearby small and busy parks, especially those without access to a car. In my experience so far, the vast majority of people are respecting the calls for physical distancing.

Closing parking lots and amenities such as playgrounds and picnic facilities makes sense. Where possible, we shouldn’t be straying far from home while physically distancing, and we should be keeping close to those we’re living with. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people live in apartments in Mimico and Humber Bay Shores; they shouldn’t be crowded out of their own backyard by others seeking a stroll along the waterfront.

But downtown and in the Yonge-Eglinton area, quiet open spaces close to home may be hard to come by. Sidewalks are narrow, construction barriers such as scaffolding make physical distancing especially difficult, and along Eglinton Avenue, Crosstown LRT construction has made getting around on foot especially challenging, with pedestrians often restricted to narrow passages.

These help to explain the problems at College Park, Eglinton Park, and Allan Gardens. Furthermore, Allan Gardens is close to several shelters and social services such as Seaton House, and has long been a place for marginalized residents to socialize and linger.

This is one more reason why dense, growing urban neighbourhoods require more space. Increasing the space allotted to pedestrians and cyclists by removing underused traffic lanes would provide some of that relief.

This was the argument made by two associate professors of epidemiology at Ryerson University, who sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, arguing for more road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

How to reimagine our streets during a pandemic

Queen Street West, late March 2020
Nobody’s going to be flocking to the streets during a pandemic

In an interview with local news station CP24, Mayor John Tory said that the city was considering implementing one-way directional traffic on city sidewalks as part of a response to COVID-19. This idea was considered as a measure to ensure physical distancing on Toronto’s sidewalks.

The mayor, however, does not support the alternate solution of increasing the amount of road space given to pedestrians and cyclists. With traffic on major routes such as Yonge, Queen, and Bloor reduced, and most businesses closed, it would be easy to provide additional space for pedestrians without causing traffic congestion. According to the mayor, “it could have the unintended effect of attracting more pedestrians to busy areas, something the city is actively trying to discourage right now.”

That’s ridiculous.

With businesses closed, no patios to linger at, and no programming (unlike at any other street closure, whether it be Taste of the Danforth, Open Streets, Pride Week, or Buskerfest), pedestrians will not be attracted to linger and crowd sidewalks in dense urban neighbourhoods. However, they will be able to walk to work, get to essential services, exercise the dog, or get some fresh air, without having to dodge other people or sidewalk barriers, such as construction scaffolding.

Furthermore, enforcing one-way sidewalks — the city’s only other idea — would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would  only increase the distance pedestrians would have to walk to get to work or essential services. It would go against centuries of practice, and it would encourage less-safe midblock crossings. It would be especially cumbersome for seniors and pedestrians with disabilities. 

While Toronto continues to do nothing to protect vulnerable road users during a pandemic, other cities — including Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Denver, and Oakland— have closed entire roads to better serve pedestrians and cyclists in parks and dense urban areas. Closer to home, Kitchener and Brampton have also taken steps to to assist active transportation during this unprecedented time.

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King Street, Downtown Kitchener

A decade ago, King Street in Downtown Kitchener was reconstructed with new lighting, street furniture, trees, and a rolled curb separating the narrow street with sidewalk and street parking and loading areas, which were separated from the pedestrian area by removable bollards. As a response to COVID-19, most of the parking spots were blocked off, with the bollards moved towards the roadways, quickly and easily expanding the pedestrian zone. With new residential development in Downtown Kitchener, several portions of the regular sidewalk were covered with scaffolding. The widened pedestrian clearway made it easy and safe to get around the barriers, allowing pedestrians to practice physical distancing.

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Bollards moved close to the street, and parking banned. It’s much easier to get around the construction scaffolding.

Meanwhile, in Brampton, where sidewalk crowding isn’t usually a problem, the city government went ahead with a plan to close the right lanes of Howden Boulevard and Vodden Street — four-lane collector roads through residential areas — to install temporary bike lanes. This will provide a five-kilometre bikeway across the city between Etobicoke Creek and Chinguacousy Park, crossing Highway 410 at a safe location.

Installing temporary lanes makes it easier in the future to make the lanes permanent — Vodden and Howden could use road diets after all — which could connect three north-south ravine paths and connect Downtown Brampton with Bramalea City Centre. City Council — including Mayor Patrick Brown — is committed to improving the city’s rather poor active transportation infrastructure.

Brampton Temp Bike Lanes
Temporary bike lanes coming to Howden Blvd. in Brampton

While Toronto continues to drag its heels on providing safe spaces for its residents to walk and bike while being physically distant, its peer cities — and even one of its suburbs, are leading. One can only speculate about the reasoning behind Mayor Tory’s reluctance to do more.

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
Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping TTC crowding during a pandemic

IMG_6314Rear door boarding on TTC buses is just one measure the TTC has taken to address the COVID-19 crisis

Note to readers: I have since written an updated version article (with a revised map) on Spacing’s website.


While most people are urged to stay home as much as possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are those who must carry on. These include health care workers, staff at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses, and others who can not work from home. There are also those who continue to require transit to undertake essential errands, such as medical appointments.

Thankfully, most transit systems have carried on. Through GO Transit has experienced an 80% drop in ridership since the beginning of March, it continues to operate all rail lines and most bus routes, providing fewer trips, but maintaining the same span of service hours. The TTC discontinued most express routes, but it maintains a grid of frequent bus and streetcar services.

However, the TTC and Brampton Transit continue to struggle with crowding on certain routes. Brampton Transit — which has resorted to an “enhanced Saturday service” level –will only carry half a bus’s seated capacity to enforce social distancing, which has resulted in “closed-door” situations where buses won’t stop for waiting passengers. As a result, several routes are now discontinued during peak periods so that buses are sent to address crowding elsewhere. Brampton Transit serves many shipping warehouses, including two Amazon fulfillment centres, which remain busy during this time.

Meanwhile, the TTC is struggling with morning rush hour crowding on ten bus routes:

  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Rd North

These routes, mostly clustered in the city’s northwest, are illustrated below.

TTC_COVID_CROWDSMap of overcrowded early morning TTC routes during the COVID-19 pandemic
(click for larger version)

Routes 117 and 119 are industrial services, connecting warehouses and food service plants. These industries — like the infamous Fiera Foods plants served by Route 119 — rely on low-paid, often temporary workers, with early morning starts. Certain warehouses and many food-service plants also have very early starts to the day. It would be tough for workers to accommodate the TTC’s request to travel at later times. Routes 96, 102, and 165 also extend into major industrial areas. Route 123 serves the Metro supermarket chain’s distribution centres on Dundas Street and The West Mall.

Many of these routes run through Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas, which are identified by the city as those requiring additional investment due to issues such as poor access to services and higher concentrations of low-income families. In addition, routes 41, 96, 119, and 165 serve the Humber River Regional Hospital, one of Toronto’s largest health care facilities, while the 96 Wilson also directly serves Etobicoke General Hospital.

Though it would be best for private essential employers to stagger shifts during this unprecedented time, there may be a need for the TTC to redirect some resources towards these parts of the city.

Categories
Roads Toronto

Signs of the times

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Electronic sign on the Don Valley Parkway

I had access to a car yesterday, so I drove to a suburban supermarket to stock up on some large and bulky items we needed — things such as laundry detergent — to get through the next few weeks of physical distancing. Normally, I’ll walk to the nearest supermarket, only a few minutes away, but this way, I could get a lot done at once.

Though many shelves remain empty (pasta, rice, paper towels, and toilet paper remain in short supply), and cashier lines long (with tape marking where customers should wait, minimizing close contact), the mood remains friendly and polite among shoppers and staff alike. This is certainly a bright point in these difficult times.

IMG_6324Empty shelves at the supermarket

While running these essential errands, I took a GoPro camera, and mounted it to the front of the dashboard. It made for a very interesting view of the Gardiner Expressway at mid-morning, when the elevated highway is usually congested. When built, the Gardiner passed by rail yards, factories, and warehouses, south of the Downtown Core. Now the roadway runs between tall office and residential towers, with more being built all the time.

When it’s free-flowing, the Gardiner makes for a visually fascinating drive.

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
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
Politics Toronto Transit

The TTC needs customer buy-in, not a campaign of scolding its passengers

IMG_7472-003Imagine any retail store welcoming its customers the way the Toronto Transit Commission does these days.

This week, at least two TTC streetcars were wrapped with messages promoting the transit agency’s new aggressive anti-fare evasion campaign. Any passenger caught by fare inspectors or special constables without a valid fare is subject to a fine of up to $425.

As a regular, fare-paying passenger, I am sympathetic to the TTC’s need to balance its books — it relies on transit fares for 68 percent of its $2.14 billion operating budget — but the more aggressive fare enforcement program — including advertisements inside vehicles and stations and hiring 50 more fare inspectors in 2020 — is insulting to its customers.

Typically, businesses and public services strive to welcome their clientele and promote themselves to potential new customers. At one time, the TTC even ran television commercials, with a particular focus on promoting off-peak ridership.

Not anymore.

Customer notices on posters and on the PA system are restricted to subway closure notices, reminders about etiquette, and now warnings of $425 fines for not tapping a Presto card. Riders are no longer thanked for using the TTC. Instead, we’re subjected to poor and inconsistent service, streetcar shortages, regular weekend subway closures, fare hikes, and repeals of recent fare integration measures, along with lectures on fare payment.

Other transit and municipal politics writers, including Steve Munro, Matt Elliott, and Ben Spurr have written about the TTC’s push for stricter fare enforcement as well as the problems passengers have when paying, including malfunctioning Presto readers and fare payment machines, and overcrowded vehicles. Fare payment machines do not accept bank notes, debit, or credit cards. Though the TTC estimates that 5.7 percent of all riders engage in fare evasion, the rate on streetcars, where passengers board from all doors and tap or pay on board, is 15.9 percent.

There has been an inconsistent approach to fare enforcement, with inspectors commonly found at streetcar terminals at subway stations. There are reports and credible accusations of racial profiling by fare enforcement officers.

A friendlier and more wholesome approach would be addressing the technical problems, including the reliability of fare machines, and replacing generic Presto cards being used for child fares that other passengers — such as York University Station — are illegitimately using. There should also be a friendlier education campaign, enforcement discretion, and less aggressive behaviour towards customers, would make far more sense. If the TTC is truly interested in “disrupting” negative behaviour, it should adopt a customer service model, and address the distrust towards its officers from racialized and economically marginalized communities.

Putting aside the bad optics of the crackdown on fare evasion, transit ad wraps are an insult to transit riders. Furthermore, they are a detriment to the brand. Toronto’s streetcars are an icon of this great city; this is cheapened by gigantic ads for Starbucks, Sephora, or Scotiabank.

Inside, the large panoramic windows are obscured by perforated vinyl sheeting that is difficult to see out of. Though the vinyl wraps leave a sliver at seat level, the view is obstructed for anyone standing on a crowded vehicle.

IMG_5204-001A typical streetcar advertising wrap

The current 12-year, $324-million contract with Pattison Outdoor brings in a total of $27 million a year. The contract includes interior and exterior transit advertising (traditional placards, posters in stations and vehicles, and wraps). In total, advertising in all forms represents 1.1 percent of the entire TTC budget, with wraps representing a small portion of that. These wraps, commissioned by the TTC itself, are part of the contact.

Messages on the newly wrapped TTC streetcar

The streetcar wraps that scold, rather than welcome, riders are even more of an insult. What message do they send to visitors to Toronto? And what message do they send to potential riders?

Customer buy-in is about so much more than just paying one’s fare. The TTC should realize that.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: Supertest Road

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On Tuesday, January 21, a 26-year-old woman was struck and killed by the driver of a tractor-trailer at the corner of Supertest Road and Alness Street in North York. According to police, the truck driver was making a right turn from Supertest south to Alness when he hit the pedestrian.

Last week, I paid a visit to the intersection, located in an industrial area off Dufferin Street, just south of Steeles Avenue. It was immediately apparent that pedestrians are an afterthought in this part of the city, and tragedy was inevitable.

The intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest cornerThe intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest corner

I took the 105 Dufferin North bus from Sheppard West Station and got off at Supertest Road before walking west towards Alness Street. I pressed the beg button to cross Dufferin, but it did not work, so I crossed with the solid “don’t walk” sign. At least I had enough time to cross before traffic on Dufferin got the green light. With a bus stop at the intersection, G. Ross Lord Park to the east, and a busy supermarket on the southwest corner, there is no excuse for a malfunctioning pedestrian signal. In fact, the walk signal should appear by default.

As I walked westward on Supertest, the lone sidewalk on the south side of the street came to an end at an industrial driveway about halfway between Dufferin and Alness. With the snow, I was forced to walk on the street, which was busy with cars and trucks. Without any sidewalk, anyone using a wheeled device would also be forced on the street.

End of sidewalkThe only sidewalk on Supertest Road comes to an end halfway between Dufferin and Alness

With my smartphone, I recorded my walk along the curb towards Alness Street, avoiding the snowbanks, debris, and motor traffic. It was not a pleasant walk.

The intersection of Supertest and Alness is a signalized intersection, with pedestrian signals and crosswalks on all four sides. Alness has a through sidewalk, but only on the east side of the street. The intersection is surrounded by a scrapyard on the southwest corner, a bank on the northwest corner, and warehouses to the east. The missing sidewalk on the south side Supertest east of the intersection resumes west of Alness.

The traffic lights are on a timer, and walk signals automatically appear, so there are no beg buttons at Alness and Supertest. What I noticed during my visit is that motorists will regularly rush to get through an amber signal, sometimes running a red. Truck drivers make wide right turns. Though the area is not pedestrian friendly, I did note several pedestrians in the area, running errands at the bank or walking to and from several of the nearby businesses.

Truck turning from Supertest to Alness

Finally, I noted the sharrows, the signed bicycle route on Supertest Road, and the TTC stop on the north side. The cycle route is supposed to connect G. Ross Lord Park on the east side of Dufferin to Flint Road to the west and south to the Finch Corridor Recreational Trail, but it’s not an enticing place to bike. Meanwhile, the TTC stop, for the limited-service 117 Alness route, is inaccessible without a sidewalk leading to it.

Looking west on Supertest RoadLooking west on Supertest Road, with the sharrow, TTC stop, and bike route sign on the right

Everything about this industrial intersection was designed to fail pedestrians and cyclists. Last week, it did exactly that.