Categories
Roads Walking

Opening up the streets in Toronto and Guelph

Toronto’s Danforth Avenue has been transformed with new protected bike lanes and patio spaces

In the last few days, I visited Toronto’s Danforth Avenue and Downtown Guelph to see how municipalities can support local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Danforth Avenue, new interim bicycle lanes were installed between Broadview Avenue and Dawes Road, spanning three business improvement areas (Broadview Danforth, Greektown, and Danforth Mosaic). With the new bike lanes, dedicated spaces for restaurant patios were installed in the curb lanes. The new patios extended beyond restaurant storefronts, with spray-painted demarcations to mark each business’ territory. This gave businesses with limited or no indoor seating plenty of room to serve customers and recoup some of the lost business due to the pandemic.

Where one patio space begins and where another ends: Greektown on the Danforth

Though most curbside patio space was allocated to businesses, Muskoka chairs placed within the Destination Danforth area are free for anyone to sit, no purchase required. This helped make the setup perfect for pedestrians out for a stroll or headed to nearby businesses.

While cyclists are thrilled to get the new bike lanes (the Bloor-Danforth lanes will soon extend as far west as Runnymede Road once construction is complete on Bloor Street West), walking along the Danforth was the best way to see the changes.

Muskoka chairs on the left are may be used by anyone, while tables on the right allows a local restaurant to seat customers while maintaining physical distancing

In Downtown Guelph, the intersection of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets was closed to allow restaurants, bars, and breweries to operate large open air dining areas, in what is called the Downtown Dining District. Unlike The Danforth, patio areas allocated to local businesses in Guelph are enclosed with fences or ropes, but the centre of the street is free to walk or bike through.

The corner of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets, Guelph

Though the Downtown Dining District will only continue through Labour Day, the area was busy on a Wednesday afternoon and early evening. Most restaurants have been able to operate entirely with outdoor seating — thanks to generous canopies and umbrellas to provide protection from the sun and rain. This provides additional protection for restaurant staff and patrons. Though Phase 3 is in effect across the province (allowing for limited indoor dining), the fresh air is preferable.

Macdonell Street looking towards the Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate

Though it took a pandemic to rethink how we use our streets, it is nice to see these changes. Perhaps Guelph could make the Downtown Dining District an annual tradition, attracting visitors from nearby cities, like Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps the Destination Danforth changes also become permanent as well – after all, Torontonians love open streets and festivals.

Categories
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
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
Ontario Transit

Mind the gap: as Waterloo’s light rail line opens, other connections close

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ION LRT service will finally commence Friday June 21

Early in 2019, I had the opportunity to take a trip on Wroute, a new service that connected Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington. Wroute was an interesting concept, a privately-operated option with characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tried to fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. Unfortunately, Wroute ended operations on Thursday May 2.

As I wrote in my article for TVO, fares were too high for a regular commuter, costing $20 for a single ride between Guelph and Kitchener, and $28 between Guelph and Aldershot, more than double the equivalent GO Transit fares.

IMG_8407-001Wroute Testla at Guelph Central Station, January 2019

When Waterloo Region celebrates the opening of the ION LRT on June 21, the bus system in Kitchener-Waterloo will be restructured to better connect with the corridor. Despite the improvements within Waterloo Region, links are still needed to surrounding communities. Hamilton and Guelph remain largely disconnected. With a growing employment base in Kitchener-Waterloo, as well large university and college campuses in all four city-regions, filling the gap is more important than ever.

Hopefully this will come done soon.

 

 

Categories
Infrastructure Intercity Rail Transit

Filling the gap in Southwestern Ontario

9119948871_f1716baa80_oWhile there’s GO train service between Toronto, Guelph, and Kitchener, it’s inadequate for the regions’s transportation demands 

Earlier this year, I took a ride on Wroute, a new service connecting Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington that has some characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tries fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. It’s an interesting concept, but it is not enough to move commuters quickly, reliably, frequently and, most important, affordably.

I spoke with two Kitchener residents — James Bow, author and webmaster of Transit Toronto, and Brian Doucet, Canada Research Chair in cities planning at the University of Waterloo — to find out what the region really needs.

You can read the full article at the TVO website here.

IMG_8407-001.JPGTesla operated by Wroute at Guelph Central Station

Categories
Development History Ontario Urban Planning

Ontario’s failed downtown malls

IMG_0392.JPGBayside Mall, formerly the Sarnia Eaton Centre, on a Saturday morning in 2013. Most stores are vacant or occupied by non-profits or independent businesses.

The Toronto Eaton Centre, large, famous, and vital, is only one of many malls built in the downtown cores of Ontario cities between the 1960s and 1990s. From Thunder Bay to Cornwall, the construction of new enclosed shopping centres were seen as a necessary tool to keep the old city centres vibrant and relevant in the face of competition from new suburban malls. But only in the province’s two largest cities did the concept work. Elsewhere, these urban shopping complexes were left largely vacant within ten years of opening, when leases expired. When the Eaton’s department chain went bankrupt in 1997, huge voids were left behind that developers and municipalities struggled to fill.

The Toronto Eaton Centre was opened in two phases between 1977 and 1979. It added hundreds of shops and new office space to Downtown Toronto, anchored by a new Eaton’s flagship and was connected to the Simpson’s store across Queen Street. Today, the Eaton Centre is Canada’s second largest mall (including the Hudson’s Bay/Saks Fifth Avenue building) and the Toronto region’s second most productive shopping centre in terms of sales per square metre. In Ottawa, the downtown Rideau Centre, opened in 1983, is the busiest and most productive mall in that region (Retail Council of Canada, 2016).

But elsewhere in Ontario, downtown malls — mostly built with municipal and/or provincial government support — have been, without exception, commercial and urban development failures. Not only did they suffer from high vacancy rates, they helped to wreck the downtown cores they are located in rather than foster the economic revitalization they once promised.

Categories
Cycling Travels

A ride from Caledon to Guelph via the Elora-Cataract Trailway

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On Friday, September 2, I went for an 80 kilometre ride between Caledon and Guelph on what turned out to be a spectacular day: sunny, a high of 23 Celsius and without too much humidity. The summer of 2016 has been exceptionally hot and muggy for long-distance rides, so I’ve done fewer of them. I was lucky to have that Friday off.

I started my trip in Caledon Village, after taking a GO train to Brampton and transferring to GO Transit’s Route 37 Orangeville bus, which only runs on weekdays. This made the trip very difficult to do on a weekend (I would have to ride 20 kilometres up from Brampton, on busy roads, and up the Niagara Escarpment, otherwise). The racks at the front of GO buses are wonderful for getting out of town (I used GO’s bike racks on similar rides this year), but they tie you to a schedule.

Map of my ride

The Elora-Cataract Trailway, owned and managed by Credit Valley Conservation (Cataract to Hillsburgh), and the Grand River Conservation Authority (Hillsburgh to Elora) is one of the best rail trails that I have ever rode. The surface was in near perfect condition along the entire stretch. Wayfinding, including through a gap at Fergus, was great. Barriers at crossings keep motor vehicles out, but are not too difficult to get around for cyclists. And it’s easy enough to get to and from Guelph. But it’s not so easy to get to from Brampton/Caledon.

After getting off the Route 37 bus in Caledon Village, and after a quick stop there for refreshments, I rode west along Charleston Sideroad for four kilometres to Cataract Road, the only possible route without very lengthy and hilly detours.. That was the most aggravating and dangerous bike ride in a very long time. There’s no paved shoulder, so I rode on the white line demarcating the far right side of the lane. There are several quarries nearby, and Charleston Sideroad was once known as Highway 24. There were many quarry trucks and other large vehicles, most who refused to provide the mandatory 1-metre space that the Highway Traffic Act now mandates. One quarry truck driver blared his multiple times at me, angry and unwilling to share the road.

image1Westbound on Charleston Sideroad

The dirt shoulder, filled with large stones and debris, is not suitable for cycling. The Region of Peel, responsible for this road, should pave the shoulders as soon as possible. Improved connections to Brampton and the Caledon Trailway should also be identified and built. But once off Charleston Sideroad, the ride quickly became one of my favourites. 

Categories
Cycling Travels

A ride through Midwestern Ontario, Part I

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Just prior to Labour Day weekend, I went on a two-day bike excursion west of Toronto, starting in Guelph, staying in Downtown Kitchener, and finishing my ride in Downtown Hamilton. [Part II, Kitchener to Hamilton is here.]

I find that cycling long distances, especially in the countryside, is valuable “me” time. I go at my own place, which is great, because I do not have the stamina nor the build for keeping up with seasoned road cyclists. In my opinion, well-maintained rail trails are excellent — there are no hills to climb, no traffic to deal with (except where the trail crosses busy country roads), and there is much peace and quiet. Fellow trail users are friendly, a nod, a hello, or a wave are normally exchanged by passing cyclists or pedestrians.

On the first day of this 160-kilometre ride, I rode from Guelph, through West Montrose, Elmira, and St. Jacobs to Downtown Kitchener. I stopped at a covered bridge, rode through several charming small towns, sampled the beers of a craft brewery celebrating its second anniversary, and checked out some interesting cycling infrastructure shared by a very different form of muscle-powered transport.

I don’t have a car, so planning rural rides are little bit more challenging. Happily, for most out-of-town ride I rely on GO Transit’s trains and buses, which provide an opportunity for one-way or “open-jaw” trips without worrying about the logistics of organizing shuttle rides. In the last few years, I’ve used GO Transit to get to/from Uxbridge, Lindsay and Peterborough, Hamilton (and on to Port Dover by bike), Niagara Region, Georgetown and Newmarket, and Barrie (and on to Orillia and Midland), these cities served by GO are all great places to start or finish a ride.

IMG_4943-002Downtown Guelph. The Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate dominates McConnell Street (photo taken earlier this year)

On a pleasant Saturday, I loaded my bike on the rack took a GO bus from the Union Station Bus Terminal to Guelph, a long bus ride that took nearly two hours. GO Transit’s buses are quite comfortable; if you’re planning to bring a bike along, just be sure to arrive early to make sure you get one of the two bike rack spots.