Categories
Brampton Infrastructure Politics Transit

Terminal Gateway: how bad decisions will affect the safety thousands of daily transit riders

Brampton Gateway Terminal from the southeast corner of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue, Brampton

Last month, Metrolinx held a virtual open house to present information on the progress of the Hurontario LRT project, planned work, and details on some of the stops along the line. For now, roadwork is limited to median removal and utility relocation, but by next year, heavy construction will commence along the 18-kilometre long corridor.

I was hoping to get some information on the northern terminus, at Steeles Avenue in Brampton, but no details were provided. I took the opportunity to ask specific questions about the transfer between the LRT and local buses, but I was disappointed by the answer.

If Metrolinx goes ahead with their plans for a minimal station on the south side of the intersection, anyone connecting between modes will be forced to cross two sides of a busy, hazardous intersection at grade, impacting both accessibility and safety. We can thank politicians on the 2014-2018 Brampton City Council for this situation, which provide just one of many examples of how systemic racism manifests in transit decision making.

Categories
Brampton Development Urban Planning

The death and life of Shoppers World Brampton

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An old Target shopping cart sits in front of Shoppers World. Target, which closed in 2015, now subdivided into smaller retail units, including JYSK, Staples, and Giant Tiger

Previously on this blog, I wrote about Shoppers World Brampton, a shopping mall that slowly declined despite being located in a high-growth suburban city. I wrote that RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), the owners of the mall, were interested in developing the property by reducing the retail footprint and adding new residential uses. Some of those details have now been revealed.

Shoppers World opened in 1969, on the outskirts of the Town of Brampton, which was transitioning from a county service centre and industrial town to a suburb of Toronto. The mall expanded twice: once in 1973-74, and again in 1980-81.

In the 1980s, Shoppers World boasted a Simpson’s department store, K-Mart, two full-service supermarkets, a Pascal’s department store, two movie theatres, and even an indoor waterpark. Familiar national chains filled the halls: Thrifty’s, Grand & Toy, Coles and W.H. Smith, Smart Set, Naturalizer, Black’s, Collegiate Sports, Peoples Jewelers, and Reitman’s. Shoppers World never had the status that Square One or Yorkdale enjoyed, but it was a good mall offering just about anything you’d ever need.

It was where I got my first paying gig: returning stray shopping carts to K-Mart for a few dollars apiece. I lived within walking distance of the mall, though I joked that the best thing about it was the bus to Square One.

But many of those national retailers left by the mid-1990s. Square One, a 15 minute drive south, was expanding, and Bramalea City Centre had renovated and expanded as well. But when RioCan REIT purchased Shoppers World in the late 1990s, it made some long-needed improvements, including new flooring over the old terrazzo, a new food court, and removing some of the dead retail space for new big-box retailers like Canadian Tire, Staples, and Winners. When The Bay (successor to Simpson’s) closed, it was replaced by more exterior retail.

Meanwhile, Zellers replaced K-Mart, and briefly became a Target store during the American company’s disastrous foray in the Canadian market. Rio-Can carved that into spaces for smaller retailers, including Giant Tiger. Finally, the bus terminal moved, from a distant corner facing Steeles Avenue, to a central location right at the corner of Main Street and Steeles Avenue, designed for easy transfers to the Hurontario LRT.

ShoppersWorld

The interior of the mall is still busy, but nearly all chains let their leases expire, with independent retailers taking over. Even so, there are many vacant storefronts.

Earlier in October, RioCan submitted their plans to the City of Brampton, and were also presented at an open house at the mall on October 22, 2019. The redevelopment proposal includes new roads, residential towers with at-grade retail, underground parking, among other features.

Details from RioCan’s submission include:

  • Four new north-south and east-west public streets through the property, including multi-use paths, as several private laneways. Mill Street would continue south from Charolais Boulevard to Steeles Avenue.
  • New residential towers up to 28 storeys tall, containing 4,725 units (one, two, and potentially three-bedroom apartments)
  • 155 townhouses in the northern end of the property, towards low-rise subdivisons north of Charolais Boulevard
  • 44,647 m² (480,582 sq. ft.) of retail space integrated with the residential towers, a reduction from 62,256 m² (670,124 sq. ft.)
  • An enlarged Kaneff Park (west of the mall, between two separate existing high-rise rental tower clusters), along with new community and library space
  • New office space adjacent to the expanded park and community space
  • Most parking will be located underground
  • The Brampton Gateway terminal will remain

Site Plan of Shoppers World Brampton redevelopmentSite plan from RioCan’s submissions to the City of Brampton. Click to enlarge.

The first phase of the redevelopment will be 27-storey tower on the southwest corner of the site (where the abandoned Brampton Transit terminal now sits). This will be constructed before the mall itself is touched. Further phases will see the mall slowly demolished, though they are dependent on market conditions.

SWB - View from terminalRendering of Shoppers World redevelopment, looking northwest from the existing Brampton Gateway Terminal

RioCan hired Quadrangle and SvN architects to develop conceptual renderings for the development, indicating that RioCan is serious about this development. Given the City of Brampton’s own plans for urbanizing this part of the city, I am optimistic this will be built. The area already has good public transit access, with Zum express bus service to Downtown Brampton, Mississauga City Centre, Sheridan and Humber Colleges, as well as local service. This will also be at the terminus of the Hurontario LRT line (construction will begin shortly as the contract was just awarded), which may yet continue to Downtown Brampton.

This is the largest shopping mall redevelopment in the Greater Toronto Area, following work now underway at the Galleria Mall in Toronto, and proposed for the Promenade Mall in Vaughan (though much of that mall’s structure will remain intact). As the mid-market gets squeezed by discounters, internet shopping, and high-end shopping centres, more malls of Shoppers World’s size will see similar development.

I was surprised to see such urbanity proposed for suburban Brampton, but it may finally be the time for the Flower City to bloom. Despite my nostalgia for Shoppers World, I am excited for its future.

SWB Rendering 1.jpgLooking south on Mill Street towards the park expansion and Steeles Avenue. The first phase tower is shown in the middle background.

 

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Transit

A better Hurontario Street – an LRT update

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Metrolinx light rail vehicle mock-up at Gage Park, meets a Brampton Transit Zum bus, 2013. 

Earlier this week, I visited Brampton City Hall, where at a public open house, Metrolinx and city staff provided an update of the Hurontario Light Rail Transit project. Brampton City Hall was an ironic location for the open house; before Brampton Council voted against building the LRT up to Downtown Brampton and the GO/VIA Station, the LRT line would have stopped right here. Even with Brampton’s decision, there will be three stops in the city, so an open house for local residents to provide their feedback was still needed.

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The Hurontario LRT project, map via Metrolinx

The open house was quite interesting as more design details were displayed. There`s a focus on promoting active transportation — walking and cycling — and urbanizing much of the corridor. Three lanes of motor traffic will go down to two in most places, and right turning traffic will be tamed. This will make Hurontario Street a safer and more pleasant place to be.

Along the entire LRT corridor, Hurontario Street will feature separated bike infrastructure — for the most part, there will be separated bike lanes, with multi-use paths in a few areas, especially south of the Queensway, where Hurontario Street is narrower. Sidewalks are also wider. With only a few exceptions, cyclists will be able to ride across intersections without being required to dismount. Those exceptions are at the Queen Elizabeth Way, and at Highways 403 and 407, where Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) standards at interchanges will force the “stop, dismount, wait for gap” regime; pedestrians will also still have to yield to motor traffic.

img_8334-001Typical cross-section once the LRT is built. The orange paths are the separated bike lanes, the green paths are sidewalks. Hurontario Street will only have two traffic lanes in each direction. 

img_8328-001At expressways, like at Highway 407, pedestrians and cyclists still must yield to motor traffic at on-ramps. 

In another benefit for pedestrians and cyclists, channelized right turns are eliminated along the entire route. Channelized right turns (like the one shown below) are convenient for motorists, but they increase conflicts with foot traffic and are incompatible with lower speeds and safe cycling infrastructure. Their removal also creates new room for streetscaping opportunities.

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An example of a channelized right turn

The northern terminus of the LRT, at least for now, will be at Steeles Avenue. As Brampton debates other LRT alignments (Kennedy Road and McLauglin Road are indirect alternatives to reach Downtown Brampton), the stop was moved to the south side of the intersection. This is unfortunate: the Brampton Gateway bus terminal, which opened in 2012, was designed to easily connect with the planned LRT stop on the north side of the intersection, with two short crosswalks across southbound Main Street.

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Planned LRT terminus at Steeles Avenue, including tunnel between the LRT platform and the Brampton Gateway Terminal. 

Instead, a more expensive tunnel is required to accommodate transferring passengers between the LRT and buses. Elevators and escalators will provide direct access to the tunnel; crosswalks at Steeles Avenue and Lancashire Lane will also be accessible from the platform.

The final contract is planned to be signed in mid-2018 and construction should begin in Fall 2018. As the City of Mississauga backs the LRT project, hopefully any change in the provincial government will not jeopardize this plan. Not only will Mississauga (and south Brampton) get a fine new transit service, it will also see a tamer, more urbanized main street.

And maybe Brampton City Council will come to its senses and extend the transit corridor via the direct, least-expensive, Main Street alignment.

Categories
Brampton Walking

Brampton’s Etobicoke Creek: floods, concrete, and new public spaces

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Over at Spacing, I wrote about a recent Jane’s Walk that I led on Downtown Brampton and Etobicoke Creek.

Until a concrete diversion channel was built in the 1950s, Downtown Brampton would regularly flood as it was built right on top of the creek. The concrete diversion, fenced off and cut off from both the downtown core and the rest of the Etobicoke Creek ravine to the north and south, is an eyesore.

Happily, the City of Brampton is planning to revitalize the channel, which is nearing the end of its useful life and must be reconstructed. The proposed concept, pictured below, includes new public spaces and urban development.

Etobicoke Creek
Conceptual drawing of revitalized Etobicoke Creek 

Of course, during the walk, there was a discussion of the Hurontario-Main LRT, a subject I’ve written about here several times before. Some local councillors and one local advocacy group, Citizens for a Better Brampton, opposed the Main Street surface alignment, and want to push for an Etobicoke Creek route into Downtown Brampton. It would not only wreck a lovely ravine (where one can spot plenty of wildlife), but it would be located in a floodplain, and near the backyards of less-wealthy residents. There’s now a petition to nix that route. Of course, the cheapest and most logical route is along Main Street itself, but a dysfunctional and misguided Council continues to refuse to accept that fact.

It was a pleasure leading a Jane’s Walk, and I learned a lot myself from the conversations that we had along the way; a good Jane’s Walk is when local residents participate and share their knowledge. Leading a walk is a lot of fun, and something that’s quite easy to do. And it need not be on the “official” Jane’s Walk weekend (this year, it was May 6-8), but anytime of the year.

I’ll be leading another walk on Sunday June 12 at 3PM, in Bramalea, meeting at the civic centre across from the mall. Bramalea , billed as “Canada’s first satellite city” when planned and constructed starting in the early 1960s. There’s an interesting diversity of housing types, and an effort to build great greenspaces and linear parks, with a civic centre and shopping mall anchoring the large development.

Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking, Part II: Brampton Boogaloo

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GO and VIA Trains meet at Brampton Station

September 20, 2016 update: Metrolinx has begun the process of demolishing its newly-acquired Downtown Brampton properties. It has applied for a demolition permit for 28A and 28B Nelson Street West, two semi-detached dwellings that were built in 2001. In the  City of Brampton, demolition permits for residential properties must be approved by the Planning & Infrastructure Services Committee. The permit will likely be approved at the September 26, 2016 meeting of that committee.


On April 5, 2016, Peter Criscione at the Brampton Guardian reported on a matter that arose during the regular meeting of the City of Brampton Planning & Infrastructure Services Committee on April 4. Metrolinx, the regional transit authority that operates GO Transit and UP Express, confirmed the purchase of 1.78 acres in Downtown Brampton, land that will be used for surface parking.

Brampton Station, served by GO Transit and VIA trains, is located in Downtown Brampton, and is adjacent to Brampton Transit’s downtown transit terminal. With local shopping, restaurants, residential areas and employment, it is one of the most walkable stations in GO Transit’s system; it has a Walk Score of 90. (Bramalea GO Station, in comparison, has a Walk Score of 22.) The options of getting to Brampton Station without a car are quite good, at least as far as most GO stations go.

But Brampton Station’s two lots are full, and there are planned service improvements to Brampton, including eventual hourly evening and weekend rail service. Not everyone can be expected to take transit, walk, or get a ride to the station. But I find this land assembly troubling.

According to Criscione, and noted in the minutes of the April 4 meeting [page 25-26], the properties purchased by Metrolinx include:

  • 20 Nelson Street West
  • 37 George Street North
  • 41 George Street North
  • 26 Nelson Street West
  • 3 Railroad Street (includes 3 separate parcels)
  • 28A Nelson Street West
  • 28B Nelson Street West
  • 30 Nelson Street West
  • 42 Elizabeth Street North

The planning committee asked staff to contact Metrolinx and report on the status of its recent and pending purchases of downtown lands. It also invited Metrolinx to work with city staff and officials, as well as present their plans at a future meeting.

The purchase of downtown lands for a parking lot is troubling, in my opinion. Downtown Brampton is a designated “anchor hub” — a major mobility hub where two or more rapid transit lines meet where transit-oriented development and intensification is encouraged. At no point do I see new surface parking lots are part of this vision, especially if buildings must be vacated and demolished to do so. And Downtown Brampton, not yet experiencing a building boom, has plenty of parking lots and garages that could be employed instead.

The embedded Google Map below shows where these properties are located, immediately south of Brampton Station, and west of the Brampton Transit downtown terminal.

 

On Friday, April 8, I visited Downtown Brampton to have a look at the properties in question.

Categories
Brampton Transit

Digging a hole on Main Street

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Most people that know me know that I’m a fan of The Simpsons. There’s a scene at the end of a classic episode, entitled “Homer the Vigilante,” where several characters, including Homer Simpson, Otto Mann, Mayor Quimby, and Police Chief Wiggum are stuck in a hole, looking for a non-existent buried treasure.

The final few minutes of the episode are a spoof of the 1963 comedy epic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: a cat burglar tricks the people of Springfield into seeking his buried treasure while he escapes from the police lockup. A briefcase found quickly when digging under a “Big T” says as much, but a few determined souls decide to keep digging in the vain hope of finding that promised treasure. Finally, after digging for hours and finally realizing that there was no fortune to be found, the remaining excavators decide to dig their way out of the deep hole they find themselves in. As the final scene fades into the credits, Wiggum suggests they’re all doing it wrong, providing some nonsensical advice: “No, no. Dig up, stupid.”

On October 27, 2015, Brampton City Council decided, in a 5-4 decision, to terminate the provincially funded LRT line at Steeles Avenue. Council was pressured by local opposition from wealthy landowners on Main Street South and several downtown businesses. Construction on the shortened transit corridor is scheduled to begin in 2018.

After rejecting the recommended surface alignment, Council asked staff, which twice recommended the original surface route, to come back with alternative alignments. Late last week, staff released its report on the various options for extending the Hurontario LRT from Steeles Avenue (Shoppers World). That report, buried in a large PDF document, starts at page 238. The report will be brought to the Planning and Infrastructure Committee on Monday, March 7, and will likely presented at a special public meeting on Monday, April 18.

Yesterday, in Bramptonist, Divyesh Mistry summarized the report’s recommendations. Staff recommended  two tunnel options. Both potential tunnel alignments would extend from a portal between Elgin Drive and Nanwood Drive under Main Street to the GO Station, either with underground stations at Nanwood and Wellington Street (at Brampton City Hall and Gage Park), or running straight through without stops, but a new surface stop at Elgin Drive. The first option, with underground stations at Nanwood and Wellington, would cost $570 million; the second tunnel option would be cheaper, costing $410 million. The tunnel would have to clear the Etobicoke Creek bed, and each underground station would require stairways and elevators to provide access.

Staff recommended that council authorize $2.5 million for a new transit project assessment process (TPAP), including technical and design work, that would take two years to complete.

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Appendix B from the City of Brampton staff planning report, which outlines each LRT routing option’s consistency with city, regional, and provincial planning policies

Of course, cheapest and most obvious option, running the new light rail line on the surface between Nanwood Avenue and the Brampton GO Station, was “removed from further consideration per Council direction.” Various other alignments that would have seen the light rail line follow  McMurchy Avenue, McLaughlin Road, Etobicoke Creek and/or the Orangeville-Brampton Railway were rejected as they were found to be inconsistent with various planning policies, including the city and regional official plans and economic and transportation policies. The various other alignments would be less direct, follow active railways or floodplains, and move the LRT away from Main Street, but in the neighbourhoods of other, less wealthy residents.

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Appendix A: from the City of Brampton staff planning report, a map of alternative LRT alignments north of Steeles Avenue

If money weren’t an object, the first tunnel option, with stops at Nanwood and Wellington, would be a reasonable compromise. It maintains the linear alignment most suited to moving passengers, it gets the LRT to Downtown Brampton, the Queen Street corridor, and the GO/VIA station, and it placates the local NIMBYs worried about light rail trains operating on Main Street.

But the City of Brampton, when it rejected the alignment north of Steeles Avenue planned during a multi-year TPAP, threw away the $200 million the province was prepared to spend on that segment. If Brampton ends up deciding to extend the LRT, it’s already in a $200 million hole, unless it can convince Queen’s Park to give that money back. If it decides to build a tunnel, it will dig itself even deeper into that hole. The cheaper of the two tunnel options misses useful stops at Wellington and at Nanwood, where the Brampton Mall lands provide an excellent opportunity for urban intensification.

So I see three options going forward:

  • The status quo. Brampton City Council balks at the costs of each alternative alignment, and the Hurontario-Main LRT terminates at Shoppers World. Maybe in a few years, Brampton will realize its mistake, à la Mesa, Arizona, and approve and build the extension. I see this as the most likely outcome.
  • A return to the surface TPAP LRT alignment. Brampton City Council, once again faced with a staff report advocating the direct Main Street alignment, balks at the cost of the tunnel, and decides to reverse position, even begging Queen’s Park to provide funding. Will a dysfunctional Brampton City Council come to this decision? Possible, but unlikely.
  • A go-ahead for a tunnel. With the recent election of a new Liberal government committed to building infrastructure, there’s a slight chance that Brampton would find enough support from upper levels of government for partial funding for a $410-570 million tunnel into Downtown Brampton. But it will be up against many competing bids for transit funding. London, Ontario has a plan for a rapid transit system. Ottawa is ready to start building Phase II of the Confederation Line LRT. And, of course, Toronto has several plans for new subways and LRT lines. Will Brampton be willing to go it alone?

As Lisa Stokes points out, Brampton already has a $1.5 billion infrastructure gap, and there are many other projects that the city needs in the short to medium term, such as a second full-service hospital campus, a central library, a permanent market space, or simply repairing the roads, parks, and recreation centres in dire need of attention.

So because of its rejection of a financially and technically sound surface routing last October, the City of Brampton will likely go through a new round of project assessments. It will also have to go begging for money to build their preferred alternative. Without even starting construction, City Council dug a pretty deep hole for itself. Can it dig itself out?

Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

The terminus of the Hurontario LRT: an opportunity for something better

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Downtown Brampton, the logical terminus of the Hurontario-Main LRT

I’ve written several times about the Hurontario-Main light rail transit (LRT) project on this blog. Last summer, I led a walk along Main Street, discussing Downtown Brampton’s wonderful built heritage, the potential for Main Street, and explaining why alternative routes, proposed by councillors and private interests, weren’t feasible. Floodplains aren’t great places to build higher-order transit lines.

Needless to say, I was very disappointed that Brampton City Council voted 6-5 last October against building the LRT between Steeles Avenue and Downtown Brampton. A vocal and wealthy minority, including a former premier of Ontario, opposed the project; it didn’t help that Mayor Linda Jeffrey found herself in constant opposition with several city councillors who backed other candidates for mayor in the 2014 municipal election. A Toronto Star reporter, assigned to the western GTA beat, wasn’t reporting fairly on this issue either.

Since that unfortunate vote, I resigned myself to a truncated Hurontario-Main LRT corridor that will still serve three or four stops in Brampton, but will stop short of its logical terminus.

I recently made a trip out to the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Main and Hurontario Streets, the new northern terminus of the planned LRT. Construction of the 20-kilometre line, between Port Credit and Steeles Avenue, is scheduled to begin in 2018.

HMLRT
The Hurontario-Main LRT, after Brampton City Council’s vote in October 2015. 

The corner of Steeles Avenue and Main Street is already a major transit hub. Eleven Brampton Transit bus routes (including two Züm routes), a Miway express bus, and GO Transit buses serve the corner; the Brampton Gateway Terminal is the city’s second-busiest transfer point. The new Gateway Terminal, which opened in 2014, was built to accommodate ridership growth and facilitate transfers with the proposed LRT, which will stop in the median of Main Street.

As far as Toronto’s suburbs go, this corner of Brampton is relatively dense. There are several rental towers within a short walking distance; there are also three nearby townhouse complexes. Shoppers World, on the northeast corner, is a large regional shopping centre, albeit a mall that has fallen on hard times. On the southwest corner, there is still an old farmfield, surrounded by subdivisions, apartment towers and retail. There are many opportunities for transit-oriented development.

IMG_8803-001A fallow farm field, south of Shoppers World. The area is zoned for medium and high density housing developments, including townhouses and apartment buildings. 

If Downtown Brampton, Brampton’s busiest bus route (501 Queen) and a GO Transit and VIA Rail station weren’t just 3 kilometres away, this would actually be an ideal terminus for a suburban light rail transit line.

IMG_8776-001The corner of Steeles and Hurontario/Main, looking northwest. The Brampton Gateway Terminal is on the opposite corner.

One of the greatest opportunities for new transit-oriented development is Shoppers World Brampton. First opened in 1969 by Peel Elder Limited (who also developed Shoppers World Danforth), the mall went through several additions over the years; by the 1980s, it boasted over 200 stores, including a Simpson’s, K-Mart, Pascal Hardware, cinemas, and two supermarkets. At one time, Shoppers World even had indoor waterslides. By 2000, Simpsons became The Bay, and K-Mart became Zellers.

Growing up only a 15-minute walk away, Shoppers World was my local mall. Pizza Hut was a favourite place to meet up with friends, I fondly remember the free popcorn at Jumbo Video, and the bus terminal made it easy to get to better malls, particularly Square One. My first paying gig was returning abandoned shopping carts to K-Mart for $5 each.

By the 1990s, the mall’s owners neglected the property, while Bramalea City Centre and Square One renovated and expanded. There were persistent rumours that the mall would be closed and re-developed with highrise towers.

IMG_8782-001A mostly empty Shoppers World parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.

RioCan REIT took over Shoppers World Brampton in 2000, renovated the property, and added new big-box retailers such as Canadian Tire. But The Bay closed in 2007, and Target, which took over Zellers’ lease, shut down last year. The final indignity came when the shuttered Bay store was torn down and replaced by Lastman’s Bad Boy.

Shoppers World isn’t yet a dead mall – while many national chains left in the last two decades, small businesses have moved in. However, there are still plenty of vacancies, especially in the north end of the mall, near where The Bay used to be. The new Bad Boy and Beer Store are accessed only from outside the mall, making it harder to draw customers in.

IMG_2887-001The former mall entrance to Target, showing the floor tiles installed in the 2000-2002 renovations.

The answer, I think, is to partially redevelop Shoppers World into a mixed-use, transit-oriented development, retaining a majority of the retail space, but including new residential, office and community uses. Shops at Don Mills, at Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue in Toronto, isn’t a bad model to follow, but better residential integration and a proper link with the transit hub would be necessary. Humbertown, a smaller, but controversial development proposed for Etobicoke, has the right mix of retail and residential intensification.

One day, I believe a new Brampton City Council will come to its senses and get the LRT extended to Downtown Brampton as proposed. This is what happened in Mesa, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb that originally opposed a light rail corridor from Downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and Arizona State University, to its downtown. After the first phase of the Valley Metro LRT opened in December 2008, political opposition to a light rail extension along Main Street faded. The LRT through Downtown Mesa opened to great fanfare in August, 2015.

But until that time comes, there are some opportunities to capitalize on the approved plan. Steeles Avenue isn’t the ideal place to end the Hurontario LRT, but it’s a good place to start planning something better.

Categories
Brampton Politics Transit

On Brampton’s short-sighted Hurontario-Main LRT decision

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LRT mockup at Gage Park, Brampton

On late Tuesday night (actually, early Wednesday morning) Brampton City Council made disappointing and harmful decision by voting against the Hurontario-Main LRT, a 23.2 kilometre, $1.6-billion light rail line, whose construction costs would be fully covered by the province. This followed another marathon meeting back in July in which a final decision was delayed to allow for further study and a possible compromise.

The mayor, Linda Jeffrey, and four councillors (Gurpreet Dhillon, Pat Fortini, Marco Medeiros, and Gael Miles) supported the project, but six councillors (Jeff Bowman, Grant Gibson, Elaine Moore, Michael Palleschi, John Sproveiri, and Doug Whillians) voted against. The final vote was 7-4 against the LRT, with Jeffrey mistakenly voting with the majority, but the 6-5 vote against a modified downtown routing in an last-minute attempt to sway opponents should be considered the true decision.

Light rail transit will still be coming to Brampton – construction will start in 2018 – but it will terminate at Shoppers World at Steeles Avenue, with only three stops completely within Brampton’s borders. Nearly four kilometres and four stops have now disappeared, including the crucial terminal at Brampton GO Station. The map below shows the Hurontario-Main LRT route, with the eliminated sections in red. (A short section of the LRT’s route in Port Credit was eliminated due to community opposition; it would have brought light rail transit closer to Port Credit’s bustling core. The Hurontario LRT will now terminate adjacent to the Port Credit GO Station, north of Lakeshore Road.)

The Hurontario-Main corridor was selected for LRT simply because it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the Greater Toronto Area outside the City of Toronto; it connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors, it would help urbanize south Brampton and several neighbourhoods in Mississauga. It’s part of a larger regional network, yet six city councillors in Brampton, looking out for narrow, local interests, sunk it.

Now transit advocates elsewhere are looking to capitalize on Brampton’s loss: at least $200 million of the province’s money won’t be spend. For example, advocates in Hamilton are looking for an opportunity to expand their funded LRT network with Brampton’s cash.

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The Hurontario-Main LRT, after Tuesday’s vote. 

The arguments against the LRT included heritage concerns (as if trams aren’t found in the centres of historic cities such as Vienna, Istanbul, Brussels, and Amsterdam), claims of low ridership (which were written about by the Toronto Star’s San Grewal), concerns about operating expenses. Some councillors suggested that Queen Street should get LRT first. Others took exception to the fact that most of the route (17.6 kilometres, 19 stops) would be in Mississauga, while only a quarter of the line would operate within Brampton (5.6 kilometres and eight stops) But one cannot dismiss the NIMBY factor – some of the biggest opponents were wealthy homeowners on Main Street. Even former Premier Bill Davis, long regarded as a friend of cities and public transit, came out publicly against the LRT. Davis will long be remembered for stopping destructive expressways, but won’t support public transit when it runs down his street.

Opponents suggested other routes, or tunneling under Main Street. But those alternatives were more expensive, more difficult, less convenient for riders, and weren’t going to be funded by the province. These suggestions were studied by city staff and outside consultants and rejected.

Yes, Queen Street is Brampton Transit’s busiest corridor. Yes, the ridership will be lower north of Steeles Avenue than through central Mississauga. Yes, there will be some traffic impacts on Main Street.

But there’s no current planning study for a potential Queen Street LRT; a route hasn’t been chosen (would it go to the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan? York Region would have to be on board), there’s no funding on the table, and the Hurontario corridor in Mississauga is a lot busier than Highway 7 in York Region. And yes, Mississauga benefits more from the LRT. But Mississauga has a larger population, a much larger transit ridership, and more jobs. By connecting to Downtown Brampton, the LRT increases mobility for the entire region, connects to the Kitchener GO line, and allows for direct transfers to the 501 Queen Zum, Brampton’s busiest bus route. It is part of a regional transit network; it would have made it a lot easier for trips, for example, between Downtown Guelph and Mississauga City Centre.

10671927_oriToday’s news that anti-LRT councillors are now going to seek federal funds for transit expansion makes me want to tear my hair out. This image of Frank Grimes pretty much describes how I’m feeling right now.


Just adding to my frustration, I read today that Councillor Bowman, who helped sink the Main Street section of the LRT, is now going to look for transit funding from the newly elected Liberal federal government. In the article, Bowman suggests that since Brampton elected five new Liberal MPs, helping to defeat the Conservatives, it was time to “leverage” that support. Payback, if you will. But there are no other plans to hold up, nothing that’s “shovel-ready.” There will be no ribbon-cuttings for Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers to attend anytime soon.

If looking for money from a new federal government – one that’s so far very friendly with their provincial counterpart – it would have looked a lot better to have approved the transit that the province, and a majority of Bramptonians, wanted, and then ask for additional funds to build on that. Advocating for a potential Queen Street LRT would be a lot when there’s an existing line to connect it, and a strong transit-focused hub to anchor it.

So, to sum up, Brampton city councillors threw away at least $200 million for a light rail project that they didn’t want, a gift-wrapped transit opportunity from the provincial Liberal government. Now they will be looking for new transit funding for alternative transit routes, which have yet to be planned, from the federal Liberal government. Good luck with that. 
 

Categories
Brampton Politics Transit

Updated: The Toronto Star’s shameful reporting on the Hurontario-Main LRT

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As of Tuesday, July 28, the Toronto Star has not published any letter to the editor responding to last Tuesday’s front-page article by San Grewal questioning the ridership of the northern section of the Hurontario-Main LRT, or any corrections. I find myself very much disappointed by this. I know I was not the only reader to submit a letter to San Grewal’s poor reporting, to which I link below.

Here is the letter that I wrote and submitted on July 21, 2015:

Dear Editor,

I wish to express my disappointment with the publication of a badly researched and one-sided article by San Grewal on the opposition to the Hurontario-Main LRT.

The article starts with by getting its numbers wrong. In the second paragraph, it claims that the LRT’s capacity will be 15,000 riders per hour per direction (PPHPD). This is false. The City of Brampton’s own staff report, which recommended that council approve the funded Main Street LRT [which can be found here:http://www.brampton.ca/EN/City-Hall/meetings-agendas/PDD%20Committee%202010/20150622pis_H10.pdf], states that the maximum capacity of the LRT is 7200 PPHPD, less than half the figure Grewal claims.

The comparison to the Sheppard Subway, which Grewal appears to take at face value, is especially inappropriate. The Sheppard Subway cost nearly $1 billion when it was constructed 15 years ago. The section of the LRT between Steeles Avenue and Downtown Brampton will be built entirely on the surface, and comprise only a short section of the corridor’s entire length. It is worth repeating that the province will be funding the entire project; any deviation from Main Street would be more expensive and will cost Brampton taxpayers more.

The Hurontario-Main LRT is not only a transit project; it is a city-building exercise that will help direct investment and urban intensification in Brampton and Mississauga. The light rail project will connect three GO Station and several urban centres identified for growth, including Brampton’s Downtown Core.

San Grewal’s article is misleading, one-sided and irresponsible. I expect better from the Toronto Star.

Sincerely,

Sean Marshall

The original post follows:

Categories
Brampton Politics Transit

Why Brampton’s Main Street needs the LRT

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For the first twenty-five years of my life, I lived in Brampton. I still have family and friends who live there, and while I was happy to move to a place of my own in Toronto (first in North York, later to the old City of Toronto), I still have a soft spot for my hometown, even if it is a gigantic, sprawling auto-centric suburb.  Tonight, it has the opportunity to vote for a transit project that will help to transform its long-neglected downtown core into a thriving urban centre.

Nearly a century ago, Brampton was a small town of about 5,000 people; the junction of two railways: the Grand Trunk mainline between Toronto and Chicago, and the Canadian Pacific branch line to Orangeville, Owen Sound, and other points in Midwestern Ontario. It was the seat of Peel County, with a beautiful 1867 Italianate courthouse, with a registry office and jail behind. Brampton had all the trappings of a prosperous rural service centre, including a hospital, a Romanesque federal building, a Carnegie Library, six historic brick or stone churches, a movie and vaudeville theatre, an armoury, and a fire hall. While there were manufacturing concerns by the railway junction  – both the Hewetson Shoe Company and Dominion Skate manufactured footwear – the leading industry was horicultural. The massive Dale and Calvert greenhouse complexes exported flowers and bulbs across Canada; as a result Brampton’s nickname was “Flower Town.” Grand houses lined Main Street, showing off the town’s booming economy.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that Brampton began the transition from a small industrial and civic centre into a suburb of Toronto. In 1960, a new mall, anchored by Steinberg’s and Woolworth’s, opened south of downtown, new schools and factories, including a large American Motors assembly plant, opened here as well. In 1974, the same year that the first GO Train departed from Brampton for Toronto, the town was amalgamated with sections of several surrounding rural townships, becoming a city of nearly 100,000. Today, Brampton has a population of nearly 600,000.

Apart from the greenhouses, which disappeared by 1980, and the hospital, which moved across town in 2008, all of the buildings I described are still standing (or in the case of Dominion Skate, partially standing). Downtown Brampton is blessed by its collection of historic buildings; many of these structures are lovingly preserved. The old Thomas Fuller designed Dominion Building on Main Street, which later became a police station and then a pub, was renovated and now has a Starbucks. GO Transit and VIA Rail still use the 1907 Grand Trunk Station. The Hewetson Shoe Factory is now a loft commercial space, and the old county buildings were preserved and now house the innovative Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives.

While there’s lots of great built heritage in Downtown Brampton, but downtown struggles with retail vacancies; condominium towers built in the last decade have had difficulty with sales. A new condo tower planned for the Dominion Skate building, right across the tracks from the GO/VIA station, did not get built; it sits in a half-demolished state, awaiting a new use. Also awaiting a reuse is the old Capitol Theatre, which closed as Brampton’s civic performing arts centre when the new Rose Theatre opened at Brampton’s historic “Four Corners” in 2006. There’s the popular Gage Park, with its 25-year old skating path (which has since been copied in Etobicoke and elsewhere), but most attempts at urban renewal have been, at best, only partially successful.

IMG_6642Thomas Fuller’s 1889 Dominion Building, Brampton

Tonight, Brampton City Council will hold a special meeting to decide the fate of its section a fully funded $1.6 billion light rail project proposed for the Hurontario-Main Street corridor from Port Credit to Downtown Brampton. The LRT, which will be funded entirely by the Province of Ontario, will connect three GO corridors, the urban centres of Port Credit and Brampton, several major employment clusters, and Mississauga’s modern city centre, which includes Ontario’s largest mall.

While most of the LRT route would operate in a reserved median in the centre of the street, in Downtown Brampton, it would operate in mixed traffic on the surface. It would require no private property, though it would require eliminating some surface parking on Main Street and turn restrictions at some intersections and driveways.

The newly-elected mayor of Brampton, Linda Jeffrey, is in favour of the project, including the planned Main Street alignment, but at least five of ten councillors are against it. Tonight’s vote will be a nail-biter, a meeting for which a record 130-plus residents are registered to depute on this item; the city is clearly divided on this project.

Opponents claim that the project mostly benefits Mississauga, and that light rail running along Main Street would ruin its heritage character, and would threaten the Saturday farmers market, which is set up on a closed Main Street. They also argue that the removal of street parking would hurt downtown businesses. These arguments are, of course, bunk; the heavy traffic, including light trucks and frequent buses do plenty to mar Main Street’s heritage; trams and light rail trains run through historic European cities like Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, and Istanbul; the farmers market could simply re-locate to the new Garden Square or onto Queen Street. There are four large city-owned off-street parking garages with room to spare. These arguments are convenient strawmen hiding true NIMBY attitudes.

8228039505_d6d424f22d_oThe Peel County Courthouse, now the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)

It is true that most of the route passes through Mississauga; it’s also true that the larger city to the south enjoys more benefits from residential and employment growth on its portion of the corridor. Main Street follows Etobicoke Creek north of Steeles Avenue; this limits new development. However, lands between Shoppers World (which has been losing major retail tenants like The Bay and Target) and Highway 407 are prime opportunities for intensification, as is the largely-vacant Brampton Mall at Nanwood Avenue. But the intermodal connections at Downtown Brampton and the opportunity to revitalize the downtown core make up for these drawbacks.

Last year, at a 10-1 decisive vote, City Council voted against the proposed route, ordering staff and consultants to evaluate alternative alignments.

These alternatives, nine of which were studied, included one that follows Etobicoke Creek through a floodplain and residential backyards. Other routes would have taken passengers far out of the way on McLaughlin or Kennedy Roads to reach the downtown core. A tunnel under Main Street, which would cost the City of Brampton $380 million, was looked at as well. Staff came back to Council in June with a report that evaluated all these possible alternatives and re-recommended the original surface alignment as being the most fiscally and technically responsible option and the best for transit users and for city-building.

IMG_6675The Etobicoke Creek LRT alignment, proposed as a by-pass of Main Street

The Hurontario-Main LRT is the boost Downtown Brampton needs. While expanded GO rail service will come, most Brampton commuters aren’t headed to Toronto’s financial core; they’re commuting to jobs elsewhere in Brampton, in Mississauga, and in other suburbs, and inter-suburb transport is lacking. Creating a higher-order transit network requires nodes, and Downtown Brampton, one of only a few historic and walkable neighbourhoods in Toronto’s suburban belt, is an ideal place for such a node. Not only is there the connection to GO and VIA trains (which would also benefit commuters to and from Mississauga, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and elsewhere), but there are many opportunities for residential and employment intensification downtown, and along the Main Street corridor. Vacant storefronts that pockmark Main and Queen Streets say to me that more foot traffic is needed to revitalize these buildings. The LRT will help, not hinder, this goal.

If Brampton votes a second time against the Hurontario-Main LRT, it will still be built, but will terminate at Steeles Avenue, four kilometres south of the downtown core. It will require a transfer to northbound buses at a third-rate shopping mall rather than at an urban transit hub with intercity rail connections. It would be a decision that Brampton will come to regret; offers of provincially funded transit don’t come around very often.

Voting no will be, to put it mildly, a lost opportunity. Hopefully, Brampton City Council will see the sense of going with the province’s offer of a fully-funded LRT corridor.