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
Infrastructure Ontario Transit Travels

O-Train impressions: this is what LRT looks like

IMG_4614-001Confederation Line train approaching Tremblay Station

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

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

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

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Trillium Line DMU train approaching Carleton University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Transit

Ontario’s new ride: ION LRT opens in Kitchener-Waterloo

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On June 21, 2019, Ontario’s first modern light rail transit (LRT) system opened to the public. The launch of ION in Kitchener-Waterloo represents an important milestone for both the region and for the province as a whole: additional light rail systems in Ottawa and Toronto will open in the next few years, while other systems are planned for Hamilton and Mississauga-Brampton.

There are several things that make ION particularly remarkable.

Kitchener-Waterloo’s population is much smaller than other cities that have adopted rail transit in Canada and the United States. In 2016, the combined population of the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo was less than 350,000, making Kitchener-Waterloo the smallest urban area in North America to boast such a system (Waterloo Region, which also includes the City of Cambridge and three rural townships, has a population of nearly 550,000). Kitchener and Waterloo were connected by streetcar until 1946, then by a trolley bus until 1973. Kitchener Transit, then Grand River Transit (GRT) continued to serve the two cities.

Despite the small population, LRT makes sense here, as many of the region’s trip generators line up along a single corridor, including Downtown Kitchener, Uptown Waterloo, the University of Waterloo, several high schools, and the main hospital. It is also within walking distance of Wilfrid Laurier University. ION is also fully integrated with the connecting bus system, which was re-organized in conjunction with the opening of the new LRT to provide more direct routing and better connect with the rail service.

By operating on dedicated corridors and alongside regular traffic, the ION route also demonstrates the flexibility unique to light rail systems. Where it runs on private rights of way, crossings are protected by railway-style lights, bells, and gates. Where it operates in reserved lanes at street level, there are dedicated signals and transit priority at most intersections. This isn’t just a streetcar.

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ION LRT route map, from the GRT website

Torontonians may be forgiven for confusing LRT with traditional streetcars; ION uses Bombardier-built light rail vehicles similar to Toronto’s new low-floor streetcars, and the TTC has marketed streetcars on Spadina Avenue, Queen’s Quay, and St. Clair Avenue as “streetcar rapid transit” before. The difference, though, is that ION LRT stops are spaced further apart than local streetcar stops in Toronto, they take advantage of signal priority, and they partially run off-street.

LRT, of course, fills a wide spectrum. At its slowest and simplest is the typical streetcar, such as Toronto’s legacy street railway, or some of the new streetcars being built in the United States, such as Detroit’s QLine or the Atlanta Streetcar. Streetcars in private right-of-ways, such as on Spadina or St. Clair Avenues in Toronto, provide additional reliability and speed. On the other end are metro-style LRT systems completely separated from traffic, often featuring tunnels or elevated structures. Ottawa’s Confederation Line, once it finally opens, will be an example of LRT built to the highest standards. The Ctrain in Calgary comes close to this standard as well, though trains are forced to crawl through downtown on a congested Seventh Avenue transit mall.

I had the opportunity to ride ION twice in the opening week: the first time, on Monday June 24 (on the way home from a weekend in Stratford) and again with a few friends on Saturday June 29. Trains were consistently packed; GRT reported that over 73,000 passengers rode the LRT during opening weekend.

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ION train at Charles and Benson Streets, wrapping around Oktoberfest headquarters

Operations were not yet perfected. On Saturday June 29, there were noticeable gaps in service, with workers doing switch repairs at the northern terminal at Conestoga Mall. This caused long waits at the northern end of the line. The automatic train control system was disabled, reducing speeds along sections of track where operators had to operate by line-of-sight.

The schedules could also be a little faster, with reduced station dwell times. Trains must also crawl through tight corners in Downtown Kitchener, Uptown Waterloo, and at Haywood Avenue. But it was nice to see transit priority working: trains ran through many intersections without having to stop, and speeds were impressive (up to 70 kilometres per hour) on the off-road sections of track.

1-IMG_2199ION train on Duke Street in Downtown Kitchener

Along the entire corridor, travel times have improved only slightly over the old express bus, the Route 200 iXpress. Between Conestoga and Fairview Park terminals, the scheduled bus time ranged from 45 to 59 minutes, depending on the time of day. The LRT has a consistent 43-minute scheduled travel time between the two terminals. But it still promises to be more reliable.

The greatest improvements in travel time are between University of Waterloo and Conestoga Mall, Uptown Waterloo, and Downtown Kitchener, where travel times have been reduced by 5-7 minutes.

A promised second phase will extend ION LRT south to Cambridge. For now, an express bus serves the planned corridor.

There is certainly room for improvement,  though these at least can be made slowly and incrementally. Hopefully, as passengers and drivers get more used to LRT operations, travel times can be tightened up a bit. But the system will be successful if it attracts more riders (without turning away existing passengers with overcrowding or longer travel times due to transfers from buses), and encourages higher-density, transit-oriented development along the route.

I will return to Kitchener-Waterloo later this summer once ION is “broken in” and the novelty wears out. Offering free fares during the opening week was a nice way to encourage residents to check out the new service, but overcrowding and inexperience were problems.

I am hopeful that ION helps to change local attitudes towards light rail and encourages other mid-sized cities and suburban municipalities to follow Waterloo Region’s example.

1-IMG_2391-001ION train approaching Fairway Terminal. The speed limit on this section of track is 70 km/h.

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
History Toronto Transit

The story of Toronto’s streetcar “bull’s eyes”

7566316174_524a59174e_o.jpgReplica of Toronto Railway Company streetcar #327 operates at the Halton County Radial Railway museum, with the unique glass bulbs visible below the metal “Belt Line” sign. Photo taken June 2012

In 1891, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) was created, taking over the city’s streetcar system from its predecessor, the Toronto Street Railway. The TRC quickly began electrifying Toronto’s transit network, operating fifteen routes across the city. Electric streetcars were faster than horse-drawn trams, and passengers had difficulties figuring out which streetcar was theirs at night.

This was a problem as many streetcar routes overlapped. For example, Dupont and Avenue Road streetcars operated on Yonge Street south of Bloor, and Belt Line and Yonge streetcars both ran on Front Street. While the TRC had metal signs on the top and sides of each streetcar to denote the route, they weren’t illuminated. With electric light still in its infancy — arc lamps were too intense while early incandescent lamps were too dull to adequately illuminate route signs — the TRC developed an ingenious solution: uniquely coloured glass bulbs mounted on the roof, lit by interior lights. These lights became known as “bull’s eyes.”

Under this scheme, the Yonge Streetcar could be identified by one blue light, while the Broadview Streetcar could be identified with red and green lights. This system required passengers to memorize their route’s colours, and as new routes were introduced, changed, or withdrawn, it became cumbersome. Eventually, lighting technology caught up: while back-lit destination signs were possible by 1910, the TRC became hesitant to spend any capital funds to modernize its fleet or expand the streetcar railway network. The City of Toronto was forced to start its own streetcar system, the Toronto Civic Railway, to serve outlying neighbourhoods.

Though the Ontario Railway Board (predecessor to the Ontario Municipal Board) refused to force the TRC to expand the street railway network beyond the 1891 boundaries, it ordered the TRC to install backlit route signs. These new signs were introduced in February 1913, and those unique coloured bulbs disappeared by 1915. Six years later, the TRC’s franchise was up, and the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission came into being.

In 1935, the TTC re-introduced “bull’s eyes” to its streetcar fleet. Officially known as an advance light, a single roof-mounted light, which gave off a blue-green hue, was designed to let waiting passengers know a streetcar was on its way. At the same time, the TTC installed dash lights, which both illuminated advertising cards and provided additional lighting, a useful safety feature.

IMG_7929-001.JPGTTC PCC Streetcar #4549 on Queen Street West in September 2018

New PCC streetcars, which began arriving in 1938, were built with the advance lights already installed. By 1940, all streetcars, including the remaining wooden cars acquired from the Toronto Railway Company, were equipped with advance lights. After the Second World War, PCC streetcars purchased from cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City, were similarly fitted with the roof-mounted lamps.

IMG_8717-001.JPGCLRV streetcar on Queen Street East, with two blue-green advance lights above the back-lit destination sign. 

By the 1970s, the TTC decided to maintain its street railway fleet after planning for their eventual replacement with buses and subways, and sought a replacement fleet for its ageing PCCs. The new Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) were designed with dual advance lamps, mounted within the streetcar body, immediately above the destination sign.

Advance lights were introduced to TTC buses starting in the mid-1990s, as new wheelchair-accessible vehicles were added to the fleet, starting with high-floor Orion V and Nova RTS buses, and continuing with newer low-floor vehicles. Blue lights indicated that the bus was accessible. As a bonus, when combined with new digital orange LED destination signs, the bus advance lights served to further improve the visibility of approaching transit vehicles.

11041809023_47fc64e5e7_o.jpgNova articulated bus with orange LED destination sign and blue LED advance lights indicating it is an accessible vehicle

The new Bombardier Flexity streetcars are similarly equipped with new blue LED lights, as they too are fully accessible vehicles. While blue advance lights are unique to TTC buses, the new light rail vehicles for Waterloo Region’s ION LRT, also built by Bombardier, sport similar blue lights.

IMG_8421-002.JPGION LRT vehicle undergoing testing in Kitchener, February 2019

Sources:
John F. Bromley and Jack May: Fifty Years of Progressive Transit (Electric Railroaders’ Association, 1973)
Mike Filey: Not a One-Horse Town: 125 years of Toronto and its Streetcars (Firefly Press, 1990)

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?