Brampton Development Politics Transit Urban Planning

What’s next for Downtown Brampton?

Boarded up houses on Elizabeth Street, Downtown Brampton

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced the location of Ryerson University’s Brampton campus, a partnership with Sheridan College, to be built on the GO Station parking lot in Downtown Brampton. Meanwhile, Metrolinx quietly purchased several houses and office buildings south of the station for new GO Transit surface parking, replacing the spots that Ryerson will build upon.

The merits of a satellite university campus are open to debate – some smaller satellite campuses have struggled to attract students and faculty and distinguish themselves. Brampton’s the planned campus site was, by far, the best one for both the City of Brampton and Ryerson University.

But today, the Progressive Conservative provincial government, elected in June, cancelled three planned suburban post-secondary education campuses — the York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, the Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, and the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton.

This announcement came only one day after the October 22 municipal elections. While Toronto elected a smaller 25-ward council and returned John Tory to the mayor’s office, the voters Brampton elected former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown as mayor, narrowly defeating incumbent Linda Jeffrey. Brown had just moved to Brampton after his campaign for the elected Peel Region Chair was cancelled at the same time Brown’s successor as PC leader, Premier Doug Ford, imposed the new 25 ward structure on Toronto. We can only speculate if the animosity between Brown and Ford was a factor in this announcement. It’s more likely that the decision to cancel the three campuses was already made, with the announcement timed to take place after the municipal elections. In any case, mayor-elect Brown’s job has already become more interesting.

Brampton’s satellite campus, which had a 2022 opening date, would have hosted 2,000 undergraduate students. Though this is tiny compared to Ryerson’ downtown campus, which 36,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled, it was the best possible site, adjacent to the GO station, several Brampton Transit routes, the Rose Theatre, and local shops and restaurants and recreation facilities. The school would have made use of the the planned Centre for Innovation, a proposed new central library to the corner of George and Nelson Streets.

university map
Map of the Ryerson University campus site, the Centre for Innovation, and other downtown buildings. From the City of Brampton website.

The York University/Seneca College campus in Markham was also strategically located, on a site adjacent to Unionville GO Station, in the mixed-use Downtown Markham development. In contrast, the Milton site was in a greenfield far from transit links. It’s fair to say that I’m not too disappointed on Milton’s behalf.

With Brampton’s campus dead, for now, there’s still the land on the south side of the station. Three homes are already knocked down, while two office buildings and several houses are boarded up, awaiting demolition.

Will Downtown Brampton see nothing more than additional GO Transit surface parking now that the campus is cancelled? Or will a new opportunity come along?

BramptonParkingLotThe existing GO Transit lot at Brampton Station, where the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus was planned

Brampton Development Infrastructure Ontario Urban Planning

A tale of two university campuses

Site of Brampton’s new Ryerson/Sheridan campus

Last week, the provincial government announced two new post-secondary educational campuses in Toronto’s fast-growing western suburbs, due to open in 2022. Wilfrid Laurier University will be partnering with Conestoga College on a new facility in Milton. Brampton will be getting a new Ryerson University campus in partnership with Sheridan College. Both new campuses, each receiving $90 million in provincial capital funding, will be focused on undergraduate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs. Both will host up to 2,000 students once the new facilities are fully operational.

Despite the many commonalities between the new Milton and Brampton facilities, the announced campus locations could not be any more different. Milton’s Laurier/Conestoga campus (which I previously wrote about as an example of the problems of greenfield institutions) will be located on a new greenfield site on the southwestern outskirts of the town’s built-up area, while Brampton’s Ryerson/Sheridan campus will be located in that city’s downtown core, on a site currently used for commuter parking. But since GO Transit’s free commuter parking has to go somewhere, Metrolinx has been buying up and demolishing houses and offices on a nearby downtown block.

I compared the two new campuses for TVO

Transit Urban Planning

Milton’s self-inflicted growing pains

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about Milton’s growing pains. The Town of Milton, which has grown tremendously in the last 15 years, complains that the province has neglected to provide the growing municipality with transit and other infrastructure. In 2001, its population was only 31,471. But In 2006, after finally connected to “The Big Pipe” that brought treated lake water to the municipality, the population increased to 53,939, an increase of 71.4%. In 2011, the town’s population went up again to 84,362; by 2016, Milton’s population will be well over 100,000.

But no one should be surprised by Milton’s growing pains. Milton’s population stagnated for years as its reliance on well water constrained residential and commercial growth. Once all that developer-owned land had access to water and waste water pipes, of course, tract housing, big box stores, and warehouses were going to follow. In recent years, Milton’s housing density has increased in accordance with the province’s Places to Grow Act; with more townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings and houses on smaller lots. But apart from higher densities, land use and planning is still based on automobile ownership and suburban zoning plans.

Milton is outside the continuous built-up Greater Toronto area. It doesn’t have great transit links, apart from the rush hour GO Trains. Apart from two interchanges off Highway 401, it doesn’t have great highway access. If it’s cheap housing you seek, and nothing else, Milton might be the right place to live. But if you want transit, parks, walkable neighborhoods, access to community services, and short drives, Milton isn’t the right place to buy.

Many of the concerns are valid. The local hospital hasn’t expanded to accommodate the growing population. Highway 401 hasn’t been expanded through Milton since the 1980s. And while GO Transit has increased the number of trains (from five to nine outbound and inbound trips in the last two decades) and buses, the parking lot has completely filled up.

But one of the main messages that I read in the article is that there isn’t enough parking. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, parking is the cause of  – and solution to – all of Milton’s problems. Residents and councillors complain about parking at the GO station, such as resident Giles vanderHolt, who says, “there’s a huge need for more GO transit parking and better train service to Milton.”

GO Transit isn’t going to be adding more train service to Milton any time soon. The Milton Line also serves six stations in Mississauga, and is the busiest route outside the frequent Lakeshore corridor. But the Milton line is almost entirely owned by Canadian Pacific, and it’s a busy freight line. GO simply cannot add any more trains, and if it did, it wouldn’t solve Milton’s parking problem.

Surrounding the GO Station, there’s a retail plaza anchored by a Loblaws, and surrounding it, there are several industrial parks and single family houses. There is no transit-oriented development located there, nor is any planned.

Milton GO Station and surrounding areas

I have plenty to say about GO Transit’s reliance on free parking, and I wouldn’t be surprised if GO is drawing up plans for a parking garage at Milton. But to be fair, people don’t move to Milton that are planning to give up their cars. Milton Transit isn’t very good, but it does use the GO Station as its primary hub. Meanwhile, GO has been trying a new ride-booking system for commuters to use to get to and from Milton GO Station. That’s an interesting idea that could be expanded to other outer-suburban communities as a short-to-medium term solution. If GO ever implemented parking charges, it could prove to be a good alternative for commuters where transit links are spotty or non-existent. But Milton could do far more to encourage people to walk, bike and take transit to its station, and develop an urban core.

Milton has been lobbying for years for a university campus, at a site called “Milton Education Village.” But it wants to locate the campus in a greenfield site a 15-minute drive away from the GO Station, distant even from Highway 401. Students from outside Milton will either be dependent on cars to reach the site, or had better hope that transit connections from the west aren’t as bad as they are from the Milton Carpool Lot.

Oshawa made the mistake of building a major campus as far as possible from its downtown core and transit infrastructure. Why does Milton want to do the same thing?

On one hand, Milton is right to complain about poor infrastructure. People live there, by choice or by necessity, and they deserve a proper hospital and other provincial services. GO Transit is doing the right thing by trying out a ride-sharing service to and from the GO station. On the other hand, Milton is a “leap-frog” suburb, with poor urban planning and an auto-centric mentality that has helped to create a lot of its mess. Building some transit-oriented development around the GO station, and improving transit links would be a good place to start turning the page.

0FXZYgd.jpgScreenshot from the classic Simpsons episode “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”


The trouble with Trans-Cabs

In my last post, in which I discussed the gaps in the Golden Horseshoe’s transit network (and offered unsolicited advice to Metrolinx), I used the example of Milton, in which a carpool lot served by several GO Transit bus routes was largely disconnected from the rest of the local transit system, and located several kilometres from the main GO hub at Milton Station.

When I pointed out that Milton Carpool lot, at the junction of Highways 401 and 25, was only served by Milton Transit’s route 1A/1B, which runs only during rush hours, Twitter user YIGE corrected me:

YIGE is correct. Milton Transit does offer a Trans-cab service in the residential areas north of Main Street in Milton, as well as some of the institutional and industrial zones north of Steeles Avenue. I did not see it in the “System Map and Routes” section of the website; it has its own page elsewhere.

Trans-Cabs, are contracted taxi services that are intended to serve suburban or rural areas that would be inefficiently served by fixed bus services, but require a connection to the transit network. Several cities and towns in Ontario offer these services.

In Milton, Trans-Cab operates between 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and between 5 PM and 6 PM on weekdays, and from 7:10 AM to 7:40 PM on Saturdays,  times when route 1A/1B does not operate. The service requires a 50-cent premium on top of the Milton Transit fare, and the transfer point isn’t at the GO Station, where all eight fixed route buses connect, but at a point in Downtown Milton where only Route 2 connects. Anyone headed elsewhere must then transfer to Route 2 to the GO Station, and transfer yet again. It’s not at all convenient, and the service ends far too early in the evening, especially for commuters and students headed home from Kitchener-Waterloo or Guelph. And unlike connecting between GO and Milton Transits at the station, there’s no co-fare available to any other GO bus service.

Passengers must also request a ride at least an hour in advance if heading to the transfer point; passengers heading to the Trans-cab service area only have to let the Route 2 operator know they need the service.

Map of the Milton Transit Trans-Cab service area, original found here.

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Hamilton Street Railway also provides a Trans-Cab service, serving exurban areas in Stoney Creek (Winona) and Glanbrook. Like Milton, the Trans-Cab service requires a 50 cent premium above the regular fare, and requires a transfer to a regular bus route. In Glanbrook, the service is offered Monday through Saturday from 6 AM to 7 PM, and in rural Stoney Creek from 5AM to 1AM. The HSR system map shows the Trans-Cab service areas. Like Milton, pick-ups have to be arranged at least an hour in advance.

Peterborough and Greater Sudbury also operate Trans-Cabs; again, in those cities, they serve outlying areas that are difficult to serve with fixed bus routes.

The Hamilton example illustrates where Trans-Cabs make more sense: in outlying areas where demand is low, the population density sparse, but there’s a need for transit access. In Milton’s case, operating a fixed route serving the urbanized area north of Main Street makes more sense, especially as it links to a major GO Transit connection;. In Milton, a Trans-Cab might be more useful, say, for serving areas outside the Milton urban area, such as Campbellville and Mohawk Racetrack.

Really, either the Town of Milton/Milton Transit, or GO Transit should work to get the gap between the Highway 401/25 carpool lot and the town transit system fixed properly. An inconvenient Trans-Cab service simply doesn’t cut it.