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.

Brampton Design Ontario Toronto

Some love for Ontario’s municipal flags

Flag of TorontoThe flag of the City of Toronto, designed by Renato De Santis, is an example of a very good civic flag

I was in Orillia last week, mainly to check out the new Simcoe County Lynx bus system. While there, the flag flying from the Opera House (formerly the city hall) caught my attention. Most municipal flags are boring, usually consisting of the town or city’s coat of arms, shield, or logo on a plain background.

Orillia municipal flag, with a yellow sun in the middle

But Orillia’s flag is different. It has waving blue and white waves, with two green triangles facing the centre, and a bright yellow sun in the middle. The symbolism wasn’t difficult to figure out: the city’s position on the narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching, with the sun being a nod to Orillia author Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, a light, humourous collection of short stories about the denizens of Mariposa, a thinly-veiled fictionalization of Orillia.

Yet Canadian cities that boast populations twenty or thirty times that of Orillia can’t boast having such a fine flag.

For the most part, we don’t think about state, provincial, and municipal flags, and that’s a pity. In the few cities that have an unique and powerful flag, they have become part of that city’s iconography. Unfortunately, though Toronto does have a very good civic flag, we don’t fly it like it should.

According to the North American Vexillological Association, there are five principles for creating a good flag:

  • Keep it simple — so simple, it can be drawn by a child from memory
  • Use meaningful symbolism
  • Use two or three basic colours
  • Never use lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive or be related

Canada’s flag, adopted in 1965, adheres to these principles perfectly. It uses just two basic colours: red and white. With a large red maple leaf in the middle, it’s easily recognizable around the world. While a child might not get the eleven-point maple leaf exactly right, it’s otherwise easy to draw from memory.

There are, of course, exceptions to these principles.

Maryland’s complicated state flag, based on the coat of arms of colony founder Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, is distinctive and popular, nearly as common as the US flag. California’s state flag is emblazoned with the words “California Republic” but it has significant historical meaning. The flag of South Africa, adopted in 1994, has six colours, but by merging the Pan-African colours of the African National Congress with the red white and blue of Britain and the Netherlands, it represents unity in the post-apartheid era.

Flags of Maryland, California, and South Africa, notable exceptions to the rules

For the most part, famous and great civic flags adhere to these principles. The flags of Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, and Tokyo all stand out. In Chicago and Amsterdam, these flags are proudly flown from private homes and watercraft, found on t-shirts and souvenirs, and well known around the world. The bear from Berlin’s flag is almost as popular as the Ampelmännchen. Though Amsterdam’s flag’s origins go back centuries (the “x”s are actually St. Andrew’s crosses), it looks bad-ass, and on-brand for a city famous for its tolerance.

Great civic flags: Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Tokyo

Compared to the great examples above, Ontario’s provincial flag is just bad. Compare the provincial red ensign with the flag of Manitoba, and then compare it to the Franco-Ontarien flag.

The Ontario and Manitoba flags, British red ensigns defaced with the provincial shields, were only adopted in 1965 and 1966 as conservative reactions to the new flag of Canada. The two flags are difficult to tell apart from a distance, and they both contain the St. George’s cross (representing England) twice: once in the union flag in the canton, and again in the shield. There’s very little Ontario to be found. (At least the Manitoba flag contains a bison, a recognizable symbol of that province.)

Meanwhile, the Franco-Ontarien flag is immediately recognizable, with the fleur-de-lis and a stylized trillium, the provincial flower, representing the French-Canadian presence in Ontario.

Like Orillia, there are a few other civic flags in Ontario that get it right.

Flags of Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto

Thunder Bay’s flag depicts a rising sun above Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant, a prominent natural landmark across the water. The flag of Hamilton includes a yellow cinquefoil, the badge of the Clan of Hamilton, with a steel chain with six large links representing the steel industry and the six municipalities amalgamated into the modern city. The flag of Ottawa contains the civic logo, with the points representing waterways and the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Finally, the flag of Toronto has an abstract depiction of Toronto’s city hall, with a maple leaf where the council chamber sits. The two towers also make a “T.”

It’s a shame that Toronto doesn’t make more of its simple, yet great flag.

Unfortunately, most flags look like those used by Ontario’s third and fourth largest cities.

Mississauga’s flag violates most of the principles listed above by including the name of the place it represents, with the addition of “incorporated 1974” at the bottom. In the middle is the civic shield, with the typical trappings: a cog representing industry, a lighthouse representing a port (Port Credit), a waterwheel, a stalk of wheat, and wings, possibly representing Pearson Airport. Though Mississauga is a proud city with its own identity, this flag doesn’t appear except in front of civic buildings.

Brampton’s flag is just the civic shield on a white background, again with similar trappings: a bushel of wheat, a plow, a steam locomotive, and a beaver. According to the city’s website, the gold colour and castle top signify the city’s relation with the small Cumbrian town of Brampton, England. The shield dates from the small rural town before post-war growth, with only a pine tree in the middle to represent the old township of Chinguacousy it merged with. There’s no recognition of Brampton’s modern identity as a multicultural city.

But at least they’re not as bad as the worst city flag identified by the North American Vexillological Association, that of the city of Pocatello, Idaho, which manages to include the city slogan, a trademark, and a copyright notice. After some embarrassment, the city came up with a new, much better flag.

Old Flag of PocatelloThe former flag of Pocatello, Idaho

It would be wonderful to see Brampton and Mississauga come up with better designs. Brampton’s new logo and slogan, Flower City, better represents the city’s history and ambitions. A pretty good flag could be made out of that.

As for Toronto, let’s embrace our flag more. It’s a fine one and far better than the province’s. As Torontonians generally think of themselves as Canadian first, Torontonian second, and Ontarian third, perhaps we should give our municipal banner more love.

Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Transit

A better Hurontario Street – an LRT update

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.

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.

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.

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.

Brampton Cycling Toronto

Suburban cycling infrastructure: the 416 versus the 905

IMG_2051-001Riding along the McNicoll hydro corridor in northern Scarborough

Earlier this summer, I took two rides from my downtown apartment to suburban locations. On one ride, I biked northeast to Agincourt, on another trip, I biked to Downtown Brampton on a route that took me past the Humber River and Etobicoke Creek. I experienced different standards for on-street and off-road cycling routes. The City of Toronto generally does better, but suburban cycling infrastructure generally depends on off-road trails, rather than on-street bike lanes and cycle tracks.

In the urban, central part of Toronto, bike lanes and cycle tracks (separated bike lanes located along major streets) are the predominant form of cycling infrastructure. While there are some bike lanes in suburban Toronto and in other municipalities like Mississauga and Brampton, most bike routes, if they exist, are off-road multi-use trails, in ravine or hydro corridors, or alongside major roads, like sidewalks.

Multi-use paths are pleasant to ride on, but they’re often treated as recreational trails, rather than transportation corridors. Most paths are not cleared of snow in the winter (winter cycling really should be encouraged), and they are often isolated from the adjacent road network and local destinations, and they can meander, rather than follow straight lines. Road crossings can often be awkward.

Bike lanes, which offer less protection from motorized traffic at least are integrated with the rest of the street grid, and are generally more direct. But on fast-moving suburban arterials, they aren’t ideal without separation. This is where the side-of-road path comes in.

IMG_2305-001Shared pathway, Derry Road, Mississauga

Transit Urban Planning

Missed opportunities on the Mississauga Transitway

IMG_0343-001Route 107 Malton Express bus on the Mississauga Transitway at Tomken Station

After riding the UP Express back in March, the inspiration for a post on a proposed transit hub at Toronto Pearson International Airport, I went for a ride on the Mississauga Transitway.

I first rode the Mississauga Transitway on a snowy Monday, November 17, 2014, the day it opened. At the time, only four stations were opened — Central Parkway, Cawthra, Tomken, and Dixie. On my first visit, I was unimpressed. But I decided to give it another try after the two new stations opened, on a Saturday, when I had plenty of time to check out the service, the new stations, and the environs.

I have many thoughts and criticisms about this new piece of transit infrastructure, which will cost the City of Mississauga and Metrolinx a combined $528 million.

mississauga_transitway_map_en-670x340Map of Mississauga Transitway, taken from the GO Transit website

What is the Mississauga Transitway?

The Mississauga Transitway is a bus rapid transit (BRT) project. BRT is a term used in the transit industry to describe everything from limited-stop conventional buses, perhaps with some perks like all-door boarding and queue-jump lanes sometimes called BRT-lite (Brampton Zum is a good example), to fully grade-separated, high speed bus corridors that operate like metro lines (the Ottawa Transitway and Bogota’s TransMillenio system are good examples). Other busways in Canada include the Ottawa Transitway, to be partially replaced by light rail transit, the Gatineau Rapibus corridor, York Region’s Viva Rapidways, and Winnipeg’s RT corridor.

The Mississauga Transitway is a true BRT system, but it has several major weaknesses.

Toronto Transit

On transit ridership in the GTHA

Earlier this week, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) released its agenda for the next board meeting, to be held on March 23. Among the items to be discussed are updates on the delayed Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan, plans for the Line 2 subway extension to Scarborough Centre, the new MiWay/GO Transit terminal at Kipling Station, the planned new 514 Cherry streetcar line and other Waterfront bus improvements, and a ridership update.

As always, Steve Munro is on top of it all, and I encourage you to read his post.

I wanted to make a few observations about ridership, especially in Toronto’s suburbs. Growth in the TTC’s ridership has slowed down in the last three years, from a 2.1% annual increase in 2013, to a much more modest 0.5% increase in 2015.

Ridership figures are not detailed enough to know at what times of the day ridership is changing, nor on what routes. But ridership growth has fallen (or even declined) for other major Canadian transit systems, including Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa. There are many causes for changes to ridership — population and employment growth or decline, fare increases, service improvements or cuts, even the cost of gas, which has been declining in the last two years. Much of the employment growth within the City of Toronto has been in the downtown core, but so has the population growth due to new residential highrises. (I’m one of thousands who live and work in or near the downtown core — my TTC use is now mostly during the evenings and weekends as I mostly walk to work).

Hopefully, the Commission and the city don’t use this short-term trend as  an excuse to hold back on needed service improvements or projects such as the Relief Line — for one thing, many buses, streetcars and subway trains are already overcapacity, and it is impossible to know whether slower ridership increases represent a long-term trend, or a short-term blip.

There was one table in the TTC ridership update that caught my attention. The table, on page 5, shows the ridership for every Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit system (though excluding Milton Transit). I reproduced that table below.


GTHA transit agency annual growth rates, 2013 to 2015. Adapted from TTC 2016 Ridership Update, page 5.

While the TTC’s ridership growth has slowed, ridership in many suburban municipalities have either flatlined or declined. Only Mississauga and Brampton show consistent, positive growth over the last three years. MiWay, previously known as Mississauga Transit, hasn’t expanded transit operations that much in the last few years, but that city continues to enjoy modest employment growth and improved connections to the airport, Brampton Transit and the TTC. It is currently building a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line, the Mississauga Transitway (more on that in a later post), and city council is backing the Hurontario LRT line, which would largely replace bus service on its busiest corridor.

Brampton’s growth has been, by far, the most impressive. That suburban municipality is growing thanks mostly due to new sprawling subdivisions, but since in the last decade, Brampton Transit has been introducing annual system improvements, including the Zum “BRT-lite” network of limited-stop bus routes. Brampton’s ridership is now almost that of the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR). Unlike Hamilton, Brampton doesn’t have two major post-secondary educational institutions, nor a dense urban core, though it serves Humber College, York University, and two secondary Sheridan College campuses in Brampton and Misssissauga.

In Hamilton, ridership dropped by 1.8% in 2015. Most ridership in Hamilton is concentrated in the lower city, as well as a few trip generators in the suburbs, including Mohawk Collage on the Mountain, and Lime Ridge Mall. Many parts of the lower city have been hit hard by job losses in that city’s major industries, though new subdivisions (and, to a lesser extent, downtown gentrificaton) have contributed to modest population growth. Hamilton is going ahead with a provincially-funded east-west light rail line that will connect McMaster University, Downtown Hamilton, and the east end.

Elsewhere, transit ridership growth has been quite disappointing. Burlington Transit saw a drastic 13.3% decline over the last three years, Durham Region, which I recently visited, saw a major decrease in 2015. However, there is lots of promise in its five-year service strategies, which will improve and simplify the agency’s route structure and provide enhanced service.

2015 Ridership
2015 ridership for GTHA transit agencies (Milton excluded). The TTC, with narly 75% of the region’s ridership total, dominates. GO Transit holds another 9%. 

York Region Transit, serving a population of 1.2 million, has only 1 million annual riders more than Brampton, whose population is nearly half of York’s. And despite adding new subdivisions (and a few new residential towers), ridership declined in the last two years. As illustrated in the table below, YRT’s ridership per capita is less than half of Hamilton’s or Mississauga’s.

YRT Ridership StatsComparing York Region Transit to other Canadian transit systems, 2013. From the VRT/Viva 5 year service plan, page 7. 

It’s interesting that despite poor transit ridership (amid York Region Council-mandated service cuts and steep fare hikes) York Region, with senior government assistance, is spending $1.4 billion on dedicated median busways on Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive. York Region will get the Spadina subway extension in 2017, and it pines for an extension of the over-burdened Yonge Subway to Richmond Hill Centre.

In York Region, there’s a troubling disconnect between spending money on capital projects and funding the services that will use the shiny new infrastructure, or feed ridership to it. Brampton has proven that growing service, not necessarily fancy infrastructure, will grow ridership. That said, it remains disappointing that the suburban municipality with the best record for ridership growth in the Toronto region rejected a funded light rail transit line to its downtown core.


Welcome to Toronto, we guess

Welcome sign when entering the City of Toronto

Last weekend, I was out exploring the Toronto-Mississauga border. I have a few thoughts about suburban transit projects like the Mississauga Transitway and as I have time, I’ll post those here.

But where Eglinton Avenue crosses Etobicoke Creek, motorists (and the few brave cyclists and pedestrians), are greeted with a sign that said, simply, “Welcome to TORONTO” and underneath, “Ontario’s Capital.”

Yes, Toronto is the capital of Ontario; that’s what they teach childen in Grade 2, along with the other provincial and territorial capitals of Canada. But surely, a city of three million people that’s known for its talent, creativity, and diversity can come up with something better than this uninspired sign, which is found at many, if not most, entrance points to the city. The welcome sign would even better off without the “Ontario’s Capital” tab.

But while I was walking on the Etobicoke Creek bridge — a hostile environment as any for a humble pedestrian — I noticed this plaque, marking the border between the City of Mississauga and what was then the City of Etobicoke. The bridge was built in 1978, but is being widened to support a new bus rapid transit project. This section of Eglinton is built for cars, but it is only as a pedestrian that you can spot this sort of detail.


In 1978, Etobicoke’s motto was simply “Tradition and Progress” while Mississauga’s crest didn’t sport a motto. Today, signs welcoming you to Mississauga say “Leading today for tomorrow, a rather boastful, yet meaningless slogan.

Brampton Transit Urban Planning

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

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.

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.

Brampton Politics Transit

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

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.

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.