For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.
In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.
In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.
With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.
The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Confederation 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.
Trillium Line DMU train approaching Carleton University
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.
Bus 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.
Downtown 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.
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.
Train 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.
The 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.