Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

What’s going on in Downtown Brampton?

IMG_6139-0015 Railroad Street, on the City of Brampton’s heritage registrar, is one of several houses recently boarded up in Downtown Brampton

Update April 19, 2018: the location for Ryerson’s new Brampton campus was announced this morning. The 2000-student campus, which will be a partnership between Ryerson University and Sheridan College, will be built at the corner of Mill and Church Streets, on the GO Transit parking lot. This explains Metrolinx’s (GO Transit’s parent agency) purchase and demolition of properties south of the rail corridor, on Nelson, George, Railroad, and Elizabeth Streets, which I wrote about below.

While it remains unfortunate that surface parking will replace housing and offices, at least in the short-to-medium term, at least we now know what’s going on in Downtown Brampton. The downtown campus site, with excellent transit links, is the right location.


Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how Metrolinx, the Province of Ontario’s regional transportation authority, had purchased several houses and two office buildings in Downtown Brampton. The intention at the time was to build a new surface lot to accommodate GO Transit commuters, a symptom of the commuter transit system’s dependence on providing parking.

Metrolinx is responsible for GO Transit, the UP Express airport rail link, the Presto farecard, and planning and constructing transit infrastructure in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Since my 2016 blog post, three dwellings — 28A and 28B Nelson Street West, a semi-detached house, and 42 Elizabeth Street North — were demolished, but there was little other visible change until this month. Now eight more houses — on Elizabeth Street and Railroad Street have been boarded up and their electricity disconnected, including at least one rooming house that was occupied until very recently. The two office buildings — 29 and 37 George Street — are also emptying out.

Four of these properties — 30 Nelson Street West, 46 and 50 Elizabeth Street North, and 5 Railroad Street — are listed by the City of Brampton as containing heritage resources.

IMG_6153-001Offices at 37 George Street are moving out

So what exactly is going on? Why has Metrolinx purchased twelve homes and two offices in Downtown Brampton? Is it for a surface parking lot as previously reported in 2016? Or does this have to do with recent plans for a new Brampton campus of Ryerson University?

The City of Brampton has been assembling land and buildings nearby, including 8 Nelson Street West, a six-storey office building above the downtown bus terminal. The city also owns the old Loblaws store on the southeast corner of George and Nelson Street. As Bramptonist‘s Divyesh Mistry found, Metrolinx noted “…continued collaboration between Metrolinx staff […] with the City of Brampton and Ryerson University on the Brampton Station redevelopment.”

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Houses on Elizabeth Street North recently vacated and boarded up. 

If this land assembly is, in fact, to support a yet unannounced Ryerson University campus site on this block or on the existing Brampton GO Station parking lot, then this is on the whole very good news, though I remain concerned about the loss of downtown housing, particularly rooming houses and affordable apartments that some of older homes in the area have been divided into. A downtown campus with excellent transit links — GO Transit and several Brampton Transit bus routes — makes more sense than Milton’s plans for a greenfield campus for Wilfrid Laurier University distant from GO Transit’s bus and rail lines.

IMG_6149-00146 Elizabeth Street North, a rooming house with heritage status, is now boarded up, with the electricity disconnected. 

Unlike a competing university campus site near Etobicoke Creek backed by New Brampton (a politically influential group of local business and landowners who also opposed the Hurontario-Main LRT route), the GO Station and the Nelson/Railroad/Elizabeth Street buildings are outside the historical floodplain and can be built quicker.

If the existing GO Transit parking lot were to be used for Ryerson’s Brampton campus, then an alternative parking site would be required — hence the recent purchase and the demolition of these homes and offices. The construction of a new surface lot in an designated “anchor hub” — where rapid transit lines meet and urban intensification is encouraged — would be most unfortunate, but I hope that it will not be a long-term solution. On the other hand, a new university campus is exactly the type of land use that should be located at an “anchor hub.”

So far, local officials have kept very quiet about the land assembly on the block surrounded by George, Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets, perhaps waiting for approvals from the province and Ryerson University before making a public announcement. But with residents and office tenants displaced and houses boarded up suddenly, confirmation of these plans should come soon.

Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

Shortsighted short-turns at Bramalea GO

IMG_2321-001Bramalea GO Station

Earlier this week, I took a train from Union Station to Bramalea, as I was preparing for a walk that I will hosting on Sunday exploring Canada’s first satellite city.

Bramalea Station opened in 1973 when the Georgetown GO train service — GO Transit’s second commuter rail line — was inaugurated. The station is located at the southwest corner of Steeles Avenue and Bramalea Road, surrounded by factories, warehouses and busy roads and highways.

There’s little to fault GO Transit for locating its station where it is. In 1973, GO was still in its infancy, launching its first rail services along the Lakeshore Line in 1967. It wasn’t anything more than a commuter rail service, offering downtown-bound commuters an alternative to driving all the way in; free and ample parking was part of that successful model. In 1967, GO Transit was created to reduce the need to upgrade provincial highways; it allowed Downtown Toronto to become a bustling global financial centre without needing huge parking lots and garages and more freeways feeding into it; .

The GO station is located in Bramalea’s south end, next to the CN mainline, surrounded by land designated for industrial development since 1959, when work began on that new suburb. The station is located near a waste-to-energy plant (an incinerator), and is located under Pearson Airport’s flight paths. Since GO insists on providing free parking to its customers, Bramalea (unlike, say, Downtown Brampton) isn’t a bad place to put lots of parking spots; in total, Bramalea has 2,377 parking spots. And since Bramalea Station is adjacent to Highway 407, it’s a major transfer point for GO bus routes to York University, Hamilton, Guelph and Kitchener.

But like too many GO stations, Bramalea is needlessly hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, and is even hostile for many local transit users. As Metrolinx, the agency responsible for GO Transit, pursues Regional Express Rail (RER), it has a responsibility to improve Bramalea Station. As it exists right now, Bramalea is a terrible transit terminal.

Categories
Toronto Transit Urban Planning

The TTC’s disappearing parking lots: why this isn’t a bad thing

IMG_6376New office development at the TTC York Mills Station parking lot

I’ve written several times on my blog about GO Transit’s problems with free parking. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) also operates many parking lots — 11,000 parking spots located at 13 of its 69 subway and RT stations — but has declared many of its lots surplus to its needs. Right now, the City of Toronto’s real estate arm, Build Toronto, is in the process of selling or leasing TTC lots for residential and commercial redevelopment. The TTC, unlike GO Transit, charges for parking at all lots, and it isn’t in a hurry to build more. For the TTC, redeveloping parking lots raise money (which, in the TTC’s case, goes to the city) while they generate additional ridership.

There’s a difference between TTC subway stations and GO Transit stations, to be sure. The TTC relies mostly on buses and streetcars, as well as walk-up traffic, to feed its rail system, while GO Transit relies mostly on suburban commuters driving to its stations. They are different models. But in urban areas like Downtown Brampton, I believe GO Transit should be much more innovative than deciding to rip down a city block to build yet another “free” surface parking lot.

GO Transit should rethink their model, encouraging more walk-up and local transit connections as it transforms into a regional rail system. Redeveloping some of its lots is a good way to go; commuter parking garages can easily be integrated into new urban uses and make their stations more attractive places to walk and cycle.

I have more to say about the TTC’s parking lot crunch over at Torontoist.

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
Transit

GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking

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This is the first of a series on regional transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

This may or may not come as a surprise to readers of my site, but the largest parking lot provider in Ontario isn’t the Toronto Parking Authority, nor is it a major real estate developer like Oxford (owner of Yorkdale and Square One malls) or Cadillac Fairview (Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens). That record belongs to a public transit agency.

Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), owns or leases 63,302 spots at 53 of its 64 GO Transit rail stations (not counting two stations served by seasonal Niagara trains), and offers another 4,186 spots at various park-and-ride and carpool lots served by GO buses. (Metrolinx is responsible for approximately 1,000 spots, the Ministry of Transportation Ontario and local municipalities are responsible for the remaining 3,000 spots).

Pickering GO Station, adjacent to Highway 401, has the most parking spots in the system, with 3,600 spaces in several lots and in a new parking garage. Clarkson comes in second with over 3,000 spaces. Acton, which sees only two trains a day to Toronto, has only 50 spaces. Eleven GO rail stations do not have any on-site parking: Union Station, Hamilton GO Centre, Hamilton West Harbour, Kipling, Exhibition, Bloor, Danforth, Kennedy, York University, Guelph, and Kitchener. With the exception of York University, all are either in urban downtowns (Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Kitchener), or are connections to the TTC.

All GO Transit parking spots are “free,” with the exception of reserved spaces that can be leased for $94/month at most rail stations and the Newmarket bus terminal. Reserved spaces are beneficial for regular passengers to guarantee a preferred spot on weekdays. This is in contrast to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which charges $2 to $7 to park at any of its lots on weekdays, though there are no parking charges on weekends and holidays at most of its lots and garages.

The Toronto Parking Authority, the largest municipal parking operator in North America, operates 20,000 off-street parking spots in lots and garages across the City of Toronto. (The TPA is also responsible for 17,500 metered on-street spots.) Oxford Properties Group owns approximately 30,000 spots at five GTHA malls (Square One is the largest, with 8,700 spots), while Cadillac Fairview owns 26,671 spots at 7 GTHA malls. The TTC has parking facilities at 13 stations; Finch, with 3,227 spots, is the TTC’s largest, though Finch Station’s parking lots are within a hydro field.

The table below illustrates this comparison.

The GTHA’s largest parking operators

Parking table v2

I chose to include major shopping centres in this comparison, because as with GO Transit, they provide “free” parking to their customers, both surface lots and multi-level parking garages. The TTC does not charge for parking at most of their lots on weekends and holidays, while the Toronto Parking Authority charges competitive rates while returning a healthy profit to the City of Toronto.

This model of providing ample “free” parking made sense early in GO Transit’s history, when the provincial government created the agency (“GO” is short for Government of Ontario) to shift auto traffic off the Queen Elizabeth Way and other provincial roads as Toronto was growing rapidly, especially as a major financial centre. In 1967, GO operated only on the Lakeshore Line between Pickering and Oakville, with two trains continuing on to Hamilton. Public transit in the suburbs was almost non-existent; land at these new GO stations was cheap and plentiful. (Here is a fascinating history of GO Transit’s early years.)

But that model makes less sense nearly 50 years later, especially as GO moves towards becoming a regional rail operator, with more frequent services operating more like a metro than a commuter railway.