Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: Supertest Road


On Tuesday, January 21, a 26-year-old woman was struck and killed by the driver of a tractor-trailer at the corner of Supertest Road and Alness Street in North York. According to police, the truck driver was making a right turn from Supertest south to Alness when he hit the pedestrian.

Last week, I paid a visit to the intersection, located in an industrial area off Dufferin Street, just south of Steeles Avenue. It was immediately apparent that pedestrians are an afterthought in this part of the city, and tragedy was inevitable.

The intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest cornerThe intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest corner

I took the 105 Dufferin North bus from Sheppard West Station and got off at Supertest Road before walking west towards Alness Street. I pressed the beg button to cross Dufferin, but it did not work, so I crossed with the solid “don’t walk” sign. At least I had enough time to cross before traffic on Dufferin got the green light. With a bus stop at the intersection, G. Ross Lord Park to the east, and a busy supermarket on the southwest corner, there is no excuse for a malfunctioning pedestrian signal. In fact, the walk signal should appear by default.

As I walked westward on Supertest, the lone sidewalk on the south side of the street came to an end at an industrial driveway about halfway between Dufferin and Alness. With the snow, I was forced to walk on the street, which was busy with cars and trucks. Without any sidewalk, anyone using a wheeled device would also be forced on the street.

End of sidewalkThe only sidewalk on Supertest Road comes to an end halfway between Dufferin and Alness

With my smartphone, I recorded my walk along the curb towards Alness Street, avoiding the snowbanks, debris, and motor traffic. It was not a pleasant walk.

The intersection of Supertest and Alness is a signalized intersection, with pedestrian signals and crosswalks on all four sides. Alness has a through sidewalk, but only on the east side of the street. The intersection is surrounded by a scrapyard on the southwest corner, a bank on the northwest corner, and warehouses to the east. The missing sidewalk on the south side Supertest east of the intersection resumes west of Alness.

The traffic lights are on a timer, and walk signals automatically appear, so there are no beg buttons at Alness and Supertest. What I noticed during my visit is that motorists will regularly rush to get through an amber signal, sometimes running a red. Truck drivers make wide right turns. Though the area is not pedestrian friendly, I did note several pedestrians in the area, running errands at the bank or walking to and from several of the nearby businesses.

Truck turning from Supertest to Alness

Finally, I noted the sharrows, the signed bicycle route on Supertest Road, and the TTC stop on the north side. The cycle route is supposed to connect G. Ross Lord Park on the east side of Dufferin to Flint Road to the west and south to the Finch Corridor Recreational Trail, but it’s not an enticing place to bike. Meanwhile, the TTC stop, for the limited-service 117 Alness route, is inaccessible without a sidewalk leading to it.

Looking west on Supertest RoadLooking west on Supertest Road, with the sharrow, TTC stop, and bike route sign on the right

Everything about this industrial intersection was designed to fail pedestrians and cyclists. Last week, it did exactly that.

Cycling Parks Toronto Walking

Wandering the Waterfront Trail in Scarborough

IMG_8897-001At the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs, west of Bluffer’s Park

Lake Ontario, like all five of the Great Lakes, is more a freshwater sea than merely a lake. It’s over three hundred kilometres long, from Hamilton to Kingston, bordering two countries, with several inhabited islands, and features a varied and fascinating landscape. Lake Ontario’s vastness is best appreciated from its shore, whether it be the Toronto Islands, on the east side, on the beaches at Presqu’ile or Sandbanks Provincial Parks, or from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs.

The Waterfront Trail, at least in theory, is a wonderful way to explore these varied shorelines of Ontario’s vast Great Lakes on foot or by bicycle. Founded in 1995, the trail now extends from the Quebec border, west along the St. Lawrence River, through Niagara, along the north shore of Lake Erie, and up the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers to Lake Huron. I cycle the Waterfront Trail between Toronto and Hamilton several times a year, an 85-kilometre trip. GO Transit’s trains and buses follow the Waterfront Trail from Durham Region to the Niagara River, making it easy to walk or cycle one-way, returning by train and/or bus.

The Waterfront Trail crosses Highland Creek in eastern Scarborough. (2015 photo)

But the Waterfront Trail is dependent on municipal infrastructure, or the lack of it. Most of the trail’s route winds through rural areas, following country roads and highways where segregated multi-use trails aren’t built: in many places, the Waterfront Trail is neither close to the water, nor is it a ‘trail’ of any kind. At least in Northumberland County and Niagara Region, paved shoulders and bike lanes are found along the busier country roads. But this is not always the case.

In urban areas, though, like the City of Toronto, there is both the demand and the resources for safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure along the waterfront. In the old city of Toronto, the Waterfront Trail follows the Martin Goodman Trail, and is nearly completely segregated from motor traffic.

But in Etobicoke and in Scarborough, much of the trail is routed via on-street sections; in sections, pedestrians must follow sidewalks next to busy sections of Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road; for cyclists, there aren’t even any bike lanes — they have the choice of either riding with traffic, or illegally riding on the sidewalks.

Route of the Waterfront Trail within the City of Toronto

Infrastructure Roads Urban Planning Walking

Rethinking Downtown Brampton’s streetscape

IMG_8755-001Main Street looking north at Queen Street, Downtown Brampton

On Thursday, February 23, I went back to my hometown to check out plans for re-configuring Main and Queen Streets in Downtown Brampton. As the Region of Peel needs to replace water and wastewater infrastructure in the area, the timing is right for re-imagining what the streetscape should look like.

The same conversations are taking place in Downtown Toronto. There there are proposals for transforming King Street to prioritize transit and pedestrians; on Yonge Street, city planners, Ryerson University, and local businesses are looking to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as street furniture (such as benches and trees), patios, and special events. Of course, re-imagining downtown streets where cars are given priority will generate opposition, but it’s necessary in dense, urban cities were people, and not necessarily their cars, are given priority.

Downtown Brampton has great bones; it has numerous heritage buildings, several great public spaces, and GO Transit and VIA Rail trains stop right here. The Saturday Farmers’ Market is popular, as is ice skating at Gage Park. But despite some interesting new restaurants and bars, most retail has struggled here, and even new residential development in the area is sluggish. Improving the public realm, especially wider sidewalks and more attractive streetscaping, would be a relatively inexpensive, yet symbolically important, step to making downtown a more desirable place to be.

img_8159-001Sidewalks are narrow, and cyclists often take the sidewalks in Downtown Brampton. 

Maps Toronto Walking

Where the sidewalk ends in Toronto (Updated)

McNicoll Avenue at Boxdene Avenue. There’s no sidewalk on the south side of this busy Scarborough road.

Update: I posted a revised and updated version of the map and article on Spacing Toronto. There, I mention a new absurdity in the war on sidewalks: on Glen Scarlett Road, near the old Stockyards in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, the city is proposing  a new sidewalk for 2016 as part of a road reconstruction project.

The local councillor, Frances Nunziata, is siding with local industry in opposing a sidewalk. Local industries — including slaughterhouses and warehouses — oppose a sidewalk as it would cross their loading docks; Nunziata’s office claims that since the street “is unsafe for pedestrians to be walking on due to heavy traffic, [the City] should not be encouraging pedestrians to use this road by installing a sidewalk.”

This logic is completely counter-intuitive. It ignores the needs of workers walking to work, and local residents walking to the streetcar loop at St. Clair Avenue and Gunns Road, or to nearby shopping and residential areas.


There was a very interesting interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Tuesday, February 16). Host Matt Galloway spoke with Fiona Chapman, the City of Toronto’s manager of pedestrian projects, on missing sidewalks. Nearly one-quarter of all local streets in Toronto don’t have a sidewalk; many more only have a sidewalk on one side of the street. Chapman was discussing a presentation to the City’s Disability, Access, Inclusion and Advisory Committee on staff recommendations that would seek to fix this problem.

CityData - SidewalksStatic map showing the City of Toronto’s sidewalk inventory as of 2011.

Most local streets that don’t have sidewalks are found outside the old Cities of Toronto, East York and York, particularly in parts of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough built in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these residential and industrial streets were built with ditches instead of storm drains; others were laid out without sidewalks in mind. In the master-planned Don Mills development, there are many walkways connecting parks, major roads, and schools; it was likely intended that these would be used for getting around on foot rather than sidewalks. In other post-war subdivisions, particularly affluent areas like those in central Etobicoke, it was probably assumed that everyone would get around by car.

The City of Toronto is hoping to change this. As roads come up for reconstruction, the new policy, recommended by staff, is to install a sidewalk where there isn’t one already, even despite local opposition. The current policy, in place since 2002, is that a new sidewalk could only be installed on an existing local street after the local councillor completed a consult of the neighbourhood and there was a consensus supporting the installation.

In Toronto, the installation of new sidewalks has been surprisingly controversial. But the city’s presentation lists some of the reasons why sidewalks are often opposed. Sidewalks have to be cleared by the adjoining landowner. Residents can’t park their cars in the driveway if they block the sidewalk. They might result in the removal of landscaping or trees. And there is a minority who just want to keep outsiders out of their neighbourhoods. You could call this NIMBY-ism, even though sidewalks are technically is in the front yards, not the backyards, of local opponents.

Sidewalks provide safe, accessible routes for pedestrians, especially important for people using strollers or mobility devices. They promote the city’s initiatives encouraging children to walk to school, for all persons to engage in physical activity, and for seniors to age at home. City policy, including the Toronto Pedestrian Charter, supports sidewalks.

On Chine Drive, in an affluent part of Scarborough near the Bluffs, local residents opposed the construction of a sidewalk, even though it would provide a safe path to a nearby school. Since 2004, some residents opposed the sidewalk, claiming that they were afraid it would “take away from the rustic look of the neighbourhood.” Supporters, including parents with young children, wanted a safe route to the local school. It took ten years, but in 2014, the sidewalk was installed.

Last year, on nearby Midland Avenue South, there was a similar fight to keep sidewalks off of that street. This is despite the fact this section of Midland Avenue is designated as a collector road, and is part of the Waterfront Trail’s route in the Scarborough Bluffs area. The city owns the land, known as a boulevard, where the sidewalks would go, but without the consent of local homeowners, the city was left in a bind. This new city policy will hopefully solve this problem.

Below, I created an interactive map of the City of Toronto’s sidewalk inventory, created with data from the City of Toronto’s Open Data Initiative. It shows each public street in the city of Toronto (excluding private roads and laneways), as of 2011. I made a few edits, such as including the new Chine Drive sidewalk, and correcting a few errors that I was aware of.

Almost every arterial and collector road in Toronto has a sidewalk on at least one side of the street. Exceptions include Highway 27 and Black Creek Drive, where, like expressways, pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited, the Bayview Drive Extension though the Don Valley, and in the far northeastern part of Scarborough, in Rouge Park. But it’s the local streets, marked in orange and red that are most apparent.

Providing safe, accessible, and consistent pedestrian infrastructure is simply the right thing to do. The city owns the land on which sidewalks can be put down, if they aren’t already. There are legitimate concerns that need to be taken into account when new sidewalks are proposed — trees and landscaping especially — but at the end of the day, the needs of vulnerable road users need to be addressed first and foremost.