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About me Brampton Toronto Transit

Podcast News

This week, I appeared on two podcasts, talking about municipal open data, crowdsourced mapping projects, and Brampton’s success in building suburban transit ridership.

For Spacing Radio’s Future Fix series, I spoke about a recent Walk Toronto initiative to map sidewalk pinch points during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We used Google Maps to pinpoint specific locations where queues to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses and services made physical distancing difficult or impossible.

Through Walk Toronto’s social media accounts, we asked Torontonians where these locations were, then submitted a list to city staff and public health officials. Not long afterwards, CurbTO was announced to address this specific problem, the first of several initiatives that recognized the need to get outside.

Also on the podcast are Shabnem Afzal, road safety manager for Surrey, British Columbia, speaking about that city’s Vision Zero plan, and Halifax City Councillor Waye Mason, who spoke about that city’s interactive map that allows its citizens identify spots where safe street interventions are needed.

Just before the pandemic hit, I spoke with Helen Lee and Vincent Puhakka of the new podcast The Next Stop about Brampton Transit’s success, and the implications for other suburban transit agencies. Also on the podcast are Brampton Transit General Manager Alex Milojevic and Mayor Patrick Brown.

I hope you have a listen to each of these podcasts, and consider subscribing.

Categories
History Toronto Transit

The last run of the Rogers Road Streetcar

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Westbound Rogers Road Streetcar at Old Weston Road, 1972. Photograph from Toronto Archives – Fonds 1526, File 72, Item 61

Forty-five years ago today, on Friday, July 19, 1974, the Rogers Road Streetcar made its last run. The route ran from a loop at St. Clair and Oakwood Avenue to Bicknell Loop, located on Rogers Road just west of Keele Street.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) had only recently abandoned its policy of eliminating the streetcar network in favour of buses and the planned Queen Street Subway. By the early 1970s, there were still nine streetcar lines in Toronto, along with two extra rush hour services.

The TTC had to maintain a core fleet of streetcars to continue service until a new fleet could be delivered, and there was a shortage of streetcars in good condition. Despite the new commitment to continue operating a street railway, one more line would have to go. Rogers Road, the last of four streetcars operated for the Township (later Borough) of York, would be sacrificed. (It would not be the last streetcar route to disappear, however.)

For nearly thirty years, service on Rogers Road was provided by trolley buses, a branch of the 63 Ossington route. While the TTC promised to extend the trolley bus to Jane Street (which was one of the reasons why York politicians supported the streetcar abandonment), it never happened. Instead, a shuttle bus route provided service along Alliance Avenue to Jane. Once the trolley bus network was scrapped in 1993, the TTC restructured several west-end routes. In 1994, the 161 Rogers Road bus finally provided the through service York had demanded for twenty years.

In July 2014, before I started this blog, I wrote an article about the Rogers Road Streetcar for Spacing’s website, with the assistance of Steve Munro and author John F. Bromley. Five years later, it remains one of my favourite writing assignments.

You can read the Spacing full article on here.

Categories
About me Toronto Transit

Toronto’s Transit Secrets

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Earlier this week, I attended a book launch at the Spacing Store at 401 Richmond Street West here in Toronto. While I have been to numerous book launches, often to support friends and colleagues, it was the first time it was for a book that I contributed to.

As some of you may know, I am an occasional contributor to Spacing Magazine and Spacing’s website. My writing has allowed me to think and learn more about Toronto, and meet fellow engaged Torontonians. Spacing’s latest book, 25 Toronto Transit Secrets, contains stories, photographs, and maps that detail both the history and the operations of the TTC. For my part, I wrote about the ghostly reminders of abandoned streetcar routes, the history of the convoluted Harbord Streetcar, and what happens to the TTC’s streetcars when they’ve reached the end of the line.

There are many other great stories as well. Read about the TTC’s safety mascot, Barney the Beaver, Toronto’s two ghost stations (Lower Bay and the lesser-known Lower Queen) and a history of the ferry service to Toronto Islands.

25 Toronto Transit Secrets is edited by Dylan Reid and Matthew Blackett, who both deserve a lot of credit. Any writer knows that their work is dependent on editors not only proof-reading their work, but also providing guidance and support. I am always grateful for their encouragement and providing the opportunity to be published.

Categories
About me

A farewell to 2017

IMG_0129-001At the top of the Franey Trail, Cape Breton National Park

For me, 2017 was a great year. In June, I wrote about my life up to that point, looking back at some of the challenges I faced over the years, my ability to overcome them, and my accomplishments. I wrote that shortly before I got married to an amazing life partner, and together, we look forward to many great things.

Elisa and I honeymooned out East, touring the Cabot Trail, Prince Edward Island, and Halifax before taking the train back home. We also visited Point Pelee for the first time, and made trips to Detroit, Chicago, and across Ontario, to places like Southampton, Sudbury, and Collingwood.

I met a few new friends in 2017, and I also got to know some great people even better. Along with our own wedding, Elisa and I got to help celebrate three others this year.

In Brockville, exploring the newly re-opened historic railway tunnel, I spent a few hours catching up with a high school friend who moved from Brampton to a town in Eastern Ontario. That was one of this year’s nice simple highlights. Day trips with friends and groups walks with others were another thing that made this year good. But also in 2017, I lost contact with a few people I knew, including another of my best friends from high school. I regret not keeping in closer contact; social media has its limitations.

At my full time job, I stood up in front of an audience at an industry event, presenting the work that I did on an interesting interactive map that I developed. This year was one of  the most challenging years I had at work, but also one of the most fulfilling.

2017 also marks the tenth year since I started writing on urban issues and transportation for fun. Spacing is one of my favourite publications, and it has been an honour to write for them on occasion. My first blog post described some of the places where Toronto’s old streetcars were sent to once they were retired by the TTC; my latest contribution, a full-page spread in the Fall 2017 issue of the print magazine, highlighted all the major transit projects across Canada planned or in progress. This year, I also wrote for Torontoist and TVO, and of course, in my own blog.

IMG_1524.jpgNation on the move: my latest article in Spacing

In 2018, I look forward to many things: a trip to see family and new places in Europe, catching up with friends, having some more writing opportunities, new challenges at work, and a municipal election, where three new wards will help deliver some new faces to Toronto City Council. Maybe, too, there will be a strong mayoral candidate worth supporting.

My top six posts of 2017

These six articles might not be the most read, but they are among my favourite posts in 2017. They all deal with some of my favourite subjects: urban planning, transit, and local history.

  • Ontario’s land use scandal: Another greenfield hospital for Niagara: A commentary on poor land use planning decisions (which I have discussed previously on this blog) which puts major health and educational institutions far from where people live, on sites difficult to serve by transit.
  • Hallam Street and the Harbord Streetcar: The history of Hallam Street in west end Toronto and the Harbord Streetcar, which was one Toronto’s most interesting carlines until it was abandoned in 1966.
  • How intercity bus service is failing Ontarians: my first article for TVO, I examine how the intercity bus network in Ontario declined since the 1980s, and how many communities in the province have since become disconnected.
  • A need for high speed rail reality: an article I posted to Spacing, as I express my skepticism for the province’s proposal for a high speed rail line between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, and London, with a possible extension to Windsor. It’s an interesting contrast to the neglect paid to rural bus services.
  • Toronto’s Zero Vision and the folly of Seniors Safety Zones: Putting up a few new signs as part of a reluctant response to an unacceptable level of road violence isn’t  Vision Zero, it’s Zero Vision. As a pedestrian advocate and co-founder of Walk Toronto, I believe that the city does a lousy job of protecting its residents from injury and death on its roads.
  • Rosedale NIMBYs Push Back Against Four-Storey Condo: There are few things more fun than writing about entitled, unreasonable NIMBYs.
Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

A new low for the Scarborough Subway champion

Note: a version of this article has been cross-posted to Spacing Toronto

For 2016’s annual Torontoist Heroes and Villains feature, I nominated Toronto Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) as villain of the year. (“Pedestrian blaming” won that dubious honour.) But I remain proud of my choice. As I wrote back in December:

De Baeremaeker’s record of environmentalism has been overshadowed by an increasingly antagonistic tone, pitting supposedly downtrodden Scarborough against the rest of the city in his one-track quest to build a one-stop subway extension to his ward. In his myopic support of the subway, De Baeremaeker is opportunistic and vindictive, takes the low road, insults critics who engage in good faith debates, and in the process does a disservice to the community he represents.

Councillor De Baeremaeker hasn’t changed his tone.

Yesterday, May 10, the City of Toronto held a public consultation at Scarborough Civic Centre on the next phase of planning for that one-stop, 6.2-kilometre subway extension, which is estimated to cost $3.35 billion, and open no earlier than 2026.

I wish I was able to attend last night’s meeting, as disgruntled Scarborough residents questioned the merits of that transit plan. And Councillor De Baeremaeker shamelessly blamed “downtown councillors” for the shortcomings of that one-stop subway. For a councillor who is rightly proud of his past environmental advocacy, it was surely a low point.

Toronto Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro, an excellent local journalist, covered the meeting. 

City Scarborough MapCity of Toronto map from February 2016 illustrating current plans for the Scarborough Subway and connecting transit.

At the public consultation, TTC and City planning staff answered queries from members of the public, many questioning the utility of the single-stop subway. There are no additional funds to rough in future stations, such as at McCowan Road and Lawrence Avenue, where the line would intersect the busy 54 Lawrence East bus and serve Scarborough General Hospital. As building future stations later would require an extended shut-down of the line, the one-stop subway extension will likely be forever a one-stop subway.

(The eastern extension of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT from Kennedy Station to University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus is also part of the new plan for Scarborough, but the LRT component is unfunded.)

Shameless as ever, Councillor De Baeremaeker resorted to strawman arguments, talking up a “suburban/urban divide”:

[De Baeremaeker] blamed “downtown councillors,” who represent the most densely populated wards in the city, for not wanting to fund more frequent transit stops like their residents enjoy.

Yes, it is true that all councillors representing central Toronto opposed the subway extension, but so did several suburban politicians, most notably Councillor Paul Ainslie (Ward 43 – Scarborough East). Yet not one of those councillors wanted less transit for Scarborough. Instead, they backed a seven-stop LRT replacement for the ageing Scarborough rapid transit line, including an extension to Centennial College and Sheppard Avenue in Malvern. That less-expensive line was fully funded by the provincial government, which would have permitted scarce funds to be spent on other transit projects across Toronto.

Meanwhile Mayor John Tory was most interested in pushing SmartTrack, a fantasy rail project that got pared down as parts of the line were found to be impossible to build, and costs increased. The eastern end of SmartTrack conflicted with the Scarborough Subway extension. The three-stop subway plan was cut to a single stop at Scarborough Centre, to keep costs down and to not cannibalize SmartTrack.

Yet Tory and De Baeremaeker are allies on the subway extension; Tory named him one of his Deputy Mayors to champion the line. But Tory’s push for his own project put him at odds with De Baeremaeker’s focus on the subway extension, any subway extension, to his ward.

It is also worth noting that until 2012, De Baeremaeker supported Transit City, the transit plan championed by David Miller that would have delivered three new light rail lines to Scarborough.

I am not surprised by De Baeremaeker’s shameless politics. But his performance last night was especially crass and dishonest. Backed into a corner, faced with angry local residents, he lashed out at imaginary villains. But subway backers largely have themselves to blame; despite winning every recent vote on the subway plan, they have only one stop to show for it.

Categories
Transit

Suburban stations for urban needs: accessing GO Transit’s proposed new stations

21505188673_1d34d85175_kGO Transit train from the Pape Avenue footbridge, near the proposed site of Gerrard Station

At its last board meeting on December 8
, Metrolinx presented an update on the status of twelve new GO Transit rail stations, all located on existing lines. Eight of these proposed new stations are located in the City of Toronto; and six of those are station locations once promised as part of John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal. Unfortunately, the proposed new station designs (all available in this Metrolinx report) appear to be similar to existing GO stations in the suburbs, with needlessly large bus loops, PPUDOs, and parking lots. Development opportunities are limited.

Transit connections at some proposed stations, like St. Clair West, are poor or practically non-existent. This is rather unfortunate, as SmartTrack was originally proposed as a frequent, subway-like service between Mississauga and Markham, with full TTC fare integration. Today, it’s merely six additional stations on existing GO Transit rail corridors. Without quick and seamless connections to the subway and surface TTC routes, the ability to provide any transit relief is compromised.

I have more to say on this at Spacing Toronto.

 

Categories
Roads Toronto

From the vaults: the end of Yonge Street

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Note: This article was previously published in Spacing Toronto on April 13, 2011.

One of Toronto’s greatest debates concerns Yonge Street’s controversial claim as “the World’s Longest Street.” Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records published Yonge Street’s status as the true record until 1999; a bronze art installation in front of the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas has a map of Yonge Street extending to Rainy River.

This claim rests on the rather tenuous claim that that the 1,896 kilometre length of Yonge Street from Queen’s Quay on Toronto’s Harbourfront to Rainy River via Highway 11, at the Minnesota-Ontario border is in fact, the longest continuous “street.”

While a popular claim, I’ve been a skeptic of this local legend. Highway 11 and Yonge Street have never been one in the same, especially after the downloading of Highway 11 south of Barrie by the Harris government in the late 1990s.

In 1920, Yonge Street was added to the Ontario provincial highway systemas Highway 11, which extended from Downtown Toronto as far as the end of Simcoe County, at the Severn River north of Orillia, where an unnumbered highway continued through the unincorporated Districts of Muskoka, Parry Sound and Nipissing to North Bay. In 1937, Highway 11 assumed the Severn River-North Bay portion and the newly-completed North Bay-Hearst section.

During the Second World War, the section between Nipigon and Hearst was completed; it finally provided a complete provincial highway link between the Manitoba and Quebec borders and formed a crucial part of the Trans-Canada Highway until the more direct Highway 17 link from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa was completed in the 1960s. Indeed, Highway 11 could still claim as the longest signed route within a sub-national entity but several national routes, such as US Interstates and US highways, are longer. In fact, the last reference to Yonge Street on Highway 11 north of Holland Landing is a short section of former Highway 11 in south Barrie.

Categories
Brampton Walking

Brampton’s Etobicoke Creek: floods, concrete, and new public spaces

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Over at Spacing, I wrote about a recent Jane’s Walk that I led on Downtown Brampton and Etobicoke Creek.

Until a concrete diversion channel was built in the 1950s, Downtown Brampton would regularly flood as it was built right on top of the creek. The concrete diversion, fenced off and cut off from both the downtown core and the rest of the Etobicoke Creek ravine to the north and south, is an eyesore.

Happily, the City of Brampton is planning to revitalize the channel, which is nearing the end of its useful life and must be reconstructed. The proposed concept, pictured below, includes new public spaces and urban development.

Etobicoke Creek
Conceptual drawing of revitalized Etobicoke Creek 

Of course, during the walk, there was a discussion of the Hurontario-Main LRT, a subject I’ve written about here several times before. Some local councillors and one local advocacy group, Citizens for a Better Brampton, opposed the Main Street surface alignment, and want to push for an Etobicoke Creek route into Downtown Brampton. It would not only wreck a lovely ravine (where one can spot plenty of wildlife), but it would be located in a floodplain, and near the backyards of less-wealthy residents. There’s now a petition to nix that route. Of course, the cheapest and most logical route is along Main Street itself, but a dysfunctional and misguided Council continues to refuse to accept that fact.

It was a pleasure leading a Jane’s Walk, and I learned a lot myself from the conversations that we had along the way; a good Jane’s Walk is when local residents participate and share their knowledge. Leading a walk is a lot of fun, and something that’s quite easy to do. And it need not be on the “official” Jane’s Walk weekend (this year, it was May 6-8), but anytime of the year.

I’ll be leading another walk on Sunday June 12 at 3PM, in Bramalea, meeting at the civic centre across from the mall. Bramalea , billed as “Canada’s first satellite city” when planned and constructed starting in the early 1960s. There’s an interesting diversity of housing types, and an effort to build great greenspaces and linear parks, with a civic centre and shopping mall anchoring the large development.