Toronto Transit

Metrolinx’s strange priorities

crosstownroutemaplarge-640x367Map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT showing the original working station names along the corridor

It’s too often that we hear from business leaders, planning experts, and pundits that politicians should be kept out of transit planning. To some degree, this makes sense. We saw what happened when politicians, pandering for votes from Scarborough, derailed a viable, ready-to-go transit plan in favour of a shiny, unfunded, subway line.

Metrolinx’s appointed board is made up of developers, business people, advisers, administrators, and two retired politicians. It seems like the kind of place where smart, level-headed, apolitical decisions could be made. That is, until board members start bickering about station names.

In December, Metrolinx rubber-stamped, with little debate, a problematic GO Transit fare increase. But it then spent four times as long debating the names of three stops on the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT corridor. And today, there will be a special teleconference meeting to decide – hopefully once and for all, these three names. Maybe then they can get on to serious business.

I discuss this further in Torontoist this morning.

Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s homeless shelters: an interactive mapping exercise

Earlier this week,  I mapped the locations of Toronto’s homeless shelters for Torontoist. While there are shelters located across the city, the capacity is located almost entirely within the old city of Toronto, especially in the Downtown east side, between Church Street and the Don River. This is despite the fact that the need for shelters, like all social services and affordable housing, is city wide. I obtained the homeless shelter data from the City of Toronto’s Open Data catalog.

Unlike previous mapping exercises, I used CartoDB to create an interactive map, rather than relying on Quantum GIS (open source GIS software) or ESRI ArcGIS (software developed and maintained by the leading GIS firm) to create static maps. Importing data into CartoDB is quite easy; the selection of simple base maps is also very helpful. Creating legends and classifications had a bit of a learning curve, but on the whole, I was quite pleased with the result.

Cycling Toronto

More thoughts on cycling infrastructure

In Torontoist last week, I mapped the new and improved bike lanes proposed for 2016. There are some great new additions – more contraflow lanes in the east end and through Kensington Market allow cyclists to take direct routes along quieter residential streets. There will finally be a pilot of the long-demanded Bloor Street bikeway; at least between Shaw Street and Avenue Road. And, as I write this post, work is being completed on separated bike lanes along Adelaide and Richmond Streets east to Parliament Street. The popularity of the lanes added last year (University Avenue to Bathurst) pretty much guarantees that these new bike corridors, still officially pilots, are permanent.

But the map below – created for the Torontoist post – shows many gaps, even with the new 2015 and 2016 additions. Note the long north-south lane in the top centre of the map. That’s Willowdale Avenue, the longest planned addition. It ends at Sheppard, just before Highway 401; there’s no easy and safe way for cyclists to cross North America’s widest and busiest auto route anywhere near where the new Willowdale bike lane ends. Freeways and railways remain nearly impenetrable barriers for pedestrians and cyclists; this prevents the true implementation of a minimum grid.

Bike Routes - Sept17

But even bike lanes are only good if they aren’t blocked by ignorant or ill-intended motorists. Simple barriers like knock-down bollards or curbs are helpful, but they aren’t always effective.

Last Sunday, I cycled from my home in east Downtown Toronto to Downtown Hamilton, following the Martin Goodman Trail, Lakeshore Road, and the Hamilton Beach trail for an 84-kilometre ride. Through Oakville and Burlington, the Waterfront Trail is nearly non-existent, so I ride on Lakeshore Road itself, which has bike lanes in only a few sections. But motorists are, almost without exception, courteous and patient; it’s the one place in the suburbs where I really enjoy cycling.

In Hamilton, after crossing the Queen Elizabeth Way on a spectacular bridge that also spans the Red Hill Creek, I again take minor streets to make my way west towards downtown, where I usually visit a favourite pub on Augusta Street before loading my bike on a GO Transit bus rack and returning to Toronto.


Hamilton, like Toronto, has started to add some great new cycling infrastructure. It has a bike share program, called SoBi Hamilton, it has great trails leading out to Brantford and Caledonia (as well as the Waterfront Trail), and some new bike lanes and cycletracks. The most impressive is Cannon Street, where a lane on a one-way arterial was transformed into a two-way separated cycletrack last year.


But even green paint, knock-down bollards, and plenty of signage wasn’t enough on Sunday, when I encountered this:



The woman in the red shirt and grey trackpants started screaming at me as I took these photos, claiming she had the right to stop here as she was moving out of the house. She threatened to call the cops on me (!) for taking photos of her stuff, saying I could be looking to steal it. (On my bike, of course.) Cyclists encountering this from the west would be forced into oncoming traffic; in any event it’s dangerous and illegal. (Taking photos of this type, on public property, certainly is not.)


There’s still a lot of ignorance out there; not by the woman with the U-Haul that I mentioned; but by at least one reaction:

Sidewalk riding is itself illegal and dangerous (sidewalk riding cyclists are a pet peeve of mine). Happily, there were plenty of others willing to correct that user about the safety of vulnerable road users and the various laws and by-laws applicable in this case.

But this is all a long and winding way to say that more cycling infrastructure is great. And places like Toronto and Hamilton are doing great work on that front. But the infrastructure is only as strong as its connectivity, and as long as they’re not blocked by ignorant and/or hostile motorists. Education and enforcement need to go along with the buckets of green paint, signage, and barriers now being added in our cities.


Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s Legal Rooming Houses


Rooming houses are often-overlooked in Toronto, but they provide an essential form of affordable housing in a city that struggles with the issue. In Torontoist, I looked a little more closely at this issue and created a map of all licensed rooming houses located in the City of Toronto. (The list from which the map was created can be found here.)

There are many, many more illegal rooming houses across Toronto that I didn’t map; currently they only legal in certain parts of the city  – the old City of Toronto and parts of the old cities of York and Etobicoke. These outdated laws predate amalgamation, and ignore the need for this form of affordable housing, as well as the variety of rooming arrangements. Illegal, undocumented rooming houses have the potential to be firetraps, licencing and inspections protect tenants from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions.

It’s time for updated regulations that cover all of Toronto; landlords should be able to rent out rooms right across the city. Happily, the city is conducting a city-wide review of rooming houses; one of the goals is to modernize the city’s by-laws; another is to improve the conditions in existing rooming houses.

Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s Rental Complaints

MLS - Draft 2

Over at Torontoist, I took a look the City of Toronto’s data on complaints made to Municipal Licensing and Standards (ML&S) on multi-residential apartment buildings. All properties with at least 25 notices or orders that are either open, or issued and closed within the last two years are mapped; the ten properties with the highest number of offenses are highlighted and listed.

Many ML&S investigations are the results of neighbours’ complaints of improper waste disposal, graffiti, long grass, unkempt grounds, or fence disputes; these complaints are distributed all over the city. These are usually quickly solved, resulting in only one or a handful of orders issued. However, troubled buildings might have dozens, even hundreds of violations, ranging from poor groundskeeping, to poor interior lighting, to more cringe-worthy deficiencies such as failures to guard against pest infestations, leaking pipes, damaged and stained ceilings and walls, and unsanitary waste collection and storage. Failure to comply with enforcement officers’ orders can result in prosecution.

Most of the properties that I mapped are found in the inner suburbs, or in the Church-Wellesley, St. Jamestown, Midtown and Parkdale neighbourhoods of the old City of Toronto, where many older rental towers are located. A disproportionate number of problematic residential properties can be found in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (previously known as priority neighbourhoods) —25 of the 40 properties with at least 100 ML&S notices or orders are in NIAs. Of the 10 worst buildings, five are large, private rental buildings, the other five are owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

You can search the ML&S database by address for yourself here. It’s not a bad resource if you’re in the rental market and looking at perspective apartments.