Categories
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.

Categories
Transit Travels Urban Planning

Goin’ to Kansas City

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Bus and streetcar, Downtown Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri made news this month when its City Council voted unanimously to include a plan for free fixed-route public transit in the next city budget. Though that budget would still have to be passed in the New Year, the mayor’s support for the measure is a promising sign. Though it will cost $8 million, local politicians support the idea as it will benefit low income riders.

It is worth noting that Kansas City Area Transit Authority’s 2016 annual ridership was just over 14 million a year, while the cost recovery rate was just 12 percent. It would be much harder to offer free transit in Toronto. The TTC’s cost recovery rate is 68%, with transit fares bringing in over $1.2 billion a year. Though a two-hour transfer and free children’s fares were recently introduced, there’s little chance that the City of Toronto would agree to funding fare-free transit. In any case, Kansas City’s experiment will be interesting to watch.

Kansas City was a more interesting city than I expected; I am glad I made the impromptu trip. There are a few Toronto connections, including a streetcar that traveled the continent, a restored Union Station, and a 1920s shopping plaza whose concept was imitated 80 years later in Don Mills.

I enjoyed an evening at a jazz club at the 18th and Vine Historic District and local barbecue. Besides transit, I also got around on an electric pedal assist bike that’s part of the local bike share. It’s friendly, urban city, definitely worth a visit.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Walking

Dysfunction junction: the Union Station malfunction

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Looking west to Union Station, August 2019

Last year, the City of Toronto hastily installed Jersey barriers in front of Union Station. This was a response to a tragic criminal act on Yonge Street in North York on April 23, 2018. A single individual drove a rented cargo van down the busy sidewalk, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As one of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian areas, city officials decided that the plaza in front of Union Station required special protection in the wake of the attack in North York.

Sixteen months later, the temporary barriers remain, needlessly restricting pedestrian flows. Temporary Jersey barriers, normally used on roadways to protect construction sites, are long and awkward for pedestrians, making it even more difficult to access some of the city’s busiest crosswalks. During peak periods, these become pinch points, making it especially difficult for anyone crossing against the flow to get through safely. Pedestrians using mobility devices, strollers, or carrying wheeled bags are especially affected.

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

Union Station is adjacent to four of the ten busiest intersections in the city where pedestrian traffic was measured: Bay and King, Bay and Wellington, Front and Simcoe, and York and Wellington (traffic counts are not available for Front and Bay or Front and York/University). At Bay and Wellington, one block north of Union Station, 32,319 pedestrians crossed in an eight-hour period in 2009, compared to 16,188 cars, trucks, and buses. At York and Wellington, 32,338 pedestrians crossed in an eight-hour time period in 2017 compared to just 5,575 vehicles.

Employment at the financial district with commuters headed to and from GO trains and the subway at Union Station, tourists, residents, and fans headed to and from games and concerts at Scotiabank Arena all contribute to the high pedestrian activity in this part of Downtown Toronto.

IMG_3585-001.JPGJersey barriers at the southwest corner of Front and Bay Streets at Union Station

Since the April 2018 attack, drivers have continued to mount sidewalks and crashing into bus shelters, buildings, and pedestrians. Early this morning, the driver of a stolen Range Rover crashed into a parked car on College Street, entered the sidewalk, hit a guidepost and then a transit shelter, injuring a pedestrian waiting for a streetcar. The driver then fled on foot. Other pedestrians have been injured and killed this year even when they are using signalized crosswalks correctly, and with all due care.

At Bay and Front, despite the huge crowds of pedestrians, traffic signals favour motorists. Left turn signals make pedestrians wait longer at crossings before having to navigate around vehicles illegally blocking the crosswalk in addition to navigating the haphazardly placed Jersey barriers. The video below shows the danger of crossing this intersection.

Motorists block the crosswalk with impunity while the left turn signal doesn’t help

In his March 25 column in the Toronto Star, Jack “The Fixer” Lakey was not very sympathetic to complaints about the barriers, writing that “they are clearly a pain for people when foot traffic is heaviest, but we couldn’t help but think they would be effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.”

Lakey then writes that the city is working on permanent barriers that will be “smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians,” with installation this year. It is now almost September, and nothing has been done.

It is hard to argue against barriers in certain places to better protect pedestrians from dangerous motorists. But the Jersey barriers at Union Station are not a sufficient response. Permanent bollard-style barriers would be a definite improvement, and it is disappointing to see the city drag its heels on this.

Meanwhile, the priority afforded to motorists at this downtown intersection, and the lack of enforcement of traffic laws makes it clear that little thought has been afforded to ensuring the safety of all road users. Dropping some road barriers on a sidewalk and calling it a day is unacceptable in a city that is supposedly committed to a Vision Zero action plan.

Categories
Intercity Rail Travels

To Stratford by Train

IMG_6135-001.JPGVIA Train 85 at Stratford Station, October 8, 2016

On Thanksgiving weekend, my partner and I made the trip out to Stratford to get away from Toronto for two days and see two shows: Macbeth and The Hypochondriac. Both plays were excellent, and we had a lovely time strolling through Stratford’s downtown and parks as well. We took the train to Stratford, unfortunately it’s not a very convenient option for festival goers, nor for anyone visiting Stratford or for those who live there.