Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Ontario Roads Walking

Room to share: How cities can make physical distancing work

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Blackfriars Bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists in London, Ontario

For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.

In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.

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Cyclists on Howden Boulevard, Brampton

In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.

This was one of my favourite articles I have written so far. 

 

Loblaws queue on Church Street
Queue on Church Street at Carlton to enter Loblaws supermarket

With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.

The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.

Categories
Brampton Roads Transit Walking

Why transit users shouldn’t beg to cross the street

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With consistently high ridership growth over the last few years, Brampton Transit has proven to be one of the Canada’s greatest transportation success stories. The Flower City has proven that transit can be successful and popular in North American suburbs.

Despite the success at improving transit and building ridership, Brampton has also prioritized motor traffic at intersection, making it unnecessarily difficult to cross the street at major bus stops. The intersection of Vodden and Main Streets, just north of Downtown Brampton, illustrates this problem.

If the beg button is pushed in time, the walk signal to cross Main Street will appear for just seven seconds before the countdown begins, giving just 11 seconds to cross five lanes. Anyone who misses that light will have to wait over two minutes to legally cross.

What Brampton — and cities like it — should do is remove the beg buttons at transit stops with the assumption that pedestrians will want to cross. It’s just one step towards building a transit culture and attracting new riders.

I write more about this problem in Bramptonist.

 

Categories
Ontario Roads

The north needs roads

IMG_2905.JPGNipigon River Bridge, August 2019

In January 2016, a bridge over the Nipigon River failed. Located roughly 100 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, it formed part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The only east-west link between Western and Eastern Canada was severed, with the only detour through the United States.

Climate change, road safety, and access to remote First Nations communities are some of the unique challenges facing Northern Ontario, where highways are especially important. Though highways fall under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has a role in funding infrastructure and economic development.

I examine these issues in more detail in my latest article on TVO’s website.

Categories
Intercity Rail Ontario Travels

Trekking across Northern Ontario

IMG_2761-001.JPGVIA RDC train about to depart Sudbury for White River

Last month, I embarked on a journey from Toronto to Thunder Bay, a distance of over 1,300 kilometres. My journey took me nearly three days as I opted to travel by bus and rail, rather than by car or by air. Though I had to take three separate trips to accomplish it (an Ontario Northland bus, a VIA Rail RDC train, and a Kasper Transportation mini-bus), it was a very interesting trip.

IMG_2768.JPGUnloading a canoe from the RDC on the Spanish River, northwest of Sudbury

Once I arrived in Thunder Bay, I rented a car. Though I know Northeastern Ontario quite well, I had yet to visit Northwestern Ontario (a brief stop in Sioux Lookout on VIA’s Canadian notwithstanding). There are several beautiful provincial parks within a short drive of Thunder Bay, and the city itself has a few interesting sights. Highway 17 along the Lake Superior shoreline is probably Ontario’s most scenic drive.

Travelling without a car has its challenges, especially as the traveler is at the mercy of sudden schedule changes, traffic delays, and other hiccups, but it is still possible to get across Northern Ontario even after Greyhound’s withdrawal from Western Canada and Northern Ontario last year.

I wrote about my experience for TVO.

KasperBusWhiteRiver.JPGKasper Transporation bus at White River – filling the gap left by Greyhound

Categories
History Infrastructure Ontario Roads

How the QEW made way for Ontario’s transportation innovation

IMG_1263.JPGQueen Elizabeth Way looking east towards Dixie Road in Mississauga

Eighty years ago, the Queen Elizabeth Way was officially dedicated by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (for whom it was named). The QEW, which connected Toronto with Hamilton and Niagara Falls, was not only Canada’s first superhighway, it was also the longest divided highway in North America. When it opened on June 7, 1939, it featured such innovations as continuous lighting, extensive landscaping, and Canada’s first cloverleaf interchange.

But the QEW was not built to modern freeway standards. Despite boasting interchanges and traffic circles, it also had many signalized intersections, private driveways, as well as two lift bridges. As traffic increased after the Second World War, the QEW became known as a notorious “death trap.” Luckily, safety innovations developed by Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and its predecessors have since made Ontario’s highways among the safest on the continent. Interestingly, the QEW is also indirectly responsible for the creation of one of North America’s most successful commuter rail systems.

I wrote more on the history of the QEW and Ontario’s record of highway safety innovation for TVO.

Categories
Brampton History Maps Transit

Brampton Transit’s evolution from a laggard to a leader

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The introduction of Brampton Transit’s Zum service in 2010, serving York University, was a major turning point for the suburban transit agency

For TVO this week, I discuss Brampton Transit’s impressive ridership growth. In the last five years, Brampton Transit has bucked the trend of stagnant ridership numbers encountered elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area and North America in general. I argue that Brampton’s success in improving transit ridership comes from sustained investment over many years, the move to a grid-based route structure, and the introduction of Züm, a basic network of semi-frequent, limited-stop bus routes, many of which extend outside of Brampton’s boundaries.


I grew up in Brampton, and I have collected maps since kindergarten; my collection includes several old Brampton Transit maps. These maps help to illustrate the progress made since the 1980s, when the level of service provided was quite basic.

Brampton Transit began operations in 1976 after the old Town of Brampton’s local bus service was amalgamated with the dial-a-bus service operated in Bramalea. (Brampton amalgamated with most of Chinguacousy Township in 1974, including Bramalea.) In 1980, Brampton Transit operated 14 routes, serving a community of just under 150,000 people. Buses operated no later than 9:00 or 10:00 PM, Mondays through Saturdays, and many routes operated with long, meandering loops. Apart from GO Transit, there were no connections to nearby communities.

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December 1980 Brampton Transit map

By 1988, service was offered on Steeles Avenue to Humberline Drive in Etobicoke, where connections could be made to TTC buses on the 96 Wilson and 73 Royal York buses, but didn’t continue east to Humber College. Brampton Transit Route 14 Torbram served Westwood Mall in Mississauga, and connections to Mississauga Transit could be made at Shoppers World. But still, service levels were poor — you were lucky to get a bus every 30 minutes outside of rush hours. Permanent Sunday service wouldn’t come for another ten years. Notable are the four lettered bus routes — A, B, C, and D — that made direct connections to the four weekday GO train round trips to and from Toronto.

Brampton Transit’s maps of the era are also historically notable because of their advertising: only one of the Burger King locations shown on the 1988 map still exists. Other restaurants advertised — the Old Beef Market, O’Henry’s, and Queen’s Pizzeria — are no longer in business.

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September 1988 Brampton Transit Map

 

 

Brampton Transit Maps published in the 1990s and early 2000s were printed on newsprint, and used only a two-colour scheme: blue for regular routes, and orange for rush-hour routes. Service to new subdivisions was often provided by way of long one-way loops, which is an inexpensive way of serving new areas, but are inconvenient and slow for potential riders.

Notable in the 2001 map below is Route 77, launched in the 1990s as a joint Brampton Transit/Vaughan Transit route between Bramalea City Centre and Finch Station along Highway 7. Route 77 was a very slow way to get to the subway from Brampton, but it operated until Züm began service in 2010. In 2001, bus service on 11 Steeles was finally extended to Humber College’s main campus.

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September 2001 Brampton Transit map

2005 marked an important turning point for Brampton Transit, as it introduced a grid-based route system on major arterials. Route 14 Torbram, for example, no longer served Bramalea City Centre, but continued north, providing a core north-south route; many other routes were straightened, including Route 2 Main north of Downtown. Changes since May 2005 saw service frequencies improved, more local routes added, and improved connections.

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May 2005 Brampton Transit map

The current system map, dated September 2017, can be found on Brampton Transit’s website.

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.