Monday, April 30, 2007

Commuters facing Steeles showdown - Toronto Star

Commuters facing Steeles showdown
As York Region favours wider HOV roads, Toronto opts for a light-rail plan
April 30, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Do HOV lanes ease traffic congestion or are they just enablers for automobile addicts?

The "official" answer depends on which side of Steeles Ave. you do your commuting.

The dividing line between York Region and Toronto is where car culture could smack straight into the city's ambitious public transit plan.

York has approved in principle widening about 95 kilometres of regional roads over the next decade to create high-occupancy vehicle and bus-only lanes. Several would end at the Toronto border at Steeles, including Jane, Keele, Dufferin, Bathurst, Bayview and Leslie.

It's part of what regional chair Bill Fisch calls a balanced transportation plan, which also includes investments in transit.

The lanes are designed to encourage carpooling and will also speed bus travel, so they're entirely compatible with the region's goal of getting more people on transit, said Fisch.

But just across the road, in transit-hungry Toronto, officials say York's plan is misguided. They have already told the region Toronto has no interest in creating HOV lanes to match up with York's wider roads.

Toronto's transportation investments will be focused on the "Transit City" plan, which would create a network of light rail across Toronto, says TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

"I think we would be receptive to hearing proposals around bus-only lanes, similar to what we're doing up at York University. That will be used by York Region Transit and the majority of users will be non-TTC transit. But adding more lanes of traffic – absolutely not," he said.

Fisch said Torontonians will decide for themselves if they like York's HOV lanes. For every 10 cars commuting south to Toronto each day, there are nine travelling north into his region, which has had some success getting its commuters out of cars.

York's modal split – the number of person trips taken on transit – is only 9 per cent, compared with about 35 per cent in Toronto. But the York number is up from 7.5 per cent five years ago, and the official plan calls for it to increase to between 20 and 25 per cent by 2026.

Getting there won't be easy.

"The culture is not public transit use, and we don't expect everybody to use public transit, but we do know we have to get that split up in order to make our congestion problem dissipate," said Fisch, adding that more commuters will move onto the subway system once it's extended into the region.

Balance is important, he said.

"We're going to put in transit and we're going to put in roads and encourage people to use their cars in a different way. I recognize Toronto has other issues. At the same time, our residents are going both ways and clearly they're going to want to get from one place to another more quickly, and that will require work on those roads."

But Toronto's director of transportation planning, Rod McPhail, worries that the bottleneck that starts at Steeles and goes into downtown Toronto will only get worse when new six-lane roads narrow to four.

He also wonders if York's HOV lanes will prove more successful than the diamond lanes Toronto flirted with years back, like those on Eglinton Ave. and Don Mills Rd. Those lanes are supposed to be reserved for vehicles with three or more riders. But only 10 to 15 per cent of cars travelling in them during peak hours abide by the rule, because it's not consistently enforced.

If and when light rail is built along those routes, McPhail suggests the diamond lanes could become transitways.

That's not to say all HOV lanes are bad, he said. The province has taken the right approach in building the lanes and requiring only two occupants per vehicle.

Sixteen months after they opened, HOV lanes on Highway 403 in both directions and southbound on Highway 404 have been declared a success. They shave up to 17 minutes off some trips and usage has steadily risen, suggesting more people are driving with passengers.

The Highway 404 HOV segment is in York Region between Beaver Creek and the 401. A northbound lane is due to open this summer. York has also designated about a kilometre of Yonge St. from Centre St. to Steeles as an HOV lane.

But what works on highways won't necessarily translate to city streets, McPhail said. In the 1970s, studies showed cars on Toronto roads carried an average of 1.25 people. Planners figured that if they could raise that to 1.5, they could declare success. Instead, the average has dropped to 1.1.

Toronto city councillor and TTC commissioner Anthony Perruzza's ward borders York Region at Steeles and Dufferin. He supports Giambrone's position that more transit, not more car lanes, is the right approach.

"I don't fully know the pressures up in York Region, but I know they've created these huge distances between the places where people live and where they shop, where they live and where they work.

"You live in these subdivisions with no transit, I don't know how you get out to an arterial road," said Perruzza. "They need to improve their transit, but the cost of that, given the distances they have to cover, will be so prohibitive I can understand why they're perhaps thinking of widening roads."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is an integrated region, and cannot be operated as a group of isolated islands. Steeles Avenue, the Rouge River, the Etobicoke Creek - these are all artificially drawn boundaries, and serve no real purpose to the average citizen. The development doesn't stop at Steeles, and we cannot act like it does. The GTA needs an integrated transit planning policy with consistent goals region-wide.

York Region's plan is doomed to fail because the traffic heading into Toronto will have no place to go once it gets to Steeles. It will only shift congestion to the southernmost areas of the region. Shifting more people to transit by making transit more attractive in the suburban areas is the way to go, in addition to streamlining the planning process and objectives across the GTA. Turning all our roads into freeways is not the road to success.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

905 gridlock seeds city tower - Toronto Star

905 gridlock seeds city tower
April 26, 2007
Donovan Vincent
city hall bureau

A large engineering firm's plan to purchase city property at Bloor and Islington Sts. to build an office tower shows that "gridlock" in the suburban regions is making Toronto more attractive to businesses, a city politician says.

This week, city council okayed an offer by SNC Lavalin to buy one-third of Toronto's 4-hectare property at Islington and Bloor, a deal that must be finalized within 60 days.

The city wants to use the proceeds toward a $58 million redevelopment of Islington and Kipling TTC stations. The project includes building a new bus terminal at Islington and a new "inter-regional'' terminal at Kipling for the TTC, GO and Mississauga Transit.

The city's portion of the redevelopment cost is $17 million. Toronto wants Mississauga Transit, GO, the province and perhaps Ottawa to kick in the rest. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), who represents the area, says proceeds from the sale would cover about half of that $17 million.

SNC Lavalin plans to build an office tower on the property to house about 1,200 employees. Part of a consortium that owns the 407 toll road, SNC Lavalin leases space elsewhere in the GTA and wants to consolidate offices.

The firm was originally eyeing a spot in Mississauga, Milczyn said.

"There's the fact that employees located in the 905 have to drive. (Due to) the lost productivity of people driving constantly, companies are beginning to look at that cost, saying an extra few hundred thousand a year in property taxes is more than worth it,'' he said.

"It means employees can use the subways, get downtown faster for meetings or to the airport faster. Gridlock in the 905 is beginning to make the city of Toronto a lot more attractive to put offices,'' he argued.

Gillian MacCormack, a spokesperson for SNC Lavalin, declined to comment yesterday, saying negotiations are continuing. Zoning allows for a building of up to 22 storeys.

Now that the city has a likely "anchor tenant," Milczyn said, the property around the SNC Lavalin building probably will be used for an underground parking facility, a public square, and perhaps another tower that would let the city consolidate some of its own offices.
This article contradicts reports last year that gridlock was pushing businesses out of the city and into the suburbs, but it proves what the Toronto Board of Trade has been saying for years. Gridlock and car-based areas are unsustainable, and will eventually lead to economic collapse. In order to attract new commercial investment, suburbs need to aggressively deal with congestion and gridlock.

SNC-Lavalin has annual revenues of $2.8 billion US, and I'm sure that the City of Mississauga is kicking themselves for losing this headquarters. However, the subway is a better place, as there's already the infrastructure and services to accommodate the 1200 workers. This means that Mississauga Transit gets moved to better facilities at Kipling and a new GO terminal gets built (although which routes will use it remain a mystery to me), so overall, this is a good deal.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Costly buses - The Brampton Guardian

Costly buses
Saturday April 21 2007

One thing is abundantly clear about the city's new AcceleRide program. The meltdown of the city's finances is inevitable. Timing is the only uncertainty.

AcceleRide will be Brampton's great disaster of the 21st century.

Say goodbye to downtown parking and the hoped-for downtown revitalization. Say hello to skyrocketing property taxes.

Say goodbye to quiet residential streets downtown. Say hello to worsening gridlock.

Be warned and look for the first of the "For Sale" signs to go up along Main Street.

And be sure to wave at AcceleRide Project Director Dave Roberts and Mayor Susan Fennell as they drive their cars to work.

Michael Rodgers, Brampton
Mr. Rodgers' concept of the neighborhood, is, well, factually wrong on almost every single point he makes.
  • AcceleRide will not cause the meltdown of Brampton's finances. It will be caused by the fact that you cannot finance a city on regressive (property) taxes. You need a tax base which is directly tied to income.
  • AcceleRide will not be Brampton's great disaster of the 21st century. It will be the greatest triumph in transportation planning to date. The disaster would be to do nothing.
  • You forget that there are three large municipal parking lots in downtown Brampton, and that the on-street parking you refer to is actually the cause of downtown congestion in the afternoon rush hours. I say good riddance, because a single bus could carry more people than the on-street parking could handle. The downtown revitalization is not in jeopardy, as a public transit system will make such a district more accessible to all people. Property taxes may rise, but only because property values will be on a one-way ride to the moon.
  • Gridlock is caused by too many cars. Buses carry people who would otherwise be in cars. Therefor, cars decrease. Buses do not magically spawn cars onto residential streets.
  • Any for-sale signs along Main Street will be because skyrocketing property values has caused property owners to cash-out.
I don't like Susan Fennell, but I'll be sure to wave at her next time I see her. Not the cynical wave you describe, because I give credit where credit is due.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This is good development - Brampton Guardian

This is good development
Tuesday April 17 2007

It has been with increasing irritation over the past several weeks that I have been reading the letters from "concerned citizens" who oppose the proposed high-rise development around Heart Lake.

These letters have revealed astonishing self-absorption and self-righteousness, and have failed to offer a genuine argument against the development. The "arguments" boil down to "I don't like it, and don't build it near my house". This is classic "Not In My Backyard"-ism.

The idea that this development will somehow harm the environment is presented either naively or as an outright deception. Newsflash, good citizens: Brampton's environment is already compromised. We don't live in some kind of nature preserve. Car-culture sprawl, and 4,000 new houses a year, have already taken care of the "environment".

Intensification in existing urban areas is the only way to increase population density to a sufficient point to allow for viable public transit and other municipal services.

Brampton is, as you well know, irrevocably part of the ever-growing urban area known as the GTA.

If any of these letter-writers really cared about the environment, they would be supportive of the Heart Lake development and other projects like it.

They should definitely stop trying to present their objections as anything more noble than their own ill-considered self-interest.

Bill Yetman,
I've always been in favour of this proposal, and this letter captures part of the reason why. Here's the other reason:

The site of the proposed tower is shown in red, with yellow place marks marking the location of schools, parks, shopping and transit - everything necessary to have in a residential area and within walking distance or within five minutes by transit. It makes excellent urban planning sense to build high density developments at this site, and failing to do so does nothing to address urban sprawl.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Magic moment on the rails - Toronto Star

Magic moment on the rails
April 17, 2007
Enez Perkins

I've been taking the GO train for the past six months, back and forth from an eastern suburb to downtown Toronto.

Maybe it's way too early to tell, but like that magic moment when you meet your soulmate, I feel pretty confident in claiming that I have indeed found my preferred method of commuting.

I make this bold statement, however, on a lonely platform – no, not the one where I board the train – a situation I find most perplexing: I'm surrounded by people who do not share my passion!

There is, firstly, my best friend, who dutifully drives into the city daily and scoffs at the idea of being at the mercy of schedules and switching problems. Then there is my significant other, who holds his haughty head far above the thought that someone else can steer him in the direction he wants to go.

The real joke, though, are co-workers – confirmed city dwellers – who stare incredulously when I mention where I live, not stopping to think that their city address finds them fighting traffic gridlock, taking thrice the amount of time it takes me to get to work.

It is true that during the first week in January, when the train arrived late three mornings in a row, I felt my passion for GO slowly slipping away, like the horrible moment when you realize that your perfect love has indeed got flaws.

As I stood in freezing sub-zero temperatures listening to the deafening silence of my station's absent paging system for an explanation of our already 20-minute delay, I felt totally disheartened.

The second morning of delays found me taking drastic and impetuous action. I angrily left the station, trekked back to the parking lot, jumped in my car and then spent a very long, very lonely ride stopping and not going anywhere fast on the mess that was the 401. That morning I was twice as late for work and every bit the contrite lover.

So morning three of being late found me on the train, simmering all the way into the city. I let loose my frustrations by firing off an email to GO Transit the minute I got to work. That helped a great deal, no surprise since I've usually found insurmountable problems get that much smaller when the details have been aired.

So after the email and subsequent cooling off, and amidst the back-to-normal schedules of the trains, a few weeks later I was back to joking with the ticket-booth attendant, quipping about my reluctance to buy another 10-ride ticket in the face of an impending strike.

My love for GO has many angles. The idea that I can personally do something significant in the fight against global warming is tremendously appealing.

Then there is the fact that I can choose any number of activities for the commute to work – reading, sleeping, talking to my new friends, listening to music, or just simply looking at the therapeutic scenery that Lake Ontario provides.

Let me hasten to add, though, that the GO ride is not all pleasant. After all, commuters sitting in a certain section of one of the popular rush-hour trains can attest to the annoyance of listening to a small group as they loudly discuss the fine details of Karen's upcoming wedding. We have heard of the engagement, the ring from Grandma, the planned joke on the groom and, more recently, the results of the wine-tasting session.

Then there are the times when your seatmate's headset attached to his MP3 player is blasting sounds beyond the listener and you sit helplessly trying without success to catch up on whatever.

We won't mention how cleverly you have to read the position of the doors and the body language of fellow commuters to ensure that you are indeed one of the lucky ones with a seat on the train.

But, for the most part, I arrive at work on time, unfettered by the stress of driving on the major highways, smiling from my latest escapade and totally ready to make my workday contribution.

My evening commute relaxes me, particularly if I take the train with the operator who fancies himself a stand-up comic and manages to make hilarious comments about even the most mundane "stand way back of the yellow line" message.

When you consider the odds, three times late in six months really is not bad. Then there is the sincerity in the voice of the operators as they apologize for the delays or thank you for choosing Go Transit; it makes you ready to forgive.

Yes, unless something drastic changes, I am a confirmed GO train traveller, one of thousands of people committed to GO save the planet!


Friday, April 13, 2007

Shuttle Buses

If you haven't heard of the news this morning out in the east end, you can read more here. I don't want to dwell on it, but I wanted to make a point about shuttle buses. Many complaints about the closure involved confusion over shuttle buses, and its time for a standardized policy to handle shuttle buses when the subway has to be closed.
  • Passengers should be kept informed as to why the diversion is taking place. I believe that people are more understanding if they are kept in the loop.
  • Passengers need to know where to go to board the shuttle buses, and their should be some sort of standardization. Either the shuttles board on the street or in the terminal - not on a station-by-station basis. Also, supervisors should be on hand to direct passengers.
  • The shuttle buses need to have some sort of display sign telling people where it's going. Most of the time you can orient yourself when you exit your home station and know which way is east and which is west. An unfamiliar station can be very disorienting. Perhaps buses heading towards downtown should say just that, while the opposite direction should say "Away from downtown".
Subways break down and tragedies happen, but by managing the chaos can sometimes save the rush hour.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here we GO again...

Remember when CN was on strike?

Yes, I nearly forgot about it too.

Yesterday, the union representing CN conductors soundly rejected the tentative settlement reached in earlier in the year, by a vote of 79% against. The union says that they only agreed to the tentative settlement because of the threat of back-to-work legislation, and their new tactic of rotating strikes should help achieve the deal they want without the federal government having to get involved. In addition, though there is no advanced-notice deal in place, the union says that the only way GO and AMT service would be disrupted was either if the labour dispute spiralled out of control, or if the management locked them out - and frankly, I wouldn't put it past them.

Labour disputes are a way of life. Yes, they do disrupt our lives, but without labour unions, we might sill be working under the same conditions as the industrial revolution. Sometimes we just have to grin and bear it. As for my opinions on CN, I've said it before and I'll say it again. The railways haven't been interested in passenger service since 1978, when VIA Rail Canada was created. There is simply no profit, and railways are, by the nature of capitalism, interested in making a profit. GO needs to find a train operator who's willing to work within that framework, and its obvious from their lack of a bid on the new contract that CN isn't interested. That's why I fear a lockout.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

570 km/h train breaks record - Toronto Star

570 km/h train breaks record
April 03, 2007
INGRID ROUSSEAU Associated Press

ABOARD TRAIN V150, France – A high-speed French train with a souped-up engine broke the world speed record Tuesday for conventional rail trains, reaching 574.8 kilometres an hour.

The black-and-chrome train with three double-decker cars, named the V150, bettered the previous record of 515.3 km/h, set in 1990 by the French fast train. However, it fell short of the ultimate record set by Japan's non-conventional magnetically levitated train, which sped to 581 km/h in 2003.

The endeavour, some 200 kilometres east of the capital on a new track linking Paris with Strasbourg, showcased technology France is trying to sell to overseas markets like China.

Sparks flew overhead and a long tail of dust kicked up behind the train as it whizzed through the French countryside, roaring like a jet plane. People lined bridges clapping and cheering as the train zipped underneath them.

Regular runs begin June 10.

"We saw the countryside go by a little faster than we did during the tests," train driver Eric Pieczac said. "I'm proud to have fulfilled the mission."

"Everything went very well," he added.

Technicians on the train had "French excellence" emblazoned on the backs of their T-shirts.

The specially designed train was outfitted to reach at least 540 km/h – about the speed of a short-distance freight propeller plane.

Philippe Mellier, president of Alstom Transports, the builder, said before the test that the train would try to outdo the absolute world record held by the Japanese for their magnetically levitated Maglev train.

The French "train a grande vitesse (high-speed train)," or TGV, was made up of three double-decker cars between two engines, and dubbed V150.

It was equipped with larger wheels than the usual TGV to cover more ground with each rotation and a stronger, 25,000-horsepower engine, said Alain Cuccaroni, in charge of the technical aspects of testing.

Adjustments also were made to the new track, notably the banking on turns. Rails were also treated for perfect contact, Cuccaroni said. The electrical tension in the overhead cable was beefed up, from 25,000 volts to 31,000.

It was the first time that double-decker cars were used at such a high speed, according to officials of Alstom, which makes TGVs and which crawled back a year ago from the edge of bankruptcy.

The double-decker cars were transformed into a laboratory for the event so that technicians from the state-run rail company SNCF and Alstom can gather data during the run.

The goal of the operation is more than "simply breaking a record," Cuccaroni said. Test data should help improve the security and comfort of passengers in the future, he said.

The new record gilds France's image in the expanding market for high-speed technology as countries like China turn to bullet trains.

France competes with neighbouring Germany and with Japan for contracts. Transport Minister Dominique Perben received a California delegation hours before Tuesday's record attempt. California is studying prospects for a high-speed line running from Sacramento in the north to San Diego, in the south, via San Francisco and Los Angeles.

China, the biggest potential market, was to start building a high-speed line this year between Beijing and Shanghai to cut travel time to five hours from nine.
Perhaps we've found our replacement for the island airport...

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