Premier to Metrolinx: Open UPX to commuters.

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https://www.upexpress.com/SchedulesStations/WestonStation

After waiting quietly for months while Metrolinx timidly adjusted the metaphorical deck chairs, according to the Toronto Star, Premier Kathleen Wynne has put her foot down and put all options on the table for the much unused, unpopular and unaffordable UP Express. Metrolinx has dithered for months half-heartedly making minor promotions and adjustments to increase ridership, all the while plaintively bleating that surging numbers are just around the corner. Adam certainly put paid to those notions recently but they still didn’t get the hint. Now that the Ontario Government is scouring the bushes for fresh revenue streams, the Premier seems to be thinking that it just makes sense to have hundreds of passengers paying a low fare rather than a handful at the current obscene tariffs.

For years, WestonWeb readers and writers have warned that a high price would mean low ridership. As far back as 2012, the Auditor General warned that the airport trains would be a money pit.

Let’s hope that Bruce McCuaig and his management team can hold their noses and arrive at a decent price for the trains and enable Weston (which needs a whole lot of help) to take full advantage of this resource for all the people; not just the wealthy (who declined to use it anyway). This will be a true all-day service for commuters and might take pressure off the roads as well as the TTC and make Weston an even more desirable place to live.

Metrolinx to VIA: No dice.

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Oh the possibilities! VIA Rail’s route (in blue) from Union to London.

VIA Rail trains pass (without stopping) through Weston twice a day in each direction on their way from London to Toronto’s Union Station. Some passengers from London, Kitchener, Guelph, Stratford and other stations along the route are headed to Pearson and it seemed like a no-brainer for those passengers to simply exit at Weston and hop aboard the airport train thus saving themselves time and money. Another plus, Westonians would have another way to travel westwards along that route and even catch a ride to Union in the other direction twice daily.

Enter Metrolinx. Metrolinx has said no. Apparently the arrangement is too hard to accomplish because of tight scheduling, passengers would only have 60 seconds to get off the train. Compared to regular UPX stops of 30 seconds, this seems like quite a generous allocation; especially since few will likely be getting off.

Why the foot dragging from Metrolinx? Well for starters, that’s a precious revenue loss if passengers can get a cheaper fare to the airport from Weston. Second, it’s an inconvenience to have a tight schedule to worry about. Third, why bother; it’s only Weston.

Bottom line: Laura Albanese, Ahmed Hussen and Frances Nunziata should be screaming from the rooftops for Metrolinx to add this (however small) amenity to Weston. Larger scheduling problems have been solved in the past. According to an article in the Star, this decision is not carved in stone. Let’s hope that our representatives can bring some pressure to bear; soon.

Kodak Lands Generator – the issues and a solution

The Kodak Lands as they currently exist.

A map of the Kodak Lands as they currently exist.

Let me add a further two cents to this debate as I have been missing in action for a while thanks to some nasty post Christmas bugs that have laid the Murray household low.

There has been some controversy over what will be placed on the Kodak Lands at Eglinton and Black Creek. There was dismay when Metrolinx announced that the site was to be a storage yard for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. More recently further disappointment was the response to the surprise announcement that an electrical generating station would be built on the lands. This would allegedly fire up in the event of a power failure. As a response, there were calls to make the generating station produce power from ‘green’ sources.

There are main three issues to the story;

  1. Whether or not a generator should be built on the former Kodak Lands
  2. The ‘greenness’ of the generator
  3. Whether there will be ’emergency only’ or a daily use of the generator

1. Let’s agree that a generator is a terrible use of the Kodak lands – it’s bad enough to have a storage yard occupy this precious green space. Unfortunately it’s likely a done deal so let’s move to the second point.

2. As I mentioned in a previous article, green power is in its infancy with the main barriers being the unreliable nature of solar and wind power. Storage is therefore needed for these unreliable and expensive green sources and even then, there would be days, especially in winter when sunlight and wind would be absent.

3. With the prospect of a daily firing up of the generator, all bets are off. A daily emission of carbon dioxide and particulate matter from burning natural gas would be produced. This would be done when electricity is at its most expensive, namely during rush hours, adding to pollution from cars and factories.

Bottom line; A generator is a bad idea. If Metrolinx is insistent on having a generator, the community should fight tooth and nail to ensure that it will be used for emergencies only. It should not be used to provide cheap electricity on a daily basis.

Solution: Large Scale Storage

With compact and reasonably priced electrical storage, a generator isn’t needed; just a series of very large battery modules that would be charged overnight when, as Adam has shown, there is oodles of very cheap industrial electricity (produced mainly from non-polluting hydro and nuclear sources). As technology stands at the moment, large scale batteries or indeed other storage methods are expensive but then, so is a gas-powered generator and the pollution it creates. Storage is expected to rapidly become cheaper as technology improves.

Bottom Line

If Metrolinx really wants a community based solution and daily, inexpensive, pollution-free electricity, the better bet would be a large scale battery that would soak up virtually free industrial electricity overnight for use in peak periods during the day. This pollution-free solution would not need to be on the Kodak Lands but could be on an industrial site anywhere along the line. This could demonstrate Metrolinx’ commitment to a greener energy, the Weston-Mount Dennis community and a willingness to adopt an exciting new technology.

I’m charged up about this.

Lions Park Steps – What Happened?

A nighttime view of the steps taken last February.

A nighttime view of the steps taken last February.

Readers may be familiar with the rickety set of wooden steps that lead from Hickory Tree Road down to Lions Park. They are part of a vital walkway that connects residents in the Humber Heights community to Weston’s parks, stores and transportation links. The steps are well past their sell-by date and have to be constantly repaired and patched together. During winter they need to be heavily salted.

A few months ago, an announcement was made that in September 2015, the steps would be replaced by metal ones similar to those connecting Cruickshank Park to Weston Road. Metal steps don’t need salting as snow and ice can pass right through them. September has come and gone and the steps still stand. In the meantime thousands of dollars were found to install speed bumps along Hickory Tree Road in spite of an underwhelming and questionable demand.

I contacted Councillor Nunziata’s office for an update and to date have not received a reply. Perhaps our faithful readers could make some inquiries…

Sullivan: Weston’s hospital site.

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that have been published over the last few days.

Already published:

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

3. Metrolinx

The fourth and final issue that we discussed was Weston’s recently closed hospital.

4. The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

The Humber River Hospital’s three campus locations have closed to be replaced by a brand new hospital at Wilson and Keele. In preparation for the closing of our local Church Street site, the Hospital Board went ahead with plans to sell the site to the highest bidder. Some people then pointed out that a significant chunk of the original site was a bequest with the proviso that the land would be used for a Weston hospital in perpetuity. The matter is now before the courts.

The Church Street Site last August before it closed.

The Church Street Campus last August before it closed.

Sullivan sees a solution in the way other parts of the province have handled their hospital closings,

What should happen is the Province pays the appropriate price for the property and turns it into a long term care facility which they have already done in Parry Sound and Ottawa and other places where hospitals that have been decommissioned have become long term care facilities. According to (York South-Weston MPP) Ms. Albanese, it’s not as simple as one arm of the province buying the hospital from another. She said that the hospital is entirely run by a private corporation that has nothing to do with the province and that corporation can do whatever it wants with the land. Martin Proctor challenged her strongly on this at a meeting and pointed out that it was the folks in Weston that contributed and added on to that hospital over many years and now they are losing that resource. What appears to have happened is that the Province has separated itself from hospitals by declaring them corporations run by an independent board who the Province then paid 2 billion dollars to build a new one on the understanding that the board would raise 200 million of its own by selling the land and other fundraising.

 

The province can correct its mistake by saying that the land which is worth about 20 million can be forgiven to the Hospital Board of Directors and the province take over the property but Ms. Albanese wasn’t going there.

 

They’ve got to build long term care facilities anyway – somebody has to. There’s a 1 year wait list for long-term care facilities and people will die on that list. Why are we ignoring a  great potential? I understand that the Province wants privately run long-term care facilities but surely if the land is available they can find a developer who is willing to do that.

 

I spoke to Rueben Devlin (HRRH CEO) about that possibility and he told me it could never be a long-term care facility because the rules are so strict it wouldn’t meet the current standards. But then how did they do it in Parry Sound and Ottawa? The province has grandparented other buildings why wouldn’t they do that in Weston rather than tearing it down and building a condo tower. SuOn College is very interested in the site. They’re bursting at the seams and are looking to expand.

There would be no rezoning needed as it is zoned institutional. The fly in the ointment is that the city owns part of the site and the hospital was very quick to go to court over that and are suing the city to try and keep title of the land with the Hospital. Frances had a plan for some kind of trade that would allow the city to keep some parkland somewhere in exchange for the land. Her wonderful deal with Cruickshank Section 37 money didn’t buy a community amenity – it bought drainage in Swanek park which the City was going to pay for anyway.

I contacted York South-Weston MPP Laura Albanese and she confirmed that currently the site is zoned institutional. She also confirmed that hospitals are not fully funded by the province but communities are expected to have an investment in their hospital by raising 10% of the funding. The sale of the Church Street Site would go towards that community contribution. Under the current setup, long term care facilities are managed by not-for-profit corporations, indirectly connected with the Ontario Government. In order to use that as a solution, there has to be an expression of interest from such an entity and to date there has been none. She also mentioned that until the ownership of the deeded land on the HRRH site is settled, nothing is likely to proceed.

She did say that the Keele Street Hospital Campus has been sold to developer Daniels Corporation and the plan is to build some institutional facilities along with low-rise housing.

Having a similar outcome for Weston probably wouldn’t be too terrible, but who knows – with the way things are done in this city, the vision, accompanied by beautiful architectural drawings and the reality are often two entirely different things. Can you say Weston Cultural Hub?

Thanks to Mike Sullivan for agreeing to do this and to MPP Laura Albanese for her response.

Sullivan: Metrolinx and Transit Implications

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that we will roll out over the next four days;

Already published:

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

The third issue that we discussed was Metrolinx and transit implications for Weston.

3. Metrolinx

Prior to winning a seat in the House of Commons in 2011, Sullivan was co-chair of the Clean Train Coalition, a grass roots community group dedicated to electrification of the rail lines that run through what used to be known as the Georgetown Corridor. He was a vocal critic of the Airport Rail Link before it became known as the UP Express. For a flashback to the past, this interview with Sullivan is a good refresher on the issues back in 2010.

Sullivan is still keenly interested in transit as it pertains to Weston. We started with the new GO Station parking lot and and its role as host to the Weston Farmers Market for the foreseeable future.

Metrolinx is giving the farmers market (the GO Station Parking lot) for free for the next couple of years because there are no GO Trains on Saturdays and because you’re not allowed to park overnight on that (GO Train) lot. No one will use that lot to take the Airport connection. When Metrolinx was first talking about the quantities of parking that they were going to need, I got the impression that because they were going to market the link as an alternative to parking at the airport so you would pay $16 each way for the ride and park for free. And so that’s why they’re building that massive lot at the south end for the GO patrons and the North end will be potentially long term although Metrolinx told me that they have no intention of doing that they’re so desperate for ridership and ours is the only station where there is any possibility of parking.

Between Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack and the new LRT line, many have been wondering what will happen to Weston’s GO and UP Express stations once the LRT is complete. A new Mount Dennis station will be located uncomfortably close to Weston.

Watch this dream-like video. Notice the connections to GO and UP Express marked on the station entrance. Read more about the station here.

Sullivan spoke briefly about the way the New Eglinton LRT line will disrupt everything.

When the Eglinton LRT is opened, the UP Express and GO train will stop at Eglinton. That’s not good if you live in Weston.

The implication being that having two stations so close together will be mean that one will have to go. In other words, the least useful will become redundant and that could be Weston because it’s not a major transfer point as a triple rail intersection would be. The Mount Dennis Station will allow a transfer between GO, the UP Express, the Eglinton LRT not to mention the hastily planned election promise that was SmartTrack.

Weston may have another fight on its hands if it is to keep its two stations.

Sullivan moved on to the expensive and barely used UP Express and is sceptical about the latest Metrolinx UP Express ridership numbers.

UP Express claimed October ridership was higher in October but they didn’t take into account the fact that October has an extra day.

 

When asked to comment on the ticket prices charged by UP Express, Sullivan claims that the cost of running UPX is about $5 per fare. If this is the case, Metrolinx has lots of room to manoeuvre. Rumblings have already started about a really competitive fare that would boost ridership numbers. No doubt the New Year will bring a sober second look at prices.

Tomorrow: The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.