Two long reads worth your time

A couple of long reads worth your time this weekend:

John Michael McGrath weighs in on the ugly-looking process behind the province’s hydrogen-powered GO train push, which could replace the well-developed and reasonable plans for electrification:

Metrolinx is asking for private companies to bid to make something that doesn’t currently exist. The costs are a big question mark. So is the performance. One of the reasons the government was going to go with overhead wires was that electric trains can accelerate faster than their diesel counterparts, allowing a railway to run more vehicles in and out of stations, safely. That means more frequent train service for riders. Can Metrolinx find a hydrogen train vendor that can meet those specs while delivering the number of trains needed by the 2025 deadline?


The Globe’s Alex Bozikovic covers what houses we should be keeping in Toronto, and the broken-down system of heritage evaluation. It’s a mess, and one we struggle with in Weston.

The areas of the city that are facing the most development pressure – and where planning is most open to development – is in and around the downtown core, which is also the area richest in built heritage.

“We wind up asking, What do we want to keep?” Ms. MacDonald says. “And the larger question, a very different question, is, what matters to people? What are the landmarks for different faith communities, for different waves of immigration? Not everyone in Toronto has the same history. We believe that the city’s architectural heritage represents community and social value as well.”

Bloor Bike Lane Report is out

Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration
This cartoon illustrates how much of our streets are dedicated to traffic. Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration

Cycling is experiencing a boom in many cities in the world. Here in Weston, other than a short stretch along Eglinton between Scarlett and Jane, there’s no space exclusively dedicated to cycling through our streets. We have ‘sharrows‘ along streets like Weston Road and bike lanes that are simply painted lines but these do little or nothing to improve safety levels for cyclists in a city where people in vehicles have killed 2 cyclists and 28 pedestrians so far this year. Interestingly, when police report that someone has killed a pedestrian or cyclist, it’s the victims of driver inattention who are consistently lectured to wear light clothing and use more caution. Motorists are never asked to be more vigilant. The advent of the mobile phone and lax enforcement of distracted driving laws has made our streets less safe. Transportation Services’ cycling maps are hopelessly confusing and out of date.

Here in Canada, society favours motorists but Europe seems to be re-thinking their cities and many have extensive car free centres.

While Toronto doesn’t even have a single car free street, it is moving timidly in a more car-centric direction and recently set up bike lanes along Bloor street between Shaw Street and Avenue Road as a pilot study. The expectation was that the pilot would fail. Cyclist lanes would be unused, clog traffic and bankrupt the merchants along Bloor.

A report has been delivered to council with the following findings

The negative:

  • Car journey times did increase
  • Merchants had difficulty with deliveries
  • Parking convenience was reduced (longer walks)

The neutral or positive:

  • Increased journey times were reduced 50% with traffic signal adjustment
  • Cyclists felt safer and cycling increased by 49%
  • Motorists felt more comfortable with bikes separated
  • Near miss collisions have been reduced
  • Parking revenues remained steady
  • Most merchants reported increased customers and sales
  • Store vacancy rates were unchanged

As a result of the successful Bloor pilot, the city’s Transportation Services are recommending that the bike lane be made permanent. The report will go before the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and despite the committee’s car-oriented membership the recommendation will go forward to Council next month because as a result of the report, Mayor Tory supports the bike lanes. T.S. Committee members are: Christin Carmichael Greb, Stephen Holyday (Vice Chair), Chin Lee, Giorgio Mammoliti, Anthony Perruzza and Jaye Robinson (Chair).

Where does that leave Weston / Mount Dennis streets? Still dedicated to the traffic that mainly uses our area as a conduit to other places. Metrolinx is supposed to be investigating the extension of the West Toronto Railpath into our area but inquiries take weeks for a response and answers are vague or simply unhelpful. Even Toronto’s own Transportation Department doesn’t seem to bother to update its cycling information.

Toronto Cycling Map
A detail from the City’s latest cycling map showing our area. They still have the GO station in its old location. Click to enlarge.

Councillors in the suburbs tend to be very car-centric and ours is no exception. Ms. Nunziata’s support base may be called many things but cyclist tends not to be one of them. It remains to be seen if the Mayor’s turnaround will influence other members of Council when it comes to local bike lanes and public car-free areas. If this is his way of not being Doug Ford then long may it last! Perhaps he can also turn his attention to adequately funding the TTC and cancelling that idiotic $3.45 Billion one-stop subway.

Province cuts GO/UPX – TTC transfer cost.

An older model Presto Card and reader.

Many people are taking advantage of the rapid link to downtown that we enjoy here in Weston. It’s only 6 minutes to Bloor station and 14 minutes to Union from where TTC connections can be made. Some people find the combined cost of the GO/UP Express and the TTC too high and have felt that a discount should be offered. The Liberals will announce today that people who use a Presto Card to pay for fares will soon get a break when using both transit modes.

For example, people taking the GO train or UP Express will get a $1.50 discount on a TTC ticket when a Presto Card is used. Similarly, in the reverse direction a GO or UP Express ticket will be discounted $1.50 for those transferring from the TTC. The fare subsidy is designed to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and will save commuters up to $720 annually.

The new fare system will come into effect in December and is similar to  (but more generous) than those offered in other municipalities.

If you thought the UPX was crowded before…

Read more in this Star article here.

UPX to get subway connection at Dundas

The UP Express will soon become even more useful; it is finally being connected to the Bloor subway at Dundas Street.

Since its opening, riders wanting to connect to the subway have had to make an above-ground (and quite ugly) trek to the subway at the Dundas stop, or take the UPX down to Union. The owners of the Crossways plaza and apartment building will now have some property in the underground lot expropriated, and construction will take place starting in 2018, according to The Star. 

Battery Power for UP Express?

The Proterra electric bus.

As reported here earlier this week, Metrolinx is looking at fuel cell technology to provide power for its trains (including UP Express) rather than the current polluting diesel or the already announced GO Train electrification using overhead catenary wires which will also power the Eglinton Crosstown.

Fuel cell technology has been in the news for decades but has yet to demonstrate its long vaunted potential. Hydrogen is the fuel and passes over cells combining with oxygen to directly produce electric power. Since only hydrogen and oxygen are involved, the exhaust is pure water. Companies like Ballard Power have been working on the idea for decades but difficulties include manufacturing the hydrogen (using purified water and electricity), transporting the highly flammable hydrogen gas safely to vehicles and installing fuelling stations where needed.

Exciting news out of Indiana yesterday should give the people at Metrolinx an alternative to fuel cells and catenary wires – battery technology. A battery powered bus has been able to travel 1700 km on a single charge. This rapidly improving technology is sufficiently advanced that it will provide emergency power from a site in Mount Dennis to the Eglinton Crosstown (instead of a generating station). Now it appears that batteries could be the solution to powering commuter transit.

The seven UP Express trains each travel under 900 km daily (it’s 24 km between Union and Pearson) and could charge for the 10 minutes each trip while they wait for passengers at either end. When the service stops between 1:00 am and 5:00 am daily, the trains could fully recharge using cheap electricity.

Fuel cells were partly, a response to poor battery technology. Now they appear to have been sidelined as battery storage continues to improve.

This is what Metrolinx should be investigating.

Metrolinx Board Meeting September 14

Source: here.

At Metrolinx’ latest board meeting held yesterday, the local wizard of all things transit, Steve Munro, reported on the proceedings and pertinent highlights are extracted below with my gratuitous comments.

Some enlightened jurisdictions allow the use of a credit card to ‘tap and go’. Not Metrolinx – they’re still trying to fully implement their own in-house card, Presto. Credit card ‘tap and go’ might be available in 2019. Until then at least, the only ‘tap’ game in town is the Presto card.

While there are still plans to electrify GO and UP Express trains, Metrolinx is studying the use of hydrogen fuel cells as a form of power. They’re calling it due diligence – your mileage may vary but I suspect a few trips to Hamburg, Aruba and Dubai (where there are trains powered by fuel cells) might be ‘needed’. One such train in Hamburg is supposed to start operating in December and (oh joy) the Christmas Markets are to die for.

A ‘reconfiguration’ of tracks at Union Station is being considered. This would mean reducing the number of tracks and making platforms wider. Not sure how this would help but because of the huge number of trains coming and going, there may be a need to have East and West annex stations with shuttles to the main station.

Integrating fares across the GTA still seems a long way off although there may be a push towards a discount for people having to access two systems e.g. GO and TTC and eventually, time based fares across the board so that people might pay for a two-hour pass (for example).

The current TTC model costs users the same for one stop or twenty – Steve believes that Metrolinx would like to charge fares by distance travelled. If that system was implemented, it would cost people in the suburbs a lot more to go downtown.

December’s board meeting will discuss integrating UP Express fares into the GO system.

Read Steve’s full report here.

From Outsider Club.

Incidentally, according to the Star, Metrolinx holds about 40% of its meetings in private. They are now promising to tell people when their private meetings will be held and will publish (no doubt suitably redacted) minutes. It was after one of these closed-door meetings that Metrolinx announced the famous two additional stations; one that just happened to be a John Tory request and one in the riding of Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

With reference to shedding more light on closed door meetings, Board Chair Bob Prichard managed a straight face when he told the Star, “I’m always in favour of continuous improvement in governance . . . . Our practices are developing, and I think it will be a good evolution in our practice to do that.”

Translation: OK you caught us; we’ll have to find another way of isolating the public from our decisions.

UP Express ridership zooms 20%

Anyone who has travelled on the UP Express recently will know that since fares were reduced, the train has been wildly popular; not only with airline passengers but also with commuters and people moving between the stations of Pearson, Weston, Bloor and Union.

Fares dropped to their current levels in March 2016 and by July of that year, monthly ridership had increased from a low of 60,000 in February 2016 to about 250,000. Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins tweeted today that in July 2017, ridership was over 300,000 for that month. While this might be a reflection of tourist numbers, it’s still a good sign and a great perk of living in Weston.