Weston and Mount Dennis are sparkling

The Weston and Mount Dennis areas are (a little more) sparkling after community volunteers took to the parks, alleys, and streets this past weekend as part of a city-wide cleanup.

About 12 people turned up at Elm Park in Weston, and more kids and adults at the park joined in as the day went on, according to Patricia Videla, who organized it. They certainly stayed busy. “Some of the participants headed to the old hospital site to clean while the rest of stayed back at Elm Park.  Afterwards, we all headed to Pelmo Park to pick up rubbish.”.

Another group, including volunteers from the WKNC, tackled the area around the BIA, and the indefatigable MDCA will this weekend have the last of its five cleanups at the Eglinton Flats SE entrance.

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From Nunziata’s Twitter
WKNC volunteers
From Nunziata’s Twitter

Weston home prices leap 27%

Townhouse under construction on the old Beer Store site on Weston Road.
Townhomes under construction on the old Beer Store site on Weston Road. Units were priced from $399,900 and are all sold out.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, between the December quarters of 2014 and 2015, Toronto home prices increased by 9.04%. During that same period, the price of homes sold in the Weston M9N postal code jumped from an average of $367,045 in the quarter ending December 2014 to $464,958, a startling increase of 26.7%. The M6M code to the west which includes part of Mount Dennis has done even better with an average increase of 33.2%.

What does this mean? Weston and Mount Dennis are among the last few relatively affordable areas left in Toronto. Compared to the rest of the city, prices are low and people are desperate to get into the housing market. Homes are being snapped up before they become out of reach.

PMB for CBAs in HoC

Ahmed Hussen put a private member’s bill before the House in late February. If passed, the Minister of Public Works could ask bidders on federal contracts to prove that their bid has community benefits—”local job creation and training opportunities, improvement of public space [or another] specific benefit”

The movement for community benefit agreements (CBAs) started in 2001 in Los Angeles, when the poor community around the Staples Center got tired of being pushed around by rich developers. They asked for good jobs, training, and other concessions in exchange for an expansion to the stadium.

Local social agencies have been pushing for—and getting—CBAs for a few years. I think it’s safe to say that York South—Weston is a bit of a leader in the area.

 

Yet Another Back Up Power Facility Update

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In MPP Laura Albanese’s latest e-newsletter, she comments on the Kodak Lands back-up generator issue,

Most commuters would agree that power failure such as that which occurred at the TTC recently due to weather conditions is a concern, and that some type of Backup Power for the Eglinton Crosstown would be beneficial in case of power outages. I am advocating together with the community for an alternative energy option, if one is viable.

The TTC power outage definitely is a concern but was caused by a transformer failure in a system built in the 1950s that is starved of funds and basically held together with masking tape and chewing gum. The transformer was the only source of power to that part of the subway. Had there been another connection to the power grid, subway service would have continued smoothly.

The alternative to building a gas fired generator on the Crosstown Line is to have more than one connection to the electrical grid. According to Metrolinx’s Jamie Robinson, it’s as simple as that. Although a battery option would be a quiet, emission-free solution if another connection was impossible, if we don’t need a generator, we don’t need alternative energy or diesel or windmills.

We certainly don’t need another building on the Kodak Lands site.

What happens next? There will no doubt be some expensive consultants’ reports that will declare the unworkability or huge expense of an alternate energy solution. They will then have to reluctantly recommend a gas generator.

The bottom line seems to be that based on faulty logic, someone is determined to sell Metrolinx a gas-fired generating station and it’s going to be built regardless of need or the wishes of the community.

I call BS.

Kodak Lands Generator – Bottom Line

‘If the community doesn’t want it, it won’t be built’.

The words were spoken at the February 29th Transit meeting regarding the proposed (and contentious) natural gas generator that was so recently sprung on the community. A lot was said at the meeting and my report has a lot of information but this is something the community can and should latch on to.

Metrolinx originally wanted to reduce the chances of a power failure along the Crosstown Line by tapping into the power grid in two different places along its length. That way if a local power failure affected one connection (the vast majority of power disruptions are local) the power could be supplied from the other connection to the power grid.

Enter contractor Crosslinx Transit Solutions. They came up with what they thought was a better idea, namely to be totally independent of the grid during a power failure – especially in the rare event of a Province or even region-wide outage. This has happened exactly twice – in 1965 and again in 2003. Their solution was a gas fired (not diesel as was rumoured) generator. This would come to life to provide power during those extremely rare failures.

As an afterthought, Crosslink Transit Solutions proposed that it would also be fired up during times when the power grid was struggling to cope – routinely on a hot day when air conditioning demand stresses the system. Whether there would be money to be made from this and who would make the money are two very good questions. Nevertheless, when private corporations get involved in such matters it pays to be suspicious.

Image from Huffington Post.
Image – Huffington Post.

During those hot muggy days the last thing residents of Weston and Mount Dennis need is to have even more pollution added to the dirty air that traditionally accompanies such weather. In addition, the generator will occupy valuable space on a precious site.

Conclusion: the system doesn’t need it and the community doesn’t want it.

The words by the way came from Metrolinx’s Jamie Robinson, Director, Community Relations and Communications, Toronto Transit Projects. He said,

‘If the community doesn’t want it, it won’t be built’.

Mr. Robinson, we don’t want it. Please don’t build it.

The Future of UP Express

 

A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the adjacent GO train platform. (File)
A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the (foreground) GO train platform. (File)

Officials at Metrolinx are looking over their shoulders after the unprecedented intervention by the Premier in forcing a rapid and substantial revision of UPX fares. When the Premier has lost patience in your effectiveness, other questions from the top may follow, such as, ‘Where else are they screwing up?’, and, ‘How many people did it take to make that idiotic decision?’

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover their inadequacies. Whether it’s the inability to coordinate a VIA Rail stop in Weston or their continued insistence that UPX needs to recover its investment, management has shown that they have a tenuous hold on the idea of serving the people (watch the most recent Board Meeting to get the idea) while ignoring the realities of transportation in the GTHA. The lack of a unified fare structure between TTC, UPX and GO and the failure to connect the UPX Bloor Station to the Dundas West TTC Subway station also come to mind.

Even before the outrageous fares were set, the whole idea of a boutique rail line serving business professionals was simply a non-starter. Back in 2012, WestonWeb asked,

Can you imagine captains of industry schlepping their own bags along miles of platform at either end and onto a train?

Captains of industry want to be carried (preferably in a limo) from door to door and don’t care about the cost as long as they get a receipt.

WestonWeb was not alone in predicting a tough time for UPX. Mike Sullivan, the Clean Train Coalition and many others voiced their concerns but the experts knew better. One wonders about the high priced consultants (expert experts) that Metrolinx was tapping into. How did they all get it so wrong?

UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )
UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )

No doubt there needs to be a scapegoat and according to media reports it’s likely to be UPX President Kathy Haley who was given the impossible task of making an unviable service financially self-sustaining. Her cheerleading for the service rang more and more hollow in recent days as evidence mounted that while people would clamour for a free ride, they weren’t prepared to pay more than a TTC or at worst a GO fare. Metrolinx head, Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca bear some of the responsibility for their stubborn expectation of the impossible.

What should be the future of UP Express?

The first should be a recognition that this is truly public transit and like all public transit should not be expected to recoup its cost. There are reports that the service will be pulled under the GO Train umbrella and that would seems likely given the recent fare alignment with GO. Regardless of the overhead, in this day of electronic fares, there are attendants galore and a ticket inspector on every train. Some re-deployment of staff to other GO positions would no doubt cut down on costs.

Will the lower price increase ridership? Probably, but the trains will not be full even at the new fare structure. Many people have suggested that the train be made part of the ever changing SmartTrack plan with additional stations along the way. An obvious site is Mount Dennis where a Crosstown Line station will be located. One problem needing a solution is the high platform of the UPX (see photo above). Regardless, many communities along the line would also welcome a quick commute to Union Station. That is likely the future for UPX but for now, Weston residents can bask in a fast (14 minute) service to and from Union every 15 minutes.

Transportation Meeting Report

Over 100 people attended the meeting which was an add-on by Councillors Nunziata and DiGiorgio to the relatively small number of information meetings held throughout the City. In addition to the councillors, MPP Laura Albanese and MP Ahmed Hussen were there.

MP Hussen stated that the Liberals plan to quadruple infrastructure spending and will respect local initiatives and not micromanage. He has put forward a Private Member’s bill to ensure that hiring needs are met so that local communities benefit through jobs and contracts when infrastructure money is spent.

Speaker 1 was James Perttula: Program Manager, Transportation Planning at City of Toronto. Speaker 2 was Jamie Robinson from Metrolinx.

Rather than bore you, dear readers, with the contents of their monologues, the information they presented is largely available through the links below.

The rest of this article will attempt to focus on significant questions posed by residents – these are more relevant to the Weston and Mount Dennis communities. Where answers were given, these have been noted.

Questions / Concerns:

Employment opportunities – Metrolinx has requested a community liaison plan from their contractor Crosslinx Transit Solutions that will be finalized soon. MP Hussen requested some hard figures regarding employment levels.

Is SmartTrack Planning route through Weston to Rexdale. Metrolinx is looking at a number of additional stations so it’s possible that a Woodbine station could be built.

Back-up power station. MP Hussen expressed concern to Jamie Robinson about emission levels. The station is designed to run on natural gas not diesel and so will not be so dirty. Modern non-polluting battery technology has not been considered. Jamie says he is totally open to alternatives. With that in mind, I have sent Mr Robinson this link. Other residents asked about a green energy supply instead. Mr Robinson countered solar would be totally inadequate to supply enough energy.

Parking at the new Mount Dennis Station. No plans at the moment for a parking lot – residents expressed concern about outsiders parking in the area and causing obstructions. The plan is that people will access the Crosstown by bus.

Another resident likes the Crosstown but thinks the number of stops should be reduced. Did not like the Scarborough subway, should be LRT instead.

This is a demographically poor area – will there be a zone system for fares on the new line? How far will money go in the new system? Answer the Crosstown will be integrated with the rest of the TTC system.

Another resident wondered about the jobs that 960 will be lost in the TTC due to Presto automation. Councillor DiGiorgio surmised that ticket collector jobs may disappear but employees would probably be retained and assigned elsewhere.

Concern about the timeline and completion date and related construction. The answer is that work will continue until the planned opening in September 2021. Councillor Nunziata pointed out that if the original subway plan had been implemented in 1995 we wouldn’t be having a problem with traffic today.

TTC is too slow and expensive. 20 km is considered local – why can’t people take the bus to the library without being charged the same as someone who travels 20km?

The LRT is going to cross Eglinton – why won’t the LRT move north through the spectacular station at Weston and service people along a loop to Rexdale. Answer: Additional stations are foreseen on the existing lines so that the enhancements that GO Transit is making will provide additional service to residents. This will likely not be at subway frequencies.

Are you going to build out the fourth track as part of SmartTrack? A: Trying to determine what infrastructure is required.

Is the problem that you can’t build the fourth track north of the 401 because of limited space – I thought that there would be room for four tracks but only three have been built. Is it that simple or would an expansion be impossible because the 401 is in the way?

Concerns that there will be express trains and local trains that would need an extra line.

An extra CP track has been negotiated. Is this true? You talk about the need for consultation but in practice you don’t – the generator and now the transformer have been sprung on the community without notice. A: We are committed to consulting with the community. The transformer will be located next to the generating facility.  The generator idea came from Crosslinx Transit Solutions – we had originally planned to have two separate connections to the electrical grid – it’s not carved in stone. “If the community doesn’t want it it won’t be built.”

Future of Eglinton Flats – what will happen there – how will transit impact the flats? A: Not answered.

Concern about Bombardier’s inability to supply trains on time as with the TTC streetcars. A: We’re confident that all issues will have been sorted out by the time the trains are needed.

We need to know what emissions will be given off from the generator? A: Agree that it’s very important – the Ministry of the Environment will decide whether emissions are appropriate for the area.

What about parking? – we need parking lots. A: (from Councillor Nunziata) when the development starts, then the city will come forward with the planning department and set up parking.

Q: What about continuing along Eglinton and turning up Highway 27? A: The Airport Authority is thinking of creating a transit hub at the Airport.

Q: Would love to take the UP Express to the subway with an integrated fare – it’s still expensive. Would like to see connections to mid-town rather than to downtown. A: We’re working on fare integration between TTC and GO. We’re also looking at fare integration across the GTHA but we recognize that the differences in fares are a disincentive to using transit.

Nobody wants the above ground section of the Crosstown, why not build it all underground?

We need to have commitments for frequency of use, hours of operation etc. We need to have a broader governing commission for all transit. What about green stations that provide their own electricity through solar?

How will light rail work along Eglinton past Scarlett – will  there be room to put it there? A: We have sufficient space along the corridor already to put the LRT tracks plus cycle path / trail. It would be similar to St. Clair except there will be two traffic lanes in either direction.
What are implications of putting the LRT tracks down one side rather than in the middle. A: Current plan is to run it down the centre. Also looking at looking at ways to mitigate traffic impacts.

Who are the private partners? Will there be an intensification and if so, why aren’t builders not paying more of the costs to provide transit? After all, they get money in their pockets. Also building parking lots simply encourages to bring cars into the area and park throughout the neighbourhood. A: (councillor Nunziata) Developers pay charges when they put up buildings.

Adjournment.