High Speed Rail – bring it on!

I am going to take the opposite viewpoint to my esteemed colleague Adam on this topic. Here’s the ‘good cop’ version.

David Collenette was the man behind the UP Express, having first proposed it 20 years ago. His original vision was for a direct train that would offer a 22-minute ride from Pearson to Union that would cost $20. Without going into the details of what happened between concept and reality (read our back issues), the end result was that Weston in effect ended up with an all-day commuter rail service into Toronto for about the same price as a GO Train ticket.

Collenette has re-emerged as a ‘Special Advisor’ in a report outlining a vision of a high speed rail line joining Toronto and Windsor.

Lord knows how hard it is to get anything built in this neck of the woods. Collenette’s vision of the Air Rail Link (as it was then known), ended up as a huge gift for Weston’s commuters. Now on the wildly popular UP Express (since lowing prices), in rush hours, it’s standing room only.

What about the Toronto to Windsor HSR Line? It’s certainly needed. In fact, decent rail links all over Canada are needed. Part-way to Windsor lies Canada’s Silicon Valley in the Kitchener / Waterloo area. It’s too close to fly there (only 100 km) yet GO Trains take at best 2 hours. An HSR train would use much of the same corridor and cut travel time between the two city centres dramatically. Stops at Malton (Pearson), Guelph, Kitchener and London are proposed for the first phase.

The HSR route will use the UP Express corridor. Click for larger view.

What’s in it for Weston?

In 2021, the UP Express will add one more station at Mount Dennis and connect to the new Crosstown Line. Will this new station make the UP Express unacceptably slow? There is a rumoured possibility that Weston’s station will be too close to Mount Dennis and may be closed as a result.

The report itself recommends that existing services be ‘optimized’:

The Province should align provincial mandates to optimize rail services by directing Metrolinx and MTO to collaborate on the development of an Integrated Rail Strategy for the Toronto-Kitchener corridor, which would

•Clarify the mandates of GO RER, UP Express and HSR on the corridor.

•Assess ridership and service frequencies.

•Recommend how the Province might optimize GO RER, UP Express and HSR ridership to maximize the benefit to Ontarians.

One way around the two station dilemma might be to convert the existing UP Express into a commuter line and open new stations along the way. This could be a way of easing the burden on the subway system while preserving Weston’s regular and rapid link to downtown.

What will the cost be? Anyone who has done home renovations will know that estimated costs before a project begins are likely to end up higher in reality. What studies do show is that public transit adds value to a community if done well. No doubt changes and variations are up for grabs as they were with the original idea for the Airport Rail Link.

What about a high speed train running through our community? The train won’t likely be that fast in the city. Currently the UP Express hits speeds of up to 130 km/h between Bloor and Weston for an average of around 77 km/h. The report projects a somewhat faster average speed (just under 100 km/h from Union to Malton).

Travel times for the faster of the two HSR scenarios. Click for larger view.

The next steps will be more studies and consultations. This is just the beginning of what will be a long and ambitious project. While there may be pitfalls along the way, there will be opportunities and this proposed infrastructure holds huge promise and potential for Weston.

We do however need to be on top of this as a community and make sure that the people of Weston / Mount Dennis are heard loud and clear.

Road and sewer construction set for Weston Road in late summer.

The affected area along Weston Road. From City of Toronto website.

Tentatively planned for August and September (approximately), Weston Road between Jane and Lawrence will be repaved. In addition, before the paving is completed, storm sewers and city-owned portions of lead water-supply pipes will be replaced. City Engineer Mehrshad Rahimi says that once contracts have been awarded for the work, the dates will be firmed up, possibly in early July.

Homeowners along Weston (in the marked areas on the map) are encouraged to check if their water supply is carried into the home through lead piping (common in homes constructed before the mid-1950s). Lead in drinking water is definitely to be avoided as there are no safe levels of lead in drinking water.

The city will not pay for the homeowners’ stretch of the water supply upgrade but will pay for the piping connection up to the property line and will provide a competitive bid on the rest of the work for a fair comparison to private companies. More info on lead piping here.

Similar work has been under way on William and will re-commence May 26 with an anticipated completion date of June 7.

To order a lead testing kit, call 311. They must be picked up from one of the locations listed here.

Presto Cards at Downtown Weston Shoppers Drug Mart

It’s not a huge announcement (on Twitter) from local MPP, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Laura Albanese but it’s one that makes sense for Weston. Many transit organizations including the TTC, GO and UP Express are moving to join the rest of the world in using electronic fare payments. This is done through an electronic card that can be loaded online, by phone or at a retail location. The card adopted for use in the GTA is the Presto Card and while it’s had some teething troubles, it’s supposed to be more convenient for customers and less subject to fraud than paper transfers or easily counterfeited tokens.

Minister Albanese announced today that our local Shoppers Drug Mart will be one of only 10 Toronto outlets selected to sell and service Presto Cards.

Weston has several modes of transit in one location and this is the reason no doubt that our branch of Shoppers will be one of the first locations in the city to roll out the service.

Lions Park Steps are Telling

Readers may remember that the John Street Bridge was completed yet left unavailable to the public for months while Metrolinx and the City squabbled over various issues. The public was inconvenienced but no matter, it was only the people of Weston. Help was requested from several levels of government but to little avail.

In Lions Park, a set of outdoor stairs had reached the end of their life and were set for replacement. The work was scheduled for September 2015. The old stairs were demolished in June 2016 and new ones built earlier this year. They are now almost complete but are still inaccessible to the public.

This important footpath has been unavailable for almost a year.

This after calls to 311, Councillor Ford’s office and Parks Supervisor Phil Jarow, who told me in an email,

“Sorry I do not have information on a date for opening of the stairway. I was told earlier this week the stairs are completed and awaiting final inspection and sign off by an engineer. Also I was given the information I would receive more information next week. Please contact me if you have any questions.”

Well the obvious question is when will the stairs be opened?

Nobody seems willing to take responsibility for the delay. Again, the public is being inconvenienced but who cares? It’s only the people of Weston.

Can you imagine this happening in Rosedale or Forest Hill?

I rest my case.

Dear readers, if you have some time today, please add your voice by calling your councillor: Frances Nunziata (416) 392-4091, Mike Ford 416-397-9255 or 311. Let’s make our voices heard.

Postscript: This morning I received an email from Parks Forestry and Recreation Senior Project Coordinator, Ed Hanna. According to Ed,

To clarify, in our final meeting last week onsite , we requested additional planting to the stair side to prevent potential access towards underneath the staircase for safety concerns
As a construction site and for safety measures, the contractor needs to complete site restoration while the staircase is still closed, this will happen today and tomorrow
I realize that this is an important pathway for the community, and that this project took longer than expected, we apologize for that.
All above will be completed, and the staircase will be opened in a couple of more days( Wednesday May 10).

Thanks to all who called in to request some action on this project. I’m sure that made the difference.

Steps to nowhere?

Tantalizingly near completion after being out of service since last June.

Work on the steps from Hickory Tree Road and Bellevue to the Lions Park soccer field has once again ground to a halt. A call to 311 uncovered that citizens can call directly, and the name to call was temporary supervisor Nick Ovington. After two unreturned calls to Mr Ovington, it emerged that he no longer works in this area. According to Councillor Mike Ford’s Constituency Advisor, Jennifer Couto, there is a new temporary supervisor, Phil Jarow. Bottom line; the stairway “is in place waiting for the final testing procedures and final finish grading. A timeline for completion will be forwarded early next week.”

As soon as word comes from Mr. Jarow, readers will be updated.

Weston Silver Band wins big in U.S.

On March 11, the Weston Silver Band competed in the annual North American Brass Band Championships and were judged to be best of ten bands in the First Section (think divisions) winning a gold medal. WSB was the only Canadian entry out of 33 other bands. In 2013 the band placed top in the Second Section; the first Canadian band to do so.

The Band celebrates its win.
Weston Silver Band at the North American Brass Band Championships, held in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 11, 2017.

The Weston Silver Band has an interesting history. Before immigrating to Canada, George Sainsbury, started a band in the U.K which survives to this day. Once he arrived in our neck of the woods, he formed what began as the Weston Boy’s Band in 1921 and has flourished ever since, keeping its Weston links by performing annually in the Weston Santa Claus Parade. Although at the present time there are no members who live in Weston, the band is very proud of its roots in the Weston community and keeps extensive archives of its history. Practices are still held locally every week at the Salvation Army’s York Community Church on 1100 Weston Road in Mount Dennis. The band began to draw musicians from further and further afield from Weston beginning in the late 1970s.

For their upcoming performances, click here.

Band Manager Theresa MacDonald kindly sent me some archival photos of WSB that illustrate its proud Weston heritage.

George Sainsbury and his wife.
The original Weston Boys Band in 1921 at the C.N.E.
Weston Boys Band 1924- Music Director George Sainsbury, Taken at Dr. Irwin’s Estate on Little Ave, in Weston.

Theresa tells me that when the band played in Gravenhurst last year, George Sainsbury’s grandson approached them with a music case belonging to the founder. This treasured item is now stored with the many trophies and other memorabilia gathered over the years.

The original music case belonging to George Sainsbury.
Weston Silver Band 1951 – Music Director Horace Sainsbury, Little Park, Weston.
Weston Silver Band 1960 – Music Director Wallace Mason -C.N.E Winners Class I All Brass, Best Performance, Highest Marks of All Bands, Gold Medal Cornet Solo – Jim Alexander, Gold Medal Euphonium – Ken Martin
** The band has all these shields and trophies in their archives, as well as uniforms etc.

Foreign money pushing up house prices.

The logic-defying and alarming increases in Toronto’s housing prices have affected us in Weston to some extent. The boom is largely taking place outside our borders. While we still live in an affordable area, interestingly the net effect of the current market is lower property taxes for us. This is because higher assessments in other parts of the city mean that those residents are taking a larger share of the total assessment. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that housing prices (and rents) are rising at an unsustainable rate. What are we being told about the rise in housing prices? The big lie is that it’s simply a lack of supply and that more housing is needed. Based on this lie, there are proposals to eat into Toronto’s Green Belt and put more housing there.

A new report issued this week from the Ryerson’s City Building Institute tackles the housing shortage theory and disproves it. While there is enough housing for residents, the seeming shortage is likely caused by money looking for a safe haven in Canada. According to the report, it’s hard to trace foreign money that’s causing the boom but unless we do something about money flooding our city (such as a foreign buyers’ tax or a progressive property surtax), a lot of (especially) young people will be putting themselves at risk, saddled with an impossible debt. This could trigger a financial crisis, once the bubble inevitably bursts causing even more turmoil.

Over to you Province of Ontario.