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.

GO Train service upgrade – it’s official.

As mentioned previously in Weston Web, an upgraded schedule to the GO Train service between Weston and Union stations has been announced by GO Transit beginning September 8. The service upgrade covers the middle of the day during weekdays. Weston Station will continue to sit idle during weekends but that will be handy for the new (temporary) Farmers Market location next year.

Inbound schedule.
GO Train Weston to Union schedule.

The return journey also fills in the middle of the day times.

Return to Weston Schedule.
GO Train Union to Weston schedule.

We can speculate about the reason for this unexpected gift from GO Transit and Metrolinx. Uncharitable folk might suggest that this is a way to dull the clamour to add stops to or lower prices on the UP Express. Here at Weston Web we recognize this as a truly magnanimous gesture that comes purely from the heart. Let’s hope that the lovin’ feeling will soon extend to weekend service.

Read the official announcement here.

UP Express nearing completion.

The UP Express is close to becoming a reality. Beginning today, Monday, March 30, Metrolinx will be testing its service at 15 minute intervals between 8:00 pm and 3:00 am, moving to daytime towards the end of April.

In early April, a footbridge across Lawrence just east of Weston Road will be installed to steer passengers safely to the train platform for UP Express and GO Train users. The big lift into place will occur on Saturday, April 11th and should be worth watching.

The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.
The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

 

The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.
The South ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

As for the John Street footbridge, this will be installed in the summer.

John Street looking towards Rosemount March 2015
John Street (and its unattractive overhead wiring) looking towards Rosemount. March 2015
The John Street bridge deck - artist's impression.
The John Street bridge deck – artist’s impression – looking towards Weston Road.
The John Street Bridge.
The John Street Bridge – artist’s impression – looking towards Rosemount Avenue.

The UP Express and GO stations are almost complete and are next to each other.

Note the higher platforms for the UP Express.
Note the higher platforms for the UP Express.
The new GO platforms and waiting areas.
The new GO platforms and waiting areas.
Artist's impression of the new Weston GO Station.
Artist’s impression of the new Weston GO Station.

It has been a long haul since the airport link was first proposed. The UP Express is seen by many to be an elitist project for the rich while the transportation needs of the many are unchanged. The trains will be diesel which is a disappointment as it was hoped that the new train would provide an opportunity to electrify the line. Sadly, the much hoped for all-day electrified GO service is still a far off dream.

What’s good about the changes that the UP Express is bringing?

First, the good citizens of Weston showed their political muscle by arguing for and receiving one of only two stations along the route. The fight galvanized the community and has ensured that Weston has a voice and can no longer be relied upon to meekly accept whatever planners and politicians decide is best for us.

Second, although the GO station moved further away from many people in Weston, its replacement is modern, visible (unlike the old station) right on Main Street (Weston Road) and is a visual reminder of access to an incredibly quick ride downtown (and frequent once all day GO service is launched). As has been pointed out before, even on the currently limited GO Train service, Westonians can glide downtown in comfort in 21 or 23 minutes while commuters from the much coveted Royal York subway area have a 34-minute journey and have to change trains, battling the crowds at St George.

Third, the old station was hidden and the new visual reminder and the upgrading of transportation infrastructure has begun to revive interest in Weston as a place to live. Real estate prices, once depressed are starting to recover and businesses are investing in our commercial areas. While the old GO station occupied virtually no real estate, its parking lot that doubles as the home of the Weston Farmers Market (and surrounding property) will be developed to be the focal point of an exciting ‘Community Hub‘.

The lesson we have all learned is that a community has to be vigilant and fight for good infrastructure. It won’t arrive by itself. In addition, developers want to make money regardless of the social cost to the community. We need continued citizen involvement and active and responsive politicians who will represent us regardless of the cost to their career ambitions or political beliefs. We also need to believe in our own community by patronizing local business. Only then will Weston achieve its awesome potential.

GO Transit looking for feedback

They asked for it: GO Transit would like your feedback on the Georgetown South ‘community outreach’.

“From May 7 to June 7, 2012, tell us what you think of our communications, our public meetings and the information we provide. Your input will help us improve how, when and where we communicate with the communities along our rail corridor.”

GO Train now goes to Kitchener

They may run at an inconvenient time, but the 5:02 pm and 6:02 pm GO trains from Weston station run all the way to Kitchener. There are likewise two inbound trains from Kitchener each morning that pass through Weston on their way to Union Station. The Weston to Kitchener trip takes a leisurely 1 hour 40 minutes.

I guess it would be handy for Oktoberfest!

As a result of the new extension, the Georgetown Line is being renamed the Kitchener Line.

Airport Link and All Day GO – Implications for Weston Residents

The mainstream press rediscovers the Airport Link every so often and now is no exception. For some reason, the line is back in the consciousness of the media. It’s probably a good time to look at some of the issues and implications for Weston.

Firstly, we have to thank the good people at Weston Community Coalition and the Clean Train Coalition and others who took the time and trouble to yell loudly enough to ensure that the train would stop at Weston at all. When first planned, only one stop was designated along the way at Dundas West.  Labelled Blue 22 because of the anticipated 22-minute journey, the train will now take 25 minutes from Pearson to Union Station with the added stop in Weston. Hopefully it will one day be called the Green 25 but not yet as the trains will be tier 4 diesels – there’s probably no way of fixing that for several years as the Japanese locomotives for the link were a done deal years ago, money is tight and there isn’t likely to be another election soon. It’s a shame but that’s politics for you. Some of the noise will be reduced through barriers and along one section, a tunnel. As for pollution, allegedly these diesels are somewhat less polluting than GO Trains but electric will be far cleaner, quieter and faster when it eventually arrives. The reason for the haste is that the link was promised for the 2015 Pan Am games to move spectators between downtown and the Airport (athletes will have their own dedicated buses and lanes along the 427 and Gardiner).

Because  of the need to reduce noise levels, the tracks near the existing station will be lowered into a tunnel. The station will move south of Lawrence this spring where more parking can be accommodated. Work is already well under way in the new location. John Street will be revitalized.

Also in 2015, our anemic GO Train service will be increased to an all-day service with double the number of trains running.

So to summarize: in 2015, Weston will have an all-day train service to downtown as well as stops along the way and in addition will be served by a separate link with rapid access to Pearson Airport (probably under 10 minutes) as well as to downtown. The new station is being designed with community input (next meeting February 2, 2012 at York West Active Living Centre 1901 Weston Road), will be much more visible, have lots of parking and will be accessible from Lawrence Avenue as well as Weston Road. Although fares will be more expensive than the subway, the added convenience and speed (under 20 minutes to downtown) will be an excellent trade-off.

What are the implications? For real estate developers, having such a rapid portal to two huge places of interest will spark a frenzy of property buying in this area. If the fares are affordable, airport workers from baggage handlers to pilots will love to live with such easy access—easier and faster than just about any other transportation method, as the new Link will connect directly to Terminal One. The range of housing available is stunning, from the mansions of historic Weston to apartments and condos—and at bargain prices too. People who work in downtown Toronto will find that Weston will be an easy commute with flexibility thanks to the all-day service. There will be a building boom in a wide area around the station to accommodate the new travellers and their needs. Apartment buildings will spring up near the station. Another implication: Weston may begin to see signs of gentrification—perhaps a Starbucks and a restaurant chain or two; fewer payday loan companies, dollar stores and vacant properties. Older apartment buildings will spruce themselves up in order to attract a changing demographic, sparking a boom in renovations. Rents both commercial and retail will go up. Condos that have languished for years will be snapped up.

A danger exists that Weston station will be replaced by another location, possibly a mobility hub (note two links) along the way. This will perhaps take years and with vigilance and community activism may never happen.