The Star has the sad story of a cyclist killed in the Mount Dennis area last week. A motorist struck 70-year-old Gary Sim while he rode near Alliance and Jane. He later died in hospital.
The police recently released a 10-year data set on cyclist and pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, which your correspondent has mapped for Ward 11. The results are telling.
Four pedestrians and one cyclist have been struck at Weston and Lawrence.
19 pedestrians and four cyclists have been struck on Weston Road.
Ten more pedestrians and four cyclists have been hit along Jane.
These data are certainly very conservative, and only report deaths and serious injuries.
Many of these accidents—I use the word loosely—happen because we have very poor cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
There is no way, for instance, to get to the Junction, and the bike paths from there to downtown, without riding on the hilly, fast, four-lane Jane expressway. Riding on Weston terrifies even me, a gigantic, fast, fit and ferocious cyclist.
The West Toronto Railpath is exceptional. It’s fast and safe, and good enough for downtown. Why isn’t it good enough for Weston?
Metrolinx could make this happen. They’re working on electrification, which will entail widening and moving tracks (again). Instead of wasting billions on hydrogen powered trains, they could build paths for potato-powered people.
Metrolinx recently announced a 3% fare increase for GO and UP Express fares. Happily for Weston, fares for other than the full Union to Pearson trip will remain unchanged after the anticipated increase in September. Only fares higher than $5.65 will be increased.
Today, the Weston Farmers Market officially began its 39th year and a trio of local politicians was there to celebrate. Local folklore as recorded by Councillor Nunziata claims that there’s never rain on opening day and this year was no exception. The Market is in its second of three years at the UP Express parking lot.
Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray was the star attraction at a meeting held in Mount Dennis Library tonight. The meeting was hosted by Councillor Frances Nunziata and Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Laura Albanese. Jim Baxter, director of Toronto’s Environment and Energy Division was along to add support. Over 40 people came out on a 34° evening to hear some details about Ontario’s five year Climate Change Action Plan and how it can be applied in Mount Dennis.
Highlights of the meeting:
Minister Murray promised to coax Metrolinx into approving the rail path northward expansion through Mount Dennis and possibly Weston. He applauded the net zero initiative being undertaken in Mount Dennis.
There will be energy retrofits available for social and rental housing.
Home energy saving upgrades will be subsidized.
The Ontario Government is very supportive of more bike lanes and better cycling infrastructure.
He thinks that bike paths along hydro corridors should be encouraged.
The province will be offering an incentive of up to $14,000 towards the lease or purchase of an electric vehicle and up to $1000 to install a home charging station.
Four years of free overnight charging for electric vehicles.
Rebates to help trade to an electric vehicle.
Before selling a home, owners will be required to perform an energy audit so that potential purchasers will know the home’s energy costs.
Minister Murray was keen to return to meet with residents for a hike / cycle along the Humber to look at the weirs along the river.
Elliot Strashin owns and is renovating the old Cooper Canada sporting goods factory on Alliance and presciently enough has been renovating it, placing a solar farm on the roof, geothermal energy systems and better insulation. One of his tenants is a company called Dynacert which designs computerized on demand water electrolysis systems that feed the product (hydrogen and oxygen) into existing fossil fuel engines instead of using diesel or gasoline. This process reduces carbon emissions and increases efficiency. Container ship engines generate huge amounts of emissions are being considered for application of this technology. He was wondering about what support there would be for expanding the factory. Minister Murray promised to meet up with Mr. Strashin to see what can be done.
Mr Murray seems quite taken with Mount Dennis and mentioned that what people are looking for is a community with a history and unique businesses, restaurants and cafes. They don’t want to find chain businesses in their locale. Ideally the neighbourhood should be walkable and have good public transportation and cycling options. In 2021, once the Eglinton Crosstown is opened, and cycling infrastructure is improved, Mount Dennis will be well on its way to being such a community. The formal motion to declare Mount Dennis a net zero community will be presented to Council in July.
The meeting ended with an individual question and answer session.
All forms of transportation are subsidized in Ontario, including our roads. Each TTC fare is subsidized by the city to the tune of around 89¢. GO Train passengers are also subsidized by about the same amount. In contrast, on the Sheppard Subway (Line 4) property tax payers fork over about $10 for each passenger’s ride. The one-stop Scarborough Subway with its $3.5 Billion capital cost will need big subsidies to support the paltry 2300 riders a day expected to use the boondoggle service (compared to over 7000 a day currently on UPX).
One can argue that the extra burden of maintenance, traffic control, police supervision, accidents, deaths, sprawl and pollution make roads a poor bargain.
Adam is correct that our accidental commuter train to the Airport or downtown is heavily subsidized. For the moment, Metrolinx is being coy about UP Express subsidies, probably because they are so high. Let’s remember that UPX was designed as a premier experience and not expected to break even for several years. The model was flawed, based more on wishful thinking than actual need. People stayed away in droves thanks to high fares. The (not so) mysterious absence of the executive types who could afford the service meant that trains ran empty all day long. Thanks to high staff levels, capital and running costs, estimates placed the subsidy at around $50 per trip. Now that fares have come down and ridership has tripled, the subsidy may have eased somewhat. The cost of running UPX was $63.2 million last year. Now that prices are affordable, the boutique service levels and running costs could probably be lowered. No doubt with increased ridership, subsidy levels could approach those of the TTC.
The bottom line is that the UPX isn’t going away anytime soon and it provides a huge benefit to our community. Lord knows City council seems to begrudge any money spent on Weston. It’s nice to enjoy this large, if accidental, benefit from the province. Long may it last.
Extra credit: read this 5 year-old article on the UPX from our archives for some interesting viewpoints and statements from that time.
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.
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).
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.
The Eglinton Crosstown line will not open for another four years but they keep updating their website to give tantalizing looks at the future along with progress to date. Below is a view of Eglinton Avenue showing where the new Mount Dennis Station will be placed.
Incidentally, the anticipated speed of the Crosstown is illustrated in a graphic on the site.
I was on the UP Express a couple of days ago and according to my phone’s GPS feature, we were exceeding 125 km/h at times between Bloor and Weston. Of course that’s not the average speed (probably just over 60 km/h) but pretty impressive when comparing commuter rail track speeds in Canada. For example, the GO train trundles along at an average pace of about 50 km/h between Kitchener and Toronto.
The Crosstown site has also posted a recent ‘Flyover’ video (May 2) of stations along the line in an aerial viewpoint showing how work is progressing at each location.
Watch the video in fullscreen mode for a more detailed view.