Great news and bad news.

It’s well known that many more people in Toronto would cycle if they were isolated and safe from other traffic. The Ontario Government announced today that it will be spending up to $42.5 million on cycling infrastructure across the province. According to Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, the Ontario Municipal Cycling Commuter Program aims to, “promote safety for cyclists and make cycling more comfortable and more appealing for daily commutes and other frequent trips”. The Ministry has also set up a website to promote cycling. This is great news as York South Weston is one of the most under-served wards in the city when it comes to separated bike lanes. As pointed out in a previous article, a few sharrows are the main concession to cycling in the Weston, Mount-Dennis area.

Toronto Council and the mayor were no doubt horrified and shamed by the recent tragic death of a five year-old riding with a parent in a separate but unprotected lane adjacent to busy traffic. This lane should have been physically separated from Lakeshore Road traffic had the city followed its own guidelines. The fact that it wasn’t is an indication of the low esteem in which cyclists and their safety are held in the city. The Mayor has offered to dither study the matter once more – a familiar council tactic designed to do nothing after the clamour for action has died down.

The lack of separation is contrary to the city’s own guidelines. From the Toronto Star.

Instead, Mayor Tory may wish to actually read the city’s existing guidelines concerning cycle trails in the city. I’ve saved him the bother of doing a ‘study’ by quoting the relevant section.

6.4.1. Trails Adjacent High-Volume or High-Speed Arterial Roadways

High-volume and high-speed roadways may have space for trails in the lands dedicated to them. Generally,

these are roadways with speeds of 60 km/h or more and four or more lanes of traffic. These types of roadways often do not have sidewalks, and a trail adjacent should be planned in a similar manner as a trail within a dedicated right-of-way.

The conflict between high-speed traffic and trail uses is best addressed by distance. Designers should try to achieve the maximum distance between the trail and the roadway. Aligning trails at the maximum distance from the roadway will also help to “future-proof” the trail against road expansions.

Where an appropriate distance cannot be achieved, guide rails and a physical separation such as a fence or landscaping are recommended.*

*my bold.

Toronto City Council has a large number of car-centric members. Read here (and weep) for some of our elected officials opining on two-wheeled transportation.

So the bad news is therefore that any spending has to be approved by individual members of Toronto City Council. Let’s hope it won’t take any more lives before some concrete and meaningful action is taken. With the province providing up to 80% of the funding, there will no longer be a valid excuse not to act.

 

Weston, home of the Bicycle? Get real.

This is a supplement to Adam’s excellent ‘Tyraid‘ published in 2015.

At one time in Weston there was a CCM (Canada Cycle & Motor) factory that made bikes. Some time after the factory closed, Weston (through its Business Improvement Area) decided to call itself ‘The Home of the Bicycle”.

In recent years, Weston’s relationship with the bicycle has been marred by infidelity. Weston’s true love is clearly the car and bicycles are given the literal cold shoulder. Instead of encouraging cycling as a way to get around, our own councillor has in the past voted against bike lanes and has even proposed licensing bicycles – an idea that would curtail bicycle use.

More evidence of infidelity: not a single dedicated bike lane graces Weston’s streets; hardly surprising when we live in one of the few cities in the world without a single pedestrian-only street. The nearest thing we have to a bike lane in Weston is a set of ‘sharrows’ down some pretty busy stretches of Weston Road. What are ‘sharrows‘ you may ask – simply a set of stencilled chevrons and a bike image to indicate that cyclists may be present. Somehow a few licks of paint seem to allow politicians to believe that bikes are safely accommodated on our roads.

From the Toronto Star.

Incidentally one particularly dangerous stretch of Weston Road links two strands of the once vaunted Pan Am Path.

Updated map showing the multi-use trail along the Humber in Weston and the missing section between (south to north) St Phillip’s Bridge/ Weston Road and Fairglen Crescent / Cardell Avenue.

Negotiations to connect the two halves of the trail have been ongoing for a long time.

It has been shown that people who bike regularly are healthier and happier than those who don’t. The ones who don’t get hit by a car that is. Many cities around the world have found that by creating separate bike lanes, accidents fall off dramatically while cyclist numbers rise. Health care costs decrease too when large numbers cycle and the population becomes healthier. Plus we’re not talking about cities with nice climates either. Scandinavia can have some pretty foul winter weather yet cycling is used by a majority to get to work in Copenhagen. In fact, 63% of Danish MPs commute on a bicycle.

Stockholm has an extensive network of separated bike paths running through the city.
The author impressed by the support for cyclists in other countries – this is also in Stockholm.

Councillors from the suburbs who live in their own version of the 1950s often put forth bogus arguments when blocking pro-bicycle council motions: Cyclists blow through stop signs, they don’t pay for the roads etc. There’s a nice rebuttal to that nonsense here.

Read here to learn what other cold climate countries are doing to encourage cycling through the use of bicycle highways.

Bottom line; if we want to be the ‘Home of the Bicycle’, let’s do something meaningful. Mount Dennis is opting to be a ‘net zero’ community and has made great strides towards that goal. Weston really could be the home of the bicycle.

If the political will isn’t there, nothing will happen. If people don’t tell politicians what’s important to them, nothing will change. Few people are brave enough to risk life and limb cycling alongside cars. Build separated bike lanes and people will use them. Not only that, cyclists spend deceptively more money.

Let’s make Weston the ‘Home of the Bicycle’ through purposeful actions; not through the use of a now meaningless name.

Note: an earlier version showed an out-of-date map. Thanks to Simon Chamberlain for the heads up.

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.

Today in Weston May 13, 2017

Today was a busy one in Weston. The Weston Farmers Market was open with a few stalls. Next week will be bigger and better. According to vendors, business was brisk. Everyone I spoke to was pleased with their sales.

Weston Farmers Market begins the second of three seasons at its UP Express location.
Sebastian Capatina from menos.ca with some artisanal olive oil and bread samples.
Emi Burnham from Pinkyz Bath Bombs with some actual bath bombs.

The Farmers Market wasn’t the only activity happening today.

At the Weston Library, Ameer Shaikh (L) and Laurent Ho from ADL Process Electronic Recycling collect old electronics for, well, recycling.
At 2125 Weston Road, (the former St. John’s Anglican) Pastor Felix Ayomike helps out at the barbecue during Victory Assembly’s open house.

Down in the Humber Valley, exercise was on the minds of many.

At the Weston Sports Complex, soccer, tennis and baseball players do their thing.

Crosstown Line Update

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.

A sequence of past, present and future images of the Mount Dennis Station site. The Kodak Building is illustrated back in its original position in the 2021 imagining.

Incidentally, the anticipated speed of the Crosstown is illustrated in a graphic on the site.

Where’s the GO and UP Express?

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.

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.

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.