Participatory budgeting bringing infrastructure to Rustic

The third and final phase of the City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project will kick off in early-September 2017.

In the final phase of the pilot, Rustic has a lot to look forward to. Several light posts, along with water bottle filling stations, will be coming to both Rustic and Maple Leaf Parks. Some of the more “fun” ideas voted in include a movie wall, which was championed by local youth, in Maple Leaf Park, and a ping pong table in Rustic Park.

Rustic, one of York South—Weston’s six Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (N.I.A.s) (formerly known as Priority Neighbourhoods), was chosen as one of the three areas in Toronto for the pilot to take place in. Rustic is located in the northwest end of the riding, bounded by the 401 to the north, Culford Road to the east, Lawrence Avenue West to the south, and Jane Street to the west.

Participatory budgeting is exactly what it sounds like; it lets members of the community decide the allocation of city funds for infrastructure. While this is the City’s first time officially trying participatory budgeting, it has been used by other cities such as Boston and New York. Toronto Community Housing also has a Participatory Budgeting program for tenants.

In Rustic, $150,000 was allocated to the N.I.A. for the project’s first phase, and $250,000 has been allocated for each of the final two phases.

Before participatory budgeting came to Rustic in 2015, most of its parks were dilapidated with worn out playground equipment and a dire need for more lighting.

The City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting team at the 2017 Falstaff Summerfest.

Once the final phase of the project is complete, a report will go to City Council on whether the City should continue with the project or not.

Weston should keep an eye on participatory budgeting. Like Rustic, Weston is home to several different demographic groups, and is always looking for new infrastructure. Participatory Budgeting can promote social cohesion and community relationships, but it can also expose decades-old community divisions. When involving ourselves in civic engagement, we should look to what makes the community—and city—more liveable for everyone as opposed to what might make it a little bit better in the short-term for ourselves and a few of our neighbours. This is the lesson that participatory budgeting teaches.

If you want to see the full list of ideas or if you live in Rustic, you can submit ideas here.

Overhead Wiring is so Third World.

Overhead wiring detracts from our streetscape and especially from heritage buildings like our beautiful library.

Weston, like many parts of the third world – oh and also Toronto – is plagued with overhead wiring. It’s completely unnecessary since there are no streetcars in Weston. It’s in fact a false economy on the part of power and communications companies.

In the winter of 2013, the city was shut down for days because an ice storm downed a lot of overhead wiring. More than 300,000 Toronto households were affected. The cost to individuals, the city and the economy was enormous and clean-up costs alone were estimated at over $100,000,000 at the time. Don’t blame the trees; many Toronto trees had been weakened thanks to pruning to accommodate wiring!

The adjacent city of Mississauga was minimally affected because their wiring is buried safely underground.

The 2013 ice storm cost Toronto dearly. From cbc.ca

Overhead wiring is a danger during ice storms and traffic collisions but there is an aesthetic consideration too. What is the effect of wiring on our streetscape?

Take a look at our beautiful Arts and Crafts library without overhead wires (courtesy of a quick Photoshop job). The building can be appreciated in all its glory without unsightly wiring.

Photoshop did what the city and utilities won’t.

Overhead wiring and transportation have one thing in common. The city and utilities should have been tackling them for decades but in Toronto, there is always a lack of money thanks to the short-sighted obsession with keeping property taxes below the rate of inflation. Interestingly, this same obsession doesn’t apply to salaries for the mayor and councillors as their paycheques are automatically linked to the rate of inflation. Nice.

Oh, by the way, yesterday’s photo reveals that the library needs new shingles. Probably cheaper than a leaky roof but then that’s not the Toronto way, is it?

Today in Weston July 28, 2017

The Weston Hub is taking shape along John Street and the first couple of floors of the complex are in place. The John Street pedestrian bridge is visible on the right.

The ground floor of the concrete structure in the centre of the photo will house the artist live / work studios.

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.