What’s up with the UP Express schedule?

Paul Ferreira raised an important question on Twitter this week: When will the UP Express get back to its regular schedule?

Metrolinx reduced service during the worst days of the pandemic as ridership across the system dropped by as much as 90%. It cut the hours the UPX ran and also the frequency of service.

While the hours have since been increased—though not quite to the pre-pandemic 19.5 hours a day—the trains only travel every 30 minutes. That’s the same frequency as in March, 2020.

On Twitter, a spokesperson told Ferreira that they are “constantly keeping an eye on ridership and our trips to ensure we’re accommodating the current and expected demand. As soon as a change happens as far as more service being implemented, we will provide updates in a timely manner.”

Castlepoint Weston issues video

Based on recent development proposals, Weston is about to undergo dramatic change. One proposal deals with the buildings at 1871 and 1885 Weston Road, which are currently occupied by the former Scotiabank branch and the current Weston Park Baptist Church. Read more background here, here, here and here.

The first public consultation for the development was a love-fest, with the church and developer promising a partnership with the community. The second meeting (held virtually) fleshed out the results of the public input and it emerged that in exchange for some goodies such as a performance hall / church, better station entrance, gym, ground floor retail and meeting place, the price of admission would be two very tall apartment towers at 28 and a new precedent-setting 38 storeys.

Perhaps as a result of some negativity and disappointment concerning the height of the apartment towers, Castlepoint has issued a YouTube video video called ‘Weston Park, a Centre for the Community’. The video was created as part of the Official Plan Amendment (“OPA”) and Zoning By-Law (“ZBL”) application submitted to the City of Toronto on October 29, 2021.

Readers can view the video below and comment on the content if watched on YouTube directly.

VIDEO NO LONGER AVAILABLE.

On the one hand, the video is compelling animation of the artist concept images. On the other, there’s no doubt that even the best laid plans can go awry.

In an article published 5 days ago in Renx, a real estate publication, Castlepoint Vice-President Elsa Fancello, said in regard to the Weston project, “We likely won’t do traditional affordable housing on that site. What we’re looking to explore further with WoodGreen (Community Services) is affordable workforce housing that’s almost like rent-geared-to-income for professionals who work at the airport or other nearby industries.”

Follow up: Local blogger Hans Havermann tells me that On December 2nd, he wrote a comment on Castlepoint’s YouTube creation (above) suggesting that the proximity of the development to the upcoming Crosstown Line had been exaggerated on the map used in the video.

Today, (December 5), comments (including his) were turned off.

Can we hope they were exaggerating about the height of the towers too?

Screenshot from Castlepoint’s YouTube video. (Click to enlarge.)

In the latest development (December 7), Hans tells me the map has been amended to show the station in a more realistic location.

The updated station location.

The original video has been deep sixed but the ever alert Mr Havermann has tracked down a version with the updated map.

Oh what a tangled web they weave methinks.

Your move Castlepoint.

Johnny Strides does Weston

Johnny Strides is a prolific, ‘Toronto based youtube channel that focuses on walking, cycling, transit videos and livestreams in the city.’ Recently the channel did a tour of Weston, beginning in Cruickshank Park and walking down Rogers Road Weston Road to the UP Express / GO stations and doubling back to Lawrence.

“Johnny” misses Weston Village and its beautiful homes entirely after a tantalizing glimpse along Church Street when he emerges from Cruickshank Park. The gratuitous use of ‘troubled’ in the title didn’t win me over either. On the plus side, he does seem to do a fair amount of homework on the area and discusses that as he walks through. He gets a bit bogged down in the station areas before heading to Lawrence for his bus home.

The comments on the video are quite interesting. One commenter from Philadelphia noted that, “For a neighborhood with a bad reputation it certainly doesn’t look bad at all… coming from a person from Philadelphia which is sooo much worse. I do think Weston could use some greenery though.”

Westonians may wish to offer “Mr. Strides” some suggestions for another video on Weston. Watch the walk through below.

Weston Park: it’s not a community centre…

Back in the halcyon pre-pandemic days of late February 2020, I attended a concept meeting held at Weston Park Baptist Church (WPBC) to discuss development of the lands at the south-east corner of Weston and Lawrence. The development, known as Weston Park will occupy quite a large property stretching from the old Scotiabank building on the corner to the actual church itself including parking spaces currently on loan to Metrolinx. As I said at the time, the meeting was a veritable love-fest with lots of feel-good messages and the promise of a community asset that would incorporate the two existing buildings while emphasizing some of the historical aspects of the Weston community. A promise was made of community consultation through the whole planning process.

The Weston Park Development site. Adapted from Google Maps.

Fast forward to last Monday and a second meeting was held via Zoom (with over 130 participants) to reveal the latest thoughts from WPBC and the developer, Castlepoint Numa.

According to Councillor Frances Nunziata, the project is attempting to enhance the community through the following:

  • Bring in new investment and strengthen community ties
  • Create a vibrant multi-use hub
  • Use high architectural design standards
  • Incorporate a mix of community, retail, commercial and residential use
  • Respect the rich heritage of the Weston Community and the WPBC.
  • Connect to transit, pedestrian and cycling networks.
  • Be a visible gateway to UP Express and GO trains

After preliminary introductions were made, some concept drawings were unveiled. It should be noted that there is no obligation on the part of the developer to actually build what is shown, rather they are a set of preliminary ideas.

The view from Weston Road. Presentation screen shot.
The view from Lawrence avenue on a future foggy day. The old Scotiabank wedge is on the right. Presentation screen shot.
The Sanctuary / Performance Hall with sight lines along Bellvue looking towards the Humber. Presentation screen shot.
The gymnasium. Presentation screen shot.
The Gallery / Atrium. Presentation screen shot.
A bird’s eye view of the development. Presentation screen shot.

What’s in the latest presentation?

It’s still quite vague but that’s understandable at this early stage. Interestingly, part of the site contains a major sewage pipe, so no new development can take place on that part. In order to get around this, the existing church building will be moved down Weston Road to the south-eastern edge of the property. The church’s proposed new location can be seen in the last diagram. The pipe follows a diagonal line from the station.

There are plans for community spaces such as a gym, gallery and sanctuary / performance hall. The latter will feature a huge window at the back of the stage that will look onto Bellvue and the Humber River beyond. The WAES food bank will also be accommodated in the development. There will be retail stores and restaurants on the ground floor of the development. It’s far too soon to know who will occupy the stores.

A Y-shaped woonerf will be incorporated as a multi-use thoroughfare that will link Lawrence and Weston and provide a walkway and sight-line to the station. Pedestrians, cyclists and traffic will mingle freely on this paved area that will be partly covered by the development before it emerges on Lawrence.

Partcipants were concerned that the woonerf will be used as a short cut by cars between Lawrence and Weston. This didn’t seem to have occurred to project organizers.

The elephant in the room was referred to only briefly. What will finance all the community bling? Will there be rental fees for the gym, gallery and sanctuary / performance hall or will they be subsidized by fees from the developer? What will happen to Section 37 money generated by the development?

The answer seems to rest in the two large apartment towers that will set a record height for Weston. The smaller will be 28 storeys while the larger will be 38. The Weston Hub’s 30-storey apartment building on John Street seems to have set a target for future developments. While the hundreds of apartments will constitute the vast majority of the project, there were no apartment layouts or any description of them. Often a development will list numbers of one-bedroom apartments and so on (square footage, ratio of bedroom options etc.). Maybe it’s too early yet but the City will certainly have a say as the trend is to encourage developers to include a bigger ratio of two and three-bedroom apartments.

The developers also haven’t decided if the apartments will be condo’s or rentals.

As in all modern developments, a large issue will be parking. Developing the site will mean the removal of almost 70 existing parking spaces currently used by UPX and GO commuters. Additional parking will also be needed for hundreds of residents, churchgoers, community activity participants and customers of the retail stores and commercial spaces. By necessity, Weston is a car oriented neighbourhood. We’re a long way from being a 20-minute neighbourhood. Where will all these people park and how will commuters be discouraged from using up the development’s spaces? There was no mention of bike parking.

The height of the towers seems excessive. Especially considering the low-rise nature of Weston Road. No doubt City planners will trim them down marginally but once built, they’ll be hugely prominent for decades. If the towers are to be so tall (and they likely will be), what can be done to make them attractive? Other than wispy concept drawings, there was little about the external appearance of the towers. As illustrated they look like what one expects architectural drawings of Toronto towers to look like. There was also little discussion of the effect that hundreds of new residents would have on transportation and infrastructure. Wind and shadow studies will hopefully show minimal effects on the recently renovated community space already existing on the opposite corner of Weston and Lawrence.

With only 90 minutes allowed for the presentation, many things weren’t discussed. One would hope that all flat roof surfaces would be green and accessible. It also would be nice if outdoor restaurant seating could be contained within the woonerf area away from traffic noise and would be a natural draw for pedestrians. Participants expressed concern that there needs to be some thought put into the design of anti-crime features that will keep loitering down once businesses are closed for the day. Also, there probably should be a pedestrian crossing of Weston Road at Bellevue for safety and to encourage the connection to the Humber.

Sidewalks are already very constrained on the opposite side of Weston Road from the project and there is a very busy bus stop on the opposite corner (Weston is a major transit hub). There probably needs to be more thought paid to this. Sidewalks on Weston Road north of Lawrence were recently widened but by far the greater need is south of Lawrence.

In conclusion, when I saw the proposals in November 2020, I was encouraged by what seemed like a partnership literally made in heaven. Now it seems like the devil is in the details: a pair of precedent-setting tall towers with some (admittedly major) goodies thrown in to make the towers palatable. The development may also cause major stress on existing infrastructure including roads, sidewalks, parking and sewers.

It is up to Westonians to make their feelings known and express their opinions on the development. If you haven’t watched the presentation I highly recommend that you do.

As the project stands, much like the Weston Hub, the net community benefit won’t be known for years while the precedent of ever taller towers will be well and truly cemented in stone. The developers used the phrase, our ambition is to make Weston Park the centre of the community, not a community centre. Time will tell if that will happen but great stock is placed by the City in the opinions of residents during the consultation process.

Watch the Zoom presentation here.

Find the Weston Park Development information and resident feedback site here.

Correction: Frontlines Vice-Chair Brigitte Sasche tells me that there are no plans to include Frontlines in the development. That reference has been removed.

You can use credit cards on the UPX

Ever-so-slowly, the UPX fare boxes are improving. You can now use your credit card to tap on and off.

I’m sure these things are massively complicated, but it seems a bit bonkers that a train designed for airport passengers didn’t have this in the first place. Nobody wants to struggle with tickets in a foreign language while juggling luggage and fighting jetlag. Add it to the list.

While you’re considering UPX fares, be sure avoid a scam. Your correspondent saw $120 “unlimited” Presto cards advertised on a social network. They are allegedly good for three years.

It sounds too good to be true—and it is.

Weston GO and UP Express numbers may drop

The UP Express at Weston Station. (file)

Back in 2011, Weston Web reported that the old Weston Station on John Street used to see about 450 trips daily (weekdays only). That would translate into about 225 people using the station.

Metrolinx published Weston’s passenger numbers for UP Ex and GO last April and they were up sharply thanks to a $1.50 subsidy for people making one journey using both the GO and TTC (courtesy of the Kathleen Wynne government). This was possible only for passengers using the much loved Presto Card.

The latest figures from April show that between April 2018 and January 2019, GO passenger numbers increased by 21% while UP Ex numbers were up 15.8%. Weston station sees about 1100 GO trips daily while UP Ex has about 940. That’s about 1000 people daily going through Weston Station which is a huge increase from the 225 in 2011.

With the recent announcement that the Ford government will drop the subsidy, there is concern that people will get back in their cars and drive.

Metrolinx claims it is willing to throw in 75¢ of the rebate if the city of Toronto will throw in the other half of the rebate but as usual, Toronto, in its 227th year of austerity, is pleading poverty.

Over to you Councillors Nunziata and Holyday.

 

GO expanding to Woodbine racetrack

The Kitchener GO line will soon have a new stop at the Woodbine racetrack. The stop will be paid for by the owners of Woodbine, and it will replace the Etobicoke North station.

Metrolinx has said that the UP Express eventually may stop at Woodbine station, though no plans were announced this week. This would be great for Weston; the more that commuters use the line, the less likely we are to lose our stop–and that’s a concern because the train will stop at the new Mount Dennis transit hub.