UP Express opens June 6.

With great fanfare, Premier Wynne today rode the UP Express from Union Station through to Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport. The Premier, pronouncing the much discussed train as the ‘up express’ (rather than U.P.), stated that this is the beginning of a new era in infrastructure investments. She also suggested that public transport becomes widely used if it is a more convenient way to move from one place to another than driving. No doubt many people will sample the new service for the first time out of curiosity but whether the train is viable in the long term is a highly contentious point. Time will tell if our new transit link will be more convenient for Torontonians, airport workers and tourists (and therefore successful) or if it will end up as a commuter rail line with additional stops along the way.

The Premier also referred to the doubling of GO train service by 2020 which is part of a $16 Billion Liberal infrastructure spend designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transit. Metrolinx President, Bruce McCuaig claimed that in its first year, the UP Express will result in 1.6 million fewer car trips. Former federal Transport Minister David Collenette who got the ball rolling back in 2000 tagged along for the ride. Sadly, there was no invite for WestonWeb to sample the new line.

In its early inception, the train was called Blue 22 and tragically, with the addition of a stop in Weston and three minutes of extra travelling time, nobody in the government could come up with a brief rhyming couplet that ended in twenty-five; hence UP Express. As readers are aware, the stop in Weston was a testament to the political clout of residents who forced the government to offset the negative repercussions of about 150 extra trains through Weston every day. Hence we ended up with a stop along the route, new respect from politicians and a beginning to the end of the decline of Weston.

Arrive in 25.
Don’t Drive – Arrive in 25™

Let’s hope that the same fighting spirit hasn’t left the station as there are fresh battles coming (more on that later).

For extra credit, here is an article that extolls the merits of vastly expanding our current (slow and very tentative) link to Kitchener (Incidentally, there is considerable interest among Kitchener residents, some of whom would like to change at Weston onto the UP Express).

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.

Metrolinx releases few details about electrification

Metrolinx released few details about the timeline for electrifying the UP Express in a recent meeting—the first in more than a year—on the issue.

The UP Express was recently given a fast-track environmental assessment, but it is looking decreasingly likely that it will be electrified by 2017, as had been promised by Laura Albanese and Glen Murray. No money has been put aside for that stage of the project, and Karen Pitre, spokesperson for Metrolinx, refused to say when it would be accomplished:

“I know you want a time and a date and I’m not going to give it to you because I’m going to be wrong,” Pitre said, point blank.

“I would say that the work that’s been done by the community and Metrolinx has advanced this considerably, but I know it’s not fast enough and I understand that.”

Laura Albanese wrote an open letter to Minister Steven Del Duca this week asking nicely for an updated timeline on the project:

I’m writing to you today to request that you provide more details regarding your ministry’s plans for the electrification of the UP Express and the Kitchener GO Line, and an updated timeline for the completion of these projects.

First electrification meeting in a year

Metrolinx is hosting a public meeting about the electrification of the UP Express on Tuesday, February 24, at 7pm at the Fern Avenue Public School downtown.

The UP Express has been built with diesel trains over residents’ objections, ostensibly to have it built in time for the PanAm Games this year. The Liberals have promised electrification at some time in the future. This may be our first hint at when that future will be. It is also the first time in more than a year that they have had a public meeting on the topic.

Metrolinx started shopping for electric trains earlier this month. They put out the first of many feelers, but “there’s no timeline, except a vague, 10-year end-date”, according to The Star.

You should RSVP to the meeting.

Thanks to M for the tip.

Art contest to decorate John Street bridge

The city is soliciting designs for the art around the forthcoming John Street bridge. Metrolinx and StreetARToronto are asking artists to solicit ideas for a mural project that will be installed on the panels running along the accessibility ramps.

The budget for the project is about $47,000, of which up to half can go to artist commissions, and the city isn’t looking for amateurs; only those with experience in similar-scale projects are invited to apply.

Bridge

The city’s drawing of the bridge looks—at least to me—completely bizarre, like a plaza in Brasilia or a Spanish outdoor auditorium. Certainly, I know nothing about these things—but I confess to doubts about the number of people we will actually see lounging, flirting and reading on the steps in the winter or as trains go by nearby. I look forward to my error, however.

 

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

There is a saying that ‘All politics is local‘. Here in Weston, we are blessed with politicians and three levels of government that don’t neglect to tax us in various ways yet seemingly invest little in our neighbourhood.

This is my personal list for our politicians and even for the citizens of Weston. Readers are encouraged to add their own contributions.

There is much that is wrong with Weston and at the same time reason for optimism. Weston looks tired and could be so much more. Nobody likes to shop in a run down area yet customers are the life blood of stores. The type of main street layout seen along Weston Road is the basis of revitalization in Bloor West Village and other parts of the city. It’s one thing to attack political opponents for criticizing Weston’s appearance but as recent Council candidate Dory Chalhoub pointed out, the reality of litter strewn streets, empty stores and dilapidated signage stares us in the face every day.

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Bicycle (and skate) maker CCM went bankrupt in 1983 and yet we still use the slogan ‘Home of the Bicycle’.

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Our slogan could just as legitimately be ‘Home of the Skate’ or ‘Home of Bankruptcy’, or even… ‘Home of the B.I.A. (Weston Village Business Improvement Area is one of the oldest and has been going since 1979).

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Weston BIA Resolutions:

1. Come up with a plan to replace the tired bicycle logos and ‘Home of the Bicycle’ slogan with something more meaningful to Weston – perhaps along the lines of our proximity to the Humber and beautiful parkland.

2. Encourage BIA members to take advantage of the City of Toronto’s financial support for sign replacement.

3. Members should keep their properties in good order and clean up litter on a daily basis.

3. Work on schemes that will boost attendance at the Weston Farmers Market.

4. Stores that sit vacant for months on end do nothing for the community and lower custom in remaining stores. Contact owners and find creative ways of beautifying vacant storefronts and using empty space.

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Frances Nunziata: Resolutions:

1. Focus on the appearance of Weston through the B.I.A. and similar organizations as well as money from the City.

2. Work to reduce litter and visual pollution along Weston’s business areas.

3. Revitalize the Weston Farmers’ Market.

4. Find ways of dealing with empty storefronts that plague our business districts.

5. Continue to look for ways to bring meaningful and well paid employment to Weston.

6. Encourage and facilitate completion of the Humber Trail from Mallaby Park northward.

7. Encourage 12 Division officers to get out of their cars and walk the streets of Weston.

Laura Albanese: Resolutions

1. Use your position to get the Weston Farmers’ Market in on the LCBO pilot project (even though it’s now beginning its second year). This would surely boost attendance.

2. Continue to press Metrolinx to electrify the UP Express and the Kitchener GO line. Also continue your efforts to lower fares on the UP Express with the goal of creating an above ground commuter line that will serve communities along the way.

3. Look for grants that will elevate the poorer parts of the riding and encourage education and prosperity.

4. Look for a way to establish a government office in Weston. This will boost employment and stimulate local business.

5. Investigate the possibility of attracting a community college or university campus to Weston.

6. Work with Councillor Nunziata to encourage and facilitate completion of the Humber Trail from Mallaby Park northward.

Mike Sullivan: Resolutions

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1. It’s great that you have a constituency office here in Weston. Set an example by freshening the paint and landscaping its exterior. Use the business directly across the street as your model.

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2. Continue to bring matters pertaining to Weston to the attention of the community and the appropriate representative. No, your party is not in government; we get that. Yes, we understand you’re a federal politician, not a provincial politician or the city councillor. As an MP, your mandate is to help and facilitate matters for all your constituents and not be hung up about jurisdictions.

3. Work in conjunction with colleagues from the other levels of government to reduce the levels of crime and poverty in Weston.

4. Call attention to the role of payday loan companies and their predatory effects on the poor.

4. Continue to call attention to the Harper Government’s attack on the environment with particular emphasis on how it affects Westonians.

Citizens of Weston: Resolutions

1. We need to stop lamenting the past glories of Weston and move on. We have an active Historical Society that helps us celebrate the past. The only thing we can change is the future.

2. A vibrant shopping district needs people who will take the trouble to patronize its stores. Don’t expect stores to sell us what we want without actually visiting and spending money.

3. Crime levels in Weston are lower than in many areas of Toronto. Get out of the SUV. The walk will do us good.

4. Politicians have no idea what we think unless we tell them. Don’t be shy.

Weston Business Improvement Area: Phone: 416-249-0691

Laura Albanese: Phone: 416-243-7984

Frances Nunziata: Phone: 416-392-4091

Mike Sullivan: Phone: 416-656-2526

 

UPX fore-lash

The UP Express backlash backlash has started. Several supporters in the downtown media have come out in favour of the $27 fares, which were announced last week.

Marcus Gee, of the Globe and Mail, says,

This line was never supposed to be part of the city’s ordinary public transit network, to be used for local trips. It was designed to be like Tokyo’s Narita Express or London’s Heathrow Express, high-end rapid services with fares to match.

But to say it is only for the rich and so deserves no public funding takes things too far. The standard fare for a one-way UP ride was announced this week: $27.50. That is hardly outrageous for a traveller who may have spent hundreds of dollars on a flight and $25 or more just for checked baggage.

The National Post convened a panel of yay-sayers, who, by in large, said something along these lines:

[After the fare announcement] the bitchfest began anew: Too expensive, not a commuter service, too many stops, inappropriate use of public money, ugly diesel trains, yadda yadda yadda. Personally, I’m willing to set aside my limited objections and call the long-awaited airport link a huge win

 

Website commenters have been less kind, almost uniformly rejecting the fares—and, interestingly, the criticism comes from readers of all political inclinations. A Yahoo reader pointed out that VIA is offering a trip to Montreal for $44 dollars. A Sun reader said, “Well, more and more folks will be taking flights from Buffalo, that’s for sure.” A CBC reader wrote “This is infuriating. Public money being spent to give corporate travelers a luxury ride. Unbelievable. This is a disgrace.”

In response to the fares, the TTC rebranded its 192 Airport Express bus with a new theme (and at no taxpayer expense). The bus says “Your journey starts here”

From The Star