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City's chief planner to talk about her favourite subject: the value of walking to school

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, will be talking about her favourite subject, walking to school, at Walk Toronto’s annual general meeting next Wednesday.

"We're generating a culture change in our school system and in our communities around walking," Keesmaat says, "recognizing walking to school as being a fundamental part of creating healthy, happy communities."

Her thinking on the subject, which she has laid in several TEDx talks, is that walking to school benefits children's health, creates communities that are pedestrian friendly, and increases the chances parents will send their children to local schools, discouraging the development of what Keesmaat calls mega-schools.

"In downtown Halifax, they closed a series of schools and opened a mega-school," she says, "and guess what that mega-school needed? A huge parking lot. Part of the connection I would like to make is that there is a public policy implication in the academic performance of our children and the cohesive strength of our communities that is unrelated to the financial efficiency of having one building instead of five."

Keesmaat believes that walking and pedestrian issues are a fundamental part of a city’s transportation planning. "Thinking about walking is a part of how we learn about our community. It’s not a design question, it’s a choice question and a cultural issue.

"We have a culture where we've become inverted in just one generation from being communities, back in the 1960s, where 70 per cent of our children walked to school, to now, when 70 per cent of our children are driven to school. Schools are still centrally located, they’re still within walking distance, and the choice is being made to drive.”

Keesmaat says our communities are safer than ever but, ironically, our perception of their safety is lower than ever. She says there’s a direct correlation between this perception, having children walking on the sidewalks, employing crossing guards, and generally populating the streets with people instead of cars.

Keesmaat will be speaking and taking questions from 8pm to 9pm on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the University of Toronto Schools auditorium at 371 Bloor St. W.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Keesmaat

Bixi is dead. Long live Bixi

Despite its fatal business model, Bixi will survive, but it won’t be Bixi anymore.

The city has decided to take it over, handing the management of the troubled Montreal-based bike-sharing program to the Toronto Parking Authority until they can find a suitable management company with expertise in this area.

"One of the primary reasons Bixi is having trouble in Toronto is their business model was based on covering both the capital costs and the operating costs from operating revenue," says Daniel Egan, the city’s manager of cycling infrastructure. "It became pretty clear after a year that it wasn’t feasible."

As of Dec. 2, Bixi no is no longer connected to its parent company, and is wholly owned by the City of Toronto, which assumed its costs. The Parking Authority will run it until April when it hopes to have found a new manager, and when it will likely take a new name.

There is still a plan to expand the system by 22 stations net year, though moving north of Bloor is unlikely.

The handover is being funded, oddly, with $5 million that would have gone to paying for several public toilets pledged by a city media partner. This will cover a $3.6-million capital loan, with the extra $1.4 million being used for interim operating costs, and to contribute to a reserve fund that will pay for capital costs. The fund will also receive $70,000 annually from the city's transportation budget, and will be a recipient of so-called Section 37 money gathered by the city from property developers to fund city projects in the public interest.

Though Egan believes the program can be run better than it has been, he does not believe it can ever be profitable. "The goal is to break even," he says. "There's no illusion that it’s a money-maker. But we’re looking to make this program sustainable in the long term."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Egan

Chief Planner talks suburban mobility

At Monday’s meeting of the Chief Planner’s Roundtable, consultant Jane Farrow announced to the 200 attendees that 60 per cent of the people living in eight so-called tower neighbourhoods in the inner suburbs do not have drivers' licenses.
This is big news.

These suburbs, built at a time when cars seemed the natural tools for urban expansion, are no longer inhabited by car people. They are, in fact, decreasingly suburbs at all, but rather less dense cities of their own, and as Vaughan and Markham, among others, seek to redress the change in various ways, the Chief Planner’s Roundtable is looking into how people do, can and should move around.

"A tremendous number of them walk," Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says, "even when walking conditions aren’t that good."

So one of the ways Keesmaat would like to address that is by studying how and where people are getting around now, and adapting the now outmoded infrastructure to accommodate them.

Some aspects of this could be relatively easy, like making sure paths are shoveled, taking down fences that obstruct natural routes, and keeping them well lit after dark. But there are more profound ways to address the issue as well.

"It's about how we can re-adapt very suburban, car-oriented environments," Keesmaat says, "by getting a much finer street network, and adding development parcels, recognizing the importance of land-use planning and infrastructure changes in order to increase the options."

In other words, as these suburbs expand, they expand with these more reasonable, responsive forms of transportation and mobility in mind.

By the end of the roundtable, which was open to the public but attended mostly by those in related professions, they came up with a list of seven things that, Keesmaat says, need to happen now, including improving the walking infrastructure where people walk already, ensuring walking and cycling infrastructure links up with transit, improving data collection so future decisions can be made on solid ground, improving signage, loosening land-use controls to allow for more organic change as it is warranted, develop to allow people to live closer to where they work, and encourage individual "champions" to get behind significant infrastructure investments in these suburbans and push them through.

Video records of this and previous roundtables are available on the chief planner’s website.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Keesmaat

Dufferin Bridge closed to pedestrians

The Dufferin Bridge closes to pedestrians today while Metrolinx checks it for potentially dangerous loose concrete.

According to Frank Clarizio, the city's director of capital works delivery for the department of Engineering and Construction Services, the 10-day closure is the result of a recommendation of one of the city's consulting engineers.

The closure to pedeistrians and cyclists comes almost four months after it was precipitously closed to vehicular traffic, and five years after the original report suggesting the century-old bridge was in urgent need of repairs was released in 2008.

The clearing of loose concrete, known as scaling, is Metrolinx's responsibility, as the brdige runs over GO Transit tracks, and any falling chunks would be endangering its trains.

During the closure, pedestrians and cyclists looking to get to the Exhibition grounds can use Atlantic Avenue.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Frank Clarizio

Harbord Village sets the lane-naming standard

"Harbord Village is always like this. You ask them to do something, and they turn it into a piece of genius."

Councillor Adam Vaughan is talking about the lane-naming that's been going on in and around Harbord over the past several weeks. Naming laneways around town has become a priority for the city in the last couple of years, as emergency services makes it clear that it can help them locate people and situations more precisely, and communities have used the opportunity to celebrate themselves.

Harbord Village has used its namings as an impetus to remind its residents, and the city at large, of the neighbourhood's history, organizing events around each naming, and setting up a website to provide more details.

Recent laneways have been named in honour of Barbara Barrett, founder of the Toronto School of Art, the Greenberg family, several generations of whom have lived in the same Harbord Village house for about a century, writer and poet Barker Fairley, and Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first black postman, who lived in a house currently occupied by literary editor Patrick Crean. According to Vaughan, there were guests from as far away as Atlanta who came in for the naming ceremony back on July 6.

The lane that's received the most attention, though, is the Boys of Major Lane, named for six boys, all from Major Street, who fought in WWII. Only two, including the aforementioned Greenberg family’s son Joe, returned.

Vaughan says the next neighbourhood that will be announcing its line-up of lane-names will be Seaton Village. They’ve got a tough act to follow.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Adam Vaughan

Billy Bishop town hall draws 500

Five hundred people showed up to the first town hall discussion of Porter Airlines' proposal to extend the runways at Billy Bishop Airport.

"There was a split," says acting director of the waterfront secretariat Fiona Chapman, "as there usually has been in the meetings, between residents of the waterfront, who are directly affected if you like, and the overall city."

According to Chapman, though there were more voices in favour of the extension, which would allow small jets to take off and land at the downtown airport, they were still outnumbered roughly two-to-one by those opposed.

The opposition was mostly comprised of people in the airport’s immediate vicinity. Their complaints included noise, pollution, traffic, and ecological disruption.

Those in favour spoke of the convenience of being able to board a plane for, say, Vancouver at the base of Bathurst Street, as well as the economic benefits to the city, including one comment from a cab driver explaining the good it would do for him, as well as the hospitality industry. The issue of "gateway experience" – people’s first impressions of Toronto coming straight into downtown instead of the tangle of highways and light industrial land they’re greeted with at Pearson – was also bruited.

Counter-arguments to one of the most popular concerns, noise, included the unprecedented silencing technology behind Porter's proposed jets, Bombardier’s CS100s, the so-called "whisper jets," and the fact that there would be a curfew on whatever noise there was, unlike, as one audience member pointed out, the streetcar that ran 24 hours outside his window.

There will be further public consultations before the Dec. 5 deadline for a final report to City Council.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Fiona Chapman

Billy Bishop public consultation happening on Thursday Sept 19

The public will get a chance to see what all the Billy Bishop airport hubbub is about on Thursday, Sept. 19. That's when a presentation will be given in the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place in salon 105.

Issues discussed will include noise, safety, economic impact, and public health, stemming from Porter Airlines proposal to extend the runways to allow for jets.

Billy Bishop airport currently only allows propeller planes.

There have already been two information workshops, at which technical consultants and city staff discussed concerns with members of the public.

Porter has proposed to extend the runway a total of 168 metres to allow them to use new Bomabardier CS100 jets, touted as the quietest in the world. Porter has also put a secondary proposal on the table to increase that extension request to 200 metres.

Anything to do with the island airport involves a greater than usual degree of complexity, given its governance by the so-called Tripartite Agreement between the city, the Toronto Port Authority, and the federal government, all of whom must agree on whatever changes are to be made.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. If you cannot attend, you can also have your say online.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Deborah Blackstone

Mt Pleasant underpass mural nears completion

If the name hadn’t already been taken, Toronto might have been known as the Grey Lady. Even the recent flourish of condo development has added little to the city's palette.
 
This is where Street Art comes in.
 
For the past two years, this tiny sub-section of the city's transportation division has been underwriting murals all around town. Its latest, a two-sided piece by Ian Leventhal in the Mt Pleasant underpass at Bloor, is due to be finished next week. Another of his works is visible to motor commuters just off Bathurst Street at the 401.
 
"People are finally starting to notice the art around the city," says the program's manager, Lilie Zendel. The 22-storey mural of a Phoenix on 200 Wellesley, the apartment building that suffered the hoarding-related fire last year, is probably helping out on that front. (There’s talk that one may end up being the world’s highest, though it has some competition from the 70m high piece by German artist Hendrik Beikirch in Busan, South Korea.)
 
"We're trying to encourage walking," Zendel says, "and one of the ways you do that is to improve public space." She says they took some inspiration from Philadelphia’s 30-year-old mural program that started out as a graffiti prevention initiative and grew into itself over the years.
 
In addition to subsidizing and orchestrating these murals–it pays no more than 70 per cent of the cost--Street Art has put up an artist directory to help business owners commission their own pieces if they like.
 
The latest program, to be announced shortly, is called Outside the Box, for which they’ve hired two artists to create wraps for traffic light boxes, from which the city spends an inordinate amount of money each year removing tags and other graffiti.
 
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Lilie Zendel

Canary District tops off buildings, gets two new streets

The 35 acres on the city’s waterfront is getting ever closer to becoming the Canary District.

Developer Dundee Kilmer just topped off what they’re calling blocks 3 and 15, and what we’ll eventually be calling the Fred Victor and Wigwamen rental housing buildings. The Fred Victor, which like Wigwamen will be aimed at providing housing to those for whom market rates are a stretch, should be finished by 2014, though it will be used for the Pan AM/Parapan Games in 2015 before opening up to tenants.

According to Michelle Cain, a project manager with Dundee Kilmer, the next thing to be completed will be the laying of TTC tracks on Cherry Street between Eastern Avenue and just south of Mill Street, connecting the neighbourhood to the Distillery District, an early step in what one hopes will be the eventual integration of both into the city as a whole.

After that, the reconstruction Cherry and Old Eastern Avenue is scheduled to be the first part of the new district to be entirely completed, sometime later this summer or early fall.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Michelle Cain

18 months of work begins on the Gardiner

A year and a half of work on the Gardiner Expressway began Monday.

Two eastbound lanes were shut down between Jarvis and the Don Roadway. They’ll remain closed until December.

There will be various road and ramp closures for the duration of the project, which the city expects to have finished by December, 2014.

Work began with the installation of a traffic light, and will continue with the relocation of light poles, and the repair of various aspects of the road, including drainage.

The budget for all the work is $6.99 million.

All this work is being done while the city decides exactly what to do with the road, which many believe is a blight and one of the major factors in hobbling the process of connecting the city to the lake.

But while the lengthy environmental assessment (EA) is done to determine the Gardiner’s fate, the city couldn’t hold off on repairs any longer.

"The repairs of the deck are to keep the Gardiner safe and serviceable until the EA is complete," says Jim Schaffner, the city’s acting manager of structures. "The repairs should cover a seven-year span (2013-2020), during which time the EA should be complete."
 
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jim Schaffner

Work begins Monday on new Finch-area multi-use trail

Work on the latest of a planned series of new nature trails in the city is set to begin Monday in the Bayview and Finch area.

Known by the city as the Finch Corridor Trail Project, the multi-use trail, which will be suitable for pedestrians, bicycles, and various mobility devices, is being built on privately owned Ontario Hydro land, part of a Hydro corridor. It will run roughly from Kenneth Avenue in the west to the Don River at Pineway Avenue, just north of and roughly parallel to Finch Avenue. It will be about 3 km long and about 3.5 metres wide.

Construction will run until the end of November this year, and recommence in the spring, with a projected completion date of July 31, 2014. There will be new road crossings constructed at Willowdale Avenue, Maxome Avenue, Ruddington Drive, and Luton Gate.

The city intends to limit construction hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays, as stipulated by city bylaws.

Ultimately, the city hopes to have a network of up to 30 km of such trails in the Finch area.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Richard Chang Kit

Council considers Scarborough transit options today

"When they voted in May to reconsider, the vote was 35-9 to look at the Danforth subway extension."

So says Joe Pennachetti, the city’s manager, expressing what in his view is the likelihood that council will vote to approve and fund the subway extension into Scarborough, overturning the previous commitment to making it part of the city’s new light rapid transit (LRT) system.

Council is considering the issue today, and may make a decision right away, or defer the issue for further consultation.

"We had literally 10 days to prepare the report that should have taken three or four months," Pennachetti says of the document council is discussing.

"What Planning is saying is that it's difficult to get final impacts for the whole system without doing more analysis. The one piece where there's some conern is that if we move on the Scarborough subway now, it will put an added burden on the downtown subway, and we've already got problems getting the downtown relief line done, so what we're saying is, we'd have to hurry that up, too."

So, one subway extension begets another.

And in addition to the billions that are being bandied about, there is one more extra expense involved in shifting transit gears.

"If council approves the subway, we’ll have to pay Metrolinx the sunk cost money," Pennachetti says, referring to the $85 million already spent on staff, research and property acquisition for the LRT.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Joe Penachetti

Union-Pearson Express hits minor milestone

The train from Union Station to Pearson airport reached a milestone last week.

On June 29, the last girder was put in place to link the existing airport train track with the spur that's being built to take the train from the existing Kitchener GO route to the airport.

"The service will operate along GO’s Kitchener (formerly Georgetown) corridor," says Union Pearson Express spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins,"and branch off onto a newly constructed 3 km rail spur near Highway 427 that will connect to a new passenger station at Toronto Pearson Terminal 1."

The new connection, named the project of he year in May at the Global AirRail Awards in Frankfurt, is meant to be up in time for the Pan-Am/Parapan Games in the summer of 2015.

It will provide a 25- minute ride to Pearson from Union, leaving every 15 minutes and making two stops, and the Bloor-Dundas and Weston GO stations, on its way.

Construction has already started on the two new stations, at Union and Pearson respectively.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Anne Marie Aikins

Traffic lights getting resynched across the city

You may not have noticed, but traffic in the downtown core is getting more efficient.

That's a result of the wholesale re-synching of traffic signals on major arteries, including Bloor.

Though it may seem a minor thing, timing traffic signals correctly, taking into account changing populaiton density and whether big new stores have opened, can have a huge effect on how long it takes you to get somewhere, and how much gas you use to get there.

Acording to a recent study from the city's Traffic Management Centre, the recent realignment along Bloor resulted in a 24 per cent reduction in the number of stops an average car makes, a 16 per cent increase in average speed, and a 13 per cent reduction in the amount of gas used and greenhouse gases emitted.

Though international studies have determined re-timing should be done every three to five years, Toronto got a little behind, according to Rajnath Bissessar, the city's Manager of Urban Traffic Control Systems, "due to the lack of staff resources."

One of the adjustments that has been made along Bloor, Adelaide, Richmond and Kennedy, and that will be made in the coming months along Victoria Park, Kingston, Weston, Keele, Parkside and Lawrence is the creation of what Bissessar calls "green-bands"--those long stretches of road where you seem to hit every green light, co-ordinated not only to make you feel like things are finally going your way, but to reduce stop-and-go traffic, which is bad for fuel consumption.

The city has plans to re-time 270 signals by the end of the year, after adjusting 110 of them in 2012. The plan as a whole was adopted by council on June 11.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Rajnath Bissessar

Dufferin Bridge hastily closed three years ahead of schedule

The Dufferin Street Bridge closed to traffic today at 9 a.m. and will be demolished by the end of the year.

The bridge, which crosses the GO rails south of Springhurst, had been scheduled for replacement in 2016. City staff decided on recent inspection that the bridge was in such a poor state that it needed to be closed immediately--and replaced.

The bridge will be open to pedestrians until further notice. Updates will be posed on the city's website.

According to Clive Scott, Councillor Gord Perks' constituency assistant, the councillor has met with the city’s Technical Services and transportation staff and was told, "The vehicular crossing should be fully re-established within 18 months with temporary bridges.  Pedestrian and cycling access will remain available. A construction schedule is currently being developed to minimize the disruption to pedestrian traffic."

The current plan is to construct a temporary bridge, open to cars, that will serve until the new, permanent bridge is finished.

According to Scott, city transportation staff "are currently developing a plan that will adjust traffic signals and signage to minimize the impact of this closure on both residential communities and businesses. Transportation staff will monitor traffic flows and continue to make adjustments as necessary."

Neither the councillor's office nor the city staff would release what specifically precipitated the early closure.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Clive Scott

Do you know of a new building going up, a business expanding or being renovated, a park in the works or even a new house being built in the neighbourhood? Please send your development news tips to bert@yongestreetmedia.ca.
135 Transportation Articles | Page: | Show All
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