Archives for category: transportation

I love the way many European cities’ train stations are woven directly into the fabric of the streets.

I mused about this with regards to the ticket-free barrier to the platforms at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, and now that I’m a regular GO train user, can appreciate that Toronto’s Union Station has a similar system.

But what’s different about Union Station is that the platforms feel very cut off from the city. They are a space apart, separated by concrete gangways, claustrophobic staircases and glass doors.

Copenhagen’s Central Station is different: wide open staircases connect the platforms directly with the street, and there’s a seamless transition from station-space to city-space.

I think the benefits here are more intangible. There’s a feeling of accessibility to a train system that presents itself so openly at street level. It injects dignity to the potentially inhumane scale of rail infrastructure.

Looking forward to investigating more of northern Europe’s rail-street connections.

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Guelph_Transit_237Guelph is a small city with a small bus system.

Unlike in larger cities where many buses ply the same routes all day with 5-10 minute headways, Guelph can’t afford to do that – there are too few people.

What I initially felt was a bummer — buses every 20-30 minutes at peak times and every hour at other times of day — turned one of the system’s greatest strengths: reliability.

This seems like a major paradox – how can you build a robust transit system by providing less?

Transit planners have a maxim that people won’t adopt public transportation unless its frequent and reliable. In Toronto, it often feels like it’s frequent but not reliable. In Guelph, however, the service may not be frequent, but it is very reliable.

Because the bus comes so infrequently, users are forced to use the schedule to see when their bus is coming. The bus system becomes more like a train system in this way – fixed times when the bus will be coming that you can plan your routine around.

While the buses sometimes detract from their schedule, key points in their routes, like the University Centre and Guelph Central Station, put them back on schedule. At these transfer points, the bus will wait until their scheduled departure time to depart.

I think Guelph’s bus system would be much more frustrating if it didn’t follow a schedule and used the same amount of service at more random intervals. The degree of reliability would tire out the most dedicated transit user.

But as it stands, it works great. As Guelph grows, it will require a larger fleet of buses with more frequency – but until then, and in other small cities in Ontario and beyond, the reliability of a less is more approach to transit, while at first seeming like a contradictory approach to establishing a robust transit system, is a good way to go.

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Vancouver City Council recently voted to remove the elevated highway-like viaducts that have been cutting off its Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods with the rest of downtown Vancouver and False Creek.

Of course, this is a fantastic development for Vancouver, continuing a long history of progressive, people-oriented urban planning.

The removal of these viaducts will improve the surrounding area, making it safer and less hostile to pedestrians. And no, it won’t mean downtown Vancouver will not be inundated with cars. People who chose to drive downtown will find other options, and (hopefully), the money gained from unlocked development opportunities will go directly to transit funding.

As you may know, I visited Vancouver and the Lower Mainland this past summer. I had the opportunity to explore the spaces under — and over — the viaducts.

I was pleased to discover there was a bi-directional bike lane running the length of Vancouver’s viaducts. Approaching the viaducts from Main Street, the elevated roadway and its bike lane quickly climbs uphill, becoming suspended above the city. The feeling of biking the viaduct lanes was thrilling – high above the streets, the viaducts runs over many intersections, curving around the often-renamed Rogers Arena, and depositing cyclists to Yaletown at the base of Vancouver’s downtown core.

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I’ve explored car-style, human scale infrastructure on this blog before, where I described the thrilling experience of biking Halifax’s similar highway-to-nowhere Cogswell interchange, and Montreal’s Rosemont Flyover. Car-style infrastructure at a human scale, I wrote, offers a change in the rhythm of a city and a truly unique urban experience. That is, if it doesn’t define the urban form, and if adequate space for pedestrians is provided.

So, like many urbanists, I celebrate the taking down of Vancouver’s viaducts – ugly barriers that favour cars over humans, preventing vital urban life from thriving.

But I also lament their loss. We praise the Denmark’s cycling highways while we take down our own in Canada.

Imagine what the debate would be like in Toronto if there was a bike lane on the Gardiner Expressway!

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

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Research by the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank has taught us that bike campaigns aren’t enough to increase cycling in Toronto. While education does the work of inspiration, a number of barriers continue to stop people from actually getting on their bikes.

Barriers can be a lot of things. Would you ride your bike to a party if all your friends were driving there? If you couldn’t afford to buy a bike and maintain it? If you were scared of biking on busy city streets, even if there were bike lanes?

Identifying barriers and helping people overcome them is essential to building a strong and safe bike culture.

Students often start our program saying they’re afraid to ride their bikes through the city. Having to negotiate speeding cars, huge trucks and street car tracks is enough to make a reasonable person choose another way to get around.

Despite evidence that shows biking to be as safe, if not safer than driving, fear can be so strong that it triumphs over the benefits of biking.

While fear of biking mostly comes from experience, it is also exaggerated by the “prevalence of cycle and road safety training courses that focus excessively on cycling’s risks”, finds the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank. The language of our current regime of road safety courses contributes to fear as a real emotional barrier to cycling.

Charlie’s Build-a-Bike program includes road safety courses that use positive language to teach safety skills. And with group rides that encourage a supportive and fun cycling culture, we are helping them overcome their fear of riding by actively harbouring a love of cycling.

In fact, despite initial fear of cycling, we’ve seen a 70% rate of ‘regular bike usage’ (5-7 times per week) by program graduates, 6 months after completion of the program!

From the hundreds of students that have completed our Build-A-Bike program, we’ve learnt that a cycling culture of love – not fear – is essential for increasing biking in Toronto.

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof

According to the Covenant House, there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year and as many as 2,000 on a given night.

Driven from home by abuse and neglect, homeless youth are more at risk of dying from suicide or drug overdose, and are more likely to be the victims of assault.

Many of these youth have dropped out of school and can’t get jobs because of their lack of education. Without job experiences and a chance to develop life skills, these youth have a difficult time moving forward with their lives.

Agencies serving homeless youth collectively advocate that young people need more job opportunities to sustain a secure and independent life. Employment opportunities are essential to alleviate youth homelessness.

Charlie’s has responded to this directive by providing vocational training for homeless youth. The rigour and structure of our Build-A-Bike program replicates the work environment, and in many cases, is the first step to employment for the homeless youth that participate in the program.

Charlie’s is a unique programming space, where students can overcome issues by focusing on a concrete project. We are a warm and welcoming environment, and the sense of belonging we foster is an essential “soft” contribution to alleviating youth homelessness. A past student we employed puts it well:

They hired me to be a “Shop Administrator”…. It was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. I grew as an individual, and learned a bit about myself… [which has] played a part in who I have become and the experience I have gained.

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We want to take this even further by hiring graduates of our Build-a-Bike program, giving them job experience to propel them forward. We plan to hire one teenaged participant to work with our staff to coordinate, promote and plan Charlie’s Rides for the spring and summer of 2015 and generate interest in Drop-In Hours with local high school students.

We also hope to hire one past graduate of Build-A-Bike programming to teach alongside our mechanic during class. Last year, just less than 10% of our annual operating budget was earmarked for honorariums for youth leaders.

Slowly, we will work alongside other amazing Toronto organizations to provide more employment opportunities for homeless youth. Every job opportunity, every honorarium counts!

This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

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Immigration is a big part of life here, where half of all Torontonians were born somewhere else! Many of us, our parents or our friends have personally experienced what it means to overhaul your life and settle down in a new place.

What lots of people have noticed is that newcomers are particularly open to adopting new behaviour. Which makes sense: getting to a new country, we are eager to take up new customs, and it’s easier to get over old habits.

That’s why it’s so important to encourage new immigrants to Toronto to cycle. If we can show newcomers that cycling is affordable, healthy and convenient, they’ll more readily use a bike to get around. And they’ll become part of the ever growing contingent of Toronto cyclists, pushing the benefits of cycling to society at large and enabling more infrastructure that will make biking even more viable and safe.

But with the image of what it means to successfully integrate, a lot of new immigrants have expectations of getting a car when they come to Canada, even if they come from a place where cycling is an everyday way to get around. According to the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank, many new immigrants consider bicycles a “second class” mode of transportation, chosen out of necessity rather than desire.

It seems our trusty bicycle has an image problem. But we can get over it!

CANADA-BIKELots of organizations are working to connect new immigrants to bicycles. Since 2009, CultureLinkand Cycle Toronto have collaborated to offer Bike Host, a program that has been giving bike tours of the city, mentorships and road safety courses to newcomers. Once a participant has gone through the program, they then mentor the next group of newcomers the following summer.

Charlie’s serves youth from Regent and Moss Parks, the neighbourhoods that have some of the highest concentrations of immigrants in the country. Recognizing that newcomers are especially suitable cyclists, our programs normalize cycling as a viable way to get from A to B in Canada, and the most affordable, convenient and healthy transportation option.

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We like the way Caravane, an immigrant-cycling organization in Montreal puts it. Bicycling is a way of participating in a culture, and when you participate, you integrate.

So let’s keep supporting newcomers with bikes!

Smarty Biky

A little comic/infographic I made for Charlie’s Freewheels Indiegogo campaign to put 50 youth on 50 bikes.

It turns out children who bike or walk to school learn better, as those who get to school actively are much more mentally alert than those who are passively driven to school.

A Danish study of over 20 000 children found that youth mental alertness was advanced by half a school year if they used active transportation to get to school. This is more benefit in mental development than having breakfast or lunch

*Source Egelund et al 2012 study of over 20 000 school children and research by PhD John Pucher of Rutgers Univesity 

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at the 7th annual Complete Streets Forum, a meeting of urban planners, designers, politicians, advocates and urbanists of all stripes committed to building streets that make room for all users — not just cars — in cities across the world.

The conference was hosted by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation at Daniels Spectrum, an art centre managed by Artscape in Regent Park. Regent Park is currently undergoing “revitalization”, and is home home to a number of innovative urban design features, including what’s almost a complete street.

The conference was invigorating. It is inspiring to see all the work folks are doing to advance inclusive, healthy and active street design in municipalities across the world.

The morning’s first keynote Speaker, Dr John Pucher, set an energizing tone for the conference as he spoke excitedly and passionately about the need for complete streets. He shared his research team’s findings that women are an “indicator species” for good bike infrastructure (more women biking = more bike infrastructure, and vice versa!), and that children who walk or bike to school are half a year more intelligent then their driving contemporaries.

Tactical Urbanism: Lesson in Test Driving had Nathan Westendorp and Robert Voigt share their experiences working with cities to pilot projects at 0.75% of the budget of the overall cost of the implemented project. The “try before you buy” mentality means smarter city building, and everyone, even urbanist focused city planners, can learn from the experience. I also enjoyed the idea that DIY city repair, like citizens painting their own cross walks when the city ignores the need, can be dangerous, and we need a way to leverage that energy and make the city more responsible and nimble to the requests of citizen groups.

Dr. Jeannette Montufar spoke after lunch about the history of transportation planning, focusing on “how we got here”. Her historical analysis showed empathy for the decisions of urban planners of the 50s and 60s who opted to build “ribbons of pristine concrete” through “slum” neighbourhoods. They were trying to make the world better, and could not anticipate the negative effects a total highway society would bring. Dr. Montufar’s perspective as an engineer was valuable, and she spoke about the need to get engineers to conferences on complete streets. Public realm is often in the department of transportation, and engineers are as the ones implementing the design of roadways. In terms of street design, they are only being taught to maximize capacity — thus missing on the essential stop and chat nature of a city.

After an afternoon walking tour of the revitalization of Regent Park, including the project’s complete-ish street between Regent Park Park and Nelson Mandela Elementary School, I was delighted to hear from Heidi Wolf, of NYC’s Department of Transportation. She spoke clearly and passionately about her work documenting the Before and After photos of New York’s many urban design and complete streets projects. She stressed the need for clarity, including people in the photos, and getting the same angle for the before and after shots as essential to “selling” the projects to the city, developers and citizens.

The day ended with an engaging panel on the redesign of Eglinton Avenue, moderated by Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. Incredibly, despite the current anti-bike, “war on the car” rhetoric in Toronto, city council approved a 19km separated bike lane, running along Eglinton Avenue, as part of the streets redesign in conjunction with the coming LRT. The panel included an urban designer, cycling advocate, community faciliator, and a representative of the area’s BIAs, and focused on the difficulty of suggesting a bike lane to business owners who overestimate the amount of business the yget from car drivers. A 19 kilometre separated bike lane on Eglinton! How exciting — but the details are material for another post.

Thank you to TCAT for hosting such an excellent, informative and positive conference. I left feeling inspired, energized and motivated to contribute to a world of increasingly friendly environments for pedestrians, cycling, transit and cars. Congratulations to all the presenters and attendees, it was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to working with you in the future!

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Judging by the amount of traffic along  Eglinton Avenue, it’s safe to say that construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT has begun in earnest.

Running underground through central Toronto, and above ground at its extremities, this new rapid transit line is sorely needed in a city that has long outgrown its transit system. Fixing the mistakes of the past, when an Eglinton subway had begun to be dug, but was cancelled by Mike Harris in the late 90s, the Eglinton Crosstown will transect Toronto, cutting through culturally diverse neighbourhoods, linking together the six former boroughs of Metropolitan Toronto.

In anticipation of the frustration that will be felt by 8 long years of construction on Eglinton, the Upper Village BIA had a contest for a poster campaign that will encourage residents to shop locally during these hards times.

I entered the contest with my good friend and collaborator, Josh Schendel, a student of Advertising at Humber College. With my spatio-analytic skills as Your Urban Geographer, and his debonair intuition as an Ad Man, we thought we really had a shot.

We didn’t win, but I present you our submission anyways, pictured above, with our biographies and rationale below.

I think we put in a really good effort. What are your thoughts?

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BIO
Daniel Rotsztain and Josh Schendel grew up along Eglinton Avenue West. Daniel is an artist, designer and urban geographer who celebrates Toronto in his written and visual work. Along with freelance art and design, he is employed by Evergreen Brick Works, Artscape, and writes for Spacing Toronto. Josh is a writer and student of advertising at Humber College. He is finishing a novella that follows the residents of a Forest Hill home, chronicling their misadventures.
Recognizing complimentary skill sets — Daniel’s visual communication skills and urban issues acumen, and Josh’s sense of humour, wit and advertising sensibilities — this is Josh and Daniel’s first collaborative effort. At early stages in their careers, the Experience Eglinton contest has been an excellent opportunity to sharpen their design, communication and writing skills. They will undoubtedly continue to collaborate in the future. Josh and Daniel are excited at the opportunity to give back toEglinton West and contribute to the celebration of local businesses in their home Ward.
Josh and Daniel explored Eglinton West as kids, made relationships with its proprietors and frequented its restaurants during school lunch breaks. They continue to live in Toronto and visit the strip when doing errands for their parents. Josh and Daniel understand the essence of Eglinton and are perfect ambassadors to spread the message of support for local businesses during the strain that construction of the LRT will bring to this beloved Avenue.
RATIONALE
Eglinton West is the backbone of the Ward 21 community. Unlike destination streets such as West Queen West and Bloor/Yorkville, Eglinton West is a working street that serves as an important conduit for transportation and services. Eglinton’s charm is in its honesty, serving the purposes of the everyday needs of its residents.
With this campaign, we intend to celebrate one of the pillars of Eglinton West: Errands. The importance of the errands of Eglinton deserve to be celebrated. Highlighting its everyday activities in the form of a playful visualization and ad campaign will remind residents of the value of their street and its importance to their lives.
While acting as a reminder to shop locally during construction of the LRT, our slogan, “Your Errandswill still be on Eglinton” contains within it a secondary slogan “Errands on Eglinton” that is meant to extend beyond this campaign and become part of the way people talk about their main street.
By including pictograms of the now ubiquitous construction fences, and directly addressing them in our tag line, “get beyond the fence”, we wanted our poster to honestly engage with the disruptions construction will bring, rather than ignore them. The disruptions construction of the LRT will bring toEglinton West can already be felt, and it is important to take this opportunity to make a solid call to arms to support local businesses in these difficult times. “Errands on Eglinton” is a poster that will do just that.
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BONUS
Collaborations often mean compromise. I had an entirely different vision for the piece, pictured below, but through my partnership with Josh, let it be and took the project in another direction.
With this version, I was trying to evoke Instagram. My idea was to celebrate what Eglinton is, thinking that an image of a familiar scene on a billboard would cause a resident to pause and reflect.
Errands on Eglinton

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Image: George Kelly of Toronto Life

Toronto Life picked up on a Spacing Toronto post I did about TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket, an express bus service to Pearson Airport that leaves from Kipling Station.

I am happy that Toronto Life agreed with me: this bus is not promoted well by the TTC, and is not widely known as a viable transportation option to the Airport.

Kipling planeA simple change to the subway map would make all the difference…

Thanks to Toronto Life’s megaphone, the idea has generated many comments, on Toronto Life’s website and its Facebook page. The general consensus seems to be that this service should be better promoted.

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Many commenters, however, are offended by the notion that this bus would be called “secret”.

When you’re in a group, I understand that it’s hard to appreciate that there are others with different experiences and knowledge bases. Those that commented “this was a secret?” form a portion of Toronto’s populace — the Insiders — who are tech savvy enough to find the bus on google maps, not to mention participate in online debates!

In any case, the word is out. And that’s great, because more people using the bus means more pressure for better transit.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

The secret Toronto airport express bus

Last November, my father and I to took the bus to the airport.

At the regular TTC fare of $3 a ride, taking the Bloor-Danforth line to Kipling then catching the 192 Rocket (an express bus that travels along highway 427) is a bargain compared to the alternative $50-ish cab ride. Taking the subway and the bus, my dad and I were surprised that we could get from our house to Pearson in under an hour.

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The 192 Rocket travels from Kipling Station to Pearson Airport along the 427. Image courtesy of the TTC.

It makes me wonder. Why isn’t the 192 Rocket promoted by the TTC, with maybe a little airplane icon above Kipling station on the subway map? Other then seeing people with luggage in tow every now and then on the Bloor-Danforth line, and the odd Air Canada flight attendant in full uniform, you’d never realize that the TTC was connected to the airport.

Kipling station airport

In Montreal, the bus to the airport was introduced in 2010 with a major ad campaign. The bus — numbered 747 — is painted brightly with the image of an airplane. As the bus makes its way through downtown Montreal and onto the highway toward Trudeau International, it becomes a moving billboard advertising itself as a viable transit option to the airport.

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The 747 bus in Montreal. Image courtesy of STM.

I am definitely excited about the opening of the Union-Pearson express train in 2015. This city will benefit greatly from a direct route between its airport and central transit hub. At roughly $20-$30 per ride however, the UP Express won’t exactly be accessible to every Torontonian. I do hope the UP Express doesn’t mean the end of taking the bus to the airport.

And why is the TTC bus to the airport so secret anyways? It definitely affirms my suspicions that Toronto is thoroughly an Insider’s city. We Torontonians like our secrets. Our gems are accessible, but you’ve got to find them yourself. We have a great ravine system, but its trails remains largely unmarked. And just try to make your way through the PATH system for the first time.

So, apologies for breaking Torontonian code by exposing the express airport bus to the internet masses. But hey, it’s a good service!

Daniel Rotsztain is the Urban Geographer. Check out his website or say hello on Twitter!

Leading image by James Bow, from Transit Toronto

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Remember, when I told you about taking the ferry from Holland to England? I described how lovely the experience of slow travel was, gently floating in the North Sea from one port to another in the company of good Ferry-people.

I also proposed that any meaningful travel must involve some sort of immersive change in material reality — in between the places. Between the Hook of Holland and Harwich, the change in material reality involved entering the world of expansive ocean, pointed waves extending toward the grey, then blue, the orange hued skies. On a plane, the change in material reality brings the bright blue sky and puffy blanket of atmosphere and clouds.

Well it happened again — a change in material reality, that is — and it happened on the very short ferry trip from the Toronto’s Jack Layton Ferry Terminal to Ward’s Island.

IMG_1856Plunged into the abyss of the misty fog, aboard the Ongiara

As we pushed away from the city, the always powerful bulk of the skyline immediately disappeared behind the wet, grey fog. We were completely plunged into the world of mist and ice, as the ferry slowly trudged its way across the frozen Toronto Bay.

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That a change in material reality was experienced on the very short 15 minute ferry ride between Toronto and its Islands is testament to the profoundly different places these two fundamentally linked places are.