Archives for category: transportation

This post originally appeared on Urban Toronto

While there are several projects now planned and under construction in anticipation of the Yonge-University-Spadina line’s extension to Vaughan Centre station, another proposed transit station to the east may bring a lot more dense, mixed use and walkable development to this traditionally suburban city “above” Toronto.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe development would complement the addition of a GO Station on the Barrie Line at Highway 7, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The City of Vaughan is planning for a new GO station at Concord to be added along the Barrie line at Highway 7. Encouraged by the potential new hub, Liberty Development has proposed a far-sighted master plan that will complement the transportation node with density and walkability through new residential, commercial and recreational uses.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe proposed development at Highway 7 would complement a new GO Station in Concord, image courtesy of Liberty Development

The proposed site is bounded by existing industrial uses to the north, the West Don Tributary Ravine/Bartley Smith Trail to the east, Regional Road (Highway) 7 to the south, and the C.N.R. Rail line that is used for GO’s Barrie service to the west. York Region’s plan for the the Concord GO Station guides growth to 2031, and promotes an integrated transportation network with direct connections to VIVA rapid transit, at grade pedestrian and cycling connections, along with its proximity to Highway 7 and 407.

Liberty’s proposed development would include almost 4,000 residential units within 9 apartment buildings ranging in height from 4 to 38 storeys. The site would add 58,500 square metres of business and office space, and almost 20,000 square metres of retail space. More than 5 hectares of parkland and connections to the existing Bartley Smith trail system would also be preserved.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanUrban main streets connect the GO Station with the West Don Trails, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The development proposes a series of tapered towers with residential density concentrated on the site’s east edge, overlooking the West Don River. The heights descend toward the centre of the site, where provisions for open space create a central promenade, and a focal point for the development. The entrance to the GO Station would also open onto the promenade, creating a welcoming environment for pedestrians and concentrating flows on what could be a lively urban plaza.

The project is awaiting approval from York Regional Council, as zoning must be changed from its agricultural designation to allow for high density residential and mixed uses (the Open Space designation along the Don would remain). Changes to the plan, however, are consistent with Vaughan’s Official Plan, released in 2010, and Vaughan Vision 2020, both of which encourage concentration of growth along transportation nodes.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe development would be constructed in three phases, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The plan for Concord’s GO Station and Liberty Development Group’s complementary site plan signals Vaughan’s commitments to principles of transit oriented development. As York Region reviews the proposal, it will take into consideration pedestrian connectivity, universal accessibility, and a road pattern, built form and urban design that ensures environmental sustainability. Along with the subway extension and its associated projects, another proposed development that includes urban main streets that are compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian and transit-friendly certainly signals Vaughan’s coming out as a city.

UrbanToronto will continue to provide updates as the proposal is reviewed by York Region and the design is updated and refined.

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Toronto may be the city where the mayor has declared the end to the “war on cars“.

It may be the only city in the world to be removing bike lanes while letting the shoulders of major streets go painfully uncovered.

It may be the only “world class” city without a “world class” transportation system, permanently frozen by ego and politics.

But,

I love that this city
Has inherited a streetcar system
That encourages
No — demands
That pedestrians spill into the street
Taking them over temporarily
To board a streetcar
& to get off them too.

For those non-Torontonians out there, the official boarding procedure for Toronto’s streetcars (when there is no traffic island), is to spill onto the street, blocking traffic until boarded. And in this way, there is a constant, intangible expansion of the territory of the sidewalks into the streets.

Sure, it’s probably not the safest, or most efficient way to run a transportation network. But every time I see pedestrians spill into the streets to board a street car, taking them over, “taking back the streets” my heart swells with Toronto love.

Myriam Amsterdam 2

I love using my bike as a mode of urban transportation.

So I was obviously thrilled to spend five months in Amsterdam, the world’s number one bike city — breezily coasting my way from point A to B, wind in my hair, legs going and heart rate flowing, blissfully taking in all that pretty pretty that makes up Amsterdam’s canal filled, cozy urban landscape.

Once the initial thrill of taking in all the  elements of an advanced bicycle-society subsided, I began to miss walking as a mode of transport. “Then you should have just walked places, instead of biking to them,” I hear you say, but it’s really not that simple. The bicycle has an allure, a magnetism that sucks you in, gets you hooked and makes sure that you need it. My life in Amsterdam was bike-based, and I understood how to engage with the city exclusively via this mode of transport. I could not fathom that something 10 minutes by bike could be a 30 minute walk, and never was able to plan for that.

Indeed, the bike’s force of attraction is so strong that it pulls you onto its saddle, and renders you a mindless pawn in the chaotic ballet that is bicycle traffic in Amsterdam. By this I mean biking everywhere always can put you into something of a mind zonk, comparable to the mindless automaton we inevitably become after too much highway driving.

Biking everywhere in Amsterdam, I began to miss that fine-grained understanding of a city you can only get by walking. I know Amsterdam as a series of blurs punctuated by more intimate knowledge of specific destinations, without any of that random familiarity acquired from a slow shuffle through a city.

And that’s why I’m happy, in a way, to be back in Toronto — a true walking city. With the dominance of automobile infrastructure, unreliable public transit, and a lack of amenities for bicycles, walking emerges as the most palatable alternative to the car. So I am back in Toronto, happily absorbing the city at a snail’s pace.

Of course, I would instantly trade it all for a Toronto with advanced bike infrastructure and a culture that supports it. This is not a criticism of Amsterdam’s bike infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a coming to terms with returning home to a city that offers almost nothing for commuter-cyclists — a positive outlook for this idealistic urban geographer.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

Yesterday we celebrated our fifth birthday with The Pop-Up City Live, an experimental event for urban innovators at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. During the fantastically diverse evening, we were inspired by the Mobiators‘ sustainable nomadism, energized by the spirit of Amsterdam’s community blogs, and mesmerized by psychogeographic tours of Venice and Skopje, along with delicious urban foraged-treats from Lynn Shore and Eleftheria Rozi, and funky tunes from the Deer Friends.

We also watched Sander Vandenbroucke’s fantastic film Brussels Express, a short documentary that explores the trials and tribulations experienced by the first bike messengers in Brussels, Europe’s most car-congested city. With colourful racing caps, stylish shoulder bags and speedy road bikes, Karl-Heinz Pohl and Karel Rowies of Pedal BXL aren’t just passionate about their innovative Brussels business: they are dedicated bicycle advocates in Brussels, a city overrun by cars and frozen in gridlock.

Brussels Express

Brussels Express

Brussels Express features amazing scenes of the city, as cyclists dodge the hostile car traffic and congestion. Watching the film, we learnt just how effective cycling is in a city overrun by cars, as bikes slice right through the gridlock, leaving the standing-cars in a cloud of dust. Pedal BXL can make a delivery within 15 minutes as opposed to the 2 hour norm, and is gaining popularity as the most superior delivery method in the city.

Brussels Express

Brussels Express

Brussels Express is a fast moving and engaging documentary with ultimately hopeful undertones: 10 years ago, nobody was cycling in Brussels, but biking is slowly gaining popularity. Local heroes in helmets and fluorescent vests are beginning to reject car culture, and are starting a bicycle revolution. And with a cameo from former Mayor of Copenhagen Klaus Bondam arguing that Belgians have to take a stand for greater mobility, we can tell this short documentary is a genuine and serious about its appeal for a better Brussels by bike.

We really enjoyed watching Brussels Express last night at The Pop-Up City Live — but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it to the event! You can watch the full documentary online. Enjoy!

// Two strong aural memories

IMG_8804

i. Morning on a mid-spring Sunday in Toronto. The city is relatively empty and a street car makes its way north on Bathurst. The distinct hum of the street car’s motion is set against a back drop of almost silence — but of course there are other sounds. The rustling of trees’ leaves, collectively heaving in one direction & then the other, a rattling and whooshing of the city’s canopy as a single entity. The faint city sounds of car doors closing and people shuffling are sharp above the rustling trees but blurred beneath the street car’s hum.

amsterdam back lock bike

ii. Biking in Amsterdam, also mid-Spring, though the day of the week doesn’t matter as much. The jangling of my keys as they bang against my bike’s frame, hanging out of the back wheel’s lock. I cycle over a loose brick on the road, and hear its clack as my weight pushes it up. It clangs back down. A tram’s hesitant bell clucks soon after; it whirs by.

amsterdam centraal

The train platforms in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station are completely accessible to the public.

You can get to them, even if train tickets have not been purchased. Because of this, the platform is public space — and a direct extension of the city’s street life.

The train-fares in the Netherlands are collected by the OV Chipkaart system. It is highly automated so the gates onto the platform are left open. Paying train-fare correctly is the responsibility of the traveller, and not the train authority. Tickets and fares will often be checked on board, once the train has left the station.

ov chipkaart

The open gates of the OV Chipkaart

That the Centraal Station’s platform is public space means it plays a strong role in the psyche and imageability of the city. The wide open concourse and sweeping architectural arches that form the iconic half-cylindric roof of Centraal Station are available for appreciation from a wide audience, even those who aren’t taking the train.

I like this feature because it is fundamentally about access: not having to pay to get into somewhere changes its nature and role in the city. We can feel the potency of the “public” in public space.

union station

Toronto’s Union Station

Toronto’s central train station, Union Station, is currently undergoing a revitalization. Its dingy train-platform is being “Europeanized”, and plans show a lovely glass atrium with sweeping architectural gestures that reference Train concourse halls built in the late 20th century constructivist tradition (e.g. the Eiffel tower).

union station 2

Architectural rendering of ‘revitalized’ platform

I am excited about this project: it shows a shift in perception and a respect for rail infrastructure as a viable means of transportation versus the car – this is a big deal in auto-oriented North America.

But will the Union Station platform be similarly part of Toronto’s public space, an extension of its street life? Will we be able to explore its grandness without necessarily taking the train? It wasn’t before, and as a result, it doesn’t play a strong role in the city’s image.

I often describe North America as a “private property paradise”. It would be healthy for Toronto’s identity and imageability if Union Station’s platform was a public space, but at odds with the private nature of space in this city. Now that I think of it, the main hall of Union Station, a beautiful concourse is indeed a public space, enabling chance encounters, lingering and undeniably contributing to the imageability of the city. Technology, such as the OV Chipkart system in the Netherlands enables that publicness to extend even further onto the platform — a more equitable experience of the city.

I wonder what the platforms will be like in Union Station.

See also Honour System Anarchy

This post originally appeared on Volume

Filmmaker Kit Chung has created a series of fascinating and hypnotic GIFs that are intimate portraits of Beijing metro passengers.

Beijing metro commuter

Subway systems can be seen as the heart of a city: a visitor must ride the tube in London or the subway in New York to truly experience their essence. Chung’s GIFs give similar insight into the heart of Beijing with intimate “moving portraits” of passengers on Line 2, the city’s oldest metro line.

Beijing metro commuter

A city, especially a massive and sprawling Chinese city such as Beijing, can easily be conceptualized as an undifferentiated mass, a swarming and anonymous populous that moves pointlessly over its landscape. With Chung’s GIFs, we get access to individuals’ stories and glimpses into the lives that make up Beijing’s diverse social landscape. You can see more GIFs on his Tumblr.

I read a lot of online blogs and magazines about cities. This post is part of a new series of quote-shares from my internet travels: 

 ▶▶ URBAN GEOGRAPHER QUOTE-SHARE  ◁◁

Rupublique

I feel most viscerally as an activist when I’m biking in Toronto. While cycling along Toronto’s hostile major streets, I make it my duty to take up space, making my presence defiantly known to cars.

In Toronto, an advocacy group for walking is meeting for the first time this week.

Along the lines of these thoughts, Chris Turner explores how in North America, walking has become a form of activism. Here’s an excerpt from his article on the Mother Nature Network:

“In North America – that there are now vast swaths of our built environment (the zones around airports, for example) where simply walking feels like a fundamental transgression on the landscape.”

Looking at a map, Toronto and Barcelona are much the same shape.

Cities, sprawling over flat plains, contained by two rivers: one to the east, the other to the west. A hook like protrusion (the Port Lands and Islands in Toronto, Barceloneta in Barcelona) into a large body of water to the south.

torontoToronto, and its subway

Travelling around Barcelona recently, I couldn’t help but think of home every time I looked at a map.

barcelonaBarcelona, and its extensive metro

There are differences of course, given that they are not the same place. Barcelona is contained by a mountain range to its north. The mountain range cups the city and keeps it dense. Toronto has no such boundary and sprawls northward indefinitely. Indeed, a northern boundary had to be artificially created, with Ontario’s Greenbelt.

The on-paper cartographic similarity of Toronto and Barcelona had me day dreaming of a Toronto with more developed transportation infrastructure.

The skeleton of Barcelona’s metro is reminiscent of Toronto’s – a large U line that loops north to central-south and back up again. A line that cuts east to west. There are even small off shoot lines in the periphery a la the Scarborough RT and Sheppard line. Barcelona’s subway system, however, is extensively developed and covers the entire city in ways Toronto could never dream of. Another case of cartographic-deficiency was the coverage of Barcelona’s “Bicing” service vs Toronto’s Bixis. The equivalent to Toronto’s Bixi’s, Barcelona’s “Bicing” city-bikes cover the entire city at a very high frequency.

toronto bixi

Toronto’s limited Bixi range

barcelona bicing

Versus Barcelona’s extensive Bicing network

The comparison is somewhat absurd, but this is what was going through my head every time I consulted a map of Barcelona. I thought, naturally, of home.

Halifax-01

This is Halifax, today. The main geographical feature of Halifax is that it is a peninsula. Peninsular Halifax protrudes out from the Bedford Basin into the greater harbour. To the west, a thin strip of water known as the North West Arm separates it from Spryfield and the Purcell’s Cove Road area – the “mainland”.

There are no connections over the North West Arm between peninsular Halifax and the mainland – one must travel to where the land connects – at the Rotary – to get anywhere along the western shores of the Arm – a relatively far distance to travel to somewhere that is not too far away, as the crow flies, or the car drives.

Halifax cognitive-01

The consequences of this on the city’s collective cognitive geography is enormous. With no connections, the mainland seems incredibly far away, more like the map pictured above. The mainland is also fairly undeveloped — it remains largely forested, and, along Purcell’s Cove road you can access William’s Lake, and Tea Lake, some of Halifax-area’s most beloved swimming spots.

Halifax with Harbour Drive-01

In the 1960s, an ambitious highway plan would have seen the extension of a highway-like Barrington Street through the downtown, around Point Pleasant Park, and over to the mainland, as roughly pictured in the map above.

The plan, known as Harbour Drive, was never realized, and the highway-zation of Barrington stopped at the Cogswell Interchange.

I often think that the consequences of a built Harbour Drive on our relationship with Halifax would have been profound. Instead of thinking about Halifax-proper as an isolated peninsula, it would form a larger whole, and my life would probably be more integrated into the paths and projects associated with the Spryfield and Purcell’s Cove area.

But while thinking this, I also correct myself because if Harbour Drive was built, it would have been a gross super-highway, leading to the development of Fairview-  & Dartmouth-style suburbs that I would never have any reason to go to – there would undoubtedly be a deficiency of a public realm and walkable, public space.

Since Harbour Drive was never built,  beautiful forests remain.

Halifax with pedestrian bridges-01

It is pity, though, that the mainland seems so far from my life, when it’s actually so close.

It would be so lovely, if pedestrian bridges stretched, across the North West Arm, as pictured above, connecting Halifax and the Mainland –  between the end of South Street and Dingle Park, Point Pleasant Park and Purcell’s Cove. It would bring the forest, the lakes, and the fine air of the mainland closer to our lives, in a lovely, healthy way.

// old routes

                    New frontiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

walkable suburbanism1

Beyond Portland’s downtown, and mostly, in my experience, across the river on the city’s east side, I experienced a very pleasant form of suburbanism.

The cityscape in these parts is characterized by the archetypal suburban elements:  wide streets, stand alone retail plazas, and single family homes with lots of yard space.

The streets, however, were incredibly walkable, and due to Portland’s progressive approach to urban planning, accommodating to cyclists.

As I explored, it became evident that east-Portland is home to a unique urban form: walkable Suburbanism. Yes, the streets were wide, and cars quickly zoomed through them. Cars are not, however, the dominant form of transportation, the standard unit of planning. Ample room is given to pedestrian space, bicycle lanes are omnipresent, and on some streets, light rail takes up a portion of the roadway.

The archetypal suburban architecture also had a walkable spin: retail plazas and restaurants, usually found set back several hundred feet behind immense fields of parking, were rather directly fronted to the sidewalk. Parking, if present, was limited to a small strips in front of stores.

The neighbourhoods were characterized by detached homes, but the area retained its urban feel, with shops and parks nearby.

As developers become more constrained by the cost of goods and transportation and construction, let’s hope they finally heed to the calls of sustainably-minded urbanists. Grey-field sites, such as already developed suburban land, should increasingly becoming the focus of development.

This is the new frontier of urban planning: the densification of the suburbs. Suburbs are already serviced by water, electricity, and transportation, and can easily accomodate more people. Cities, as they are, have vast tracts of land that can support increases of population: we no longer need do to develop farms and forests on a city’s fringes.

Portland’s walkable suburbanism provides a good model for the densification of the suburbs, the real need being in suburbs that have been developed in the last 20 years.

As most of Portland was probably built in the 1950s, an era of suburban city-building that still had an ounce of dignity, its neighbourhoods are well connected, located in walking distance to commerce, and the streets, though wide, are certainly inhabitable. Portland, along with cities like Winnipeg, and inner-suburban Toronto, is lucky to inherit this built form. It is a great mix of the urban and suburban: it heeds to the desires of those who feel they need fresh air and space, but can also be serviced efficiently, is walkable and bike-able, and certainly fosters social relationships amongst neighbourhood fixtures and passersby.

As we densify the suburbs, let’s look to east-Portland for inspiration. Due to history and good conscience, the future is already there, and its thriving.