June 9, 2014 1 Comment
1. Redesigning our gas stations
While there are very few remaining single bay, mostly self-serve gas stations in Toronto, the standard multiple bay gas stations have been around for decades. The footprint at these gas stations are quite extensive. Sometimes they take so much space, bus stop locations are not placed in ideal locations because automobile access is necessary. Take for instance this photo taken at the Petro Canada Gas Station located at southwest corner of Jane Street & Finch Avenue in Northwestern Toronto.
A near side stop on Finch Avenue in the eastbound direction is not placed because of access to the plaza and the gas station, therefore a far side stop is necessary. At Jane Street in the southbound direction several metres south of the intersection making eastbound to southbound transfers not ideal. The reason why a larger footprint is necessary for this location is because it is located close to an industrial area and larger trucks would require access.
But it got me thinking, what if gas stations were turned from this:
Sidewalk gas stations are located in urbanized areas across Europe and in some parts of South America. Where retail is a separate use at North American gas stations, these European locations are incorporated in ground floor retail.
With this image, a cyclist can easily and safely get air to pump their tires. Normally air pumps are located at the back of the station away from street and cyclist compete with cars.
Given space is becoming limited particularly in the downtown core, it is time planners take a hard look at incorporating on street gas pumps with ground floor retail being incorporated. Do you think these gas station designs can work in neighbourhoods such as Liberty Village, Leslieville or Garrison Point?
2. Transit maps reimagined
As TTC is preparing to release its new system map in time for the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan in 2016, it still runs the same mistake of separating modes by different colours. While the various streetcar routes operate in mixed traffic, the TTC has three new LRT type routes that operate in exclusive rights-of way with signal priority – Spadina (510), Harbourfront (509) and St. Clair (512) . While this is deemed rapid transit, the TTC does not portray it as such on its transit maps.
While the new TTC system map is focused on distinguishing service levels as explained here, the streetcar and LRT routes are treated the same.
Given the current debate of subways versus LRT is crippling Toronto in progressing towards viable transit options, TTC is definitely at fault here. As I have experienced working in transit agencies, business development and marketing is an afterthought to transit planners, who are predominantly engineers.
My suggestions are:
- Change the rapid transit system maps to reflect the LRT service.
- Separate the Harbourfront, Spadina and St. Clair routes from the streetcar routes on the system map with different colours.
- As with other transit systems, namely in Brampton, Mississauga, York Region and Durham Region, rename the routes and recolour the vehicles away from the TTC red. The new LRVs will be in operation on Spadina later this year. Nevertheless, this re-imaging would go a long way. Understandably a marketing study would be required that would cost several thousands of dollars. Isn’t repairing customer service a priority for the TTC?
3. A new regional governance structure is necessary for the Greater Toronto Area
I spoke with several urban policy leaders several weeks ago regarding the need to develop a new regional governance structure beyond what currently exists. While I commend the Neptis Foundation recently released a report on seamless travel within the GTHA, I believe we can go a step further.
While regional governments in Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa were abolished to create megacity structures at the turn of the century, regional municipalities that were established in the 1950s still remain. I strongly believe the old regional municipalities model should be eliminated and develop a regional governance structure. Geographic boundaries and political makeup would have to be determined by the cities and province. This idea had already been floated in the Golden Report in 1996.
Economic development, infrastructure and transit are very critical to cities, let alone regions. While there are separate agreements for hard services between cities and regions are made, soft services such as governance, health, and emergency services are equally as important and require collaboration. For example, suburban poverty and affordable housing are looming issues. These are not Toronto specific issues, but issues in both cities and suburbs.
While policy isn’t sexy enough for voters, it was important to get the message out that it is necessary moving forward. During the provincial election campaign, uploading of rapid transit to the province has been raised by the Progressive Conservatives as part of their Great Cities election platform. While I generally disagree with anything on the right side of the political spectrum including the majority of their plan, I do agree with this idea for transit except that it should be a regional special purpose body structure with funding tied to it, similar to Translink in the Metro Vancouver.
In The Metropolitan Revolution and If Mayors Ruled the World, the authors outline the importance of cities on the world stage while downplaying the importance of senior levels of governments to accomplish anything. In the GTAs case, instead of cities competing with each other, city leaders should be collaborating as a region to not only promote, but also to bring new companies to the area.
Unfortunately, populism is a dominant force in the Toronto area. A recent example of this was at the 8-80 Cities talk with Charles Montgomery promoting his book The Happy City. A question from Linda Weichel from Civic Action was posed to the mayoral candidates Bonnie Crombie, Olivia Chow and Fred Eisenberger in how would we pay for building future transit infrastructure. While Chow and Crombie passed the buck to the province, Eisenberger rightfully stated that we cannot continue to pass the buck and revenue tools are on the table. While these are only campaign promises, leadership is about taking risks instead of being the popular kid in school just to make friends. A regional structure would bring light to the importance of revenue tools to building new transportation infrastructure.