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New skating rink opens in Toronto under Gardiner

I’ve skated at Nathan Phillips Square and Harbourfront, as well as my local community centre, and each one has something unique I love. Depending on my mood — if I want music, ambiance, or an empty rink — I’ll visit each one in turn. So, I was incredibly excited when I heard Toronto’s plan to build a new skating rink under the Gardiner Expressway.

The Bentway Skate Trail is a 220 metre stretch of ice located right beside the Fort York Visitor Centre, between Strachan Ave. and Bathurst St. It’s a brilliant use of previously unused space, creating a public venue for winter activity in an area that typically isn’t visited. The city is even considering expanding the trail to include gardens, live performance areas, space for markets and exhibitions, and a dog park.

The Bentway will open on Jan. 6. at 11 a.m. There will be musical performances by Charmie Deller and Carmen Braden, as well as Ice Breaking demonstrations (hybrid of breakdancing and freestyle ice skating)! Be sure to check our some of the public art exhibitions and enjoy some of the food and beverage provided.

On the Sunday, the Mayor is hosting a skating party from 1-4 p.m. with complimentary skate rentals and hot chocolate!

Here are the hours:

Monday-Thursday: 11am-9pm (rentals available 4pm-9pm)
Fridays and Saturdays: 11am-11pm (rentals available all day)
Sundays: 11am-9pm (rentals available all day)

If you visit it next weekend, be sure to let us know what it’s like in the comments below! 

skating
The Bentway Trail, courtesy of the City of Toronto

Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension opens this weekend

It’s finally here! The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) will open on Sunday, connecting the City of Toronto to Vaughan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday for the $3.18 billion, 8.6 kilometre, subway extension.

“This opening is another example of all levels of government working together cooperatively to deliver billions of dollars in transit infrastructure and our ongoing commitment to getting Toronto moving,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

The TYSSE will be the first Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) route that crosses municipal boundaries, connecting Toronto and the Region of York. Each station has been specifically designed to integrate into each different neighbourhood. Pioneer Village’s station includes high columns with a green roof and a number of environmentally-friendly additions. Highway 407’s station has a beautiful stain-glass and the York University Campus station is sleek, modern, and pedestrian-friendly.

It is also the first subway route to be completed under the new “motherlode” transit network. The line has been highly anticipated by students who attend York University, as well as those who work near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Highway 407. Torontonians will also now be able to access more affordable housing options, as well as Canada’s Wonderland, without having to take a specialized VIA bus.

“The opening of the Toronto-York subway extension is the single greatest transit achievement for this region in my lifetime,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, in a statement. “Thousands of Vaughan residents and York University students now have a world-class rapid transit option to get them where they need to go faster and more efficiently. Today’s celebration clearly indicates what we can achieve when all levels of government work towards one common goal — building more transit.”

It will be interesting to see how this extension will impact Line 1 without a relief line in place. With the completion of the TYSSE, and the hopeful completion of SmartTrack by 2024, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity by 2031, unable to carry new riders. The relief line must be in place by the time SmartTrack is completed in order to accommodate the increase in commuters who are all connecting to Line 1 in order to get downtown.

Most subway cars should have updated their maps already, including the lights indicating when the car arrives at a station. Check them out the next time you jump on transit!

Will you be taking the TYSSE this weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Toronto’s Rita Skeeter is after TTC CEO Andy Byford

Why are certain journalists given leeway to sensationalize issues that are in fact non-issues? They twist words to create “a trap for fools” hoping to slingshot their career to international heights. Sensationalists get forgotten over time, while journalists dedicated to the truth, who don’t deal in opinion but report fact, always seem to survive the test of time. They don’t give in to the lure of fame by twisting words and creating controversy.

The latest witch hunt has been led by Jennifer Pagliaro at the Star – she’s determined to find scandal to build her name and slingshot into international fame, and now that the Toronto Transit Commission’s CEO Andy Byford is heading to New York, she has found the perfect opportunity to get recognition south of the border.

Pagliaro has taken a line that Byford quickly sent in a text message and twisted it out of context to such a degree it would make even the trashiest tabloid journalist squirm.

The text she is trying to make into a scandal was written in haste by Byford as he was preparing for his usual grilling at city council. Note the word preparing and think about how challenging it would be to face 40 councillors all with extensive questions (some whose lips move when they read, and others who grandstand on anything that could turn into an issue). Remember that Byford has to give council a full accounting of every decision he makes. His staff prepare briefing notes to help him prepare for committee and council meetings. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be consumed with “preparing” prior to such a grilling!

The text that Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to build into a scandal was sent by Byford to Matlow over a year ago as he was preparing for a council meeting. It reads “We have prepared a BN (briefing note) at the Chairs request and for the Mayors office.” This was an obvious mistake, and most at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the mayor. In fact, it likely was meant to say “We have sent a BN at the Chairs request to the Mayors office.” If one were in the middle of preparing for a large council debate, it is easy to see how the word “prepared” might slip into a text sent in haste. But, it is also common knowledge that TTC staff prepare briefing notes for their CEO. Anyone who’s spent time at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the Mayor!

I find it impossible to believe that Matlow would not have realized Byford’s text message had errors in it. It’s no secret that Councillor Matlow has yearned to be on the board of the TTC. I’m sure the man salivates over the sensitive information he’d have access to if he had a board position, and dreams of ways he could twist and sensationalize it. Instead of questioning Byford on the obvious mistake in his text message – which most councillors would have done, Matlow hid the text message, putting it into his arsenal to be used at a later date. (Who would save a text message for over a year if they didn’t want to use it for something devious?)

But, let me take this back to journalistic integrity – because the real issue is apparent on any given day at city hall. Those of us in the media cringe when we see Councillor Matlow and reporter Jennifer Pagliaro whispering and snickering together in council chambers. Don’t get me wrong, councillors and reporters talk all the time, but to see the two of them together constantly sends off warning bells. And to read an article today by Pagliaro that so obviously props up Matlow by sensationalizing this ridiculous text message has me shaking my head.

Many of us in the media have watched Matlow try to stir up controversy over the Scarborough subway, he’s suggested scandal and corruption since he first realized it would get him on the news. I wouldn’t doubt he’s behind those who pushed for an Auditor General investigation – but that issue backfired on him! The auditors report clearly states that there was no evidence that the TTC CEO Andy Byford or his staff deliberately misled council, or were influenced in any way by the Mayors office. It found that in fact there was no political interference at all.

Instead of chalking Byford’s text up to a typo, Pagliaro has become enthralled by Matlow’s grandstanding … like a hen attracted to a peacock. Determined to create scandal out of an error in a text message, she has never questioned why Councillor Matlow did not clarify the text message with Byford, or why he held on to it for so long, or the fact that this typo led to a witch hunt that proved completely vacuous. I’ve seen her at city hall whispering to Matlow too many times to count, so I know that she’s had plenty of time to question him. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the real scandal at city hall may lie between this councillor and reporter!

But what bothers me most is that one of the best CEO’s of the TTC that Toronto has had is leaving our city with very little recognition of the fantastic job he has done in improving our transit system. From timing to signalling, efficiency to improving overall customer service, Andy Byford moved the TTC ahead decades.

He was accessible and responsive to a fault, and I think he trusted that any typo he might make in a text message sent in haste would not be secreted away and used to create a scandal. That Jennifer Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to use Byford’s good reputation to slingshot their own careers is beyond pathetic.

Toronto mayor moves to create 400 new shelter spaces

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced over the weekend his desire to create 400 new spaces within existing shelters for the city’s homeless “as soon as possible.” This statement was made at the tip of Toronto’s homelessness crisis, in which one of four children live in poverty.

As of October 30, 2017, 70 homeless people have died on the streets. Over 5,400 people on average used a shelter night in the month of November.

“We’re already underway, talking to each of the shelters that exists in the city of Toronto, asking them to add capacity wherever they possibly can,” he said. These new spaces would include motels, shelters and drop-in centres.

It was previously suggested that Toronto open up armouries at Fort York and Moss Park to use as shelters, but that idea has been dismissed as they are under federal jurisdiction. The mayor also said he would not be declaring an official emergency. The plan would cost about $10 million from the city’s reserves.

Housing advocates have said this plan will put a strain on facilities already suffering from overcrowding. Most shelters are 96 to 100 per cent at capacity, especially during the winter months. Statistics also show that 95 per cent of motel beds in Toronto are used to house homeless people. Advocates say it would be easier and cheaper to open up the armouries.

This response caused a little bit of a stir at city council on Tuesday, with the mayor coming forward with facts from staff that say opening the armouries would be expensive and problematic.

“I will be bringing together private and non-profit housing providers to work with staff and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness to rapidly house as many people as possible,” he said in a statement. “Homelessness is a complex issue that we cannot ignore. While I know for some, our concrete solutions will never be enough – I know we can’t simply do nothing, we must take decisive action and I’m confident Council will join me in taking decisive action.”

Under the mayor’s plan, the city hopes to find space for 200 people by January.

This announcement is the first of a number of steps the City of Toronto is going to take to combat poverty. City council has also pledged to create more low-income and social housing, and hopes to get funding and support from the federal government under the new National Housing Strategy.

Would you donate to support Toronto’s roads?

Toronto’s roads needs your support!

Every day, these roads suffer. After decades of neglect and abuse, they deserve to be nurtured. There are too many car accidents and too many road deaths. But does anyone think of the roads themselves — they have gone through hell each time. They need your help! Without your support, they will continue to live in these terrible conditions.

Donate now!

Imagine you read this on a pamphlet or saw an advertisement on television asking you to donate funds to the city to help develop safety infrastructure for your neighbourhood. It sounds ridiculous right? And yet, not ridiculous enough to avoid becoming a recommendation to city council.

At this week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, a report on the city’s Vision Zero Road Plan actually recommended accepting donations from residents for local projects. It reads: “In addition, this report considers the feasibility of accepting donations from the public to provide funding support for local projects and recommends commencing the detailed planning and implementation process for an automated speed enforcement program to operate in school zones and community safety zones.”

City staff said that an additional $6.303 million in capital funding will be needed between 2019 and 2021. These funds can help “further accelerate” the Road Safety Plan. The cost of Vision Zero is already $80.3 million.

This report will be heading to city council on Dec. 5.

Now, I know funds are tight. There are very few outside revenue sources available to city staff, so it kind of makes sense they would resort to these type of suggestions.

HOWEVER, there is a serious socio-economic problem with this recommendation.

First of all, the report indicates the funding will support “local projects”. This means that donations in Regent Park will be used in Regent Park and donations in Forest Hill will be used in Forest Hill. The wealthier neighbourhoods — whose residents may be more inclined and able to make those donations to the city — will reap the benefits. The other neighbourhoods will be left behind.

This is unacceptable.

The whole idea of Vision Zero is to reduce fatalities and injuries on roads, aiming for zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. This will never happen if some neighbourhoods are safe and others are not. Instead, it will just reinforce the economic divisions within this city.

The truly disappointing part about this recommendation is that there was no amendment proposed by any committee member that would change this section of the report. No one said – well why don’t we look at increasing taxes or looking at outside revenue sources for this $6 million instead of asking people to donate funds to a government they already pay for.

We can only hope that council sees past this and is able to have an actual conversation about what crowd-funding for road safety really means. Because at the end of the day – safety is about the people, not the roads.

Toronto approves move to Phase Two of Rail Deck Park

The proposed Rail Deck Park has multiple functions — providing much-needed green public space as well as becoming a connecting area for GO Transit commuters.

This idea was reinforced with an amendment at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting. In addition to recommending staff advance to the second stage of the work plan in 2018-19, staff will also assess opportunities to create “new connections to Rail Deck Park”, including the Green Line along the hydro lands and extensions of the West Toronto Railpath.

Rail Deck Park is expected to be a sprawling 21-acre green space in the heart of the city, built above pre-existing transit lines that stretch from Bathurst Ave. to Blue Jays Way. According to the report presented to the executive committee, it will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley.

“If this growth is to continue, there is a need for significant new infrastructure, including parkland, to ensure the quality of life, health, and sustainability of Downtown neighbourhoods. If this cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for the City to reconsider the pace and amount of future development in the Downtown.”

The cost for the project will be an estimated $1.665 billion, or $83 million per acre. This estimate includes about over $600 million in contingencies. The city plans on taking advantage of Section 42, also known as cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication funds. This revenue is collected from new developments with the sole purpose of developing and acquiring parkland. Not much is known about how the park will be funded other than the city will explore sponsorships, donations, and contributions from other levels of governments.

 

The city of Toronto is growing rapidly, and the downtown core is in great need of more green space to off-set future development. There is also an advantage of ensuring connectivity by integrating access to GO Rail.

City staff will report back on the financial feasibility of Phase Two in a few months.

What do you think of the Rail Deck Park? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto Transit Commission approves time-based transfer

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has approved a two-hour time-based transfer for PRESTO card users, to start August 2018.

As the system is now, TTC riders have to pay a second fare when they get back on a bus, streetcar, or subway, regardless of how long they have been off the network. This new system will allow riders to run short errands such as drop kids off at school or go grocery shopping without being penalized for a second fare, as long as the errand fits within a two-hour window.

The idea has been floating around since 2005, but on Nov. 28th the board finally voted to approve city staff recommendations.

The net cost of this change will be $11.1 million, which will increase to $20.9 million after full implementation in 2020. The cost would have been higher if it wasn’t for the projected five million riders that will now be able to ride the TTC thanks to the time-based transfer.

“The greatest benefit from this policy change stems from reducing the cost of transit, making it more affordable for multiple short distance trips, thereby giving TTC customers the flexibility they require to carry out everyday activities,” the report reads. “Allowing a two-hour re-entry may benefit customers who need to exit the system to use restroom or restaurant facilities, including seniors and customers with disabilities or health needs requiring more flexibility in travel.”

Time-based transfers were publicly supported by Toronto Mayor John Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle a few weeks ago.

“Time-based transfers would allow people on transit the flexibility to hop on and off to run errands or make stops along their way to work, school, or home.” said Colle in a statement. “This would continue the modernization of our services, and further demonstrate the TTC’s ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience.”

The request is part of both the modernization and fare integration process between the TTC and Metrolinx.

SmartTrack could be operational by 2024

Toronto’s Executive Committee will discuss and debate the concepts for the SmartTrack stations next week.

SmartTrack will use existing rail to shuttle residents from the further neighbourhoods and areas of the Greater Toronto Area into the downtown core for the cost of a TTC fare. There will be 14 stations built and trains will run every six to 10 minutes. The plan also includes an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport with an approximate additional 10 stations.

“The people of Toronto want choice and convenience when it comes to their commute. SmartTrack takes the concept of local rail travel to a whole new level,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “SmartTrack is an important part of the city’s transit network plan that also includes the relief line, the Eglinton East LRT and waterfront transit.”

The executive committee will review the concepts for stations at St. Clair-Old Weston, King-Liberty, East Harbour, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence-Kennedy, and Finch-Kennedy. Each station has been designed to serve the specific neighbourhood, with King-Liberty station including strong connections for pedestrians and cyclists, East Harbour station integrating with a high-employment area, and Gerrard-Carlaw optimizing connections with the planned Relief Line station.

City staff are also requesting that Metrolinx, a provincial transportation agency, consider pedestrian and cycling pathways when connecting GO corridors to Bloor St. and that they work in partnership with the city to push forward the Spadina-Front GO Regional Express Rail station and the Rail Deck Park proposal. The Rail Deck Park will also be discussed next Tuesday, with city staff recommending council move forward and that all rail projects should keep the park in mind during design.

“Rail Deck Park will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley,” the report reads. “The proposed decking structure will support a fully functional park that, at full build-out, will comprise a total area of approximately 8.3 hectares or 20 acres, excluding the Metrolinx property at the corner of Front Street and Spadina Avenue.”

The cost estimation is $1.665 billion.

If these reports are approved, they will be sent to city council in December. Metrolinx estimates that service along SmartTrack will be available in 2024.

John Tory and TTC Chair support time-based fares

When I was a student at the University of Ottawa, I didn’t have the means to print train tickets when I wanted to go home. This was particularly difficult around the holidays. I learned that if I waited to pick up my tickets at the train station before I left, the lines would take me at least 45 minutes. By then, there would be little room for my bags and I would be stuck with a seat close to the bathrooms.  Not an ideal situation.

So, instead, a week before I was set to leave for Toronto, I would jump on the bus to pick up my tickets in person. It was about a 20 min. bus ride to the station. I would get there, grab my ticket, and jump back on the bus to return to campus.

The best part was I only had to pay one fare.

On Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as Toronto Transit Commission Chair (TTC) Joshe Colle and Commissioner Mary Fragedakis, threw their support behind time-based fares for customers using PRESTO.

They sent a letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford requesting a report for next month detailing the costs and implications of time-based fares for 2018.

“I am dedicated to getting Toronto moving and making sure it is easier for people to get around our city,” said Tory. “Now with time-based transfers and the PRESTO technology, we once again have the opportunity to make life more affordable for our residents and further encourage transit ridership.”

This request comes at the height of discussion about fare integration with GO Transit and the UP Express. Another option is fare by distance, with discounts for those transferring on to the TTC from a GO Station. At the last TTC Board meeting, numerous councillors expressed concerns about asking residents who lived further away to pay more to take public transportation.

“Time-based transfers would allow people on transit the flexibility to hop on and off to run errands or make stops along their way to work, school, or home.” said Colle in a statement. “This would continue the modernization of our services, and further demonstrate the TTC’s ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience.”

There was a report written by city staff in 2014 outlining some of the basic financial repercussions and the options that are available to the TTC. This issue will be discussed during the TTC budget process, which needs to be submitted by early 2018.

What do you think of time-based fares? 

Is the Relief Line finally spurring forward?

Earlier this week, Toronto Mayor John Tory reaffirmed his commitment and support of the Yonge Relief Line. He affirmed his support while at a conference hosted by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships to a crowd of investors, builders, and designers. This transit line has been labelled a priority by not only the mayor, but also city staff and transit experts.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. In the meantime, further transit lines are being built — the Eglinton Crosstown, the Yonge-Sheppard Subway Extension, and elements of SmartTrack. And these are only the city initiatives. The province is also planning to build high-speed rail connecting Windsor and Toronto. The problem is that all of these lines funnel transit riders towards the downtown core. Without a relief line in place, Toronto’s Line 1 will be packed to the brim. It’s becoming more and more important to get the relief line built — and yet decision-making is moving at a slow pace.

Council has approved the alignment of the southern end of the relief line, connecting the Bloor-Danforth line with the downtown core via Carlaw Ave.

Toronto’s relationship with the province has been rocky since Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne refused to allow the city to collect funds using tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express, but it seems to finally be levelling out. Mayor Tory is having regular meetings with the provincial government, and seems to believe that funding is not as much of a problem as it once was. This is good news, and hopefully means the relief line can progress more quickly.

Toronto received $120 million from the federal government to fund infrastructure like the relief line, but it is at risk of losing the money because there is a time stamp attached. This means that if city staff don’t use the money by 2018, the federal government could take it away. Considering how long it takes for council to make decisions, especially when it comes to spending money on transit, this deadline is not realistic.

Mayor Tory has requested an extension of that deadline, but no answer has come. About $2.7 million of that money was earmarked to study the relief line.

Following the approval of the alignment for the relief line, city staff have begun to conduct a Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP), which includes advancing planning and design