Parking a bicycle at Hamilton Centre Station

Hamilton Centre station a great example of an integrated transit terminal.  In a single facility there are GO Transit regional trains and buses, Greyhound and Coach Canada intercity buses, and Hamilton Street Railway local buses.  Having all these different agencies operate out of a single facility makes transfers between services easy, which benefits all services involved.  But the station’s integration isn’t just limited to transit services.  It also provides some of the best bicycle parking options of a station in Ontario.

I did a walkaround of the station to tally up the parking options available, and here’s what I found.

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Days numbered for York University GO Station

York University GO Station was my local train station for many years.  But for most of that time, I never used it because it was only served by two trains per weekday, which were not at useful times for me.  In more recent years, I used it a bit more, thanks to an ever-increasing number of train departures.  But after the end of 2017, I will likely not be using the station at all – as it is planned to be closed permanently.  In its place will be the new Downsview Park station at Sheppard Avenue, on the new extension of the TTC’s subway Line 1.

The decision to close York University GO Station has not yet been finalized, but it would be rather difficult to justify maintaining the station.  It currently serves only 225 passengers per weekday, which makes it the least-used train station in Toronto.  And it’s not hard to figure out why – it’s nearly impossible to get to.  The station is located deep in an industrial area, so there is little to no walk-up traffic.  There is no car parking, so park-and-ride isn’t an option either.  There are also no public transit connections – the only bus which serves the station is a private shuttle operated by York University for its members.  That shuttle only connects to certain weekday train trips, and there is no service at all on weekends.  Not being a York University member, the only ways I could access the station were to cycle on some rather unfriendly North York roads or get someone to drop me off with a car.

York University Station surroundings. (Image from Google Earth)

As with any station closure, there is some amount of controversy.  Over the past couple years, there have been periodically been protest posters and petitions plastered on the fence at the station, and more recently the CBC published a story featuring people who are upset about the possible closure.

According to a York student, “it would be a disaster” to travel from the GO Train to York University on a subway train rather than a bus, because there could be subway delays.  And according to the York University manager of transportation, the new configuration would add 20 minutes to the trip to campus for train passengers coming from the north.

But the article fails to point out that neither of these statements are based in reality.  While subway delays certainly do exist, the same is true with any mode of transportation.  And in general, a subway line will be more dependable than an individual bus driving in mixed traffic between the campus and the station.  And whereas the current shuttle bus only connects to select weekday GO trains, the subway will operate frequently all day every day, thereby connecting to every GO train departure.

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Posted in Passenger Rail, Toronto | 2 Comments

Canadian Commuter Rail Summary 2016

Over the past couple years, I’ve been making year-end summaries of all the commuter rail lines in Canada, identifying changes and trends.  So here is a look back at the year 2016 in Canadian commuter rail.

Improvements compared to January 2016 are highlighted in green, while deteriorations are highlighted in red.

For the second year in a row, there were no significant changes to commuter rail service outside of Ontario, and GO Transit introduced significant new off-peak train service.

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Posted in Passenger Rail | 1 Comment

Neglecting pedestrians in Vaughan Centre

This afternoon I visited Vaughan Metropolitan Centre to see the progress in one of the largest urban transformations underway in Ontario. The City of Vaughan, with a lot of help from York Region and the Province of Ontario, is turning a big-box commercial area best known for Ikea and Wal-Mart into a high-density mixed-use centre featuring highrise office and residential towers. The hub of the development is Vaughan Centre station, which will be the interchange between the Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 1 subway and York Region Transit’s Viva Purple bus rapid transit line.

I was impressed by a lot of the transit infrastructure I saw, especially Vaughan Centre station. I was also happy to find a relatively pleasant pedestrian environment along Highway 7 for such a busy and high-speed road. But my pleasant experience was abruptly ended when I decided to cross Highway 7 to head back along the other side of the road.

Because it took me almost four minutes to do so.

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Posted in Traffic Signals, York | 9 Comments

Do pedestrian buttons actually work?

When people find out I have a working knowledge of traffic signals, this is often the first question they ask.  “When I press the button, does it actually do anything to the signal timing?”  The short answer is: sometimes.  Because there’s more to pedestrian buttons than just getting a walk light to cross the street.

There’s two parts t0 the answer here, which are:
1. There are some pedestrian crossings where someone needs to press a button for the walk light to be displayed, and other crossings where there is no need for anyone to press a button,
2. Pedestrian buttons are being installed at all pedestrian crossings, whether or not those buttons actually have an effect on signal timing.

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Posted in Traffic Signals | 14 Comments

Richmond-Adelaide cycle track review

In November 2011, City of Toronto council voted to introduce separated bicycle lanes on Richmond Street, Adelaide Street, Simcoe Street and Peter Street, creating a continuous network of bicycle routes through the core of the city.  Prior to the Richmond-Adelaide bicycle route project, the financial district had been a notable blank spot in the city’s cycling network.

The backbone of this new part of the bicycle network is the Richmond-Adelaide route.  It consists mostly of separated bicycle lanes on Richmond Street and Adelaide Street, a pair of one way roads that form the main east-west motor traffic route into the financial district from the Don Valley Parkway.


In general the Richmond-Adelaide route is a huge improvement over the previous options for cycling through the centre of downtown.  It also includes some notable steps forward in important areas of design.

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Posted in Reviews, Toronto | 1 Comment

Ontario to legalize bicycle-shaped bicycle signals

The Province of Ontario is taking a step toward more intuitive and less cluttered roadways, exempting bicycle signals from the requirement to be circular and instead permitting bicycle-shaped signal lenses.  Ontario is now inching toward the convention of virtually every other jurisdiction, where each signal’s intended audience is self-evident in its design.

Outside of Ontario, road users encounter a variety of shapes on traffic signals.  Arrows identify a turn signal, vertical and horizontal bars identify a transit signal, and of course bicycle shapes identify a bicycle signal.

Bicycle, left turn, and general traffic signals in New York

Bicycle, left turn, and general traffic signals in New York

Right turn and bicycle signals in Québec

Right turn and bicycle signals in Québec

But in Ontario this intuitive system is outlawed by the Highway Traffic Act’s Regulation 626, which states:

Every traffic control signal shall consist of one circular amber and one circular red indication in combination with [a combination of circular or arrow green indications]. (emphasis added)

Every signal therefore looks the same when it’s displaying red or amber, which is when it’s most critical for its intended audience to be clear. When a signal needs to apply to a specific road user group, we instead need a sign explaining who should obey it.

Bicycle, transit, left turn and general traffic signals in Ontario

Bicycle, left turn, transit and general traffic signals in Ontario

This system is considerably less obvious than having distinctively-shaped signals, and it also contributes to a more cluttered streetscape.

Fortunately, the Ontario Legislature has passed Bill 173, which contains the first step toward icon-based signal differentiation.  Along with some changes to rules about pedestrian crossovers and distracted driving, section 29 of the bill legalizes bicycle-shaped lenses on bicycle signals starting on January 1st 2017:

29.  (1)  Section 133 of the Act is amended by adding the following definition:

“bicycle traffic control signal” means a traffic control signal where the coloured lenses each display a prescribed bicycle symbol; (“signalisation de la circulation pour bicyclettes”)


(2)  The definition of “traffic control signal” in section 133 of the Act is amended by adding “and includes a bicycle traffic control signal” at the end.

The amended Highway Traffic Act’s wording effectively defines the bicycle shape as being equivalent to a circular indication, thereby getting around the restriction from Regulation 626.  The bill also adds more flexibility in signal placement for bicycle signals, which makes sense given that bicycles are smaller and slower than motor vehicles.

While this change does not take effect until January 2017, some jurisdictions just can’t wait.  In 2015, the City of Waterloo installed bicycle-shaped lenses on one of its signals, more than a year before doing so was legalized.

Bill 173 brings us a small but welcome step toward a more intuitive system of signal definition.  Now to complete the package, I’d like to see similar changes made for turn signals and transit signals.

Posted in Traffic Signals | 9 Comments