Local Road Planning: A Challenge for Metrolinx

In previous posts about the Metrolinx regional plan, I have written about the absence of local transit service other than something assumed to grow a lot, but not on Metrolinx’ dime.  Another aspect of local planning that pops up at Metrolinx Board meetings is the road network.

To nobody’s surprise, there are many projects to expand road capacity in the 905 given that the vast majority of travel there today and in the foreseeable future will be by private car.  Yes, there may be improvements through car pooling, park-and-ride and other schemes to lower the total passenger miles carried by autos, but there will still remain a huge demand for road space.

Recently, I received a note from a reader about the challenge of fighting Environmental Assessment battles in York Region.


York Region has proposed a massive arterial road widening program. The base plan is to widen virtually all existing 4-5 lane arterial roads (2 lanes each way + left turn lane) to 6-7 lanes + wide median + bicycle lanes. The extra lane would be for HOV/bus during rush hour and general purpose the rest of the time. Different roads are at different stages in the EA process. Most are going through without citizen opposition.

However, in Markham, citizen concerns, lead by me, has resulted in the EA process being halted for 5 regional roads. The Region has agreed to model a broad range of alternatives and to form a citizens’ advisory committee. This work will commence this fall. They have also renamed the program “Transit Supportive Roads”, a very disingenuous name as you will see below.

Case Example – 16th Ave

Let me use 16th Ave in Markham, as I am most familiar with that regional road.

  • runs through established low density residential/parkland neighbourhoods (95%) or commercial (5%)
  • stable adjacent neighbourhoods unlikely to intensify in next 20 years
  • one YRT bus route (Route 85) with peak service every 20 mins
  • maximum current transit ridership say 50 people/hr/peak direction
  • VIVA BRT on dedicated right of way coming soon on Highway 7 ( 2 km south)
  • heavily congested by automobiles during peak hours

The idea that this road needs investment of scarce public dollars to build a “transit supportive road” is ludicrous. Until the built form of the area changes, this will remain as a low transit ridership route (< few hundred pphpd). The project is a road widening for cars with a fancy new name.

My Request of your Readers

However, let’s play along for a minute. Do your readers have any suggestions on what could be tried (or modelled) to improve transit within the existing footprint or with minor widening? At this point, the Region seems amenable to testing a broad range of ideas. Two ideas have surfaced so far:

  1. Build a single reversible bus-only lane in the centre of the road
  2. Use the “intermittent bus lane” concept cited in Metrolinx Green Paper on Transit (pg 11) and apparently giving 50% improvement in bus speeds in Lisbon with limited impact on general traffic movement

Has anyone seen #1 anywhere in North America? Has anyone been to Lisbon and observed #2? Does anyone have other ideas?

Peter Miasek

This raises at least two questions.  First, are we facing unbridled widening of roads in the 905 regardless of whatever efforts are made to woo people onto transit?  The current situation with VIVA is disheartening in that an entire network of BRT is shut down, but it carries only 35,000 people a day.  Those people are feeling the impact, but they’re a drop in the bucket of transportation demand.  How much political clout can transit plans muster?

Second, the Metrolinx Draft plan contains some fairly strong language about the need for local municipalities to bring their plans into line with the new regional plan.  Will Metrolinx have anything to say about road projects, some of which, as Durham’s Roger Anderson pointed out, are on the verge of construction but don’t even appear on the Metrolinx maps?  How can Metrolinx formulate a regional plan when it ignores the role and impact of local road and transit decisions?