Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bus Bites #2

A recent Wednesday morning found me on the #4 Pinedale West heading to a part time job at Wild Birds Unlimited on Fairview Street. As this route runs close to the homes of the Mayor and the Ward 5 Councillor, I wondered if the opportunity for an “on bus chinwag” on local affairs might present, but figured I probably be keeping my opinions to myself on this day.

This short trip had begun at Sheldon Park where a creek of the same name had once flowed before being relocated to accommodate development and create “ravine” lots.

The bus moves me down Deerhurst past Mathewman Crescent. Named for Benjamin Matthewman, who had settled in the Burloak Upper Middle area around 1835, the street name was registered with one “t”.

Matthewman was active in the Appleby community that had taken its name from a small northwestern English town located in the historic county of Westmoreland. Just to the east, but off this route, Fothergill Boulevard was, in fact, named for an Appleby England family who farmed at Freeman.

Several other streets in this subdivision honour Burlington and Nelson township pioneer women:

#Amelia after Amelia (Cole) Fothergill who farmed on Appleby Line.
#Phoebe for Phoebe (Land) Lucas
#Hannah after Hannah Davidson who farmed on Walker’s Line.
#Amanda for Amanda (Kaitting) Baxter who lived at the historic Balsam Lodge at 2290 Queensway.*

Our bus goes west on New Street, up Wedgewood and turns toward Appleby Mall near Mullin Way. (Owen Mullin was Burlington’s youngest ever mayor, 32 years when elected in 1962.)

John Henry Walker Jr. House

After a quick stop at the Mall we meander along Longmoor eventually making it back to New Street at Eastway Plaza; then, west to Walkers Line and north past the John Henry Walker House Jr. (496 Walker’s Line. Heritage Burlington notes that this Edwardian vernacular Queen Anne Style house with adjoining barn are the sole surviving structures from the original Walker farm.

Built in either 1908 or 1913 John Henry Junior inherited 20 acres of farmland south of the existing Centennial Bike Path. (See for more on this property.)

Our bus turns left and I try to imagine the Hamilton Radial Electric line that ran through here from 1906 to 1925.

I get off at Woodview and walk up to work.

*Peggy and Les Armstrong’s 2001 book Burlington’s Streets – What’s Behind the Name? - is an interest resource on Burlington history

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tabuns in Burlington

Peter Tabuns’ was once a municipal politician. From 1991 – 97 he represented an east Toronto ward.

He was defeated in 1997 when a candidate with a similar name – Larry Tabin - siphoned off Peter Tabuns votes.

According to Wikipedia, Tabin, who ran no real campaign, was put up to running by some of Tabuns’ constituents who were unhappy with his leadership in stopping smoking in restaurants and bars. These constituents, it is alleged, owned eateries and watering holes on the Danforth.

Today, Tabuns is the Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Danforth and Energy and Environment Critic for the Ontario NDP.

Burlington Presentation

This week he escaped from a Queen’s Park debate venturing out to suburbia to speak to a largely partisan group in Burlington. Interestingly, he drew on his experience as a local politician.

“Politicians are simple people. They respond to rewards. They respond to punishment.”

This was in answer to a question about engaging people in order to address our environmental problems.

As a Councillor Tabuns observed colleagues moving off positions when there was significant public pressure. Some would call this gutless, unprincipled even. Others, your blogger included, would call it representing the people.

Tabuns Argues for a Move Towards a New Energy Economy

In a nutshell Tabuns’ analysis is this:

*Our environmental problems are not new.

*People are tired of government inaction on the environment.

*The “do-nothing” duo of McGuinty and Harper aren’t making the necessary investments to move us to a new economy and new jobs.

*This new economy should emphasize renewable energy and replace excessive hydroelectric power with conservation measures, move to co-generation and eliminate waste of energy.

*Various estimates demonstrate that ‘renewable is doable.’

*We can solve the problems but we need to put pressure on governments who “don’t take these issues seriously.”

Tabuns cited examples from other jurisdictions (Pennsylvania, California, Denmark and others) that are taking these matters seriously and acting.

Iowa farmers, once skeptical of wind power, now see it as a “second harvest.” Portugal has no oil of its own so has made the installation of solar panels part of its building code. In California energy savings are increasing disposable income.

Back to the idea of taking action. Tabuns quoted American Steelworkers who believe that “ if you are not at the table then you’ll be on the menu.”

Peter Tabuns is challenging us to get to the table.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kitchen Report #2

In his report Kitchen explores seven different ways to help fund the restructured GTAH transit and transportation system.

1. Dedicated Municipal Fuel Tax

This would involve an additional tax at the pumps piggybacked onto the existing price of gas. Those who use the roads would pay. A rate of, for example, 6 cents a litre would be the equivalent of a 4.7% to 6.6% increase in property taxes. This year’s rising gas prices have left many commuters hot and bothered. Could such a tax be sold with a commitment to lower property taxes?

2. Tolls and Congestion Charges

Tolls and Congestion Charges “can be effective in controlling people’s behaviour” and are in place in many jurisdictions around the world. Kitchen recommends them for major highways but notes that some decisions are needed prior to putting these charges in place as to whether the existing public transit system offers an effective alternative. Perhaps Metrolinx provides a forum for this.

3. Tax on Non residential Parking Spaces

The City of Toronto already has the right to tax parking spaces and such a tax would likely have some impact on deterring auto use and increased transits.

4. Vehicle Registration Charges

Again Toronto is the only city that currently can levy such a tax. Taxes could be higher for higher emitting cars, heavier vehicles (as they do more damage to roads) or older cars.

5. Drivers License Charges

Municipalities could also take a chunk of an enhanced charge on licenses but Kitchen does not recommend this.

6. High Occupancy Toll Lanes

Apparently HOV lanes in the U.S. are not meeting their objectives. So in some cases these lanes are being turned into High Occupancy Toll Lanes where you can pay for the pleasure of getting a faster ride. Kitchen wants us to try this one out.

7. Value Capture Levies

If a property’s value is enhanced through spending on public infrastructure and zoning decisions it could be appropriate to capture some of the gains that the private sector has realized.

Kitchen feels this could apply in mega projects such as subway or rapid transit expansion.

Time for Action

Lots to think about in Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. Kitchen's final recommendation for a GTAH wide special purpose body made up of directly elected Councillors recalls similar governance discussions in the '90's. Nothing happened then. But something must be done on this file and soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kitchen Report #1

Earlier this year a report by Trent University Professor Harry Kitchen got some coverage in the mainstream media.

This report, Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton: Future Initiatives*, includes among its recommendations a call for tolling roads.

This caused quite a stir as apparently our right to drive at no cost is enshrined in the Constitution somewhat like Americans right to bear arms. Here is my new slogan for Ontario license plates: “Drive Free or Die.”

In all seriousness though this is a good report that should promote serious discussion.

Let’s Get The Price Right

It is really a no-brainer to say it but we need an effective and efficient public transit and transportation system for economic and environmental reasons. Things are getting worse not better.

As Kitchen says “something must be done.”

An important aspect of what must be done is setting correct prices.

Kitchen notes:

“A more efficient and effective transportation system can only be achieved if users (businesses, individuals and governments) pay for the infrastructure and operational cost of services it provides – building, maintenance and repairs plus environmental damages."

He sets out some principles.

For example, those who benefit from local infrastructure and the services it provides should pay for it. (This is called the benefits based model.)

According to Kitchen, services such as public transit and highways “have a mix of private and public good characteristics” and, therefore, financing should be based on the theory of “second best.”

Principles of efficiency and fairness would suggest that car and truck drivers pay a charge that reflects the full cost (capital, operating plus congestion and environmental costs).

But car and truck drivers pay nothing to local governments for each trip taken while transit users are charged when they travel.

This logic justifies some subsidization of public transit but also provides rationale for the implementation of road charges that are designed to control road use.

So while subsidizing public transit makes sense Kitchen says that determining the exact subsidy (and what you’ll pay at the farebox) is a “tricky business” that really has more to do with politics than actual costs. And that is probably the way it should be until the competitive form of transportation i.e., roads is costed properly.

If there was a level playing field “public transit might not require a subsidy to be competitive: certainly it is unlikely that it would require the size of subsidy it often gets.”

Back to you Tomorrow

If you’re still with this argument I know you will be keen to find ways to put proper prices in place. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Here is a bit of a tease. It is complicated because while the problems that need solving are GTHA wide ones the responsibility for our transit and much of our roads is generally in local hands.

*You can find this report on the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario’s (RCCAO) website.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bus Bites #1

(First in a series of occasional short pieces on how our public transit system can reveal our local history.)

Regular readers will notice that we tend to go on about public transit at when the mayor smiles. Today we’ll take a break and get on the bus – Burlington’s route #5 to be specific.

You can see a lot from a bus but imagination helps.

The #5 BT leaves the John Street bus terminal and runs west on Ontario Street. Much history is evident.

At the corner of Locust and Ontario Street, for example, sits L’Eglise St. Philippe built in 1875. The Gothic Revival style building served as Calvary Baptist Church for many years. St. Luke’s Anglican Church (the Brant family’s Church) built in 1834 stands out further to the west.

Perhaps the historical highlight of #5 is "The Gingerbread House." Located at 1375 Ontario Street is often described as Burlington's best-known heritage landmark.

Heritage Burlington’s website ( calls it “(a) grand two-and-a-half-storey frame structure in Queen Anne Revival Style.” Originally part of Joseph Brant's Crown Grant, it was purchased for $450 by A. B. Coleman in 1893.

Some Imagination Required

Leaving Ontario Street the #5 turns south on Maple Avenue. You’ll need to close your eyes and open up your imagination to conjure up what the community has lost here on Maple Avenue. (But that is a story for another day.)

The Hotel Brant - built by the same A.B. Coleman in 1902, once dominated the southwest corner of Lakeshore/Northshore and Maple, where the museum and hospital now stand.

At a cost of $100,000 it was “ a capacious building with accommodation for over 250 guests. According to Burlington – An Illustrated History (Loverseed 1988):

“The hotel was equipped with all the modern conveniences, ample private and public baths on every floor, and lighted throughout with electricity. The dining room covered over 8,000 square feet. “

The Hotel Brant did not/could not serve liquor so Mr. Coleman opened an exclusive gentleman’s club across the street on the site that eventually became the Brant Inn.

Our bus continues on Northshore, Francis Road etc. winding its way back to the Terminal. Ten boardings (20 per hour) are counted on this May 14th mid-day route.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Buses on Dundas Street

Tore myself from the computer last week to rush to Burlington's Silly Hall to add my two cents worth to “Metrolinx Update” a report under review at Committee.

Metrolinx, formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, is charged with developing and implementing “an integrated multi-modal transportation plan” for the GTA and Hamilton.

Former Burlington mayor Rob MacIsaac is the chief multi-modal integrator.

We’re a Winner!!!

Metrolinx has taken immediate steps to address our congestion and environmental problems. Called “Quick Wins” an early win was the approval of $57.6 million to cover the capital costs of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along the Dundas Corridor (Highway #5) from Hamilton to Mississauga.

Good Idea but Cool Reception

This is an important initiative.

It is an intra-regional project that fits within the Metrolinx mission of implementing “an integrated transportation system for our region” (i.e., GTHA).

It offers the potential to enhance our existing Burlington Transit system.

The implementation of the BRT might delay planned widenings on Waterdown and King Road and take pressure off other north-south routes as well as freeing up resources for other priorities, I thought, although Councilors didn’t agree.

Typically, Council is lukewarm, at best, towards this project. Questions from the Mayor suggest that he sees the Dundas Corridor BRT benefiting Oakville much more than Burlington.

It is becoming apparent – to this blogger anyway – that Mayor Jackson would prefer that Burlington Transit be uploaded to the Region. Will this be good for Burlington riders and our air quality? Can we count on senior levels of government to address our congestion concerns? Stay tuned.

My Two Cents Worth

My simple request to involve Metrolinx and the City of Hamilton early in the design and implementation plan didn’t interest Councillors at the Community and Corporate Services Committee.

So, I’m back at the computer.

(Metrolinx consultation documents are available at Report TT 16-08 which is heading to the June 9th meeting can be read at Contact me at for a copy of my presentation.)