York Urbanist

Archive for the ‘Urban Design’ Category

Vaughan Traffic Congestion – A Perception

April 18th, 2015
Healthy Communities, Pedestrianization, Transportation issues

Vaughan doesn’t need more traffic lanes! Congestion refers to drivers’ discomfort with anticipated trips. When a 10 minute trip is lasts 15 minutes, traffic’s perception is ‘congestion’. . Vaughan’s congestion can be handled with existing lanes. Following is a breakdown of Traffic Congestion into Trip Length, Frequency and Urgency.

Trip length is longer than it needs to be. There are two factors – suburbanization; and advent of helicopter parents. Each single family dwellings needs to be served by a street. The City adopted street standards of widths and intersections that took up large land space and further separated housing from destinations. The distances between units makes transit too costly to create. To get to destinations, workplace or retail stores or institutions, the only transportation alternative is a car. Our municipal transportation planning focus therefore became a fixation on what the car needs, not what people need.

Thus the second factor, the helicopter parent. Fear has engulfed our psyche around the safety of streets. Easy access to media has made security seem worse than it once was. So, instead of allowing children to walk, ride or take the bus, parents drive their children to school. Accordingly, one experiences significant traffic reduction on school holidays and PD days.

Trip frequency has increased with wealth. Vaughan is one of Canada’s wealthiest municipalities. Making a separate trip to the store instead of combining it with a trip to work is legitimized because the decision is unaffected by the cost of the trip. Disposable income also allows people to indulge in extras such as day spas, fitness clubs and personal services.

Urgency of trips is under-evaluated. Combined with the aforementioned wealth argument, we have no hesitation in driving to the distant grocery store for that one product to complete a meal. Also, the direct costs to drive might be $5, which adds 25%to the cost for a $20 purchase. Driving also cuts into our time management equations. Whereas, prior to suburbanization, we could walk to the corner hardware store, now we are obligated to attend Big Box retailers and their ‘free’ parking conveniences. A fifteen minute distant car trip creates a 1½ hour event. We have no volunteer time because it is taken up in time on the roads.

So, how do we relieve congestion?

vAUGHAN bikelanes_web[1]

Relieving Traffic Congestion

Previously, Traffic Congestion was broken into Trip Length, Frequency and Urgency. The following suggests how the existing infrastructure of Vaughan can be used to reduce perceived ‘Congestion’.


Emphasize to people/drivers the time and dollar cost of their trips in the car. Can we change their behavioural patterns through education? The answer is: likely not. We can afford the car and spread out housing and we are not changing.   But educate the children that they can enjoy a walk or ride to school and help the environment and our next generation could impart change.

Are there ways to make our existing infrastructure more efficient?

Sidewalk zonesThe intelligent street

Through computer technology and physical road planning there are ways to speed the trips taken. With sensors, communication between vehicle and road infrastructure, we could spend less time at traffic signals and increase safety by keeping our vehicles within the limits of the infrastructure. Building roundabouts instead of signalized intersections increases traffic flow by as much as 50%. Smart streets can also respond to transit and emergency vehicles, allowing them to flow more freely through traffic. Intelligent streets will not affect the numbers of trips, indeed it will increase the number of trips because it becomes easier to go from origin to destination.

So how else can we improve infrastructure?

If you need a sign - street designed wrongComplete Streets

The concept of including pedestrians and cyclists with transit and motorized vehicles has grown in the past ten years. It may be adopted by Vaughan on Centre Street in Thornhill. Cyclists have long campaigned for safer and defined corridors. A complete street provides that. Generous sidewalks provide for pedestrian safety and comfort. And transit only lanes/tracks give priority to multi-user vehicles. Although Highway 7 in Richmond Hill/Markham attempts a complete street, the pedestrian is left with a long crossing. Hence, few pedestrians are found. Similarly the cycling lane is a green patch of asphalt. It is unseparated from motorized traffic. Consequently, cyclists are few.

Had the City incorporated a separated cycle lane and generous pedestrian space on Major Mackenzie between Keele Street and Jane Street in Maple, there would be more cyclists and pedestrians venturing between homes and retail. There would be fewer motorists using the route for short trips that cause frequent turns and hence slower traffic.

We do not need to increase and grow streets. We need to think smarter, both planners and citizens of Vaughan.


March 19th, 2015
Healthy Communities, Landscape Architecture, Recreation

Green Ribbon TreeTrees For Kleinburg Islington Crossing watercolourThe community advocacy group, Trees For Kleinburg, is building awareness of the importance of the urban forest.  The village of Kleinburg is a desirable place to live and we want to maintain that as development of multiple residential sites ensues. Accordingly, the Green Ribbon Campaign will be held April 20 to 25, during Earth Week.  You can purchase one green ribbon for $5 or three for $10 to put around your trees, visible to the public that trees are important to you.

colour drawing

Islington Avenue Pilot Project

Funds raised from the campaign go directly to streetscape improvements, that otherwise would not include greening.  The plan image is the first pilot project on Islington Avenue. It is a unique addition to the street, a green introduction to Kleinburg with a magnificent White Pine, emblematic of McMichael Gallery, Group of Seven works.

History of Earth Day Islington Ave ceremonyEarth Day was started in the United States in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson to create awareness for the Earth’s environment and to encourage conservation efforts. In 1990, Earth Day was taken international, and today, more than 500 million people in 175 countries observe Earth Day! This year we are encouraging the residents of Kleinburg/Nashville to participate in Earth Day! We are fortunate to reside in a community that is heavily populated with an abundance of forests, wildlife, ravines, nature trails, waterways and beautiful landscaping. During the month of April, several of our merchants in town (ie. Hawthorne House, Bon Bons & Brittle) will be selling green ribbons for $5.00. We ask that a ribbon be tied around a tree in front of each home or business to celebrate this special day! All proceeds from the sale of these ribbons will go to a non-profit group called “Trees for Kleinburg” that is working diligently with the City of Vaughan towards improving and enhancing our streetscape along Islington Avenue with beautiful trees, perennial beds, etc.

Let’s paint the town GREEN on Earth Day! Tie a ribbon on to support this wonderful cause! For further information, please e-mail Mark Inglis at [email protected] . Green Ribbons available from Kleinburg merchants at:

Hawthorne House

Salon Amado

Terra Cotta

BonBons and Brittle

Dolcini by Joseph

Green Apple Dentistry

GTA West Corridor – A Blast Through the Greenbelt

February 25th, 2015
Healthy Communities, Recreation, Trails, Transportation issues

GTA West Corridor map

I am a co-author of trails master plans for York Region and the City of Vaughan. I have had correspondence with others regarding the GTA West Corridor particularly about how its construction will impact cycling and pedestrian activities in the future, during and post construction. The HVHTA will host a trail walk March 7, 2015 in lands that will be impacted by the highway construction. It seems a fait accompli that the highway will be built but there must be a way to ensure that modes other than motorized vehicles are accommodated in what today is designated Greenbelt. Accordingly, I have composed the following short summary, which is consistent with expressions of concern in other jurisdictions affected by GTA West Corridor.

MTO must consider pedestrian and cycling facilities as inherent parts of the GTA West Corridor system:

  • Connected and integrated cycle routes and paths: Newly constructed cycle trails/paths should parallel the proposed motorized vehicular routes. Multi-use Pedestrian / Cycle paths should be a minimum 3m wide allowing access between all overpasses crossing the future highway.
  • Address Municipal Cycling/Pedestrian Master Plans: Peel and York Regions, Brampton, Vaughan and King have Master Plans recommending connected and circumferential trails. These must be integrated into the plans for the Corridor and indeed, become an enhancement to encourage active transportation.
  • Permeability: In particular, frequent pedestrian / cycle overpasses must be part of a permeable system of crossings. Unlike recent MTO constructs, there should be generous and safe sidewalks for pedestrians. Crossings for cyclists should be on a separated lane for safety on all crossings of the future highway, as elevated overpasses can have greater wind velocities.
  • Trail Connections: Ensure the GTA West does not preclude other trail connections, particularly HVHTA’s Bolton to Kleinburg route through the Nashville Tract Conservation lands and Bolton Resource Management Tract Conservation lands.
  • Active transportation facilities: should be integrated in the overall design plan to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists: walking and cycling facilities at interchanges and ramp crossings; accessible crossings located to support direct pedestrian routes; adequate lighting and sight distances.
  • Landscaped Corridor: The poorly vegetated 407 must not be replicated. The GTA West Corridor removes considerable forest cover and hedgerows. These wildlife corridors will be lost. The wind protection and cooling effects they afford need to be compensated. In municipalities, developers are required to replace or compensate for removal of all trees. MTO, by construction of the highway, is a developer and should not be exempt.

I implore any readers of this blog to send a letter to the Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, whose contact information is located: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/members_detail.do?locale=en&ID=7205

New York City – Manhattan

December 23rd, 2013
Urban Design

Sensual NYC

Visual – Look up, way up

The canyons that are the streets are framed by concrete and steel.  To crane your neck is dizzying for a small town boy.

IMG-20130909-01267Replacing the twin towers, are two somber square holes, whose bottoms are unapparent, eerie reminders of what happened here in 2001.  Contrary and resplendent is a single supremely tall building and glistening phallic to The Event. I remember where I was September 11, 2001.

But now, what is the big deal about the Empire State Building.  Tucked amongst other less descript buildings, we searched for its entrance, a lobby that soared with gilt touches.  I suppose that NYC is chock full of interesting architecture reminiscing about the past as in Grand Central Station, and revelling in the present with the new towers. But the white and black plinth that is the United Nations stands as testament to the impact of USA on world affairs and therefore captures my attention. FL Wright’s Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to the architectural flavour of affluent Fifth Avenue. The Starchitect of the past gloried in its white and round disparity with the brick façaded street.  Looking up through the spiraling atrium, the museum has corrupted it into an art piece whereby patrons are to lie on their backs to experience the mood altering colours on white sheets that remove all identity from the normally overlooking railings.

Even the signage and lights are big.  Times Square and Broadway brazenly adopt the theme of never sleeping.  The major corporations are there, tourists are there, but the locals stay away.  This is the playground for the world and for retailers.  Young bucks and does gallop on and off the sidewalks. Taxis let out their fares to wide-eyed approval from those who are visiting for the first time. Toronto’s Dundas Square has tried to emulate Times Square with the digital ads and towering signs, but NYC will not relinquish its crown of excitement 24/7.

Nasal – Until you arrive at Central Park, hold your nose

Manhattan-20130909-01225Such a refreshing oasis is Central Park, away from the gas fumes and street meat caterers.  But even through the park are those thoroughfares essential to a city. This is like Vancouver’s Stanley Park which is bisected by an asphalt vehicular route.  Neglecting the black tarmac, one can immerse oneself in heritage buildings, art and active recreation. The density of plant material protected from human intrusion by ‘temporary’ fences contains the scents and moisture of enveloping greenness.  The broad greens of baseball, soccer and cricket are a welcome alternative recreation to streetwalking and shopping. I understand now the significance of Central Park to the City.  The West side of the Park is an apartment edge, probably some of the most expensive real estate aside from the Fifth Avenue east edge.  Frederick Law Olmstead was the designer, but someone, perhaps a futurist, understood the need for a place of respite, before the city enwrapped itself around the proclaimed public space.  The waft of ocean air greets one who emerges from the Lower East Side smells of food, garbage and traffic.  Open to the sea with vistas of harbour happenings, Battery Park, despite being under construction, promises to be a pertinent green with concrete verge to Lower Manhattan.

Manhattan-20130911-01364Two storeys up, there are panoramic and protected vistas from the Elevated Park that is the High Line.  Converted from an elevated train structure, this was a captivating reuse of infrastructure. With only the Chelsea Market as a commercial anchor, the park attracts so many in the summer, even though it ends abruptly at a construction site on the north end. The park is an attraction by itself. Yet there are often questions about funding its operations and growth. Imagine a loft apartment overlooking a park in lieu of an active rail. There will be no question of its value once the Port Authority is developed at the north end.  The believers in the High Line are today’s futurists.

Tastes – a Cornucopia

One can find any form of food at prices that recognize that there are no farms in Manhattan. NYC appears as multinational as Toronto without the proliferation of corner coffee and donuts shops.  Chelsea Market provided the broadest variety of food experiences in its historic setting on the west side.  But the lower east side is a cornucopia of districts.  Italian meets, Chinese meets Korean and Polish.  The smells and tastes seemingly blend into one another.

Sounds – My ears are ringing

Times Square, with its ever present crowds, is a constant clatter in which to revel. The sounds deaden somewhat in all directions, losing the beckoning salespeople, but not the traffic and delivery van noises.  Music and not-so-tuneful sounds emerge from commercial entities. But back to the hotel for respite, right?  Well, not quite. Even on the 17th floor, the sounds of the city rise above the street level. Good for four days. Good to get back to the quietude of Kleinburg, Ontario.

Touch – New York was cleaner than anticipated.

As a tourist destination, Manhattan respects the need to clean up for its guests.  Street cleaners abound in Times Square and gardeners quietly maintain the parks.  The volumes of persons who grapple for space in the limited green spaces are often prevented from touching what is in such precious limited supply. In this way, the city can retain the greenness of Central Park’s expanses by limiting its use.  Subtle physical guides lead patrons away from planting beds of the High Line and hard, wide trails imbue a need to stay off the grass, except to lounge on its softness.


New York City tempts all senses. For a short term, it was an experience all urbanists should have.  To return, I would find a shelter outside of Manhattan and commute in via the excellent transit that exists. Gone are the nostalgic grafittied cars, replaced by an efficient and event courteous system.  To live in Manhattan would require a place that secured a private space free of the senses of the city.   The surprise was the feeling of safety, despite a checkered past.

Vaughan Cycling Limited

June 18th, 2013
Healthy Communities, Recreation, Trails

Bike Month in Vaughan – it seems anomalous that my city needs a whole month to travel the two major trails that are pictured on the York Region Cycling Trails map. http://ww4.yorkmaps.ca/YorkMaps/CyclingMap/index.html  .

With the exception of the subdivision north of Major Mackenzie and west of Weston, there are no through routes that connect communities of the City without revving your motor!
In Vaughan, there is a chicken and egg scenario. The City Council will not build bike routes because there are not many riders. There are few riders because the bike routes are limited. Every Vaughan bike seminar and event was held in a location to which I had to drive. As adamant as Geoffrey Haines and Mike Tavares (City Staff) are to see routes constructed, the pace of that construction is slow. And it will be thus until it is indicated that there is a financial benefit. There is (a financial benefit):
These are only two of many studies. Look no further than Kleinburg to see the land values. With surroundings of greenways peppered with trails, Kleinburg housing commands more than 20% premium on similar properties in Woodbridge and Brampton. That translates into higher taxes for the city. Health benefits will rarely be quantifiable, but undeniably, residents with access to recreation maintain a healthier lifestyle. PriceWaterhouseCooper in their study for TransCanada Trail explain it succinctly:

“A dollar spent on trail construction, maintenance or by users of the trail, circulates and recirculates within the economy, multiplying the effects of the original expenditures on overall economic activity. This process is referred to as the economic multiplier effect. It operates at several levels:

The initial expenditures of the trail users and trail operators on goods and services, wages, materials and other trail-related expenditures are generally referred to as the direct costs of operation and their effects are referred to as the initial (direct) effects.

Subsequent purchases by suppliers of materials and services to sustain the direct expenditures are called the indirect effects.

Induced effects emerge when workers in the sectors stimulated by initial and indirect expenditures spend their additional incomes on consumer goods and services.”

Currently, east to west travel by non-motorized means is, at best, unsafe. Regional Councillor Deb Schulte says she rode Major Mackenzie to City Hall twice last year, but has no plans to do so this year. A plan, I am told, exists to construct a bikeway adjacent to a reconstructed Major Mackenzie between Weston and Islington. It still does not get one across the near-impenetrable Highway 400. The hospital planned for construction in the next 5 years should be an impetus for the construction for such a crossing.
Cycling can be a healthy business, call it Vaughan Cycling Limited, instead of limited Vaughan cycling.

Knoxville – Urban Renaissance

June 7th, 2013
Urban Design

Knoxville street garden

Dropped into Gay Street Knoxville, the city shines as an example of urban renaissance. The broad pedestrian spaces, but still active with traffic and vital commercial spaces. I stopped by a somewhat vacant office space whose street windows shouted out Landscape Architecture. Clint, a student intern with this not-for-profit community design group explained to me, with pride, the changes that have now created a vital downtown.Fireside Lofts Former offices are becoming high rent accommodation, Bijou Theatre reconstruction, streetscape upgrades all contribute to a fine pedestrian experience. I asked about the “Waterfront Plan” that was posted near the entrance. He was hesitant to explain that this was one of the ideas to rebuild on the riverfront, but that it is unlikely to be near future.


I passed by on the riverfront highway that was the site of the Waterfront Plan and I understand his reticence. Like Pittsburgh, city planners of the past ignored the water’s edge, only understanding how easy it was to build transportation conduits on such easy grades. Indeed, the significant Tennessee River appears and disappears depending on your vantage on the highways that shoot people past the downtown. Tributaries of the Tennessee are only evident because of the location of other highways. One example is James White Parkway that wends its way past the downtown and there it was, a valley bottom that variably appeared and disappeared under structures.

The gem of the city is the University of Tennessee campus.  The lush greenness separates brick buildings that fit their sites.  The campus occupies what seems to be a third of the Knoxville downtown, as defined by the Tennessee River meander. Unlike the University of Toronto, the boundaries of the campus are definitive, meaning that it has not quite integrated into the city fabric.  It has become a sanctuary for students, not that they isolate themselves.  The streets of downtown have a youthful exuberance.  But the urban design shouts COLLEGE. Brick entry features, change in streetscape…it just feels like one has entered a different, yet pleasant space.

The UofT recreation fields are enormous, and extend by way of a 15 foot wide pave trail that follows the adjoining active rail tracks. Despite the late evening hours of my 2 mile walk, and the vegetative cover, I still felt safe in the suburban setting.

World’s Fair Park is distinct from the downtown, somehow separated from the city by the broadness of Henley Street and the solidity of the convention center. When are we going to realize the impact of servicing the car!! While the downtown caters to pedestrians and the city in general revels in outdoor recreation, you still ‘need’ the car to get around. Yet the grand spaces that are the remnants of the 1982 World’s Fair are appealing, attractive at a distance from the elevated roadways, but off the grade of the surrounding streets.  Once in, the grounds are an oasis.  It appears also to be a maintenance drain for the city, and for what future benefit. I hope that I have the opportunity to see it alive with people.

William H. Whyte Revisited

January 15th, 2013
Landscape Architecture, Urban Design

http://vimeo.com/6821934 I was reminded of the excellence of the basics of urban design that William H. Whyte contributed so many years ago. They still apply today.

Response to Provincial Cycling Strategy

December 6th, 2012
Trails, Transportation issues

Cycling Strategy will take much from the Province to ensure the viability of a full network. The Ministry of Transportation is currently reviewing the route for a highway linking Highways 401/402/407/400 from Guelph to Vaughan. There has been no mention of cycling in the document. A new limited access highway will create a barrier to crossing. In this case, north to south access will presumably be for vehicles across bridges over the new route. Cycle lanes on those bridges should be imposed as a requirement for providing Safety and Accessibility. Many of those crossing routes are currently used by cyclists, primarily for tourism and recreation. As a corollory, crossings of limited access highways need to be more generous in width to allow for pedestrian routes and afford wildlife corridors.

But in addition to those crossings, cycling may require mid-concession crossings. Limited access highways should be more permeable allowing for cyclists (and pedestrians) to cross at more locations than motorized vehicles. The study of cycling and pedestrian movements should be a significant part of highway design.

Transportation Planning should be part of City Planning.  Cycling will only increase if the distance between origin and destination is reduced.  Building limited access highways encourages suburban living. Suburban living has had the impact of discouraging commuter cycling.  Only by further encouraging “Places To Grow” will there be significant increase in utilitarian cycling.


See also: http://yorkurbanist.com/2012/11/gta-west-corridor-study/


GTA West Corridor Study

November 21st, 2012
Urban Design, Urban Places to Detest

Before you know it, another limited access highway will be passing through King City and Caledon connecting Highway 400 to Highway 407/403/401.

This is on the heels of York Urbanist’s “Urban Places to Detest” http://yorkurbanist.com/category/urban-design/urban-places-to-detest/ where the number one detestable “urban” places in York Region is the uncrossable Highway 427. The provincial government and its transportation planners will push this study to validate yet another multi-lane highway that will further expand the realm of suburbia. In isolation from Places to Grow and intensification, this newest highway will slice through the depleting array of fertile lands that feed cities.

I take issue with the planning that follows the American model of circumferential auto routes rather than the European take on intensification.  Intensification will make people think more about the location they live vis-a-vis their place of employment. Indeed, there is a profound change in the number of work-from-home situations that would be encouraged to increase if it was not so easy to romp on the next ring of asphalt.  Such studies have the effect of freezing lands from creative change and appropriate agricultural use. The land is frozen by the speculators then hungry developers who sit on lands for 20 years, only to indulge in another rubber stamped single family group of edifices that lack clarity of place.

The hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps millions) spent on this study would be better spent understanding and nurturing the new urban shift.

GO Concord – Suburban Kiss 'n Ride?

November 8th, 2012
Urban Design

I attended the GO Concord Secondary Plan Area public meeting November 7, 2012, hosted by the City of Vaughan, supported by planningAlliance. The workshop format was good. Sitting with three area residents, their issues of pollution (air, water, noise) came to light. Despite little experience with planning, they understood the need for ease of pedestrianization that they sorely lack in this mostly industrial district of Vaughan. One of them said he had to drive less than a kilometer, just to get to a safe locale for walking and cycling. They live at the location marked with an ‘A’ on the google map, herein.
This secondary plan location will be the confluence of Metrolynx, GO and York Region Transit. In typical suburban fashion, the concept plans shown at the meeting, demonstrate a station platform surrounded by parking. And that is what those residents are objecting to…the pollution created by the cars! The residents were less concerned by possibility of tall buildings. They wanted government to consider burying the transit lines to increase saleable, usable land. Those non-planner residents were talking about underground parking with retail and residential mixes framed by green corridors of the branches of the Don River. They get “Intensification”. The GO station and Metrolynx are unlikely to be constructed for up to 30 years.  Urbanization is changing, and rapidly Vaughan needs to accept it! Perhaps suburban Vaughan as a concept is a past fantasy.
This future transit hub is an opportunity for Vaughan and York Region to create a seamless interaction between transit modes. It may be a longshot, but walkability could be a word in the lexicon of the planning of this GO station area.
GO itself does not generate a nodal urban place. There is proof in its two other stations in Vaughan, at Rutherford Road and Major Mackenzie Drive. Unlike its TTC counterpart stations, GO stations generate travelers only during two times a day, outside of typical working hours. Retail and government uses would not enjoy day-long activity at these locations. But they could if the approach of the planners was that these stations were to become destinations rather than suburban kiss ‘n rides. planningAlliance has a history of innovation. Could they consider more for this area than a repeat of yet another GO station that creates early morning and evening traffic strife? Vaughan can be more than Suburbia. Here is an opportunity.