At long last, the extension of the TTC’s Line 1 up to a parking lot in Vaughan (if your community also has a parking lot with lots of lands owned by the provincial finance minister’s family, you too can get a subway!) is open and inquiring minds want to know…..what happened to the Highway 407 transitway? This nebulous piece of infrastructure was the official reason for adding a station on the extension between Vaughan and the subway station at Steeles West/Pioneer Village; otherwise, why build a rapid transit station in a location virtually impossible to walk to.
Is that maybe a sidewalk I see? Wonder if it get’s plowed in the winter….
According to the city of Toronto and Metrolinx, the Highway 407 station is a link between the TTC and GO regional buses operating along Ontario’s only toll highway.In official documents, reference is also made to the “Highway 407 transitway” as a piece of infrastructure crucial to the “Big Move” regional transit plan. The project jogged something in my mind; I remember references to the transitway from way back in 2007 from when I read early draft documents from the nascent Metrolinx. The project is meant to be bus rapid transit in the form of a transit-only roadway paralleling the 407, initially from the Highway 400 to Kennedy Rd; although the project is ultimately supposed to be built from Pickering out to Mississauga.
In all the years since then (I started my undergrad at York that year, damn I feel old) the transitway does not seem to have advanced beyond early planning stages, while Metrolinx spends a lot of time promoting a multitude of other projects with varying levels of utility. Why do we care about this at “Dude, Where’s my Bus Map?” We have vowed not to take a Toronto centric approach on the site; it helps that Shaun lives in Montreal and his neighbours would murder him in very creative ways for being a Toronto snob. Hold off your rage Montrealers, the fate of the transitway has implications for intercity bus riders everywhere.
In Canada, although described as an urban country (in that 80% of us live in built-up areas) can, to me, be more accurately described as a suburban nation. Millions of lives are lived far from the pedestrian-friendly streets filled with small shops that urbanists celebrate. Because of this, although rail projects receive a lot of attention and some prestige, transit services/intercity buses that use the large suburban arterials or highways in innovative ways have a lot of potential to change lives for the better and reduce auto dependence. In the GTA, this is already happening. GO Transit operates very successful highway coaches throughout the region, many of which gain impressive ridership, especially those that link post-secondary institutions. A good example is the # 51 GO bus. Traveling from Pickering GO rail station and mostly using the 401, 404 and 407 to travel via U of T’s Scarborough campus, Centennial College and York University, this bus is packed to the brim with passengers; young people going to school and some not so young people (my father frequently picks up the bus at Centennial College to go to work at York U).
Route 51 and related Highway 407 east buses serving Scarborough and Durham Region.
Although the new subway station at York is important, given that campuses suburban student base, buses like the 51 are, I would argue, much more important for York. The importance is even greater for Centennial and UTSC; growing postsecondary institutions with little hope of getting rapid transit in the near future.
If bus 51 and it’s cousins could travel on a dedicated transit roadway or lane, with stations along the route for connections to local transit, imagine how that would transform the riding experience? Areas around highway interchanges are certainly not attractive and probably will never be, but the reality, for the time being, is this is the landscape which most Canadians will interact within their day and something like a bus transitway using the highway infrastructure could be a great way to transform the suburban experience. In the long term, changing the built form of the suburbs is important but let’s face it, that’s something for the long haul and us bus riders need improvements now.
This “highways are a fact of life” argument holds true outside the GTA as well, perhaps even more so. Haven’t we all been sitting on the 401, jammed in traffic and wished hard for some sort of bus priority lane? It wouldn’t even need to be all that extensive, just in the urban sections of expressways for the time being. Think this would be politically hard? Think again: the 404 in Toronto has had HOV lanes for use by carpoolers and GO buses for some time now.
With all this in mind, the lack of progress on the 407 transitway is mystifying. It’s a potentially transformative effort and for some reason, no one wants to take ownership of it. Outside of an announcement now and then and an unattractive website to show that the project is not completely dead, we hear little of this project. Contrast that with the fanfare surrounding Vaughan’s new subway station, that, let’s be honest, is not all that useful unless you’re a well-connected condo developer. A bus station at Kennedy and the 407 isn’t sexy enough to sell overpriced, cheaply built units to disparate young families but it would help move thousands of people to where they need to go. Similarly, it’s hard to make a great political photo op for a painted bus lane on the 401 in Ajax but having passengers on Greyhound, Megabus etc. able to bypass traffic would make a real difference in people’s lives.
Again, I absolutely support the reshaping of suburban areas into more vibrant places and oppose, in general, the building of new highway infrastructure but if we want to help people right now in the lives they live, projects like the 407 transitway need to be moved up the ladder of priority.
In the future, I hope to explore other aspects of highway bus priority projects elsewhere in North America, since it’s such an intriguing concept! As always, feel free to chime in on this or any issue, we need to hear from fellow bus nerds from time to time. Otherwise, we start to go crazy…..
 Due to fare integration problems, a number of GO buses supposed to be calling at the 407 station will still terminate at York University, to save students having to pay an extra fare to ride the TTC up to campus.