Posts Tagged ‘Congestion’

time is money: why gridlock hurts us all

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

How to reduce the gridlock in the Greater Toronto Area is a topic that is getting a lot of air-time from commentators of all descriptions.  And for good reason – gridlock has been described by the Toronto Board of Trade as costing the GTA’s economy more than $6 Billion a year.

How those numbers are calculated, and what lies behind them, isn’t always so clear.  One of the best breakdowns that I have read is the paper developed by the Toronto Board of Trade last year urging governments to invest more in transit. The paper, called Let’s Break the Gridlock provides this description of how gridlock costs us all time – and how that time costs money.

The biggest concern about gridlock in Toronto from an economic perspective is that the increasingly clogged roads slow down business, and therefore undermine profits.  These so-called “congestion costs” affect different industries in different ways, each with their own price tag.  For example, in an economy that is increasingly based on “just in time” strategies, businesses order extra stock or supplies or equipment as it is needed instead of warehousing it. But if the delivery is unreliable, businesses will need to order earlier, tying up money in extra goods and paying for warehousing.  That costs extra money, and those increased prices will be passed on to the customer.

Another huge price tag associated with gridlock is how long it takes businesses to actually move their goods around.  The congestion costs hurt businesses in many ways such as increased shipping and fuel costs, higher labour costs per shipment due to less productive drivers, and reduced travel speeds.  Big shippers who need to deliver their products to small businesses throughout the GTA, for example soft-drink bottlers who need to make deliveries to many small convenience stores and restaurants across the region, face significantly higher costs due to congestion, and the snarled roads their drivers travel.  They can make fewer deliveries per day, and each delivery costs more.

And for employers, employee recruitment is negatively impacted by the difficult commutes faced by so many in the GTA.  As the Board of Trade paper notes, the lack of transit is a serious barrier for employers in hiring skilled young professionals.  And nowhere is this problem more severe than in the 905 areas, where employers have realized that the lack of rapid transit actually adds to the cost of doing business in the suburbs.  In fact, employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of having nearby transit, so that they can attract the best employees.

With this last reason in mind, we’re fortunate that York Region is planning for the future with vivaNext.  We’re going to have great rapid transit when the construction is complete, so that people can move around our region and make convenient connections across the GTA.  And with every full viva vehicle, we can get 70 cars off the road, which will reduce congestion for everyone.

Defeating gridlock is going to take time, and vision, and money.  But given the huge price congestion is already costing, there’s really no alternative.


happy national housing day

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Having a home is probably one of the most important and basic needs people have, and National Housing Day was introduced to remind us we should never take this fundamental need for granted.  This year National Housing Day is Friday November 22, and it’s being marked by special initiatives all across the country including here in York Region, where the Region is hosting a special social media and web-based campaign to raise awareness about the importance of affordable housing.

One of the biggest challenges facing our Region is that people have limited choice when it comes to affordable housing.  Traditionally a suburban region, many York Region residents have chosen to live in low-density single-family homes. As wonderful as that choice is for many, many families, there are some people who want – or need – other options.  And until recently, people who wanted to live in other forms of housing had very limited choices within the Region.

York has the lowest percentage of rental accommodation in the entire GTA. In some cases, that has meant people who want to live in York Region to stay near their families, or their jobs, have had to move away.  Whether it’s a young professional in their first job who has had to leave York Region to find affordable housing, or an older person who can’t manage a larger home on their own any more, too many people have found it hard to stay here at home.

Fortunately that’s changing, and VivaNext is a key driver that’s helping to expand the housing choices available here in York Region.

All along the viva routes, we’re seeing more and more housing being developed or proposed, including higher density developments near our new urban centres. Taking the direction from Regional Council, 35% of new housing in the centres and key development areas along the corridors have to meet affordability criteria, which is going to meet a key need here in York Region.

Building residential units along transit can help to reduce housing costs, since developments don’t have to include as much underground parking spaces.  This can reduce costs per unit significantly.  Another benefit of building near transit means people can get around without needing a car.  Whether you’re a young person moving out for the first time, or an older person who is happy to give up the keys to the car, that’s a significant advantage.

The best thing is that people who want to stay in York Region are now more able to, because rapid transit and long-term planning together are resulting in more choices, and more affordability.

So on November 22, give a thought to how much it would mean to you to be able to stay in the community you love, and to have a variety of affordable options to choose from.  We’re really pleased to be helping make that more possible, and wish you a Happy National Housing Day.


chickens and eggs

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Does great planning start with transit?  Or does transit start with great planning?  I was prompted to think about this the other day after reading an interesting newspaper article, Why we’re better off living in hyperdense cities built around mass transit.

The point of the article is that in many ways, we’re better off living in high density cities, as long as they have great transit so that people can live without cars. In particular, this article says the most productive and prosperous cities are those that are planned to have enough density to support a subway system.

Now it’s hard to imagine a time when everyone in York Region would choose to live without a car.  Many of the people in this region have chosen to live here expressly because they love having more room around them, and to have the countryside so nearby.  Cars will always be useful and practical in that kind of setting.

But there are many people – including an increasing number of young people – who like the idea of living and working in a walkable community, where they don’t need to have a car to carry out their daily routines.

The point of good planning is to ensure our communities provide appealing and functional options for both kinds of people.  It ensures that people who want to live in spacious suburban communities have that option without facing gridlock every time they get in their car, while meeting the aspirations of people who want to live in dynamic, urban settings with adjacent, convenient rapid transit.

Planning to make these options possible requires a long-term vision, and a commitment to invest in the infrastructure needed in the future, long before growth happens.  It also requires great transit.  But building a rapid transit system before the density is in place can only be done if there’s a strategic plan that directs densities to transit corridors, so that it all works together.  Rapid transit systems, including BRT like we’re building in York Region, require high volumes of riders to be sustainable.

Which brings me to my original question: what comes first, planning or transit?  The reality in York Region is that they’re intricately linked and interdependent.  Our planners identified many years ago that the future York Region would be bigger and more crowded, and would require more options to house people.  They also identified that those options would only be built and appeal to people if there was great transit nearby.

So the moral of the story is planning and transit need each other, and one can’t happen without the other.  Fortunately, we have both here in York Region – which means we will be able to offer more options for people, no matter what kind of community they want to live in.

hard truths about transit

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Transit is a top story in the news these days, in Toronto, across the GTHA, in fact all across the country.  And with good reason: the links between the availability of well-planned transit and our ability to sustain our quality of life are well documented.   But the discussion about transit is still confusing for many people, with so many different positions being put forward on how transit should be planned, the merits of different forms of transit, and how to pay for it all.   Meanwhile, gridlock across the GTHA is getting worse.  To ensure we don’t fall farther behind, important decisions have to be made soon about the future transit network in the GTHA.

Fortunately, a significant amount of new transit is already being built across the GTHA including our vivaNext BRT routes and the extension of the Spadina subway up to Highway 7.  But there are a large number of important transit projects, including parts of the vivaNext system such as the extension of the Yonge Subway, which remain unfunded.  Building a connected network across the GTHA, and completing the vivaNext parts of the system in York Region, needs to be a top priority for us all.

To help bring some clarity to the discussion, a newly-established advisory panel in Ontario has been set up to look at the future of transit in the GTHA.  The panel’s mandate is to help Ontario make the right decisions about what transit projects get funded in the GTHA, and how to pay for them.

Getting input from the community is a priority for the panel, and they will be providing a series of discussion papers to help people become better informed.  These papers will be well worth reading for anyone who has an interest in the future of transit across the GTHA.

Here’s a link to the new advisory panel’s site, which includes the first of several discussion papers.  Over the next few weeks, the panel is also going to be collecting input from the public, business and key stakeholders.  There are a number of ways that you can provide input to the panel.  You can mail, email, and provide input online or by attending one of the public meetings.  Four meetings will be held across the GTHA, including one in Vaughan.

The more people who participate in this discussion, the better: it affects us all, whether we live in suburban areas or downtown, and whether we’re transit users or drivers.  The decisions that need to be made soon about what transit will be built, and how it will be paid for, will shape the quality of life across the GTHA for generations.

VivaNext is proud of what we’re building in York Region, but ultimately the strength of our system depends on being part of a great regional network.  So please check out the panel’s website, read their papers, and have your say.


a trend away from cars

Friday, October 11th, 2013

A recent article in the New York Times described a curious trend that’s showing up in countries as varied as Germany, Norway, Canada and Japan – a trend that shows fewer young people are driving cars compared to their parents.

The findings show that Millennials – people currently in their twenties – are less likely to get their driver’s licence now than in previous generations. Young people are more likely to take transit or cycle, and overall, the number of car trips taken on a per capita basis has been declining for the last several years.  In the US, people in their twenties drive about 20% less than their parents did when they were in their twenties.

There are quite a number of studies that together confirm this trend, although there’s no agreement on what is causing it. Increasing gas prices and weak economic climates in some countries may have contributed to this trend, researchers feel that other longer-term dynamics are the real reason young people are increasingly turning away from the car and finding other ways to get around.

One key theory is that increasing urbanization is a critical factor. In this theory, when people live within walking distance (defined as roughly 500 metres) from transit, it’s easier to leave the keys at home and let transit do the driving.

Whatever the reason, other recent studies carried out show that while baby boomers are ageing beyond the years when they drive the most miles, Millennials aren’t picking up the slack.  The result is that total miles driven is steadily decreasing, and is projected to continue to do so over time.

This change is bound to require a shift in long-term transportation policies developed by governments, including an increased investment in transit.

York Region residents do a lot of driving covering a large geographic area, and even with the launch of vivaNext along its major corridors, there’s no doubt this pattern isn’t going to change overnight.  But as it does, we’re going to be in good shape, thanks to our vivaNext plans for region-wide rapid transit giving residents more options.  We are already seeing the trend here with transit ridership increasing every year.


the communications brain behind our rapid transit system

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

In other posts I’ve talked about the various ITS components behind our Bus Rapid Transit along Highway 7. But none of these pieces would be able to do its job without being connected to the others through a sophisticated fibre optics communications system.  Although it’s hiding underground, this communications system is really the unsung hero that’s going to put the rapid in our rapid transit system.   Here’s how it’s going to work.

As I’ve described before, there are several transit priority measures that will help viva vehicles on the new Highway 7 rapidways run smoothly and quickly through congestion.  These include on-board components on each vehicle including a GPS system and transmitters.  There are also the components at each intersection that help each traffic signal respond to changing traffic requirements including radio and infrared receivers that pick up signals from approaching buses and emergency vehicles, and loop detectors in the roadway that detect cars waiting at the intersection.  Lastly, there are the variable message signs (VMS) located at each platform that provide next-bus arrival information to customers.

As high-tech as each of these components is, none can be effective unless it can communicate with the others.  Each one also needs to be connected to the overall transit system which keeps track of the schedule for each bus, and which determines when the traffic signal phasing requires a temporary adjustment to let a delayed bus get back on schedule.

The connection is provided through a fibre optics communications network that links all of the intersection and every vivastation to YRT’s transit operations and York Region’s traffic operations.

This system is fully automated, with approaching vehicles alerting intersections that they are arriving, and each intersection sharing that information with the central traffic control system, which in turn compares that information with the transit schedule.  The system will continuously adjust and fine-tune to ensure the buses stay on schedule, while keeping the roads and intersections working well for everyone.

To enhance passenger safety, each station is equipped with cameras to monitor the platforms, a public address system to provide announcements and an emergency call box for personal safety.  All of these systems operate reliably and seamlessly over the fibre optic communications system.

By using fibre optics technology running the entire length of the corridor, we’ll be able to collect all this information and transmit it quickly so that the transit system can respond immediately.  The communication system will also provide the real-time bus arrival information displayed on station VMS.

With this high-tech communications system providing the brains to the transit system, viva will make it easier, faster and more reliable to travel across York Region.  Check out this video on how this system works.

putting the rapid in rapid transit

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

We’re excited about the transformation of York Region’s major corridors from busy highways to complete streets designed to be shared by transit-users, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.  But first and foremost, vivaNext is about building a true rapid transit system.  Because they’re not going through mixed traffic, these dedicated rapidways will help viva vehicles move past congested stretches of Highway.  But the bus rapid transit system will also use a number of other technologies or “transit priority measures” to put the rapid into the system.  Here’s the rundown on how we’re going to help keep viva buses reliably rapid.

The first main component is that all buses will have GPS systems installed, which will constantly calculate the vehicle’s speed, heading, latitude and longitude.  That way, the transit system will know exactly where each vehicle is, relative to where the schedule says it should be.

The next main component is the traffic signal control system that governs all the intersections along the rapidway route.  The system relies on the findings of sophisticated traffic analysis that has worked out the optimal timing for each intersection to ensure the most efficient use of the corridor.  This analysis takes into account long-term traffic data reflecting all the users of each intersection, including east/west traffic, north/south traffic, pedestrians and cars making left turns.

Using this analysis, each traffic signal is pre-programmed for the optimal phasing, including how long a green light should last going in each direction.

With real-time information available about where each vehicle is, the transit system will constantly calculate whether a viva vehicle approaching an intersection is on time, or delayed.  If the vehicle is behind schedule, a signal sent from the bus to the traffic signal at that intersection will temporarily adjust the phasing so that the vehicle doesn’t have to stop.

The last major component of this complex system is the one that tells our customers when the next bus will arrive at the station. The variable message signs (VMS) installed at each station display real-time arrival information showing the arrival times for all buses expected within the next while, based on the information sent by the vehicle’s on-board GPS system.  These message boards are a feature of the viva system that customers really appreciate.

Using this multi-layered approach, we’ll be able to help each viva bus move along quickly, and you’ll be able to know how soon it will arrive.  All of which adds up to rapid transit!

ITS – balancing the needs of all travellers

Monday, August 12th, 2013

It’s stating the obvious to say that our roadways are getting slower because they’re carrying too much traffic – that’s the basic definition of gridlock, and it’s an increasing problem everywhere across the GTA.  But what can be done about it?  VivaNext is one part of the solution – if people have the choice of taking a reliable and convenient rapid transit system, there will be fewer cars on the road, and everyone will be able to get around more quickly.

But even with vivaNext, there’s still going to be a lot of traffic out there, and York Region doesn’t have room for more or bigger roads.  So what else can be done to help traffic move better?  This is where ITS comes in.

Although some people may think ITS is connected to “Information Technology”, in the vivaNext world ITS stands for “Intelligent Transportation Systems”. ITS is an international transportation-engineering discipline that is concerned with trying to improve the efficiency of travel, whether it involves the travelling public, commercial vehicles, or transit.  The basic assumptions behind ITS are that delays cost money, and more efficient travel saves money. This new technology is an absolutely critical, although low-visibility, component of the vivaNext program.

ITS is used to ensure that all parts of a traffic corridor’s infrastructure – the physical roadway’s design, lane markings and signs, traffic signal design and timing, and the brains that connect all these pieces – are designed as one coordinated system.  In a transit project ITS has an additional layer which is concerned with how the transit system is integrated into that larger system.

ITS is also about giving people accurate information so they can make better choices about travel, whether that means building roadside signage to alert drivers to upcoming congestion and suggest alternative routes, or giving transit riders real-time information about next bus arrivals.

Overall, ITS is about finding the perfect balance so that all the users of a roadway find it works better; making a roadway faster for one group of users cannot come at the expense of all the other users.  ITS starts with an understanding of who is using the roadway now and who will be using it in the future, and then develops strategies to make it more efficient for everyone.

Along Highway 7, we know that drivers and transit are the main users currently, but that’s going to change as development intensifies. The future Highway 7 will be significantly more urbanized, with more people living and working along the corridor.  That means there will be more pedestrians and cyclists whose travel needs need to be considered, in addition to car and truck traffic.  Helping transit vehicles stay on schedule is also a priority, since rapid transit can’t be rapid if it’s stuck in traffic.

These ITS strategies will balance everyone’s needs, to help everyone get to where they’re going as fast as possible!


driver training in progress

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

We’re really counting down the days to the start of vivaNext rapidway service, and we know you are too: being able to get on board a viva bus and zip past congestion is going to be a wonderful advantage for York Region transit users.  So you’ll know we’re really in the final stretches once you see viva buses out on the rapidway starting this week, which is when York Region Transit (YRT) starts the training process for operators and other staff.

YRT is doing training in two stages, with the first stage during the week of July 29 and the second stage over two weeks starting August 5.

In the first stage, training will be provided for everyone who will need to be familiar with the rapidways, the stations and equipment.  We will have vehicles out on the rapidway, taking customer service staff and other YRT staff along the rapidways and spending time at the new stations.  This will give staff a chance to really interact with all the new features so they’ll be ready to provide support to the public once the system is open.

During this time YRT will also be working with emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) to help them become familiar with the rapidway and safety features at the stations including the emergency call button.  Emergency services personnel will be familiarized with access points where they can enter and exit the rapidway, and in the future emergency services vehicles will have the option of using the rapidway when responding to calls.

The actual operator training begins the week of August 5 and will go on for 2 weeks, running from 8:00 AM to as late as 9 PM some nights, seven days a week.  During this time you can expect to see quite a lot of viva buses running up and down the rapidway, stopping at stations.  They will be clearly marked as YRT Training Vehicles to avoid confusion.  The training will focus on entering and exiting the rapidways, especially entering back into mixed traffic at the east end, and exiting the rapidway at the west end and crossing to the curb to service the Bayview Towers station.

Training will also focus on the new transit signals at intersections, which will provide a single green arrow for transit operations.  This signal will be clearly marked as being for transit only, but YRT operators will be trained to be cautious and on the lookout to make sure members of the driving public are obeying the signals correctly.

As part of their training, operators will spend time at the Chalmers station learning about the station’s layout and features, including the parking pad which will be used by support and maintenance staff for future station and rapidway maintenance and snow clearing.  Operators will also get training on the new fare equipment that passengers will be using once service starts.

Trainees will be taken out in groups of six or less, with one trainer to every three trainees.  They’re all experienced viva operators, so they know the route and the vehicle.   They’re really excited to get going, knowing that in just a few more weeks the rapidway will be open for service.  We hope you follow along with us through this blog series to get all the details as we count down the days!


testing, testing, testing

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

As you will know from driving along Highway 7, our rapidway construction is really coming along, and this summer a segment will be going into operation.  We still have a bit more work ahead of us before service operation can begin, including some work which will be obvious such as final paving, striping and landscaping.  But in addition to that work, we’re just getting underway on a less-obvious but highly important part of the job, which is to ensure that all parts of the rapidway project are ready for active service.

This stage – known in the construction world as commissioning – is critically important, and planning for it on the Highway 7 rapidway has already been in progress for many months.

So what does commissioning involve, and how do we do it?

First of all, the technical definition of commissioning is that it is the process of assuring that all systems and components of a system are designed, installed and tested according to the operational requirements that have been established.

In the case of vivaNext, the most visible components of the project include the new roadways, passenger stations and amenities, and streetscape elements such as lighting, sidewalks and landscaping.  Ongoing inspections are being done as construction progresses to ensure that these are being built to certain specifications, before they are handed over for use.  Commissioning is a more detailed focus on the key systems and components that together make up the overall communications network.

These components include the fare collection equipment that will be installed at all stations; the station information systems such as the variable message signs, clocks and Public Address systems; passenger security elements such as closed circuit TV systems and emergency call buttons; and the traffic signals at intersections.  It also includes the sophisticated Transit Vehicle Detection system, which will provide information to the traffic signals when rapid transit vehicles are approaching intersections, as well as the overall communications system and fibre optic network that links all of these components.

Obviously these components are very complex, and a huge amount of effort goes into designing and building this equipment to the highest standards in the first place to make sure it will work as intended.  But we also build in a lengthy process of testing to make sure all the pieces are talking to each other in the way they’re designed to.

Testing starts at the factory, where the fabricator verifies that the equipment works as it is intended, and then each component is tested again once it’s installed.  Once all the components are installed and each one is confirmed to be working as designed, a series of additional tests are carried out to confirm that the entire system is integrated properly and working together.

The final step involves testing the reliability and function of the entire system, including simulating actual operation using buses and staff acting as passengers, which gives the people who will be involved in the future operation, maintenance and service of the rapidway an opportunity to become familiar with the new equipment and facilities.

This entire process takes several months, and is done at each individual station and intersection as its equipment is installed.  So you can see that there’s still a lot of work behind the scenes to get to the day we’re all looking forward to – when the first viva vehicle pulls into the rapidway for the first time on Highway 7 in August.