Posts Tagged ‘Urban Planning’

designing for the future

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Who can remember? Not so long ago Highway 7 in Markham and Richmond Hill was a suburban highway: a few isolated developments, lots of parking lots and open fields, but no sidewalks, no plantings, no bike lanes–and certainly no dedicated rapid transit bus lanes. Just look at it now!

In only a few years from start to finish, construction begins and is completed on each of the rapidway projects. In the world of infrastructure renewal, vivaNext construction projects are known to be implemented very efficiently, and we’re doing everything we can to maintain that great reputation.

years of work are behind the design

What’s not so apparent to the public is the lengthy design process that happens long before construction starts. Design of the many engineering and architectural elements must take place stage by stage. Throughout, the designers need to balance staying true to the original vision with making it work in different conditions and geographical areas.

a variety of disciplines at work

VivaNext uses a multi-disciplined design team including: engineers who specialize in civil, traffic, structural, geotechnical, electrical and transit systems; architects; environmental consultants; landscape architects, security experts and more.

many stakeholders weigh in

At each stage, different options and features are reviewed, adjusted and improved with input from municipal staff, utility companies, local conservation authorities, property owners and others. Depending on the location of the project, specific design issues are addressed in conjunction with the owners of adjacent infrastructure including GO Transit, 407 ETR, CN, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

the stages of each project

The process is not a fast one; the Environmental Assessment process, which established the conceptual design for vivaNext, was begun in 2002, and the whole process for any one segment from Preliminary Engineering to service start may take 6 or more years. Here’s an overview of the stages each of our projects go through, before shovels can hit the ground.

•    Environmental Assessment [EA]: The EA examines alternatives and identifies a preferred design. The vivaNext conceptual design shows the approach for individual segments like the number of rapidway and traffic lanes, boulevards and planting zones and the arrangement of stops and stations. The EA then identifies potential design impacts on the natural and built environment, traffic, noise, drainage, property, etc., and proposed strategies to avoid or mitigate and monitor them.

•    Preliminary Design: This stage takes design to approximately 30% completion and establishes the outlines of the project including its alignment and profile, what additional property is needed to build the project, development of major components like bridges or culverts for water crossings, entrances and intersections, utilities, and listing permits and approvals.

•    Detail Design: This stage fleshes out the preliminary design for all elements. For example, preliminary design may identify that a high retaining wall will be needed at a specific location; 60% design will show the kind of foundation needed and the wall’s general construction; 90% design will show the colour and design of the material to be used on the outside of the wall, and 100% will show all details and specifications required to construct the work.

•    Issued-for-Construction Drawings: These are the final design drawings to be used by the contractors, once all approvals are complete.

By the time vivaNext is complete, all our projects will share the original design vision, but their individual design will reflect local requirements and various conditions. Each segment is tailor-made to be functional, convenient and beautiful, with the primary goal of providing a rapid transit system for the future. Which is, and always has been, the ultimate vivaNext design objective.

the last mile is the hardest

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

the last mile is the hardest

The “last mile” has a reputation. It’s been known as the hardest and the greatest, the final step in getting somewhere, regardless of what that involves [or how far it actually is].

Earlier this month, Ryerson City Building Institute released a video trailer in advance of a Last Mile Meetup event they hosted. The video and meetup invited conversation about the #LastMile, and was the basis for a Toronto Star article. The GTA includes lots of suburban cities and towns. And where there are suburbs, there is that last mile challenge – the beginning and end of a commute to work or school. While most of the commute might be easily done with rapid transit, the last mile usually relies on driving, cycling, walking or taking local transit.

Driving that last mile to a commuter transit station might mean parking in a massive, overcrowded parking lot. Walking or cycling are natural choices as long as there are safe, accessible places to and from the station – this of course depends on weather and the distance travelled. Transit is a good option, but we understand that bus schedules don’t always fit in with the always-in-a-hurry commuter and routes may not get riders close enough to their final destination.

This last leg of the journey can make or break the commute. It’s often the deciding factor on whether the entire commute will be done by car or by transit. Everyone’s trip is unique, and might involve extra stops along the way, like picking up kids from a babysitter or stopping for groceries. So there need to be options, and each option needs to be flexible. To arrive at the right solutions for the last mile, most agree that new ideas need to be piloted, such as the dial-a-ride service in York Region, carpooling, ride-sharing, and safe and secure places for walking and cycling.

It comes down to mobility and quality of life. Mobility is about being able to get to and from where you live easily. Your daily quality of life may depend on how you travel that last leg of the journey – is your last mile the hardest… or the greatest?


going where the action is

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

going where the action is

In York Region, there are over 120 bus routes travelled by Viva and YRT buses, and some are busier than others. Some of the busiest routes are on Yonge, Highway 7, Bathurst and Centre Streets, Bayview Avenue and Leslie Street. If you live or work in York Region, there’s a good chance that you travel one of these roads regularly, so it’s no surprise that other people want to go there too.

When building transit, planners have a few goals in mind: ensure most people have access to transportation; have transit where people want to get on and off; and be prepared for future growth and development.

Ensuring most people have access to transportation allows people to get where they want to go, even if they have a specific need or live in a less populated area. In York Region, Dial-a-Ride, community buses and seasonal services [like Canada’s Wonderland!] are examples of this. Community buses take people to places where there’s a special interest, like hospitals, plazas and schools.

The most popular transit routes go where people want to get on and off. People want to go where the action is, so routes are planned where shopping, services, jobs, and higher-density housing is already along the way. One example of this is the area around Bathurst and Centre Streets, where shops and amenities are walking distance to a transit terminal and multi-story condo buildings. Connections to other transit are a big draw too – so routes are planned near bus terminals, GO stations, and future subway stations.

In some cases, we’re preparing for future growth by building transit before development. Enterprise Boulevard in Markham is a planned downtown area near the Unionville GO Train Station that only seven years ago was mostly vacant fields. We opened the first segment of rapidway there in 2011, and since then condo buildings, a sports facility, shops, restaurants and entertainment have all been built, and hotels and a York University campus are on the way.

Whether development is already there or on the way, transit planning means making sure transit is easy to access, and goes where people want to go – an important element in building great communities.


building in place >> the best of both worlds

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

building in place >> the best of both worlds

Earlier this month, the Province of Ontario proposed changes to the four provincial plans that shape how land is used in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. They’re gathering feedback from the public on all their recommended changes to help protect green spaces and farmland.

One of the key changes proposed is an increase in the minimum Intensification Rate from 40% to 60%, to encourage growth in central areas and reduce suburban sprawl. “Intensification” may sound unfriendly but really it’s just re-using space that we already have. We’ve been building on land in York Region for many decades and our population continues to grow, so when a building comes to the end of its life, there’s a good chance the next building on that land will need to serve more people – whether for housing, business or entertainment.

For example, if a one-level plaza has 10 businesses, when it’s time to rebuild it might be replaced with a five-story building with 15 retail and restaurants on the ground level and 15 apartments above. Because there are more business and residential units than there were before, this contributes to an increased Intensification Rate in the area.

By building in place, adding five business units and 15 residential units to this property instead of building 10-20 detached subdivision houses elsewhere, an acre of green space could be saved. If this new development hosts 80 or more residents and jobs per hectare [2.5 acres], then it also helps support frequent transit service [like a Viva rapidway!].

One proposed change from the Province is to require zoning along transit corridors that supports a higher population and walkable communities. This is important to keep the relationship between people and transit on track. Transit systems need lots of people to jump on board, and people living in downtown areas need the option of transit.

By continuing to build in place, our biggest towns and cities will have everything on their doorstep, and green space nearby. Doesn’t that sound like the best of both worlds?


green space = safe space

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

green space = safe space

We’ve seen reports that support why having greenery around us can increase prosperity, improve health, and now new research says it makes the surrounding area safer.

It’s not so much the trees and shrubs themselves that keep people safe. Having an attractive space attracts people to spend time in the area – and puts more ‘eyes on the streets.’ And green space that appears cared for lets everyone know that someone owns, uses and maintains it. In the case of streets, it’s a sense of community ownership.

Well-maintained green spaces are thought to give an abstract sense of social order, and according to a community greenery experiment in Youngstown, Ohio, the safety and order extends to the surrounding area. There are all types of crime, and you can’t always predict where it will happen, but the pride of place on display with a nice park or streetscape seems to bring about positive behavior.

It’s exciting to see the trees along the Highway 7 East rapidway growing another season of new leaves, and people out enjoying the spring weather on the new sidewalks. We’re looking forward to planting trees this year on Davis Drive in Newmarket and on Highway 7 West in Vaughan.

So trees aren’t just trees. They, and their team of shrubs and grasses encourage health and wealth, and they fight crime in their spare time.


automated vehicles >> will transit drive itself?

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

automated vehicles >> will transit drive itself?

Lately there’s been a lot of news on the topic of automated vehicles. In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US officially stated that an artificial intelligence system [computer] in an automated vehicle can officially be considered a driver. And in at least five global cities, there are driverless buses already on the streets. In aviation, pilots have been relying on auto-pilot for decades when landing and taking off in low visibility, and many people-mover rail systems [such as airport monorails] are automated.

Studies show that, statistically speaking, computers are safer than humans at driving. However, we know that getting from here to there is about more than arriving safely. Comfort is important of course, along with convenience and efficiency or speed. For some, a travel choice is a personal statement – to cycle or walk, to make use of transit, or to drive a certain style of car. Many vehicles already have “driver assistance systems,” with features that brake when an obstacle is detected, and alert the driver when the car in front has moved forward or when the vehicle has left its traffic lane.

So the technology is there, and it’s already being used. The question isn’t whether it will happen, it’s how it will affect how we travel. It will depend on how they’re used – if every individual uses their own automated vehicle, traffic congestion and parking issues will likely remain the same. But if we share vehicles and take transit…our cities and roads could become safer and more efficient.  Interesting topics for discussion and consideration and we continue to follow them with interest.

At vivaNext we’re for mobility – whether this means subway, bus rapid transit, or automated transit in the future, we’re thinking about how York Region’s roads can be prepared and always looking for new and innovative ideas to make improvements.


a touch of nature…

Friday, March 18th, 2016

a touch of nature…

…makes the whole world kin. At least that’s what Shakespeare wrote. Everyone wants to help out the environment, even just a little. And the key to making that happen is to weave it into what you do. At vivaNext, we do what we can to help out by incorporating environmental and sustainable standards into what we do.


When we built a transit facility in Richmond Hill, more than 95% of construction waste was diverted from landfills by recycling. This equals about 582 tonnes, or enough to fill 32 city buses. The facility was built to LEED Silver standards, and includes a rainwater recycling system for the bus wash, which saves about 5.5 million litres each year. When we build rapidways, the old asphalt is taken to local recycling centres, saving valuable construction material for re-use.


Every rapidway project includes tree-lined sidewalks with special under-sidewalk root systems and tree and shrub species chosen to best suit their location. Including greenery in our communities has important side benefits, including improved health for residents, increased property values, better business outcomes, and reduced energy costs. Each project is unique, and where there are creeks and culverts, our work includes natural restoration, which creates better conditions for wildlife and aquatic species. For a peek at how we connect with nature, check out our video.


And don’t forget the most important thing we’re doing – building rapid transit! Adding sustainable travel choices to our landscape is the most important thing we can do to help our communities thrive. Each bus can replace up to 70 cars and during peak hours along rapidway routes, can be up to 42% faster and certainly reduces emissions. Having fast, reliable transit within walking distance helps support the growth coming to our downtowns in Markham, Newmarket, Vaughan and Richmond Hill – and this central growth helps prevent suburban sprawl.

We’re doing what we can to help the environment and making it part of what we do. Earth Hour is 8:30-9:30pm this Saturday, and we’ll do that little bit extra by powering down and we hope you will too.


building complete streets in York Region

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

building complete streets in York Region

When looking at the award winning rapidway on Highway 7 in Richmond Hill and Markham, or Davis Drive in Newmarket, you’ll notice some features that make them different from your average street.

Wider sidewalks, more accessibility features, large attractive tree planters to provide a buffer between pedestrians and traffic, and bike lanes where possible, are all part of York Region’s urban design philosophy. It’s an approach that will shape the future of our communities and neighbourhoods, and it’s what Urban Planners call a ‘complete street’ – a street designed for everyone.

The complete street transformation is starting to unfold on Yonge Street in Richmond Hill and Newmarket this year. Utilities are being relocated to accommodate the dedicated bus rapid transit lanes in the centre of the road. In time, the same thoughtful and elegant elements will take shape on one of the region’s most important roads for transportation, commerce and entertainment – the perfect place to stop, shop and dine – Yonge Street!

The complete street approach ensures that planners and engineers design and manage public infrastructure that takes in account users of all ages, abilities, and modes of travel.

One of the underpinnings of the complete street approach is to treat roads as destinations. With careful planning, roads can be public spaces with lush greenery and design features that engage people. Streets can be places to go instead of just surfaces to drive on. They should connect to businesses and places where people live, and also to trails, parks and other gathering places in order to help build a sense of community.

Another key consideration is accessibility, because whether you get around in a stroller, wheelchair, on transit, walking, cycling or driving, everyone needs safe and convenient options.

To learn more about complete streets and how they are being implemented across Canada and around the world, visit, or


farms need cities

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

farms need cities

Most people would agree that outside the city limits, there should be rural, green space. It’s important for agriculture, for wildlife, and for us to experience our natural landscape.

The Oak Ridges Moraine Act [2001] and the Greenbelt Act [2005] together protect 69% of York Region’s land. Considering York Region’s fast growth, the remaining 31% needs to be carefully planned, with higher density in the cities.

Farmland has changed in Ontario over the last several decades, with fewer, larger farms and more technology used for efficient production. Wildlife has changed too, with York Regional Forests in place and more awareness of our impact on nature. But one thing that hasn’t, and likely won’t, change is that wildlife and farms need cities to grow in place, without expanding into the countryside.

This is where new urbanism and transit-oriented development come in. They’re about planning the best ways for a city to grow, and ensuring there’s a variety of housing and employment, and transportation options like bus rapid transit and subway. Building where we already have development makes a lot of sense. It keeps urban, urban and protects rural from becoming suburban. It also creates a focused city centre that attracts people to do business or shop, all of which is supported by great transit to get around.

Using the land we already have in York Region’s cities and towns is smart and it’s sustainable. If we stick to this plan we’ll be watching population grow in our vibrant cities, and trees and crops thrive in the country.


bringing a rapid transit plan to life

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

bringing a rapid transit plan to life

Crews are finishing up paving on Davis Drive, which means we’re getting closer to opening the rapidway. As much as we’re looking forward to celebrating this milestone, it’s important to know that this is only one [very exciting] step in a plan for a connected transit system.

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of media coverage of transit needs across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area [GTHA]. We’re proud that York Region is actively working to meet those needs by bringing rapid transit to our region. In 2002, the Region produced the York Region Transportation Master Plan and the follow-up Rapid Transit Plan, committing the Region to a blueprint of multiple transportation initiatives to be built over the next 30 years.

With the Rapid Transit Plan approved, we got to work. In 2005 the Viva team launched “QuickStart,” the first phase of Viva service, offering enhanced features that made transit more comfortable and convenient, and put the customer first. With this service upgrade, Viva changed the way people in York Region thought of transit. The public appreciated the enhanced features and frequencies, and it wasn’t long before ridership began increasing steadily.

But while “QuickStart” was a major success and an important first step in encouraging people to try transit, designing the vivaNext rapid transit system was the Region’s long-term vision. Ontario municipalities are mandated to plan sustainable, more intensive land-use as part of the provincial government policy, and rapid transit is a key component in achieving that goal.  Anticipating this, the York Region Transportation Master Plan directed that future growth in York Region would be concentrated in new downtown urban centres in Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Vaughan. By building more intensively in these areas there would be less pressure for growth in other neighbourhoods.

The urban centres would be connected by transportation “corridors,” making it easier for people to get around the region, and providing transportation options with regular transit service. The vivaNext rapidways are currently being built along these corridors, creating connections across York Region and into the rest of the GTHA.

Much of the new development around vivastations is compact and mixed-use, providing housing, employment, retail, dining, services and recreation – all within walking distance of transit. Developments include welcoming public spaces, attractive landscaping and other amenities that contribute to the centres becoming dynamic destinations.

Our vision for the future is well on its way to becoming reality: a rapidway has been built on Highway 7 East; Davis Drive is opening soon; the first section of rapidway in Vaughan will open on Highway 7 West in 2016; the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension is under construction; utility work is underway for the Yonge Street rapidway north of Highway 7, and design work continues for the planned Yonge Subway Extension.

So when the rapidway on Davis Drive opens for service this winter, we can celebrate the progress of transit infrastructure in York Region, not to mention the end of major construction!