Downtown transit stations a global thing

June 25, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

The Town of Orangeville’s recent and final vote on where to locate its new bus terminal seemed like poking a stick in an ant hill: it caused quite a commotion. Certain sides were unhappy and voiced their outrage and displeasure in this paper, in conversations on the bus and in community posts. One thing all comments had in common was a lack of all the facts, yet each had an opinion on “somewhere else and better” they thought the terminal should be placed. I do have the facts and a different perspective, as I was a member of the Transit Task Force and am a very active public transit user—not just around town but across Ontario and any country I have traveled in.

As stated by Councillor Taylor, Chair of the Transit Task Force that made the final recommendation to Town Council to vote on, there was a public process behind all this. It was also backed by an extensive 2016 study with a 2017 update, when Dillon Consulting conducted an Optimization Study and reviewed five possible locations around town. They based their review on a points system that included, for example, infrastructure, cost, size of population nearby, points of interest near station, adjacent land use and more. The downtown location received the highest score by far. 

The role of the ten-person Task Force, which met from November until March, was to review again each possible location with a fresh set of eyes. Members came from various and unrelated backgrounds and had differing viewpoints (and none of them was, in fact, a direct member of the community garden). We even discussed an additional two or three possible locations. In the end, the downtown location was a clear ‘winner’ with only one vote against; not necessarily winning as the most fantastic place for a hub but the least problematic of possible locations. Sadly, as in this case, sometimes there just isn’t a 100% ideal solution available. 

I have two main issues with the loudest opponents of the Town’s decision. Firstly, their notion of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY), whereby a few individuals or a small group—that more often than not don’t represent the wider community’s opinion—conjur up reasons why something should not be put near them but it’s okay to put it near someone else. Secondly, continuing to prevent a decision on a new transit hub location is short-sighted and narrow-minded for a Town that just last year adopted Orangeville’s first Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan (SNAP) and which includes a plethora of sustainable programs, principles and systems, including a better transit system (you can get a printed copy of SNAP from the Town or find the 72-page PDF document online). Regarding Transportation Systems, there is one clear and overarching goal that hundreds of residents actively requested and voted on: To encourage a reduction in the dependence of motor vehicles locally and promote all other forms of transportation.  

Placing transit stations centrally is the global norm. In Ontario, the towns of Barrie, Belleville, Brantford, Collingwood, Guelph, Kitchener, Newmarket, Peterborough and Sarnia have them, to name a few. I have personally used many central bus and train stations across North America and Europe, so Orangeville is not doing anything unusual here. In fact, it is a guiding principle for sustainable urban transportation planning: To move the most people, not the most cars. Yet, too many car owners love to hate public transit (and cyclists and pedestrians) whenever those are given not even a priority but merely an equal share of roadways. Transit helps improve people’s lives: car-first transportation has long been shown to adversely affect public health. 

Numerous studies show that a central transit location is the most desirable; “terminals near major arterials and at suburban town centers should be encouraged” (University of BC Thesis on “Inter-city bus terminal location criteria”). 

It is seen as a catalyst for downtown renewal and isn’t that what our downtown businesses and its BIA (Business Improvement Area) want, need and ask for; more customers? A transit hub draws pedestrians to the area and by alleviating traffic pressure on streets, it can help make an area more attractive and pedestrian-friendly—a major goal in downtown revitalisation programs. It enables shoppers, visitors and business owners and their staff to move more freely, thereby contributing to downtown economic vitality and a reduction in traffic congestion. What we may want to focus on is reducing all the daily car traffic that drives through or idles on Broadway, instead of complaining about four buses passing through every 30 minutes, which can each hold around 25-30 passengers, at my estimate. When bus arrivals and departures run efficiently, the amount of time each vehicle spends at the terminal should not be more than needed for passengers to on or off-board, reducing the argument of adverse local pollution. If only electric or hybrid buses were a little more affordable though….

A good public bus system should therefore be worth a great deal to businesses and its community. There will always be some growing pains getting used to a new system and ironing out some of its kinks. In the end, it’s typically worth it though. I truly believe that. 

What I don’t believe in and was very disappointed to read, is for Council to bow to relentless pressure from one downtown business owner and spend additional public money on a pedestrian safety study. Would the Town ever consider conducting a pedestrian safety study on the risk of Theatre users jaywalking between the municipal parking lot and Orangeville Theatre across the road? I dare say not! Yet, when one relentless business owner, who happens to be a lawyer, puts fear into our Councillors, all logic and reason seems abandoned. I don’t believe for one second that the true motivation is a concern for pedestrian safety. Jaywalking is an unsafe and illegal practice at many popular places across town. It is a personal choice—rarely a true need—and the responsibility for jaywalking lies squarely with the person making that choice. We don’t need an expensive study for that. 

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