By Susan Cork, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Future of Stouffville: A plan to upgrade the GO Line to LRT and boost daily ridership.
“I fully support the GO Transit vision to transform the Stouffville GO line from diesel to an electric, driverless, and automatic train control LRT system,” Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones says. “The more we can build rail corridors with major destinations at Transit Oriented Community Stations (TOCs) along the 407 Rail Transitway and the GO Transit Lines, we will lessen the dependency on the car.”
He explains that the aim is to increase the daily ridership of the Stouffville GO line from 18,500 to around 300,000 by 2053. Included in his plan is a proposal for a 407 Rail Transitway with a daily ridership goal of up to 1 million riders by 2063. The Province, Metrolinx, Toronto, Markham, Stouffville, and York Region will have to join forces to achieve these goals. One key element to the proposals as Jones explains better on his website is the plans to transform the Stouffville GO Transit Line into an electric Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. The goal is to develop Transit-Oriented Communities at each GO station with a mix of office, major retail, institutional, residential and parks. Furthermore, this will offer eco-friendly transportation options, promote compact urban development, cultivate safe and thriving Transit-Oriented Communities, and encourage economic sustainability along transportation corridors. These planned features are intended to preserve the environment and enhance the quality of life for residents in Toronto, Markham, and Stouffville.
In 2014, the Ontario government announced ambitious plans to expand public transportation options, including the construction of the Yonge Subway Extension, the electrification of all GO Transit rail lines, and a goal of an all-day, 15-minute service. Meanwhile, the City of Toronto advocated constructing the downtown relief line ahead of the planned Yonge Subway Extension.
As a possible alternative to the Yonge Subway Extension, Jones says additional traffic lanes could be added to North-South streets such as Bathurst, Bayview, Leslie, and Yonge. The TOC stations along the Yonge Street line have seen a surge in building development applications.
As an agency of the Provincial Government tasked with transportation development, Jones states that Metrolinx should work on a plan to redistribute riders to the Stouffville, Richmond Hill, and Barrie lines, emphasizing improving station connectivity on these GO lines. Fare integration would also help in reducing the number of riders on the Yonge Subway by encouraging riders to switch to other GO lines and eliminating the need for multiple fares when crossing municipal boundaries or changing from one transit system to another.
Prioritizing residential density along transit corridors is key for long-term urban sustainability. Jones says TOC planning should be guided by sound land use, transportation, energy, and design principles, focusing on aligning with environmental, economic, and social sustainability objectives.
A successful realization of the Transit-Oriented Communities vision is based on collaboration amongst all levels of government, residents and stakeholders. However, given the current economic challenges faced by Canadians with issues such as high inflation and many families needing help to afford necessities like food, residents may ask how can these costly infrastructure investments be justified and how do they benefit our community.
One immediate strategy that can be implemented to address these challenges is to prioritize the development of affordable housing and low-cost transportation options within Tranist-Oriented Communities. Jones says that this can be achieved through government initiatives such as developer tax incentives, partnerships with affordable housing organizations, and community outreach programs. Additionally, developing a comprehensive and efficient public transportation system within the community can reduce the cost of living for residents by providing an affordable alternative to personal vehicle ownership. By improving access to essential services and reducing the cost of transportation, the solution can offer immediate benefits to the community in the present. Furthermore, creating new jobs and business opportunities by developing Transit-Oriented Communities can also help address financial hardship for residents.
Jones says several measures can be implemented to address these challenges and benefit the community:
- Fare subsidies and discounts for low-income residents – Governments can offer subsidies or discounts to low-income residents, allowing them to use public transportation more cheaply.
- Connectivity and integration with other modes of transportation – Integrating public transit in different ways, such as bike-sharing programs and ride-hailing services, can make it more accessible and convenient for people.
- Investment in public transportation infrastructure – Investment in public transportation infrastructure, such as building new stations and upgrading existing ones, can improve the overall quality of the public transportation system and make it more attractive to riders.
- Increase two-way all-day traffic ridership on all GO transit lines – Make every station a destination with retail, office and residential. Change the location of parking lots/structures near GO stations to a bit farther away so they are not right beside the train station. Make it easy to get to the station other than by car. Do this by incentivizing residents and businesses to use public transit, walk, bike and use autonomous vehicles in a TOC campus environment.
- Partnerships with businesses – Governments can partner with companies to incentivize employees to use public transportation, such as offering transit passes or parking subsidies.
By adopting these strategies, Transit-Oriented Communities have the potential to improve the community by decreasing living expenses, enhancing accessibility to necessities, decreasing traffic congestion and advancing sustainability.