Posts Tagged ‘mixed-use development’

building up the centres and corridors

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The most obvious benefit that vivaNext will provide, and one that is already taking shape on Highway 7, is the convenient rapid transit system that we’re constructing across York Region.  But as I’ve described in many previous posts, vivaNext is much more than a transit project; it’s also a key part of the long-term strategy being used by York Region to help our Region respond to and manage growth.  Central to that strategy is the overall vision of Centres and Corridors, which will help concentrate future growth in higher-density, mixed use developments clustered in four new urban nodes, one each in Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.  Here’s a summary of how this strategy will transform our Region and help it manage growth.

Population increase is happening across the Region, and brings many advantages.  More people means the Region can attract and support new choices in housing, employment, shopping, entertainment, dining and recreation. But as the Region grows, more people also means more traffic, more congestion, and more crowding.  So the strategy that York Region has developed, in collaboration with both the Province and the local municipalities, is to channel much of that growth into newly developed communities clustered in new urban centres along Highway 7 and in Newmarket.  With this strategy, existing neighbourhoods will be protected, along with the way of life that attracted many people to the Region in the first place.

The new communities in the Regional Centres will be mixed use, meaning they will offer residential, employment and recreational options – including a proportion of affordable housing choices. Once these new downtowns are fully established, people will be able to work, live and play without needing to get in a car, enjoying choices for housing, jobs, shopping and dining, all within walking distance.

Linking these emerging downtowns will be major transportation corridors along Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive, featuring our new vivaNext bus rapid transit rapidways and the Spadina subway extension (and once funding is secured, the Yonge Subway extension).  With convenient access between these new urban neighbourhoods and our expanding rapid transit network, people will be able to travel across the Region and into the rest of the GTA without needing a car, making the Centres an attractive option for people looking for an urban lifestyle.

Obviously, completing York Region’s new downtowns isn’t going to happen overnight, but new developments are already transforming the look and feel along Highway 7, up Yonge Street and across Davis Drive.  And as these new urban areas take shape, we’re working hard to get the transit part of the equation built, one rapidway station at a time – to provide a convenient, fast way for everyone in York Region to get around using transit.


managing the vivaNext plan

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

When I first joined the vivaNext team, it was pretty small since we were still at the early stages of our rapid transit program.  Now, with an overall team of nearly 78 at York Region Rapid Transit Corporation (YRRTC); and many more staff and experts allocated to the projects through the construction contractors, all these people are working on the vivaNext plan which is going flat out, with planning, procurement, design and construction activities underway concurrently.  Here’s the rundown on what we’re doing now, and a preview on some of our other projects you’ll hear more about soon.

The most visible parts of vivaNext – our rapidway construction projects on Highway 7 East and Davis Drive in Newmarket – are definitely a major focus for our team, but they’re only part of what we’ve got going on these days. Moving a major infrastructure project like a rapidway segment forward from the early design stages to the introduction of service requires years of careful planning and oversight, starting with preliminary design and environmental assessments years before construction can start.   The same general work plan is currently being followed for the remainder of the Highway 7 rapidway (opening next year) and along Davis Drive in Newmarket.  Project management for our active construction projects involves a large part of our team, including engineering, property, finance and communications staff.

In addition, we’re in the early stages of pre-construction for the rapidway on either side of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) on Highway 7, with final design work being completed for the VMC station itself, overtop of the TYSSE concourse for the subway.

At an earlier stage, but already demanding dedicated project teams, is the Yonge Street rapidways in Richmond Hill and Newmarket, and the rapidways that will be built along this major commuter line.

And because a rapid transit network needs more than new lanes, stations and streetscaping, we’ve also got a number of dedicated facilities to plan and build, which will provide the future vivaNext system with more capacity for passengers, bus maintenance, and commuter parking.  All of those components are currently under active development, requiring the involvement of project teams with property, design, engineering and financial expertise.  Our currently funded projects add up to a total program value of $3.2 billion, which will see us build 37 km of bus rapidways with 38 stations, an 8.6 km subway extension with six stations, an operations facilities, two bus terminals and multiple park ‘n ride facilities over the next five years in York Region.

Last but definitely not least, lots of activity is underway to secure funding for future segments starting with the extension to the Yonge Subway, which is the missing link needed to fully connect the vivaNext system to the broader GTHA transit network.

Everyone at YRRTC works on multiple projects, which allows us to share our knowledge across the program, identify what’s worked well in the past, and ensure that we build on success.   Collectively we’ve already amassed a lot of expertise, making design and construction refinements to future projects that reflect what we’ve learned so far.

We all work hard, but the enthusiasm we pick up from the community is so motivating, it’s hard to imagine doing anything more satisfying.  We know that with just a few kilometers of rapidway open along the Highway 7 East rapidway, transit travel times have already been reduced and traffic flows improved.  So we’re all looking forward to the major improvements that we’ll all get to enjoy, when the whole system is open in a few years from now.

Stay tuned for regular updates throughout 2014, it promises to be a significant year for transit.


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.


bringing vaughan metropolitan centre to life

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

We recently posted a great blog on planning that talked about the link between transit and new urban communities. Given that tomorrow (November 8), urban planners from towns and cities in over 30 countries worldwide will celebrate World Town Planning Day, we thought we would take a moment to highlight another one of York Region’s amazing communities, and see how vivaNext transit projects fit into York Region’s planning vision.

In the Region’s Centres and Corridors strategy, selected areas in Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Markham and Vaughan are targeted to have new, urban “downtowns.” They will be vibrant, higher density, attractive destinations with a full range of amenities so that people can live, work, shop and play in the same community. These “centres” will be connected by transportation “corridors” that will make it easier for people to get around the region. That’s where we come in. Our vivaNext rapidways will run along the corridors, connecting the centres through transit and safe and efficient travel options for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists alike.

You can see the vision for one of these centres coming to life in the City of Vaughan’s new video about the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre [VMC] . Located in the heart of Vaughan, centered on Highway 7, between Highway 400 and Creditstone Road, VMC will be one of the largest and most ambitious development projects in the area’s history, and is a superb location for Vaughan’s new downtown.

In the VMC, mixed-use transit-oriented development is proposed along a tree-lined main street, including businesses, residences, entertainment and cultural facilities, as well as pedestrian shopping areas. The VMC area will act as a transportation hub, including convenient passenger pick-up and drop-off, a York Region Transit bus terminal, and viva rapidways running in dedicated lanes along Highway 7.

VMC will also be home to the northernmost subway station, as part of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [TYSSE], an 8.6 km subway extension from Downsview Station, northwest through York University and north to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. An entrance to VMC Station will be built on Millway Avenue, between Edgeley Boulevard and Jane Street to provide easy and efficient connections to other transit services.

With approximately 442 acres of development opportunities, VMC also includes:

  • Projected office development: 1.5 million SF
  • Projected retail development: 750,000 SF
  • Minimum of 12,000 residential units
  • Population potential: 25,000 new residents
  • Employment potential: 11,000 jobs of which 5,000 will be office jobs

It’s exciting to visualize how Vaughan will evolve in the years to come. To find out more about other vivaNext projects, visit our projects page.


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.

introducing the Bayview Towers

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

The Bayview Towers opened on September 1 for service, just in time for back to school. If you’re in the area near Highway 7 between Bayview and Chalmers/South Park you’ll have noticed two attractive buildings, sporting vivaNext symbols, built right next to the Bayview Bridge.   Here’s a description of the Bayview Towers, and how they’re going to make life more convenient and comfortable for York Region transit users.

The two handsome glass and concrete buildings, one on each of the north and south sides of Highway 7, are there to provide convenient access for people on Bayview Avenue wanting to connect to the viva system, and vice versa.  These buildings replace the stairs that used to be the only way people could make that connection.

Providing elevator access was always seen to be the ideal solution to ensure everyone would be able to move easily from Bayview down to Highway 7, but because elevators need to be located in spaces with constant temperatures and protected from the elements, we needed to create actual buildings around them.

That’s why we have built the Bayview Towers.  The buildings are not bus stations – there are curb-side vivastations on both the north and south sides of Highway 7.  The buildings are both fully accessible, and each has an elevator that will whisk people up to the level of the Bayview Bridge, as well as an interior stairwell.

Inside, the Towers are airy and well-lit, with glass walls making the interiors clearly visible to Highway 7.  With full security coverage including cameras that can monitor the entire building and emergency call buttons on all levels that connect directly to YRT dispatch, people will feel safe using the towers at all times.

At the top level, people will access the Towers via pedestrian bridges that enter onto the sidewalks on the Bayview.  Changes to YRT and Viva routes will go into effect now that the Towers are open, so check out the schedules before you head out.

All in all, we’re proud of these great new additions to our rapidway system, which are going to improve connectivity for everyone using Viva and YRT.


welcoming all cyclists

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

We’ve been focusing recently on all the features of the new rapidways, which together are going to make transit truly rapid along Highway 7.   But it’s important to remember that many of the design features were developed to ensure that all users of the Highway 7 corridor feel welcome and secure.  This includes transit users, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers – the “complete street” design concept which you can read more about here.  One of the features that have been installed on the rapidways are new dedicated bike lanes and bike boxes, which are painted green.

To provide safety and convenience the new bike lanes will extend 5 kilometres, from Chalmers to South Town Centre Boulevard with lanes on both the north and south sides of Highway 7.  Unlike in many urban settings, York Region cyclists will have these lanes to themselves –our new bike lanes are dedicated, meaning they’re not shared at any point with vehicles.

We’re following the established safety standards, making the lanes 1.4 metres wide, with an additional half metre for a buffer zone between the bike and traffic lanes. Also to give maximum visibility for the bike lanes, they’ll be painted a high-contrast green in the areas around intersections, with special bike-lane markings to clearly identify them in the mid-block.

With the high volume of traffic, the bike lanes will provide a much more comfortable and secure environment for cyclists riding along Highway 7.  But eventually most cyclists will want to turn off of Highway 7, with some needing to make left turns.  Waiting in the left turn lane with vehicles to cross multiple lanes of traffic and the rapidways wouldn’t be safe on a bike, so we’re adding another feature to make the experience better for cyclists.  They’re called bike boxes, and they will make the corridor more welcoming to cyclists.

Here’s how they work.  Cyclists wanting to turn left off Highway 7 will proceed through the signalized east/west intersection in the bike lane into the far side  then stop in a protected area, reserved for cyclists, tucked into the boulevard on the far side of the intersection.  This area, known as a bike box, will offer cyclists a waiting zone while they wait for the light to change.  Once the light changes, they will then cross Highway 7 along with other north/south traffic.

The bike boxes will be clearly marked with green paint like the bike lanes and other markings, so drivers and pedestrians will know they are for cyclists only.  Permanent bike boxes will be put in place this fall and replace the painted ones on the street, so by next spring cyclist will have a great new pathway to follow, with the latest of features.

We’re excited to be providing these new features for York Region cyclists, and know that they’re going to help make this corridor much more welcoming to all travellers, no matter how they choose to get around.


using colour and shape to create welcoming pedestrian spaces

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

If you’ve walked along the new rapidway on Highway 7, you’ll have seen the vivaNext pavers we’ve installed on the boulevards.  We know from the feedback we’ve gotten that people love the new look.

Most sidewalks in York Region, like pretty much everywhere else, are made of concrete, and the most important consideration is functionality: they need to be safe, accessible, durable and easy to maintain.  But beyond those goals, we also want our new boulevards – which are wider than the Region’s regular sidewalks – to reinforce the complete street concept, the guiding philosophy for our vivaNext streetscape design.  With all the development coming to the Region’s centres and corridors, in the future there will be more pedestrians, whether they live, work, or commute along our rapidway routes.  So we’ve made sure that our boulevard design is going to be visually appealing as well as functional.

The boulevard is made up of the pedestrian zone and the furnishing zone. The pedestrian zone is typically a 2.0m wide sidewalk which is fully paved with light-toned coloured pavers near intersections, and paved with concrete in the mid-block areas. The sidewalk is a continuous system even across driveways to alert motorists that pedestrians have priority.

The furnishing zone is located next to the pedestrian zone. The furnishing zone is an area where pedestrian amenities, furniture and planters are located. It is paved in light coloured unit pavers which reinforce the identity of the vivaNext system.

We’re using a combination of coloured pavers which not only look great but also add to wayfinding for pedestrians.  The main field pavers are light-coloured cool gray with contrasting coloured accent bands which will increase in frequency as pedestrians approach the main intersections. The east-west accent bands are a red; the north-south accent bands are a dark charcoal gray.

Immediately adjacent to the roadway and running along beside the pedestrian zone is a 610mm wide “transition zone”, which will provide an important comfort buffer against bicycle and vehicular traffic. In the winter months, it also provides an area for snow storage and protects the adjacent plantings from salt spray. This zone will be paved in special “eco-pavers”, which allow water to seep through to the storm sewer system.

A charcoal gray coloured textured warning strip will alert visually impaired pedestrians that they are approaching an intersection or driveway. At midblock where the pedestrian zone in paved in concrete, the warning strip will be grooved concrete. Both approaches will provide a tactile clue for visually impaired pedestrians of potential conflicts.

We’ve given special attention to the boulevards near intersections to ensure they reinforce pedestrian priority and add to placemaking. These areas have been designed to function as urban plazas with unit paving and accent pavers. Soft landscaping will define the corners of the intersections and function as gateways to the adjacent areas.

By making the boulevards along the rapidways welcoming and attractive, we’re contributing to the development of York Region’s new urban centres, and adding more walkable places for us all to use.


enhancing your security and safety

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Taking steps to ensure our passengers feel secure and safe using our stations is a top priority for YRT\Viva.  So every detail of our new passenger stations on the Highway 7 rapidway has been designed with a view to make our riders feel comfortable, well protected from the elements and adjacent traffic, and able to access help in an emergency.

Here’s a rundown of the new features we’ve designed into all our stations, so all users can enjoy a personal sense of safety.

With our median platforms located in the middle of a busy roadway, one of our top priorities has been to make the stations feel like a safe haven.  Stations will provide a secure waiting place for passengers with a concrete barrier wall running all along the traffic side, and a glass guardrail beyond the canopy.

To access the new stations in the median, pedestrians must use the crosswalks and cross with the signal.  When crossing the road to or from the new station, you must remember to push your pedestrian button to get the signal to cross safely.  Also, because this is new for everyone, it is important that pedestrians watch for traffic before stepping out to cross the road.  Whenever there are changes, it is important to be aware of all the users to the roadway to ensure your safety at all times.

Our stations reflect the CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles of transparency and good lighting, enabling people to see and be seen. We’ve paid careful attention to lighting levels, including along the platform and in the glass enclosure, which is fully visible to the platform and has doors at either end.

Each platform is well equipped with electronic security devices, overseen 24/7 by YRT\Viva staff at transit headquarters.  Stations are monitored constantly by three CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras.  In addition to providing good coverage of the platform at all times, transit staff can maneuver the cameras manually as needed.

To add to passenger’s sense of security, a clearly marked Emergency Call Button is located inside the glass enclosure, and its speaker provides immediate two-way contact between the caller and YRT operators.  The audio of the call is recorded and time-stamped, as is the video that is automatically captured by the closest camera when the button is pushed. When the ECB is pushed, blue strobe lights on the VMS and on the ECB will be triggered to indicate to passing emergency services that assistance is needed, and transit staff will dispatch emergency services if required.

Also adding to these new features is the PA system that will be used to provide live and recorded public announcements from transit operations.

These new features are probably things that most people will never need to know about.  All the same, knowing that we’ve gone to great lengths to maximize our passengers’ sense of safety, and that our transit staff are on duty 24/7 behind the cameras, should give all our riders total peace of mind.  Be safe!

crossing in safety

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Making the new rapidways more welcoming to pedestrians has always been a priority, and that includes ensuring that pedestrians feel safe and secure while crossing Highway 7.  We know from your feedback that you’re already enjoying the protected waiting areas built into the medians, and you’ve become familiar with the two-stage crossing at crosswalks that’s been in place for much of the construction period. But in case you don’t know how it works, here’s a reminder of how to cross the rapidway safely.

With its new wider overall alignment to incorporate the two rapidway lanes and median stations, the crosswalks across Highway 7 are longer than they used to be. To enhance the safety of pedestrians, a two-stage crossing is recommended.  Lights are timed to give enough time for the average pedestrian to cross to or from a median viva station.  For people going all the way across the roadway, the light will allow them to cross to the protected median and wait for the next pedestrian signal.

In addition to watching the lights, pedestrians will hear an audible signal indicating whether they should “walk” or “wait”, and for people with visual impairments, the signals are equipped with a locator sound that will direct people to the push button.  The locator signal has a detection system that enables it to automatically adjust its volume depending on the ambient sound levels, so it’s always audible.

Remember that the pedestrian signal will only be activated once the button is pushed; it will not automatically be activated as part of the through-traffic phase.  Pedestrians cannot proceed to cross until they get the visual and audible signals that it’s safe to go.  It is important that pedestrians check for left turning cars before stepping out onto the roadway.

Pedestrian crosswalks will be wider than usual to provide more space for pedestrians, and will be clearly marked in white.

With new residential and employment development all along the corridor, and more and more people using the new rapid transit system, Highway 7 is going to see an increasing number of pedestrians. As they are only one of the priority user groups of the Highway 7 corridor, pedestrians need to be aware of their busy surroundings and stay safe while they enjoy all the new amenities.  Whether you live, work or play in the area, we hope you check it out soon!