Getting Around Markham
Traffic congestion is probably the top issue for most residents of Markham. It’s a huge problem with no simple solution. Most of our major roads are in fact controlled by York Region. We are represented at the Region by our four Regional Councillors and the Mayor.
I had the privilege of visiting the Region’s Roads and Traffic Operations Centre in Newmarket. In a room resembling “Mission Control” they manage the synchronisation of traffic lights across the Region, including Markham. They also monitor cameras at many of the intersections. As was explained to me, the challenge with light synchronisation in Markham it that typically roads in both directions at an intersection during rush hour are operating beyond their designed capacity. Extend the green light in one direction and you create worse congestion in the other direction.
The Region seems to be putting a great many eggs in the YRT/Viva basket. New development is approved on the assumption that significant numbers of people will rely on public transit. There may be some truth in this (many new condos have less than one parking space per unit), but the transition period between now and then is clearly painful.
The Region is planning to widen may of its roads to accommodate dedicated HOV/Transit lanes (at a cost of approximately $150 million for 16th Avenue alone). The idea is to get busses out of traffic so they can move more quickly and frequently. However, there is not yet any evidence that YRT/Viva is planning to invest in the improved service that is required once the roads are widened. Some residents (www.markhamsmartermobility.ca) are skeptical that the new lanes won’t revert to general traffic lanes, with no real improvement in congestion, worse outcomes for pedestrian and cyclist safety, and greater generation of greenhouse gases and other airborne pollutants.
The fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic also remains to be seen. Will many people continue to work from home, leading to less need for wider roads or even enhanced transit service?
First and Last Mile (or 1.6km!)
The biggest transit challenge is moving people between major transit stations and home. This is simpler in high density neighbourhoods where frequent bus service makes sense. In low-density neighbourhoods it’s a real challenge. Ride sharing firm, Lyft, and Metrolinx recently piloted a discount service at Unionville GO Station. Other than that, YRT has not been overly proactive. Coordinating YRT and GO schedules has apparently been challenging for them. Simply expanding the parking lots at the GO stations to accommodate drivers, with an already overloaded road network, makes little sense in the long run.
Another set of options to be considered includes bike, e-bike and e-scooter sharing services. York Region is preparing a report on the topic. I would like to work with a private partner to pilot a service for the Unionville and Centennial GO stations. It could also help tourists get around Unionville and along the Rouge Valley Trail. Meetings with Lyft who manage bike sharing services in some cities have already happened.
Yonge Subway Extension
Approvals for the Yonge subway extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill are slowly falling into place. This project may seem a long way from Unionville, but when the Highway 7 Viva bus line connects to the subway at Richmond Hill it will become much busier. Convenient affordable access to downtown will become much easier and will help drive economic growth in Markham. Continued support for the extension by the regional, provincial and federal governments is important for residents everywhere in Markham.
Pedestrian and Cycling Facilities
New communities in the city are being designed to accommodate more cycling and walking. New collector streets are meant to have cycling lanes by default. One question, still to be resolved on Regional roads, if or when they are widened, is whether cyclists and pedestrians should share “multiuse pathways” or should have separate tracks, as we see along Highway 7 east of Town Centre Blvd. I tend to favour separate tracks where there is sufficient room. This is a safety issue, particularly for pedestrians and in light of the coming of e-bikes and e-scooters.
We no longer build streets without sidewalks. The plan for Markham Centre is to ensure that there are sufficient services, shopping, restaurants etc. so that residents can walk to most parts of their community within 15 minutes. We are already seeing Markham Centre residents making heavy use the new shops and restaurants near Enterprise Blvd and Birchmount Rd.
And the City and Region have a multi-year and multi-million-dollar programs to fill gaps in our sidewalk network on our Regional and City-owned collector roads. In 2019 a new sidewalk was installed along the south side of Highway 7 west of Main Street Unionville. Over the next couple of years gaps in the sidewalk along Sciberras Road between Toogood Park and Highway 7 will be filled.
There is a large role to be played by our spectacular trail system in improving our ability it get around and also just getting us all out into nature and green space. The Rouge Valley Trail (RVT) is being extended along both sides of the Rouge River between Warden Ave and Kennedy Rd. To the west it will extend from Warden north along the river to Apple Creek Rd. To the east it will connect to Mildred Temple Park on the east side of Main Street Unionville south, opposite Bill Crothers Secondary School. From Mildred Temple Park the trail will be extended under Highway 7 to connect to Denby Valley and the rest of the RVT.
The RVT already extends from 16th Avenue via Toogood Pond and Unionville to Milne Park and well beyond to Box Grove. Eventually it will connect to the trail system under development in the Rouge National Urban Park. The spectacular new pedestrian and cycling bridge across Milne Dam is a worthy symbol of this new approach to mobility in Markham.
York Region is also working on its portion of the Lake to Lake trail between Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario. Eventually this trail will be integrated with our own cycling and walking networks between Yonge Street in the west and the Rouge National Urban Park in the east.