Last week, Newmarket's ERA newspaper asked the question: “Will Mulock GO station bring 15 minute service?” (June 30, 2016)
The short answer, unfortunately, is an emphatic no.
The Chief Executive of Metrolinx, Bruce McQuaig, told the Metrolinx Board on 28 June 2016 that the 15 minute service would not be extended beyond Aurora which he said was the “logical point” given the 10 year horizon for delivering the Regional Express Rail program. The decision to stop the 15 minute service at Aurora was announced last year before the proposed new station at Mulock Drive was part of the the program.
It is clear from the exchanges between Metrolinx Chair, Rob Prichard, and McQuaig that the new stations are conditional on getting a buy-in from host municipalities such as Newmarket on matters such as location and land use. (Photo: McQuaig centre and Leslie Woo on left.)
McQuaig said conversations had already taken place with landowners in the area around some of the stations with a view to partnering with them and getting private sector investment to defray some of the infrastructure and other costs.
“Misalignment” between York Region and Metrolinx
Prichard asked Metrolinx Chief Planner, Leslie Woo, about relations with York Region whose Commissioner of Transportation Services told the Regional Council on 9 June 2016 there was a “misalignment” between Metrolinx and the Region on key recommendations. In fact, as I told Rob Prichard, the gap is huge.
Despite this, Leslie Woo assures the Board that Metrolinx is in step with the Region and the municipalities while conceding that detailed work on grade separations, bridges and so on is work in progress. She says
“Metrolinx has a very compatible working relationship with the Region and we expect that to continue”.
Kept in the dark
In truth, the Region has long been kept in the dark about Metrolinx plans for the Barrie line. The Region was not consulted on the Aurora decision and Metrolinx is, even now, playing its cards very close to its chest on which major infrastructure projects will go ahead.
Bruce McQuaig and Leslie Woo both deploy language that is richly formulaic. McQuaig talks about having “deep conversations” with municipalities when, in reality, they are superficial. Woo talks about policies being in alignment when the converse is true.
Of course, McQuaig and Woo have their own deadlines and timetables and leisurely conversations with municipalities would slow the whole program down. If they are to deliver the hugely challenging and complex RER program within 10 years, they’ve got to be brief and to-the-point.
But all the talk of consultations and deep conversations masks the reality. Metrolinx staff are very much driving things from the centre.
Can Newmarket deliver what Metrolinx wants?
At the Council meeting on 27 June 2016 – the day before the Metrolinx Board met – Regional Councillor John Taylor brought up a series of recommendations on Mulock Drive under new business, triggered by the announcement of the new station.
He pressed for the introduction of a 15 minute service from Mulock, calling on Metrolinx to provide an analysis of the need for – and the potential of - such a fast and frequent service. The Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, the laid back Bob Shelton, undertook to get a letter off to Metrolinx “within 30 days”. This relaxed timetable is totally useless. The Council and staff need to inject some urgency into this whole issue.
The Town should be energetically putting its case to Metrolinx – not the other way round.
Unfortunately, the Town has not done the necessary early spadework. The proposed new station at Mulock Drive was never anything other than a circle on a map. No policy work had been done to support the concept. I know. I asked for sight of it and it doesn’t exist.
Taylor floated the possibility of drawing up a new Secondary Plan for the Mulock Drive area – possibly to reassure Metrolinx that Newmarket is serious about developing a high density transit friendly neighbourhood around the new station. (The map on right shows Town owned land (shaded with diagonal lines) at Mulock.)
Co-locating GO Bus Terminal and Go Train Station
Taylor wondered aloud about co-locating the GO bus terminal at Eagle Street with the new train station. Co-location was something that was of course raised during the Glenway OMB Hearing but the Town at that stage was utterly silent. (One of the key reasons Glenway was approved for redevelopment was its proximity to the GO Bus Terminal. The developer’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, told the OMB with a straight face and with his trade-mark confidence that there was absolutely no chance the GO bus terminal would be moving.)
Anyway, why Mulock? Why not co-locate at Davis Drive GO train station? There is supposed to be a mobility hub study happening there. (That is another proposal where moss is growing.)
Taylor also asked the staff to bring forward a report on the wider issues within 120-150 days. This is cutting it very fine indeed. Metrolinx wants municipalities such as Newmarket to “buy-in” to the new station proposals by 30 November, giving approval to the location and zillions of other associated matters.
In his managerial mumbo-jumbo, the Mayor talks about work taking up to a year, “getting an early start on the framework we would like to explore”. If we leave things to Van Bynen and his ridiculous “decisioning” we will get nowhere fast.
Newmarket needs a fast GO train service and a station at Mulock Drive. Without Regional Express Rail, the whole region is going to seize up in gridlock.
The next five months are critically important. If they haven’t done so already, the Town needs to bring together a small dedicated team of highly motivated staff to work exclusively on Mulock Drive.
Taylor should insist on it.
The Metrolinx Board on Mulock Station and the 15 minute service (28 June 2016)
Rob Prichard (Chair Metrolinx): Let me take us into the Mulock Station which you are recommending. We have correspondence from Mr Prentice where he asks whether you have paid sufficient attention to York Region’s report on stations, grade separations and the like – a very complimentary report I should say in terms of working with Metrolinx but raising the need for additional grade separations and the like.
Do you have a comment on the relationship between the York Region transportation planning thinking and our thinking on Mulock in particular and the area in general?
Leslie Woo (Chief Planner, Metrolinx): I am happy to answer that question. We work very closely with York and they just recently are in the process of adopting their Transportation Master Plan. So what we are recommending, and where the Region and Municipalities are headed, we are in alignment.
What we need to work through is what I would call the details of which particular – as Bruce mentioned before – which particular grade separations, bridges and so forth and that is work in progress. So I think that is a very compatible working relationship with the Region and we anticipate that to continue.
Rob Prichard: The other question raised by Mr Prentice is whether now that you’ve put a station into Mulock - just north of Aurora if I’ve got the geography right – could you extend the 15 minute service up to Mulock instead of stopping at Aurora which is, I think, the current service plan?
Bruce McQuaig (Chief Executive, Metrolinx): So right now, again…
Rob Prichard: I have the sense Mr Prentice may live somewhat nearer to Mulock than Aurora! Mr Prentice, if you are watching that’s an unfair comment but it’s a thought. Wherever you draw the line again you have challenges about just above the line.
Bruce McQuaig: We are making a step change in investment in the overall GO transit system with the $13.5 billion program that the Province has provided. But even with that huge investment we’ve had to make trade-offs in how we optimize the investment to get the most benefit for the available funds and as part of that process we looked at what is the logical point where we could, in the 10 year horizon, basically have the 15 minute service extend to, still having increased levels of service north of the point into the Barrie area.
But we came off with Aurora as that logical point. Again that (does not) mean we will never increase the level of service. In fact, the program does include an increase in the level of service between Barrie and Toronto and there are opportunities in the future to expand that service.
Rob Prichard: But for now Mr Prentice shouldn’t hold his breath to go beyond Aurora?
Bruce McQuaig: Not the 15 minute service. No.
(A Board members now asks when we are going to get specific locations for the proposed new stations)
Leslie Woo (Chief Planner): For purposes of this preliminary analysis we identified possible locations. So now beginning, once the Board agrees these are the locations we should pursue, we will begin to work with the municipalities on more closely landing between now and the end of the year so that we have a better sense as well of what the cost would be. Also, so that these locations could be included as we move forward as John moves forward with the procurement to advance the RER (Regional Express Rail) program. So we don’t miss the window to enable these stations to be included in our 10 year program.
Bruce McQuaig: I just really want to emphasise that point. In the proposed Board resolution you’ll see the date of November 30. That date is really important. That basically allows us to include station locations in the comprehensive procurement package that is going forward with RER. If we miss that time-line then we won’t be able to include them and that means they get into a later schedule. So it is an important date from our perspective.
(A Board member now asks if there would be discussions with specific landowners.)
Leslie Woo: Yes. It would include land owners, the municipality. Some of them will require some land use changes. We will want to engage with the help of the municipalities, local communities. So there is quite an intensive little conversation that has to happen (between) now and the end of the year. Not every single detail needs to be landed by the end of the year but we have to bring things to a higher degree of certainty.
(A Board member says there will clearly have to be negotiation with landowners but what about expropriation?)
Leslie Woo: That is our last recourse. Yes.
Rob Prichard: ... These are all conditional recommendations (from staff) in that they require buy-in by each municipality to the land use, to the location. There is quite a lot to do before this is a done deal. Is that right? You recommend if the municipality will work (to) optimize that situation, make it work well. Is that a fair way of putting it?
Bruce McQuaig: Absolutely. And we need to work as we always do in partnership with the municipality to have the best possible solution. And in this case the best possible solution includes having a very strong link between the transportation investment being made and the land use that is being designed around it. The Growth Plan and the Regional Transportation Plan identifies the kind of conditions that need to be in place in order to maximize the investment in infrastructure and that means transit oriented development, accessibility for a variety if means of transportation into and through the service, having mixed uses.
All those things are... The solution for every site will be different and will have to reflect the community in which it is located but we do need to have a deep conversation with the municipalities about how we partner to get the most benefit (from) the investment that collectively we will be making.
(A Board member now asks a question about "value capture" opportunities.)
Bruce McQuaig: We have had conversations with landowners in the area around some of the stations about their interest in partnering in terms of the delivery of the infrastructure and, in some areas, there is a strong interest. So we would expect that some of these stations will see an active participation from the private sector in terms of the investment in them.
(Question. And even to defray some of the costs?)
Bruce McQuaig: Absolutely.
Rob Prichard: ... We spoke about working with the municipalities but is it fair to say you also expect to negotiate directly with some of the principal landowners and ask them to contribute to this if the station is to go ahead? Take the Unilever site. My impression is the Unilever developers have a huge stake in that station and would be prepared to make a contribution - a meaningful contribution, a material contribution to the land necessary for the station, the cost of constructing the station, linking the station with other aspects of the commercial development. Is that also intended as part of the conditionality here?
Bruce McQuaig: It is intended we would elicit investment (level) from some of the benefitting landowners in the area. That is embedded in the conversation we would have with the municipalities. We would have these conversations with landowners in partnership with the municipalities. We wouldn't do that unilaterally or independently. We would want to do that in concert with (the municipalities). And there are a number of these stations where they lend themselves very much, so improved accessibility between a station and the development, for example, that brings value to the developer and we think they should be making a contribution that is commensurate with the benefit they are receiving.
Newmarket Council meeting 27 June 2016: New Business – Mulock Drive
John Taylor: I'd like to move a motion that staff bring back a report this year that explores the issues related to the advancement of the GO train terminal at Mulock including the potential for and timing for a Secondary Plan for Mulock; the potential or rationale for (the move of) the GO bus station to Mulock and the advancement perhaps or resolution of the need for a Metrolinx 15 minute service.
Some of these can be assisting Council and moving resolutions forward relating to the 15 minute service, possibly relating to the bringing of the GO bus and trains together. The other one is more in our area which is the Secondary Plan concept and whether that is advisable and what timeline etc.
Mayor: To clarify, are you suggesting the Eagle Street GO Bus be relocated or the GO bus station be relocated?
Taylor: I'm suggesting we consider both. Or not. I'll be honest I don't know enough to know what the right answer is and I know that Councillor Hempen has spoken about this numerous times. But the idea that having GO bus and GO train together in one location - now is the time to do it when a new station is being built. You design it properly. Conceptually that makes sense to me but, you know, I think we need a much more thorough analysis from people far brighter than I am in this area. So I think if we could just start to look at that or, I mean, this report may just actually say this is what you need to do, to look at, this is how you should move forward.
Mayor: I am glad to see that... I would like to see that within a year or so. The decisioning we are going to be seeing with the Metrolinx will give us some time and then so... getting an early start on the framework we would like to explore is I think a good idea…
Mayor: … to give ourselves a bit of time.
Taylor: To be fair, on this one I actually said this year. Because I don't see necessarily some of these will be telling us what to do next. It doesn't have to be decision points on a GO bus terminal. Talk about how to move next to a decision point. But I do think the one area that we have to - and if staff feels that, I am open to decoupling these two.
We need to take a Council position on the 15 minute service sooner rather than later. I think that is a little more time sensitive.
Mayor: Mr Shelton, timelines? What's workable?
Bob Shelton: I'll ask the Commissioner to keep track of this in case I over-commit. On the issue of having Metrolinx take a look at the 15 minute service extension (this) should be done fairly quickly so if we can do that within the next 30 days or so, to get a letter off to Metrolinx. And then the other one... I see a report that would set out a strategy moving forward and that one perhaps in the 90-120 day range and I'll ask the Commissioner to just confirm that.
Peter Noehammer: Staff have already turned their mind towards what the next steps might be with confirmation for Mulock Station including some of the planning regime that might be required around the station. (The) Secondary Plan and what-not certainly is a significant investment in a community to have a station and a grade separation there. We would want to put some thought into that and bring a report forward for consideration of committee around what the planning would look like for that area and that may in fact result in a Secondary Plan exercise that would be forthcoming. But that is something staff would give further consideration and make some recommendations in a report to Committee and that is something we could look at for this Fall.
Mayor: Sounds like it could fit within the current year.
Taylor: I think what I am hearing it is a good idea. We have two motions here. The first one council directs staff to, through resolution or letter from the Mayor. Maybe a letter from the Mayor requesting Metrolinx to provide an analysis of the need for, the potential for, a 15 minute service at Mulock station and a request for a follow-up meeting with the municipality on the results of such analysis.
Mayor: We've captured that. Is everybody comfortable with that?
Taylor: The other motion related to this would be that Council direct staff to bring back a report within 120-150 days on issues related to planning for a GO station at Mulock Drive including, but not limited to, potential for a Secondary Plan and the convergence of GO bus and GO train services at this location.
Check against delivery.