The Metrolinx Board at its meeting next week (Thursday 8 March 2018) is expected to approve plans to abandon grade separation at Mulock Drive, home to the proposed new GO Rail Station.
An earlier report in July 2016, setting out the initial business case, stated bluntly
“Mulock not feasible without grade separation.”
Now, buried in the background papers for next week’s meeting, the New Stations Business Cases Technical Report 9, says:
“The grade separation will not be developed as part of this project, but will not be precluded from future consideration.”
The aim is to
“identify a design solution that does not require the grade separation. The design does not preclude a future grade separation at Mulock Drive, which will be considered separately as part of a system-wide rail crossing analysis.”
Mulock Drive is, of course, one of the busiest roads in Newmarket and it is truly astonishing that the grade separation which, less than two years ago, was deemed a prerequisite can now be so casually dropped.
The report talks of “deliverability and operational challenges with grade separation”:
“The model shows that the performance of Mulock station is impacted by its proximity to Aurora station. Aurora station, which is immediately downstream, is the proposed terminus end point for more frequent electrified service on the Barrie corridor. Significant ridership growth is expected at upstream stations, including Newmarket and East Gwillimbury stations; therefore Mulock station would delay additional riders that travel through the station to points further south.
Travel time savings are expected to be limited for users of Mulock station, since many users would save wait time by driving to Aurora station. Exploration of possible alternate GO Expansion RER service pattern (e.g., extension of 15-minute service further north) is underway and would impact Mulock station’s performance. Corridor-level changes are being examined as part of a broader study of the service patterns on the Barrie corridor.”
This is yet another example of jam tomorrow. If grade separation is abandoned now then an all-day two-way 15 minute service (mirroring Aurora’s) recedes into the distant future.
The report says the revised approach should not preclude grade separation in future but, if so, that surely means safeguarding land now that will be needed later.
Will the new Secondary Plan for Mulock Drive do this? What do Newmarket’s planners think about the loss of grade separation? Were they consulted? How did they respond?
As it happens, last night the Town’s planners were hosting a presentation on the new Zoning By Law for the Davis/Yonge corridors. It is billed as a “charrette” which is:
“a public meeting or workshop devoted to a concerted effort to solve a problem or plan the design of something.”
I see Jane Twinney and Christina Bisanz. And Tony Van Trappist whose beaming smile disappears when our eyes meet. And then there is jolly Bob Kwapis whose table I join. I ask if he knows what a charrette is. He asks if I am running for Council.
Looking at the signing-in book, I’d say over a third of people here are from the so-called “development industry”.
After a short introduction from the Town’s senior planner, Adrian Cammaert, we hear from a firm of Consultant Planners, R. E. Millward and Associates, brought in for the purpose, probably at great expense. The Town wants a new Urban Centres Zoning By-law which will have designs and illustrations complementing the text, making it easier for the great unwashed to understand - and to speed up development.
Now Millward’s Director, Ian Graham, is painting the big picture.
Soon we are pressing buttons on hand held devices. We are asked to respond to various propositions put up on the big screen in front of us. This is to be our role in the charrette.
Alas, the survey is complete garbage, allowing for multiple answers where one is required. There are other design failures.
Develop around transit hubs.
Despite its imperfections I see that over 90% of us agree that the most intensive development should occur around transit hubs. Viva Next. Go Stations and so on.
Yet at the Tannery in Davis Drive there are obvious constraints (see right). The GO Rail station is sitting on a flood plain. And, at some point, there will have to be grade separation to get rid of the Victorian era level crossing with its flashing red lights and clanging bells.
Afterwards I ask Ian about safeguarding land that will be needed. He asks me what the Secondary Plan says. I tell him it is out of date. It was completed before grade separation became an issue. He tells me it is not necessary to identify these lands in the proposed zoning by law. People will know. Won’t they?
The penny drops
Ah! The penny drops! Developers won’t need colour coding on a zoning by law map to tell them the areas where it would be inadvisable to build. They’ll just know!
Ian smiles and says:
“Well, we got there in the end.”
The Town’s planners are currently working on the new Secondary Plan for Mulock Drive. Perhaps colour coding will show the land needed for future grade separation.
But maybe not.
Developers and the rest of us will just know.
Update on 2 March 2018: Town seeks outside help to prepare the Mulock Drive Secondary Plan.
On 4 March 2018: Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, tweets:
”Lots of community interest and a good turnout for the Zoning By-Law Public Meeting / Charrette this week. Community feedback is important to initiatives like this. Key to developing plans that shape the way our neighbourhoods will look.”
Update on 6 March 2018: Newmarket Council last night debates the grade separation issue and calls for an early meeting with Metrolinx and MPP Chris Ballard. (See video 1hr 10 mins in)