Hubba-hubba: the node that moves us

Euro mobility hubs seamlessly link transit, bikes, car-sharing and pedestrians - why can't T.O. make the connection?


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Here’s something that really gets my transportation geek heart beating – New Mobility Hubs, the key piece of horizontal thinking featured at Moving the Economy’s March 22 all-day workshop.

Not exactly sure what I’m talking about here? Think of it this way: I know someone who lives downtown but works near York Mills and Don Mills. He’d love to bike to work, but it’s just too far. Imagine if he could take the subway to York Mills, get his bike out of a secure overnight storage facility and cycle the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, people who live around York Mills but work downtown could cycle to the subway from home and leave their bike in the same facility during the day.

It’s intermodal travel connections we’re talking about, where transit links to sustainable travel options like bikes, car-sharing, walking and taxis. Sounds so logical, but it’s nowhere to be found in the newly released Climate Change And Clean Air Action Plan or the Transit City light rail proposal.

It’s a favourite notion, however, of Moving the Economy, whose recent workshop at the Intercontinental Toronto Centre featured Michael Glotz-Richter, city manager of sustainable development in Bremen, Germany, world leader in making these kinds of hubs happen.

Glotz-Richter described how his port city of 540,000 developed a pilot project where key streetcar stops are combined with bike storage, car-sharing and taxi stands.

In addition to these nodes, regional rail intersects with city streetcars and buses at “cheek-to-cheek” transfer points where riders only have to cross a platform to interchange. Even though they’re run by two separate organizations, buses will wait if the train is late.

Transfers are all the easier because the whole region uses a unified fare card. If you’re only an occasional user, you can choose to have this fare card add up your costs automatically (it always chooses the cheapest option, such as a day pass if you make five trips in one day) and deduct what you owe from your bank account at the end of the month. You never have to worry about not having the fare and you can use the card to pay for car-sharing, too.

But what excites me the most is the massive secure 24-hour bike storage facility at the city’s main station, which holds 3,000 bikes. Access is by electronic card, with a secure video-monitored zone for overnight storage.

There’s a wide range of booking options, from yearly (about $110), to hourly (about $1.10, with the first three hours free). Beside the entrance is a bike parts and repair store, which means you never have to take the bike home to fix it.

Glotz-Richter explains that he keeps two bikes, one at each end of his train commute, biking to the train from home at one end and from the station to his office at the other. Neither bike has ever been stolen.

It’s amazing to see a transit system that realizes people need to travel to and from its stops, unlike our own TTC, which still seems to think of transit in terms of building a system like an engineering problem rather than as an integrated city-building challenge.

There’s almost nothing, for example, in the TTC’s comprehensive 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy that explains how transit will be integrated with other forms of sustainable transportation. Where is the plan to integrate our bike routes with transit nodes, the guarantee of secure bike storage at every subway station, the commitment to expand bike-carrying capacity on the TTC?

Where, also, is the push to convert parking spaces (whether TTC- or city-owned) near subway stations into car-share spots? Glotz-Richter notes that every car-sharing spot replaces four to eight private vehicles and their parking spaces.

And where is the plan for “cheek-to- cheek” integration of GO stations where they meet TTC stations, like at Dundas West or Main? Finally, where is the detailed plan to integrate city planning with transportation? All workshop speakers emphasized that the ultimate solution was not just engineering, but place-making creating a city where people want to walk or cycle, and where transit is more efficient than private car use.

Fortunately, there’s some hope for hubs here. There’s a pilot project organized by Moving the Economy at the GO station at Exhibition Place. It’s near the Bathurst streetcar loop and includes bike storage lockers and a pedestrian link to Liberty Village, where there is an AutoShare station. Pretty basic, but it’s a start.

Meanwhile, the delay in the Union Station revitalization provides an opportunity to introduce Bremen-style mass bike storage in the restored building.

And there’s still plenty of time to add some of these ideas to the TTC’s agenda for the future, still in high-level planning phases.

The Commission just needs to start listening.

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Dylan Reid is an associate editor of Spacing Magazine.

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