Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Möving Into the Future

Brampton, Ontario is my hometown. It has a reputation as being a sleepy suburb. This is an incorrect assumption. When I was born Brampton's population was about 200,000, today it is well over double that, with 510,000 people in 2010. Can we still call Brampton a suburb when it is now eclipsing Hamilton - Ontario's historic second city?

It's Brampton rapid growth that means its status as a simple suburb is going to end. Projections state that Brampton will exceed 700,000 by 2030. That will certainly change the nature of the city. That being said, it is already changing.

Brampton is a low-density development, by and large. The city government in recent years has come to the realization that we cannot grow out indefinitely. Brampton will reach its boundaries, so it must also grow up as well as out. While the urban form changes from single detached homes to more diverse duplexes, apartments, condominiums, etc. so must our transportation change.

Unlike other cities in Ontario, Brampton does not have historic urban roots. It was a farming community, and so there is no legacy of streetcars. Brampton's modest transit system, Brampton Transit, is exclusively buses. Brampton has access to other networks such as VIA Rail, and GO Transit, but no rapid transit system of its own. For now.

Next month that all changes! In September 2010 Brampton will begin its first ever rapid transit system. The city is using a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, named Züm. Züm is part of a program across Ontario to help cities develop transportation systems. This innovation is ideal to meet Brampton's needs.

What are the merits of a BRT system? First, bus rapid transit, compared to its light rail competition, is dramatically less expensive. The cost in dollars, time, and public patience for light rail (street cars) can make it impractical. Second, rail systems cannot be adjusted to meet changing needs. For example, if the Queen Street line, called the BY Line (Brampton-York), becomes busier than expected all planners have to do is add buses. Or, if it isn't as busy they can eliminate a stop at the end of the line without the cost of wasted rail infrastructure. BRT works for a city like Brampton, which is comparatively low-density. It is a highly cost effective solution to provide a rapid transit option to the city.

Züm begins operations on Main/Hurontario Street and Queen Street this September and plans are on the table to soon begin additional routes along Steeles and Bovaird in years to come. The Züm program offers Brampton a great deal of flexibility for the future. Additional routes can be laid on, and adjustments made the routes such as creating dedicated bus-only lanes, and perhaps upgrading to light rail if even that gets exceeded. These types of programs have met with great success in other cities, and I have great deal of hope for Brampton's gambit.

I'd like to applaud the physical design of the system. The buses look sleek and there is strong attention payed to aesthetic and design features. The look is sharp, distinct and modern. The bright reds set it apart from the whites and blues of regular Brampton Transit. I also like the name, it really communicates the central purpose - which is speed and efficiency.

I think Züm says something else very important about Brampton, that we're ready to a big city, and that we are beginning to see ourselves in that light. Züm makes a specific pitch in its advertising and marketing campaigns to be about "You", or the people of Brampton, that Züm will improve the lives of everyone, and also implicitly that Brampton is on the way up, including its downtown. This is an exciting prospect, and I hope Züm is the beginning of great things in Brampton in terms of transportation.

I encourage everyone to check out Züm's website, here. Especially the video.

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