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Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Toronto city council approves budget in light of tolls

City council voted to approve a “low-tax budget”, as described by city manager Peter Wallace during his presentation on the floor. It wasn’t an easy decision, and councillors spent about 15 hours debating and arguing the minutia details of each motion presented.

At the end of the day, the budget was approved nearly as-is 27-16.

In total, Toronto homeowners can expect an increase of 2 per cent on their residential property taxes, equalling 3.29 per cent, or $90 on average per home. While some councillors tried to introduce motions to decrease or increase that number, most saw it as a compromise for homeowners.

City staff frustratingly had to explain to councillors how taxes worked and that “budgets aren’t just about numbers. They are about the reality of city services.” When councillors tried to argue for more reduction in the budget or for lower taxes, staff had to remind them that property taxes were still well below inflation, and that over the past 19 years, city council has approved a property tax at or below the rate of inflation 15 times.

“The budget is consistent with Council expense policy and service direction and remains neutral in terms of overall revenue burden as a share of the economy,” said City Manager Peter Wallace. “I encourage Council to continue to address the cost drivers for City services and agencies, and look at stable revenue options to strengthen our fiscal sustainability.”

The new budget includes some investment in Toronto Community Housing, Toronto Transit Commission, and overall capital projects. At the same time, many reductions had to be made in order to balance the budget, including dipping into reserve funds in order to accommodate an extra $2 million in street sweeping.

“Today, City Council approved a balanced, responsible budget that invests in the needs of the people who live and work in Toronto,” said Mayor Tory in a statement released around midnight. “This budget delivers significant new funding for transit, child care and housing. Through the City Building Fund, we will begin to make much-needed investments in transit expansion and major infrastructure repair.”

Critics of the 2017 budget have called it a band-aid solution. Without the introduction of new revenue tools, the city will be forced to continuously reduce services while increasing taxes. Wallace pointed out that without the options of tolls — an option the provincial government squashed last month — it will be very difficult to maintain the services within the city. Before next year’s budget, Wallace says Toronto will have to ask itself how it will replace the approximate $5 billion tolls could have brought in to fund capital projects.

CEO Sarah Thomson reveals purpose of Green Cities

In addition to being the publisher of Women’s Post, Sarah Thomson is also the volunteer CEO of the Transit Alliance. The Transit Alliance is a non-profit that is dedicated towards making the golden horseshoe area as green and pedestrian/transit-friendly as possible. In January, she hosted Green Cities 2017, a breakfast attended by over 300 business, community, and political leaders.

Attendees got to listen to two panels of experts discussing sustainable options for transit and building.

See what Thomson said at the end of Green Cities:

Roundup: 2016 Women of the Week

Every week, Women’s Post publishes a profile of a Canadian woman that has done something truly extraordinary. Our staff has spoken with a large number of inspirational human beings — some are volunteering their time, some have founded their own businesses, and some are trying to break down barriers in male-dominated industries.

Let’s start 2017 off right by rounding up all some of these amazing women into one post. Each one will include a link back to their original profile. Do you have a recommendation or suggestion for a Woman of the Week? Send it to kate@womenspost.ca.

Emily Ridout: Co-founder of 889 Yoga

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered. That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

Marni Dicker: VP Infrastructure Ontario

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

Miriam Verburg: CEO of Bloom Digital Media

Do you remember those teenage years — all of the confusion, the expectations, and the social awkwardness?

That’s one of the reasons why Miriam Verburg helped to create the LongStory Game, a dating sim, choose-your-own-adventure type game that helps pre-teens and teenagers learn the ins-and-outs of dating. Users get to pick a character —boy, girl, or trans — and must solve a mystery while navigating social scenarios. Some examples include, bullying, backstabbing friends, alienation and immigration, and experimentation with their own sexuality.

Ana Bailão: Toronto City Councillor 

Ana Bailão moved to Canada, specifically to the Davenport area in Toronto, from Portugal at the age of 15 — and she hasn’t left. In fact, she now represents the ward as a city councilor. “It’s a part of the city that feels like home,” she said during an interview at city hall.

Jennifer Flanagan: Founder and CEO of Actua

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Chantal Kreviazuk: Canadian Musician

Chantal Kreviazuk. Photo provided by Chantal Kreviazuk.

Singer and song-writer Chantal Kreviazuk is a Canadian icon who never fails to bring her listeners home. She is someone who loves the euphoria of performing, which is why after a seven year hiatus, she will be back to touring, promoting her new album Hard Sail. “To get to that moment [on stage], it is what we call enlightenment. It is so outer-worldly for me. It is like Christmas every day when touring. It’s scary as hell and exciting,” Kreviazuk says.

Kimberly Caroll: Body/Mind/Spirit Coach and Animal Activist 

Body/Mind/Spirit coach Kimberly Carroll has a voice that is calm, but focused. It has a powerful quality to it that helps each person she speaks with realize how important it is to care for themselves in order to impact change in others. After listening to her speak, it’s easy to understand her transition from a career in radio and television into a profession that allows her to motivate and help people.

Julia Langer: CEO of TAF

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.

“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”

Erin O’Neill: Chief of Planning, Regional Emergency Operations during Fort McMurray Fire

Erin O’Neill was in Red Deer when she heard about the fire, accepting her new role as president elect of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. She couldn’t go home and couldn’t get any information. “I was following twitter. I watched the news like everyone else,” she said. “I remember going to sleep thinking I would wake up and not have anything.” Her official position, Chief of Planning for the Regional Emergency Operations Center, meant she was in charge of all re-entry procedures — creating a Recovery Task Force, getting critical businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores up and running, and eventually helping people back into their homes.

Anita Krajnc: Founder of Toronto Pig Save

Anita Krajnc, animal rights activist and Toronto Pig Save Organizer.

Tragedy struck in Burlington last week when a truck carrying pigs to slaughter overturned on the highway. Forty pigs were killed in the accident. Fearman’s Slaughterhouse then walked the 100 remaining pigs to be killed in their facility. Animal rights protesters were on the scene to witness a terrible lack of mercy on the part of the slaughterhouse workers. Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save tried desperately to save any of the traumatized pigs from being murdered. She was arrested for crossing police lines and trying to see the pigs that were being hidden from sight behind cardboard barriers. Krajnc was charged with obstructing a peace officer and breach of recognizance. This is the second time she has been arrested for her humane acts towards these animals.

Jazz Kamal: Boxing Coach, Spoken Word Artist, Musician

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

Jennifer Keesmaat: Chief Planner for the City of Toronto

Photo provided by Jennifer Keesmaat’s office.

As Toronto’s first female chief city planner, Keesmaat is keenly aware of the importance of mentorship and constant learning. Of the directors she works with, only two are women. This gender gap is difficult to break. As Keesmaat explains, when you are in a meeting and 90 per cent of the people around the table are male, it can generate stress for women.

 

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Executive Committee gets a toll awakening

Toronto’s city councillors got a rude awakening at Thursday’s lengthy Executive Committee meeting. City staff gave a presentation on revenue tolls, saying that it is necessary that council approve at least a few of their reforms — increase property taxes, sales taxes, vehicle tax, or user fees like tolls and public transportation fares. If they didn’t, well, they would have to find more cuts.

Toronto currently has $33 billion worth of unfunded projects. As city manager Peter Wallace said during his presentation, if executive council or city council decides not to approve the use of tolls or increase property taxes, then they better be ready to propose reductions in the capital spending.

“Toronto, a $12 billion enterprise, does require a long term, vigorous, and consistent framework,” he said. “Cutting costs on an annual basis doesn’t work long-term. Toronto needs a long-term investment and revenue strategy.”

Wallace spoke candidly about the need to choose, and implement, a revenue plan. If city council is not willing to increase taxes, then tolls are the only option.

Mayor John Tory announced last week that he would be supporting the implementation of tolls as a source of revenue for infrastructure and transit-related projects. His proposal: a $2 flat-rate toll on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. With this toll, the city would accumulate approximately $166 million in extra revenue. If the rate were to increase to $3.90, comparable to the cost of a transit fare, the city would make $272 million.

“If you want to live in a city in five or 10 years that is so much worse for congestion, then we shouldn’t have this discussion,” Tory said at a press conference prior to the vote. “But I’m not prepared to be that kind of mayor and when most people think about it, they know we need to build the transit and they know it isn’t free.”

“If anyone is opposed to road tolls, they have an obligation to tell us what they would do instead.”

There seemed to be a lot of differing opinions, but at the end of the day, the executive council saw the light and voted to send the toll proposal to city council for further consideration. The fees/cost of toll implementation will be decided at that point. Executive Committee also voted to ask the province for permission to impose a hotel and short-term accommodation rental tax and an alcohol tax. Council is still adamant not to increase property taxes by more than half a percent.

Tolling Toronto’s major roadways has a lot of benefits, and as was proven by the Mainstreet Research poll conducted last week, most of Toronto’s residents are comfortable paying a fee to use the DVP and Gardiner. The hope is that tolls will not only collect the much-needed revenue to build more transit, but it will also alleviate congestion and gridlock by encouraging car pooling and transit usage.

At the same time, the revenue tool discussion is always a hard one to have. An election is forthcoming, and no city councillor, not to mention mayoral candidate, wants to be the person to say “hey, we are raising taxes and we are making you pay to drive to work.” Toronto’s current mayor seems to have put the politics of re-election aside and was brave enough to push forward a proposal that may not be all that popular among his fellow councillors. And for that, Women’s Post commends him.

All I can say is that I hope the rest of council realizes that Toronto is in a pickle. The city needs money and it needs to build transit and infrastructure. The reality is that you can’t do one without the other.

Mayor John Tory right on the money with revenue tools

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced Thursday that he would be proposing the use of tolls and a hotel tax to create extra revenue for transit and infrastructure projects in the city. Prior to that announcement, a report was released by the Munk School at the University of Toronto indicating the need for a multi-tax system to pay for services. The conclusions of the report back up Tory’s decision to actively search for more revenue tools to help pay for the much-needed transit system being built in the city.

The report was written by Harry Kitchen, a professor in the economics department at Trent, and Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs. They argue that property taxes, user fees, and transfers from other levels of governments have remained unchanged as large cities continue to grow and expand. This is unsustainable and larger cities in Canada must adapt.

The authors’ argue that decisions on public spending need to be linked with revenue decisions. This is what the mayor was trying to say in his speech on Thursday — that Toronto can’t afford to keep building and providing better service unless there is a way to pay for this growth.

The report also makes mention of services that benefit people across municipal boundaries like roads. While the report suggests transfer of responsibility to the province, sometimes that isn’t possible. Tolls, for example, would be a good compromise, allowing people who often travel into the city on a daily basis to contribute in a way besides property taxes.

In terms of the property tax, something Mayor Tory refuses to increase by more than half a per cent, the authors’ say it’s a good way to raise revenue for infrastructure, but that a mix of taxes is recommended. Property tax is also more expensive to administer compared to income or sales tax. “The property tax is relatively inelastic (it does not grow automatically as the economy grows), highly visible, and politically contentious,” the report reads. “It may therefore be insufficient to fund the complex and increasing demands on local governments.”

“A mix of taxes would give cities more flexibility to respond to local conditions such as changes in the economy, evolving demographics and expenditure needs, changes in the political climate, and other factors.”

The report suggests charging user fees for services as often as possible, as under-pricing can result in over-consumption. Tolls were specifically mentioned as an example of a user fee that can be used on a major highway or arterial road running into a big city. While high-occupancy tolls, which charges vehicles for using a specific lane, can be effective on big highways, it’s much more efficient to toll the entire roadway.

Revenue collected from the tolls in place on the 407 in 2011 earned the provincial government an extra $675 million. The proposal set forth by Tory indicated an extra $200 million in revenues with a $2 toll charge on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The other benefit is that it will reduce congestion and unlock gridlock while creating funds that can be dedicated for transit.

Other options presented in the report include a parking charge, an increase in personal income and sales tax, a fuel tax, hotel tax, and vehicle registration fee. The conclusion seems to be by increasing/implementing a number of these revenue tools, it won’t affect a singular demographic to harshly while still generating funding for a large Canadian city to grow.

It looks like our mayor was right on the money, so to speak.

Mayor John Tory proposes tolls for DVP and Gardiner

The city of Toronto has finally clued in — if you want change, you need to be willing to make the unpopular decision to pay for it. As the mayor said in a speech Thursday afternoon, “If we are to achieve those goals we have to acknowledge that things we need, from transit to affordable housing, are not free. Pretending otherwise is not responsible and it’s not fair to the people of Toronto.”

Mayor John Tory chose to announce a new proposal to find much-needed revenue to help pay for the new transit network being built in the city at a luncheon at the Toronto Region Board of Trade Thursday afternoon.

What was this exciting solution? It was tolls.

Tory is proposing a $2 single-use toll to use the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. This will bring in an approximate $200 million of extra revenue that can be used specifically for infrastructure. This would be a tax on everyone, whether or not they live in the city or not. This will ensure that those who work in the city also contribute to its growth.

“People say that Toronto’s population is approximately 2.8 million. That’s true, at night, when the people who live here are home sleeping,” said Tory. “But by day, the number of people in this city goes up dramatically with all the people who come to work or to visit, all the while using the services paid for by Toronto taxpayers.”

The details of the proposal are still unknown. It will be presented to executive committee next week along with all the other options for revenue tools. The city has to find about $33 billion over the next 20 years to fund capital projects, despite provincial and federal aide.

Mayor Tory has said he will not be considering vehicle registration tax or a parking levy. Two other forms of revenue were proposed during the speech, including a half per cent levy on property taxes and a mandatory hotel tax at all Toronto hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb.

During a press conference following the speech, the mayor said that doing nothing is not an option. The $2 cost, as well as the functionality of the tolls, will be up for discussion at city council in the upcoming months. Assuming city council sees the value of tolls, Tory hopes to see it implemented as of 2019.

Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

Nature is resilient, evolving and changing over time to survive surroundings. It is time for people to take a lesson from nature’s finest and learn how to be resilient.

Climate change is imminent and preparation is the key to saving cities that are otherwise under threat from rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and water shortages. AECOM, a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructures assets for governments, businesses, and organizations in over 150 countries, is helping countries create a strategy to prepare for the future and survive the inevitable effects of climate change.

In a recent report report called “What’s Next in Making Cities Resilient?”, AECOM outlines a set of criteria that could change the way infrastructure is built in large urban centres, focusing on sustainable planning choices. By starting at the end, planners can predict the outcomes of potential natural disasters that could occur in the future and make decisions through strategy instead of just designing only for immediate city needs. The company also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and updating transit infrastructure to make sure that people and business can move around the city quickly. This also reduces the environmental impact of other types of transportation. Finally, city planning must begin using sustainable and resilient planning tools right now instead of in the future. Climate change has been determined to be true, and every city must be responsible and made aware of that fact.

Climate change will impact vulnerable areas around the world, and the coast is at the top of the list. Coastal areas are popular for human habitation, with 40 per cent of the population living in these regions. This creates key challenges for urban planners because of rising sea levels and the risk of flood. AECOM is working with these cities to provide insights on how to prepare for flooding and adapt infrastructure goals to this natural threat.In Australia, 85 per cent of the population lives along the island’s coastline. AECOM released reports that presented the future impacts and hazards of climate change to the federal government. In response, Australia has adopted a new set of standards called “Considering Climate Risks when Managing, Owning and Funding Coastal Assets”, which forces developers to properly assess how to build infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of flooding and extreme coastal weather.

To respond to a variety of planning challenges across the world, AECOM has come up with a Sustainable Systems Integration (SSIM) tool that measures the costs and benefits of any plan by making urban planning more environmentally focused. SSIM measures environmental, social and economic sustainability by analyzing energy and water usage, transportation options, green building, ecology and carbon footprints. For example, the city of Tianjin in China used the SSIM land-planning tool to decide on the most environmentally effective way to build the most sustainable city possible for Samsung, just south of Tianjin. The smart city includes electric car charging outlets and is built entirely on an LED light grid to save energy.

An approved criteria of SSIM includes using natural systems as a way to protect cities. Natural systems include flood plains, bioremediation tools, and using plants that absorb pollution. By creating green space near open water for example, this green infrastructure filters pollutants and helps prevent flooding by creating a natural floodplain between the city and the open water.  A city that is using natural systems is Jeddah, acity in Saudi Arabia, which has implemented green infrastructure in the form of green space at the waterfront to prevent from extreme flooding. This is an issue that plagues the city as climate change progresses.

AECOM is leading the way with resilient infrastructure around the world. Every city should begin to look at their urban planning agenda with the future of climate change in mind. Extreme weather conditions, whether it be fire or water, which will become more common and if we don’t prepare, our cities will be ruined. In the age of internet and mass communication, we have one final shot at saving ourselves from a planet that has been devastated by human consumption. What will you do to save our home, the great planet earth.

The unfortunate shame of Liberty Village

The towering condos loom ominously over the brick factories, converted warehouses, and swarms of young professionals who have descended upon the area known as Liberty Village. It’s a muggy Saturday afternoon and the sidewalks are busy; 20-and 30-somethings scurry about with grocery bags in hand, coffee cups in clenched fists, and sweat dripping painfully into their eyes.

No one seems to notice how absurd the area has become.

What could have been a showcase neighbourhood for the city, a place to proudly demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, forward-thinking design, and a beautiful juxtaposition between old and new, has instead become a laughing stock, courtesy of an over-built, under-designed cash grab for developers. We are left with a wall of condos, each one more spectacular in their hideousness than the next, the lack of beauty the only real cohesion between them.

Why does this happen? Why is there no governing body to ensure neighbourhoods have at least some semblance of uniformity and complimentary appeal? Liberty Village looks like a dumping ground for the reject designs no one else wanted — like each condo was built as quickly and cheaply as possible with a malicious lack of thoughtfulness.

It really is such a shame. So, what then, would I, an unqualified citizen with a ranting opinion have done differently? What alternative, un-apocalyptic state would I have preferred for Liberty Village?

I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, I would want a municipal committee in place to oversee special projects. These projects would include new neighbourhoods that are being built where a rich selection of heritage buildings exist. The mix of new and old can be a beautiful thing – if approached with patience, empathy, and vision.

Secondly, each project within the neighbourhood should not be viewed in a silo, at least from a design and function perspective. Part of the committee’s duty would be to develop an overall vision for the area to guide all new developments, land plots, and the type of mix required between retail, residential, and commercial. Forward-thinking designers, city planners, and architects would be amongst those involved to ensure that a beautiful vision is also a realistic one. Look to other cities who take a more advanced process towards urban design (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tokyo, to name a few).

Lastly, with guidelines in place, the process for developer selection would be a scrutinized approach to ensure they fit – both from a functional and a cultural perspective.

Of course there are other factors that come into play – the economics of it, the push back from private landowners and developers who feel their liberties were being trampled on, my lawyer friends who’d tell me I’m crazy, etc. But you know what? If it’s crazy to prefer a city that values good design, understands the benefits of thoughtful neighbourhoods, and would rather be proud than ashamed of new areas, then so be it.

GALLERY: Discussing Toronto’s Regional Vision

The Transit Alliance held its annual Toronto Region Vision Summit earlier this month, and the discussion was truly fruitful. Low-carbon living, transit, city building, and housing were all brought up by various participants with differing perspectives. This is how a region grows — by listening to the experts, introducing new ideas, and making adjustments to plans that have been in the works for years to better reflect current-day challenges.

Here are a few photos of the hundreds of participants in the TRV 2016.