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Wildfire Thomas fifth largest in history of California

California’s wildfire, named Thomas, is still raging, becoming the worst of the five fires currently destroying the countryside. After spreading to more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, Thomas has set the record as the fifth largest wildfire in the history of the state. The fire is much more severe than those seen in Boston and New York in recent years.

To date, more than 230,000 acres have been destroyed by the fire and almost 5000 homes were issued evacuation orders after being placed in the latest danger zones. Due to unpredictable and shifting winds, combined with low humidity, this has caused the fire to burn uncontrollably for more than a week.

After a week not much has changed. The Governor of California, Rick Brown, issued a sombre statement, telling residents of Southern California this is the new normal. Close to 800 structures have been destroyed by the fire.

“With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up,” Brown said in a statement. ” So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests, in a place thats getting hotter.” Brown also told reporters that he sees extreme fire activity happening on a regular basis for decades to come.

More than 5700 firefighters, from 100 different crews, have been putting in their efforts to help contain and control the wildfires, But heavy winds are making the task extremely difficult. In the past week, firefighters were only able to contain 15 per cent of the vast fire and this number is expected to drop over the next week.

The fire started in Ventura County last Monday. Only one person has died so far — Virginia Pesola, 70, passed away at the scene of a car crash along the evacuation route. There is still a red flag warning in effect for most of Los Angeles.

So far, the state has spent more than $34 million in relief efforts in order to try and contain Thomas. Thousands of residential areas are without electricity and over 200,000  people have had to evacuate their home since last Monday.

The White House has approved additional funding  to combat Thomas and California will receive direct federal assistance. New evacuation orders have also been issued, as the fire threatens another 25,000 homes in the Santa Barbara county. The evacuation orders are for the area spanning Buena Vista Drive to Toro Canyon Road.

Back in October, fires destroyed parts of Northern Calofirnina, killing almost 40 people and destroying close to 9000 homes.

Would you donate to support Toronto’s roads?

Toronto’s roads needs your support!

Every day, these roads suffer. After decades of neglect and abuse, they deserve to be nurtured. There are too many car accidents and too many road deaths. But does anyone think of the roads themselves — they have gone through hell each time. They need your help! Without your support, they will continue to live in these terrible conditions.

Donate now!

Imagine you read this on a pamphlet or saw an advertisement on television asking you to donate funds to the city to help develop safety infrastructure for your neighbourhood. It sounds ridiculous right? And yet, not ridiculous enough to avoid becoming a recommendation to city council.

At this week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, a report on the city’s Vision Zero Road Plan actually recommended accepting donations from residents for local projects. It reads: “In addition, this report considers the feasibility of accepting donations from the public to provide funding support for local projects and recommends commencing the detailed planning and implementation process for an automated speed enforcement program to operate in school zones and community safety zones.”

City staff said that an additional $6.303 million in capital funding will be needed between 2019 and 2021. These funds can help “further accelerate” the Road Safety Plan. The cost of Vision Zero is already $80.3 million.

This report will be heading to city council on Dec. 5.

Now, I know funds are tight. There are very few outside revenue sources available to city staff, so it kind of makes sense they would resort to these type of suggestions.

HOWEVER, there is a serious socio-economic problem with this recommendation.

First of all, the report indicates the funding will support “local projects”. This means that donations in Regent Park will be used in Regent Park and donations in Forest Hill will be used in Forest Hill. The wealthier neighbourhoods — whose residents may be more inclined and able to make those donations to the city — will reap the benefits. The other neighbourhoods will be left behind.

This is unacceptable.

The whole idea of Vision Zero is to reduce fatalities and injuries on roads, aiming for zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. This will never happen if some neighbourhoods are safe and others are not. Instead, it will just reinforce the economic divisions within this city.

The truly disappointing part about this recommendation is that there was no amendment proposed by any committee member that would change this section of the report. No one said – well why don’t we look at increasing taxes or looking at outside revenue sources for this $6 million instead of asking people to donate funds to a government they already pay for.

We can only hope that council sees past this and is able to have an actual conversation about what crowd-funding for road safety really means. Because at the end of the day – safety is about the people, not the roads.

The way we view powerful men is about to change

One by one, they all fall down — men of power, men of money, but clearly not men of finesse. Simply put, men that are lacking any form of respect for their female peers, co-workers, or acquaintances. The movement that started with the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, has grown into a festering and disturbing monster over the past few months, with almost daily cases of high-profile men who are now being exposed for their alleged sexual misconduct. What do these stories prove to us? How has society allowed these powerful men to dominate and get away with locker-room talk and disgusting predatory behaviour?

For me personally, it started with watching the fall of British actor Ed Westwick. I was a fan of his work and I grew up watching soapy drama’s like Gossip Girl. Sure, his character on the show lacked morals, and the way he played with women’s emotions was atrocious, and that time he attempted to ‘rape’ a fellow character on the show…that was all teenage drama. After all, he was playing a role. He was being ‘Chuck Bass’ . But, when this transferred into real life, and woman after woman described similar scenarios where he pinned them down and forced himself upon them, I knew he had no right. I feel terrible for the women in these situations. While no charges have been filed against Westwick, his reputation is certainly paying the price, as his shows have either been cancelled or halted.

Matt Lauer is a face I grew up watching. I thought of him as a respectable and well-known journalist on NBC. Waking up and watching the today show with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric was a tradition that many people can recall over the 20 years he has been working at the American network. And it was all ruined in a few minutes after hearing he was terminated for sexual misconduct. Lauer allegedly sexted interns and gave co-workers sex toys with notes about how they should use them. There is also the tape that TMZ found of Lauer telling once co-host Meredith Vieira, to ‘keep bending over like that’, when he thought the cameras were off air.  My view has certainly changed. How was this behaviour tolerated? Obviously the fact that he was the highest paid reporter and attracted over four million viewers with his charm each morning have him a lot of sway.

I’m now prepared to be disappointed by the familiar faces I see in the media and whose work I once admired as brilliant. Just this morning, entertainment mogul Russel Simmons stepped down as CEO from his string of companies after he was accused of “sexual misconduct”, where a woman alleged he forced her to have sex with him

Nothing gives these men the privilege to put women through years of mental and physical abuse? Probably just that — they are…. so-called men.

Let us continue to speak out against any form of abuse to women and may the fall from grace for these powerful men mark a turning point in history for women around the world .

 

Don’t let fear stop you from seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris

While at a recent dinner party, I was asked an interesting question: what’s your favourite city to visit and why do you have a connection with that place? I thought about it for a while and decided on London, which has always felt like home to me. It’s probably my obsession with British fashion and even the depressing weather. I heard other guests reply with places like Manhattan, New York, Tokyo, Japan, and other destinations. I got to thinking to what my answer might have been a few years ago—Paris, France.

France is one of the most popular European countries, with the City of Paris attracting a lot of attention. However, in 2016, the French Tourism Board reported a dip in tourists in the city, with the industry losing almost £644M. This sharp decline was mainly caused by terrorism fears and concerns. France is a country that relies heavily on tourism, with seven per cent of the country’s GDP  generated from those sales. Even the Eiffel Tower had about 1 million less visitors last year.

 

Paris is known as the city of love and, before terrorism became an active concern, it was seen as a peaceful and romantic destination with odd crimes and pick-pockets. French tourism does not look so positive, as a few weeks ago, in the City of Nice, nine people were arrested after a thwarted terror attack.

However, one of the worst things you can do is let fear restrict you from travelling to the places you dream of. We are living in an unpredictable world, but that shouldn’t prevent someone from experiencing other cultures or relaxing with friends and family. Here are four small tips to travel without fear.

  • Consider your anxiety and don’t let proposed fear outweigh actual concerns. As a tip, maybe stay away from overly populated tourists spots or make sure your valuables are kept safe. Try getting a small lock for your backpack to deter pickpockets.
  • Know where you’re going. Research the neighbourhoods and know roughly how to get to your destination. Don’t wander down dark streets on your own.
  • Don’t let regret plague you from missing out on a good trip. At the end of the day, you don’t want to think “Oh, I wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower, but I was too worried about pickpockets”. You will always regret not going to see this iconic and historic marvel. Just do it!
  • Stop worrying about something that is out of your control. Sometimes, shit happens. Just take every minute as it comes and remember that as long as you are safe, everything else is small potatoes.

Try to venture off the beaten track a bit and explore less popular neighbourhoods in Paris, including Quartier Chinois (Chinatown), Bastille, Canal Saint Martin or Saint-Germain-des-Pres. This way you can soak up all the food, culture, fashion and romance the city has to offer without having to line up for hours with hundreds and thousands of other tourists like you.

Will you be planning you next trip to Paris? Comment below.

The Arbour to be first wooden mid-rise in Toronto

In the Fall of 2012, George Brown College opened its doors to the Daphne Cockwell Centre for Health Sciences. Located at the heart of Toronto’s harbourfront in the Queens Quey and Sherbourne area, the stunning architectural design was built to encourage health care graduates with state of the art labs, a rooftop terrace, and tall glass panels meant to introduce the flow of light and wellness. In 2024 , the college hopes to welcome another striking design structure, known as ‘The Arbour’, as part of a sustainability improvement project. The Arbour will be the first 12-storey wooden-framed structure in the heart of Toronto.

The structure is expected to be a carbon-neutral wood building that will produce the same amount of energy it consumes. This balance results in a climate-friendly building adaptable to external changes in temperature. This building is one part of George Brown’s plan to create a low carbon campus by the Toronto shorelines.

The low carbon footprint will create low output of greenhouse gas emissions, often linked as the main cause of global warning and climate change. This is a step in encouraging healthy business practices in the City of Toronto. Adrienne Galway, executive advisor to the president of George Brown College, told Women’s Post that colleges such as George Brown play a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “This building will be a living laboratory for a low carbon future.” Galway noted that students will have a chance to learn about design, construction , electrical components, and the science behind tall wooden structures by being in one.

While the concept of tall wood buildings may be new to Toronto, George Brown has been following similar designs in Europe, Japan and Australia, where engineers are starting to use more wood to construct buildings. The building will be a unique landmark for the Toronto waterfront with the use of renewable resources and unique beauty.

Vancouver based architect Micheal Green is the lead designer behind contemporary wooden buildings and has studied the science behind the design. To ensure the safety of tall wooden buildings, the wood is treated to have the properties and strength of steel. These massive panels of wood can be fire resistant and even safe during earthquakes.

Safety precautions and testings have been done on other tall wooding buildings, such as the 18-storey student residence Brock Commons building at the University of British Columbia. The building  is set to be open in September 2017 and will be the tallest building in the world made of wood.

George Brown has currently placed a request for qualifications for architects. In the fall, interested and qualified parties will be invited to bid. This design competition will allow an architect to work along with the college to help bring the Arbour to life.

George Brown continues to work on their low carbon campus design and in 2018 they will open a building focused on the future of design. For more information visit georgebrown.ca

Are Smart Cities the future of congestion relief?

The last time Mayor John Tory spoke about roads at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, he announced his intention to propose tolling of the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, Tory again talked about the state of Toronto’s streets and the need to tackle congestion in the city.

“Am I satisfied with the traffic and congestion we still see? NO, I am not. Is this good for our residents and our economy? No, it is now. We have to do more for our economy, for our residents, for our businesses and productivity and competitiveness,” Tory said at the Board of Trade.

In this speech, Tory announced a new “Smart Streets Plan”. This plan will center around the collection of data. Toronto has completed its first real-time and historical data agreement, which will provide real-time traffic flow data. This data will be used to help manage traffic better.

The city also announced a partnership with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app. This app will be able to provide alerts about collisions and lane closures so that the city can push updates out to commuters.

Other parts of the Smart Streets Plan include the implementation of smart traffic signals, steps to manage curb space, and more parking blitzs in September.

Tory also praised the city’s King St. Pilot Study, saying it is a necessary project to help move the 65,000 people who use transit to navigate that corridor.

None of these announcements are as daring as that to toll the DVP and Gardiner, but considering the province has refused to allow Toronto to toll its own roadways, they are necessary steps towards trying to relieve congestion. Changing urban or street design to try and increase the flow of traffic will make Toronto a smart-city, but only if the rest of city council approves these innovative projects and studies.

 

What do you think of the Smart Streets Plan and the King St. Pilot Study?

How to use your bike hand signals

Cycling is a healthy and effective way to commute. There is nothing more satisfying than passing by hordes of traffic on a bike after a long day of being in an office. It is also important to know how to navigate safely past the vehicles, and hand signals are essential. Here are a few tips on the most popular hand signals and how to use them properly.

Left turn signal.
Left turn signal
  1. Left turn signal

The left turn signal is pretty straightforward and is useful if properly displayed. When turning left, be sure to stick your arm straight outwards at a 180 degree angle so that vehicles have the best chance of seeing it. This is the bike signal I use the most often when biking because left turns can be dangerous for cyclists. When turning left or merging into a left lane, it is essential to use this hand signal and shoulder check as well. If you are merging over two lanes into the turning lane, be sure to have your hand signal engaged the entire time. Otherwise, for turning left in a heavy intersection, I use the crosswalk instead and do a two-point turn.

Right hand signal. Photo provided by JugendstilBikes.
Right hand signal. Photo provided by JugendstilBikes.

2. Right hand signal (using right-hand)

The best right-hand signal is often debated, but I prefer to use my right hand. In light of left and right turning signals used by vehicles today, using right and left hand signals is more universally understood. Similar to the left-turn signal, make sure to extend your arm at a 180 degree angle to increase visibility to drivers. It can be difficult to see a right-hand signal from a vehicle so be sure to hold out your signal for at least 30 seconds prior to turning. The longer and more emphasized the signal is, the more likely it will be that a driver is paying attention to your turn.

Right turn signal with left hand.
Right turn signal with left hand.

3. Right hand signal (using left-hand)

The traditional right-hand turn signal uses the left-hand. Using a flat-palm, place your left arm at a 90 degree angle. This indicates to cars that you are turning right. Some people believe this hand signal increases visibility, but it seems more often it increases confusion. The hand signal came into existence in the days before vehicles has automatic signals. Drivers would have to use their arms to signal turns, and it wouldn’t have been possible to use your right arm to indicate a right turn. Thus, the left-armed right turn was born. Some supporters of this hand signal also believe it is more visible than the alternative because cyclists travel with traffic, so vehicles can see the left hand more easily. It is a hotly debated topic in the world of cycling, but I am personally a fan of using the right-hand. I find this signal outdated and confusing for drivers, which could be dangerous in the long run.

Stop hand signal.
Stop hand signal.

4. Stop hand signal

The stop hand signal is always good to use, especially when there are no stop lights on the roads. It allows the driver to know you are going to stop ahead of time, which helps avoid an accident. I don’t use this hand signal very often because cycling lanes allow the flow of traffic to remain fairly consistent between cyclists and motorists, and telling the vehicles I’m slowing down is unnecessary. I also find it to be very awkward on the arm. It is an odd angle to bend at, and feels weird when cycling. Besides its aesthetic properties though, it is always good to have this hand signal tucked away for emergencies.

Bike hand signals help cyclists and motorists communicate and keep people safe. Not using bike signals is disrespectful to other cyclists and can cause accidents between bikes as well. I have nearly hit people who don’t signal when turning on my bike, and not doing so definitely warrants angry yelling and hollering from other parties. The bottom line is bike signals are safe, effective and enforce communication between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Use your hand signals, and enjoy feeling like a more confident urban two-wheeler.

Note: Riding with no hands is effectively known as the hand signal that means you are having a great time and love cycling more than anything else in the world. Use with caution though, and not in traffic.

 

TTC to tackle safety using ‘gender-specific lens’

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) discussed safety at Monday’s board meeting, with a special focus on women.

City Council requested that the TTC “apply a full safety audit using a gender-specific lens…to address safety concerns of women and women with disabilities.” Suggestions included adequate lighting, clear sightline design for stations, more security, and more women employed in the transit process.

The board, however, chose to focus on an app that would allow a TTC rider to take a photo of a person who is harassing or assaulting someone and report it. The hope is that it will draw less attention than pushing the yellow emergency strip and stopping traffic. The app should be ready to launch by the end of the year.

As a woman who takes public transportation at least twice a day — if not more — I understand the type harassment that can take place on an enclosed streetcar or subway car. But, I’m not sure this app is the solution.

As with a lot of Toronto’s safety plans, it puts the onus on bystanders to help out. Bystanders are notorious for…well…being bystanders. There is no guarantee that someone will capture the moment on film, and if that person did take time to take a photo of the harassment, I hope they would also step up and stop it.

The idea is that the app will automatically turn off flash and sound so that those making the report won’t have to worry about drawing attention to themselves. But, with the size of cell phones nowadays, it’s almost impossible to be conspicuous when taking a photograph in a small space. And has anyone thought about the many false accusations that will have to be filtered through to find the legitimate complaints?

I also don’t think that silent reporting is enough — anyone who assaults or harasses another person should be afraid to do it again. They should be worried they won’t get away with it. They should be made to seriously consider their actions. Pushing the yellow emergency strip and forcing them to wait for the authorities is exactly what people should be doing, and encouraging them to do otherwise is just another way to say “don’t worry about it, the authorities will deal with it the situation…maybe.”

If someone is harassing a woman (or a man for that matter), someone should speak up and tell them to get lost. People should rally around victims of assault and let it be known that it’s not okay. Women should also feel comfortable telling the driver of the bus or streetcar about the incident, which means that all drivers, toll operators, and TTC workers should be trained on how to deal with harassment and assault.

It is imperative that future designs of stations, streetcars, and subways take public safety into account — better lighting, a more secure waiting area, and a bigger authority presence after sunset are all integral to the safety of women and women with disabilities. But, let’s not diminish this importance by creating silly apps that allow us to spy and report people to authorities.

Let’s focus on what really matters: making people safe and training staff do handle numerous types of emergency scenarios, including harassment and assault. If you have to make an app, I would rather an app that allows me to reload my PRESTO card on my phone – thank you very much!

Hitting the road with your kids in tow

Going on a road trip with kids can be a challenging experience, but if you have all the right preparations in place, it can create some of the best memories.

I am often filled with wanderlust and a desire to hit the open road, and I bring my daughter along for the ride. We have driven from Vancouver to Calgary, down to Seattle, across the great Canadian prairies to Winnipeg, and down to Chicago. We’ve also cruised through Ontario and into Quebec and New Brunswick. We have had many great adventures and some trying times as well. Throughout these ordeals, I have learned a few secrets on how to travel with my little lady.

Most importantly, be prepared for the worst. As morbid as this sounds, it is essential for the safety of your kids and yourself. Bring extra clothes in the car, blankets, a first aid kit, and a car charger in case of emergency. Also, bring a lot of snacks and water. Driving across to Vancouver a couple years ago in the summertime, an accident shut the highway down leaving us stranded on a one-way road for seven hours in rural B.C. Without snacks and water, things could’ve become quite terrible.

Another winter drive back from Vancouver left us in a freak blizzard where several car drivers teamed up and pushed our cars up a steep and icy hill. Without extra layers and blankets stored in the car, my daughter would’ve become quite cold. I always carry child gravel as well. On especially hilly drives, I have learned my lesson on how dire an upset stomach can really become. Also avoid dark drinks and messy foods. A change of clothes and hand wipes can help with a variety of spills.

Another challenge is keeping your child entertained. My daughter is five years old and talks like there is no tomorrow. It is cute, but can become distracting while driving to an unknown destination. My daughter’s LeapPad and headphones are an absolute lifesaver when driving. My daughter uses her LeapPad camera to document our trips. She mostly photographs her feet, but it is fun to see our travels through her eyes.

Bringing a baking tray to put on their lap for colouring and playing with toys is a good way to avoid the common occurrence of dropping unreachable toys onto the car floor (most annoying thing ever). I also recommend bringing washable markers and craft supplies that do not stain. After renting a car for a drive to Quebec City, my daughter decided to use her marker to decorate the car door and I spent a few hours scrubbing it off upon arrival.

Other creative activities include making food necklaces out of Cheerios and pretzels in advance for easy munching on the road. Using paper bags to create surprise bags with from their toys and a few cheap add-ons such as stickers or stamps is also a simple addition to a road trip if your child is getting really bored. You can also put different destinations on the bags, for example “open when we reach highway 22”. It keeps kids interested in the journey, though it could prompt an “are we there yet?” scenario.

Playing audio books or kid’s music is good family entertainment. I have many fond memories of my daughter and I rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack. As well, games such as “20 questions” can help keep your child entertained. Have your child ask you questions to try and guess what animal you are thinking of. Another fun game is “would you rather?” where you give two ludicrous outcomes and your child has to decide which one they prefer is way to pass the time. Just make sure you aren’t too distracted too drive.

Before leaving, I always have all of the toys, snacks and other supplies positioned in easy-to-reach places for my daughter and myself. Her water bottle is in her cup holder, snacks are beside her with a variety of play options and I put other toys and options on the passenger seat for easy access when she eventually drops all of her toys. Preparation ultimately makes our driving adventures fun and we love going for a cruise together.

Good luck, and remember: you do not have to stay home just because you have kids. Instead, create a wanderlust baby and hit the road in style.

My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter
My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter