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Metrolinx announces discount for GO, UP Express, and TTC riders

Friday morning, Metrolinx announced a 50 per cent discount for transit users who transfer between GO Transit, UP Express, and the TTC using a PRESTO card. The provincial government will subsidize the co-fare in the first step towards “regional fare integration”.

The discount comes up to $1.50 per ride, or half of a TTC fare. This equates to savings of around $720 a year for the regular commuter. The cost to subsidize the discount is about $18 million a year for the province.

The discount is not available for those who download monthly passes on their PRESTO cards.

“Our region needs fare integration,” said Phil Verster, President and CEO of Metrolinx, in a statement. “This discount is an important first step in breaking down barriers to fare integration across the network, making it easier and more convenient to take transit.”

Over 50,000 daily trips include transfers between these three transportation lines — GO, UP Express, and the TTC. The new co-fare system will launch in January 2018 following the opening of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension in December. The subway extension is the first TTC line to cross regional boarders, connecting York University and the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre with the Yonge Line 1 subway.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, joined Verster for the announcement.

“Transit will not be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express, and Go Transit to get around the city,” Tory said. “This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC.”

 

Lower Don River Trail launches with art installation series

Living in the north end of Toronto has its perks — one being the immediate access to one end of the East Don River Trail. On Saturday mornings, I often find myself wandering (or jogging) through trees, over small bridges, and across fields full of wildflowers. The sounds and the sights are truly rejuvenating. Once I saw a bunny (or more accurately it sprang out of the bushes giving me a slight heart attack) and another time I saw a deer, peacefully grazing near a creek.

It’s this beauty that Toronto is celebrating this weekend — well, that and the reopening of the Lower Don Trail, a legacy project that was supposed to be completed in the summer of 2016.

This weekend marks two “Ravine Days” — Sept. 23-24 — that are meant to celebrate the beautiful ravine land throughout the city. Over 17 per cent of Toronto is ravine land and the municipal government is encouraging people to explore this network of natural beauty.

Featured events include Harvest Day at the Toronto Botanical Garden, a festival at Todmorden Mills, and the launch of Evergreen’s Don River Valley Park Art Program in the newly re-opened Lower Don Trail.

The Lower Don lands are roughly the size of Central Park in New York or Toronto’s High Park, and feature a series of interconnecting trails and green spaces. There will be guided tours and nature play throughout the re-opened trail, as well as an art installation in the field north of the Bloor Viaduct (accessible from Pottery Rd). The installation will feature 14 concrete gargoyle sculptures that artist, Duane Linklater of the Omaskêko Cree culture, hopes will inspire conversations regarding Toronto’s indigenous and colonial past. The piece is called Monsters For Beauty, Permanence and Individuality.

The installation is part of the Don River Valley Park Art Program, a partnership between Evergreen Brickworks, the City of Toronto, and the Region Conservation Authority. It will be part of a series of new temporary art projects, including sculptures, murals, and performances with dance and music. Linklater’s piece is the first of the series.

So make sure to spend some time this weekend getting to know Toronto’s hidden trails and conservation areas. You never know — maybe you will spot a bunny or a deer?

Will you be testing out the trail this weekend? Let us know in the comments below?

Featured image of the concrete sculptures in the Lower Don Trail, photo credit to Simon Benedict.

Toronto Mayor John Tory unveils new six-step traffic plan

On Monday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory unveiled six new steps to unlock gridlock and combat traffic plaguing the city.

The steps of the new traffic plan centre around enforcement and technology — utilizing all of Toronto’s resources to help people move more efficiently. According to the mayor, the plan will build on the progress the city has made and the foundation created by the study of traffic hotspots last year.

Here are the six steps of the new traffic plan:

  1. The mayor wants to establish “quick clear squads” that will help fix temporary lane blockages on major roads like the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The two rapid-response squads will help clear roads in the event of an accident, for example, to keep traffic moving.
  2. Creating full-time traffic wardens at congestion hotspots throughout Toronto. City staff employed a number of full-time police officers during their traffic warden pilot program earlier this year, with great success. By the first half of 2018, the mayor hopes to be able to maintain the program with city staff rather than police officers.
  3. Requesting utility companies like Toronto Hydro to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This will reduce the number of lane closures during commuter hours.
  4. Sharing city traffic data with Waze next month to help both traffic operations and communicate traffic patterns to the public and blockages. Waze is a community-based real-time traffic and navigation app. The mayor announced a partnership with Waze back in June.
  5. Installing smart signals in November to help monitor the flow of traffic and change signal lengths in real-time.
  6. Asking city staff for a report on possible fine increases for traffic blocking offences.

“We owe it to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders to make sure our city moves in the best way possible,” the mayor said in a statement. “While we have made progress improving how you get around, we can always do more. I am determined to deal with the congestion choking our roads. I’m here today to highlight the next steps we’re taking to tackle Toronto’s traffic because you deserve a better commute.”

Woman of the Week: Angie Draskovic

Angie Draskovic is someone who puts others before herself and firmly believes in the power of faith — faith in religion and faith in humanity. As President and CEO of Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic has seen first hand the difference this kind of faith can make in a person’s life.

Draskovic always had a passion for helping others, but it took her a while to figure out how she could put her abilities to use. Prior to her time with the Mission, she spent 16 years working in telecommunications. It wasn’t until she took a maternity leave that she began to re-evaluate what she wanted in a career, and that led her down a spiritual path of self-discovery and altruism.

 “I started to investigate what I really wanted to do and at that stage I had a greater sense of what my skill set was – marketing,” Draskovic said. “What I was passionate about was advocating for the poor and marginalized. That led to taking my skill set, marketing and sales, and having that benefit the poor and marginalized.” 

She worked in non-profit fundraising for a season before venturing out on her own to found the ZOË Alliance, a social enterprise that empowers village-based businesses in developing countries by providing a platform for their products. Shoppers can purchase hand-crafted items from businesses across the world knowing they were making a real economic difference in the lives of the people who created them.

The goal, Draskovic says, is to allow communities to grow alongside the business. It’s a concept called social sourcing and sustainable employment. The for-profit business encourages ethical employment and uses part of the funds collected to help create infrastructure within that community.

“I went alongside indigenous business owners and helped them develop products and business plans. Instead of it being a crafty business without much profit they were able to develop a growing businesses and more steadily employee people in the community.”

When ZOË Alliance was doing well as a successful commercial business, Draskovic felt like it was time to move on. She was on the board of the Yonge Street Mission at the time, and when a position opened up for the CEO’s role, she immediately felt drawn to it.

“I grew up, like many people we serve, in a single-parent family on social assistance. I know what it’s like to live in a rent-geared family,” she said. This history helped her connect with both the staff and the people the Mission worked for.

For Draskovic, working at the Yonge Street Mission is exciting and incredibly important. The people she serves count on the Mission. As she says, it’s not a career or a sector, “it’s a vocation.”

“I think the one thing I like about working at Yonge Street Mission is that it is an organization that has great historical depth and experience,” she said. “We are trusted, which gives us the opportunity to step into being a leader in the city around to truly reducing, or dare I say it eliminating, chronic poverty in Toronto.”

In addition to her work at Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic also sits on the advisory panel for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. She says there is no “intellectually defensive argument” for the lack of resources spent on poverty reduction. At the same time, she acknowledged the bureaucracy that has led to resource limitations, saying that Toronto is doing what it can with the parameters it has to work with.

She said there are a few things that can be done to make an honest difference in the poverty gap. The first is to have faith in people and believe they can move up from poverty. Draskovic says too many people believe that those in poverty can’t change. “That’s a community thing. How do we respond to someone who dresses a little different than us and conducts themselves in a way that’s uncomfortable?”

Businesses need to provide jobs at a meaningful income so that families don’t require social assistance. As a founder of a for-profit business, Draskovic understands that making money is important, but many businesses put this profit before their community and the wellbeing of their employees. The increase in minimum wage in Toronto is a good start, she said. “If we could pay everyone enough to live on – that would be the biggest thing we could do. We would stop feeding it.”

Resources for poverty also need to be more proactive and preventative rather than reactionary. There are programs in place to help those who are below the poverty line; however, that help disappears the moment that person or family makes a little more money, which in turn throws them back into poverty. “It’s punitive,” Draskovic says. “We assume we have to make sure you don’t game the system and this prevents you from earning income and working your way out of poverty.”

Yonge Street Mission is currently executing a research project to determine specific policies that, if changed, would drastically reduce poverty in Toronto. Once these policies are identified, Draskovic will focus on providing evidence and business case studies for public partners with the goal of transforming Toronto. “I’m excited,” she said. “We will see. I’m newer to the sector than many of my colleagues so perhaps that makes me optimistic, but I can’t imagine doing anything in a way you weren’t playing to win. Winning in this case means reducing poverty.”

When Draskovic isn’t working, she is studying part-time in an attempt to finish her master’s in leadership and management.

Metrolinx thinks to the future in new transportation plan

Metrolinx is thinking about the future — at least as far as 2041.

The board released their Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at their Sept. 14 meeting, with the intention of gathering feedback over a 90-day public consultation period. The information they get will be considered for use in the final draft, which will be available in December.

By 2041, Metrolinx says over 10 million people will live across the Golden Horseshoe Area. The new transportation plan will move beyond The Big Move.

The report reads: “We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop.”

There are five different aspects of this new transportation plan.

  1. Completing delivery of current regional transit projects: Metrolinx is in the midst of increasing their Rapid Express Rail, working on the Hurontario, Eglinton, Hamilton, and Finch Light Rail Transit, as well as the York VIVA. Delivery is expected by 2025.
  2. Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit: The goal is to create 15-minute all day service so that people can get around the region without delay.
  3. Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit assets: Metrolinx has determined that fares by distance is the most efficient structure. It also wants to ensure that more people take alternative modes of transportation on their way to use the transit system. Their goal will be to increase the number of people who bike, walk, or carpool from 38 per cent to 62-64 per cent.
  4. Integrating land use and transportation: This strategy will help create mobility hubs and new developments, with the goal of intensifying certain areas so that transit becomes more accessible. The designs wil encourage cycling and walking as primary modes of transportation.
  5. Preparing for an uncertain future: The plan encourages a regional approach to transit planning as opposed to municipal or private enterprises. Metrolinx will also continue to study new technologies to help reduce greenhouse gasses.

The public will be able to provide feedback at six regional roundtables prior to the final draft.

Ontario unlocks land for Toronto housing

Ontario is in the midst of unlocking provincial land to create more than 2,000 new rental housing units in Toronto.

Ontario Minister of Housing, Peter Milczyn made the announcement in Toronto’s West Don Lands, saying the province is in the process of securing a developer that will turn several sites into mixed-income housing, with 30 per cent earmarked for affordable housing. The sites themselves are currently owned by the province. There will be a lot between Trinity and Cherry Sts, in addition to north of the rail line east of Cherry St. int he West Don Lands. There will also be a lot at 27 Grosvenor St. and 26 Grenville St., which is being occupied currently by a parking structure and a provincial coroner’s office.

This announcement is part of Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to address demand for housing and protect both renters and homebuyers.

“We need to do everything we can to build more affordable housing in Toronto and we need to do it much faster,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “Today’s announcement is about the Government of Ontario and City of Toronto working together to speed up the delivery of affordable housing by releasing surplus public land. The City will do everything we can to encourage development of affordable rental homes by providing incentives to developers such as waiving fees and charges. By working together, we can make housing affordable for the residents of Toronto.”

Following this announcement, the Mayor’s office announced the city was on track to create 1,000 new affordable rental homes by the end of 2017. This is the first time the city has been able to meet this yearly goal since 2009.

Toronto will be investing $54.5 million in funding, financial incentives and loans to make sure these homes are built.

Stick to your knitting Minnan-Wong, Keesmaat is out of your league

“Stick to your knitting.” Reaction to this phrase can be mixed — and it completely depends on the context in which it is used.

For example, using it in a business meeting to indicate that employees should play to their strengths while allowing others to do the same is a commonly acceptable use of the phrase. “Stick to the knitting” when used by a professional colleague to describe an incredibly accomplished woman who has her foot in all aspects of her craft can come across as derogatory, sexist, and downright rude.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong is being accused of sexism for using the phrase in relation to outgoing Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat in an interview with the Toronto Sun last week. Minnan Wong said this in response to Keesmaat’s use of Twitter and how she debates municipal affairs publicly on the platform.

The history of “stick to your knitting” is a bit obscure, but the phrase has been used widespread in the business community since the mid 1800s. Many business professionals use this phrase when giving advice to young entrepreneurs. Stick to what you know and let others stick to what they know. That way you have the benefit of different experience instead of pretending to be an expert in all fields.

And yet, many politicians get in trouble for using this common phrase — and it’s all because of the context. Especially considering most of the time it’s used to describe women.

Despite its history, the phrase in itself is slightly derogatory. The person who uses it is telling their co-worker they don’t value their opinions. As a woman, this is especially offensive because women fight hard to be heard in the first place. In the case of Keesmaat, she has expertise in city building and most of her tweeting revolves around different aspects of this field. To say she shouldn’t have an opinion on how the City of Toronto is run and/or built is a bit farfetched and, frankly, sexist.

There is also the democracy angle that makes the use of this phrase even more strange. Minnan-Wong decided that posting discussion on city affairs on Twitter was not appropriate, but isn’t public discussion a foundation of democracy? Keesmaat has previously told Women’s Post that defending her planning choices and discussing them with the public was a critical step for accountability. In that case, her activity on social media is an extension of her role as city planner and an active citizen.

“If you have planners gone wild you could end up in a totalitarian type of environment, so the due diligence that comes from the vigour of being questioned by councillors and by the public is an essential part of the planning process from my perspective,” she said.

Why shouldn’t Keesmaat, or any person for that matter, use social media as a platform for public discussion? If everyone on Twitter was told to stick to their knitting, then it would be a pretty boring place. The whole purpose of social media is to allow people to share information and opinions.

And then there is the final point — why would Minnan-Wong care about the social media habits of a city staff member who is leaving their position in a month’s time? The only reason to use this phrase is to remind them that once they leave city hall, their opinions shouldn’t matter. Well, what does that mean for the rest of us? I hope Minnan-Wong’s constituents don’t have any opinions they want to share or ideas they want to suggest, because it appears like he won’t be listening to them.

Ultimately, Minnan-Wong made the same mistake many politicians make — trying to create a sound bite using clichés, hyperbole, and commonly used phrases in order to capture the attention of the media and the public.

Looks like he did — just not in the way he expected.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Jennifer Keesmaat leaving position as Toronto Chief Planner

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has announced she will be leaving her position with the city as of Sept. 29th “to pursue other interests.”

“It’s been an honour to work with Mayor Tory, Council, City staff and my remarkable team in the City Planning division over the last five years,” said Keesmaat in a statement. “I promised myself that after five years in public service I would review my future options. I look forward to new challenges in the important business of city building now enriched by invaluable lessons, new friends and colleagues acquired while serving the people of our great city, Toronto.”

Keesmaat has been a strong leader for the City of Toronto. She was never afraid to confront her colleagues in council or on committees, answering their questions with poise. When asked about how she deals with the politics of city building, Keesmaat always answered with respect for the democratic process and government accountability. With her aide, Toronto has begun its transformation into a more liveable and walkable city. One example is the council-approved Transit Network Plan, which will connect all regions of the GTA together under the “motherlode” of transit plans. And then there is the King Street Pilot, something that may revolutionize how Torontonians view the downtown core.

During her tenure, she also started a podcast called Invisible Cities, which touches on numerous aspects of city building. Through this podcast, listeners are able to hear her passion and the joy she gets from discussing things like density, green spaces, and automated cars.

In July, Women’s Post presented Keesmaat with the City Builder Glass Slipper Award for her dedication and leadership. It was an absolute pleasure to have her as a partner and Women’s Post wishes her the best of luck in her future endeavours.

Metrolinx announces Phil Verster as new CEO

Thursday afternoon Metrolinx announced that Phil Verster, an experienced rail operator hailing from the United Kingdom, would replace Bruce McCuaig as CEO.

“Mr. Verster has graduate degrees in both engineering and business and a post-graduate diploma in law,” Prichard said. “He has operated, built and electrified commuter rail. He has the expertise and executive experience we need to deliver on our ambitious agenda, leading the 4,000 employees of Metrolinx and working with all of our partners. We are delighted the Mr. Verster has chosen to join Metrolinx.”

Verster is an engineer with vast experience in infrastructure management and operations for passenger rail systems. Prior to joining Britain’s Network Rail in 2011, he worked with Southeastern Trains and the UK division of Bombardier Rail. He also spent five years at Irish Rail, including some time as Deputy CEO.

From 2015-17, Verster ran Scotland’s ScotRail, overseeing the delivery of $3 billion of new electrification and has served as managing director of Network Rail’s East West Railway.

For Metrolinx, the decision to hire Verster was an easy one. According to Rob Prichard, Chairman of the Metrolinx Board, the Board itself was looking for someone with deep expertise in the field and significant executive experience delivering infrastructure.

“What stood out to us the most is what [Verster] has done successfully exactly what we need to do, which is to operate, expand, and build services and infrastructure, and to do that while maintaining existing services at the same time,” Prichard said.

Prichard also clarified that Metrolinx was not “searching the world for a politician.” For Verster, the politics behind the transit-agency is not his first priority. His first priority is to listen and get to know the people in Ontario and Toronto.

“My number one priority is to listen,” Verster said at the press conference. “And not only to listen to our different levels of management, but to listen to the front line people who day in and day out deliver for us on an ongoing basis.

“I’ll spend a lot of time getting to know the local politics and local communities. In the end, we as Metrolinx aren’t political. We serve only one master and that master is our passengers,” he said.

Verster was chosen unanimously by the Board of Directors of Metrolinx. He will start his new position on Oct. 1 2017.

Spike in drug overdoses in Toronto continues

Toronto Mayor John Tory held an emergency public health meeting in early August after a spike in deadly drug overdoses in the city. There have been 20 overdose cases since July 27, with six occurring in the same week. The mayor said these deaths were preventable and are causing devastation to families and to various Toronto neighbourhoods. But, what exactly is the culprit behind this deadly string of overdoses?

The suspected drug is thought to be fentanyl. Police suspect people may be buying drugs laced with fentanyl without the buyers knowledge. The rise of fentanyl drug use in Toronto is all too familiar in other parts of Canada like Vancouver, that have been dealing with the rise of this deadly drug. This opioid, often manufactured In China, has made its was to the streets of Toronto. The effects offer a bliss-like state similar to heroin, but with fatal consequences.

Fentanyl is often mixed in with other drugs like cocaine or molly, and people are none the wiser. People assuming they are partaking in casual drug use can find themselves with the highly addictive fentanyl in their bodies.

Fentanyl hydrochloride is an extremely potent pain reliever and has been used in the medical community for decades. It is even offered in some pharmacies in patch and lollipop form. Because fentanyl is so potent, the white powder can be easily mixed with cocaine, powdered sugar, and can be passed of as heroin or even OxyContin tablets.

It is clear there is a drug problem in Toronto that is causing deadly harm. The next step is addressing the issue and possible solutions. The most commonly used opioid receptor and reverse overdose drug is Nalaxone. Nalaxone will be offered at safe injection sites in the city at safe injection sites set to open this fall. Toronto Public Health has set up an interim site at their downtown office for safe injections, where drug users can be monitored and take their drugs in a safe environment. Future permanent sites are planned at various spots in the city and will be granted federal exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substance Control Act under the Health Minister.

Harm reduction and outreach workers applaud the effort in establishing safe injection sites, but many feel the City of Toronto is too big for the number of sites being proposed.

Over the weekend a pop-up overdose prevention site appeared in Moss Park to start offering assistance. Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker said 24 people visited the site since the tent opened and workers even helped save the life of one man who overdosed in the tent.

What are your thoughts on the drug overdose epidemic taking place in the city? Leave a comment below.