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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?

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

Transit-first King St. pilot moves forward

Next week, Toronto’s executive committee will vote on the proposed King St. Pilot, the first plan to enact a transit-first mentality to city planning.

The King. St. Pilot is a direct response to slow transit service and increased congestion along the downtown corridor. “King Street is not currently working well for transit,” a report prepared by Toronto’s General Manager said. “Streetcar service can be slow, unreliable, and erratic, with unpredictable travel times, especially during rush hours, but also during some late evening and weekend times. People end up having to plan for their slowest trip.”

With more than 65,000 daily TTC riders compared to the 20,000 vehicle users along King St., re-branding this corridor as transit-first makes a lot of sense.The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

Earlier suggestions of creating a car-free roadway were dismissed, as there are a number of driveways and parking garages that must be accessed from King St. However, city staff came up with a solution that would allow drivers to access King St. without bottling traffic.

Local residents may drive on King St., but only in between intersections. At each traffic sign, cars must turn left. It will be up to the drivers to decide how best to reach their destination. This will allow for significantly less cars on the roads and for the King. St. streetcars to have unobstructed access to their own lane.

King St. Pilot
Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

Other features of the plan include dedicated pick-up and drop off areas and designated delivery areas. There will be no dedicated cycling lanes.

The last reported cost for this project was estimated to be at $1.5 million, but it has since been determined the project is eligible for funding under Phase I of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. This means it’s possible to get 50 per cent of funding from the federal government, leaving the city to come up with the remaining 50 per cent.

The Toronto Transit Commission will vote on the pilot program prior to the executive committee vote. If all goes well, it will be discussed in the July city council meeting.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!

In Her Voice: reflecting on female writers

Looking for something to do this week? Head to the Scotiabank Community Studio to listen to a number of strong women speak about their experiences writing a variety of fiction and non-fiction works. The conversation promises to be stimulating and controversial, touching on a number of topics varying from the realities of writing and publishing to the struggles of Indigenous peoples in light of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

In Her Voice is a festival that runs from June 15th to June 17th and features three-days worth of talented and inspirational female voices. The event, hosted by independent bookstore Ben McNally Books, is designed to showcase various female identities and perspectives. Each author will be given the opportunity to discuss the themes of their latest works.

Here is the schedule:

June 15
7 p.m. – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact of a Body Presentation.

June 16
7 p.m. – Durga Chew-Bose and Scaachi Koul, interviewed by Fariha Roisin.

June 17
12 p.m. – S.K. Ali, Cherie Dimaline, Jane Oxkowski. Young Adult Writers Presentation
2 p.m. – Patricia Lockwood. Priestdaddy Presentation.
4 p.m. – Myra Tait, Kiera Ladner. Surviving Canada Presentation.

For more information or to get tickets to these presentations, click here.

 

Do you have a favourite female author? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto launches #KissesforBees at city hall

Toronto is buzzing about bees. A new art installation popped up at city hall Friday — a giant pair of red lips with milkweed plants inside of them. The idea is to attract native bee pollinators and promote education around the importance of protecting these buzzing critters.

The City of Toronto, along with Burt’s Bees, Wildlife Preservation Canada, and Live Green Toronto, were at Nathan Philips Square to reveal the art installation and promote bee pollination in the city. “Some people don’t realize how important bees are, but like we heard today, every three mouthfuls of food is pollinated by bees and without them we aren’t eating,” Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said. “It is important that we plant pollinator gardens and educate people on the importance of bees.”

Sustainable T.O. executed the design of the art installation on behalf of Burt’s Bees and it took a large team to complete the project. “Burt’s Bees created the conceptual image and I worked with a fabricator to produce what we see here,” Environmental Designer at Sustainable T.O. Joel Anderson said. “There is an internal skeleton that supports the design and there are hundreds of hexagonal tubes that formed the shape. Then holes were carved into the installation to put the plants in.”

Pollinators such as bees need native plants to thrive and the entire plant ecosystem depends on bees to grow food and flowers. “There are 15-20 species of bumblebees that are native to Ontario and are currently endangered. There are many species of bees that are crashing and we are trying to stop it. Pollinators are important so that plants can have sex. This is one of the most critical elements of our ecosystem and a lot of plants rely on bees,” Executive Director of Wildlife Preservation Canada Randal Heide said. “Monarch butterflies will also benefit from the milkweed. Unfortunately, farmers hate milkweed and use pesticides to kill it, but disseminate monarch butterflies. In the cities, we have banned these pesticides and we have green spaces. Cities are probably a safer place for bees and butterflies.”

The art installation is a part of a larger campaign that Burt’s Bees is running to promote pollination in Toronto. They have launched the #kissesforbees campaign and for every lipstick sold, their partner Wildlife Preservation Canada will plant 100 wildflowers. The art installation will be featured until the end of June and will then be a part of the pride parade in July.

After that, the perennial milkweed plants will be donated to the David Suzuki Foundation who will distribute them to locations around Toronto to help further promote bee pollination for years to come.

What’s happening with the Rail Deck Park?

Toronto’s Mayor John Tory is in Chicago talking to other city leaders, builders, and experts. On the agenda: advice for the Rail Deck Park.

Toronto’s Rail Deck Park is advertised as “Toronto’s next great gathering space for recreation, culture, and celebration.” This 21-acre park is meant to be built on top of pre-existing rail lines between Bathurst St. and Blue Jays Way. The estimated cost is $1 billion to start, which doesn’t include the complications of air rights or maintenance of the park.

Despite the overwhelming public support for the Rail Deck Park, the price tag is expected to cause a lot of debate within city council. This same council has tried to reduce spending and is currently fighting with the province and federal government for help to fund transit. There is a little bit of funding, collected from other developers, that is dedicated to the Rail Deck Park, but not enough to sway opinion.

There is also an added complication. Since the air rights have not yet been acquired by the city, it leaves the area open for negotiation. According to media reports, there is a development proposal for that same site. A new submission is calling for the development of eight high-rise towers near the north end of the rail corridor, with only 12.8 acres dedicated to public space. The development would be mix-use with room for residential, corporate, and retail space. It will also leave room for a GO Station at Spadina and Front.

Rail Deck
City of Toronto

The benefit of this new development is that the city wouldn’t have to shell out as much money to create the park. Good news for councillors, not so good news for citizens looking forward to a big new green space in our condo-filled city.

The Rail Deck Park is an ingenious use of space and, if ever built, will be a welcome addition to Toronto’s urban planning. The question becomes whether or not Toronto can build the park without the help, or the compromise, of adding in new developments.

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

John Tory calls for provincial funding for relief line

Toronto Mayor John Tory did his best not to grimace at Friday’s joint federal-provincial-municipal press conference on the Yonge Relief Line.

For what seemed the millionth time, three levels of government “re-affirmed their commitment” to this important transit project without actually promising dedicating funding. In fact, in what was an awkward turn of events, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took his time at the podium to outline the province’s previous transit commitments and gush about the government’s contributions to Toronto.

Afterwards, Tory took the podium and said “investing in transit is not work that can ever be considered complete.” He called on the province and the federal governments to each contribute 40 per cent of the funding needed to build the relief line. With federal and provincial representatives standing at his side, he said this commitment was necessary and Toronto wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The federal representative, Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenships, who was there on behalf of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, pledged his support for the relief line. Hussen talked about the $27 million the federal government has already promised to this project and said more is on the way as part of an 11-year, $81 billion infrastructure plan.

“This investment will not have a real and lasting impact for Canadians unless the province is involved,” Tory said in a statement. “While the Province of Ontario has invested $150 million to help plan the Relief Line, and we thank them for that, we need them to commit to partnership on the construction of this transit project and the continued expansion of our network across Toronto.”

“I’m asking for a steadfast commitment from the Province that they will be financial partners in the building of the Relief Line.”

It seems like even after all of this discussion — Toronto is in the same place it was before. The mayor is fighting for funding after being refused the right to raise it on his own with tolls. The province is in denial, saying they have already provided enough money. And the federal government is saying they will help, but won’t give an exact number just yet.

It looks like Toronto’s Mayor has a bit more fighting to do.

Are you starting to bike to work this summer?

For most people, the approaching summer weather is meant for patio drinks and walks by the waterfront — but for me, what I love most is being able to dig out my bike and start cycling to work again.

After months of hibernating, eating like a bear, watching Netflix and hoping for better weather, the first ride of a new season always makes me a bit sore. Make sure to take your bike somewhere for a proper tune-up. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a bike mechanic at Velotique and I got a great deal. It pays to have a friend who understands how to fix bikes, but if none of your friends are bike people, it may be worthwhile to learn yourself. At some places in Toronto, like Bike Pirates, they give you the tools at hand and you can do the work yourself for a cheaper price.

Unfortunately, before I could get my bike tuned for the season I ran into my first hurdle. I made the irresponsible mistake of leaving my bike outside all winter and it sustained some pretty serious salt damage from the road. This caused my U-lock to rust to the point where I couldn’t open it. Always keep your bike indoors during the off-season.

When I was finally able to get on the road, I felt like a bird that was stretching its wings after a long sleep. I travel from the east-end and I soared down Dundas East on a bike path and waved at the cars stuck in traffic. It felt like a dream come true until I heard my panier bag disengage from my bike behind me and spill all over the road. I was forced to stop and clean up all of my belongings while swearing to the gods over my poor luck. I discovered after re-jigging the panier lock that it had been malfunctioning all winter and latched it to my bike with bungee cords for the remainder of the ride (note: always travel with bungee cords if you are a cycling commuter).

I arrived downtown with little time to spare due to my unexpected panier emergency, and found Dundas East blocked off at Parliament St. for construction! I decided to deviate south to Sumach St. which is the equivalent of riding on the surface of a volcanic crater (my bottom was very sore). Lesson learned; always give yourself plenty of room when getting back on the bike at the beginning of the season because navigational mistakes are sure to happen here and there. It is also frustrating when you do find an alternative cycling route (in this case on Gerrard St.) and delivery trucks park in the middle of the cycling route. This should be considered illegal and puts many cyclists in danger.

Delivery truck blocking the cycling path on Gerrard St.

The other challenging thing about cycling earlier in the season in Toronto is trying to account for the bi-polar weather in Southwestern Ontario. On one of my commutes last week, I put on a sweater, a jacket, took off both, changed pants, and arrived at home sweaty, cold, hot, and exhausted. Understanding Toronto weather is confusing to say the least.

All in all though, after a couple of days of adjustment, I am happy to be back on my bike, and collecting my bikos. I got back on my bike just in time for “Bike to Work Day”, a Toronto event where Mayor John Tory hopped on a bike at Bloor St. to ride with commuters in celebration of cycling in the city. The event is a precursor to ‘Bike Month’, an annual event in Ontario that celebrates all aspects of cycling. To ring in bike month, the City of Toronto will be giving away tote bags with cycling goodies at locations all over the city for the month of June and taking pictures of cyclists who love to ride.

Cycling is one of the positive benefits of being urban dweller. But it’s much more than that. There is absolutely nothing more enjoyable than feeling of the wind blowing through your hair as you cycle by vehicles stuck in traffic.

Zooming past morning downtown traffic in Toronto.

Will you be biking to work this month? Let us know if there are any problems with your commute, in the comments below!

Will the province step up to fund the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory is doing his best, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to convince his fellow members of council, the province, and the federal government of the basic facts — the relief line is necessary.

The mayor’s pleas seem to rest on deaf ears. While city council did push forward the preferred alignment for the Yonge Relief Line, the actual construction of this much-needed transit project is still years away. In fact, it will never be built unless the province and the federal government step up.

The problem is that politicians are too wrapped up in the next election to do what needs to be done today. Experts all agree the relief line must be built prior to 2031 when the TTC Line 1 reaches capacity. With other subway extensions and Go Rail projects bringing more people into the downtown core, the relief line becomes even more of a necessity.

And yet, the provincial government hasn’t committed to more than $150 million for the planning of the relief line.

Toronto knows the relief line is going to be expensive. With a current price tag of $3.6 billion, it’s all city councillors can talk about.

Tory came up with a possible solution early on — revenue tools. Instead of raising property taxes, he would support the tolling the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated towards transit. But, the province said no.

In addition to denying Toronto the ability to make money off of their own roads, the province said they would not be putting any new money into municipal projects for two years. This is a big blow to Toronto and an obvious election tactic on behalf of the Kathleen Wynne government in hopes of gaining support from the 905 communities.

What the province is forgetting is the universal benefits of a relief line. Those living in the 905 area may be able to get into the GTA thanks to the subway extensions and rail lines, but once they get here they will be trapped in the same congestion and gridlock as the rest of us. Revenue tools like tolls would be the perfect solution — drivers will pay to help support transit infrastructure so that those who do use public transportation get better service. Those drivers will then experience less congestion on major roadways.

It’s a win-win; or it would have been if the province approved it.

Without these revenue tools or financial support from both provincial and federal governments, the chances of the relief line being built by 2031 is incredibly low. Toronto needs the province to step up and put politics aside.

If the province won’t let us toll roads, then they have to give us funding for the relief line. Toronto’s mayor shouldn’t have to stand at subway station handing out leaflets to get the government’s attention, only to be scolded by the Minister of Transportation for doing his job. This project is too important for such silly and juvenile politics.

Toronto has waited about 100 years for the relief line. Do we need to wait another 100 before someone decides to be an adult and pay for this thing?

Toronto pushes climate change to back burner

Toronto is taking an aggressive approach to tackling climate change with a new plan to transform the city into a green metropolis — or are they?

TransformTO, the new climate change policy being proposed to city council, was supposed to be discussed on May 24, but it was deferred until the July 5.  This came as a disappointment to Toronto climate supporters, who would love to see the city embrace a plan that will actively decrease greenhouse gases in one of the Canada’s largest city.

The ambitious climate change plan would see Toronto reduce greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050. The city has already lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent, which has exceeded the six per cent 2012 climate change goal. In order to meet this more strenuous climate change goal by 2050 though, serious action is needed. The plan will take aggressive action to lower emissions, including diverting 95 per cent of waste from landfills to recycling programs and 100 per cent of public use vehicles will use zero-carbon energy. There would be more focus on creating bike lanes, infrastructure related to low-carbon vehicles, and cycling parking.

The climate change plan also wants Toronto to focus on building green houses, condos, and apartment buildings in the future. The plan would mandate city structures to have near-zero greenhouse gases by 2030 and retrofit most other buildings by 2040. Retrofitting buildings will save 40 per cent of energy costs and the city also wants to use renewable energy that would lower the amount of heat that homes use to 20 per cent of the rate used in 2015. This goal would be achieved by collecting waste heat and converting it into power.

TransformTO is an ambitious move that will ultimately help support creating a greener and healthier city — if it gets off the ground, that is. The City of Toronto would benefit by taking the climate change plan seriously and pushing it through as a key item in the July 5 council meeting to ensure no more delays.