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Canada “ill prepared” for automated vehicles

Canada is not ready for driverless cars.

This new technology is supposed to help reduce the number of traffic-related accidents in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, Canada is moving with caution when it comes to self-driving vehicles. A new report from the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications discusses the benefits and the challenges of self-driving vehicles, resulting in the overwhelming conclusion that this country is simply “ill prepared” for this technology.

“We are approaching the end of an era for the traditional, individually-owned, human-driven automobile. In the not-too-distant future, people will be able to summon a driverless taxi from their smartphone and may therefore decide to forego vehicle ownership in favour of these shared automated vehicles,” the report reads. “These technologies also raise a number of concerns in terms of job losses, privacy, cybersecurity, urban sprawl and infrastructure.”

Experts say self-driving vehicles could become commonplace in 10 to 15 years. The report differentiates between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, or rather technology that allows for communication between devices like a Smartphone or even vehicle-to-vehicle.

The benefits of automated vehicles are widespread — fewer traffic deaths caused by human error, ridesharing potential, and freedom for the elderly or those with mobility issues. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the economic benefits of self-driving cars could equal approximately $65 billion annually in collision avoidance, heightened productivity, fuel cost savings, and congestion avoidance. They also predict that automated vehicles will prevent 80 per cent of road deaths.

At the same time, there is still a lot unknown about how this technology is going to effect Canadians, especially when it comes to the economy. Experts say this change could affect the jobs of 1.1 million Canadians. For example, the trucking industry expects to employ 25,000 to 30,000 less drivers by 2024. New infrastructure may need to be created to accommodate this technology. Privacy is another big issue, as most technology is vulnerable to cyberattacks and the data collected from an autonomous vehicle would be rather sensitive.

The committee listed 16 recommendations on how to proceed with the integration of self-driving technology. Included in these recommendations is the creation of a joint policy unit to aide in the creation of a national strategy dealing with autonomous vehicles, the writing of legislation to deal with issues related to privacy and cybersecurity, and the formation of a road safety plan. The committee also wants Transport Canada to develop vehicle safety guidelines for the development, testing, and deploying of these new self-driving cars. At the end of the report, the committee calls for a national strategy on how to deal with this new technology.

What do you think about the potential for automated vehicles or connected vehicles? Let us know in the comments below!

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!

Metrolinx signs contract with Alstrom as backup to Bombardier

Metrolinx announced Friday they have entered into a contract with Alstrom, a French transit agency specializing in integrated systems, to build 17 vehicles for the Finch West LRT project as well as 44 backup trains for the Eglinton Crosstown.

“We know for sure that Alstrom’s light rail vehicles work. They are currently producing quality vehicles on-time for Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT Project,” a statement released by Metrolinx President and CEO John Jensen said. “We are going through a dispute resolution process with Bombardier but that could take 8-12 months, and we can’t wait that long to determine whether Bombardier will be able to deliver.

The vehicles were meant to be backups in case Bombardier is unable to deliver their trains on schedule. Metrolinx has been in a continuous legal feud with the Montreal-based agency. If Bombardier fulfills their contract for the Eglinton Crosstown and the 44 vehicles built by Alstrom aren’t needed, they will be reassigned to the Hurontario LRT project.

The contract was awarded for $529 million and includes an option for additional vehicles once the original 61 are built. The specific vehicle — the Citadis Spirit — was specifically designed for the Canadian market and can withstand winter conditions up to -38 degrees. Alstrom will also be providing Metrolinx with a new control centre to integrate the Go Transit network and a new signalling system for the Union Station Rail corridor, among other things.

“We are proud to continue our collaboration with Metrolinx as it seeks to link communities and deliver advanced public transit solutions to the greater Toronto area, and we are honoured by their renewed confidence in our products, solutions and teams,” said Angelo Guercioni, Managing Director of Alstom Canada, in a statement.

Alstrom has sold over 2,300 of these trains to 50 cities around the world.

King St. redesign plans put transit first

King Street is not only one of the busiest inner-city roads in Toronto, it is one of the most hectic routes in the entire country. When rush-hour hits at the end of a busy work day, walking is often faster than commuting on public transit on this street and it leaves many transit users extremely frustrated.

Luckily, the City of Toronto is taking steps to redesign King St. and make it more transit friendly. The project was announced at the Transit Alliance’s Green Cities breakfast last month.

On Monday, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat and the Toronto planning division presented three possible options in a public consultation that was widely attended by King St. commuters. The improvements are focused around access, reliability, and speed. The project would affect King St., from Dufferin St. to River St., and is set to cost about $200,000.

The first option to focus on transit on King St. is called “Separated Lanes”. This would separate the streetcars from the vehicles by providing one lane for each going northbound and southbound. This is the least popular choice so far because it would continue to allow thorough traffic for vehicles, but only having one lane would slow car commuters substantially. This option also wouldn’t give more room to pedestrians and bike lanes wouldn’t be constructed.

The second option, which has been dubbed the favourite of the planning division, is called “Alternating Loops”. This would include a dedicated transit lane for the streetcars and an alternating lane for vehicles to have one-way access, and would change every block. This alternative would allow for the lane that isn’t being used for one-way car traffic to have pedestrian access and a dedicated cycling lane. The one-way alternating street would also give delivery vehicles and taxis access to King St., but the vehicle would be forced to turn at the end of the block.

The last possibility is called “Transit Promenade” and would focus on pedestrians with widened sidewalks down the entire stretch on King St. The streetcars and vehicles would continue to be mixed mid-block, but thorough access would be forbidden. Vehicles could travel down the street mid-block and would have to turn right at the end of each block. This would allow for pedestrians and cyclists to consistently access the roadway.

Once the public consultations are complete and a specific plan is chosen, Keesmaat and the planning division will seek city council approval in July and would begin a pilot project in the fall.  Currently Keesmaat pointed out that cars are given 64 per cent of the road on King St. and only move 16 per cent of Toronto commuters, which is not simply not logical. The city will also complete a ‘modelling study’ while they complete the public consultations, which will monitor traffic on nearby routes to ensure that the plan to redesign King St. doesn’t cripple commutes in other parts of the busy downtown area.

Redesigning King St. to become more focused on transit users and pedestrians will get people moving in a way that doesn’t put vehicles first. This is better for the environment, moving mass amounts of people, and is the best way to get everyone home at the end of the day. It will be exciting to walk down King St. after the pilot project is launched, whichever option is chosen.