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Municipal Election 2014

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Weird Mayoral-Campaign Idea Evaluator: artificially intelligent traffic lights

As the 2014 mayoral campaign continues, the candidates are going to advance plenty of policy ideas. Some of those ideas are bound to be really weird, whether because they’re impractical, crazily expensive, or just new and unfamiliar. In this occasional feature, we’ll pick a few of those types of proposals and weigh the odds of them ever actually happening.

What It Is: If it worked as advertised, this idea would be a magic bullet—a way for some lucky mayor to dramatically reduce gridlock virtually overnight (and, naturally, take all the credit for doing so).

There are other technologies that can supposedly make traffic lights smarter, but the one that keeps getting mentioned by Toronto mayoral candidates is called MARLIN-ATSC. The reason this particular system has become such a hot topic locally is that it’s being developed at the University of Toronto, by a team of researchers led by professer Baher Abdulhai and an engineering post-doc named Samah El-Tantawy.

The details are very technical, but the layperson’s explanation goes like this: MARLIN-ATSC uses sensors and computer processors to link traffic lights at different intersections, allowing them to “think” as one. Rather than operating on timers or reacting to pre-programmed instructions, MARLIN-enabled lights adjust the length of reds and greens in response to real-time data about traffic flows. The system can even make itself smarter, by fine-tuning itself automatically over time. In theory, the amount of human intervention needed to optimize Tornoto’s intersections would be minimal. The researchers claim their system can reduce intersection delays by 40 per cent.

Who’s Proposing It: Karen Stintz made the biggest splash with her proposal, but the system has also been name-dropped by David Soknacki, and John Tory met with researchers for a demonstration. Olivia Chow has promised to speed the implementation of “smart traffic lights,” but hasn’t mentioned MARLIN by name.

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A mesmerizing GIF that sums up one all-important way that the TTC trumps cars

Transit versus Cars

Everyone knows that taking public transit helps reduce congestion, but knowing and seeing are two different things. This incredible GIF shows the amount of road space saved when a few dozen people leave their cars at home and ride the TTC instead. The Better Way, indeed. [Peter From Texas via The Atlantic]

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Columns

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Philip Preville: Does Toronto really need a $1-billion police force?

Philip Preville: The Fat Blue Line

(Image: Blair by Pete Morawski; Police by CP Images)

Zulfiqar Khimani holds the distinction of being Toronto’s most prolific parking enforcement officer. In the last five years he has issued roughly $4 million in fines to drivers parked illegally in Forest Hill and north Toronto. Khimani is also one of the city’s highest-paid parking enforcement officers, having earned $107,585 last year. And he’s not even a real cop; the parking enforcement jobs are staffed by civilians.

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Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: Can I stop rude drivers from budging at a lane-closure queue?

Dear Urban Diplomat: Traffic

(Image: Daniel R. Blume)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
The left lane is closed about halfway along the off-ramp from the Bayview extension to River Street. Yet every morning, despite the lane closure signs, one in 10 drivers speeds past the queue and squeezes in at the bottleneck, making everyone else’s commute even more excruciating. One morning, I’d had enough, so I positioned my car over the dotted line, blocking the left lane. Some guy in a black BMW drove up behind me and laid on the horn. I held my ground. I think everyone else appreciated it—in fact, another driver mimicked my move. I was right, right?
—Vigilante in a Tercel, Davisville

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Politics

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Three Toronto property giants write a letter opposing a downtown casino (and embarrassing Paul Godfrey)

(Image: Ian McKellar)

Only a week after three former Toronto mayors penned a letter opposing the development of a casino in Toronto, three of the city’s largest commercial property firms have written their own letter against the idea of a downtown gambling den—but for very different reasons. Edward Sonshine, Michael Emory and Stephen Diamond, who head RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp., respectively, don’t oppose casinos on principle, but they say the traffic snarls that would result from putting one in the city’s core could “jeopardiz[e] the success of our downtown.” Specifically, the execs are worried about implications for the major mixed-use project they hope to develop at the foot of Spadina, a few blocks west of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre—one of the proposed casino locations (and the one with the fanciest renderings to date). For OLG chair and casino cheerleader Paul Godfrey, the letter is a downer twice over: it’s ammunition for the anti-gambling faction and, since Godfrey is also the chair of the board at RioCan, it’s also pretty humiliating. [Globe and Mail]

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People

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Q&A: Liberal leadership front-runner Sandra Pupatello on traffic, the TTC and marrying a Newfoundlander

Sandra Pupatello was McGuinty’s pit bull for eight years before decamping to the private sector. Now she’s back, gunning for his seat, and fierce as ever

Q&A: is this our next premier?You’re trying to take over the Liberal party at a perilous time. The province has a $14.4-billion deficit and a scandal around every corner. What on earth is possessing you
to run?

Politics is in my DNA. There were a number of galvanizing factors, too: the threat that the Liberals might lose the next election, the fact that Ontarians are afraid of losing their jobs and that university grads can’t find work in their fields.

You were an MPP for 16 years. A year and a half ago, when the Liberals were polling badly, you left to work at PricewaterhouseCooper. Suddenly McGuinty quits and you’re back. Are people wrong to see you as an opportunist?
I wasn’t considering a run until party members started calling me. Plus, leading the province won’t be easy. We’re in for some
tough times.

You were McGuinty’s pit bull—“a scrapper,” as you’ve put it. Where does that moxie come from?
When I started as an MPP in 1995, there weren’t very many women. If you didn’t stand up for yourself they shoved you out of the way, and I couldn’t let that happen. I’m a daughter of Italian immig­rants. I’m from Windsor, and people associate me with a tough city. I wear that like a badge of honour.

In your 20s, you were a cashier at A&P—
Damn straight. And I was good! My manager called me Speedy Gonzalez because I’d whip customers through. Later, when I was campaigning door to door, I knew lots of constituents from those days. I could usually recall their grocery lists, too.

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Features

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Philip Preville: The case for making bike helmets mandatory

Driving without a seat belt is considered absurdly reckless. Why isn’t cycling without a helmet?

Heads Will Roll

Any cyclist who’s ever been in an accident knows the feeling of being thrown upon the mercy of the grid. There is no way of predicting how the vectors will play out, nor any providence that can harness them, even for the most trifling mishap. All you can do is gird yourself.

Back in August, 47-year-old Joseph Mavec was cycling along quiet west end Wychwood Avenue when his bike’s front wheel got snagged in an old, unused streetcar track. My wife did the same thing eight years ago in the very same location and walked away with a scrape. Mavec struck his head on the pavement and quickly died. He was not wearing a helmet.

Fate was both crueler and kinder to Wendy Trusler. On July 19, 2000, Trusler was cycling north on Spadina toward College Street, back in the days when metal posts, not concrete curbs, separated the tracks from other traffic. She made a snap decision to cut across the tracks mid-block—and unwittingly into the path of a northbound 510 silently approaching at 50 kilometres an hour. “It was maybe 10 feet away from me when I saw it,” she says. “I only had time to turn my back to it.” The streetcar hit Trusler, and she bounced back and forth between it and the bollards for roughly five metres, the red rocket cracking the ribs on her left side, the posts snapping her right femur. By the time all moving bodies came to rest she had 17 broken bones, including her clavicle, shoulder blade, cheekbone and jaw. But she was wearing a helmet, and she suffered no cranial or brain trauma.

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Politics

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QUOTED: Rob Ford’s response to being caught reading while driving on the Gardiner

(Image: Twitter)

Yeah, probably. I try to catch up on my work and, you know, I keep my eyes on the road, but I’m a busy man.

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Politics

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Celebrate Yonge Street for the next month with lane closures and lots of walking space

Beginning Friday, car traffic on Yonge Street will be reduced to one lane in each direction between Gerrard Street and Queen Street as part of the Celebrate Yonge festival (and as part of councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s bid to permanently liven up the street). Wong-Tam told the Toronto Star that the project is a good experiment for an area where there are currently about 200 people for every one car, saying it’s time “to be honest about who is actually using Yonge Street.” The change will no doubt put some drivers in a tizzy, but just look at all the fun that was had when the entire street was shut down for a few summers back in the ’70s. Sure, commutes may be temporarily altered, but if we get to see even one politician sashaying down the street, arm-in-arm with fashion models, it’ll be worth it. [h/t Toronto Star]

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Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton

The Urbanization of the Burbs

(Image: Getty Images)

I once moved into an illegal basement apartment in Toronto for a newspaper series about working undercover as a maid. At $750 a month, it was the most affordable roach-free dwelling I could find. What’s more, it helped my landlord, himself a cleaner at the Four Seasons, pay his mortgage. Secondary suites are mutually beneficial for renters and homeowners. So I applaud the controversial new legislation that has finally legalized the subterranean world of basement apartments. The province-wide law, which took effect in January, overrides any municipal bylaws prohibiting them—bylaws that were typically passed due to residents’ complaints about traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and, though less often vocalized, there-goes-the-neighbourhood fears.

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Politics

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QUOTED: Doug Holyday would never, ever raise kids downtown—not that there’s anything wrong with that

I can just see it now: ‘Where’s little Jenny? Well, she’s downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park.’

—Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, on the type of tragic scenario that results when families dare to raise children in the city’s hazardous, traffic-laden core. At city hall yesterday, the former mayor of Etobicoke said he feels “there are healthier places to raise children,” though he grudgingly conceded that some people might actually want to bring up their kids downtown. Adam Vaughan, who was raised downtown and is doing the same with his offspring, leapt to defend downtown parents, and it only got more heated from there (Holyday: “Sometimes I wonder if your head’s on backwards.” Vaughan: “At least I have a head on my shoulders!”). At the root of the spat is a requirement that a proposed 47-storey condo on King Street include family-friendly three-bedroom units, a provision that Holyday called “social engineering.” City council ended up voting to keep the three-bedroom requirement—tough luck for Holyday (and for poor Jenny). [Globe and Mail]

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Politics

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Toronto’s traffic is allegedly improving—it’s not even the worst in Canada anymore

We guess we ought to pipe down about how closing Queen and Spadina is causing a carmageddon—Toronto’s rush hour gridlock is nothing next to the snarls in oh-so-livable Vancouver. A recent study by GPS-maker TomTom compared the difference in travel time between non-peak and peak periods for 26 cities. After noted car-loving town Los Angeles, Vancouver had the worst rush hour delays, while Toronto came in a distant ninth (a marked improvement from its number three finish last year). In case you were curious, Toronto’s traffic is worst on Thursday evenings and the roads are clearest on Friday mornings. [Globe and Mail]

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Politics

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QUOTED: a police traffic spokesperson on the “carmageddon” at Queen and Spadina

Obviously traffic’s going to be screwed. It’s a huge intersection.

—a Toronto Police Traffic Services spokesperson, on how closing the intersection of Spadina and Queen will make for an “awful” July. As of this morning, the busy crossroads was shut down for transit maintenance and will stay that way until July 23. For the next two weeks, vehicles, including streetcars, will be diverted to Dundas, Richmond, King and Adelaide, most of which are already backed up because of other construction projects. The intersection has only been shut down for a few hours, but the situation’s already being labelled “Carmageddon TO” in anticipation of a slow-moving, gridlocked mess. Happy summer! [Globe and Mail]

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Real Estate

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An attractive big-box centre—the unicorn of developments—could be coming to Leaside

(Image: Walmart)

First it was Kensington Market that was spooked by big-box talk; now Leaside residents are gripped with fear that Walmart is moving into the neighbourhood. A SmartCentre development is slated for the plot of land on Wicksteed Avenue near Laird Avenue that’s been vacant since Canada Wire packed up about two decades ago. And, because it fronts a major street, the spot fits the bill for a large-scale retail redevelopment, according to the City of Toronto’s official plan. But local residents worry, as residents do, that the current plan for 147,000 square feet of shopping space plus nearly 500 parking spots is just too big, and will result in traffic spreading through the area “like a germ.” The SmartCentre people brushed off that rather gross simile, brandishing the results of a traffic study that says the impact will only be felt during rush hour. The big-box developer also insists the finished project will look pretty, thanks to plans by architect Donald Schmitt that depict a porous structure of red brick and back-lit glass with a wide public plaza. A good-looking big-box development? We’ll believe it when we see it. [Globe and Mail]

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Random Stuff

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The idea of building more islands in Lake Ontario is still kicking around

The man-made islands could make swimming at Sunnyside Beach more palatable (Image: John Vetterli)

Dirt: when you dig it up, it has to go somewhere. Aware of this inescapable truth, the city is still considering taking the 1.8 million cubic metres of dirt that the Eglinton Crosstown excavation will displace and making a bunch of man-made islands. (An added bonus: the islands, which would likely cost $54 million to $84 million to build, would act as a barrier to the polluted water that flows from the Humber River into Lake Ontario, improving the water quality at Sunnyside Beach). An environmental assessment is underway, which should determine whether critics’ worries about contaminated soil are founded. The idea doesn’t have any strong champions on council yet—Sarah Doucette, for instance, worried about the disruptions dump trucks would bring to the south end, noting, “That’s a lot of trucks.” It’s also a lot of dirt. [Toronto Star]

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