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About me

My life, so far

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I’ll be taking a break from writing on this blog and elsewhere for a few weeks. I will be preoccupied, as I’m getting married, then leaving for my honeymoon in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

For many years, I never thought that I would become as happy as I am now. During my three dozen years on this planet, I have struggled through two bouts of life-threatening childhood illness, and their long-term side effects, bullying, depression, low self-confidence, criminal intimidation and civil litigation, and not knowing where I stood in life.

On the positive side, I have always benefited from a loving and supportive family and a small core of wonderful friends. And I have found an amazing life partner.

Growing up, I was a socially awkward child, a true nerd. At the age of three, I was collecting and studying maps. By four, I was drawing maps and creating fantasy cities. I bugged my parents to take me to Toronto to ride streetcars and even the Scarborough RT when it was still new in the 1980s. I was destined to be a geographer or an urban planner.

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I was also clearly destined to go on long bike rides, exploring southern Ontario. 

Categories
Infrastructure Transit

Province to look at hydrogen-powered GO trains, but it is it simply hot air?

IMG_0268-001Electrification for GO Transit and UP Express has been proposed for years

At GO Transit’s Willowbrook Maintenance Centre in Mimico today, the Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca,  announced the start of the transit project assessment process (TPAP) that will allow GO to move forward with its plans for electrification. GO RER, the $13.5-billion regional rail network plan, is dependent on a new fleet of electric trainsets to provide rapid transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

But Del Duca introduced a new twist to the plot. Along with the electrification TPAP, the province will also look into the feasibility of hydrogen-powered trains. Hydrogen-powered trains are being tested in Germany by Alstom, a French rail manufacturer.

Quoted in the Toronto Star, Del Duca said that “this is a decision that we’re making that will have to last for a generation and beyond, so we want to make sure that we’re at the leading edge of the technology.”

The Alstom experimental train, a Cordelia LINT, is a similar model to the one used in Ottawa for the O-Train Trillium Line, a diesel light rail operation. The hydrogen-powered model has yet to be tested in revenue service; hydrogen propulsion also has yet to be tested on heavier rail equipment. The Cordelia LINTs are light rail vehicles, and under current railway regulations, cannot share the same tracks with heavier freight and passenger trains.

My fear is that this is yet another distraction from transportation needs in the here and now. Further, I worry that the “fuel cell technology symposium” will not only distract from the GO RER project, it will give credence to NIMBYs opposing electrification – be it the construction of gantries and overhead wires, or those worried about the effects of electromagnetism.

I have more faith in building sound, tested and true, transit systems than pursuing the newest technology there is. Electric trains have been around for over 100 years. Electric multiple unit regional rail as we know it is used in scores of cities worldwide, including Montreal, New York, and Philadelphia. Electric multiple unit trains (EMUs), which can be purchased from at least a half-dozen firms, are reliable, quick, and suitable for GO RER.

The provincial government has an unfortunate history of promoting new technologies that end either in failure — the 1970s-era GO-ALRT plans, for example, or the promotion of Ontario-made compressed natural gas (CNG) buses to replace electric trolley buses in Toronto and Hamilton in the early 1990s. (Those buses were either scrapped early, or converted to conventional diesel propulsion.) The Scarborough RT, originally planned as the nucleus of a conventional light rail network, was replaced by a propitiatory linear induction system heavily promoted by the province.

The idea of hydrogen-powered trains is attractive: they have zero at-source emissions; the Alstom train is train is exceptionally quiet, and only emits steam and condensed water. Electrification requires overhead gantries and wires, along with substations at regular intervals; hydrogen-powered trains require none of these expenses. What isn’t clear is whether hydrogen powered trains offer the other advantages of electric train operation, namely quick acceleration and deceleration needed for a frequent-stop regional rail service.

I want GO RER to be built, and I want it to be built right. I just fear that the attention given to an emerging technology will be yet another distraction, especially going into an election year.

Categories
Cycling Parks Toronto Walking

Wandering the Waterfront Trail in Scarborough

IMG_8897-001At the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs, west of Bluffer’s Park

Lake Ontario, like all five of the Great Lakes, is more a freshwater sea than merely a lake. It’s over three hundred kilometres long, from Hamilton to Kingston, bordering two countries, with several inhabited islands, and features a varied and fascinating landscape. Lake Ontario’s vastness is best appreciated from its shore, whether it be the Toronto Islands, on the east side, on the beaches at Presqu’ile or Sandbanks Provincial Parks, or from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs.

The Waterfront Trail, at least in theory, is a wonderful way to explore these varied shorelines of Ontario’s vast Great Lakes on foot or by bicycle. Founded in 1995, the trail now extends from the Quebec border, west along the St. Lawrence River, through Niagara, along the north shore of Lake Erie, and up the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers to Lake Huron. I cycle the Waterfront Trail between Toronto and Hamilton several times a year, an 85-kilometre trip. GO Transit’s trains and buses follow the Waterfront Trail from Durham Region to the Niagara River, making it easy to walk or cycle one-way, returning by train and/or bus.

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The Waterfront Trail crosses Highland Creek in eastern Scarborough. (2015 photo)

But the Waterfront Trail is dependent on municipal infrastructure, or the lack of it. Most of the trail’s route winds through rural areas, following country roads and highways where segregated multi-use trails aren’t built: in many places, the Waterfront Trail is neither close to the water, nor is it a ‘trail’ of any kind. At least in Northumberland County and Niagara Region, paved shoulders and bike lanes are found along the busier country roads. But this is not always the case.

In urban areas, though, like the City of Toronto, there is both the demand and the resources for safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure along the waterfront. In the old city of Toronto, the Waterfront Trail follows the Martin Goodman Trail, and is nearly completely segregated from motor traffic.

But in Etobicoke and in Scarborough, much of the trail is routed via on-street sections; in sections, pedestrians must follow sidewalks next to busy sections of Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road; for cyclists, there aren’t even any bike lanes — they have the choice of either riding with traffic, or illegally riding on the sidewalks.


Route of the Waterfront Trail within the City of Toronto

Categories
Transit

The TTC double-charged me again when I used Presto

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Sugar Beach

The weekend of May 26-27 in Toronto was a lovely one. My fiancée and I spent the Saturday and Sunday walking around Toronto, visiting some of the Doors Open sites and Harbourfront. Among the highlights were the new Daniels School of Architecture at 1 Spadina Crescent, a beautiful heritage re-use of the original Knox College (the neo-gothic building that looms over Spadina Avenue), and the Toronto Railway Museum, located at Toronto’s Roundhouse.

After the Doors Open sites closed at 5:00 PM, we walked along the waterfront as far east as Sugar Beach, before heading west to the High Park neighbourhood for dinner. With the Bloor-Danforth Subway (Line 2) closed for maintenance between Broadview and St. George Stations, we opted to take a local bus on Queen’s Quay to Union Station, transfer to the subway there, and transfer again at St. George to Keele.

Route 72B Pape operates between Pape Station and Union Station via Commissioners Street and Queen’s Quay, a valid and long-standing transfer with the subway at Union. The 509 and 510 streetcars serve Union via a direct, underground connection, but buses — the 6 Bay, the 72 Pape, and the 121 Fort York-Esplanade — have on-street stops at Front and Bay Streets; a transfer is required.

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The surface route network at Union Station, from the 2017 TTC system map

I made the assumption that the transfer would be recognized by Presto when we tapped on the 72B Pape bus, and again when we got into the station. That turned out to be a mistake, as I found out a few days later when I checked my Presto activity online. At 6:27 PM, the TTC $3.00 Presto fare was paid on the bus (Queen’s Quay East at Jarvis Street West Side), and again at 6:41 PM at Union Station.