Ban All Right Turns On Red In Toronto

Sat, 09 May 2009, 14:02

When I walk to work each morning, I cross Front Street at Blue Jays Way. A few weeks ago, the lamp post at the north-west corner of the intersection was festooned with dozens of bouquets of flowers. I knew something tragic happened there. I later learned that a pedestrian was killed by a driver making a right turn on a red light.

photo of our garbage bins

Right turns on red are legal in this province. Unfortunately, many motorists don't fully understand the traffic law, which requires motorists to come to a complete stop first, and proceed with the right turn only when safe to do so. Many simply roll through without any regard for others on the road.

As a pedestrian (for at least part of my daily commute to work), I know full well how vigilant pedestrians must be crossing any street in this city. Closer to work, I usually cross Spadina Avenue at a signalled crosswalk at Clarence Square Park. The traffic signals are very clear. But occasionally, a motorist will ignore the red lights completely and barrel right through without stopping.

I remember what motorists were like in this city 35 years ago. A pedestrian walking on a sidewalk would just have to glance across the street at a crosswalk and have all traffic come to a stop. But as the roads grew more and more crowded, the motorists have gotten less and less civil. I noticed a big jump in the aggressiveness of drivers the day after the Mike Harris Conservatives were elected in 1995. One of the promises that got him elected was to get rid of photo radar in catching speeders on Ontario highways. It seemed like the election of Harris served to empower motorists to do as they pleased on the roads. Things have only gotten worse since.

Currently, there's a proposal under debate in Toronto city council to eliminate right turns on red lights in certain intersections in the city. I think proponents of that idea have the right idea, but they should go further. They should ban right turns on red in the entire city. Motorists have demonstrated very clearly that they don't understand the current laws. So let's make things simpler. Let's make red lights mean "stop" in all situations, without any special cases. This is the rule in Montréal. This is even the rule in many other countries.

It's time for pedestrians to stand up for their rights, and take back the streets. Let's give a signal to motorists that we expect them to drive responsibly.


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the city

Wind Power and Guildwood

Sun, 19 Apr 2009, 16:44

For hundreds of years, man has harnessed the power of wind. Look at the Netherlands, for example. Wind power was used hundreds of years ago to pump water and grind grain. Although windmills are most commonly associated with that country, they can be found throughout northern Europe.

Wind mills at Kinderdijk
Wind has been used for power for centuries.

Today, wind provides a substantial amount of power in several northern European countries. But instead of pumping water or grinding grain, wind turns the blades of electrical generators.

In North America, wind power is a small but growing source of electrical power. As the true costs of hydrocarbon based energy are understood, our society must look at clean alternatives, such as wind and solar power. When looking at the costs of energy, one cannot look only at the retail price. That price rarely takes all the environmental costs into account. For nuclear power, the cost of dealing with the radioactive waste is not factored in. And for hydrocarbon based power, such as coal, gas, and petroleum, the unnacounted costs include the effects of climate change caused by the increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Clean sources of power, such as wind and solar, seem like obvious choices. Most people want the environment protected, but many people seem to believe that others need to make the necessary changes. The problem affects everyone on the planet. As a result, everyone needs to take part in solving the problem. No one person or community is special enough to be spared from our shared responsibilities in this matter.

Recently, I learned that the Guildwood Village Community Association voted to oppose the wind generators proposed for the middle of Lake Ontario, at least 2km off the Scarborough shore. I can't say I was surprised at that decision, since NIMBYism is very strong in this community.

Frankly, I am dumbfounded by the opposition to this form of clean energy generation, and by the clearly ridiculous objections. If you took even a portion of their arguments seriously, you'd think the very existence of the bluffs were in danger! But to quote Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks: "Allow me to clear up some misconceptions about modern wind turbines: They do not make noise, they don't kill birds and if they are sitting two kilometers off shore they're not intrusive on the landscape".

Let's see what Ian Harrington of the David Suzuki Foundation has to say: "It's interesting to note also that the number of birds that have been killed by windmills (mostly of an older design) is minuscule compared to the numbers of birds killed by high buildings, power lines, and even house cats. And, of course, global warming from fossil-fuel use will kill many more birds than wind power installations."

Will the GVCA next come out against house cats?

Is there any concievably plausible argument against wind generators in Lake Ontario? Some argue that there's not enough wind to make wind generators cost-effective. Some argue that, in general, wind is not a sufficiently reliable source of power. But consider hydrocarbon based energy. As demand for energy increases, production must keep pace. Unfortunately, the time will come when demand outpaces production, and the retail price for such power will skyrocket, and availability of such power will likely be spotty. Even if wind power were not economical today, there will certainly come a time when it will be. It would be better to be prepared in advance rather than be caught short when the crunch comes.


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the city

Windmills in Toronto?

Sun, 01 Feb 2009, 17:44

Recently, we visited Kingston, as we occasionally do. As some of you might know, a major installation of wind turbines is currently under construction on Wolfe Island, about 3km across the lake from Kingston. At the time of our visit, about 26 turbines had been erected. But 86 all together are planned for the site.

View from Kingston
View of Wolfe Island from Kingston waterfront, wind generators in the distance.

In this city, Toronto Hydro wants to investigate the feasibility of building a wind farm in Lake Ontario, about 3km south of the Scarborough shore. As a first step, they want to install an anemometer to collect wind data over the course of a year.

We believe that a wind farm is a great idea. The burning of fossil fuels is a major cause of the growing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is a major factor in climate change. Therefore, alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power must be pursued.

View from Kingston
Telephoto view of wind turbines under construction.

However, there are some people in our neighborhood (Guildwood Village) who oppose a wind farm off the Scarborough shore. What logic can there be in opposing the necessary development of a clean energy source? Some argue that a wind farm would destroy the natural beauty of the Scarborough bluffs. But look at the first photo above. Wind turbines 3km off the Kingston waterfront are barely noticeable on the horizon. How can a wind farm 3km off the bluffs affect their appearance? Besides, the appearance of the bluffs is already changing. The construction of a roadway at the base of the bluffs has benefits in reducing erosion and providing the public with easier access to the lake. But it also means that more vegetation is taking hold, thus hiding the natural soil of the bluffs.

The local opposition to the project is simply yet another case of NIMBY thinking. People want action on the environment, but only if it doesn't directly affect them. But we're all in this together. We all have to make an effort to support environmental concerns, or we'll all have to live with the effects and costs of climate change.


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the city

Stop the Markham Bypass

Tue, 05 Feb 2008, 16:35

For almost six years, I worked in Markham near the corner of Warden Avenue and Highway 7. From our home in the Guildwood Village, there was an almost infinite choice of routes to take during my commute. I could drive north for a bit, then west, then north again, then west, and so on until I reached my job. But after a while, I hit on a strategy. To minimize the time taken to drive to work, I found that the best way was to put as much of the drive as possible within the city of Toronto.

For those surprised by that strategy, I'd like to point out that driving within Markham was a royal pain. Just crossing Steeles Avenue put me into much worse traffic conditions. Why was the traffic so bad in Markham? I think the reason has to do with public transit. Toronto has a good enough transit system that there's a noticable effect on the number of cars on the streets. But in Markham, practically everyone drives. That's what happens when housing is built in a sprawling pattern across the landscape.

And now on to the point of my rant. The town of Markham wants to complete a road known as the Markham Bypass, also known as the Donald Cousens Parkway. This road is intended to relieve traffic strain on Main Street Markham. Markham wants to extend the road south into Toronto and join up with the northern end of Morningside Avenue.

For a variety of reasons, a number of groups are opposed to this plan. The Friends of the Rouge Watershed list a wide range of concerns including the clearcutting of a significant swath of sensitive wetlands, woodlands, and streams, interference with a storage area for radioactive waste, and subsidizing urban sprawl, leading to more traffic, smog, asthma and health damage.

The City of Toronto shares many of those concerns, and is also opposing Markham's road plan. The northern end of Morningside Avenue runs through a predominately residential area. The last thing the residents of Malvern and Morningside Heights need is increased traffic and air pollution from cars and trucks trying to get to the eastern end of Markham.

(A more sensible plan for Morningside Avenue would be to extend it westward to meet up with McNicoll Avenue.)

Certainly Markham has its traffic problems. But these problems arose from choices made by Markham town councillors over the past few decades. The town developed as a bedroom community, with single-family homes sprawled across the landscape. Markham needs to understand an important principle of urban planning: Building roads is the worst way to solve traffic problems.

Here's one suggestion for Markham: Why not widen Main Street Markham? Markham Road is six lanes through northern Scarborough and already brings a lot of traffic into Markham. Wouldn't it make sense to widen Main Street Markham to a matching six lanes? Oh, I know some people would complain about the number of businesses on Main Street Markham that would have to be demolished to accomodate a wider street. But if Markham wants to solve its traffic problems, it needs to look for solutions close to home, and not dump its traffic onto neighboring municipalities.


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the city

A New Garbage Day

Fri, 18 Jan 2008, 09:45

Here in Guildwood Village, today is the first day of using the city's new blue bins for our recycling garbage. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have gotten the message that the new bins are to be used now. Come on, guys, get with it!

photo of our street on garbage day

Like many other cities, Toronto is running out of places to dump our garbage. Most of it now is shipped to a landfill in Michigan, which is politically unpopular in that state. So alternatives need to be found. The city has a goal of reducing the waste sent to landfill by 70% by the year 2010. The new bin program is one more step along that road.

photo of our garbage bins

In our home, garbage is separated into four streams. First, non-animal compostable waste goes to our backyard compost bin. Second, other compostable material goes into the green bin which is picked up every week. Third, recyclable material goes into the blue bin. Finally, all the rest goes into the traditional garbage can. In this household, the vast majority of our waste goes into the recycling bin. This week, our blue bin was full up to the top.

The classification of waste at the curb is an important and easy way to keep garbage out of the landfill. But there's a lot more that can be done. We also need to get the message out to businesses to reduce the amount of packaging. Consider my latest visit to that popular membership-based bulk warehouse store. You can get cheaper prices on many products (some we actually use), but you also get a lot of garbage along with the deals. Take for example the case of juice drink boxes. There's plastic wrap and cardboard around the 30 boxes. But wait, there's more! For some reason, each group of three boxes is wrapped in yet another layer of plastic. All that plastic will end up in the landfill.

Then there's the packaging around the ink jet cartridges. You could buy a small paper box containing two cartridges at Staples. Or, you could go to that wholesale warehouse store and buy a large plastic container containing three cartridges. What do you do? The package of three with the horrendous plastic package offers a price discount of $5 per cartridge!

Our governments need to pass legislation requiring manufacturers and retailers to be more responsible for the garbage they generate. Consider laws in some European countries which require companies to be fully responsible for the proper disposal of their products after use. Imagine that: In Germany, for example, once you've driven your car for ten years and you need to get rid of it, you take it back to the dealer or to the factory, not the dump. This gives the manufacturer a good incentive to make the product recyclable, or to make parts of the product reusable. Here in North America, we need to get to that point too.


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the city

First Big Snowfall of the Winter

Mon, 17 Dec 2007, 20:29

About 30cm of snow fell on the city this past weekend. Most fell early Sunday morning. I shovelled the driveway at noon on Sunday, and Monday morning I only had a bit more to shovel out. The sun came out and it was a good time for pictures.

snow in december

Driving can be tricky after a snowfall. But the driver of this car really must have wanted his car in the snowbank!

car in snow


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