Marcus Gee is a Winter Cyclist and Darn Proud of it!

Marcus GeeThe guy to the right swears he’s not nuts. He’s one of the 10% of Toronto cyclists who ride all year round. Sure, that number may be larger this year since it hasn’t been much of a winter… but that doesn’t make him (and us) any less proud.

Marcus Gee, we salute you!

From the Globe and Mail:

Folks, a rusty steed is a friend indeed – even in winter

It’s liberating at any time of year to avoid the restrictions of driving or public transit and set out on your own, a free agent of the street. In winter, with the sharp, fresh air on your face, it’s exhilarating. You begin and end your day with a little adventure. As the winter cycling website puts it, with perhaps a trace of irony, “You arrive feeling very alive, refreshed and with the aura of a cycling god.”

The cold is no big deal. Your body heats up fast when you’re pedalling. I get by nicely with a waterproof Gore-Tex windbreaker with office clothes (and, okay, long underwear) beneath. I wear a thin wool tuque under my helmet. When it’s really cold – say, minus 10 or worse – I add a polyester balaclava that covers everything but my eyes.

For the hands, I have a pair of those lobster-claw gloves with two fingers instead of four and a fleece strip on the thumb for nose wiping, a bonus in the eye-watering cold. On my feet, I wear thick wool socks under pull-on Blundstone boots.

If it’s slushy or rainy, I complete the ensemble with a pair of canary-yellow rain pants. With front and rear helmet lights flashing after dark, I look like a safety-conscious ninja assassin, but most of the time I’m perfectly warm. If you ski or skate in the cold, why not bike?

Read the full article here

Photo via Globe and Mail

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”

Group Commute

Congestion. Downtown Toronto is congested with pollution-emitting vehicles. Yet, pockets of our city also have other forms of congestion, ones we certainly aren’t as worried about.

The congestion of foot traffic in Chinatown and Kensington Market. The congestion of bicycles along the Don River trails.

This is the congestion we want. Congestion that provides opportunities to be social, deliver a constant stream of shoppers to local merchants and gives you the feeling that we live in a city populated with more than just the latest models of Toyota, Ford and BMWs.

From The Globe and Mail:

Et tu, Toronto? Traffic a problem Caesar couldn’t solve

Options up for consideration at Transportation Futures conference include toll roads monitored by GPS and High Occupancy toll lanes

Anna Mehler Paperny

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar is said to have gotten so fed up with traffic congestion in ancient Rome that he banned all transport vehicles from the city during the day.

The ensuing nocturnal clatter resulting from this “war on the cart,” as Romans took their commute to the city’s narrow nighttime streets, caused mass insomnia and apparently drove Juvenal mad.

Traffic congestion is far from a new problem, or one exclusive to Canada’s largest city, whose overcrowded roads, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, are costing the Canadian economy $3.3-billion a year. Across North America, individual vehicle trips have grown at a rate far outpacing either population growth or new transportation infrastructure for years. When Toronto Mayor David Miller was first elected in 2003, he made addressing the city’s jam-packed roadways a priority – and was the target of a political drubbing for suggesting tolls might be the answer.

This morning in downtown’s Metropolitan Hotel, Transport Futures, a non-partisan think-tank, will host a conference to discuss the options open to planners seeking respite from clogged transportation arteries.

This meeting comes on the heels of an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report released this week that found congestion in Canada’s most populous city costs the country an estimated $3.3-billion annually, and a gauntlet thrown down by the Toronto Board of Trade challenging the city’s mayoral candidates to come up with innovative solutions.

Here are some of the options up for consideration.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Nineteenth-century Torontonians had to stop and pay a fee at toll booths on Kingston Road, and although the endangered species of traditional toll booth is almost extinct, it’s still in common on bridges.

In the meantime, far more fancy incarnations are taking the “free” out of freeway: Toll gates that could be installed on highways around the Toronto area could charge drivers based on anything from their mileage and driving time to their carbon footprints.

Taking the high-tech route

The congestion-pricing system of the future operates like a souped-up Global Positioning System. It’s used in Singapore, the planet’s dean of congestion pricing – the island city-state has been fighting clogged roads since 1975. The latest technology involves transponders installed in each vehicle, and charges drivers based on where they drive, what time of day and for how long. Singapore adjusts its prices depending on how crowded roads are, charging more as vehicles’ average speed slows to a traffic-clogged crawl and dropping it when space frees up.

London and Stockholm, both cities with a clearly demarcated downtown core, charge drivers each time they enter the inner city. While London has a flat rate, the peninsular Swedish capital changes its fees based on time of day – a far superior, nuanced strategy in targeting congestion, argues Bern Grush. Mr. Grush is chief scientist at Skymeter, a Toronto-based company that researches and manufactures this radio-frequency identification for vehicles.

But a toll strategy that cordons off Toronto’s downtown could be a hard political and logistic sell. An ambitious alternative that just received legislative approval in the Netherlands would cover a wide swath – conceivably as much as the entire province of Ontario – so vehicles would be tracked and automatically billed varying prices wherever they went.

High-Occupancy Toll lanes

One more reason to bring your spouse, child or cubicle-buddy along for the ride. Within the next 25 years, Ontario has plans to create 450 kilometres of High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that would be reserved for multi-passenger cars. But many jurisdictions are turning to High-Occupancy Toll lanes and letting solo drivers use them – for a price. Shortly after HOT lanes were set up on a bottleneck stretch of California highway between Orange County and Riverside County, almost half the drivers opted to use the less crowded toll lanes.


Simple equation: You’re less likely to drive your car to work if there’s nowhere to put it once you get there. In many jurisdictions there’s a growing push to lessen the number of parking spots available, or at least to make them more expensive. Copenhagen has been doing just this – taking away a few parking spots every year in an urban-planning version of musical chairs – for decades, says University of Toronto geography professor Paul Hess, and it seems to be working on the congestion-fighting front. That might not go over so well in Hogtown, however, where business owners and landlords are still required to provide a minimum number of parking spots in their establishments.

Transit and cycling

All those wallet-protecting commuters will have to go somewhere. Although some road space is expected to be freed up when drivers take less clogged routes or make their drive in off-hours, improved transit and cycling infrastructure is a vital part of the equation, says University of Toronto urban planning professor Paul Hess: The city needs to act aggressively to beef up its “skeletal” transit system and make the city safe and attractive for would-be cycling commuters – something it has taken other cities decades to accomplish.

But, Prof. Hess noted, “all successful cities face congestion issues.

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”

TAVIS – Visible, Approachable Police Officers on Bikes and Foot

From The Globe and Mail:

Transforming crime hot spot into sea of tranquillity

Josh Wingrove

After eight murders and the non-fatal shooting of a five-year-old girl, crime in the old city of York seemed earlier this year to be out of control.

In most cases, police linked either the suspect or victim to one of two local gangs. Booze cans had sprung up, and the drug trade was in full swing. It left residents of the once-peaceful neighbourhood at a loss. Suddenly 12 Division, the area policing district, had become Toronto’s new crime hot spot. The division’s veteran boss, Superintendent Brody Smollet, called it “unheard of.”

Police sought a solution, turning to a three-year-old community policing strategy developed in the aftermath of 2005’s Summer of the Gun as the brainchild of Chief Bill Blair – the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS).

The Toronto Police Service dispatched 75 officers as part of its summer TAVIS deployment, split between 12 Division and their neighbours to the north, 31 Division, which encompasses the long-maligned Jane-Finch community. The philosophy was two-pronged: let the Guns and Gangs Unit sweep in with arrests, then dispatch TAVIS, the friendly, visible foot-patrol and bicycle officers who would hold the peace while neighbourhood leaders worked to reclaim their streets.

The impact was significant.

According to numbers provided by police crime analysts, in the 165 days of 2009 before TAVIS showed up, 12 Division had eight slayings and 18 shootings. In the 130 days since – including the summer, typically a period of increased crime activity – the neighbourhood has had just one homicide (a domestic dispute on the second day they arrived, with no gang ties) and nine shootings, none of them fatal. Since TAVIS, the gangs of York are quiet.

“I expect we’ll be successful when we put these programs in place, but I’ve gotta tell you, the numbers are way more than I expected,” said Staff Superintendent Glenn De Caire, who heads up the TAVIS squad from the TPS College Street headquarters. “That’s pretty impressive for that division, that neighbourhood, that geography.”

In 31 Division, the number of shootings dropped to 11 from 30.

This year’s summer surge drew on the failures of a similar initiative last year, when it was 31 Division and the downtown 51 Division that received extra summer officers. In 31 last year, TAVIS quelled the violence only to leave and see it flare again. The area had seven homicides before TAVIS came, one with them, and six after they left.

“That indicated to us we needed a longer period of time, and greater capacity… clearly that we just cannot withdraw from an area. It has to be a phased approach supported by a maintenance strategy,” Supt. De Caire said.

“Not only to get control of the neighbourhood, but to get those [community] partnerships,” added Sergeant Jeff Pearson of TPS command.

They point to partnerships such as the one built with the Eglinton Hill Business Improvement Area, led by local Variety & Video store owner Steve Tasses. The BIA staged a community barbecue over the summer and oversaw the revamping of Coronation Park, located just northwest of the Keele-Eglinton intersection. When TAVIS arrived, the basketball hoops had no nets and an equipment building was run down and covered in spray paint.

Next Friday, 230 youngsters from nearby schools will carve pumpkins in the revamped park, in another event organized by Mr. Tasses.

“TAVIS went in there and cleaned out the park. We went in there and cleaned up the park,” he says. “We did a whole bunch of things in the summertime to get the community to come together. Now that this initiative is over, it’s up to us – the BIA, the homeowners, the tenants – it’s up to us to fill the void [police] created when they got rid of the gangs and the dealers.”

Local councillor Frank Di Giorgio said he’s heard the booze cans have been cleaned up. “I’ve been very happy with the success of the [TAVIS] program,” Mr. Di Giorgio said.

The summer surge has been slowly phased out since last month, an ongoing departure. There are also TAVIS officers stationed year-round in every division.

TAVIS has caught the eye of the province, which has shelled out money to other police forces willing to adapt it for their own communities. So far, 17 have, including Ottawa and Hamilton. However, TAVIS is entirely an Ontario phenomenon (“I’ve never even heard of it,” said Rick Parent, a criminology professor at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University and co-author of Community-Based Strategic Policing ).

Police will wait on updated statistics before deciding which areas next summer’s TAVIS surge will target. Mr. Tasses hopes they won’t have to come back to Keele and Eglinton.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the area will take a turn for the better,” the store owner said. “But it’s got to be a conscious effort from everyone.”


Coming to a Bike Rack Near You: Strollers

Baby commute

From the Globe and Mail:

Stroller thefts on the rise in Toronto

Luxury prams are vanishing from Toronto porches. Are stroller bandits selling them for parts?

Kate Hammer From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

An opportunistic thief can recognize their state-of-the-art shock absorbers, rugged wheels, plush bucket seats and shiny chrome finishes from a city block, even a playground, away.

As their price tags have climbed beyond $1,000, an increasing number of luxury baby-transporting apparatuses have been vanishing from the front porches of family homes.

Police are cautioning parents to lock up or conceal their wheels, especially in 11 Division, the west end of the city, where six stroller thefts have been recorded so far this year.

The geography of the thefts hints that there could be a more maternal version of Igor Kenk prowling the streets, but police say it’s still too early to tell.

“It’s just something that somebody’s twigged onto, that these things are expensive, and a lot of people look for secondhand children’s equipment,” said Constable Wendy Drummond, a police spokeswoman.

Earlier this year, a couple was charged after they posted two of the stolen strollers for sale online.

Two more remain unaccounted for, and the final pair appear to have been abducted for the purposes of a buggy joyride through the neighbourhood. Both were promptly found abandoned a short distance from where they were stolen.

An employee at Macklem’s, a baby store that sells nearly everything buggy from Firstwheels to Zoopers, said one of her customers who lives in the Beaches had her jogging stroller stolen last weekend.

The Baby Jogger City Elite is one of the store’s most popular models, according to Natasha, who declined to give her last name. It retails for $549, but it’s on sale right now at Macklem’s for $479.

“Their real claim to fame is that it’s a one-handed fold stroller so that it’s really easy to close up,” she said. “But it has your big wheels so it’s really appropriate for snow or any sort of all-terrain use.”

(It also boasts a “multi-position sun canopy with clear view windows and side ventilation panels.”) Given all these kinds of state-of-the-art offerings, it might be no surprise that there is evidence of chop-shop behaviour on the streets.

“I have heard people say that they’ve left their stroller outside a restaurant or … sometimes they’ve locked them up with a bike lock, and when they come back somebody’s taken the wheels off of them,” Natasha said. Toronto residents aren’t alone in their plight. A neighbourhood in the south of Brooklyn, N.Y., is under siege by a serial stroller thief.

The Brooklyn Paper reported a popular theory that wheels were being stolen as spare parts for motorized mini-bikes, which are popular with teens.

On both sides of the border, the consensus is that most thieves are looking to take advantage of a thriving market for secondhand items for babies and children. “With the coming colder months and then with the snow and the mess on the tires of the melting snow and salt, people are more likely to leave [their strollers] outside and we feel that the public should know that, in fact, these thefts are happening and to take precautions,” Constable Drummond said. “Being without a stroller and with a small child is a big inconvenience and also a big cost.”


Photo via Flickr