September 2006

Cup of Soup

Mon, Sep 4, 2006

Labour Lost

It has been over four years since I finished school, and this was my fifth Labour Day spent laughing at all the children fretting over tomorrow's return to school, rather than fretting it myself. However, I think this was the first time I've actually used Labour Day as a holiday, rather than an irregularity in a late-summer work week that gets wasted away doing nothing. Today, I hopped on my bike and hopped on a ferry to enjoy Toronto Islands before Deluce and his bloody airport plans ruin it for everybody.

Frankly, the islands are spectacular. A quick ferry across the harbour brings you to interlocking islands that provide wide vistas of Lake Ontario, a head-on view of the city, long stretches of bicycle paths around parks and beaches, and the rides and playgrounds of the children's amusement park at Centre Island. The residents of the eastern island communities have taken part in their share of controversy, but I can see why they defend their lifestyle so strongly. Lovely homes on a compact footprint, lush with trees, and narrow laneways crossing through them all. A great example of a working carless society. I can't see why the airport on the west can't be replaced with similar style communities, with transit added on main streets to attract visitors and business.

I spent the afternoon wandering the communities, enjoying some icecream on the pier, laying back and reading a book on the Avenue of the Islands, and enjoying the airshow from Hanlan's Beach. Hanlan's Beach is one of the best beaches in the city; it's too bad it's an incredible pain to reach it, barricaded by the oft-mentioned airport. After making my way back to the mainland, I finished off the evening with a quick stop at Burrito Boys and some time well-rested at the Music Garden. All in all, a great way to finish off the summer.

Plus, there's no school for me tomorrow, so I can sleep well tonight.

Fri, Sep 8, 2006

Broken Streak

What started out as a great summer of sports has finished quite sourly. My hockey team had finished first place in our division, and I was the #2 goalie overall by stats. We were poised to take the title, carrying a 10-2-1 record with plenty of scorers and a stable defence. Somehow, we managed to enter the playoffs forgetting all of that and coming out completely flat, matching our number of regular-season losses in the opening games of the playoffs and getting knocked out in the early going. I was not happy.

The last chance for redemption was from my soccer team, which had gone the entire season unbeaten, relinquishing merely one draw all summer. We solidly dispatched our semi-final opponents and moved onto the final, hoping to finish off the perfect season. Now, despite the success we have attained with surprising ease in our indoor league, the outdoor title has been rather elusive. We tend to finish in the top echelon, but somehow lose the final by a goal, or the semi-final in a shootout. We have one title under our belts, but that was awarded retroactively, after abandoning the final game against a ruthless and dangerously physical team. This was our chance to finally win it dramatically, in real-time, so to speak.

We faced the second-place team, the one that was able to secure a draw with us some weeks earlier. We knew this would be a tight match. The game went on, both sides playing strongly, both with a few chances, none being converted. As the Sun set, time expired with the game still scoreless. On to a shootout we went. After the initial three shooters made their attempts, the game remained deadlocked at two. On to single shooters... They score... we score... still tied... They miss... we miss... still tied... They shoot...

...Our goalie breaks her wrist on the shot.

Thoughts of the game diminish as we arrange for medical help in a panic. Later, we wonder how the outcome of the game would be recorded; we never took our final shot. I guess we still finished the season undefeated, but we simply can't seem to take that outdoor title normally.

Wed, Sep 13, 2006

It's Nice To Be Wanted

The fall sports season is getting underway, and once again I'm taking on more than I should. Ice hockey Sundays, ball hockey Sundays, ice hockey Mondays, and soccer Thursdays. On top of that, I will be playing the occasional scrimmage Thursday nights.

You can tell that goalies are in demand, however, as I've had to turn down - either flatly or demote myself to backup - five different offers to play Friday nights. Four of them late-night practices of varying regularity, and even one for a spot on a B-division team, which is well above my skill level. I hate to disappoint, but it is nice to be wanted.

Sat, Sep 23, 2006

Lost And Found

My brother-in-law has been in hospital for eight months now, stricken with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and has just recently been cleared to return home on weekends, though his mobility is still severely limited. My sister and her husband have a history of getting me hooked on their favourite TV shows, most notably Arrested Development. I rarely watch serial shows, as I tend to restrict my on-schedule viewing to sports. Otherwise, I stick to DVD; I just can't be bothered to change my lifestyle to suit the networks' schedules.

As I visited my siblings last night, it was wonderful to see some semblance of normal life return for them, even if it took the form of my becoming frustratingly addicted to another television show I had until-then successfully avoided. Now they have shown me the first few episodes of Lost, and now I must wait until my next visit to discover more about its intriguing characters, mysteries, and another sight of Evangeline Lilly.

Fri, Sep 29, 2006

Between an Expressway and a Hard Place

The debate over the fate of the Gardiner Expressway, the great mistake of Toronto's 1960's urban planning, has once again come up as hot topic. A study recently made public lays out several options for dealing with the elevated highway slicing through downtown, from leaving it alone, to making it surface level, to burying it.

While burying the monstrosity would yield the best results, it comes with a quite infeasible price tag. Thus, the suggested option is to replace it with a surface level, 10-lane street.

The skeptics to such a plan, generally, have two main complaints: 1) It would be more of a waterfront barrier as you can walk under the Gardiner, but no one will want to cross a 10-lane street; and 2) It will make traffic exponentially worse. Let's rebut these in turn.

The Gardiner is a barrier in several senses. It is partly a barrier in the literal sense, in that it blocks passage from one side to the other in many places. However, where it is elevated and one can walk beneath, it becomes a usability barrier. The Gardiner up in the air, and the ground below it are quite useless to people. One is not permitted to walk upon the Gardiner, and the noise and squallor below make it an uninviting place to stay. You will never find stores and restaurants facing the openness under the Gardiner because no one will want to stay there; it is one long and continuous stretch of blight.

This, in turn, discourages people from crossing it, even if it is physically possible. It's the "wrong side of the tracks" effect. The area at the Gardiner has no use, so areas immediately adjacent will have little use, those adjacent to that will have slightly more use, and so on. The border areas push development away from it, discouraging interaction between the areas they divide.

A surface-level street of the same size, however, is not prone to the same effect if the street itself is designed for use. The model to which the surface-level road would be designed is University Ave. This is a street of the same width, with the same capacity, and yet it is one of the best walkable streets in the city. Landscaped medians provide places of attraction, and wide sidewalks allow freedom of movement and leisure. University Ave, thus, does not act as a barrier between downtown-central and downtown-west, but is a place of use itself, helping to link the two neighbourhoods. The Gardiner replacement can be designed the same way.

The second complaint, that traffic congestion will increase, seems to ignore that people have choice. People can choose to drive, or they can choose another method. The choice they will make will always be based on cost: cost in time, cost in money, cost in convenience, cost in comfort, cost in ethics, etc. If I need to go one block to the corner store, I will walk because it is easier than unlocking my bike or manouvering my car. If I need to go to the financial core, I will bike if the weather's nice because it costs no money, or take the streetcar because there is no place to park. If I have to go out to the suburbs, I will drive because transit service is insufficient out there and it is too far by other means.

The reason why building more roads never eases congestion is because more roads make driving more convenient. Consider the downtown rush-hour commute. If a new highway opens, a lot of transit users will now reconsider, thinking "there's more road and less traffic; it's now faster to drive." Traffic increases until congestion gets so bad that a threshold is reached, and no further people decide to drive; transit remains more convenient for the remaining few.

Similarily, if you were to remove a highway, congestion, at first, would increase dramatically. Commuters then once again reassess their options. The trip takes too long and is too expensive, so some abandon their cars and go for transit, which they have determined to be more convenient and cost-effective for them. Eventually, another threshold is reached and congestion returns to about what it once was. A toll, for example, would further change this threshold as more would then decide that the price is too steep, and make another choice. Choice and cost eventually find an equilibrium.

So, the course of action I see as the right one is to tear the sucker down. Transit must be beefed up (in fact, public transit improvement in general is more important than this single project) so that existing drivers have the option to leave their cars at home, and build us a usable street to which people will gladly flock.

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