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Rejected TTC passenger blocks path of bus that was too crowded to board

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 13th, 2017

After waiting for the bus for up to 30 minutes in the cold, and then being told it was too crowded to board, one Toronto woman took her impromptu protest straight to the street on Friday night.

A video, shot by a TTC commuter who was on an affected bus, shows the woman walking north on Lansdowne Avenue in the right-hand lane. Behind her, according to the video description, are two buses, each crowded with about 100 passengers.

The lead bus slowly follows the woman. Whenever it tries to move to the left-hand lane to pass her, she moves to the middle of the road, blocking the bus’s path.

In the video, the bus driver can be heard on the phone with the TTC, describing the situation.

“I’ve got a disgruntled customer who is walking down the middle of the road holding up traffic, not letting me pass,” the driver says. “As I try to change lanes, she’s walking in front of me.”

“I’ve got an absolutely packed bus, I had to leave her on the sidewalk because I had no room for her. I’ve got another bus behind me, and we’re just sort of creeping along.”

The bus driver had asked the woman and a handful of other passengers to wait for another bus so that his view of the road wouldn’t be impacted, writes poster Andreas Wesley in the video’s description.

In the background of the video, a number of passengers can be heard complaining about the woman. “What you have to put up with” says one customer.

The woman waves at stopped traffic as she walks up the road, passing other stops where surprised commuters are waiting to board.

The bus makes it two blocks north of Lansdowne Station, to Wallace Avenue. The poster tells CityNews the bus stopped there to swap drivers and then continued without issue. The TTC is investigating.

More to come

Bloor bike lanes heralded but Toronto lags behind other Canadian centres

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 13th, 2017

Cyclists ride on the designated Bloor Street bike lanes in Toronto on Thursday, October 12, 2017. When a stretch of separated bicycle lanes along a major thoroughfare in Toronto was recently made permanent, cyclists rejoiced and local politicians heralded the move as a major step forward for Canada's most populous city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

When a stretch of separated bicycle lanes along a major thoroughfare in Toronto was recently made permanent, cyclists rejoiced and local politicians heralded the move as a major step forward for Canada’s most populous city.

But for all the attention garnered by the lanes on a 2.4 kilometre stretch of buzzing Bloor Street West, urban planners and advocates say Toronto still has a piecemeal approach to bike infrastructure that has left it lagging behind urban centres like Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Bike lanes, they note, while pitting motorists against cyclists in some quarters, are expanding as the cities they’re built in cater to what appears to be a rising number of residents who want to travel on two wheels.

“What we’re seeing is a revolution, a transformation, in thinking around urban biking,” said Brent Toderian, a former chief planner for Vancouver and the president of the Council of Canadian Urbanism.

“This is about cities being better for everyone: healthier, more sustainable, much more cost effective, and just able to move more people in less space … Urban biking, like transit, is critically important for cities to work better for everyone, including drivers.”

In Toronto, after the advantages and disadvantages of the Bloor project were studied at length, city council voted 36-6 to keep the separated lanes that had been installed under a pilot project last summer.

The city now has approximately 590 kilometres of on-road bike lanes, about 37 kilometres of which are protected from car traffic.

But, despite a decade-long plan approved last year to create a bike-lane network, the majority of lanes are currently disconnected from other stretches, leaving cyclists and motorists contending for space on busy roads.

“Toronto has struggled to put in place, and then keep, individual bike lanes,” Toderian said, describing the city’s pattern on bike lanes as taking two steps forward and one step back. “It can be draining when the battle to get individual bike lanes in is so huge, and we know what we need is a complete network.”

Meanwhile, Montreal — internationally recognized as one of the most cycle-friendly cities in North America — has about 570 kilometres of on-road or roadside bike lanes, of which nearly 90 kilometres are protected or separated from car lanes.

And newly elected Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has pledged to build a new 140 kilometre “Bicycle Express Network” of protected lanes along seven major streets in the next four years.

Toronto needs to work harder on its protected lanes, said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle T.O., which advocated for the Bloor bike lanes. But political divisions in a city that has a dense urban core as well as car-heavy outlying areas have hampered progress on the matter, he contended.

“There’s no question that our political system has held us back from being able to build the kind of network of protected bike lanes that I think people who live downtown … recognize as a priority,” he said.

One city councillor who opposed the Bloor bike lanes said he did so because they took up space on the road, caused delays of two to four minutes per car journey and did not result in as many new cyclists hitting the road as he would have hoped.

“Cycling is a great way to get around the city … It’s just not for everyone all the time,” said Coun. Stephen Holyday, who represents the ward of Etobicoke Centre, just west of the city core. “We have to think about the needs of everybody and how we divide up the road in a fair manner.”

Adding bike lanes to a major street decreases drivers’ options for getting in and out of the city, he said.

“If there are ever incidents on roads, like a closure or an accident, it becomes critical that there are (route) choices, and as we take those away it makes the city less livable for the people I represent.”

Having long stretches of protected bike lanes, however, is important to encourage more cyclists to get on the road and bike more frequently, one advocate said.

“If you can only get halfway there on what you consider to be adequate, convenient, safe infrastructure, you’re not going to take your bike,” said Judi Varga-Toth, executive director of the cyclist advocacy group Canada Bikes, who said it’s essential bike lanes be protected from traffic.

“Painting a line on the road is not equivalent to infrastructure,” she said. “People can drive over that line, they can weave into that (lane), they can park on it … If there is no physical separation you’re still not ensuring a safe ride for people.”

A number of cities do appear to be taking note — Calgary and Edmonton have in the past two years built grids of mostly protected bike lanes in their downtowns.

Calgary built a 6.5 kilometre network of bike lanes along downtown roads as part of a 2015 pilot project and made them permanent last December. Inspired by Calgary’s pilot, Edmonton began installing its own 7.8 kilometre network of protected bike lanes this summer.

“We felt … we’d see maximum benefit by doing a network so people could get in and around downtown (by bike),” said Daniel Vriend, general supervisor of systems planning for the City of Edmonton. “We focused on movable infrastructure, recognizing that … we probably wouldn’t get everything right, but we were going to put it in and tweak it as we go.”

81-year-old woman lone fatality in Ajax fire

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 13th, 2017

Office of the Fire Marshal on the scene of a fatal fire in Ajax (Stephen Dagg / CityNews)

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office is investigating a fatal fire in Ajax that claimed the life of an elderly woman.

Fire crews were called to a home on Abraham Court, just west of Rossland and Audley roads around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

Police say the fire started at the rear of the home.

An 81-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

It’s unclear at this time what may have sparked the fire.

TTC takes steps to better serve commuters dealing with mental health concerns

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 13th, 2017

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While most TTC riders are all too familiar with a frustrating commute, for those dealing with mental health issues, riding the rocket can sometimes mean compounded feelings of anxiety and stress.

The TTC is now taking steps to better serve that group by providing mental health awareness training to some of their staff. To that end, workshops are being held in collaboration with Progress Place, a community based mental health recovery centre.

“We do hear stories from our members that come in and might have had some frustration on the TTC,” says Criss Habal, Executive Director of Progress Place.

“People don’t always understand if someone is asking questions, or trying to figure out where they are, or if they are having anxiety or maybe talking to themselves trying to figure it out,” she says.

Progress Place has helped train more than 120 TTC staff members including special constables, enforcement officers, wheel-trans operators and even customer services representatives who staff their call centre.

“We get calls from people who are highly anxious, struggling with the crowds, or having trouble finding their way,” says Kirsten Walker, a Change Management Consultant with the TTC’s wheel-trans program.

She says the training is especially relevant now that the program eligibility has changed to include riders with cognitive, mental health, and sensory disabilities.

“It’s giving people on the other side of  the phone the tools to be able to calm them down, understand their questions, or concerns and help them the right way,” she says.

The workshops use real life scenarios and offer stories from Progress Place members who share their experiences dealing with distress on the TTC. The training also gives staff tangible tips on how to react to common situations, like an angry or aggressive rider.

“You can say, ‘I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say, but it’s hard when you’re raising your voice,’” says Habal. “As you notice, I’m not saying, ‘stop yelling’. The first thing is trying to empathize.”

Habal says with so many different types of people passing through the TTC every day, she believes the training could help save a life.

“Sometimes they are very sad and depressed, they might contemplate suicide… that’s an area we want to make sure people have as much support and training as possible.”

King Street pilot project raises congestion concerns

CityNews | posted Monday, Nov 13th, 2017

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Ready or not, it’s already begun – the ambitious year-long pilot project prioritizing streetcars on King Street went into effect on Sunday.

All traffic on King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets is now only allowed to travel a single block before being forced to turn right – no left turns and no through traffic is allowed. City-licensed taxis are exempt, but only between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. As for cyclists, there’s space for them in the curb lane, but there are no plans for a dedicated bike lane along King Street.

The TTC says more than 65,000 people use the King streetcar during the week, but the rocket slows down to a crawl due to traffic congestion. Some might even say it’s faster to get off and walk. The pilot project aims to keep that stretch of road virtually car-free, allowing streetcars to move unhindered.

To ensure that people are aware of the new rules, Toronto police were out educating drivers on Sunday and making them aware of the changes.

CityNews spoke to both drivers and streetcar riders on King Street and opinions are clearly divided.

One driver says the new rules are an inconvenience to drivers who frequent the area.

“It will probably make it a little more difficult for people like us that drive on this street all the time, so that’s not the most convenient thing,” she says.

On the other hand, those who use the streetcars are a little more enthused about the changes and what they could mean for their weekly commute.

Streetcar rider Chris Drew says he’s excited the city is taking steps to address the frustrating gridlock on the street.

“We have to try something right? The current situation is failing so let’s try something and see how this works, and it’s all about moving a lot of people,” he says.

However while it may get streetcars moving, the ripple effect of diverting traffic away from King Street cannot be ignored. All those vehicles have to go somewhere, raising concerns that neighbouring streets will see increased traffic, causing backups and delays.

Small business owner Elena Lepori doesn’t see the logic behind the new rules and says they’ll cause serious problems for those who live and work on King Street.

“It would make me do a lot of detours. I don’t think that’s very practical. De-congesting a street by congesting another one…I don’t understand,” she says.

However, Const. Clint Stibbe tells CityNews Toronto police will be keeping a close eye on the situation in the area and analyzing the changes in traffic patterns.

“We will be monitoring the changes in the environment in the sense that individuals that are now backing up side streets … or whatever the case may be. The officers are going to make adjustments depending on what they’re seeing, and they’re going to advise us on anything they’ve identified that may be an ongoing problem,” he says.

Police expect that it will take some time for drivers to get used to the changes and are allowing for a week-long grace period before cracking down on violators.

During the first week of implementation, drivers will not be penalized, but instead they’ll be given warnings and provided with pamphlets explaining the new rules.

Thereafter, rule breakers could face a $110 fine and two demerit points, based on the officer’s discretion.

We honour and remember: Remembrance Day ceremonies encapsulate the weekend

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 10th, 2017

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“To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.”

For the Fallen (Laurence Binyon, September 1914)

We always seem to be busy these days, and in the midst of all our running around, we often forget to look to beyond ourselves. This Saturday, which is Remembrance Day, Canadians will be taking the time to stop what they are doing and observe two minutes of silence.

Canadians will pause to remember and pay their respects to soldiers and military personnel who fought and died in past wars, and those who are serving in missions around the world.

Remembrance Day in the GTA

Several ceremonies will be held across the the city and the GTA on Friday and Saturday, including at the Old City Hall Cenotaph and Queen’s Park. Both ceremonies start at 10:45 a.m. Earlier in the morning, a sunrise service will be held at Prospect Cemetery at 8 a.m.

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War veterans at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre will be honoured with the annual planting of Canadian flags for Operation Raise a Flag. Around 30,000 flags will be planted on the centre’s lawns the day before. You can still purchase a flag for $25, and proceeds will go to veteran care and the centre’s Grant a Wish program.

The Royal Regiment of Canada will also be holding a service at St. James Church at 10:30 a.m. There will be a wreath-laying and march after the service. A gathering will also be held at Fort York Armoury for families of Dieppe veterans and other guests.

On Friday, the City of Mississauga will hold a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Mississauga Civic Centre Community Memorial from 10:45 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. The service includes two minutes of silence, a poetry reading and the laying of wreaths. Army cadets from the 105-7th Toronto Regiment will also be holding an overnight vigil at the Streetsville Cenotaph.

Click here for a list of services in Toronto, and here for memorials in the GTA.

On Saturday, TTC vehicles will pause for two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. across its entire network. Veterans, along with current members of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be able to travel for free with a companion on TTC vehicles. Veterans and current members of the military can also travel for free with a companion on GO Transit.

What’s open and closed

  • LCBO stores will be open at noon on Saturday, click here to locate the hours for your store
  • Beer Store locations will also open at noon on Saturday, with the exception of these stores that will open at 12:30 p.m.
  • Since Remembrance Day falls on a Saturday, federal and provincial government offices, along with banks, will be closed on Monday
  • No mail delivery on Monday

Other events

Baby show
It’s all about tiny humans this weekend as the Metro Toronto Convention Centre plays host to the BabyTime Show. If you and your partner are expecting, or have a new infant at home, you won’t want to miss what’s been dubbed Toronto’s best baby event. From prenatal to preschool, the show – put on by Babies”R”Us – has dozens of exhibitors under one roof. You can check out all the major baby brands and innovative products, and even get advice from some top parenting experts. New this year: the healthy moms marketplace – a dedicated area to health and wellness products geared towards moms and their little ones. The BabyTime Show takes place from Friday to Sunday.baby16x9-1024x576

Beatles tribute concert for charity
“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Beatlemania hits Koerner Hall in Toronto this weekend, and it’s all for charity. Organizers are inviting people to come out and groove to their favourite Beatles songs, as part of a tribute concert in support of Canada Cares and the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. The hope is to raise awareness and support for caregivers. It’ll definitely be an evening to remember, complete with surprise guests and a chance to win great prizes. Attendees are also being encouraged to dress up as their favourite Beatle. The Jukebox Beatles tribute band takes the stage at 8 p.m.

Gem expo
Are you crazy for gems, minerals, beads, amber and pearls? Well, the Gem Expo – Canada’s premier bead and jewellery show – is for you. Local jewellery designers and artisans will be on hand, and many of the vendors also work with healing crystals that are said to help improve overall well-being. Attendees can also take part in one of several classes being offered. A silent auction is also taking place to help support a local Toronto charity. The Gem Expo runs Friday to Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Toronto on King Street West.

TTC and road closures

Partial Line 1 shutdown
As you make your way down to Remembrance Day events, keep in mind subways won’t be running on Line 1 (Yonge) between St. Clair and Lawrence stations. The closure is due to track work. Shuttle buses will running and Wheel-Trans service will be provided.

Road closures
Several roads will be closed for Remembrance Day ceremonies and prep work for the launch of the King Street Transit Pilot on Sunday. Click here for a full list.

What effect does commuting stress have on your health and well-being?

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 10th, 2017

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We all know commuting can be stressful.

Whether you’re stuck in a monster traffic jam, or crammed onto a packed subway, the daily grind can result in rattled nerves and lead to some serious physical and mental health issues.

We spoke to some health experts about how commuting can impact your well-being.

Signs of a stressed out commuter: (Source: Dr. Christina Wickens, CAMH)

  • Physical symptoms like cardiovascular stress
  • Mental health issues, like depression
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Lower life satisfaction

 

Societal Impacts of stressed out workers

  • Lower productivity, not able to stay focused or complete tasks on time
  • Behaving more hostile to coworkers
  • Negative impact on homelife

 

Ways to beat the bumper-to-bumper blues

  • Give yourself extra time to get to where you’re going. “Anytime you’re running late it makes even a minor annoyance that much more frustrating,” Dr. Christine Wickens explains.

 

Move closer

“If you moved out of the city because you got a bigger piece of land or you got a cheaper house, you have to factor in the physical toll (the commute) takes on you. Amortize that over fifteen or twenty years,” Dr. Oren Amitay suggests.

Find a flexible employer

“See if you can change your schedule to see if you can travel at a less intense time,” Dr. Amitay says.

Distract yourself.

“Take a breath. Do some relaxation exercises. Listen to music that relaxes you,” Dr. Wickens says.

Hamilton man found dead in SUV was murdered: police

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 10th, 2017

Police are looking for a black 2005 Ford Escape SUV, similar to the one pictured above, in connection with a murder near Hamilton on Nov. 8, 2017. HANDOUT/Niagara Regional Police Service

Niagara regional police say a 45-year-old man whose body was found in an SUV in a rural area outside Hamilton was the victim of a homicide.

Police say the body of Johnathan Bailey, of Hamilton was found at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Township of West Lincoln.

An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday at Hamilton General Hospital.

Investigators say they are searching for a black 2005 Ford Escape, which is believed to be associated with the homicide case.

They say the vehicle has aluminum rims, a roof rack and a stick family decal on the rear bumper with a father, mother and son.

The vehicle is believed to be from Ontario or Quebec, and police add there is no front licence plate.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police.

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