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#CITYCOMMUTE: Toronto group proposes underground highway to ease congestion

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017

With traffic snarls and commute times being some of the top pet peeves among Toronto commuters, one group feels the city needs to dig deeper to solve congestion issues.

The Get Toronto Moving Transportation Committee is proposing a six-lane tunneled highway that they say would help ease a lot of traffic woes. It would run from Highway 401 at Highway 2A in the east, to Highways 400, 427 and 402 in the west and would make Toronto home to the longest underground toll highway in the world.

“It would be 62 kilometers,” says James Alcock, chair of the committee. “What we’re doing is moving a lot of the through traffic underground by building a tunnel under existing railway corridor across the city from end to end.”

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Alcock wants to see these underground toll highways built by private companies and operated by the private sector.

“There’s the Ontario teachers pension fund which has over $100 billion available, there are oil companies, there are companies all over the world looking to invest.”UNDERGROUNG-HIGHWAY-MAIN-IMAGE-1024x576

 

However, the proposed tunnel may be counter-productive to the work the city is already trying to do. Graham Haines, Research Manager with Ryerson City Building Institute says it won’t prove to be the buried treasure the group is hoping.

“A big thing with highways is a thing called induced demand. So basically when we build new road capacity, it fills up pretty quickly because we’ve made driving easier,” he says. “More people will start driving, they’ll move further away. A tunnel highway is no different than adding a lane to the 401, which is what we see happening all the time.”

Nevertheless, Alcock and his team are putting together a formal “pitch” for their underground tunnel project. They hope to have a formal press conference in late January or early February, presenting it as an option for Toronto’s commuter future.

Preparing to spend Christmas in a tent

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017

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A Toronto woman who has a chronic disorder that makes her extremely sensitive to chemicals and environmental pollutants is preparing to spend the holidays in a tent because she has no place to live that will accommodate her condition.

Danni Storr suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), which can cause severe physical reactions when exposed to certain chemicals, such as perfumes, cleaning products and personal hygiene products.

As CityNews previously reported, Storr felt forced to leave her job and moved into a tent months ago, because of her illness.

Two weeks ago, when asked about Storr’s living situation, Mayor John Tory said it’s not acceptable for anyone to be in a tent in our climate and he pledged to “undertake a review of her file.”

On Monday, the mayor’s office said city officials have been trying to reach Storr to arrange for assistance but it’s proven to be difficult. “We haven’t received Ms. Storr’s contact info and don’t have a signed consent form,” said the mayor’s office in a written statement.

A 2007 report commissioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission states that approximately three per cent of Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities, and both the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Commissions recognize certain environmental sensitivities as a disability with a right to accommodation.

“For myself, I’m pretty much homebound, I don’t really get out unless it’s in the summertime,” says Bonita Poulin, who also suffers from MCS and left her job and moved from Brockville to rural Ontario because her symptoms got so severe.

Poulin’s advice to Storr is to leave the city. “We have to become self-sufficient and just stop waiting for other people to solve our problems… we’ve got to stop waiting around for somebody else to stop using perfume or for landlords to stop using pesticides and stop being so reliant on municipal affairs, and start looking after themselves,” adds Poulin.

The City of Toronto’s Homeless Initiatives and Prevention Services department says they have assisted people with MCS in the past and it hopes it can help Danni find a housing solution. Officials recently reached out to Danni to offer their services but she declined, saying she is afraid the accommodations won’t be safe for her.

“I kept telling them that I can’t go to a shelter because a lot of the things used in shelters will make me sick,” said Storr. But she is still hoping that city officials will find her safe, chemical-free accommodations for the holidays. “It’s just scary waking up in a tent… it literally looks like an ice cave.. so if I was hoping to be camping in an ice cave, it would be great but that’s not what I was hoping for.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s relationship status no longer a secret

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2017

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media following his speech to delegates and supporters during the B.C. NDP Convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday, November 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s personal life is no longer under wraps.

A series of Instagram photos posted over the weekend show Singh and fashion designer Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu attending what appears to be a pre-engagement party.

The pair are dressed in traditional Punjabi garments and one post congratulated the couple on their “rokha” –a traditional Punjabi ceremony held ahead of a wedding and usually attended by close family.

James Smith, a spokesperson for Singh, says the leader is neither engaged nor married; he says the families of the couple met at the gathering.

Sidhu, 27, identified herself online as the co-founder of Jangirro, a clothing line based in the Greater Toronto Area.

Until now, the 38-year-old Singh has been guarded about his personal life, declining to confirm or deny that he’s even in a relationship.

 

Penny-pinching adds up for Canadian grocers to tune of $3M per year: study

CityNews | posted Monday, Dec 18th, 2017

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 4: A clerk counts out pennies for change. Penny goes out of circulation today across Canada, the penny will still be used and factor into prices but banks will start taking any they collect out of circulation in  Toronto.  February 4, 2013  STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Grocery stores across the country are cashing in on the demise of the penny, according to a young researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Third-year economics and mathematics student Christina Cheng has written a paper that says Canadian grocers are making $3.27 million per year from penny-rounding.

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin, and as a result, cash purchases are now rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment.

Cheng wanted to know whether the change was benefiting shoppers or stores.

“Penny-rounding always becomes a guessing game,” the 19-year-old explained. “It’s a fun guessing game because it might not hurt in the short run, looking at several cents, but in the long run, I wondered if this actually accumulates.”

Curious, she decided to use her spare time outside of class to investigate.

First, Cheng enlisted a friend and they spent about a month and a half documenting more than 18,000 prices at grocery stores, taking pictures of price tags and entering the data into a spreadsheet.

They found that most prices ended in .99 or .98 – numbers that would result in bill totals being rounded up for cash transactions, if tax is not applied.

Cheng took the data and used a computer simulator to create “grocery baskets” with various items. She adjusted different variables such as the numbers of items and amount of taxes, and factored in data from the Bank of Canada on what payment methods consumers are most likely to use.

Cheng said her analysis found that grocery stores are profiting from penny-rounding.

In the end, Canadian consumers don’t end up paying much extra, but the rounding on cash transactions can mean big money for grocery retailers across the country, with each store standing to collect $157 per year, Cheng said.

In October, a paper Cheng wrote on the research won a competition for the best undergraduate student paper at the International Atlantic Economic Society’s conference in Montreal. Her study is slated to be published next June in the Atlantic Economic Journal.

The Retail Council of Canada disagrees with Cheng’s findings, said Karl Littler, the group’s vice president of public affairs.

The study’s methods don’t reflect real grocery baskets or take into account the impacts of various provincial taxes on bill totals, he said, noting that the average grocery bill is $53 and consists of a larger number of items than Cheng’s simulated baskets included.

Littler said the council’s members have reported anecdotally that penny-round is about 50-50, with half of the bill totals being rounded up and benefiting stores, and the other half being rounded down and benefiting consumers.

“There’s no nefarious plan here to scoop pennies,” he said.

Cheng said she isn’t looking to demonize Canada’s grocery industry, and simply wanted to look at an issue that affects most Canadians on a daily basis.

Her work on penny-rounding was all done outside of class time as a labour of love, which Cheng said really surprised her professors.

“Tying research with application is what I love to do,” she said.

TTC begins phasing out collector booths in favour of Presto

CityNews | posted Monday, Dec 18th, 2017

A woman uses a Presto card reader in this undated file photo. CITYNEWS.

It’s out with the old and in with the new on the TTC, as collector booths will soon be a thing of the past at subway stations – starting with Sheppard West and Wilson stations on Sunday.

Efforts to eliminate tokens, tickets and collectors were announced back in 2015. The TTC says closing collector booths is part of the ongoing implementation of Presto across the system.

The collector booths at Wilson and Sheppard West stations are now permanently closed and over the course of the next year, the booths will be closed system wide.

The move means customers will not be able to purchase tickets, tokens or metropasses at subway stations but they can still use those methods to pay their fare – a system already in place on all the new stations on the Line 1 extension. Cash can still be used system wide – but be sure to have that exact change handy.

Collector booths are being replaced by customer service agents who will answer questions and sell Presto cards, which the TTC says will be available for purchase at each station.

Effective immediately, customer service agents will be at all stations on the new Line 1 extension as well as Sheppard West and Wilson stations. They are expected to be at more and more stations throughout the system next year.

 

‘Twas the week before Christmas: Subway comes to York Region this weekend

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 15th, 2017

An illuminated TTC Subway sign at the Queen Street station in Toronto on July 6, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Dominic Chan

Christmas comes a week early for TTC riders. Starting on Sunday, subway riders will be able to journey past Sheppard West station and into York Region.

Aside from the subway celebration, there are lots of things to be happy about this weekend. Christmas Day is just around the corner and the festivities are all around us.

Big TTC news

Subway line extends to York
Construction on the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) started in 2008, and at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, the dream will become a reality. Line 1 has been expanded 8.6 kilometres and six stations past Sheppard West Station, to York University and north to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. The six new subway stations are: Downsview Park, Finch West, York University, Pioneer Village, Highway 407, and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. The extension also includes commuter parking lots as well as TTC, York Region and GO bus terminals.

Ahead of the subway line opening, an open house will be held at Finch West Station (3950 Keele St.) on Saturday, giving TTC riders a chance to preview the subway station. The open house is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can tour the station and learn how it was built.

Festive events

Foodie Holiday Market
If you’re looking for inspiration to wow your guests this holiday season, then look no further than the Foodie Holiday Market. The third annual celebration of tasty treats at the Toronto Botanical Gardens will feature more than 40 local vendors showing off their best in artisan food. You’ll have a chance to try samples, and shop for delicious stocking stuffers. The event runs both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door, and children under 12 are free. Bring your appetite!

Holiday movies
“So if you really love Christmas, c’mon and let it snow” … if you watched the movie, Love Actually, you know this reference. Everyone has their favourite Christmas movie, and chances are one of them is playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema this weekend and until Dec. 22. Some of the other classic movies include: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Elf, and The Holiday. And the best part of all is that the movies are free — a limit of two tickets per person — but you are encouraged to make a donation to the The Stop Community Food Centre.

Holiday Gift Swap
Are you looking to save a few dollars on gifts this year? Or maybe get rid of that present you got last year that you never use? Luckily for you, Toronto’s Holiday Gift Swap is back this weekend for its fifth year. Greenpeace and the Toronto Tool Library are teaming up to bring Torontonians together to swap to find the perfect gift for that special someone. The swap is on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Beer Pong
Finally, all those beer pong tournaments you played in college have finally paid off! A beer pong championship tournament will be hosted downtown Saturday night. The “beer pong championship of the world” round robin tournament will see teams face off for a cash prize and bragging rights. It will be held at 117 Tecumseth St. and starts at 9 p.m.

Students outraged over banned washroom breaks

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 15th, 2017

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Historically washroom breaks have been an excuse for some students to get out of class.

Michael Power – St. Joseph High School in Etobicoke believes they have the perfect solution: banning washroom breaks during class time.

Now, students are raising questions about their personal privacy.

According to Grade 12 student Paul, it’s like being in “JK all over again.”

“In order for us to go to the washroom and be let out of class, we have to call down someone (to the class) to escort us to the washroom.”

In an email the Toronto Catholic District School Board confirms, “In some instances, students may have been accompanied by admin staff to the washroom as part of the regular monitoring of hallways to ensure that students do not miss out on class time.” They go on to say, “Staff are being asked to monitor the length of time the student is absent.”

The students CityNews spoke with confirm faculty are escorting students to the washroom but not into the washroom to the best of their knowledge. However, Grade 11 student Juliano says it still makes him feel “uncomfortable.”

“I don’t want someone watching me and knowing how long I take in the washroom or how long I’m there,” he said. “It’s just weird.”

Grade 12 student Silvia calls the washroom protocol “embarrassing,” going on to say that if students want to waste time going to the washroom instead of spending it in class learning, “it’s their own loss wasting their time.”

Ontario’s education Minister Mitzi Hunter weighed in, noting the school climate is something that is “extremely important.”

“We want every student that walks into the school to feel safe and included and that they belong in that school and that includes that the students voice is heard. So in this specific incident it’s important that the educators listen to the student voice.”

Human rights lawyer Caryma Sa’d told CityNews there are issues with the school’s policy.

“In my view, it’s treading in the territory of violation or privacy and human dignity to be watched, monitored or timed when using the washroom,” she said. “Or to even need to seek permission in the first place.”

4 dead in Hydro One helicopter crash in eastern Ontario

CityNews | posted Friday, Dec 15th, 2017

OPP and Hydro One trucks stand near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

With little daylight at their disposal and a deep freeze setting in late Thursday, investigators quickly scoured the wreckage of a deadly helicopter crash in eastern Ontario.

None of the four Hydro One employees on board the Aerospatiale AS350-B2 chopper survived the crash, which happened shortly before noon, police said.

Parts of the aircraft were scattered over a snow-covered field outside Tweed, north of Kingston.

While provincial police confirmed the four deaths, and said that next of kin had been notified, the names of the victims were not released.

Darkness and a cold front that saw wind chill temperatures drop to near minus 30 eventually forced investigators to wait until first light on Friday to continue their probe into why the helicopter went down.

“We will document the scene, photograph the scene, gather as much information at the scene as we can,” Transportation Safety Board investigator Peter Rowntree said as Ontario Provincial Police cordoned off the crash site for the night.

“At some point the wreckage will be removed to another facility so we can examine it in a warmer climate.”

Crews had been ferried by helicopter in and out of the area for weeks as they worked on hydro lines strung on the towers that cross the property, said Kim Clayton, who lives near the crash site and grew used to hearing choppers fly back and forth.

Clayton said there was no indication of any trouble until a loud crash shook the house. She scrambled to a window, where she said she saw part of the chopper in the trees that surround an open field. Other hydro crew members were running around, yelling that a helicopter had crashed and to call 911, she said.

“My heart started pounding in my chest,” said Clayton, 45, who moved onto the property just six weeks ago. “I was in panic mode.”

Initially Clayton didn’t think the situation was that bad but then she said she feared for the worst when she saw ambulances turn away without transporting any of the chopper’s crew.

“I then said to myself, ‘They’re not coming out of this’.”

The helicopter was apparently heading for a landing, Clayton said, adding she was relieved it didn’t hit anyone on the ground or her horses, which were on the other side of the field.

Clayton, whose husband was away and children in school, said she choked up when the orange tape started going up and she realized just how bad it was.

“They have families, it’s almost Christmas time,” Clayton said. “I still can’t believe four guys died on this property today and it’s sad.”

The Tweed fire department and several provincial police cruisers responded to the crash but there was little they could do. Ontario’s air ambulance service was also called to the scene but left without loading any casualties.

In a statement, Hydro One expressed its condolences to the victims’ families.

“We are deeply saddened to confirm that an incident involving one of our helicopter aircraft occurred in the Tweed area and has resulted in four fatalities,” Hydro One said in a statement.

The utility also said it would do what it could to help employees and their families affected by the tragedy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed his sympathies.

“Tragic news from eastern Ontario today,” Trudeau tweeted. “My deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed in the helicopter crash near Tweed.”

Rowntree said investigators would be looking at a wide range of factors to determine a possible cause of the crash, including photographic evidence of the wreckage.

With a file from News Staff

OPP and Hydro One trucks stand near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

OPP and Hydro One trucks stand near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

An OPP truck stands near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. TWITTER/OPP

An OPP truck stands near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. TWITTER/OPP

An ambulance stands near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. TWITTER/OPP

An ambulance stands near the site of a Hydro One helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. TWITTER/OPP

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