Category Archives: Toronto

Blogging Real Estate for BlogTO

While I’ve been slacking over here, I’ve been talking real estate over at the Toronto based blog – BlogTO.  I’ll be back soon, but in the mean time here you are, if you’re interested.

Tudor Style home near the lake

Classic Toronto semi-detached in a trendy neighbourhood

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Shuttle Challenge

The Shuttle Challenge is a reward-based initiative that challenges commuters to drive 10% less.  Once every two weeks, it encourages you to take a non-car method of transportation – public transit, walking, or biking.  It highlights how small changes in transit patterns could make a huge difference in green house gas emissions.

Just by participating you are offered a reward.  When I heard this, I thought “Great! Encourage people to participate!”  Then I read that the rewards were gas cards.  GAS CARDS?  Seems a little counter intuitive.

It must be to them as well – because front and centre on the front page of the website is this Q&A.

Q – Why is an environmental organization giving away free gas?

A – To motivate you to take action.  Summerhill impact challenges you to drive better and  drive less.

That doesn’t seem like a clear answer to me.  They go on to elaborate here.  The further explanation boils down to 3 points –

  1. Canadians are going to drive a lot anyway
  2. Canadians love cheap gas
  3.  We may as well try something new because what we have tried thus far to get people to drive less hasn’t worked.

I’m not sold. Not yet at least.  

Check out the website and make your own opinion at http://www.shuttlechallenge.ca.  

 

 

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Re-examining Bike Share Safety

Bike share systems are exploding around the globe as an alternative means of sustainable transportation.  According to Wikipedia, there are currently 180 functioning systems around the world, with 6 more planned.  Among the planned systems, is New York City’s – set to launch in 2013 with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes.

But as popularity for these systems grows, so do concerns over safety.  Studies have found bike share users much less likely to use helmets than cyclists using their own bikes.  A Georgetown study found that Capital Bike Share users wear helmets only 30% of the time, as opposed to 70% of people using their own bikes.  A study of the Bixi system in Toronto found similar results – only 20.9% of Bixi users wear helmets , as opposed to 51.7% of riders with their own bicycles.

Rates of helmet use may be lower do to the fact that bike share trips are sometimes unplanned, and people do not carry helmets around with them at all times.  It could be do to the fact that these bicycle users are inexperienced, and perhaps do not own their own helmets.  Franny talked about some of her own struggles with helmet use, as well as some proposed solutions in her post about Boris Bikes.

However, I hypothesize that the lower helmet use is innate in how people view and use the system.

Bike share is essentially a bike taxi system, designed for short trips in one direction.  And in taxis, people display a similar disregard for safety precautions as they do when using bike share.  A majority of private vehicle occupants use seat belts.  In Canada, 95.5% of front seat occupants and 89.2% of back seat occupants wear seatbelts, according to a 2010 study completed by Census Canada.  According to a 2011 study, 84% of private vehicle occupants in the United States use seatbelts.  In New York City, this number is closer to 90%.  However, passengers in taxis do not exhibit the same rates of seat belt use.

According to a PSA put out by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, only 40% of passengers of cabs wear their seatbelts.  Though I could not find studies for other cities, we can assume from this (and perhaps our own experiences) that seatbelt use is much lower in taxis than in private vehicles.

Is there a mental connection between users of taxi cabs and “bike taxis”?  Do people feel differently about safety measures when in a private vehicle as opposed to a public one?  Or perhaps this correlation is just chance. However, if we want to encourage helmet use – we should broaden our thinking to WHY helmet usage is so much lower in bike share than on personal bicycles.  Only then can we start to think about how to fix it.

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Making use of Highway Dead Space

In  many cities, highways cut the city up, acting as barriers between neighbourhoods.  They block off parkland and waterfront from easy pedestrian access.  Urban highways aren’t going away any time soon, but cities are making strides to work around overpasses (or below, in this case).

Toronto just opened Underpass Park as part of an overall revitalization of Toronto’s Waterfront, and in preparation for Toronto’s hosting of the 2015 PanAm games.  It includes a playground for children, basketball courts, and (I think best of all) a skate park.  Development has yet to be completed around the park, leaving it sort of isolated for now.  But it’s great to see the city taking innovative steps forward, and thinking about what will get people into this park – what will get people using this park.  And I think the skate park is a great way to do that – and it’s a great sign we’ve stopped be so scared of skateboards in the city.

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A Year with Bike Share

Last June, a few months after its official launch, I signed up for Bixi – Toronto’s Bike Share program.  I wasn’t a full believer, wasn’t sure how useful Bixi would really be, but with a $100 price tag for the year it seemed like a worthwhile experiment.  Now that I’ve been a year with the program, I thought I’d do a quick round up review to share my thoughts on the program.

Bikes (4 / 5)

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Bixi bikes are a 3 gear model that works well for urban cycling.  Though I’m used to riding a road bike around, I actually quite like the heavier, stockier bixi bikes.  I like the black colour choice that makes for a sleek ride, and I love that there’s a little “basket” area on the front that is the perfect size for carrying six beers.

My only complaint is the seemingly huge gap between Gears 2 and 3.  First gear is so light its basically useless in flat down town Toronto and 2 isn’t much better unless you’re riding straight up hill.  3rd gear marks a huge shift up from second that often leads me switching back and forth, not finding a good place to be.

Docks (4.5 / 5)

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Though others have reported the irritation of showing up at a station that either has no bikes or no empty docks, this has happened to me only several times, and always when i was nearby another available station.  Of course, this could always be better, but certain docks will always be tricky.  Union Station during rush hours.  St Lawrence Market on Saturdays with people biking down, buying groceries, and taking another method of transit back.

In terms of usability, after 1 initial failure, I’ve had no trouble docking or undocking the bikes.  There is a bit of a learning curve, but I recommend a method of lifting the back wheel off the ground and pushing the bike into the dock as the most effective method.

Coverage (3 /5)

Coverage is probably the number 1 complaint I’ve heard for Bixi, and probably my number 1 complaint as well.  Starting off, the coverage area was quite small, and living on Sherbourne I was at the far eastern edge.  At the beginning of the year (I think), the coverage area was expanded, moving several underused stations from the inner zone, and expanding the system one major block in either direction (east and west).  I think this expansion came with mixed results.  The expanded coverage area is great, but leaves some areas without overflow docks.  In addition, the docks on the edge are sparser than I would hope for.  For example, there are two docks on Parliament street at Gerrard and Dundas, but nothing to the north.  This leaves Cabbagetown basically unserved – that makes little sense to me. 

Check out the full map on the website here

Customer Service (2 / 5)

Customer service is where Bixi really drops the ball.  In several cases where Bixi has moved docks, they have only notified people through their Facebook and Twitter pages, leaving the non-followers out of the loop.  Bixi needs to learn to better communicate with their customers and PUT SIGNS UP!  People who use the docks will see the moving signs in advance.  

In addition, Bixi is really slow in getting keys out to people.  My key took nearly a month to arrive – weeks after they said they mailed it.  This lead to me having to call several times and talk to surly employees who kept insisting the key had been sent.  I think Bixi straight up lies to its customers about when it sends out the keys.  I know Canada Post isn’t always great, but from the number of instances reported on the fb page and elsewhere, this seems like a widespread problem most likely to do with Bixi itself.  A lack of communication on this leads to anger and frustration in customers before they even start riding!  This could most certainly be improved upon.    

That all being said, the last time I called support because my bike didn’t dock properly, the guy who helped me out was very friendly and competent and my issue was resolved within minutes, so maybe they are improving.  

Overall (4 / 5)

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my experience with Bixi and I would highly recommend it to anyone who both lives and works downtown.  More popularity will lead to a wider coverage area, so that just leaves customer service to improve upon.  

Unfortunately, these days I’m working in an area of Toronto that will never get Bixi, nor would I recommend it to.  This makes Bixi less useful for me and leaves me unsure if I will sign up again.  That being said, it’s still really useful for visiting friends, running errands, and days when I am too lazy to walk.  

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I’d Live There

On a early spring run a few weeks ago, I took a turn down a street I’d been near many times, but never been down. Secluded down a ravine, with easy access to the Don Valley Recreation Trail, these modern houses caught my eye.  Not my usual style of architecture, but they were so appealing in the warm spring air.

 

***This is part of a weekly Friday posting of places we’d love to live, eat, and play***

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On Transit: A comparison by Miles of Track

Back in December I started a series comparing North American Transit sytems, first by Fare Prices, then by Hours of Operation.  The third installment in the series has been sitting in a folder of drafts since then, half finished.

Miles of route is one of the hardest things to compare among transit systems because each transit system is so different. With subway, light rail, street car, and bus rapid transit (BRT) all being used to different extents in different cities, it’s hard to know what to include.  I’ve done my best here, with the information I could find from transit sources on the web.

For the purpose of the below chart, I included only rail-based transit, and excluded any commuter-rail line (such as GO Transit in Toronto or MBTA commuter rail in Boston).  This isn’t to say that this type of rail isn’t of supreme importance in the greater urban public transit picture, but only that perhaps it is best left to a second comparison.  It is for this reason that I did not include Philadelphia in the below chart.  As discussed previously, Philadelphia’s transit system is so complex in terms of types of routes and types of transit it was difficult to sort out what to include.

Well, New York really trumps any other North American system in terms of total amount of track, with Chicago and Washington basically tying for second.  Toronto comes in 4th, largely due to my inclusion of streetcar lines in the analysis.  If I were to eliminate streetcar lines, the miles of track would drop to 43 putting it below Boston.  Take that as you will, keeping in mind the fact that some Streetcars have designated tracks and some don’t.

What is not quantified here is the effectiveness of each line.  Which systems are built smartly?  Which serve the population most effectively and which encourage the most transit use?  Is it best to build outwards to serve a larger geographic area, or to build densely to serve the most densely populated areas?

These are all things I will explore in my final installment of this series.

**This is the third post in a series of posts on North American Public Transit systems**

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A little Toronto love

I stumbled on this hilarious video via BlogTO.  It has great shots of Toronto, from Bessarion station to Trinity Bellwoods Park and gets right in there with some neighborhood stereotypes.  I love neighborhood stereotypes.

The jokes may pass non-Torontonians by, but check it out anyway for some sweet streetscape video footage.

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Then and Now

My neighbourhood transformed in the 1950s from semi-suburban middle class neighbourhood with homes erected in the 19th century to a dense series of apartment buildings inspired by Le Corbusier‘s Towers in the Park.  Despite Le Corbusier’s vilification, I have a soft spot in my heart for him and his ideas.  The follow through, though, was never what it should have been in the St James Town neighbourhood, and it’s sad to think of all the beautiful homes demolished to build these already aged apartment buildings.

More than maps or city plans, photos capture the gigantic changes that the neighbourhood underwent in the mid part of the 20th century.

The City of Toronto has a great archive of old photos and maps, scanned and available online and I was able to nab one of my intersection from 1912.  It’s totally unrecognizable.

I guess that’s urban progress?

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On Transit, A Comparison: Hours of Operation

In preparation of this post, I learned several things this week.

Firstly, Philadelphia’s transit system is ridiculously confusing for someone who doesn’t live in the city.  Two  different transit systems operate within the city: The SEPTA, which operates mostly within the city, and the PATCO, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey.  On top of that, SEPTA itself runs a variety of different services, incorporating basically every method of transit available today: —bus, subway and elevated rail, commuter rail, light rail, and electric trolley bus.  Holy crap, how do you keep track? And because commuter rail is integrated into the overall system, hours of operation vary wildly between lines, not to mention the PATCO line which is 24hrs.

So, all this being said, I have unfortunately abandoned Philadelphia for the time being.  If someone can give me a tutorial, I’m all ears, but for now I am overwhelmed.

Secondly, it is really hard to make any sort of attractive chart or infograph using only excel, paint, and word… especially when you have limited design skills to begin with.  So forgive me the rudimentary design elements, hopefully they will improve as these posts continue.

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OK. So, this week I examined transit from an hours of operation perspective…and service varies widely.  From Chicago and New York who operate 24hr systems to the majority of other systems that only operate from around 5 am til midnight.  As much as every transit user craves a 24hr system, it’s good to keep it in perspective that it’s an outlier at this juncture in the US and Canada.

Though service hours vary in many cities based on specific transit line and day of the week (i.e. not included in the chart is the fact that Toronto’s subway doesn’t open until 9 am on Sundays), Washington is the only city who has extended weekend hours, staying open on Friday and Saturday nights until 3 am.

Am I missing any? Are there any systems in North America with extremely short hours, or other 24 hr systems or extended hours?  Did I misrepresent your city? Let me know!

Footnote:

This graph also doesn’t take into consideration 24hr or late night bus service.  As routes and times vary greatly, this chart only focuses on subway and rail hours.

**This is the second post in a series of posts on North American Public Transit systems**

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