Monday, October 25, 2004

Gas tax debacle

I've been meaning to post on the McGuinty government's gas tax announcement and what it means for Toronto. This past weekend saw a back-and-forth debate in the media between provincial and Toronto officials, with Toronto claiming that this deal is worse than no deal, and with the province saying that the city pols are ingrates and should be thanking them for "a promise kept, not a promise broken". I've been trying to sort my way through the rhetoric and have come to the conclusion that they're both right (or, if you're a pessimist, they're both wrong). I was going to try to explain it a little more, but I think Royson James explained it a little better today than I could have. Or, for other coverage within the blogosphere, see Andrew Spicer's take.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

San Francisco, then vs. now

Stumbled across an interesting website tonight that compares screen captures from the 1958 film Vertigo with contemporary photos taken from as close to the same vantage point as possible without setting up a tripod and leaving it there for 45 years!

Aside from the skill of the photographer in painstakingly recreating the precise scenes, and seeing how little San Francisco has changed over the past 45 years, what struck me most about these shots is how much trees enhance the urban landscape. For examples, try here, here, or here. Even the tiny little street trees here.

Now I have to go out and actually watch the movie...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Varsity blues

I was excited when the Argonauts announced their plans to move into a new facility on the grounds of the former University of Toronto Varsity Stadium at St. George subway station (if I were a TV reporter, I would have to say something about the "infamous 1950 'mud bowl'", but as I am not a TV reporter, I do not have to stoop to that level...). Although I, like much of the GTA, initially admired the SkyDome upon its 1989 opening (compared to the ad-hoc Exhibition Stadium), the lustre soon wore off as I saw the stadium for the antiseptic cavern that it is. I was interested by the prospects of the Argos enjoying a Montreal Alouettes-style renaissance after moving from a lifeless domed stadium into a more intimate facility, and I was heartened to see that it was to be a downtown site clearly oriented to subway access. (Although I've unfortunately never seen them in person, my favourite ballparks have been the older, quirkier and more intimate downtown ballparks, like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, or Ebbets Field.)

I was thus equally disappointed to hear that, apparently due to U of T politics, the rebirth of Varsity Stadium is to be no more. Other "plan B" sites now being considered include:

  • Exhibition Place ("Mistake By The Lake Part II", but still well served by GO and the new Harbourfront streetcar line)
  • York University (further out from downtown, but as Andrew Spicer notes, at least it's to be served by the new York University busway, and eventually an extension of the Spadina subway)
  • Downsview Park (similar location but likely in a more suburban format — at least York is making efforts to urbanize their campus and put more emphasis on transit as they struggle to cope with automobile demand)
  • Woodbine Race Track (still further out from downtown, and likely served by a giant mother of a parking lot)

Part of me says it should at least stay downtown and use the Exhibition Place grounds, while another part says it should go to York, with the ability to partner with the university athletics department and the access from the new busway to Downsview (and GO's proposed trans-GTA busway). But my heart isn't in either of them. Varsity had the subway access and urban, downtown environment, but more than that, it had tradition. I believe tradition and legend count for a lot in sports — witness the Bill Barilko legend, or the Curse of the Bambino, or the Maple Leafs trotting out their nostalgia jerseys come playoff time (I still say they should wear those things all the time). The new Varsity site was more than just a stadium: it was a rebirth. The symbolism could not be clearer. With Varsity off the table, any other site has instantly become just a stadium.

Caught in a rut

Back when I worked in North York and lived in Port Credit, every time I drove on the westbound express lanes of the 401 on the Hogg's Hollow bridge west of Yonge Street I would marvel at the shabby state of the pavement — ruts that feel as though they're redirecting your car as you drive over them — and decide that it was only a matter of time until someone loses control on them and causes an accident.

Guess what happened last Wednesday.

The trucking company has stated that it was the poor condition of the roadway, not the condition of the truck or its driver, that caused the truck to swerve out of control. I'm sure everyone is saying, "Yeah, sure it was the pavement, and your past safety record has nothing to do with it." I would normally be at the front of that line. But in this case, I'll believe it.

Transporation minister Harinder Takhar attempted to subdue an angry public by ordering a "complete audit" on the trucking firm, Redtree Contract Carriers, stating "I want to do a complete, thorough review of their record ... everything we can check, the tires, the nuts, the bolts ... and we will have to check the driving record as well." The implication is that if the trucking company was found to be at fault, that it would no longer be permitted to operate. If that is the case, it'd be unfortunately based on a knee-jerk witch hunt. Minister Takhar needs to look just as thoroughly, and without prejudice, at the condition of the pavement on the westbound express lanes.