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Weekend Newsstand: April 12, 2014

It is a little-known fact that the earth stopped spinning for 0.05 seconds yesterday due to the high-pitched screams emitted from Marvel fangirls when they realized Robert Downey Jr. had joined Twitter. In the news: a state funeral for Jim Flaherty will take place next week, a possible closure of the northbound Allen Expressway is back on the table, Karen Stintz wants traffic lights to get "smarter" by using artificial intelligence, and Norm Kelly goes to Taiwan.

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A state funeral will be held for former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty in Toronto on April 16, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. While it is an honour usually reserved for governors general, prime ministers, and sitting members of cabinet, a state funeral can be offered to any Canadian at the discretion of the prime minister. Of the 36 state funerals in Canadian history, the most recent for a federal politician came in 2011 when former NDP leader Jack Layton died of cancer. Further details of Flaherty’s funeral will be released shortly.

The northbound lanes of the Allen Expressway could close for nearly two years to accommodate construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, if Metrolinx finally gets its way. It is not the first time this proposed closure has been brought to city council for consideration. The issue of closing Allen Road between Eglinton Avenue and Lawrence Avenue came up two years ago, and was ultimately rejected by the City. The closure is required to help accommodate launch and extraction shafts for the tunnel-boring machines used for LRT construction, and would allow the 150 trucks of soil being hauled away from the tunnel on a daily basis to avoid driving on the southbound Allen Expressway, causing further traffic congestion. Currently, the construction is causing reduced-lane traffic that has become a major pain in the posterior for local residents. Metrolinx hopes that a report on the possible impact of the Allen Road closure will be ready to go to the public works committee in June.

According to mayoral candidate Karen Stintz, a locally developed traffic light system that uses artificial intelligence to allow intersections to learn from traffic patterns could result in a 25-per-cent cut in commute times. As her latest campaign pledge to alleviate gridlock, Stintz wants the City to begin a pilot test of the MARLIN system developed by a group of University of Toronto researchers. While U of T has already pledged to fund a third of the cost to get the pilot testing up and running at 10 Toronto intersections, Stintz claims that she has secured one-third of the cost from Metrolinx, which would leave a $100,000 investment required by city council. The idea for the pilot program is not entirely new, since MARLIN developers have already been in talks with both Transportation Services, and the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee over the past year. MARLIN operates using a chip that is the size of a smartphone that is plugged directly into each intersection. Researchers say it is more advanced than the similar “smart traffic” technology used in other cities because it makes decisions two-dimensionally, meaning it can take traffic flowing in more than one direction into account. Sure, but do these traffic-light robots subscribe to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics?

Granted, it is not exactly the same as heading to Hollywood to jet-set with pop-culture elites, but Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly is packing his bags and heading to Taiwan next week to lead a delegation that aims to strengthen working and cultural relationships. Councillors Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest), Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) will also be attending the trip. Have fun, kids!

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