9:10 a.m., February 10, 1977. Chaos reigned on the platforms of Dundas station, which was jammed beyond capacity with people eager to attend the opening of the Eaton Centre. “Passengers got close to hysteria as they were dumped out into dense crowds that couldn’t get through the single open exit fast enough,” the Globe and Mail reported.
Up above, by the entrance to Trinity Square, around 4,500 gathered for the official opening ceremony. A group of trumpeters descended from a balcony, along with 16 costumed representatives of the city’s ethnic communities. Pipers from the Toronto Scottish Regiment led in the official party, then the 48th Highlanders escorted Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon, who received the loudest cheers from the crowd. McGibbon, Mayor David Crombie, and other dignitaries cut a red ribbon with scissors presented on blue velvet cushions by Girl Guides. A planned salute to the new mall by the Fort York Guard was scratched when, following a rehearsal, it was felt musket fire would frighten elderly patrons.
Something innovative is happening behind the scenes of Chicago’s restaurants, but it’s not the latest food trend. It’s the city of Chicago’s current project: they can predict which restaurant you will get food poisoning at next. Think of it like the Minority Report of food sickness—but instead of relying on “precogs” to flag the next health code violators, city staff are tapping into the power of data. The project was launched to help optimize the work of Chicago’s 36 food inspectors who are tasked with scrutinizing more than 16,000 eating establishments. Using open data, Chicago’s department of innovation and technology developed an algorithm that predicts restaurants that are most likely to violate health codes. It has been so effective that Chicago’s inspectors have been able to address critical violations an average of seven days before they occur, and diners are much less likely to contract food-borne illnesses.
This is an example of city staff tapping into the power of data to deliver better public services. Data-driven governing—using data and evidence to improve how policy decisions are made and services are delivered—is increasing in popularity as cities are pressured to do more with tighter budgets. Data-driven decision-making can help local governments develop programs that yield efficiencies, and the savings can be funnelled back into building better communities.
Toronto City Hall doesn’t rank very high when it comes to installing bike lanes, but you can’t help but be impressed by the ingenuity of excuses for inaction. Instead of bike lanes we often get statements such as “roads were built for cars” (false), “motorists are key to the success of local merchants” (false), or, more recently, “bike lanes cause climate change” (funny). One of the more difficult arguments for cyclists to counter is the necessity of bike lanes given the drop in cycling numbers during the winter. Now, even this excuse is being challenged by routine observation and data—especially where bike lanes have been installed. Based on our counts over the last two weeks (January 16–27, 2017), the Bloor bike lane was used for an average of 1,700 bike trips per day, rivalling even the summertime ridership for some bike lanes in the city.
The gist of the no-one-cycles-in-the-winter argument is that bike lanes are an inefficient use of public space. Since the argument is typically made by the auto lobby, the rationale should be dismissed with a hearty chuckle. After all, the car is a space monster virtually without equal, gobbling up massive amounts of land even when it sits idle. There are, for example, at least four parking spaces (measuring up to 330 square feet or 12.1 square metres) for every car—three of the spots are obviously empty at any given time. But as every cyclist knows, the prerequisites for auto infrastructure are far less stringent than those for cycling, which is why we were motivated to do our wintertime bike count. Our counts took place during rush hour (8–9 a.m.) on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each of the past two weeks. As with our count this past summer, even we were impressed by the results.
Toronto Public Health is hosting a series of public consultations this week to gather community input on the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, a set of recommendations for actions to mitigate the rising opioid overdose crisis.
The consultations—held in downtown Toronto, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke—gives people a chance to offer feedback on the current draft of the Action Plan, which already includes nine specific recommendations. They include making drug-testing programs available for people to test illicit drugs for the presence of unexpected contaminants such as fentanyl, eliminating barriers to calling 911 for medical assistance during an overdose, and addressing social factors that can lead to overdose.
Mayor John Tory and city councillors Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), and Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) spoke at the opening downtown Toronto consultation meeting at the Metro Central YMCA on Monday. Last summer, Toronto City Council approved three supervised injection sites in Toronto, and in January, the Province agreed to fund the harm-reduction sites.
Some progressive city-building voices are upset with the province’s decision not to approve road tolls on two of Toronto’s inner-city highways. In the proposal to toll the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway (but not the Allen Road Expressway), some saw the possibility of shifting more financial responsibility for city-building onto the drivers of private automobiles.
It was hoped that drivers would “pay their share.” It was hoped that such a shift might mean a consequent reduction of financial pressure on those whose mobility has a gentler impact on the budget and on the environment: pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.
Thus, they are unhappy with the province for waking them from this nice dream, even if some of them knew, deep-down, that it was unlikely to be approved or even that this particular proposal was not a truly progressive idea. The bar is so low in this city for good ideas that we often celebrate anything green as a sign of spring.