Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Canada wins Colossal Fossil Award! and The Hidden Costs of Diesel

Congratulations, Canada, for winning the Colossal Fossil Award for the third year in a row at COP15 in Copenhagen! This blog entry is to support the decision of Climate Action Network, which tallied the vote of 500 NG0s to present this dishonourable award to my country. In the spirit of Christmas, I would like to present my own informal, ad hoc local chapter's award to Metrolinx for using diesel trains as part of our government's protectionist policy toward the tar sands, contrary to all environmentally sustainable, electric transit solutions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice, have obstructed all constructive and binding agreements regarding carbon emissions to profit Alberta's tar sands at the cost of tarnishing our international reputation three years in a row. The tar sands leak 11 millions of litres of toxic water a day into the Athabasca River basin, and emit 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. The size of the tar sands, 149,000 square kilometers, is so vast it can be seen by satellite as a black blemish on the earth's surface.

How do our politicians' actions relate to the Georgetown South and Air Rail Link expansion? Why do you think these trains will run on diesel, when relatively non-polluting and increasingly renewable-based electricity from the Ontario grid is available at far more stable prices? This diesel rail expansion is another piece of the puzzle which shows that PM Harper was elected by oil interests, and does everything in his power to promote oil, when the rest of the world is scrambling to develop renewable, clean energy sources.

Many knowledgeable and well-informed energy analysts predict that oil will soon exceed $200 a barrel, perhaps as early as 2010. Why, in this midnight hour, are we developing a long-term piece of public infrastructure to run on non-renewable fossil fuel that will pollute the atmosphere, choke our city with fumes and particulate, and build zero resilience into our transportation system against rising fossil fuel prices? Tcktcktck. The clock is ticking, and the world was watching Canada defend corporate oil interests at all cost in Copenhagen.

There are many other hidden costs which add substantially to the base cost of this diesel 'solution'. These costs go far beyond the predicted peak of oil prices, and multiply its final tally. The diesel multiple units for the Air Rail Link are being custom built for this corridor, as well as the platinum catalytic converters to change Tier 2 into Tier 4 'clean' diesel on the larger, inter-regional, MP40 locomotives, and which will double their original cost. Neither of these are available on the market; they are being engineered solely for this diesel project as they are so far below international standards for electric trains.

In addition, there is the 5.5 m high, 10 km in total, concrete wall dividing our twelve neighbourhoods, and the cost of building and running three air quality monitoring stations to analyze the ultrafine particulate matter of Tier 4 emissions. Each of the stations is estimated to cost $500,000 per year, and is monitored by a mechanical intake device which tests the air quality. This device will alert Metrolinx on a 'Bad Air Day' to hold a boardroom meeting to consider what to tell people along the corridor when 'clean diesel' emissions are damaging their health.

As 'clean diesel' is being engineered specifically for this transit project by Metrolinx, scientists can only create computer models to hypothetically test its emissions. There is no scientific evidence beyond computer modelling that Tier 4 diesel will be any less harmful than Tier 2 diesel; in fact, there are fears that the concentrated particulate matter may be worse, and that it travels very far from its source to cover more surface area. Research is just beginning to understand the complex impact of 'clean diesel' emissions on human health, particularly the lung development of children.

Curiously, as part of the federal Rail Transportation Act, the data for mobile pollution for transit projects is not included in the Environmental Assessment, so the emissions of moving trains do not count. Why is this? This pollution still registers in my lungs. liver and kidneys as permanent and accumulating toxins. Is Metrolinx' mechanical monitoring service going to call me at home to tell me how much has toxicity has registered in my body, and to take a blood sample to verify their data? Or tell me to stop breathing entirely? Or that it is just another 'Bad 'Air Day' and to check in the mirror?

It is no wonder that the Prime Minister Harper, and the federal Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, can sign off on the Environmental Assessment on the diesel expansion of the Georgetown South corridor. They have already signed off on the Environmental Assessment of the tar sands. Their mandate is to guarantee, and develop the future supply and demand of oil by expanding air and rail infrastructure to support their supporters' corporate interests. In response to this government's hidden mandate for this project, the Medical Officer of Health has estimated that pollution-related health costs in Toronto are $2.2 billion, and has formally announced that to protect human health, this rail expansion must be electric, and that the Toronto City Center Airport should monitor and submit data on its increasing air pollution.

Why not just electrify this rail corridor from the start rather than continuing this absurd public relations charade to ensure diesel fuel consumption for loud, heavy MP40 locomotives? Electric trains are half the weight, half the noise, and will recoup the cost of electrification within ten years. Every other country in the world is electrifying their rail system, and curtailing short haul flights, and our government is expanding both to fulfill corporate promises to their campaign supporters.

For my part, the greatest cost has been my utter loss of faith in the federal and provincial Ministers of Environment, who have not stepped forward to protect the health of my community. My fundamental rights as a citizen have been brushed aside so that a secret memoranda of agreement may be signed for a public-private partnership between Metrolinx, Infrastructure Ontario, and SNC-Lavalin to profit from cheap diesel trains. It is just not the health of 300,000 Toronto citizens that has been ignored, it is the democratic process itself.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure Ontario, SNC-Lavalin and Metrolinx have an important choice. They can build an electric rail system, and add immeasurable value to businesses and cultural communities through transit oriented development, or they can reverse the revitalization of these communities, create a diesel ghetto, and turn back time to an industrial era when the west end rail corridor was lined with factories, rather than thriving, intelligent and diverse communities. And to cap it all off - SNC-Lavalin knows how to build electric trains. So does Bombardier. So what are we all waiting for?

My Christmas pledge to all of my readers is that I will work to shift Canadian transit policy to become environmentally sustainable and socially just. My devotion for the health and welfare of Ward 18, particularly its new immigrants building small businesses, and the progressive, green communities built around my parks - Sorauren, MacGregor and Dufferin Grove - is boundless. The twelve neighbourhoods along this corridor must not be devalued by illogical transit policy enabling the purchase of expensive, noisy and unsustainable diesel infrastructure, 10 km of retaining walls, and three air quality monitoring stations, and an extra, unneeded track for the Air Rail Link.

After Copenhagen, the world knows that there is no more time to waste. Every single decision must be sustainable.

Happy Holidays to all.

COP15 Fossil of the Day Awards at http://www.fossil-of-the-day.org/
Climate Action Network Link at http://www.climatenetwork.org/
Fat Cat Post by Franke James at http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=964
Greenpeace Tar Sands at http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/tarsands
Tcktcktck at http://tcktcktck.org/
Joe Fiorito's Toronto Star article "Metrolinx diesels are dirty, ugly and NOISY" on December 11, 2009 at http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/737504--fiorito-metrolinx-diesels-are-dirty-ugly-and-noisy
George Monbiot article "The Urgent Threat To World Peace Is … Canada" at http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-…-canada/

Friday, November 27, 2009

Better Transit is Better Business

Everything is political. As I go from transit conference to design conference, and I wonder why Metrolinx is building three - count them, three- new train tracks for an Air Rail Link to run Pan Am athletes to their Olympic Village for a total of twelve days, this is what I hear from transit experts repeatedly. The type of the trains, the choice of fuel, the number and placement of tracks, and which corridor is electrified first - Georgetown or Lakeshore - everything is based upon trade deals, secret memoranda of understanding, and political promises. And it is clear that my neighbourhood is not the winner in this horse race of Liberal promises, which date back to 1994, when Minister David Collennette took the Heathrow Express, and said "Toronto should have one of these, too". Note that the Heathrow Express is electric, rapid rail, and 99.9% on time, none of which will be true of the Air Rail Link.

The Union-Pearson Air Rail Link is costly, and duplicates new and existing transit routes. According to recent Metrolinx research on cost-benefit scenarios, only 17% of passengers will leave from Union Station, and only 4-7% of passengers will go from Pearson directly to Union Station. Three extra train tracks will be built for a choo choo train for executives, at $35 a ride, to ensure that they have extra leg room so they not have to rub pinstriped shoulders with riffraff. The riffraff includes me, as not only will this regional transit will skip the Bloor GO Station, there is no reason for me to loop back east to Union-Station to go west again, and pay two transit fares when I can call for an airport limo for roughly the same price. Redundant activity, and so is this unneeded cost of these three tracks in this corridor, duplicated by Transit City's Eglinton LRT, which has just begun to be built by the City of Toronto.

Our taxpayer's money is paying $1 billion to fund another white elephant, directly after the eHealth scandal, but this rail corridor is much more actively destructive to health, as it eats diesel and private property as rail land for dinner. At least the eHealth scandal generated mountains of paperwork and consultation fees, and no doubt paid for at least one cottage renovation, but has had no long lasting effects except to add to Ontario's $24.7 billion deficit. Why add three tracks to the cost of this Air Rail Link to the highest deficit in the history of Ontario, Minister Bradley? At the very least, if the Air Rail were electric, it would require fewer tracks and less land acquisition.

Two days ago, as I attended OCAD's Health and Design Conference, I asked these questions: Why do we have to prove through predictive statistics the affect on health of transit projects, rather than applying tried and true measures, such as electrification, as primary prevention policies to protect the health of citizens first? Why are the Ministers of Environment not advocating environmentally sustainable 'best practice' initiatives? Why is it that the provincial Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen, has allowed a rolling submission process for data by Metrolinx for months after the September 1st deadline of the Environmental Project Review? Since when did Minister Gerretsen begin to work with a transit agency to allow them to revise their data for their EPR submission to enable them to use their choice of rolling stock and transit infrastructure, thus to privilege a public-private partnership? Why is it valid to model future air pollution data for Tier 4 'clean diesel' emissions, when the ultrafine particulate matter of Tier 4 has not been tested yet? And when do our communities get to have a public forum on their views on 'clean diesel' as it does not impact the amount of noise and vibration by rail traffic, and still necessitates the building of 5.5 meter high walls for 10 kilometers through their neighbourhoods, and in many cases, directly beside their homes and businesses?

I also attended the Canadian Urban Institute's Designing Transit Cities Conference where, ironically, Metrolinx was one of the sponsors. Case studies from Zurich, Portland and Paris were presented, and delighted the audience with the ingenuity of their design, sensitivity to community input, and transit implementation. Each of these cities did everything within their power to preserve and enhance the integrity of their built heritage, ensure that the area walking to the transit hub was beautified, and increase business opportunities around each station to ensure transit oriented development. In addition, the business plan and design for each station was designed specifically according to its neighbourhood demographics, topography, location, historical tradition and cultural heritage.

My favourite transit designs were the wayfinding signs and decals for the Light Rail Transit for the RATP in Paris, based upon icons taken from daily life- their cafes, their grates around trees on boulevards, and their gargoyles. Toronto is forty years behind Paris and Portland in its transit policy, yet in a networked society, we can easily get up to speed as we have access to other cities' knowledge and expertise. We can make progressive transit decisions, unlike those given lip service to by Metrolinx in their 'Big Move'. I say "we" because "we" should have input on how our communities are impacted by this transit network as it is our money and future quality of life, and it is clear that noise, vibration and their subsequent mitigation walls are not considered as part of this consultation process by the recent 'clean diesel' decision.

The big question is why has it been decided that all transit projects are healthy, and beneficial to communities by nature, so not worthy of a full Environmental Assessment to ensure that environmentally sustainable decisions are made? As the Toronto City Centre Airport has gone from 25,000 to 750,000 passengers between 2006 and 2009, and the west end of Toronto is the center for all this transit activity, why are the communities in this transit corridor and region considered expendable? In the case of the Air Rail Link and Georgetown corridor, once the corridor is built as diesel with the Pan Am Games as an excuse, with a seven, or eight, track rail capacity, it is unlikely to be electrified, and the frequency of traffic will increase due to the expansion- see the TCCA as a case study. As air and noise pollution in this region increases, businesses will be less likely to invest in these areas affected, as customers are reduced as residents sell their houses. People are already moving out of the Brockton Triangle, which is at the fork of the future rail traffic. In effect, the Georgetown South rail expansion is enabling business development and exurban expansion of the 905 region at the expense of 416 future business development, and investment, in businesses along the rail corridor. Better transit is better business for both the GTA and the 905 when passengers can get on and off to do business from a rail system that has multiple access points along the corridor by being electric.

Had the federal government given the $736 million loan guarantee, and around $450 million of under the counter subsidies, given to a private company, Porter, as federal funds to begin to rebuild and electrify the rail system in Ontario, the desire for short haul flights would be reduced, and we would join the rest of the developed world in enabling sustainable, electric transit, and alleviate the role of our megacities to carry the health burden for the majority of pollution for Canada. Pollution and poverty are hand in hand, and the closing of businesses, and their loss of clientele due to these toxic transit systems, both air and rail, is a very serious and legitimate concern. In effect, our tax money is being used to fund two separate, public-private transit partnerships, aided and abetted by governmental agencies- Porter Airlines and the Toronto City Center Airport, enabled by the Toronto Port Authority and the federal government, and SNC-Lavalin and the GSSE/UPRL enabled by Metrolinx and the provincial government. As GTA citizens, we should press for answers why. It is our tax money, our businesses, and our health which pay the price for others to profit.

This Air Rail Link will be a joyride for executives and athletes on our dime, with no benefit to the neighbourhood businesses it passes by on its way to Pearson Airport. Better transit does mean better business for present and future provincial prosperity. There is an important business case study by the Toronto's Business Improvement Areas which should be launched to research the future economic impact of this rail expansion on their businesses in the corridor. And it should be soon, as Metrolinx is saying that the Air Rail Link must be built as diesel to meet the Pan Am deadline.

Heathrow Express at http://www.heathrowexpress.com/Home
OCAD Health and Design Conference at http://www.ocad.ca/about_ocad/news_events/health_summit/news.htm
Presentation by Rémi Ferredj, Director for Real Estate of the RATP, résident Directeur général des filiales SEDP et Logis-Transports (groupe RATP), Paris, France at the Canadian Urban Institute's Designing Transit Cities Symposium at http://www.canurb.com/events/event_details.php?id=270
Pollution Watch 'Rankings for Pollution in the Great Lakes Basin' and 'Pollution Poverty Report' recommending The City of Toronto pass the proposed Environmental Reporting, Disclosure and Innovation Programme, allowing for better tracking of pollutants in Toronto’s neighbourhoods, at http://www.pollutionwatch.org/pub/pollutionandpoverty.jsp
Community Air and the Toronto Port Authority at http://communityair.org/

Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Pan Am Games, Green Parks, and The Right to Play

Former Mayor David Crombie lobbies to keep 39 inner city school swimming pools open on April 17, 2009 because the City of Toronto cannot afford them. On October 22nd, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced that Ontario has the largest deficit in its history. On October 25th, my neighbourhood park, MacGregor Park, presented a children's play called "All Hallow's Train" about the train tracks crossing its border. On November 1st at the Pumpkin Parade in Sorauren Park, a mother put out her anti-diesel train pumpkin to represent the concerns of her 140 member Toronto Mom's Group for their childrens' health. On November 6th, Ontario won the bid to hold a $2.4 billion Pan Am Games in Toronto, 2015.

These seemingly unrelated facts are intricately interwoven. The two parks, MacGregor and Sorauren, have all the future eight tracks of railroad expansion running directly beside them, and these 464 trains daily will cause irreparable damage to these parks. I thought, as I watched the children's play, whether this play would be possible when the noise of the trains is a non stop wall of sound, and metallic diesel fumes from the trains fill the air. Metrolinx is currently purchasing MP40, 4000 horsepower locomotives, which are much heavier and noisier than previous stock, and their sound travels much further, with a distinctive, high pitched whine, and shudder when they brake. These new generations of children will have very little clean air, or quiet moments, in either playground, or on the running track, behind West Toronto Collegiate in 2015. I wonder if they will be able to perform with period costumes, cut out trains, rolling clocks, and stories written to delight in the railway and amuse their parents, when their lines cannot be delivered over the traffic.

It has been said again and again by Minister of Transportation, Jim Bradley, that the additional $200 - $300 million needed to electrify the Georgetown South Service Expansion and Air Rail Link - not the $8 or $10 billion repeatedly and erroneously stated by Metrolinx to dissuade the taxpayer - is too expensive, yet surprisingly, there is $2.4 billion for the Pan Am Games in the provincial and federal coffers. As part of this Pan Am Games, the Air Rail Link will take the athletes to the Olympic Village through these parks in west end neighbourhoods, so winning these games will speed up its construction to meet this hard deadline.

The Pan Am Games Committee has proclaimed that it wants to be the first 'green games in history'. I wonder what the athletes will think as they board the refurbished 1950s BUDD trains to go to their Olympic Village? If put to a vote, would they think that it is good sportsmanship to impair the lung capacity of children by diesel emissions when they are dependent on their own lung capacity to shave off milliseconds in their performance? The athletes will come from forty-two countries, many of whom have seen systemic poverty, and many of whom have learned that sportsmanship can bring opportunity to learn and travel. I am quite certain that many have been supported by the initiatives of the Right to Play, an organization which creates a healthier world for children through the power of sport and play in developing countries, and would say 'no' to giving children asthma.

In this era of private-public partnerships, untendered contracts, unbridled overspending and cronyism, it is unfashionable to say that I love my vulnerable Ward 18, and want to protect the health of all the children who act, learn and play sports in these parks. The athletes of the Pan Am Games should be made aware that my neighbourhood will be saddled with a diesel corridor which will impact my neighbourhood with a lifetime of pollution, vibration and noise, for their twelve day event. The free community-based events, the Pumpkin Parade, the children's performances, and the right of all children to play in parks without harm, mean the world to me. The welfare of my neighbourhood is priceless, and the health of the children who live within it is not to be used as collateral damage for a temporary sporting event, or air rail link. According to Unicef's Convention of the Rights of the Child, the use of diesel trains, with 'clean diesel' or not, for this rail expansion violates three of its fundamental principles: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; and to protection from harmful influences.

It seems to me that the cost to electrify the rail corridor is a pittance in comparison to the total budget of the Pan Am Games. When Ontario hosts the Pan Am Games, the contractual agreements for building the infrastructure should be transparent and tendered, the Air Rail Link should be built as electric from the beginning, and the impact of its construction should be considered in relation to the neighbourhoods so that it improves the quality of life of those who live there. It may be that the athletes' lodgings, which will be turned into low income housing, in the West Donlands, will be the only positive, permanent contribution of the Games for disadvantaged residents, if other areas affected are not considered, such as this transit corridor.

I am quite sure that the Pan Am Games Committee, and its athletes, will agree that the lung capacity of athletes is worth as much as those of children. The Pan Am Games Committee should practice what they preach, and publicly announce that the performance of the athletes is based upon good sportsmanship, optimal conditioning, and the right to play, and support the goals of social and environmental justice by ensuring this games has green, electric transit. The Pan Am Games should be green for all parks, playgrounds and track fields throughout Ontario, so that no child is harmed when the athletes come to compete. None of these budding actors, or athletes, in my neighbourhood deserves to have impaired lung capacity to host a twelve day event, or to not be able to play safely in their nearby park for the remainder of their life. The playing field should be level for all in the name of sportsmanship and social justice, internationally and locally.


Crombie begs city to rescue 39 pools, The Star, April 17, 2009 at http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/619943
The Right to Play Canada at http://www.righttoplay.com/site/PageServer?pagename=canada
Unicef: 'Convention on the Rights of the Child' at http://www.unicef.org/crc/
'Ontario deficit billions more than expected' on October 22nd at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/714276--ontario-deficit-billions-more-than-expected

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick, Dirty and Diesel: Our Health is Collateral Damage

Recently, an alarmed neighbour of mine, who lives directly beside the future eight tracks of all the diesel rail expansion, sent me Metrolinx's official notice of their air mitigation measures. The notice states that:
"All trains utilized for GO Transit that travel to, from or through Georgetown along the Georgetown South Corridor shall be Tier 4 compliant when service begins or when Tier 4 compliant technology becomes commercially available."
What does this mean to someone, my neighbour, who is now dependent on Metrolinx to build ambient air monitoring activities 'at a minimum of three sampling locations' on a line 32.5 km in length, when the commercial availability of Tier 4 'clean diesel' could be a long time away? What good is community consultation with Metrolinx when air quality is being monitored to prove that your health is not being affected, when the trains are already running? Metrolinx's track record for community consultation is very poor, and its elaborate air monitoring and mitigation measures promise to be no better. My neighbour is horrified at the prospect of these diesel trains in her backyard, and rightfully so. These October 5th stipulations by Minister of the Environment have enabled Metrolinx to build air monitoring stations to study how to develop mitigation measures for 'clean diesel' emissions when the damage to her health is happening in real time, and to enable Metrolinx to buy diesel trains with government permission.

One term I have heard repeatedly, used by representatives from Metrolinx, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Education, is 'collateral damage'. Collateral damage, a term used in warfare, is defined as 'damage that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome'. None of the Metrolinx air mitigation measures address the issue at source, the scientific testing of 'clean diesel' before it is used in the midst of a heavily populated rail corridor, in comparison to the environmental impact of electric rail traffic. As part of Metrolinx's cost-benefit analysis, the health of my neighbour, and 300,000 other people, is viewed as 'collateral damage' to this project's rapid implementation. This collateral damage is justified as it will save a little bit of initial infrastructure money for the provincial government, and its straw man, Metrolinx, which cushions the blows for the Liberal Party.

What has become clear to me, through an interview with the head of Metrolinx, is that Metrolinx has recently purchased new Tier 2 diesel locomotives, which will be moved around the rail corridors like chess pieces to meet a series of aggressive project milestones. These new, heavier, noisier Tier 2 diesel locomotives will be shifted to the Georgetown Line to be fitted with platinum catalytic converters to become Tier 4 locomotives emitting 'clean diesel'. This is a form of environmental discrimination, in which the corridor considered to have a lower socioeconomic status, the Georgetown South corridor, is permanently given a noisier, polluting diesel corridor after the Lakeshore corridor has long been electrified. These project milestones are being forced through by Metrolinx before the Terms of Reference in its recently announced electrification study are completed in the coming year, which compares electrification to diesel infrastructure, including its social impact.

Sound confusing? It is to me, too. Industry expert, David Brann, says that these Tier 2 platinum catalytic converters will double the price of the diesel locomotives, and require new hardware. Even SNC-Lavalin has raised an eyebrow at the converters' cost, which depend upon untested and very expensive technology. Right now, platinum costs about $1,400 an ounce on the stock market. And to add insult to injury, officials won't say how much the privately operated rail link to the airport will cost by itself, or how much will be shouldered by taxpayers, until the contract is signed. Quick, dirty, and diesel is the name of this game of chess, and it is happening as I write.

Why not electrify all components of the rail corridor from the outset, and make transparent the private-public partnership with SNC-Lavalin to see whether the physical extent and frequency of service of this rail expansion is actually necessary? The cost of diesel is tied to fluctuating world market prices, platinum catalytic converters will double the cost of the locomotives, the cost of land acquisition along the corridor is high, and clean diesel has not been environmentally tested. The health of our communities should not be viewed as collateral damage for the desire of Metrolinx, and the provincial government, to save a few dollars upfront. We are not human guinea pigs on a chessboard, composed of privileged and less privileged neighbourhoods.

The Clean Coalition will be attending the Climate Change Rally this Saturday, October 24th from 2-4pm at Queen's Park. Come, sign a petition, and check out the absurdity of this Clean Diesel White Elephant with its new improved, platinum catalytic converter!

Expert warns of high cost for planned diesel trains by Brodie Fenlon, October 6, at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/expert-warns-of-high-cost-for-planned-diesel-trains/article1314629/

Interview with Rob Prichard by Brodie Fenlon, October 6th, at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/an-interview-with-rob-prichard/article1314661/

Monday, October 5, 2009

18 Strict Conditions Placed On Metrolinx Diesel Rail Transit Expansion

Just hot off the press. It has been decided that this GSSE/UPRL diesel expansion has been allowed to go forward with eighteen conditions for monitoring health risks, and using Tier 4 diesel, to be built by 2015.

To be honest, I am too angry to write, but I consider it tremendously important that those in the corridor have access to this information. The link to the press release and PDF of eighteen conditions is here: http://www.news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2009/10/strict-conditions-placed-on-metrolinx-rail-transit-expansion.html

"The conditions on the Metrolinx approval would help us deal with the health and environmental impacts from transit growth. As we work to improve transit, we must protect the health and well being of citizens who may be affected by these projects."
— John Gerretsen, Minister of the Environment

Yes, Minister Gerretsen, when did you privilege the right for urban expansion, and 905 developers, to build homes beyond the green belt, and to run diesel trains for passengers who do not exist yet, over the health and welfare of 300,000 residents who live in the GTA corridor?  These are the people whose health and well being must be protected. What doublespeak- when you analyze Minister Gerretsen's remark, it is actually nonsensical as it points out that there is a need to protect those who will be affected by these projects. How about no affect at all, as with electric trains? Shame.

I have lost all faith in all levels of government, and governmental protection agencies, particularly those run by the provincial Liberals and federal Conservatives. There is no such thing as clean diesel, and there is nowhere else in the world that is using diesel trains in cities. Vancouver has the quiet, electric Skytrain, and Calgary has a train powered by wind turbines, and Toronto has hypothetical Tier 4 'clean' diesel trains as an 'alternate' infrastructure, which has not been tested on a population's health yet as it does not commercially exist.  

Our communities are going to be used as an environmental test case for unproven technology and scientifically untested diesel fuel. As some online sage said, "Is clean diesel the same as clean coal?"  Metrolinx is going to run an experiment on the GTA, and we are going to pay for it with our health so they can learn how to mitigate the effects of Tier 4 diesel fuel.  Note that this 'clean diesel' measure will in no way address vibration or noise issues as diesel trains are twice the weight, vibration and noise of electric trains. Therefore, many concerns sent to the Minister of the Environment are not addressed about the impact of this rail corridor on our communities with this decision. 

There is something very rotten in the State of Denmark with this project, and Crown Agencies, such as Metrolinx, which think they have the right to lie to taxpayers, poison our children, and pollute our neighbourhoods.

Please, take 5 minutes to call or email:

Dalton McGuinty
Tel: (416) 325-1941
dalton.mcguinty@ontario.ca, dmcguinty.mpp@liberal.ola.org, dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

John Gerretsen, Minister of the Environment
Tel: (416) 314-6790

Jim Bradley, Minister of Transportation
Tel: (416) 327-9200 

George Smitherman
Tel: (416) 327-6758

Keep your message short and to the point. I suggest: 
"Premier, our children need clean air.  Electrify the Georgetown Corridor Now!"

"Minister, demonstrate your commitment to Ontario's Green Agenda. Electrify the Georgetown Corridor!"

"We believe in clean, green, and modern transit. We demand electric trains!"

For more analysis, see Steve Munro: 'Weston Corridor GO/UPRL Approved, But With Conditions' at http://stevemunro.ca/?p=2705

Friday, October 2, 2009

Metrolinx Telemarketing Advisory:

Metrolinx has hired a telemarketing company to ask homeowners about the number of children in each household over the next couple of days. Most likely, this poll is being held to ask leading questions in which telemarketers will try to convince people that the negative health issues have been resolved in this diesel expansion by the use of 'clean diesel'. There is not, and will not be in the future, 'clean diesel'. It does not exist.

Metrolinx is also trying to discredit the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, who has said on record that he recommends electrification as the only solution, by a series of pamphlets delivered to homes along the corridor saying that Metrolinx is working collaboratively with Dr. McKeown. This is not true.

Now is the time to let Metrolinx's telemarketers know that all children, parks, daycare centers, seniors' residences, homes and schools are to be protected as the highest priority, not polluted by 464+ diesel trains passing daily through our neighbourhoods.

Build it once. Build it right. Go electric.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Point out the White Elephant of the Metrolinx Diesel Rail Expansion!

"What we know about air pollution in Toronto is that any proposal now should pass a very stringent test before it goes forward. This proposal has not passed that test in my view. The study, conducted by Metrolinx itself, indicates clearly that there will be impacts on air quality as well as health risks for those who live close to the line."
- Dr. David McKeown
More info, link to Transit Guru Steve Munro: "Metrolinx Fudges Clean Train Info"
Thank you to all who participated in the Human Train along the rail corridor! Many participants were deeply moved by the experience of walking along the tracks to connect with the railpath of communities. The protesters started in Weston, traveled down to Mount Dennis, the Junction, Wallace Bridge, and Sorauren Park, to go up Queen Street West, and to finally end up in Trinity Bellwoods Park, there to sign a huge card addressed to Premier McGuinty.

The citizens' outpouring of concern, anger, and love, urging the government to protect our neighbourhoods from the impending traffic of over 464 diesel trains a day, was extraordinary. I think this is the first time there has been a protest march organized along a railpath. As a network of communities, we are now informed, mobilized and ready for action against this project being pounded through by Metrolinx. Mike Sullivan, the co-chair of the Clean Train Coalition, noted that Metrolinx has been seen on the tracks, working already, which is in violation of formal codes of conduct during the Environmental Assessment process.

The speeches were passionate by the local politicians supporting the cause for electric trains. Cheri DiNovo, Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, as well as Irene Atkinson, the Toronto District School Board trustee who enabled Sorauren Park to be built twenty years ago on this industrial site, spoke beautifully about the communities affected. Dr. David McKeown, the Chief Medical Officer of the City of Toronto refuted the claims by Metrolinx that the health of the residents would not be in jeopardy by the expanding GSSE/UPRL diesel traffic, and supported the communities' right to voice their strong opposition.

Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy for Parkdale-High Park outlined his opposition to the project, which is to have a moratorium on all infrastructure development for one year while electrification is studied thoroughly, whereas the Liberal MPP for the Davenport Riding, Tony Ruprecht, was nowhere to be found. Curious that those who represent the ridings which will be most negatively affected, and are legally designated most at risk socially, have been cautious to offer their support...why? And why are these vulnerable and priority neighbourhoods not being protected by their federal and provincial representatives? Is it that they are Liberals, and so is Premier McGuinty, and SNC-Lavalin is one of the major campaign contributors to the Liberal Party?

I have worked hundreds of hours to research this GSSE/UPRL diesel expansion, and I think that it should be legally decided that Metrolinx, as an arm's length agency of the province, is in direct conflict of interest with the goal of the City of Toronto, and the Greater Toronto Area, to support the objectives of public, accessible, clean transportation by privileging private-public partnerships for diesel infrastructure above the health of GTA citizens, as a matter of prudent avoidance for future health risk. If this were decided, the current Metrolinx Board of Directors, comprised of those vetting the interests of private corporations, could be formally dissolved, so that nonpartisan experts on transit could be instated, and Metrolinx could start the real work of electrifying the corridor.

As an artist, educator, and homeowner, when I get enraged, I get ingenious. My response, and gift to the Human Train Parade, was to make the obvious, obvious, and point out the White Elephant in the room. So I made a White Elephant, and here is the content of my broadside I distributed to those who attended the rally at Sorauren Park. We walked to Trinity Bellwoods Park, with the White Elephant balanced on the head of my 6'5" friend, Karl Junkin, and its body comprised of four white umbrellas naming the volatile organic compounds, the pollutants, and the ultrafine particulate matter, which will be emitted by exhaust hose pipe of these trains, carried by other members of the Clean Train Coalition, following along behind him.

The Absurd Transit Definition of the White Elephant:
  1. A rare, expensive diesel rail expansion that is a financial, social and health burden for taxpayers to maintain.
  2. Something of dubious or limited value in fulfilling public transportation needs.
  3. 464 diesel trains daily as an article, ornament, or household utensil not wanted by the residents of the Greater Toronto Area.
  4. Publicly subsidized, privately owned transportation that is expensive to maintain, and generates too little revenue to pay for itself.
  5. Any transit investment that nobody wants because it is unprofitable, and so is quickly politically abandoned by its owner, Metrolinx, and the provincial government, after its utter uselessness is proven. (See also 1950s Blue 22 retrofitted rail cars for the Union-Pearson Rail Link.)
  6. An endeavor or venture that proves to be a conspicuous failure.
  7. A papier-mâché elephant created by an outraged member of the community who refuses to pay the future, ongoing health, social and financial cost of absurd transit planning.
  8. Or unlike this case: An electrified rail system used as the inner city norm, and Environmental Protection Act standard, throughout the world.
Historically, the White Elephant has a precedent - the "Big Owe" Olympic Stadium in Montreal, built for the 1976 Olympics, which Montreal finally paid off in 2006. The difference is that the pollution from GSSE/UPRL rail corridor will be far more actively destructive to the health of the residents than the big white eyesore of a stadium ever has been.

Human Train Media Coverage:
This is the link to the video of 'Postcards to the Premier'. This video is a touching petition by the west end citizens to Premier McGuinty, captured during the Human Train.
This is the link to an insightful political analysis of the Environmental Assessment Process by John LaForet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Design Amuck: ''Who's my Province, Premier McGuinty?"

The City of Toronto prides itself as promoting, supporting, and developing the 'creative class', yet Metrolinx has been given a provincial mandate to impose a diesel rail corridor eight times its current capacity through the Queen West Arts District, slated to run past the Gladstone, the Drake, Artscape, MOCCA and numerous galleries and artists' studios by 2014.  As a friend said, "they will be washing the windows at the Gladstone every 15 minutes" as the GSSE/UPRL runs a continual, noisy wall of traffic within 100 meters of its designated heritage windows.

How is it that the City of Toronto has created a consultancy seat at MaRS for Richard Florida, author of 'Who's your City?',  so that his views on developing the creative society are embedded in the urban fabric of the City of Toronto, yet Metrolinx, as 'an arms length agency of the provincial government', is intent upon destroying this creative society which adds so much to the cultural vibrancy of this city? How many events do the Gladstone and Drake host for the Toronto International Film Festival, music festivals, and visual artists? The value given to international visitors, and GTA residents, by the Queen West Arts District is immeasurable. All the venues which enable this area to thrive and grow, and for artists and filmmakers to work and live, should be protected by Metrolinx, not destroyed by the soot, vibration and noise of continuous diesel traffic. Heritage buildings will be eroded by the increased nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, and lung capacity and quality of life of those who live in the cultural sector will be diminished in the path of these 464+ trains daily. 

Europe has been combatting the erosion of the facade of their heritage buildings by smog for years - why would a project be allowed in the GTA which will hasten our built environment's deterioration when Europe uses electric trains to protect their residents' health and preserve their historic buildings? How are the environmental and cultural policies of the City of Toronto so progressive, and those of Metrolinx, thus the Province of Ontario, so retrogressive, and actively destructive to the GTA? To paraphrase Richard Florida, "Who is my province, Premier McGuinty, and how has Metrolinx been allowed to pollute our neighbourhoods, schools and creative communities?"

As currently drafted, the GSSE/UPRL is the worst case study of bad design in urban planning imaginable, and should be requisite study for every urban planning and design student as such. There has been no intelligent design in the planning of this corridor, and no consideration for communities, or their social and cultural capital.  It appears as if an engineer sat down, drew a thick line on the pre existing corridor through neighbourhoods and communities, looked up from their drafting board 15 minutes later, and with a sigh, said 'done'. This is railway engineering - not urban planning- which puts the vibrancy and health of the cultural sector, heritage buildings and tourism at dire risk.  Metrolinx has held several design charrettes for community feedback, such as those in Weston, and has acted in bad faith by agreeing to the community's input, but not including the revised design from the charrettes in their final version of their Environmental Project Report.

I teach animation, and I think of the famous last scene of 'Duck Amuck' by Warner Brothers. Daffy Duck has been put through his paces by an unseen animator controlling his every movement. He has been drawn and erased to be made into a screwball, placed on a tropical island, and suffocated by an encroaching black hole of an iris in, which envelopes him in darkness, and through which he pokes his head to plead for mercy from his tormentor. At the end of the short, the camera pulls out from the edges of the animation cel to reveal the drafting table, and who is the animator and director of his fate? His arch nemesis, Bugs Bunny. 

Daffy Duck in this animated short reminds me of how I feel about Metrolinx.  Here is a puppetmaster, Bugs Bunny, who is engineering my demise - the loss of value in my home, the degradation of my own health, and the health and welfare of the cultural communities and educational institutions around me - to privatize our public transit system to enable SNC-Lavalin to reap corporate profit. And the only recourse I have had is to protest to Metrolinx, who has provided an Environmental Project Report so skewed in its findings, our research scientists find it unintelligible in its analysis of basic statistical data about the diesel emissions, especially as fine particulate matter below 2.5 microns is not included in their data.  How frightening is this? As scientific research is still in the process of discovering the exceptional toxicity of diesel emissions, a significant portion of its most potent toxic particulate matter is not included in the EPR as it is beyond the technical scope of current scientific measurement.

In addition, as part of Metrolinx's Environmental Project Review (EPR), only a portion of cultural venues and heritage buildings are listed in their study. Many more heritage buildings, artist run centers, and cultural venues, including those in Weston, Liberty Village and Mount Dennis, are not listed as they are not yet officially designated as heritage buildings or cultural centers of provincial importance.  

If you would like to point out this omission, now is the time to do so. Those who protect these heritage buildings, and represent cultural venues, should add their properties and venues to be preserved to the official list by writing letters to the Ministers of Environment, Culture and Tourism to contest their exclusion in Metrolinx's EPR. For heritage buildings, it is helpful to include research on the adverse affects of pollution on their architectural structure. 

Otherwise, the GTA stands to lose what is the heart of soul of its artistic and cultural life, and which is central to the vibrancy of our culture. Every urban planning and historical preservation society, architecture program, and educational institution which teaches urban planning and design and environmental science - such as Sheridan, OCAD, George Brown, and the University of Toronto - and their practitioners, professors, and students need to band together to protest this environmental travesty, which runs counter to the cultural and environmental goals of the City of Toronto, by writing letters to Premier McGuinty, and the ministers in charge of tourism, the environment, heritage and culture. 

This GSSE/UPRL project is a profoundly thoughtless and destructive design by railway engineers and businessmen, not by urban planners.There is also a  conflict of interest between an arms length provincial agency and the Environmental Assessment process.  Metrolinx has commissioned the writing of the Environmental Project Review through environmental consulting firms of their choice, yet has previously established contracts with SNC-Lavalin to provide diesel infrastructure. Therefore, it is in their best interest to aggregate and analyze the environmental data to protect their previous investment in diesel infrastructure, and provide the lowest grade materials for building this infrastructure, despite maintaining the illusion of community input through charrettes and public consulting sites. Metrolinx will maintain the diesel status quo at any cost to the community they serve, despite the moral imperative of a government agency to protect the health of its citizens as its first priority. In effect, if diesel infrastructure is implemented, tax payers will be paying to have their health jeopardized, and their property devalued, which can become the basis of a potential class action suit if this project is implemented as designed, and residents' health along the corridor is compromised as a result. 

Metrolinx has just signed the first part of the contract with SNC-Lavalin to ensure that they will build the infrastructure, but has not yet signed the second part, which determines which type of infrastructure will be used. There is still a very short time to determine that this future infrastructure is entirely electric, and that no more diesel infrastructure is purchased. 

Those intent on protecting heritage buildings and developing social and artistic capital, please make your voices heard to Premier McGuinty, the Minister of Environment, John Gerretsen, Minister of Culture and Minister Responsible for Seniors, Aileen Carroll, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Jim Moore, and Minister of Tourism, Monique Smith, Minister of Transport, Jim Bradley, before the analysis of the Environmental Project Review ends on August 31st by hard copy letters and email, and please carbon copy info@cleantrain.ca for our records. Just cut and paste following email addresses into your send box, (and address the email to the previously listed names):  McGuinty.D@parl.gc.ca, minister.moe@ontario.ca, info.mcl@ontario.ca, jbradley.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org,info@pch.gc.ca, info@cleantrain.ca, Smith.m@parl.gc.ca

Our arts and culture community must demand 'Clean Air for Vibrant Cities'  to protect the cultural heart and soul of our city - the Queen West Art District, and all of the historic properties and cultural venues along this rail corridor.  We are very close to being too late to protect what the City of Toronto and the GTA has been determined to support, preserve and develop - our cultural and architectural identity. Please join us in asking: "Who is my province, Premier McGuinty, and why are you not interested in protecting us?"

Join the Clean Train Coalition in 'The Human Train, A March for Clean Air for Vibrant Cities', which will take place on Saturday, September 26th along the rail corridor. Details will be posted on this blog soon. 

Favourite Quote of the Week: "Why Ride the Toxic Train in Toronto, when you can Ride the Wind in Calgary?" Quote by Joanne B., as posted on the Metrolinx Consulting Site.

MaRS at http://www.marsdd.com/MaRS-Home.html, Richard Florida on the Creative Class at http://www.creativeclass.com/, and "Duck Amuck" Chuck Jones, Warner Brothers, 1953, 6:59, considered one of the greatest 50 cartoons of all times by critics at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WahJLv65S-U
Factual information on 'The Big Move' can be found in a brochure at Metrolinx's site at http://www.metrolinx.com/thebigmove/brochure/default.aspx

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Going Electric in Metrolinxland

The Clean Air for Little Lungs Stroller Parade was a resounding success!  450+ parents, toddlers, caregivers, supporters and grandmothers showed up to strut their stuff to Soli and Rob performing such classics as 'Peee...Uuuu...Metrolinx Stinx' and electrified variations of childhood favourites, 'Electric Avenue' and 'Dalton Blow your Horn', as well as their own anthem, 'Go Electric'.  

Thank you to all who took time from their busy schedule to say 'no' to childhood asthma and diminished lung capacity.  Your collective show of will is heartwarming and courageous in the face of an arm's length provincial agency, Metrolinx, which thinks that honouring a 1999 contract with SNC-Lavalin to run over 140 diesel trains for the Union-Pearson Rail Link through our neighbourhoods daily is more important than your children's health.  We will win this outrageous contest of wills, and corporate backroom gladhanding, and this demonstration was ten large baby steps in the right direction.  

During the speeches, Dr. Ian Clarke, from Sick Kids Hospital, said that the synergistic combination of nitrous oxide and particulate matter from diesel emissions would be 354% higher than permissible environmental standards.  When he asked Metrolinx why they had not studied electric trains rather than diesel during one of their Open Houses, they said "Why would we do that?  Everyone knows that electric trains are better for the environment." 

In particular, electric trains are much better for the lungs of young children as they have no toxic diesel emissions.  Children breathe twice as quickly as adults, as their metabolism is twice as fast.  As a result, the development of their lung capacity is curtailed by the absorption of fine particulate matter from diesel emissions during their childhood for the remainder of their lifespan.  In the words of Sophia Wong, one of the organizers of the Clean Air Little Lungs Parade, (and I have to admit, I was one of the others), "My child is two now. In fifteen years, when this rail corridor is slated to be electrified, and my child is seventeen, when he says that he is going to play soccer, I will have to remind him to take his puffer- if he can play soccer at all due to his asthma."

Meanwhile, our tax money has just paid for an 800 page analysis by Intrinsik, an environmental consulting firm, which says that the airshed of 300 000 people 'in the strike corridor' will be poisoned within legal limitations.  After the cover page of their Air Quality Assessment Report as commissioned by Metrolinx, there is a disclaimer by Intrinsik stating that they cannot be held legally liable for the content of this report.  Who wrote this disclaimer - the Red Queen from 'Alice in Wonderland'?  This disclaimer, for me, says it all - Metrolinx will not be held responsible for polluting the lungs of the residents of Toronto as they are, first and foremost, a corporate entity fulfilling their corporate contracts and provincial mandate to save money in every way possible by implementing retrofitted diesel trains from the 1950s for the UPRL.  Strike corridor, indeed, as we will breathe daily this airshed's adverse effects.  Is this really a term generated from an Air Quality Assessment Report that is designed to protect the health of citizens, Premier McGuinty? 

My second favourite Alice in Wonderland remark, other than the disclaimer by Intrinsik, is the quote by Brian Peltier, Metrolinx's executive lead of the project, published in The Sun, stating "That analysis showed very clearly that the impacts being talked about are just not there.  I think it's really good news that we can do this rail expansion with very little impact on air quality."  I would like to extend a sincere invitation to Brian Peltier to invest in a condominium being built within 30 metres of the strike corridor as so many have done without foreknowledge of this rail expansion.  Developers have been told to redesign their blueprints to not to include windows in the first three floors of these new condominiums due to the amount of soot these floors will collect from this diesel rail traffic.

To their credit, Metrolinx has established a Community Advisory Committee for Electrification comprised of sixteen community appointees who have expertise in urban planning and development, workplace health, engineering, and social innovation.  This is positive news, however, as this is the eleventh study for the study for electrification during this long, arduous process of protecting this diesel rail expansion in the most ludicrous, involved manner imaginable, it is a trifle suspect.  Really, Lewis Carroll could not have dreamed of a Wonderland in which the general public has paid for an Air Quality Report which says that over 464 trains a day would make no difference to the noise and vibration levels and air quality as they pass directly beside their homes, as well as ten studies trying to prove that electric trains are not better than diesel.  

I want to ask every executive at Metrolinx who has children and elderly parents, especially Brian Peltier - at what length would you go to protect your own health, and your family's future health, from this level of toxicity in your neighbourhood?  And why are we, in the 416 region, paying your agency $5 million of our tax money to have you convince us that diesel emissions are not toxic because you want diesel trains to hurtle their way through our inner city neighbourhoods on their way to your suburban homes in the 905, without even stopping to pick us up? 

Brian Peltier Quote Reference and Video of the Stroller Parade:
Toronto Sun 'Residents want train derailed:
Rally at Queen's Park to demand halt to use of diesel engines on planned Union-Pearson rail line'

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Clean Air for Little Lungs Stroller Parade": Monday, July 20th 10-11 am Queen's Park

A Callout to Parents, Caregivers, their Supporters, and Children! 
Event: "Clean Air for Little Lungs Stroller Parade"
When: Monday, July 20th, 10 - 11 am
Where: In front of the Ontario Legislature (Queen's Park)
Why: Parents say NO to over 400 dirty diesel trains a day running through our neighbourhoods. For the sake of our children's health, tell Premier McGuinty that electric trains are the only solution. Bring your kids and noisemakers. 
Featuring a musical performance by children's entertainers, Rob and Soli of Alistair Ant Productions.

As an educator, I support the Clean Train Coalition's "Clean Air for Little Lungs Stroller Parade" as research has proven that diesel emissions can:
  • impair lung development and lung capacity in children
  • decrease school children's ability to learn and retain information 
  • increase the incidence of childhood asthma
The recent Air Quality Assessment Report by Metrolinx admits that this GSSE/UPRL diesel corridor expansion will emit nitrous oxide levels far beyond legal limitations.  There are 76 schools,  96 daycare centers, and 4 long term care facilities, (including one chronic respiratory care hospital), within 1 km of this expansion whose school children and elderly residents will be negatively affected by these tonnes of nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions. Children are particularly vulnerable due to the small particulate NOx matter impairing the growth of their lungs and diminishing their future lung capacity. 

Come and protect the future health of our children!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Diesel in, Diesel Out

Vancouver gets Canada Line- an electric Air Rail Link for their 2010 Olympic Games which will open three months before schedule. Calgary gets a renewable energy-driven electric rail system, powered by wind turbines.  Toronto gets a 145 page report, commissioned by Metrolinx, from an environmental consulting firm stating that our health will be damaged 'within established standards' by over 400 diesel trains a day running through our neighbourhoods.  Diesel in, diesel out - garbage in, garbage out.  If a report is written using the worst case diesel emissions data to generate air quality results, the worst case air quality assessment will have to be carefully skewed by those who write the report to justify the expenditure on diesel trains, and protect the 'necessity' for diesel emissions into our air, soil and water sheds. And don't forget our homes and lungs.

What gives? Don't we deserve a better, cleaner and quieter train system like the rest of Canada? And why can SNC-Lavalin work with InTransitBC in Vancouver to build an automated light rapid rail system, but not work to utilize the same electric train technology for the Georgetown South Service Expansion with Metrolinx in Toronto? Why is Metrolinx  still commissioning Air Quality Assessment Reports on the implementation of a diesel train corridor in Toronto? Why would the same transit company, SNC-Lavalin, go back in time to use diesel trains in a private public partnership in Toronto, when SNC-Lavalin has proven expertise to build an electric train system in Vancouver in exactly the same capacity?
Let's look at this logistically.  Our taxpayer's money is being spent by Metrolinx on an Air Quality Assessment Report that justifies this logic - since the west end of Toronto's air quality is so bad already, a 'negligible' increase of 15% air pollution is considered irrelevant as added to this region's air quality by this rail corridor. This includes the fact that these diesel trains will be the greatest source of emissions for nitrous oxide in all of Toronto, and that these standards are far beyond legal guidelines. If the west end of Toronto's socioeconomic population is considered at risk, as well as this region, one of the most polluted regions in all of Ontario, would it not be logical to protect this at risk population and region, rather than adding to present environmental stressors? Why would a diesel corridor even be considered  to be built in a region which has the greatest number of 'sensitive receptors' - young children - per capita when this region's existing air quality is already benchmarked as the worst in Ontario?

Enough already, Metrolinx. Use the proven track record of SNC-Lavalin to build electric trains in Vancouver for the GSSE in Toronto. Improve upon what SNC-Lavalin has learned in Vancouver while building this electric train system to adapt it to specifically meet the needs of the GTA. Work with the municipal government's TransitCity to streamline this rail corridor so that it works as a comprehensive transit system which does not duplicate services, such as the Air Rail Link provided by the Eglinton LRT, but supports an easily accessible, clean, unified transit system for the people that matter most- the passengers and those who live near the corridor.  

Time's a-wasting. Our health is worth more than yet another report. 

References: Canada Line at http://www.canadaline.ca/ and their FAQs at http://www.canadaline.ca/aboutFAQ.asp
GSSE and UPRL EA - Human Health Assessment of Air Quality Impacts June 2009 Intrinsik Environmental Sciences Inc.  Link to http://www.metrolinx.com/gsse/docs/GSSE_UPRL_EA-Human_Health_Assessment-Air_Quality_Impacts-Full_Draft_Report-June-09.pdf

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At Risk Neighbourhoods and Sustainable Development

According the June 3rd Toronto Public Health report, the population most affected by the air pollution that will be generated by the Georgetown/Newmarket/Milton/Air Rail Link corridors has a lower socioeconomic status and higher incidence of illness than much of the Greater Toronto Area. I know this area well, as it includes my beloved ward- Ward 18. 

These diesel corridor expansions, as planned by Metrolinx to begin construction in 2010 and enter service in 2014, will add to the west end of Toronto's pre-existing stressors for additional illness through pollution.  For this fact alone, the rail infrastructure expansion should be electric, not diesel, as it passes through these at risk and vulnerable neighbourhoods to undermine their health further. This should be especially true for corridors owned by GO Transit, either in its entirety (Newmarket), or part of the corridor (Georgetown from Bramalea to Union).  Particulate diesel emission pollution is even worse than previously thought- current research is coming out which states that the fine particulate exposure of diesel emissions to lungs increases the amount of lung cancer and other disease and mortality rates.  In children, it prevents lungs from developing properly as they grow up near these corridors.

Sustainable development involves the streamlining of infrastructure development according to best business practices for supplying need on demand - the additional track for the Air Rail Link for the Private Public Partnership (P3) should be examined to see if this ARL, and its exclusive track, fulfills a proven market need for the GTA and whether business travellers will use this link to the airport in the numbers required, and $20 cost, as part of its cost-benefit analysis environmentally and socially. 

Metrolinx claims that this track is not exclusively for the ARL, but for VIA and GO Express, in addition to ARL, so that they can overtake local trains.  However, the need for this ARL track needs to assessed as part of a transparent, public study of the infrastructure through a systems analysis. Metrolinx refuses to conduct such a study, however, on the dubious grounds of the ARL being a "legacy project."  If this ARL does not serve essential purposes according to the results of this study, and if this additional track does not need to be built, this revised infrastructure plan will be able to minimize the amount and impact of this expansion for the at risk neighbourhoods by not having to build the additional ARL track. This will also save Metrolinx, hence taxpayers, money.

As this Air Rail Link is duplicated by the Eglinton LRT as part of the TTC's Transit City Light Rail Plan, this exclusive Air Rail Link and its track will probably not be necessary to be built at all, certainly not at its elitist fare at least, and this will help to minimize the extent of home acquisition and amount of rail traffic through this vulnerable corridor.  An updated market analysis should be done by Metrolinx to provide information on prospective passenger statistics, including the fare and its impact on ridership, and including the TTC's Eglinton-Crosstown LRT as its competition, and to provide the real cost of electrifying all components of the corridor. 

Whether the train corridor uses diesel as the worst case scenario, or uses electric, in the better case scenario, the goal of this infrastructure plan should be to streamline the amount of rail traffic and justify the extent of the expansion of the infrastructure so that the at risk region's health, air quality and property value's are not undermined further. The best case, most sustainable scenario would be to use electric trains, and streamline the amount of traffic according to passenger use to least affect this area at risk. Although this a regional transit initiative, there is no reason why Metrolinx cannot work with the City of Toronto to analyze their overlap in transit service to co-ordinate the GSSE/ARL/Milton/Newmarket corridors with Transit City's infrastructure planning to save money, co-ordinate components of the infrastructure design, and gain social credibility in the process. 

It is also a far stretch to build an entire track for the Air Rail Link to honour a contract, written in the 1990s with SNC-Lavalin, to use retrofitted, 1950s diesel engines when the frequency of trips is not yet proven by recent market need. As these BUDD diesel engines are 50 years old, they have outdated environmental standards for noise, vibration and emissions. This Air Rail Link alone comprises 140 trips a day on this corridor. Surely, this Air Rail Link can be electrified, have fewer trips, and be incorporated into the greater GSSE rail expansion to be less intrusive, such as coupling to GO Trains at their nearest common station in the northwest if both are using the same model of train cars, which would cut Georgetown South traffic by almost half.  

This makes a very strong case for GO Transit to be operating service to the airport instead of SNC-Lavalin, as the use of infrastructure becomes dramatically more efficient. This reduction in traffic is necessary to minimize the Air Rail Link's noise, vibration, and, through electrification, pollution on this at risk region to protect schools, nursing homes, parks and daycare centres. In any case, the Air Rail Link has already been given crippling competition by Transit City planning and no longer has any viable business case with SNC-Lavalin, so really should be abandoned as expensive and unnecessary, unless turned over to GO Transit and to use coupling/decoupling with its Georgetown services in the northwest part of the City. 

In addition, Metrolinx has moved up the completion date of the ARL link to 2013 from 2014. This is cause for alarm as it indicates that they will use cost cutting measures which do not consider us- the affected communities- and means we must move quickly to contest the present, poorly planned design of the Air Rail Link. 

A quote from 'The Big Move' by Metrolinx published in 2007: "We can protect and enhance our environment by helping to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and alleviate air pollution." As the market is approaching peak oil prices and availability, including speculation by some analysts that peak oil has already been hit but cannot be confirmed until about 5 years after the fact, diesel engines should be replaced by electric to conserve energy as electric trains use 1/4-to-1/3 the energy of diesel trains, and can use any source for electrical generation, with no air emissions into the corridor proper and surrounding vicinity. 

There are many best case scenarios for the construction and use of inner city electric trains available through international consultation. Metrolinx is spending $5 million on the study of the electrification of the entire system, even though simultaneously refusing to release another GO electrification study completed just last year. Why is Metrolinx not consulting with internationally trained transit experts on the most streamlined and efficient systems and planning to develop this corridor's infrastructure to utilize electricity only?  Metrolinx claims that  as it stands, unless these principles of sustainable development, infrastructure improvement, and social urban planning policies are applied, the GSSE/ARL/Milton/Newmarket expansions do not fulfill any aspect of Metrolinx's own enviromental mandate.  SNC-Lavalin is using electric trains for the Air Rail Link for the Vancouver Olympic games- surely, it can use electric trains in Toronto for the same purpose if this ARL is realized.

A special thank you to Karl Junkin from TRAC for fact checking, technical input, and help with editing this entry.

Reference: Article from ‘The Star’:  On the wrong track, but still time to change trains, http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/644565
by André Sorensen, Associate Professor, Department of Geography,
University of Toronto Posted on Jun 03, 2009 04:30 am

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Over 400 Diesel Trains a day will run beside 76 Schools

In the Environmental Assessment as performed by Metrolinx, 'receptors', which are residences and families, along the corridor are viewed as less important than 'sensitive receptors', which are schools, daycare centers, and nursing homes. A family residence can also house young children and the elderly, so should be considered a 'sensitive receptor' as well, but this is an implicit admission that the projections of the toxicity of the environmental pollution will be very high as emitted by this diesel train corridor. The density of the population is 300 000 in 300 metres from the edge of this corridor, including a minimum of 30 000 school children, and 76 schools, daycare centers, nursing homes and parks. The second draft of the Metrolinx Environmental Assessment says that air quality is so bad in Toronto that a 15% increase in our air pollution is negligible as contributed by this diesel corridor - tell that to those who will wipe soot off their windowsills daily, and wonder how much of this has ended up in their lungs.

It is known that exposure to fine particulate matter in diesel emissions stunt the growth of young lungs so that they never reach full capacity, so electrifying the diesel train system in 15 years time to electric is not fast enough, as proposed by Metrolinx- these students will be a generation of young adults with impaired lung capacity. An environmental expert has gone on record to say that he would not live within 250m of this corridor as it increases all types of illness by 18% as the particulate matter is absorbed through the lungs into the blood stream to become heavy metals as an additional load for the kidneys to bear, and accumulate as bodily toxins permanently.

In my neighbourhood, the Newmarket and Georgetown corridors run directly beside the West Toronto Collegiate's running track. And I mean directly- the Newmarket corridor is beside the fence of the field, and the Georgetown is 75 meters from the Newmarket. So, as students have gym class, they will breathe the diesel emissions of both the Georgetown and Newmarket corridors, as well as the Air Rail Link, of up to 464 train trips daily, rushing by their playing field.

Tell me then- why is the federal and provincial government voluntarily, under the moniker of Metrolinx, with full, readily available environmental knowledge regarding diesel emissions, choosing to endanger the health of school children? And, as the City Council has a mandate to decrease greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050, why is the federal and provincial government working deliberately against the municipal government's mandate? Why is the City Council not moving more quickly to actively protect Toronto residents and school children through *more* than strongly worded municipal bylaws? Why does the City Council view this as outside their jurisdiction when it will undercut the positive effects of their greening policies?

Will Metrolinx, by extension the the federal and provincial government, pay the difference in what our houses can sell for after this corridor is built as opposed to what they were worth before it was built? The immediate area around the rail corridor will quite possibly become a ghost town in parts of the west end as people choose to sell their houses and move away from the noise and the smell. Will MPAC, if the municipal government does not protect the interests of homeowners, give me a reduction on my rising property taxes as my property and quality of life are devalued? Will Metrolinx be willing to pay the additional burden of my own, and many others, rising health costs and sick days due to my proximity to the corridor, to OHIP?

And why is this diesel corridor being built in the first place when electric train engineering standards and specifications are readily available for electric trains and used throughout major cities in the world? New York's electric train system was successfully built in 1908, why is the GTA one hundred years behind?

There must be a reason why this irrational project is being pounded through the GTA, and I will discuss it on my next post.

For more information about this GSSE, please go to the Clean Train Coalition Site at http://www.cleantrain.ca and the Weston Community Coalition Site at http://westoncommunitycoalition.ca/

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Industrial Corridor or Residential Neighbourhood?

I just learned that the Environmental Assessment process was deliberately shortened from one and a half to three years down to four months by the federal government to enable this massive Metrolinx expansion to be pushed through quickly so that those along the corridor do not have time to fight its expansion, or its overriding plan to use diesel trains.

According to the Environmental Assessment as posted by Metrolinx, 65 000 households, or 300 000 people will be affected by the expansion of this rail corridor, which is defined by those living 300m from the tracks. As a result, the area directly beside that corridor was termed 'industrial' and not worthy of preservation. However, if we extend that distance to 1km, 112 000 households and 1.2 million people will be negatively affected. Is this corridor still considered an industrial corridor with these updated numbers of people in houses, schools, parks, and nursing homes, and how was it considered 'industrial' with the original estimate of 300 000 people affected?

A proper Environmental Assessment needs to ask this question: how do environmental scientists determine how far particulate matter spreads from 400+ diesel trains a day realistically? Computer projections, as used by Metrolinx, do not support natural events such as wind currents, smog and precipitation, and certainly not how pollution spreads in actual time and space.

I teach new media and interaction design to my students, and one of my favourite quotes was from the original German movement of Greenpeace - 'What is in the air today, ends up in our cornflakes tomorrow'.

To prove this quote, I showed them this lecture by Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, which demonstrates how an interactive globe, designed by Shinichi Takemura, works to visualize data. This globe, called 'Tangible Earth', was created to be one ten millionth the scale of the earth, and shows how pollution spreads in realtime data. As you watch this globe, you can see pollution spreading by wind currents from continent to continent as it is actually happening- from Russia over to North America over to the North Pole.

So, if we consider that the diesel emissions from these trains can travel up to 30 km according to statistics from the World Health Organization, which is a conservative estimate, shouldn't we all be supporting electric trains in Ontario? This pollution will not just be in my backyard, but the entire Greater Toronto Area if this diesel corridor is installed...why not make this corridor electric, with no emissions?

Video Reference:
Bill Moggridge at PICNIC08: Design as a Collaborative Process, link to http://vimeo.com/2814939 go to 17:05 for the demonstration of 'Tangible Earth'.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Little House and 'NIMBYism'

So interesting to see the word 'NIMBYism' ('Not in my Backyardism') come into play in the political arena, thrown at protesters as if it explains anything and everything. If I do not protect my backyard, who will? As I sit by my window and work in West Toronto, I hear the horns of trains, the pounding of the West Toronto Diamond piledrivers, and the overhead, converging flight of airplanes- all present sources of pollution, and harbingers of more pollution yet to come.

I wonder each morning as I wake up- if this massive diesel rail expansion comes to pass- how much will I hear of the traffic between 5:30 am and 12:30 am daily as the 400+ trains go through this corridor near my little house? How much soot will I have on my windowsill? Why will I have to breathe particulate matter for the rest of my life? And why am I, a citizen who is so careful with every, single environmental decision I make, have to eat the diesel dust of commuters from the 905? And why am I paying taxes to the federal and provincial governments for transit which will pollute my backyard and my home for the rest of my life?

NIMBYism is a term that should be valid only if you do not reply to the issue with an alternate solution- and the obvious solution, used internationally, is electric trains. This is why I am fighting with facts for the electrification of the Georgetown, Union-Pearson Rail Link and Newmarket corridors- this dust will be in my backyard, and in my home, and in my life forever, and there is a solution that is not even being considered by the present provincial and federal governments. And where, oh where, are the Toronto city councillors who spend an inordinate amount of time discussing road narrowing and speed bumps to 'green' the City of Toronto, when I need them to protect my rights as a resident and taxpayer?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Democracy and Metrolinx? No way.

Fair Political Representation without Corporate Conflict of Interest, and Primary Health Prevention:

Canada is a democracy. As it is a democracy, residents of Toronto should have City Councillors as representatives on the Board of Directors of Metrolinx who express our grave concerns about this rail expansion in our neighbourhoods. Mayor Miller, who has worked so hard to implement greening measures in the City of Toronto, and Councillor Giambrone, the chair of the TTC, have been removed as our last representatives from Metrolinx' Board of Directors. Therefore, the residents of Toronto no longer have any representation for this project on Metrolinx at all.

By replacing Toronto's representatives entirely with Board of Directors on Metrolinx who actively represent the industrial, corporate interests of the rail expansion, these new Board of Directors have a direct conflict of interest with an unbiased Environmental Assessment and the democratic rights of the residents of Toronto to protect our quality of life and health. They will vote in favour of infrastructure implementation as their corporate interest.

Moreover, as primary prevention in the healthcare community becomes internationally accepted as the norm to prevent the creation of carcinogens at the source (in this case, diesel emissions), thereby future medical treatment, the federal and provincial governments are in direct conflict with their role as advocates for a healthy society. Will the federal and provincial government be prepared to carry the costs of medical treatments for the respiratory ailments that they have incurred in this rail corridor through these self-generated diesel emissions? Is it not contradictory that this corridor will put at risk children in parks and schools, hospitals nearby the tracks, and the elderly in nursing homes- all institutions that the government funds? Why would the federal and provincial government choose to undercut their support of federally and provincial institutions and faciliities by choosing to pollute the environment around the facilities that they have built and funded? This is an even greater conflict of interest of public interest with corporate investment, and indicates that the federal and provincial government no longer represents or protects its citizens.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Diesel Trains are so Yesterday: An Open Letter regarding the Metrolinx Corridor Expansion

This is the first letter I sent to the Prime Minister, City Councillors, the MPs, and the MPPs, hence the tone. I was just starting to put all the facts together, and was horrified:

I am a Toronto resident who is very concerned about the expansion of the Georgetown corridor (including the Union-Pearson Rail Link) and Newmarket corridors using diesel trains. The construction on this project begins in 2010, and the Environmental Assessment process has been shortened to four months to be completed on July 30th.

This rail expansion should use electric trains to ensure that significant environmental concerns are resolved, and the expansion of this service does not merely shift the cause of pollution from highways to rail corridors. These rail corridors run beside schools, nursing homes, playgrounds and through residential neighbourhoods. The rights of the citizens who use these services, and live in these areas, should be considered as a major part of the Environmental Assessment process.

Also, the $875 million cost of this project is carried by taxpayers, and should be supported by those who will be affected most as the construction from the expansion disrupts neighbourhoods for years at a time. If the rail expansion is electric, the neighbourhoods will be more likely to support this massive project. The neighbourhoods will have difficulty dealing with the second disruption of their lives, if indeed, the rail corridor is to be electrified in 15 years as promised. Historically, it is rare that major public works are upgraded years after their construction, so this corridor should be built properly the first time as electric.

My specific concerns are as follows:

The hours of operation are cited as 5:30 am to 12:30 am each day. Due to these long hours, it is beholden to Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, to ensure that these trains are quiet, efficient, and non-polluting, as these hours of business extend far beyond noise restrictions for normal business hours.

The data from the Environmental Assessment of the Georgetown and Newmarket corridors, and the Union-Pearson Rail Link, should be merged and considered as one study as these two corridors, and the rail link, are contained within the very small, area of study entitled 'The Davenport Diamond' by Metrolinx. The Environmental Assessment should consider the proximity of these corridors south of Dundas, and include both lines of the rail expansion and UPRL as part of the overall environmental impact concurrently. Metrolinx has said that they will consider these Environmental Assessments separately, although these corridors are in the same neighbourhood. This does not seem to lead to conclusive data.

Diesel trains create significant CO2, NOx and SO2 and particulate matter emissions. Neighbourhoods are willing to accept the increased traffic (at a projected 300 - 500 trains a day) for the common good, but are legitimately concerned on the effect of this air and noise pollution on their health, welfare, and businesses.

The Metrolinx report states the diesel emissions will affect only 500m from its origin, but as the City of Toronto, and the GTA has become more dense in population, this is affects a very large area and population. The Metrolinx report has not updated its data on the population affected by the expansion to be up-to-date.

Urban planners and transportation analysts also know that traffic expands given the avenues available to it, and that the increased traffic on the rail corridor, airports and highways, will impact the quality of air in Ontario for generations to come. As a result, it should be imperative to construct an electric train now to attempt to offset the carbon emissions of the rail corridor component of this transportation expansion. There will be more than enough adverse environmental affects with the increasing airport and highway traffic in the future of the GTA.

Most countries in the world are developing completely electrified rail systems- including India and the United States- and Canada, as a wealthy nation, should be one of them. Why are we considering a technology which is far behind the TTC street car- an electric train which is already in successfully used throughout the City of Toronto? This rail corridor should set an environmental precedent for transit initiatives to come, as the Lakeshore GO train will be electrified in the near future, and so that these corridors are consistent with the American rail system.

Why is Metrolinx, and by extension the provincial and federal government, not performing international 'best practice' case studies of inner city and suburban transit initiatives to try to mitigate the environmental repercussions of this rail expansion on the GTA? There is nothing 'sustainable' about diesel trains, as cited in the Metrolinx report- just retrograde.

TransitCity, as projected by the City Council of Toronto, has proposed a GO train as the fixed link to Pearson Airport- why are SNC-Lavalin's 140 a day, two engine, refurbished 1950s diesel engines considered as a viable, environmentally sound alternative to the LRT as proposed by the City Council to be provided by the GTA, SNC-Lavalin's proposal was written in the 1990s, and is no longer valid as a solution to this rail link by targeting a limited market for the business class.

It is very important that the projected ridership on this rail corridor is studied in detail, and at this time, for its actual market need, and monitored as it is implemented, so that there is not empty space and excess capacity on these trains. The rail corridor should be also monitored and assessed frequently as it is used, so that its implementation and use are consistent with its environmental and social 'Return on Investment'. This rail corridor should not create more air and noise pollution from its traffic than it offsets.

In conclusion, as global warming continues as the most pressing concern internationally, it imperative that every major infrastructure project is considered with great intelligence, foresight and environmental analysis. This project is of the magnitude of the Big Dig in Boston, which wreaked havoc on Boston for years. Therefore, it is better that more planning and analysis is applied to these infrastructure plans before the project is built, as the cost of this project environmentally will be carried by the generations who live in Ontario for decades to come.

Ultimately, if this rail expansion is made electric, there will be even more jobs created for Ontario workers, and opportunities created for companies, as part of the greening research and development initiatives internationally. This advanced technology and intellectual property can then be exported to become a positive part of our legacy and international corporate reputation.