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 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?