Category Archives: Open Letters

Stop1.jpg

Signs don’t equal Safety – Don’t support the All Way Stop at Ellerslie & Tamworth

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

The lyrics of Signs by Five Man Electrical Band always pop into my head when someone starts talking signs for safety: be they  speed limit signs, stop signs, or shoes required signs.  I do not support signs, and the neighbourhood is currently petitioning to get some new stop signs installed down the street, to convert a two-way stop to an All-Way stop, so here is my argument against this instance.  As a “long haired freaky people“, it seems to be the minority view, but I think with a little bit of consideration and research, you may change your mind.

First off, we are not traffic engineers.  I don’t necessarily put faith in ‘experts’, but if you want to play the role of considering traffic flow, then consider traffic flow in the entire neighbourhood, not just at a single intersection.  Changing an intersection will have impacts many intersections away in a variety of ways.  What if your support for a change at this intersection, resulted in an accident nearby?  NIMBY is a slippery slope to go down.  All-way stops are put in place to assist with negotiating right of way, when the intersection has near-equal traffic in all directions.  This intersection as one of its four directions is a dead end, you can assume right off the bat that it will not have equal traffic in all directions.  Studies have also shown that drivers will increase their speed between intersections to make up for their ‘lost time’ of having stopped.  Whoops?

I don’t like pollution.  Asking the majority of motorists approaching this intersection to increase their emissions and noise produced are two forms of pollution I’d rather keep out of the neighbourhood, not to mention the increased fuel consumption compounding over the next few decades that the sign would be there.  Oil doesn’t grow on trees (anymore).  If this isn’t obvious, when you accelerate from a stop, you use a lot more fuel, your engine is louder doing so, and when you are idle at the stop, and when  you are accelerating there are many more emissions in the area.

Risk compensation is a theory which suggests that people typically adjust their behavior in response to the perceived level of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected.  Pedestrians and cyclists at the intersection could end up crossing in a more risky fashion, assuming the competition at the intersection will be stopping.   Shared Space in urban design pushes this edge considerably and I lean towards this when ever I discuss traffic signs and road conditions with people.

The attention this has gotten in the neighbourhood shouldn’t be ignored, but let’s not knee-jerk our support for the All-Way stop, but rather channel the concerns into  looking at the larger issue of how can we make our community a better one for people traveling with-in it, and through it, on a larger scale.

Please also consider how well you are perceiving the ‘danger’ here.  Risk Perception is a funny thing.

Some more traffic related links if you’d like:

Risk Obtuse and Danger Perception

If you’re reading this, you’re in danger.

Look out!  Caution!  Beware!  DANGER! OMG YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!

Overwhelming, isn’t it.   Our minds and our bodies are great at filtering risk and processing danger — if we let it.  Most people raised in a modern urban environment have very little experience  with actual, immediate, personal danger.  They just don’t grok it.

David Ropeik in his HOW RISKY IS IT REALLY? book talks about a ‘Perception Gap’ to try to balance actual risk with what people are afraid of and tries to get to the underlying causes of those fears.  Maybe what is dangerous for you, isn’t dangerous for me and vice versa?

Jeffrey Rosenthal in STRUCK BY LIGHTENING: The Curious World of Probabilities tries to help people get a better grasp on statistics and appeals to the math behind actual risk to see if that will make sense to people.  If you run the numbers, how bad is it really?  Do you know you’re most likely putting yourself in danger daily which far far exceeds any perceived threat you’re worried about?

Richard Louv in LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder devotes Part III of the book to “The Best of Intentions: Why Kids don’t play outside anymore” and gives many examples and descriptions of how parents have meant well, and inadvertently have done much more harm to their children.

Don’t be risk obtuse.  My advice?   Do something you feel is dangerous.  I didn’t say life-threatening, I don’t mean be careless, I want you to think about something you feel is dangerous, think about how you can mitigate the risk, and try it.  ‘Baby steps’ at first, but do some research and try to wrap re-define your baseline for danger.

There is a scene in the 2009 Australian film The Boys are Back that I often use as an example for people.  The movie stars Clive Owen as a widowed father trying to find his way raising his kids.  The scene in particular is when he hosts a kid’s birthday party and installs a high zipline for the kids to swing on and the mothers attending the party are agog.  “But what if he let go?!” one mum exclaims.  “That is why he is holding on so tight” replies Owen’s character.

“Better a broken bone, than a broken spirit” I’ve been fond of saying of late.

checkout desk construction

Feedback on Changes to Checkout Desk at North York Central Library

I wanted to share some feedback regarding the checkout desk construction I noticed on Friday at North York Central Library.  It might only apply to us, but I imagine others who checkout large # of items (kids books?) and those in wheelchairs might also be affected.

Of all the checkout locations available, there is only one I’m comfortable using and it has been altered.  It is only one of two that is low enough for the kids to participate in, and is the only one with enough space to handle the high-volume of items we typically have.  The extra wood-type level that has been added to the front section of the circle area prevents me from sliding our piles along the counter as we are checking out.  Days when we have 20 or 30 items (picture books for the win!) it is rather involved to pile 8 or 10 on the RFID reader, move that pile over, repeat two or more times, then sort the items so they can then fit well into our bags.  The extra bevel prevents the sliding (need to slide far enough away that it doesn’t get picked up again by a switch in card), and I suspect whatever is going to be installed on that space will limit any piling and sorting area.

I imagine that checkout spot is also the designated wheelchair checkout spot and I can’t speak for them but I imagine it might be an issue too, though not as much because there is no knee space in the section covered by the new block.

Plus to me, the aesthetic of the mixed materials (the stone type desk, topped with the almost matching colour non-stone) doesn’t convey the library as a place of culture and high standards I imagine it to be.

I understand we are an extreme user, and you can’t always take these edge cases into account when extending and improving things for the majority of patrons, but I wanted to share my feedback.

Thank you for your consideration.

[[ A note I sent to the circulation head at my local library ]]

ChrisNolan.ca

August 27, 2013

Whenever I hear people talking about changing roads around to make this better for cyclists I like to ask them if they have heard of “Shared Space” in urban design?  There are places in Europe who design their spaces where pedestrians, cars, and bikes all share the space.  No lanes, no signs, just respect for one another.  The Risk Compensation (see some work by Ian Walker studying how cars treat him when in different gear on his bike) that takes place when you impose further rules and restrictions is argued to not actually improve safety over all.  Something to consider, if you haven’t already, as a cyclist.

Be Kind to One Another.

Town of High River is failing

The Town of High River Alberta was hit with a disaster last week when the rains of southern Alberta initiated massive flooding throughout the area.  Ever since the state of emergency was declared, they have been failing to handle the situation.

Instead of working together with the community, instead of fostering goodwill towards each other, they are abusing their new found fiefdom and threatening others who challenge their dominion.   The town is rotting away, both physically and emotionally.  Over 10,000 people are displaced from their homes for more than a week now, while their homes are invaded and their possessions robbed by the very people claiming to have their ‘best interests in mind’, the very people who are ‘keeping them safe’.

Rulers of High River, please see through your concerns for liability, your concerns for job descriptions, your concerns about making mistakes and let the people of the town join together and restore their neighbourhoods, restore their community and restore their sense of security.

Sample Letter to City Planning Division re objecting to a minor variance

A fuller blog post one day will be needed to discuss the strange world of ‘minor variances’ in the City of Toronto, but for now here is a letter I just wrote. I figured since it was written, and it’s public record for those that dig, I might as well include it here in case it’s of use to others to get an idea of what might be helpful to include.

City Planning Division
North York Civic Centre
5100 Yonge Street, Toronto ON M2N 5V7
Fax to: 416-395-7200

RE: File Number: A530/12NY to be heard at Public Hearing Wed September 12, 2012 10:00am

City Planners & Comittee of Adjustment Members,

I’m writing as a resident of Ellerslie Ave to express my views regarding the Minor Variances requested for 183 Ellerslie Ave under File Number A530/12NY. The request to exceed the permitted building length is, in my view, excessive, unpleasant, and grotesque. My original objects to A907/11NY from April still stand, and I include them below. I want to point out that the only two variances (A287/11NY July 2011, and UDCA-92-712 Jan 1993) for our street that were approved for a length longer than the requested length, where never built. If you allow this variance, and it is built, it will be the longest house on the street, on the narrowest lot size.
I do not believe any houses on the block are anywhere near as long as this proposal, and at over 42% (23.82m vs 16.8m) greater than the permitted length I think you’ll be setting a bad precedent for the neighbourhood if you allow it in its current design.

That section of the block, in the back, is serene. The generously deep lots allow for an experiencethat is rarely found in the city today giving views and sight lines that are pleasant and green. Allowing this house to extend to the purposed depth would obstruct and reduce this quality. I’d also be concerned with the effects on drainage in the space with that much more of the ground being covered.

Aesthetically, the proportions of the structure would be unsightly. It is one of the skinnier lots on the street, and having such a long depth, with a narrow width would be far from the ‘golden ratio’ that architects for thousands of years have found to instill beauty in our surroundings.

Thank you for considering my objections in your ruling,

Mr. Chris Nolan
–address omitted–

P.S. please send me a copy of the Decision to the above address.

A note I just sent to my city councilor

Councilor Filion,

A few complaints regarding city services.

The new garbage collection today… the recycling truck seems to be placing everyone’s bin on the road.  Taking it from their driveway, and returning it to the street.  Additionally, the green bins were all left on their side, not standing upright.

There is confusion over the hours of the swimming pool at Mitchell Field.  The city’s website said that the afternoon swim finishes at 4:35 (Update: I did this time from memory… the site at the moment says 4:25).  The sign on the door of the lifeguards office says 4:30. The flyer available at the community centre’s desk says 4:25.  The last time we were there we were asked by the lifeguard to leave at 4:20.  I wonder what their timesheets say?  Oh, and there was graffiti in the mens changeroom there as well.

Recently a contractor for the city drove their truck through Dempsey Park.  The morning after that big rain.  They sunk in the mud.  They tore up a large portion of the hill next to the kitchen garden, not to mention the compaction of the ground from the street through to the tree they were chopping.  The local gardener says there is nothing that can be done about it since it was a contractor which has no oversight and he doesn’t have anything in his budget to repair the damage.

Beecroft road is finally finished!?
The deck built as part of Canterbury Place Park overtop of the Creek exposure is shoddy (west side south of Churchill, north of Ellerslie).  Many of the pieces don’t line up, there are exposed edges that were never cut fully (i.e. waiting for something to snag on), and if you look underneath, one of the support beams does not connect — the cement pillar is there, and the wooden beam is there, but there is a 4 cm gap between the two.  Not to mention some trash from the construction (wood offcuts) that was thrown into the creek bed below.

Where’s the pride?

Chris ‘curmudgeon’ Nolan

Update: Here is the reply I received from John Filion on September 4.

Dear ‘Curmudgeon’ Chris,

Thanks for your comments, and sorry for the delay in responding to your e-mail. I share your sentiments and was, in fact, having a conversation on this point with a friend yesterday. Not that this makes the situation any better, but in my recent experience the same lack of pride in workmanship extends also to the private sector.

Please let my office know if the garbage situation has improved. The company that has the contract has been read the riot act by City staff and it is a changeover that we are watching closely.

Best wishes,

John