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article imageWalrus Talks: What should the future of transportation look like? Special

By Michael Thomas     Oct 8, 2015 in Lifestyle
Toronto - Getting people moving is a critical issue for virtually anyone living in a big city. For its latest Walrus Talks event, the magazine had plenty of transportation experts on hand, but a food security expert and even a futurist spoke too.
The Walrus Talks Transportation gathered eight speakers at the Art Gallery of Ontario Wednesday night for just under an hour of exploring the problems with and possible solutions to how we as humans move around.
Stephen Buckley of the City of Toronto talks  So  is big transportation data a really big deal?
Stephen Buckley of the City of Toronto talks "So, is big transportation data a really big deal?"
Some of the speakers had a focus on Toronto's own issues. Stephen Buckley of transportation services for the City of Toronto explained how big data is helping Ontario's capitol better deal with traffic problems. In the past, he said, data could only come from surveys and extrapolated behaviour, whereas technology has advanced so much that his team can now identify problems almost right as they occur. The city's system still isn't perfect, but with, for example, drone cameras to cover the city's 2,500 intersections, it will get better over time. The city's eventual goal is a "60/60/24/365" model ("Rolls right off the tongue," Buckley joked), which will provide down-to-the-second traffic data.
John Lorinc talks  It s the through-put that matters
John Lorinc talks "It's the through-put that matters"
John Lorinc, contributing editor of Spacing magazine, talked about the importance of through-put. He talked about the demise of the city's Bay-Bloor scramble intersection and how it's analogous to the debate the city always has about transportation, which pits drivers against cyclists against public transportation users against pedestrians. He argued a fairly simple point: if the city wants to build new transit infrastructure, invest accordingly. If data shows pedestrians vastly outnumber drivers, build for the pedestrians! Is the lane popular with cycling? Build some bike lanes.
Cherise Burda of the Ryerson City Building Institute echoed Lorinc's main point in her talk, which looked at how transportation affects home-buying decisions. Unsurprisingly, potential home buyers are more likely to give up a larger house if they can cut down on their commute times.
Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati talk on  Changing corridors  changing cities
Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati talk on "Changing corridors, changing cities"
Speaking of bikes, Jacquelyn Hawyward Gulati succinctly explained why there aren't more cyclists in Toronto — they're too afraid of getting hit. Gulati herself was injured in a collision years ago and said it took her a year to get back on her bike. She demonstrated the positive results of putting in dedicated bike lanes. Just a year ago, busy Richmond and Adelaide Streets got bike lanes. A year later, there has been a 300 percent increase in cyclists, while driving times for motorists are unchanged or improved.
Jonathan Kay describes Uber s ongoing battle in his  Uber v. Taxi  talk
Jonathan Kay describes Uber's ongoing battle in his "Uber v. Taxi" talk
Meanwhile, The Walrus editor Jonathan Kay's talk was about something even more universal: the battle with Uber. Based on his article in the Walrus, he outlined the need for the controversial ride-sharing service, but also why cities need legacy taxi services too. In short, if you're young, Uber is for you: you have complete control over your ride experience. But if you're elderly or disabled, you're better off with a taxi; most Uber cars aren't equipped to help out these groups of people who are only going to grow in numbers over the next few years.
David Dodge chronicles  The rise of the electric car
David Dodge chronicles "The rise of the electric car"
David Dodge of Green Energy Futures showed that green transportation has a lot going for it. His talk revolved around Kent Rathwell, who has built a growing business based around electric cars, despite the vehicles still considered "toddlers" in the automotive world. He set up a number of free charging stations across the country at places like pet stores and Best Western hotels. Dodge explained that electric cars still have a bright future ahead: they've shown a solid growth rate and could even be a part of a future smart energy grid.
Sanjay Khanna talks about culture as a  shock absorber
Sanjay Khanna talks about culture as a "shock absorber"
Sanjay Khanna, the futurist-in-residence for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, seemed an unlikely presence at the event, but he was particularly compelling as he talked about how transportation must adapt to climate change. He looked at alternatives like San Francisco's shareable electric scooters and Japan's idea for robot taxis. It's important to act on these technologies quickly; data says by 2049, the coldest years will be warmer than the hottest year in data recorded up to 2005.
Evan Fraser details the perils of food in  Just enough just-in-time food?
Evan Fraser details the perils of food in "Just enough just-in-time food?"
Evan Fraser, Canada research chair in global food security, talked about transportation in an entirely different way. In Canada in particular, we are largely dependent on imported food (60 percent of produce comes from elsewhere) even though farmers are capable of growing these things themselves. Only 11 percent of Canada's food supply is made up of vegetables; about 25 percent is oils and fats; about 25 percent is sugars. As such, Canada's food security is pretty grim; Toronto, for example, would only have enough food for three days if a disaster hit. His conclusion was perhaps even more surprising; going completely local isn't the way to go. Canadians should certainly eat more local, but the food needs to be supplemented with imports.
As always, the talk gave the audience a lot to chew on once it was over. Even Kris Smith of Suncor (a major sponsor of the talk) said at the end that he will be going home with a lot to think about.
More about walrus talks, walrus talks transportation, Electric cars, Cycling, Pedestrians
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