River watching: couch potato edition

Camera watching for traffic jams on the Don River

The appearance of yet another traffic camera in the city is hardly remarkable. But it is a little unusual when that camera is watching traffic on the Don River just south of Pottery Road. Although it was used extensively for transportation in its almost-forgotten past, the Don is not exactly known for its 21st-century traffic jams and accidents.

The camera, installed about a year ago beside a gauge house that monitors river levels and flow, is actually used by Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) to provide visual correlation of data from other instruments. While a gauge may indicate only that river flow is lower than normal, the camera can see an ice dam. This camera is currently the only one in TRCA’s stable, but they’re trying to identify suitable locations for more.

TRCA monitoring station map from trcagauging.caNot only can TRCA monitor the Don—indeed, all of the rivers under its purview—from its Downsview offices, but thanks to a new public web site (login with username “public” and password “public”), you can play Conservation Authority from the comfort of your parents’ basement. For more than a dozen locations, you can view real-time results from monitoring gauges, or graph water level and flow trends over time. There’s even a version of the data optimized for viewing on your Blackberry. With practice, you’ll be able to tell when the Bayview Extension is flooding or when your new bridge is in danger of being washed out. And yes, you can even see the current view from that camera pointed up the Don. What more could a budding environmentalist, river geek, or curious writer ask for? The site is still under active development and will eventually have more features and display data from more gauge stations.

Most of this is probably not terribly exciting to the majority of people, but it’s notable as one of the few online government projects that gives the public access to detailed real-time information rather than just watered-down summaries after the fact. Most effort of this variety seems to be directed towards car drivers, showing not only camera views, but also providing analysis of current driving speeds. It’s a little refreshing to see agencies applying some of the same principles and technology to other uses.

Map from trcagauging.ca. Thanks to TRCA’s Don Haley for his assistance. A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Looks like the '80s

Colour uncovered at the Ralph Day Funeral HomeThe problem with demolitions is that all of your neighbours get to see the terrible colour choices you’ve made over the years. This unfortunate combination of green, yellow, and pastel purple has been uncovered during the demolition of the former Ralph Day Funeral Home on Danforth at Ellerbeck. Having never been inside the building before, I can’t say for sure whether these rooms were part of the funeral home or an adjacent apartment. Maybe it wasn’t so bad when the walls were intact and you could only see one colour at a time.

This building is being replaced by a Shoppers Drug Mart. Oh joy.

Year in review

Post and Rings in the snow

After months of behind-the-scenes work, countless design overhauls, seemingly endless sessions with focus groups, and three mass firings of my marketing teams, I made my first post on this blog one year ago today. I got a total of four hits in my first week: one MSN crawler, two from Yahoo, and one bot looking for a security hole. My first confirmed human visitor was still more than two weeks away.

That initial article was followed a few days later by my second post, in which I boldly declared that if I ever wrote about “how fascinating I find the squirrels in my backyard, you have my permission to give me 30 lashes with a wet noodle.” Exactly two months and twenty-two posts later, I wrote about the fascinating squirrels in my backyard. I held out as long as I could but those damn squirrels always get the better of me. I lasted almost an entire year before breaking my other vow and writing about what I had for dinner last night. Oh well. Otherwise, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to Dodgeville’s founding mission statement.

Filling up the Leslie Street SpitA few of my favourite posts and adventures from my first year include finding the old Martin Goodman Trail, taking a look at the abandoned monorail at the Toronto Zoo, chronicling my bike ride home from Niagara Falls, uncovering the Ontario government’s crackdown on street racing, exposing the moose that time forgot, finding a rock balancer in the Humber River, seeing a potential Christo project in Toronto, looking at the development of York Mills over a 20-year period, being hoisted into the air on the end of a very long stick, walking along the entire length of old Pottery Road, and, yes, watching those naughty squirrels. You really should see them going at it.

A number of those posts also appeared on Torontoist after I started writing for them in June. I’ve contributed almost 50 posts to Torontoist so far, only about a quarter of which I’ve reposted on Dodgeville. If you’re not reading Torontoist, you really ought to. Not just for my posts, but for all of the other great writers churning out heaps of local content there every day.

The funny thing about blogging is that you never really know what’s going to stick until after you throw it at the wall. I wasn’t planning to write about the abandoned Toronto Zoo monorail because I figured that a picture of an old concrete slab wouldn’t really interest anyone but me. And yet that article is among the most consistently hit week after week, and the version I wrote for Torontoist became my first contribution to be referenced by a Wikipedia article. Who knew?

Old family cemetery in PickeringAnd then there are the dozen posts that are forever in the queue, but which never quite make it out for some reason. And don’t forget the dozens that are still just scribbled notes and haven’t even made it into the official queue yet—almost a hundred ideas in waiting at last count. All in good time.

The pictures that accompany this post are a few of the hundreds that I’ve wanted to incorporate in posts but haven’t (yet) been able to. Since I started this blog, I’ve taken almost 5000 pictures of the city around me; you should be happy that I don’t post about everything I see.

Yet I still mourn some of the articles that got away because I couldn’t get a picture or didn’t have my camera with me. Among these, I’d include a plane we saw being towed down the highway (within a few weeks of our Suzuki and a half sighting), a bicycle decorated with a lion-like fairing (including full mane), and an awesome homemade cargo bike. Although I carry a camera with me at least 90% of the time I’m out of the house, apparently that isn’t enough.

Of the 135 articles that did make it out of the queue in the first year, the five most-viewed represent a pretty good cross-section of the site’s content:

  1. The Dark Knight. People love a cat in a uniform. So much so that in just a little over three months, this post has garnered twice as many hits as the next most popular article. The picture itself is hit even more, thanks to numerous direct links.
  2. Cyclist’s revenge. People also love a tale of vengeance with a heart-touching ending that will reaffirm your faith in humanity. Or something.
  3. Promise versus practice: Canadian Tire. It amuses me to no end that a lot of people seem to reach this page when looking for the store’s address. It’s fallen way down the Google listings recently, but it was really popular until a couple of months ago.
  4. Highway Traffic Act roulette #1. In which the provincial government tackles the scourge of street racing.
  5. Bike Train II: The long way home. What I didn’t mention in this post or subsequent comments was that I trained all spring and summer long to ensure that I could tackle the ride. I pushed myself farther and faster almost every weekend so that I had a decent shot at making the distance. I added an hour to my standard weekend ride each month from April through July until by I was up to almost six hours in early August. Still, the ride almost broke me. After taking my final snack break in Mississauga, it took me half an hour to talk my ass into getting back on the saddle. I’m glad I did, but it was close.

No, that’s not my keyboardSo that’s been my first year of blogging; I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. I’d like to thank my millions dozens of readers—at least three of whom are not related to me by blood or marriage—for coming along with me as I’ve explored the city, uncovered various curiosities, seen various sights, and thought various thoughts. There’s much more on deck for this year.

What snow?

Workhorse bike on a snowy day

Yes, I went for a quick ride on Friday afternoon. It was after the worst of the storm had passed, but before it had stopped snowing and before most of the roads were cleared. Now that I’m working from home again, I haven’t had nearly as much opportunity to ride as I did earlier in the winter.

Despite the media spin, which always leans towards panic and gross exaggeration (with the occasional level-headed commentary masquerading as satire) when it comes to the weather, it was just not that bad a day. I went downtown for some shopping in the morning, ran a quick errand by bike in the afternoon, and then went up to North York for dinner. All in all, it was a pretty normal Friday for me. Oh, and I had to shovel a couple of times. Whoop-de-do.

Although the blowing snow wasn’t all that pleasant, it was certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor was it anything that a warm coat and scarf or balaclava couldn’t deal with. It definitely wasn’t anything to get anxious and paranoid about. The sidewalks seemed well-used, the parks I passed through had obviously seen a day full of playful dogs, and I even encountered a couple of other cyclists while I was out. People generally seemed to be in good humour, taking it all in stride. Yet to read the paper or watch the news, you’d think that the sky had just fallen, that Toronto lay in ruin after the worst natural disaster in all of recorded history struck down the entire city.

Why the overreaction? It was hardly an isolated incident, either; the media regularly predicts mayhem and destruction any time a weather event is on the way, ready to menace the city. Yet from my hours tootling around the city by foot, bike, and subway on Friday, it seemed to me that the people most affected by the weather were those in cars. And most of those were people who simply didn’t use common sense. You know, like if the snow on the street is a foot deep and your car only has six inches of clearance, you’re probably not going to make it all the way down the block. If the roads are covered in snow, you’re probably going to need to give more room when you pass and slow down a bit when you turn. If you’re driving on summer tires and Pottery Road hasn’t been ploughed yet, find another, flatter, route. If you’re trying to zip through that left turn as the light is turning red, you’re probably going to slide into the curb.

Personally, I think that our winter traffic woes would be lessened considerably if winter tires were mandatory on all cars in Ontario being driven within two (three? five?) days of a snowfall. If you don’t want the expense, bother, or safety of winter tires, that’s fine; just leave your car at home a few days a year. If common sense doesn’t tell you to do it, maybe the law should.

Mildly uncomfortable weather = day off school

According to SchoolBusMonitor.com, at least some school buses in Wellington County, Dufferin & Peel, Simcoe County, and elsewhere were cancelled today on account of the weather. Wait a minute, buses were cancelled because of wind? Seriously? It’s bad enough that kids get snow days at the sight of a single flake, but now they get wind days too? Is this really necessary, or is it simply a knee-jerk reaction to bus operators’ perception of increased liability?

Pottery Road: The original Toronto Bypass

Somewhat related to my previous post, Pottery Road has a little-known connection to another Toronto street: Davenport Road. The East York Library monograph Fascinating Facts About East York (and some of them really are, at least to east-end geeks like me) says that Pottery Road:

may have been a part of an old Indian trail that crossed the city along what is now Davenport Road and entered the Don Valley through the Rosedale Valley ravine. There are records of the Mississauga Indians having encamped on the Don near Pottery Road as late as 1831.

I always find it interesting that so much of our modern infrastructure follows old trails, watercourses, and terrain, even decades or centuries after after the old features have ceased to exist on any meaningful level. Technology may have brought us huge bridges across the valley and personal motorized transportation, yet there’s Pottery Road, tracing an old footpath in the Don and still used by thousands of people a day. Some things never change.