A York commuting test: bike, car and high-tech VIVA

With the advent of York Region’s new high-tech VIVA bus service to York University, David Menzies, a writer for the National Post’s Driver’s Edge section, decided to test three ways of getting to York – by VIVA, car and bicycle. Excerpts from his Sept. 23 report:

First things first: The buses, inside and out, are indeed beautiful. The seats are well-upholstered and spaced far apart. A low floor and spacious entrances make getting in and out easy; flush-fitted doors and minimal engine noise allow one to read or work in relative peace. Tables at the rear of the bus allow you to work on a laptop, while GPS technology gives the buses traffic signal priority. A female computerized voice – eerily similar to the one on Star Trek: The Next Generation – announces upcoming stops. In the near future, onboard video screens will broadcast news updates and VIVA buses will also offer free wireless Internet. Certainly, the price is right: A VIVA fare is $2.25, and congestion-reducing buses are more environmentally friendly than cars.

The details: Armed with a stopwatch, I took a different form of transit – car, VIVA (two buses) and bicycle – from my Richmond Hill, Ont., home near Yonge Street and Elgin Mills to York University in northwest Toronto (a distance of 21 km). I left my house each weekday morning at the same time (8:20am); each day was identical (sunny and warm).

The winner, somewhat surprisingly, was the bicycle. Trust me, this is more of an indictment of how bad traffic is these days as opposed to your humble scribe resembling Lance Armstrong.

That’s not to say the low-tech two-wheeler is the be-all and end-all answer for commuters. Given that the climate of the greater Toronto area can resemble either Anaheim or Anchorage depending on the season, a bicycle – for many people – simply doesn’t function as a suitable year-round alternative.

When comparing the car and bus head on, the car won – albeit by a paltry two minutes.  

Bottom line:  

Travel time: 52 minutes, 31 seconds (riding into a moderate wind).

Travel time: One hour, two minutes, 44 seconds.

Travel time: One hour, four minutes, 42 seconds (including a nine-minute, six-second walk to the VIVA bus stop located 0.7 km from my house).

The name game

An article in the Summer 2005 issue of Animaltalk, the magazine of the Toronto Humane Society, suggested that if people think their pet’s name is having a negative impact on how others respond, they could gradually change the pet’s name – such as from “Killer” to “Miller”. The story said that according to Sheila Embleton, former president of the American Name Society, the Canadian Society for the Study of Names and the Linguistic Association of Canada and current vice-president academic at York University, names can unintentionally cause bias in the way people treat pets and humans. “There are studies done on how teachers treat students with different names – e.g. names that are markedly ethnic, or names that are considered too old-fashioned, girls’ names that are considered ‘frilly’ or ‘pretty’ (such girls are then not considered to be serious students, or perhaps more feminine, or more likely to chase boys and so on). Obviously, there’s a lot bound up in a name psychologically, whether human or pet.”

Wild and woolly

As any red-blooded seventies-style feminist will tell you, women’s body hair is a political issue, and willed hairlessness a signal of female sexual self-doubt, wrote Sarah Milroy in The Globe and Mail Sept. 23. A visit to Allyson Mitchell‘s new exhibition, Lady Sasquatch, at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto, is, thus, the perfect consciousness-raising-du-jour for the woman about town, a show that celebrates the she-beast in all of us with a suite of hand-stitched, fun-fur wall pieces and freestanding sculptures. Her subject is womankind, observed through Mitchell’s own lesbian-activist lens in works that draw from classic Playboy cartoons and centrefolds, reheated in the oven of feminist theory and served up fuzzy.

Mitchell, noted Milroy, has made a career of investigating female power, and the thwarting of it, first completing a BA in English and women’s studies (’95) at York University, followed by an MA in women’s studies (’98) and, now, a PhD, which she is partway through. She has co-edited a book of what she calls “third-wave feminist writings” titled Turbo Chicks. But her main focus is working with images and giving body to her ideas, exploring what happens when you move between media, and between high and low culture. (Mitchell was also one of the founders of the collective Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off, “a group of fed-up fat chicks ready to take on fat phobia, bad body image, negative fat representations and to reclaim snacking.”)

Create special appointments body for Supreme Court, says Hutchinson

In an article in The Lawyers Weekly Sept. 23, Allan Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, weighed in on the Supreme Court of Canada appointment process, which he described as “much more low-key, bureaucratic and impersonal” than the public confirmation process in the United States. If democracy is about anything, it is about increasing public involvement in the exercise of political power, he wrote. While there are a few occasions in which confidentiality and even secrecy are justified, the appointment of powerful and unelected officials is not one of them.

The most important innovation would be to create a more democratic appointments process by establishing an Independent Appointments Commission, Hutchinson said. Any such body would need to be as diverse and as representative as possible. Accordingly, it might consist of about 15 members of whom five would be appointed from the House of Commons, five would be judges, and five would be citizens; tenure on the committee would be limited to three years and the chair of the commission would be one of the lay members.

The recommendations of the commission would be final and direct, said Hutchinson. There would be no veto by the prime minister or confirmation hearings in Parliament because the commission itself will perform such a role more effectively. So structured, it will be less likely to turn the appointments process into a media circus as in the United States.

High-school students build bridge to Nunavut

They live in one of this country’s most turbulent neighbourhoods, yet they worry about the hardships facing children in faraway Nunavut, began a report in the Toronto Star Sept. 23. More than 300 students across Toronto‘s Jane-Finch and Thistletown areas have become budding experts on Canada‘s newest territory as they prepare to become pen pals with Inuit students as part of a school twinning program. The students were involved in a free summer arts program focusing on Nunavut and offered by the Toronto District School Board in the city’s northwest corner, where families often cannot afford camps and lessons. The program, held in July at York University, taught inner-city children and teens about their northern peers through the arts, explained summer program director Ali Jahangir, vice-principal of North Kipling Junior Middle School. “It made sense to raise awareness of the first peoples in Canada – their values and their stories – in an arts program meant to promote equity and peace in Toronto‘s inner-city neighbourhoods,” said Jahangir.

On air

  • The report for the Vanier Institute of the Family by York sociology professor Anne-Marie Ambert, in which she reported that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced, continued to cause major media buzz. Ambert was featured nationally on Global News TV outlets and interviewed on “Windsor Now”, CKLW-AM, Sept. 22. Her findings were also discussed on the open-line “Bill Carroll Show” on CFRB-AM Toronto and reported on CHFI-FM, Toronto, Sept. 22.
  • Callers to “The John Oakley Show” on Toronto’s AM640 Sept. 22 discussed York University‘s policy of cancelling classes on Jewish high holidays.