Running For Our Lives

Standing at the back of a throng of 14,000 or so people, waiting to run Sunday’s 10k race, just over 12 hours after the failed car bomb attempt in Times Square, I am struck at just how vulnerable we are as a society. Despite the increased surveillance and information gathering in our post 9/11 world, it seems we cannot cast a net wide enough to ensnare all those looking to do us harm. (Nor is that something we should aspire to, given the assault on our liberties and freedom it would involve.) We are sitting ducks for those determined and intelligent enough.

Take this situation for example. At any point of time along the race route down one of Toronto’s main arteries, Yonge Street, cars are parked on side roads close enough to inflict serious destruction. Someone could easily drive a vehicle loaded with explosives straight into the crowd, killing a lot of people. Hell, you wouldn’t even need the explosives. Just driving a car alone into the crowds would result in a great many casualties.

Yet it doesn’t happen with any great frequency. Why is that? There is certainly enough hatred out there. Obviously the events of 9/11 along with the Bali, Madrid and London bombings have made us a little more vigilant than we were before, on our toes for shady behaviour. It was a t-shirt vendor in Times Square who first spotted the suspicious SUV (although, all SUVs look suspicious to me) on Saturday. So we now think the unthinkable and expect the unexpected.

However, a bigger reason we live essentially terrorism free, I assume, is that organized large scale attacks simply aren’t that easy to pull off. What made 9/11 so spectacular, along with the high death and injury count, was the very fact it was executed to such a degree of perfection. It was dependent on a level of coordinated planning, dedication, selflessness and luck that doesn’t coalesce all that easily or often. The fact that United flight 93 was interrupted by passengers and brought down before it hit its target in D.C. speaks to how important the element of surprise is for such plans to work.

Of course, I’m spending much more time thinking about all this now than I did yesterday. It was merely a fleeting thought as I made my way down Yonge Street much less fleetingly.

What a gas to have the street all to ourselves, running through red lights, marveling at the cars waiting on the side streets. I mean, seriously folks. This is going on for a couple hours. You don’t want to turn around, find yourselves a detour?

To sing a very familiar refrain: Toronto is a far more pleasant place without vehicular traffic. Of that, there can be no argument. There’s less noise and pollution. A more easy going vibe fills the vacuum of their absence. As I make my way along Richmond Street, I think to myself, what a wonderful world it would be without cars. If there is a war on cars going right now, it should not only continue but escalate. If there’s not, there should be.

All of which I have a mind to tell mayoral candidate George Smitherman as he and his purple shirted entourage pass me at about kilometre 8. However, I am immediately consumed by a competitive edge. If I beat no one else in this race across the finish line, it will be George Smitherman and his pack of shiny-faced campaign workers. That will be victory enough.

I’m still lagging behind as we make it to 9k and then up and over the Bathurst Street bridge just south of Front Street. Turning onto Fort York Boulevard, however, I turn the jets on, blowing past the Smitherman team with the finish line in sight. There is no counter attack and I leave the Smitherman team in my dust.

Rival candidates take note. It seems that George Smitherman is vulnerable down the home stretch of a race.

victoriously submitted by Urban Sophisticat

A One Way Discussion

Sitting on a patio at the corner of  71st and 1st on the upper east side, taking a lunch time margarita for a test drive. What’s a lunch time margarita, you ask? Well, as far as we can tell, it’s just like a night time margarita only cheaper. A slippery distinction that’s difficult to pass up. 

Acaphlegmic’s in yet another lather. Truth be told, he’s been in some sort of lather or another since we arrived here in New York. First, it’s the ‘mallification’ of Times Square. You see, Acaphlegmic hasn’t been back to the city since around the mid-80s when, as an aspiring actor training at the Neighborhood Playhouse (alma mater of Jimmy Caan!), he prowled the mean streets of the East Village.

“In those days,” he tells us, “Times Square was gloriously seedy. Just like in Taxi Driver.” Apparently, you could buy yourself a cold beer from any squalid convenience store that had a bullet proof glassed enclosed cash register, pop it into a paper bag and then wander around, taking in the sights of open prostitution and live sex shows. “It had character,” we’re told. “Not just this soulless, neon lit commercialization.”

While we all agree on the latter point, Times Square is just another American strip mall, full of cheap souvenir shops and chain stores, there has to be some sort of compromise between that and the old stomping grounds of Travis Bickle. We’re called ‘cheap punk corporatists’ for that view. Another round of lunch time margaritas is then ordered as Acaphlegmic launches into a new day’s outrage.

Grid patterned numbered streets and avenues.

“Where’s the romance in that?”, we’re asked rhetorically. “You always know where you are. It’s impossible to get lost!” Huh?! Just when we thought an argument couldn’t get any loopier. The man tops himself. “In great cities, you always get lost. That’s what makes them great. By getting lost, you make new, unexpected discoveries.”

We’re going to find no common ground on this discussion. The utilitarianism of Manhattan’s numbered grid system is pure gold as far as we’re concerned. Not only do you know where you are but you know roughly how far it is you need to go to get to your next destination. Say, for instance, you’re drinking lunch time margaritas at 71st and 1st and you’re planning to head off to the Guggenheim. Its coordinates are 88th and 5th. That’s roughly 17 blocks north and 4 west (give or take a couple big name avenues that intrude. Like your Park and Madison Avenues). Your journey is about 25 blocks. Accordingly, you adjust the number of drinks you can have before heading off to get to the gallery before closing time.

Furthermore, we love the alternating one way street set up running both north-south and east-west. Odd number streets go west. Odd number aves head south. Or do evens go south? No, definitely odd number avenues travel south and the evens go north but even numbered streets flow… ? We had this all figured out before the lunch time margaritas.

Either way, it works well and a pedestrian catches on very quickly, within minutes realizing they only have to look in one direction in order to jaywalk safely. It’s not that Manhattan isn’t still congested but that’s a matter of there still being too many cars trying to fit into too little space rather than a badly designed traffic flow.

“Why don’t we have more one way streets in downtown Toronto?” Urban Sophisticat wonders. “Start south of Bloor. Leave it two way. Harbord-Wellesley goes west. College-Carlton east. Dundas travels west. Queen east. Etc. etc., all the way to Front Street. Same thing north-south from Parliament to Bathurst or so, leaving Yonge as a two way.”

Why not? With all the talk of bike lanes, transit and traffic congestion during this year’s municipal election campaign, where are the radical ideas? Anyone who’s traveled through the downtown core can tell you that the big one way thoroughfares, Adelaide and Richmond streets move more smoothly (not including the construction corridor between Bay and Yonge) than any of the other east-west roads. Granted, they don’t have to contend with streetcars using the two middle lanes but wouldn’t one way traffic on those streets that do help improve the situation? Turning vehicles would be off to either side not blocking the flow up the middle. Would the streetcars have to be uni-directional as well or is there a way to control having one lane coming the opposite way just for streetcars?

Surely there are traffic flow experts who have answers or solutions to these questions. Studies must have been conducted somewhere. So why isn’t there a discussion happening over bigger view ideas and grander visions for improving traffic congestion in Toronto?

“Because,” opines Acaphlegmic, noisily finishing off yet another lunch time margarita, “people are afraid of change.”

Truer words have never been spoken from drunker lips.

lubricatedly submitted by Cityslikr