Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reflecting on the Climate

Not a week goes by where I don't learn something that suggests we're even more screwed than I already thought we were.

I found a new report yesterday via the BBC discussing that the latest climate models, which now take into account the deep impact of fossil fuel consumption, among other factors, on climate change, indicate that Earth's average temperature will likely increase by 4 degrees Celsius by 2070, possibly even as early as 2060. I have no reason to think that this is a liberal estimate. To the contrary - if the history of climate modelling has shown anything, it's that models frequently overestimate the stability of the environment and its capacity to keep rolling with the punches.

The only spot of light in all this is that these estimates are based on a "business as usual" forecast, the assumption that human civilization will continue burning fossil fuels along the same exponential trajectory as it does today. There is still a chance to avert the worst impacts of climate change, but realistically, unless China and India realize that the environmental system doesn't give a shit about per capita pollution, I don't believe we're going to see any kind of effective emissions cuts. World leaders are just too short-sighted, stupid, and chained to lobbyists' wallets for that sort of revolution.

I think geoengineering is the answer. Despite the risks inherent in it, I think an active guidance and maintenance of the planetary system is now absolutely necessary to our continuity and survival as a technological civilization in the long term. Really, we've been conducting geoengineering ever since we started pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a large scale, irresponsibly and with no oversight. The planetary system is sufficiently fragile that we can no longer rely on purely natural systems such as oceanic carbon dioxide absorption to mitigate our impact on the planet.

Still, geoengineering is a big tent. It doesn't all have to be along the lines of pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. What we can do through geoengineering, what I think we've got to do, is shore up natural systems that are being overwhelmed. What we need is a bandage for the world, so we can do the work while it heals.

The melting of the Arctic ice cap is a significant threat for greater climate change because of its simple nature; white ice is far more reflective than dark seawater, and light and heat that would stick around to increase Earth's temperature is instead bounced back into space by it. This was good enough when humanity wasn't futzing with the thermostat, but now it needs a hand. If we can increase the albedo (reflectivity) of the planet, even locally, that would provide us additional breathing room in which to make the difficult shifts.

What we might do - I don't know if this is feasible from an engineering standpoint, but I can't see anything that would break the deal about it myself - is build and launch constellations of solar-powered aerostats, high-altitude balloons with station-keeping capability, over the Arctic icecap. These groups of aerostats could support, between them, sheets of thin but intensely reflective material. Enough of these put in place could create a sort of "flying icecap," but one that won't melt, while leaving the true icecap in deeper shadow and cooler temperatures. This would allow the formation of thicker, more robust ice, and allow the icecap to endure through our harshness for a bit longer.

There's no such thing as a perfect geoengineering method. Considering that all humanity lives in the laboratory, I'm sure there are a great deal of radical geoengineering methods that will never be explored because of the danger in manipulating the planetary environment too much. Consider the present, though; we already *are* manipulating the planetary environment, dangerously so. I don't think it's too much to ask to weigh the geoengineering we might do against the geoengineering we're already doing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PDP #108: Five Points

The Five Points intersection in downtown Barrie is, like much of the rest of that city, an absolute masterpiece of urban design (cough, cough). At that intersection Dunlop Street East, Bayfield Street, and Clapperton Street meet, and it would be a perfect candidate for a scramble intersection if only 1) there were more trip generators in downtown Barrie, and 2) Barrie prized its downtown over things like annexing bits of Innisfil so that it can build even more suburban subdivisions! Right! Because there aren't enough already!

This photo was taken during Barrie's Promenade Days celebration. Other times, drivers are not too pleased to see photographers standing in the middle of the road, peering through a viewfinder.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Monday, September 28, 2009

After Nuclear Twilight, Germany's New Day

I've heard it described as one of the most boring and bland elections of the twenty-first century. Yesterday, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel won a second term and fresh mandate from the German people, and in cooperation with the Free Democratic Party will form a majority government. Previously, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union ruled with the support of the Social Democratic Party, but with the SPD down seventy-six seats, things have changed. In particular, now that the SPD is out of the equation, it appears that the German government will re-evaluate the controversial plan to decommission Germany's nuclear generating capacity.

At its height, nineteen nuclear power plants operated in Germany, although like much of the rest of the world the majority of its power is derived from coal-burning power plants, and nuclear's share of the electrical pie has been roughly stable since the mid-1980s. In 2000, despite a 1997 opinion poll which indicated 81% of the German population supported nuclear power, a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens announced that all nuclear power in Germany would be phased out by 2020.

I thought it was ridiculous then, and I still think it's ridiculous. Personally, I'd go so far to say that in the current climate, with the looming threat of climate change never so well known, holding on to a policy like this is evil. It wouldn't be the first time an evil act was committed by people who honestly believed they were doing a good thing.

Of Germany's nineteen nuclear plants in 2000, two have already been shut down. Controversy arose after the closure of the 672-megawatt Stade Nuclear Power Plant in 2003, with the German news site Tageblatt Online reporting on environmentalists opposing the construction of an 800-megawatt coal power plant to replace it. The BUND Kreisgruppe, an environmental organization active in Germany, called for the construction of what appear to be natural gas power plants - Google's translation is not exact - which would generate only half the emissions of a coal-fired power plant.

This is, obviously, far superior environmentally when compared to a nuclear power plant which produces exactly zero emissions.

The problem with modern environmentalism is that its wagon has been hitched to the anti-nuclear movement for quite a few decades, and as such it's at war with itself and with reality. Environmentalist campaigners talk about the need to introduce further renewables into the generation infrastructure, but a modern civilization cannot be fueled by solar and wind alone. There has to be a source of baseload power generation, and unless you're lucky enough to be near a good set of waterfalls or a geothermal zone, only coal and nuclear can effectively provide that. I couldn't consider myself an environmentalist living somewhere other than Ontario; fifty percent of this province's power is nuclear-generated, and much of the rest comes from hydroelectricity, clean and carbon dioxide-free.

It seems to me that a lot of these dedicated environmentalists have not caught up with today's reality. They're still fighting the crusades of the 1970s, still seeing nuclear power in the same jaundiced light cast by the threat of the Cold War. It's well past time for us to leave behind China Syndrome scaremongering, for us to look at nuclear power with eyes unclouded by Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. How many people do you think die every year in coal mine accidents, or from the pollutants spewed into the atmosphere by coal power plants all over the world?

Coal burning is representative of modern industrial barbarism. We owe it to ourselves and to the future to move away from it as soon as possible. Bravo to the new German government for readying itself to go down that road again.

Pickering Nuclear Generating Station - may it bring the light for decades to come

Sunday, September 27, 2009

PDP #107: Cincinnati Bound

The last time I spent any considerable length of time in the United States was early 2005, on a journey from Toronto to Florida and back again. We followed I-75 most of the way back. Being a lot more naive about the clear and present danger of climate change back then, it didn't bug me much - but that's what time does, I guess. I can't wait until the roads are filled with electric cars charged by plentiful, nuclear-generated power.

This photo was taken on February 27, 2005, approaching the downtown core of Cincinnati, Ohio. I'd have to say Ohio had the most interesting scenery transitions in that trip; Cincinnati had no snow, but plenty of it was waiting for us at the Michigan border.

This photo also, for what it's worth, demonstrates the inferiority of my original digital camera to my current one.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Decivilization in Detroit

The twenty-first century has not been kind to Detroit. A hundred years ago it was a powerhouse at the top of its game, the center of the automotive industry and a magnet for millionaires on par with Buffalo, New York. Today, despite all efforts, it just keeps on rolling downhill. Its population is fleeing, it's buckling under unemployment unprecedented since the Great Depression, and its shadow of a mass-transit system, the Detroit People Mover, moves less than ten thousand people per day. Nearly half of its population is illiterate. Even Flint, which I wrote about back in April, has it better off - Flint doesn't have Detroit's reputation as a decaying wreck of a city to contend with.

This may be set to change. In the article "From Motown to Hoetown," the Toronto Star's environment reporter Catherine Porter wrote about how Detroit may be on the cusp of becoming a model of a 21st century city - Porter calls it "a model for deindustrialization," but I think a more appropriate term would be "decivilization." This term, coined in 2002's Transhuman Space, refers to the intentional demolition of portions of cities to allow nature to return there. What some entrepreneurs are paying attention to now is the prospect of working with Detroit as it is - taking the vast tracts of vacant land that comprise half that sprawling once-metropolis and vastly expanding its current network of urban gardens and farms. Detroit isn't hurting for space; the article focuses on thirty-five acres of land in central Detroit where only five structures remain standing. Everywhere else, nature has returned. The entrepreneurs' plan is to create multiple good-sized farms throughout the city, working the good land that urban decay has finally brought to light again.

The article focuses on incipient conflict between the agribusiness entrepreneurs currently sizing Detroit up and the local activists who got its existing farm system off the ground, but there are more interesting things hinted at in the text. Detroit, I think, is going to be North America's first real, familiar lesson that growth cannot last forever. All of American and Canadian history has been predicated on the concept that there is always another frontier, that there are always new riches to exploit, new mountains to climb, and that every step takes you a little bit higher. I see that still today, when the York Region countryside just north of Toronto, some of the best agricultural land in Canada, is broken up and plowed under for endless sprawling fields of box communities where every house is built to one of six blueprints. In Detroit, I'm seeing hope for the future - hope that we'll recognize that some things can't last forever, and that we'll choose to moderate our civilization before cold events make that choice for us.

Personally, considering that Detroit was where the automobile was born, was where the conspiracy that tore the streetcars out of all but a handful of city streets was conceived, and where the suburban impulse was given means to go, I see this as a sort of redemption.

Friday, September 25, 2009

PDP #106: To Trick the Eye

Though the Sheppard subway is a narrow stub of its once-planned self, and thanks to the planned Sheppard East LRT it may never be anything greater, at least its stations were designed with an eye toward aesthetics. Each of the five stations along the line have an integral art component, each one different, and it's a drag that so few people (compared to other subway systems, at least) use these stations.

The art in Bayview station is focused on the trompe l'oeil technique, two-dimensional paintings arranged in such a way as to appear 3-D. I'm not precisely sure what this one is supposed to be, but hey! Doesn't it look something other than flat?

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HisT.O.ry: Ghosts of Harbord

Every once in a while, between the past and future, Acts of Minor Treason takes time to look backward at some of Toronto's history - preferably the parts of it that haven't been bulldozed already.

The Summary

It could just as easily have been called the original Dundas streetcar.

Fifty years ago, streetcars were king in Toronto. While the opening of the subway from Union to Eglinton in 1954 had expelled them from Yonge Street, in 1959 those iconic Presidents' Conference Committee streetcars still clattered along Rogers Road, Dupont, Bloor, and Harbord. While the Rogers Road route's 1970s disappearance represented one of the last gasps of the TTC's streetcar abandonment policy, the other three were made obsolete by the 1966 opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Today, very little evidence remains of them, but they're part of this city's history nevertheless. The Harbord route in particular, meandering this way and that through residential neighborhoods east and west of the Don River and rocketing through downtown, is still fondly remembered by some transit aficionados. On September 13 and September 20, I took my camera and walked the route of the Harbord streetcar as it was in 1959, looking for impressions left in the concrete.

The Basics

The best online source for information on the Harbord streetcar is its page on Transit Toronto, written by James Bow. In 1959, it followed a thirteen-kilometer route from St. Clarens Loop at St. Clarens Avenue and Davenport Road in the west to Lipton Loop in the east. Unlike the Rogers Road route, which has been entirely obliterated except for its empty loop at Bicknell, nearly half of the route's total extent is still served by streetcars today.

The Harbord streetcar was originally longer than this, linking to Townsley Loop at St. Clair Avenue West and Old Weston Road, but service west of St. Clarens was cut in 1957. Though 168 Symington buses still stop at that loop, it was severed from the streetcar system a few years ago.

The Route: West to East

We start at St. Clarens Loop, from which Harbord streetcars pushed east on their runs to the Danforth - or, more appropriately, what was once St. Clarens Loop. Nearly forty-four years after the end of Harbord service, St. Clarens Loop no longer exists. I wasn't able to find anything more specific than "Davenport and St. Clarens" as to its location, but given the nature of that intersection, Primrose Avenue Parkette strikes me as the most plausible site of the former loop. Not only do the houses on the north side of Davenport look old and well-founded, the geography of the Iroquois Shoreline against which Davenport abuts doesn't lend itself well to a streetcar loop.

As on Rogers Road, one of the most obvious legacies of the streetcar line are the twin bicycle lanes, made possible by a street that had to be shared between rail and vehicular traffic. Many of the houses along Davenport reflect an early-century design ethos, one in which car ownership was not assumed to be universal, and as such a number of them lack driveways. Fifty years ago, cars wouldn't have been strictly necessary to residents along Davenport, with the Harbord streetcar providing a direct line to the downtown core. Today, the 127 Davenport bus connects this neighborhood to Spadina station.

Another hint that streetcars once ran here is the preponderance of metal utility poles. In this section of Davenport, only half the poles support streetlights, while the remainder are only there to hold up wires. These may be some of the original poles originally raised to support the Harbord streetcar's overhead wires.

The Harbord streetcar served only an abbreviated portion of Davenport Road; after barely more than one kilometer, cars turned south onto Dovercourt Road. The 161 Rogers Road bus serves that street today. It was at Dovercourt that I found the first strong evidence of the Harbord streetcar's presence, visible in the photograph above if you know what to look for.

Modern streetcar lines are embedded in concrete, a sight that should be familiar to anyone who's done much walking in Toronto's downtown core or along streets that have retained their streetcar service. In the 1950s these middle lanes were cobblestone rather than concrete, but the principle remains the same. Take a look down the two middle lanes of Dovercourt in the photo - and it's not a trick of the shadows. The two middle lanes of the street are darker than the two outer lanes. This, to me, is prima facie evidence of the streetcar.

What I believe happened is that, after the line's abandonment in 1966, the two inner lanes either were ripped out and put back in without tracks, or just paved over entirely. Dovercourt Road, being a purely residential road only a block away from Ossington, is not particularly high-traffic. It may well be the case that there has not been a need for roadwork along Dovercourt in the forty-three years since the removal of the tracks. The darker, fresher cast of the two inner lanes' asphalt is almost like scar tissue, covering the wound of their removal.

After one and a half kilometers spent rolling through Dovercourt's suburban charm Harbord streetcars turned east again, onto Bloor Street track shared with the booming Bloor streetcar. Passenger volumes here demanded that the PCCs frequently be run in two-car trains, ersatz predecessors of the modern, double-length ALRVs that provide the bulk of service along Queen Street today. It might not have been a rare occurrence for someone waiting at this intersection to hop onto a Harbord streetcar for a quick ride a bit further east. Harbord cars ran on Bloor for barely more than three hundred meters, turning south once more at Ossington. Though Bloor streetcar service in this area was abandoned at the same time as on the Harbord route, the level of traffic and development since has obliterated all trace of the former route here.

There are still streetcar tracks on Ossington, but I didn't cross their paths. They connect the lines on College Street and Dundas Street, purely non-revenue trackage that's only really used for diversions. Like Bloor, Ossington is high-traffic enough to warrant at least one resurfacing since the 1960s, and as a result the short metal poles that crop up between the light standards every now and then are the only local evidence of streetcar infrastructure. The 63 Ossington bus serves this corridor, rolling between Eglinton West station and Liberty Village. It's a comfortable street, and only the relatively high traffic level is a reminder that downtown Toronto is not too far away.

Harbord Street isn't a particularly long or prominent road, running for slightly more than two kilometers from Ossington Avenue in the west to St. George Street in the east, but it gave its name to the Harbord streetcar regardless. This might be because the streetcar served all but the eastern fragment of Harbord Street, turning south only at the border of the University of Toronto, which might have taken issue with its students dodging streetcars on the way to class. The bike lanes return here, and the low-rise commercial infrastructure speaks of a mini-downtown where businesses once catered to streetcar commuters. The 94 Wellesley bus picks up transit slack here, and Bickford Park and Harbord Park are healthy preserves of green.

It's along Harbord that past and present first intersect. The 511 Bathurst streetcar still runs from Bathurst station to the Exhibition grounds, and the rails that run through the intersection of Harbord and Bathurst are the first indications along the route that streetcars still run in Toronto.

At Spadina Avenue, the route of the Harbord streetcar rejoins the modern streetcar system, but that's not to say the rails are the same. Streetcar service on Spadina ceased with the death of the Harbord streetcar and the removal of most of its trackage, and it wasn't until 1997 that the present 510 Spadina service returned. The tree-lined right-of-way is entirely modern - period photos available on Transit Toronto show that the Harbord streetcar ran in mixed traffic in the same way as the modern 501 Queen, 504 King, 505 Dundas, 506 Carlton, and 511 Bathurst routes.

To my knowledge, this part of Spadina Avenue is unique in that it's the only component of the modern streetcar system where service was "permanently" cancelled and later reinstated. Harbourfront, the other major representative of Toronto's streetcar renaissance, was not previously served by streetcars. With the city's attention now focused on comparatively peripheral routes like Finch Avenue for new streetcar service, it's unlikely that any other former streetcar roads will see cars clattering down them again.

Upon reaching Dundas Street in the heart of Chinatown Harbord streetcars turned east, and while the track continued to the south it was used mostly for short turns and streetcar shuffles, as far as I understand. The only reason I was able to get a modern photo of a streetcar turning along the same route is only due to ongoing watermain construction further west on Dundas - outside of extraordinary circumstances such as that, streetcars don't turn at this intersection anymore. It's an eastbound 505 Dundas car that's pictured, but if you turn your head and squint I suppose you can imagine the photo's from an alternate world where the Harbord streetcar endured to the modern day. Assuming you're into that sort of thing.

Though I doubt streetcars would have carried anything as risque as modern Calvin Klein ads back in 1959.

As I said earlier, the Harbord streetcar is unusual among Toronto's vanished streetcars in that a significant portion of its former route still sees streetcar service today. In 1959, Dundas streetcars looped and turned back west at City Hall Loop just west of Bay Street, and service along Dundas East was provided primarily by Harbord cars. Where the western extents of the Harbord route passed through quiet, green, middle-class streetcar suburbs, east of Yonge they rolled through south Cabbagetown and Regent Park and bridged the Don River - which, on a good day like September 20, 2009 was, actually looks like a real, healthy, viable ecosystem, though that only lasts for as long as the Don Valley Parkway can be ignored. To expand on what I said before, the Harbord streetcar might have been more accurately termed the Dundas East streetcar.

East of the Don River, the Harbord route and the modern streetcar tracks both turn north off Dundas onto Broadview Avenue. Today, Broadview is a significant streetcar avenue serving Chinatown East and Riverdale, with 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcars running along it to Broadview station. Modern levels of streetcar service weren't seen on Broadview until the 1966 opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway enabled the surviving streetcars to feed it; in 1959, Harbord cars turned east on Gerrard Street, joining trackage used today by 506 Carlton cars. Modern streetcar service continues east along Gerrard far beyond where Harbord cars turned north again, leading into Main Street station on the Bloor-Danforth subway.

A railway bridge crosses Gerrard Street just east of Carlaw Avenue, used by GO Transit trains that started rolling one year after the last Harbord run. It's here that Harbord streetcars turned north, and it's here that their route departs the extant streetcar system. With the exception of Riverdale Shopping Centre, which may not have even existed in 1959, the neighborhood is almost purely residential. Harbord cars ran only a short distance up Carlaw before turning east at Riverdale Avenue. In the heyday of the Harbord car, the currently-empty building at the Carlaw and Riverdale intersection housed a variety store. With a shopping centre just down the street today, I suppose it just ended up being obsolete.

Riverdale Avenue today is a quiet, residential street, significant only because Pape Avenue is split in two by the aforementioned railway. There remain one or two old, rusting metal poles along its length from Carlaw to Pape, holding up streetlamps in the shadows of old trees and significantly shorter than the newer wooden poles. One is visible in the photograph above. Again, remnants of the streetcar's overhead wire infrastructure.

Pape Avenue south of the Danforth is relatively low-traffic and residential today, but it's poised for a renaissance. The proposed Downtown Relief Line, originally conceived in 1985's Network 2011 plan and drawing a great deal of attention today, might well be tunnelled below it and return higher-order transit to a street that's been without it for more than four decades. 72 Pape buses serve it today, connecting the neighborhood to Union Station. Still, traffic on Pape is high enough that it seems to have been resurfaced between 1966 and now, and aside from a few metal poles there's not much evidence the Harbord streetcar passed through here.

The End of the Line

Though the route rubbed up against it when it turned south onto Ossington from Bloor, it's only at the intersection of Pape and Danforth that the Harbord streetcar route directly confronts its killer and successor, the Bloor-Danforth subway. In 1959, Harbord streetcars looped for a westerly run at Lipton Loop, with tracks on Lipton Avenue, Gertrude Street, and a third road which subsequent development has entirely eradicated. Today, the site of Lipton Loop is occupied by Pape station, one of only a handful of TTC stations that boasts a Tim Hortons.

It's a transit nexus of its own today. The 25 Don Mills, 72 Pape and 81 Thorncliffe Park bus routes feed through Pape station. Should Transit City be built as it's currently proposed, streetcar service would return to the site, with the Don Mills LRT departing here toward Steeles Avenue, the city's northern border.

That alone demonstrates how much Toronto has changed since 1959. Fifty years ago, it would have been folly to contemplate a streetcar reaching to what was then a country road only beginning to see development boom. Fifty years ago, the streetcar network occupied a different place in relation to the people of the city. One thing I noticed throughout the route was the ubiquity of on-street parking. It's simple why; the houses along this route were built before automobile ownership became an end into itself, when no one really needed a car to get around.

Toronto has changed a great deal, but something like the Harbord streetcar could still fit within it today.

Ancient HisT.O.ry:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PDP #105: The Shadow of an 'L'

Of Toronto's transit network as a whole, I'd say it's the streetcars which are most iconic. Everywhere else in North America, streetcars are either refurbished heritage runs or sophisticated light rail using shiny new equipment. Toronto's in a weird middle ground in that respect - the TTC's streetcars are modern, but no other city operates them, and they run in the street like they have from the beginning.

Chicago has the 'L,' its elevated rapid transit network, which is iconic of that city. I'll be taking a look at it in a future Tunnel Visions post that will appear in early October. Toronto doesn't have anything like it - except the Scarborough RT, portions of which are elevated, like this stretch that bridges McCowan Road. Even then, though, the Vancouver SkyTrain would be a more accurate comparison.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Destroying the Past to Create A Future

In the wake of the Second World War Toronto became one of the most progressive cities on Earth, if in this context "progress" is defined as "a willingness to destroy one's heritage." Throughout the downtown core and elsewhere grand old buildings came tumbling down and were ground to dust, and it wasn't until the slaying of the Spadina Expressway and the salvation of Campbell House in the 1970s that urban preservation began to gain strength in this city.

I'm of the opinion that Toronto has no choice but to be a city of the future, because it's already destroyed most of its past. Yet, in this headlong rush toward the future, this city may yet demolish some of the last shards of history it has left.

Today, the 102-year-old Royal Canadian Military Institute is the odd structure out on University Avenue. A small, historic, architecturally stylish building, it's perpetually in the shadow of the skyscrapers that occupy every other scrap of land along the road from Front Street to the edge of Queen's Park. Two nineteenth-century field artillery pieces flank it. It includes a museum that contains, among other things, the seat of the Red Baron's Fokker triplane. It's absolutely unique in the city and the only evidence left that University Avenue was ever anything other than a canyon walled by glass and steel and stone.

I'm pretty sure you can see where I'm going with this.

The Toronto Star recently reported on the tribulations of a new condominium project - shocking, a new condo in Toronto, I know, but please try to suppress your amazement - that is drawing controversy because it is planned to be built without permanent parking spots. The 42-storey building, if completed, would be a middle finger upraised at the car-centric planning that's dominated in North America for the last sixty years, a brash and bold statement that it's possible to live a good life in this city without four wheels underneath you.

Normally, I'd be all over this. I wouldn't mind living in such surroundings myself. The only problem is that for this condo to be built, the Royal Canadian Military Institute must first come down.

Because, you know, there's no other scrap of land anywhere in the city, and history is just for nerds anyway, right? Why does this city have to build my hopes up so much, only to destroy them so swiftly?

What I find most disturbing about the article is its blunt progressive triumphalism, its brash assumption that absolutely nothing will stand in the way of this construction and, by extension, progress. Opposition to the RCMI's demolition isn't mentioned until the last quarter of the article, and where the building is acknowledged as a historical property, it's described as "decaying." That's a word that carries a lot of charge and power, stronger even than "dilapidated" because more people know what it means. Besides, who cares if this one-of-a-kind structure, this building that is a listed heritage property, is bulldozed when it will be replaced by a structure "that maintains elements of the façade," eh?

The article says that City Council is going to vote on final approval of the project later this month - assuming they haven't already done so. Personally, I intend to get in touch with my councillor about this. Toronto may have to be a city of the future, but there's no excuse for building it on what shattered fragments of its past we have left.

Monday, September 21, 2009

PDP #104: The Luckiest Bus in Toronto

Right now, streetcars are diverting around part of Dundas Street West because they're tearing up the road for watermain repairs. This leaves it to the buses to fill in the newly blank spots of service. While out on walkabout with Randy McDonald of A Bit More Detail yesterday, our paths crossed with this Dundas West-bound shuttle, bus #7777.

As I said, incredibly lucky. My roommate said I was lucky it wasn't bus #21, as that number apparently has substantial occult significance. Though... I don't know how lucky it is for bus #7777 to get stuck in the typical Sunday afternoon Chinatown traffic jam.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Astounding Lack of Foresight

It seems to me that almost all of the problems the world faces today could be explained by the average person's inability to conceive of the future as a real place. I'm not sure whether or not this is the case, but if it is, it would answer a lot of questions as to why people do things that are little better than cutting off their own legs because of an itch.

On August 24th Michael Lynch, bloodlessly described as an "energy consultant," took the idea of peak oil to task in an op-ed for the New York Times. I find it astounding for its broad, blunt assumptions and its sallow certainty that the state of the world as it is today reflects how it will be forever.

While Lynch may have a point in that oil deposits that are accessed relatively easily with modern technology were previously undevelopable, I believe his mistake is assuming that it will always be cheaper to tap fresh oil fields than derive energy from other sources. What I take the greatest issue with, though, is his conclusion - that given his claim that peak oil is bunk, "we can't... throw money away on harebrained renewable energy schemes" or invest in conservation, because, you know, people need cheap oil.

I take issue with it because, in a way, he's right. Too many people need cheap oil today because modern North American society was built with the assumption that it sat on the shore of an infinite ocean of petroleum. Our challenge isn't going to be limited to "harebrained renewable energy schemes" - if we want our civilization to be resilient, to stand up against possible future resource or energy shocks, we are going to have to fundamentally rebuild it.

Lynch's view on renewable energy, on the other hand, is enough to mark him out as an enemy of the future. Personally, I detect a techno-utopian tone to his words, an assumption that Good Old Human Ingenuity will easily, quickly, and cheaply solve any problems the maintenance of a petroleum-powered society creates, and that once if the oil runs out, that same ingenuity will allow us to switch our source of energy without interruption or pain.

Concepts like that are common in science fiction backgrounds that aren't thought out particularly well. In reality, I have little faith that such a trajectory would lead to anything but pain, suffering, and privation. While there are technologies that show promise in mitigating the environmental impact of industrial civilization through geoengineering, they remain expensive, for the most part untested, and may create further problems that are as yet unanticipated.

The worst thing we can do, when it comes to the future, is assume that it will be just like the present. That will only make sure we'll be unpleasantly surprised. Investing in new sources of power and establishing new measures to husband what resources we have is sensible. What people like Lynch advocate strikes me as pure irresponsibility.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

PDP #103: Railway Lands

It seems to me, from what I've read and encountered, that Toronto has managed to retain a significantly greater railway infrastructure than a lot of other major North American cities. It would've been easy for the downtown railway lands to be disassembled and plowed under for an expressway back when that kind of "progress" was in vogue - that they weren't is to our benefit, mostly.

This is part of the Toronto railway system, looking northwest from Dundas Street West toward Weston. Today GO Transit's Georgetown line trains use this track; it's also where Blue22's "400 TOXIC diesel trains" will run between Union Station and Pearson Airport. The real tragedy of that scheme steadily moving from paper to reality is that it prohibits anything else, anything more deserving, from using the corridor. Look at it - it'd be perfect for an aboveground, western arm of the Downtown Relief Line.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Rich People With Too Much Rich"

The traditional university dorm is a hardscrabble, almost falling-down place, a sardine can that more often than not a hapless student has to share with a crazy roommate. I'm not sure if this has any basis in reality; at my alma mater, the vast majority of residential rooms were one-person affairs, though this in itself may be a subversion of standard practices.

Sometimes, though, a university will take this stereotype, burn it to a crisp, and then bury the ashes. Yesterday the Chicago Tribune printed a story entitled "Luxury dorms: Purdue University, other schools build swanky housing to lure undergrads," and it's what's lurking in the background of it that really puts me ill at ease.

Purdue University is located in West Lafayette, Indiana, not too far from Indianapolis and Chicago, with an enrollment of nearly forty thousand students. It operates twelve distinct residences; the subject of the story, First Street Towers, is one of the newest, the smallest, and is by far the most expensive at Purdue. The Tribune article boasts of how the three hundred and fifty-six single rooms come with private bathrooms and maid service and of lounges with custom entertainment centers built by the Amish. Not exactly "budget."

So how expensive is it? That depends on what package a student gets. Purdue folds meal plans into its residential rates, with students able to choose from ten, twelve, fifteen, and twenty meals per week covered in their rates. The 12-meal plan, listed as the most common, would cost a First Street Towers resident $14,204 USD - that's $15,197.96 CAD, according to today's exchange rate, and probably before taxes. That approaches the cost of something like three years of my own university education.

I was going on to a comrade about this yesterday and he raised the point that it might not be that much more expensive than rent. If this school was in metropolitan Chicago or Manhattan, I could see that, but West Lafayette is not exactly built-up. lists multiple rental properties in West Lafayette for less than $600 USD. This seems more to be an issue of people getting entranced by the concept of luxury and going for it without giving much thought to the long-term consequences.

What gets my hackles up here is how this is all being framed, as if luxury is its own reward. "Privacy isn't negotiable" for the new generation of students, the article says, the millennial generation born between 1982 and 2003. First off, I take exception to that division point. As someone born in 1982, I have far more in common with someone from the 1970s than the 1990s.

A new resident of First Street Towers is quoted in the article as saying, "You are going to be in debt anyway, might as well enjoy." This is what greatly disturbs me. Comments like this demonstrate that we've really, as a whole, learned nothing. I would think that if you have do be in debt, you'd want to minimize it as much as possible so that it's as easy to pay off as possible - but no, I'm sure that these students will be comforted by memories of their posh, posh university surroundings when they're later making sandwiches or pumping gas because those are the only jobs they can find with this economy.

I may be overreacting to this. Luxury's always had a place in society, but conspicuous luxury such as this, set against our present economic situation, tends to set me off. I would actually be more comfortable with it if I knew this residence was occupied by scions of millionaire families - as it is, I think it's more likely that this place is attracting middle-class students whose families are having a hard enough time to make ends meet as it is.

I read a story in a recent issue of Asimov's, I think, about people genetically engineered to have a greater awareness of and concern for the future. I see an absence of that here. Places like First Street Towers are, essentially, shrines to the present, to the immediate. It's not even a case of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die" - "tomorrow" doesn't seem to enter into it at all.

Credit to my sister for coming up with the title of this post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PDP #102: Foot of Roncesvalles

Roncesvalles Avenue is one of many roads in Toronto built around the streetcar. Roncesvalles Carhouse, one of the Toronto Transit Commission's major streetcar yards, sits at its foot. It reminds me of a small town's main street, which it may well have been back in the day, when the streetcars weren't the best way for people to get to work, just the only way. It was a gateway at the edge of Toronto; the McDonald's at the intersection in today's photo occupies the approximate site where Sunnyside railway station sat until its demolition in 1973.

This photo was taken on April 11, 2009. The TTC is currently tearing up much of Roncesvalles in order to rebuild it with an eye to streetcar and pedestrian use. From what I've heard, it won't be until 2010 at least that streetcars rattle on Roncesvalles again.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not Free, Hardly Clear

I am sick today, so today's post will be brief. The 120-year-old Free Library of Philadelphia, the public library system of the city of Philadelphia, is closing on October 2nd due to a lack of budget.

The library, the foundation of an aware, knowledgeable, enriched populace, is closing. Completely.

This is not just a problem of Philadelphia. Day by day we see the consequences of reckless, profligate spending. I've resigned myself to the reality that things will be worse, much worse, for my generation than it was for my parents'. I've accepted that things like returns to the moon and boots on Mars will probably be science fiction until I'm an old man or dead.

I've accepted that this is the proximate fault of untrammeled greed, of unscrupulous traders and businessmen and suit-wearing Wall Street miscreants. I've accepted that the world is creaking, like an old wooden table piled high with cinderblocks, and sooner or later something has to give. Something will give.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PDP #101: Vivastation, Viva Life

Steeles Avenue is where Toronto ends and the suburbs of York Region begin, and it's here that public transit shifts from the Toronto Transit Commission to York Region Transit and, to a lesser extent, Brampton Transit. YRT also operates Viva, a bus rapid-transit system that I've never had call to ride, but which does appear very swank from the photos I've seen.

Going north along Yonge, the Vivastation on the north side of Steeles is the first you'd encounter. Not only does it have a ticket-vending machine, it also has LED readouts telling you when the next bus will be showing up. If the TTC implemented Vivastation-like equipment at major stops, it would be a coup. Until, of course, they were vandalized into submission.


I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Monday, September 14, 2009

We Can Do Better Than Westminster

By the end of the work week, we may well know if Canadians are going to have to reckon with an election once again. The opposition in Parliament, dominated by Michael Ignatieff's Liberal Party, lost its composure recently and announced that it would no longer support Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative minority government. For those unfamiliar with the Westminster parliamentary system, a minority government is one where no party holds more than half of the seats in Parliament, and as such the governing party is dependent on the support of at least some of the opposition in order to govern at all.

Yesterday, facing the potential of Canada's fourth election in six years, the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson asked, "Is Canada broken?" Election after interminable election, he wrote, may be indicative of a "malfunction" in the political system, and that the parties are spending more time jockeying for power and influence than actually doing their duties. Canada isn't particularly used to minority governments; before 2004, when Paul Martin's lackluster campaign kicked off our current stretch, Canada's last minority government was in 1979, and from what I can tell, there has never been such a long string of minority governments in Canadian history.

What I have to ask, though, is - is this a bad thing? Or, more to the point, are we asking the wrong question? Could it be that it's not Canada that's broken, but Canada's system of government that's broken?

I've never been enchanted with the Westminster parliamentary system. My first substantial introduction to it came in a high school Politics class, where I first learned of and was disgusted by the concepts of party loyalty and party discipline. Maybe part of that derives from my proximity to the United States, and the constant news from there about Democratic and Republican senators and congressfolk trading support and influence like bubblegum. Here, it's not the same. If a Prime Minister stands at the head of a majority government, he or she wields supreme executive power - and considering the four-party nature of Canadian federal politics, it's hardly derived from a mandate from the masses. In the 2000 federal election, the last time a majority government was voted in, the Liberals won their majority with 40.85% of the vote.

Another of Ibbitson's issues is that due to this constant electioneering, a majority of the bills tables in Parliament are never passed into law, and as such Parliament is not doing its job. To be honest, I prefer these slate-blanking opportunities when I look back at what the Conservatives have tried to do. Our prospective new copyright law, Bill C-61 - written with the assumption, it seems, that the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act did not go far enough - died on the table in 2008, and Canada is better off for it. Minority governments, and the electioneering associated with them, can filter out terrible bills that would be pushed through without a blink if one party had control.

The way I see it, it's the Westminster system that's broken. I'm thankful that we've not had a majority government for the last five years, because it means that one party has not been able to run roughshod over the loyal opposition and remake Canada in its image. I would like nothing more than for there never to be a majority government again. Effective, responsive governments are based on consensus, and parliamentary majorities discourage exactly that. No party should be handed the keys to the country by merely a plurality of the voters. That's not what real democracy is.

Maybe the Conservatives are right - maybe it is time for a change. Maybe they were just wrong about exactly what it is that needs to be changed.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

PDP #100: Unfriendly Street

Yesterday I wrote about the bicycle-unfriendliness of Bayly Street in Pickering. I took a few photos of it at the time, but with fifteen shots already in yesterday's post I couldn't find a good place to put it - so here it is on its own. This photograph is looking east, toward the Liverpool Street intersection and the site of Pickering GO Station.

Thanks, readers, for sticking around long enough that I've had call to post a hundred of these photos. It really is something to me.

I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On the Waterfront: Oshawa to Toronto

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, one week ago I took my bicycle out to Oshawa and embarked on what ended up a five-municipality, forty-two-kilometer journey along the Waterfront Trail and its environs. It's the sort of trip, I think, that a normal person wouldn't do, at least all in one go. That much riding really takes it out of you, unless you're someone like Val Dodge, who appears to have such endurance that he may actually be some kind of cyborg.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant ride, and with the aid of the photos I took along the way, keep reading for an impression of what it's like to cycle in the cool breezes along the shore of Lake Ontario, and to dodge traffic under the burning sun away from the shore of Lake Ontario.

First, of course, I had to get out there. Exhibition GO Station and Oshawa GO Station are 53.7 kilometers apart as the train rolls. In this photo, a westbound train lingers for an unusually long time - I realized later it was because of the number of people alighting for the Canadian National Exhibition - while I wait for my own eastbound train, which was delayed for ten minutes because of the volume of people boarding further down the line who were bound for the Canadian National Exhibition. It was a relatively cool morning, and I had hopes that my ride back from Oshawa would not be under a blazing sky.

Oshawa GO is the end of the line for GO trains - literally, as I found out. It would soon return the way it came, with the two engines pushing their train west to Aldershot in Burlington, more than one hundred kilometers away. I know there are some people who could manage that kind of distance on a bicycle without any problems, but I am manifestly not one of them. At 11:20 AM, I mounted my bike and pedalled away.

From Oshawa GO, I had a few kilometers of road-riding ahead of me before I could join the Waterfront Trail. Leaving the station, I pulled west on Oshawa's Bloor Street West - Durham Regional Road 22 - and separated from the lanes of Highway 401 by a few meters of grassy shoulder and a chain link fence, with only a rough gravel shoulder along the road itself, my only real desire was that I wouldn't ride over a particularly sharp stone or a broken bottle.

The City of Oshawa ended far sooner than I'd expected, based on the 2008 Waterfront Trail map I used to plan my route, and I found myself cycling into the wonderful world of Whitby while still on that gravel shoulder. In Oshawa and Whitby both, much of the land south of the 401 seems to have been given over to industries or sprawling power centres like the one where Victoria Street East and Thickson Road South meet, and the speed of the vehicles and the nature of the infrastructure both told me that bicycles weren't particularly welcome there. Cycling south along Thickson, I passed through quiet and thankfully poorly-trafficked industrial zones before I swung west, onto the Trail, and left civilization behind.

There was a tranquility there that's almost impossible to find in cities. Whitby's waterfront has been left almost entirely undeveloped, and as a result there's no distant droning of cars, no rumble of industry, nothing but the wind through the grass and the chitters of the local wildlife. I passed a handful of people along this section of the trail, mostly walking dogs, but not many. A historical marker I encountered along the route told me that before the Second World War, this part of the waterfront had been "the location of choice for a federal airport, dirigible terminal base, and an airdrome," and that an airstrip had in fact been built there during the war. I couldn't see any trace of it ever having been there while I passed through.

I was wrong about leaving civilization entirely behind, though. It may have been an odd, distant smell that made me first notice it - I can't quite remember - but what I at first hoped was a pile of crushed cars in the distance appears instead to be a landfill. This sharp contrast between nature and development along the Trail wasn't the last.

Further west, in Heydenshore Kiwanis Park, this old building was fenced off and seemed left to rot. I'm not sure what it ever was or will be, but I think its presence brings an extra touch of history and charm to the trail. Only a couple of kilometers remained before the separated trail ended, and I was once again thankful for my riding gloves. Bicycling in mixed traffic makes me intensely nervous. I have no idea how all the idiot cyclists in Toronto can ride along on heavily-trafficked routes with no helmet and earbuds in their ears and have no fear.

The route of the Trail had me rejoin Victoria Street, now Victoria Street West. Beyond Gordon Street the intensity of development in Whitby begins to drop off, and it doesn't pick up again until well into Ajax. Much of this is due to the presence of the Lynde Creek conservation area between the two municipalities. When I set out I didn't expect to find so much wilderness, let alone pass through it. I rode on the gravel shoulder again, but other cyclists I observed weren't so considerate; I watched two ride past on the road itself going faster than I could easily manage, but slow enough to create a knot of grumbling traffic behind them.

Lake Ridge Road is the boundary between Whitby and Ajax, and it's where Victoria Street West ends and Bayly Street East begins. The beat-up sign welcomes travellers to "Ajax By the Lake." For a good while, though, all I saw was more gravel shoulders and the fringes of sprawling suburbia, though this barn has managed to hang on at the intersection of Bayly and Shoal Point - ten years ago, though, it was probably deep in farmland, and ten years from now the suburbs will likely have plowed it all over.

Ajax's waterfront, like Whitby's, has for the most part been preserved as parkland. The centerpiece of it is Veterans' Point Gardens, at the foot of Harwood Avenue. In keeping with the town's namesake, HMS Ajax, the gardens' design has naval echoes, built around a mast flying the flags of Canada, Ontario, and Ajax itself. At the "bow" of the gardens, I found a deployment map of the Battle of the River Plate, the first significant naval engagement of the Second World War. In retrospect, I could have taken far more photos there than I actually did. This is also the general area from which I took the photograph I posted on September 5.

This bridge spans the mouth of Duffins Creek in Ajax. Pay careful attention to that sign; I was the only one who did, it seems, as multiple people passed me on the bridge while riding their bikes. Upon reaching the other end I found the sign there was faded and unreadable, but that doesn't excuse the people who came the same way I did. The big problem is that a lot of bicyclists, it seems, just don't care, and do what they want. The view of the creek was pretty nice, though.

West of Duffins Creek, Ajax ended and Pickering began. The trail wasn't much affected by it, still winding and weaving through the calm nature of the shoreline, and the smell of the seashore was everywhere - I'm not sure what exactly the smell was, but I suspect it was seaweed or algae or something similar. A short while into Pickering, the trail detours a short way north around the perimeter of one of the most important facilities on the north shore of Lake Ontario - Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.

I'd seen it before, in photographs and from a distance, but what's always struck me about Pickering Nuclear Generating Station is how much it does not look like what you'd expect a nuclear power plant to resemble. There are no bold, brash cooling towers dominating its form, and aside from the density of power transmission cables and barbed-wire fences and bilingual signs warning that trespassers will be met by armed responders 24/7. Those domes that look vaguely similar to grain silos house the reactors, six of which are splitting atoms to create clean, zero-carbon energy. Ontario Power Generation has a small billboard at the station's entrance reading "nuclear energy = clean air," and it's right.

The western extent of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station is dominated by the OPG 7 commemorative turbine, which appears rather larger and sharper than its urban cousin, the WindShare Turbine in Toronto's Exhibition grounds. Granted, with a generating capacity of 1.8 megawatts the OPG 7 isn't a silver bullet on its own, but I still believe it's an important sort of symbol. Symbols are, always, key. The accessible land around it, beyond the barrier fence, is a public park owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation.

Just west of the power plant, at Liverpool Street in Pickering's waterfront, the separated trail ends. I proceeded north along Liverpool until I again met Bayly Street, but while the official trail route demanded that I cross the lanes of Bayly, I had no intention of obeying that noise - with my possible choices either to cross busy lanes or ride on the sidewalk, I took a third option. Bayly Street wasn't particularly friendly, and in the end I dismounted and walked on the grassy shoulder for much of it out of sheer safety concerns. There's plenty of room there to install a separated bike lane, but would Pickering actually do this? Somehow, I think no.

At 3:02 PM, after navigating around the only spot of construction I saw along the Waterfront Trail, I crossed a pedestrian bridge spanning the Rouge River and returned to the city of Toronto. It was an energizing milestone at first, until I started cycling along Lawrence Avenue East - passing Starspray Loop, which I posted on September 7 - and realized that compared to Whitby, Ajax, and Pickering, Toronto is massive. My original plan was to cycle all the way back to my apartment near Exhibition GO Station, but as it later turned out, when I crossed the Rouge River I hadn't even hit the halfway point yet.

Taking this into account with my previous long-duration ride, it seems that at my current level of fitness, my endurance lasts for about thirty-five kilometers until pain in my shoulders and the uncomfortableness of the seat makes continuing on a consistently more difficult proposition. A pit stop in Port Union for lunch didn't improve matters much. At first I revised my goal from home to Kennedy subway station, but on reaching West Hill I was coming to realize even that was a stretch. I was beginning to feel like I would collapse and get run over before making it even that far.

I chose the Oshawa-Toronto route because it provided multiple abort modes in the form of GO Transit's Lakeshore East line. Had I run into trouble in Whitby, Ajax, or Pickering, I could simply have walked my bike to the nearest GO station and taken the train the rest of the way home. Deep in Scarborough but still a long way from home, I did exactly that and cut my trip short, ending it at Guildwood GO Station, where I arrived half an hour before the next scheduled train.

Guildwood GO Station in October 2008

Even then, I managed to end my trip on a painful note. Guildwood is a three-platform station; Platform 1 is a side platform, with Platforms 2 and 3 center platforms. The tracks are elevated, so to go from one platform to another, you need to descend a set of stairs, walk through a tunnel running under the tracks, and ascend another staircase. While purchasing my ticket I saw a VIA Rail train stop at Platform 1, and I'm still sure I heard the ticket agent tell me to wait at Platform 2.

So I took my bike, carried it through the tunnel and up the stairs to Platform 2, and hunkered to wait for the train. Right around the scheduled time I heard its whistle pierce the silence, and looked up from my book to see it approaching... approaching, I realized with a wrench, on Platform 1's tracks.

Had someone told me before, I wouldn't have believed that I could move so fast while carrying a bicycle. The staircase down was the first obstacle, and even as I started on the steps I could hear the train pulling into the station itself. I'm not sure exactly what happened other than taking the stairs too fast, but I slipped and fell down quite a few, injuring my toe - I'd feared it broken at first, but this was not the case - and popping the chain off my bike, though I didn't discover this until later.

Still, there was no time to waste. On Saturdays, Lakeshore East trains arrived hourly, and loitered in stations for somewhere around forty-five seconds, if that. I made it to the tunnel, clambered up the next set of stairs fully expecting to see the train doors snap shut in my face, but somehow made it aboard and to a seat before it pulled out.

In total, my ride covered 42.06 kilometers, not counting the distance between Exhibition GO and my apartment. It was greatly worthwhile, I'll still admit, but - I need to work on improving my endurance, above all.

It's the sort of thing everyone should attempt. There are good sights along the trail, and maybe the experience will inspire some thought, now and again. Just make sure you're prepared and drink lots of water. I did that, and even then by the time I made it home I looked like a wreck.

hello ladeez I am going to go fall unconscious now