Bell needs parking more than cyclists need safety, and the City of Toronto agrees

(This is a roughly edited version of a letter I sent to Councillor Joe Cressy, Mayor Tory, and Film Toronto about Bell Media closing down one of the few bike lanes in the downtown core so they would have a convenient spot to park. Cressy, my very own councillor, acted with speed & efficiency rarely seen in government to get it re-opened before the end of the day.)

Bike lanes, like any other piece of infrastructure, must sometimes be closed. But Richmond is the only westbound bicycle lane between College street and Queens Quay. To many cyclists, the bike lane is the only thing that makes it a bike-friendly route, given the high speeds of many drivers. This is a central route for cyclists such as myself for travelling to work in the downtown area, and it should be closed only when there are no other options – and this was clearly not the case. It’s important to find out how and why this happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Did the city give Bell a permit specifically to park in the bike lane? Or was it just a permit for the area, which they interpreted as okaying the bike lane?

Several pictures were posted on Twitter of what appeared to be a Bell employee removing the bollards separating the bike lane from traffic. The City of Toronto’s Film Planning website indicates that changes to street signs & other infrastructure must be done by city transportation staff. Did Bell have any right to remove these bollards themselves? It can’t be acceptable for private companies to remove devices that were installed for safety.

The city film site also notes that location filming permits “cover parking for production vehicles only”. However, most of the vehicles I saw parked in the bike lane with location permits did not appear to be involved in any production; rather, they were vehicles that had been relocated out of a parking lot. Is this an appropriate use of a special parking permit?

Finally, I was incredibly disappointed to read the comments of Film Toronto Manager Eric Jensen in Metro News, who said that “It was necessary to facilitate the ongoing operation of Bell Media,” and that there was nowhere else to park. This is entirely untrue, as cars could have parked in multiple nearby locations:

  • Duncan Street, which is where the vehicles are now located;
  • The south side of Richmond Street, where there is no bike lane;
  • The underground parking lot at John & Richmond;
  • Several surface parking lots, such as one at Queen & Peter.

Perhaps these locations were slightly less convenient than the bike lane on Richmond, but the city needs to consider more than simply “the ongoing operation of Bell Media.” A decision to shut down a key piece of transportation infrastructure should not fall solely to one city agency, particularly one with such a limited scope.

Oscars Gonna Oscar

osc-banner_statuetteIf you’ve watched the Oscars for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed some trends: The Academy likes movies about real people, preferably historically significant ones. Four of the eight Best Picture nominees are based on true stories, and four of the five Best Actor nominees are playing real people, with the fifth, Michael Keaton, playing a sort of alternate universe version of himself. They also like movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking being the best example this year), movies about art (BirdmanWhiplash), and performances by actors who hide their movie star looks under prosthetics (Steve Carell, acting under the shadow of Nicole Kidman’s fake nose). They also really, really like Meryl Streep.

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The Netflix Effect: Silly Journalism

DC  Comics editor Julius Schwartz had a habit of commissioning covers first, and then telling the writer & artist of the book to work from that cover. It’s a creative approach to fiction, but not ideal for writing the news.

The Ontario Government released a list of the most popular baby names in 2014, and noted that some names seem to be inspired by popular TV shows. The Toronto Star went a step further, and wrote a story about The Netflix Effect, theorizing that baby names weren’t merely influenced by television, but specifically by TV shows streamed on Netflix. Then they attempted to back up their theory.

Dubbed the “Netflix Effect,” the names of characters from shows such as Orange is the New Black are hitting the top 100 or 150 or just making an appearance thanks to the popularity of Internet-streamed series.

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TIFF 2014: A brief sampling

Last week, the Toronto International Film Festival announced some of their big galas and premieres. There were some interesting films listed, but the real excitement came today, when they unveiled the Midnight Madness, Vanguard, Masters, and Documentary programmes. These are the films that are less likely to make headlines, but are some of the best, most interesting, and craziest movies at the festival.

Here are a few films that jumped out of the lineup so far. This is by no means definitive, and at times totally subjective and irrational. There is a reasonably possibility that some of them will not be very good.

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The Leftovers Manufactures Meaningless Suspense

HBO’s newest series, The Leftovers, was created by Damon Lindelof, one of the head writers on Lost. This should raise some red flags.

Lost had its moments: It set up an intriguing premise, and was great at building suspense and mystery. But the mysteries grew and grew, and the resolutions seemed farther and farther away; cliffhangers would tease at revelations, only to see the story move in a completely different direction in the next episode. I gave up midway through the second season, abandoning any hopes I would ever see anything resolved.

The Leftovers starts with a similarly mysterious premise: One day, in a Rapture-type event, people disappear. But with the series starting three years after the mass disappearance, it creates a second mystery: What has happened since the disappearance?

This is an odd sort of mystery, because the characters all know what happened during those three years; as such, The Leftovers seems largely built upon keeping things from the audience. There’s a certain amount of logic to this – while the world of The Leftovers is foreign to viewers, it’s become an everyday reality for the characters within it – but it also requires the script to avoid some obvious topics until they can be revealed in the most dramatic fashion.

A mild spoiler for the pilot follows. Except it’s not really a spoiler, as we shall soon see. 

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Career Politician John Tory criticizes Olivia Chow for being a Career Politician

In his latest press release, Mayoral candidate Jonn Tory takes aim at Olivia Chow’s history of spending money as a politician. Matt Elliott took a good look at the accuracy of those claims, but the one thing that stood out in Tory’s release is the dreaded accusation that Olivia Chow is a Career Politician.

“Toronto needs a mayor with experience, fiscal common sense, and restraint – not a career politician who has been living off the public purse for three decades.”

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Obvious Child is 5% groundbreaking, 95% uninspired formula

Obvious ChildGillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child does one unique thing very well: It tells a story about abortion without any emotional trauma or hysterical moral wailing.

Obvious Child is the story of Donna (Jenny Slate), who gets pregnant after a drunken one-night stand and, given her complete lack of financial or emotional stability, decides to have an abortion. Predictable hijinks ensue, but more interestingly, women talk about their experiences with abortions, and none of them degenerate into tearful monologues about terrifying clinics or lifelong regret. Continue reading

Michael Keaton Strikes Back

birdman-posterIt’s been long time since I was excited about seeing a Michael Keaton movie. Probably since Batman Returns, which came out 22 years ago. (At some point, I remember wanting to see Multiplicity, but I don’t think I ever did; I was excited to see Out of Sight and Jackie Brown, but those are merely movies with a small bit of Michael Keaton.)

On the other hand, I usually get excited by a new film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, even if the results don’t always meet my expectations. There’s a lot I’ve liked about 21 GramsBabel, and Biutiful, but Inarritu often piles the drama on too heavy on top of scrawny plots & characters.

All that said, I never expected to see Inarritu and Keaton in a movie together, but that’s what we get with Birdman, and it looks fascinating. Michael Keaton’s been middle-of-the-road for so long, it’s easy to forget he made some great dark comedies in the 80s – Night Shift and Beetlejuice in particular – and also did some solid dramatic work in Pacific Heights and Much Ado About Nothing. 

Birdman obviously acknowledges the conceit that, yes, Keaton used to play Batman, then appears to take that in a crazy Black Swan kind of direction.

Orphan Black clones Breaking Bad

Given the many clones on Orphan Black, it’s not uncommon to get a sense of deja vu while watching the show. But the opening scene of Governed As It Were By Chance, the fourth episode of season two, conjures not another version of Tatiana Maslany, but a vision of Bryan Cranston in his underwear. Continue reading