Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quebec to demolish Turcot interchange

The Quebec government is going to spend $1.5 billion to remove Montreal's biggest set of overlapping, concrete roads -- the Turcot interchange. It will be replace by street level roads.

It's a lot of money. And I expect the real price will be triple as is always the case. But given the overpass collapse in Laval and the tests being done on the elevated Ville Marie Expressway, perhaps we should stick to more simple, land-based road construction in Quebec. The province doesn't do a great job at maintaining our existing infrastructure. So, let's keep new infrastructure as simple as possible.

The Gazette reports that the new construction will go as far east as Greene Ave. I guess that means part of the Ville Marie Expressway will be removed, but most of it will stay. That's too bad. I don't feel too confident driving on that road nor the other major east-west elevated, the Metropolitan Expressway.

The greening of Turcot: $1.2-billion price tag
Key interchange to be rebuilt. But where are the extra lanes for transit, critics ask as highway project unveiled

The Gazette

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quebec will spend $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion on a vast project to replace the Turcot Interchange with a new expressway system designed to simplify and beautify one of the city's most important transportation hubs.

"This will mark a new beginning for Montreal," provincial Transport Minister Julie Boulet told a news conference yesterday.

"It will improve traffic flow and free up more commercial and residential land for development." It will also bring the crumbling 12.76-kilometre interchange and its 25 overpasses and ramps down to earth.

With the exception of two elevated ramps, the new road system will be built at ground level.

This will considerably reduce maintenance costs, Boulet said, as well as free more than 100 hectares of land, an area larger than Lafontaine Park.

The idea is to build the new interchange alongside the old one, which will be torn down only after the new one is complete.

Construction is slated to begin in 2009. Demolition of the old Turcot is to begin in 2013.

By August 2015, if all goes as scheduled, the tired Turcot, with its sweeping 20- to 30-metre-high concrete ramps, overpasses and expressways, will have vanished.

Some commercial and residential properties will be expropriated and demolished to make way for the new interchange.

Most of these buildings are located just south of the eastbound entrance to the Ville Marie Expressway, close to the current entrance to de la Verendrye Blvd.

About 20 per cent of the expropriation will be residential. Many of the property owners will be able to relocate to land made available by the new project, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay said.

Tremblay said he fully supports the plan, saying it will serve as a new gateway into Montreal and will help revive an area that predominantly features vacant land and rundown buildings.

Montreal's chief opposition party, Vision Montreal, was not as enthusiastic, however.

There were not enough reserved lanes for buses, party leader Line Hamel noted.

"When you are completely rebuilding, you have to profit from the opportunity to improve public transit," she said.

Projet Montreal city councillor Richard Bergeron agreed. He said the Turcot project represents a missed opportunity to reduce Montreal traffic.

Noting the project will increase the interchange's road surface by 30 per cent, he said: "Where are the public transit projects? To see Mayor Tremblay congratulate himself for getting billions of dollars invested in roads from the Quebec government is truly exasperating." The Turcot is a crucial interchange not only for Montreal but for the entire province.

It is the main east-west traffic hub joining Highways 10, 15, 20 and 720. It's also a crucial portal to Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, the West Island and the South Shore.

For this reason, the project is designed to minimize traffic disruptions during its almost nine-year span, Boulet said.

During the next two years, land will be decontaminated, expropriation completed and technical studies prepared.

Because the new interchange will be built alongside the existing one, there will be no interruption to traffic during the first four years of construction, officials claim. "Only during the demolition of the old interchange do we predict some disruption to traffic," Boulet said.

The Quebec government has been planning the new Turcot project since 2003, when it paid $17.8 million for the railway yards along Highway 20, north of the Lachine Canal.

Part of the plan is to keep a corridor open for a railway link to Trudeau airport. The government also plans to build bicycle lanes and parkland.

The construction will extend west along Highway 20 to Angrignon Blvd., east along the Ville Marie Expressway to Greene Ave., north along the Decarie Expressway to the Sherbrooke St. ramp and south to the de la Verendrye exit.

New ramps and highways will be built in all these areas.

"We were looking at an interchange that was built 40 years ago and in another 10 years would reach its maturity," Boulet said in an interview.

"So we had to make the choice of repairing it or building a new one. We realized that in the long run it would cost more to repair it and maintain it than to build a new one." In the meantime, the government still must spend millions of dollars just to keep the old Turcot safe. Many areas are crumbling, with chunks of concrete falling from ramps and overpasses, revealing a ugly web of rusting steel bars.

The cost to build the interchange in 1966-67 was $24 million. The province has promised to pay the entire cost of the new project, but hopes to get infrastructure money from the federal government.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It's all about the demographics

David Foote is a Canadian demographer who has written about how demographics affects everything and how societies should plan around this foreseeable phenomenon.

For instance, it should not be surprising that Quebec's aging population will strain the healthcare system while Alberta's younger population will be using less healthcare services and paying more in taxes. The result: Alberta has not budget deficit, nor any debt. (True, the oil revenues help. But it's also about good demographics.)

What about the rest of the world? What kind of demographic facts should we be noticing to plan better?

German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn argues that the "youth bulge" phenomena (when 30 percent of the population is young men) causes many societies descend into mass murder and revolution. That's why he doesn't have much hope for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict anytime soon and in worried by the ability of the European welfare state to support the Muslim "youth bulge" in Europe itself.

Heinsohn argues that lasting peace in Europe was possible after the Second World War because Germans put the brakes on the rapid birthrate they had previously.

“In Europe we have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Rome Treaty and in all the newspapers we could read that this treaty ended war in Europe. This is absolutely wrong. If the Germans after 1945 had reproduced as they did between 1900 and 1914, then we would have had a German nation of almost 500 million citizens, and we would have had about 80 million German men between 15 and 29. In reality we have 7 million. And we may well ask ourselves whether these 80 million would have been as peaceful as the present 7 million, or would have been detonating bombs in Breslau or Danzig.” (These former German cities - now called Wroclaw and Gdansk - were ceded to Poland following Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945, ed.)
Read the rest.

(Disponible en francais aussi.)

GPS screen currently illegal in Quebec

I was among those who thought an in-car GPS map and voice prompts were gimmicky. But I used one while visiting Toronto two years ago and changed my mind.

Part of the fun of exploring a new city is looking at the buildings, watching people and noticing things that make that city different from your own. But when you are not totally expert in the other city, it can make your driving experience tense. Instead of enjoying the ride and exploring the area, you are instead focused on trying to read street signs to not make any mistakes.

GPS navigation removes the panic and angst from driving and instead, lets you enjoy the ride. Plot an end point and the voice guide will prompt you where to turn. If you make a mistake, it will navigate you make on track. Instead or worrying about watching for signs, you can instead look around. The worry about making a mistake is replaced by the fun of exploring--with a really guide.

Amazingly, we now learn that GPS navigation screens are not legal in Quebec, but will be by 2008. Currently, as far as Quebec is concerned, a GPS screen is like a television screen. It seems Quebec law has not kept up with the latest technology. Perhaps someone should send Premier Charest a subscription to Wired magazine.

It turns out we can thank cabbies for helping nudge the government into the twenty-first century. They struggled for 10 years (yes, 10 years!) to convince the government these navigation systems were a good idea.

The screens will only be legal by next year, so you might want to cover your GPS screen when the police pulls you over.

Quebec expected to finally make GPS in cars legal
Mike King
CanWest News Service
Friday, June 22, 2007

MONTREAL -- It's another quirk that makes Quebec distinct in North America - though that's expected to change by year's end or early 2008.

Quebec is the only jurisdiction on the continent where satellite or other navigation systems using screens are illegal for drivers of non-emergency vehicles.

That will come as a surprise to most, because the devices -- better known as global positioning systems (GPS) -- are a standard feature on a growing number of luxury vehicles.

They're also offered by car-rental agencies and sold through hundreds of retailers across Quebec.

But under a Quebec's highway safety code article, it is prohibited to have a television or other screen displaying information that a motorist can directly or indirectly see while driving.

"According to the law, even OnStar is illegal," said Constable Marc Butz, a spokesman for the Quebec provincial police, referring to the subsidiary of General Motors that has become a world leader in in-vehicle navigation systems.

Butz said the provincial police force has handed out 28 tickets to motorists since 2003 for having such systems with screens.

Montreal police issued 190 tickets during that period, but those figures don't show how many were for navigational systems with screens as opposed to, say, television monitors.

"The law is idiotic," argued Marcel Bouchard, Quebec's only authorized representative for Kansas-based Garmin International Inc., which designs, manufactures and markets GPS equipment for the consumer market.

"A ticket for that is crazy -- I've never heard of anyone getting ticketed for that," Bouchard said.

Even when he was recently stopped by the police for running a red light, Bouchard said, the officer praised his global positioning system rather than give him a ticket for it.

"I'm surprised it's illegal, but it's certainly tolerated," Bouchard added.

OnStar has more than 37,000 subscribers in Quebec alone, Jocelyn Allen, OnStar's vice-president of public affairs and corporate communications, said from Detroit.

The Hertz Corp. introduced the NeverLost on-board navigation system in its rental cars in 1995.

Katura Hudson, public affairs specialist at Hertz headquarters in New Jersey, said NeverLost has been available in Montreal since July 2000. It costs an additional $14 a day in mid-size, full-size and luxury vehicles.

It's also possible to get a GPS-equipped vehicle from Avis Rent A Car System Inc. in Quebec for an extra charge of $11 a day.

The highway code is expected to be modified by year's end, however, thanks to a more than decade-long fight by Quebec's cabbies to make GPS legal for taxis.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ikea leaves flags in disrepair outside Montreal store

The management of the Ikea store in Montreal (Cavendish/Hwy 40) has been flying the flags of Canada and the United States in an embarrassing state of disrepair for at least three weeks. I cannot believe no one in management at the store has not noticed the state of their flags.

There is no excuse for this. Ikea worldwide sales in 2006 was 17.3 billion euros. It owns and operates 225 stores in 24 countries, including 11 in Canada. This is a huge company.

Flag etiquette suggests they remove the flags rather than leave them hanging in their current state. The photo below was taken on June 24, 2007.

You can contact Ikea here.

UPDATE: Ikea has responded (see messages below) and say the flags do not belong to them but to another commerce nearby. I suppose that explains it. It would have been odd had Ikea not noticed this.

However, I have a vague memory years ago of seeing a yellow Ikea flag on the far left poll followed by a Quebec flag and a Canada flag. At the time, I remember thinking that Ikea had not put the flags in the correct order. Did Ikea once have ownership of those flags and now do not?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Toronto backs away from Stand Right, Walk Left

Bad news from Toronto. The Globe and Mail reports its transit authority has reversed its policy of posting 'Stand Right, Walk Left' signs on the escalators because of some bureaucrats at the Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA) complained walking is unsafe.
The TSSA... recommended the signs' removal because they appeared to condone people walking on the escalators.
The signs are there to remind newbies about a worldwide custom, which makes less bad the riding of a slow-moving escalator in subway setting (hot, sticky, gross, etc.). These do-gooders at the TSSA don't want us to walk on escalators. Better to miss the bus, miss your subway, miss your class or be late for work.

The guy with the improbable name of Dexter Collins is in charge of 'elevating devices' at the Toronto Transit Commission. Dex is cool with removing the signs because he's "never been big on that idea anyway."

Do you get the feeling Dexter doesn't use the subway? If he did, he'd probably feel differently. What does Dex know that people in London, Rotterdam, Edmonton, Tokyo and elsewhere don't know.

Then Dex said something that makes me very irate.
"The intent is for the escalator to carry the people up the escalator. If they are capable of walking, they should be utilizing the stairs."
Wrong, a-hole. First, I hate people who use the word 'utilizing' as much as those who say 'orientated'. Second, Dex, the reason people walk up the left side is to get to their destination faster. But you would know that, Dex, if you used the TTC.

In fact, if Dex was so unlucky as to endure a sweat bath every morning before work, he might learn that many subway stations are quite deep. For instance, the York Mills subway station has 148 steps.

If TTC customers (yes, Dex, they are your customers) want to speed up their hellish subway experience and use the extra time to towel off the sweat from their torso when they arrive at work, why do you want to literally create obstacles for them?

Officials in Toronto acknowledge that walking on the left has become part of the culture and that they are powerless to control those who tempt fate and insist on walking up escalators. No one will be arrested in mid-stride. But both agencies say at the very least, the TTC should not appear to be condoning it.

This is retarded. The signs are needed to help keep out of the way the 10 percent of the population who are clueless about escalator etiquette. The signs ensure all riders are aware of custom to avoid the inevitable arguments as walkers ask standers to move.

By removing the signs, Toronto will end up like Montreal where a couple of genuinely uninformed people will be able to block the path of countless others. This creates a lot of frustration for the customers who use public transit. When you have to rely on a bus or subway to get somewhere, you easily can become worried about having to wait, say, 10 minutes because you missed the bus.

Walking up the escalator gets you to the bus quicker and puts you back in control. It lessens frustration. It makes an otherwise sweaty experience more tolerable.

Imagine if motorists weren't able to use the left lane to pass because people like Dexter said it was dangerous. Imagine the rage on the roads at being stuck behind slow-moving traffic. Allowing people to share the road (or the escalator) reduces rage. It makes the day better. Toronto needs more escalator etiquette signs, not less.

This is a step backward for an otherwise very progressive city.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Anti-war idiots protest against troops

It is shocking how some people in Quebec have chosen to protest the Nato mission in Afghanistan, which seeks stabilize that country to prevent it from again becoming a haven to train radical Islamists.

Instead of protesting on Parliament Hill or some federal building, these useful idiots decided to protest in front of the Quebec-based troops who were invited to the Montreal Alouettes football game this evening.

The troops are about to be shipped to fight a dangerous war and anti-war people think themselves clever to lower the morale of the troops. And then there are the handful of Parti Québécois legislators who didn't join their colleagues in the standing ovation for the delegation of Quebec-based troops who visited the Quebec legislature yesterday. Disgusting.

Anyway, here's a much more eloquent comment about this from a CTV News streeter:

Quebec proposes new regional municipal structure

The Quebec government tabled today a bill to reform the grotesquely-named Montreal agglomeration council -- the regional decision-making body comprised of the (very large) central city and the (relatively less populous) suburbs.

The proposed bill has to be approved by the Quebec legislature this fall. Given the minority status of the government, the bill is by no means certain to pass as-is. The suburbs seem pleased that their recommendations were taken into account. The mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, is peeved at the Quebec government.

When asked about it, Premier Jean Charest opened a can of political whoop-ass on Mayor Tremblay. Good for Charest on standing his ground.

Watch Charest's comments below.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Quebec cartoonists agree: Jews are devious

Editorial cartoons appeared in three Quebec newspapers last week in reaction to a story in La Presse about a meeting between ADQ leader Mario Dumont and major Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers. The fundraisers are Jewish and include some prominent business leaders and at least one former Canadian senator.

Some background
This was a big story because the Jewish community has long supported the Quebec Liberal Party -- both with dollars and with votes. The fact that such prominent fundraisers were meeting with the leader of the official opposition sends a clear message to Premier Jean Charest and his ruling party: don't continue to take the Jewish community for granted.

Similarly, before the Quebec provincial election this spring, mayors of many English-speaking suburbs of Montreal publicly supported Dumont's ADQ party. This too was big news for exactly the same reason. The English-speaking had long supported the Quebec Liberal Party -- both with dollars and votes.

When the English-speaking mayors supported the ADQ party, it made news. But when the story broke about Dumont's meeting, the editorial cartoonists went into their newspaper archives from the 1930s and (evidently) dug up some vile, anti-Jewish cartoons to use as inspiration.

La Tribune
In the first cartoon from La Tribune newspaper in Sherbrooke, Mario Dumont is shown with his hands outstretched and dollar signs in his eye waiting to get money from two large-nosed, slightly hunch-backed men wearing kippahs and uncut sideburns. One of the Jewish men has creases in his forehead and seems mildly sinister. The text bubble has Dumont welcoming the men, but the "s" letters have been replaced by "$" dollar signs. How clever!

La Tribune (Sherbrooke, Quebec)
June 15, 2007

Le Devoir
The second cartoon features Mario Dumont with t-shirt indicating that he is kosher. The kosher stamp is put on kosher products so that practicing Jews can observe the Jewish dietary rules.

It is offensive to Dumont and Jews to suggest that Dumont has been branded kosher because he met with a few big wigs in Quebec who happen to be Jewish.

But the sub-text is even more offensive: Jewish people met with Dumont and certified him kosher, in the same way as one certifies foods. In other words, Dumont is like meat ready to be eaten by the Jews.

Le Devoir (Montreal, Quebec)
June 15, 2007

La Presse
Quebec's newspaper of record, La Presse, dresses Dumont in the hat worn by a relatively small sect of Quebec Jews and gives him uncut sideburns. For the cartoonist (and presumably) his readers not fully acquainted with the Jewish community, it appears that Dumont is an opportunist who has sold out to these weirdly-dressed Jews.

Dumont's speech bubble says: "...And next week, I will be courted by the nude cyclists of the Plateau. Don't miss that!"

Not only do Jews dress weirdly and have strange eyes, but they are a community as relevant to Quebec and as weird as the ridiculous one he invents.

La Presse (Montreal, Quebec)
June 2007

These three cartoons reveal a profound lack of knowledge about the Jewish community of Quebec. For these cartoonists (and I presume their readers) Jews are either (1) hunch-backed, big-nosed sinister characters with briefcases full of money, (2) people who have weird dietary rules and can figuratively make a political leader kosher, and (3) are weirdly-dressed people whose importance in Quebec is on par with nude cyclists.

None of the cartoonists commented on the fact that the Jewish community was no longer all 'voting the same way' -- which has long been a criticism of Jews, Greeks, English-speakers and other non French-Canadian communities in Quebec. This seemingly positive development is, instead, portrayed in sinister ways.

There is often a debate about whether French Quebec or English Ontario was more anti-Jewish in the past. Whatever the Ontario elite think privately today about the Jewish community, I cannot imagine such ignorant cartoons appearing the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail.

But in 2007, in Quebec, such cartoons barely raise an eyebrow in the French-Canadian community.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Movies: Knocked Up (2007)

There is a scene in Knocked Up (2007) where Ben (chubby, pot-smoking slacker guy with curly hair) is discussing over dinner with Allison (pretty tv host he knocked up) and her sister (pretty, older stay-at-home mom) and her husband (successful, handsome, unhappy) that part of him would get into the DeLorean if Doc Brown showed up to take him to the past to undo the unplanned pregnancy.

The sisters have no idea who Doc Brown is and don't understand what the guys are taking about. The sisters become incredibly peeved that (1) the men (who barely know each other) have this shared guy culture of which the women have no knowledge (or control), and (2) they feel excluded from this part of the men's lives.

A recurring theme in the movie is that women believe that men live in a fantasy world (movies, fantasy baseball, etc.), while women are interested in serious things (sex offender database, pregnancy books, etc.). The men believe the women control their lives and there is no escape. To quote the overused quote from the movie: "Marriage is like an unfunny, tense version of Everybody Loves Raymond, but it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

This prescient dialog illustrates the great writing in Knocked Up--a comedy that could have easily been just a guy movie. Instead it is a guy movie, a chick flick, a relationship film, and a slapstick comedy with lots of cheap jokes and funny sight gags. This film will appeal to a lot of different people and is going to make a truckload of money through positive word-of-mouth reviews.

Knocked Up is written and directed by same guy who did 40 Year Old Virgin. But Knocked Up is the better film. It is both more juvenile and more mature. There are sophomoric and witty scenes that will make the audience erupt in laughter. And there are moments of spot-on commentary about how the lives of women and men and their insecurities, fears, hopes, struggles, blah blah blah.

There are no big special effects, so you might be tempted to watch this one at home. But there are big laughs from start to finish and you'll enjoy watching this in a crowd. This is a really good movie. Very enjoyable and I have no regrets I paid $26 for the tickets.

New Quebec rating: 4.5/5