Living next to a river, lake, or sea can have both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits include fuel-efficient shipping, hydroelectric production, being able to relax on a beach or a boat, and the fact that large bodies of water tend to have a temperate effect on their local climates, keeping them cool in summer and warm in winter. Drawbacks include being an impediment to road travel (you usually can’t drive a car on water), flooding, motion-sickness, and Snowbelts.
While most US cities continue be located next to major rivers or bodies of water, these cities have tended to sprawl away from their bodies of water in recent decades, forming suburban areas further inland. In addition, many of the fastest-growing American cities have been in inland areas, like Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, or Austin. Water has taken a backseat.
In this article we will look briefly at ten places — 4 in Canada, 6 in the US — near Lake Ontario that have been shaped by water, and that might soon experience a revival because of water.
The city of Hamilton has the only significant natural harbour in the western half of Lake Ontario. Back in 1870, when water transportation was still more important than it is today, Hamilton’s population was half as large as Toronto’s. Hamilton’s land transportation, however, has been limited by its harbour, as well as by the Niagara Escarpment. Thus Hamilton has not been able to expand (or sprawl) in the way Toronto has. Hamilton’s population today is only 10-15 percent as large as Toronto’s.
Niagara is shaped by water — and not just because of the nearby Falls. It is an example of what we will call a “crow-flies city”: it is far closer to Toronto as the crow flies than it is via land. In fact it is only 48 km from downtown Toronto via Lake Ontario. To put that it perspective, Barrie is 85 km away from downtown Toronto, and Hamilton is 60 km from downtown Toronto. Via land, however, Niagara-on-the-Lake is roughly 25 km from downtown Toronto. As such, if crossing Lake Ontario were to become easier, Niagara-on-the-Lake may benefit. In a forthcoming article we will discuss whether or not this is likely to happen.
3. Fort Erie
While the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (population 18,000) and its neighbouring cities St Catharines (population 130,000) and Niagara Falls (pop. 80,000, plus 50,000 more who live on the US side of the city) are crow-flies cities vis-a-vis Toronto, via Lake Ontario, the small city of Fort Erie (population 31,000) is a crow-flies city vis-a-vis Buffalo, via the Niagara River. Although the Peace Bridge crosses the river, it tends to be crowded with border traffic, and it is an out-of-the-way route for the southern areas of Fort Erie. So, if it becomes easier to cross the 3 km-wide river border between Fort Erie and Buffalo’s harbour, Fort Erie may benefit.
Niagara is a crow-flies city via lake, and Fort Erie via river, but the village of Youngstown (population 2000) in upstate New York is both.
Like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Youngstown is less than 50 km from downtown Toronto via Lake Ontario, but more than 125 km from Toronto via land. In addition, the Niagara River blocks Youngstown from the nearby town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and city of St Catharines. As the crow files, Youngstown is only 1 km from Niagara-on-the-Lake and 18 km from downtown St Catharines. However because theres is no bridge over the Niagara River north of Lewiston, Youngstown is 23 km from Niagara-on-the-Lake by car and 28 km from St Catharines. Youngstown would benefit from easier crossings of the river, the lake, and the US-Canada border.
The nearest US city east of Youngstown, meanwhile, is Lockport (population 21,000), 30 km away next to what was once America’s most important canal, the Erie Canal.
Buffalo too owes its significance to the Erie Canal. Indeed, prior the modern era of plentiful railways and highways, the canal allowed Buffalo to become America’s 10th largest city in the 1860s — and the fourth largest among cities without an ocean port. Buffalo remained the fourth largest city in the US without an ocean port until the 1900s. Today, however, the canal is used mainly by pleasure craft, and Buffalo’s location within the Great Lakes’ Snowbelt has made the city languish. Buffalo is now thought to be just the US’ 76th most populous city and 46th most populous “urban area”. It is the snowiest in the top 100.
While the Erie Canal was America’s most important, the Welland Canal was and continues to be Canada’s. Whereas the Erie Canal is nearly 600 km long, the Welland Canal is only 43 km. But in order to bypass the Niagara Escarpment between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, it covers almost as much elevation as Erie’s does. The city of Welland (population 52,000) sits on an oval-shaped island formed by two branches of the canal, one in use (approximately 3000 ships use it each year) and the other branch not.
Because it is still used for shipping, the eastern branch of the canal in Welland is crossed only by two lift-bridges and two tunnels. Most of Welland remains next to the canal’s western, recreational branch (which was used from 1932, when it was built, until 1973, when the eastern branch was added). The western branch is less of an impediment to road traffic than is the eastern branch, since the western branch is crossed by seven bridges that do not ever need to be raised in order to let ships pass beneath them.
Welland is the largest island city in Ontario, and the largest one in Canada (I think) apart from Montreal, St John’s, Victoria, or Nanaimo. The city is 70 km from Toronto by air, 110 km by land. Downstream from Welland is St Catharines, upstream is Port Colborne (population 18,000).
7. Grand Island
20 km east of Welland, back on the US side of the border, is another small island city, Grand Island (population 20,000). It is located on a circularly-shaped island roughly 10 km in diameter, which is linked, by two bridges, to Buffalo in the south and to Niagara Falls in the north. Yet no bridges link Grand Island to either Canada in the west or to Tonawanda (population 100,000) in the east. While Grand Island is only around the 140th largest island in the United States terms of area, it is in the top ten in terms of island populations.
The circular shape of the island might perhaps also prove significant — circles are, at least in theory, the most efficient shapes to build cities within. Grand Island also gets less snow per year on average (82 inches) than nearby Buffalo (95 inches), but more than nearby Niagara Falls (76 inches). Finally, Grand Island is next to the large hydroelectric dams at Niagara Falls. These have made New York the largest hydro producer in the country behind only Washington state and Oregon —without even counting the 45 percent of Niagara hydropower produced in Ontario.
Much like Buffalo, Rochester (population 210,000) is an Erie Canal city in the Snowbelt. It gets 100 inches of snow per year on average, more than any city in the US with a population of 100,000 with the exception of Syracuse (124 inches of snow; population 140,000), 120 km to Rochester’s east. The only other US city which comes even close to Rochester in terms of both size and snow is Erie, Pennsylvania (101 inches of snow; population 99,000). The future of all these Snowbelt cities may be tied to questions such as: “will smarter cars and trucks allow driving on country roads during a snow squall to become less dangerous?”, or “will aging Baby Boomers take up cross-country skiing en masse?”
Rochester, unlike Syracuse or Buffalo, is a middle-of-the-lake city: Lake Ontario stretches approximately 150 km to Rochester’s east and 175 km to its east. It is a bit of a crow-flies city vis-a-vis Toronto (150 km vs 250 km). But across the lake from Rochester there are no major Canadian cities. There are only smaller cities, such as Cobourg, Belleville, Oshawa, and Peterborough. Rochester is not the biggest middle-of-the-lake city on the Great Lakes; it is second to Milwaukee (population 600,000). However Rochester is the biggest mid-lake city within the Snowbelt, ahead of others like Sudbury, Erie, and Grand Rapids.
Many of the cities in upstate New York were given Classical names. Of the 20th most populous cities in the state, five fit this bill—Syracuse, Utica, Troy, Rome, and Ithaca. The tiny town Ovid (population 600), which along with Romulus (4,000) is one of the two seats of Seneca County, fit the pattern too. Though it is very small, and located 62 km from Lake Ontario, Ovid arguably deserves our attention here anyway. This is because of Ovid’s position between New York’s largest “Finger” Lakes: Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake.
With the exception of Lake Michigan, Cayuga and Seneca are by far the two lengthiest, and most voluminous, lakes that lie entirely within the northeastern United States. Ovid sits at an elevation roughly 100-150 metres above the surface of the lakes, roughly five km from shores of the two lakes and 30 km from both the northern and southern tips of the lakes.
Ovid is different from all of the larger cities in the Finger Lakes region, such as Ithaca (where Cornell is located), Auburn (population 28,000), Geneva (13,000), Seneca Falls (located on the canal that links both lakes to the Erie Canal), or Canandaigua (11,000). Unlike Ovid, all of these cities are located by the tips of the lakes, rather than by their middles.
The reason for this is partly because the tips of glacial lakes like the Fingers tend to be where lowlands are located: unlike Ovid, none of these cities sit at elevations that are tens of metres above lake-level. Mostly, however, these cities are located at the tips of the lakes for the same reason that Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland are located at or near the tips of the Great Lakes. Cities in the middle of lakes have fewer directions available for roads.
Thus Ovid faces a similar question to that faced by most of the other cities we have discussed thus far: can crossing its adjacent lakes become easier? Cayuga and Seneca lake are both only around 5 km wide in most areas, and in many places are far narrower than that. Were Cayuga, Seneca, and the other Finger Lakes to become easier to cross, a place like Ovid might become one of the more unique and interesting locations in the US.
Ovid is also a minor crow-flies city, vis-a-vis both Toronto (235 km vs 325 km) and Syracuse (65 km vs 90 km). And in addition to being a middle-of-the-lake town in relation to both Cayuga and Seneca, it is also, in a sense, a middle-of-the-lake town for Lake Ontario. It is only about 80 km away from Rochester, and 135 km south of areas in Ontario.
The final city on our list is the aptly named Watertown (population 28,000), which is a sort of mirror image of Hamilton (population 537,000), only a lot smaller, snowier, and not Canadian. Like Hamilton, it is located at the tip of Lake Ontario (though the eastern tip, not the western tip), has an excellent natural harbour, and is sandwiched between its harbour on one side and highlands on the other. But whereas Hamilton’s highland is the top of the Niagara Escarpment, Watertown sits in the shadow of the much more formidable Adirondack Mountains.
Watertown’s nearest significant neighbours are the cities of Oswego (population 18,000) and the Canadian city Kingston (population 160,000). Watertown is a bit of a crow-flies town vis-a-vis Kingston: it is 50 km as the crow flies across Wolfe Island, but 90 km via bridge.
More notably though, Watertown is an extreme Snowbelt city. The Watertown-Oswego-Adirondack region is the snowiest in the United States apart from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, parts of the Rockies, and parts of Alaska. Watertown gets about a third more snow than Buffalo or Rochester do, and nearly double the amount of snow that Toronto does. Areas in the western foothills of the nearby Adirondacks get even more: the town of Boonville (population 2,000), for example, 70 km southeast of Watertown, gets more than 200 inches of snow per year on average, making it perhaps the snowiest place in the US among towns or cities with at least 1,000 residents, excepting only Valdez, Alaska (population 4,000), Crested Butte, Colorado (pop. 1,500) or Hancock, Michigan (4,500).
Watertown is also just 200 km away, across the Adirondacks, from Lake Champlain, which is by far the largest lake in the United States east of the Great Lakes and north of Florida.
There is a recent pattern in American politics, in which Democratic politicians who succeeded in presidential elections were not born in northern states (e.g. Obama, Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Truman, and, if you must, Al Gore), while Republicans who won presidential elections — so, not counting Ford, who inherited Nixon’s presidency post-impeachment — have had very close ties to either Texas (the Bush’s, Eisenhower), California (Reagan, Nixon), or Florida (Bush, Trump).
To some degree, this pattern presumably reflects the old divide between the country’s Northeast and Southeast. The Democrats, who have their base of support in the Northeast, have had trouble in elections when they do not reach out to the South by selecting one of its native sons as their candidate. The Republicans, who have support in the Southeast, have had trouble winning when they do not secure the support of at least one of the country’s three largest states—California, Texas, or Florida.
Looking at the home regions of China’s leading politicans, it is fairly easy to discern a similar north-south divide. A large share of Chinese leaders were born in northern China. These include Beijing-born Xi Jinping (who’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was from Shaanxi) and Shandong-born Wang Qishan (a former mayor of Beijing, now Xi’s anti-corruption chief). At present, out of China’s seven Standing Comittee top leaders, only seventh-ranked Zhang Gaoli was born in southern China. Five of the seven were born in the north and one, Premier Li Keqiang, was born in in central China. Many politicians of the past, such as Zhao Zhiyang or Hua Gaofeng, have also hailed from the north.
Indeed, as far as I can tell, Zhang Gaoli may in fact be the first person in thirty years to be born outside of northern or central China and have made it to the Standing Committee. He is also the only person currently serving in the Party’s 25-member Politburo born outside north or central China.
Central China — which, somewhat confusingly, is sometimes considered to be part of Southern China, though it is located far north of the ‘deep south’ regions like Guangdong or Yunnan — has also produced its fair share of notable figures, such as Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Li Keqiang, Zhou Yongkang, and Wu Bangguo, all of whom were born in Jiangsu or Anhui. There seems, in fact, to be a very recent trend in which, when the General Secretary is from northern China, then the Premier is from central China, and vice versa. So, for example, there is now the pairing of Xi and Li (born in Beijing and Anhui, respectively), and before them the pair Hu and Wen (Jiangsu and Tianjin).
Some may interpret this as an implicit power-sharing arrangement between central China and northern China. While at present most leaders come from northern China, this was not the case a generation ago. Jiang Zemin (born in southern Jiangsu), Zhu Rongji (northern Hunan), Li Peng (Shanghai), Hu Yaobang (northern Hunan), Li Xiannian (Hubei), and Yang Shangkun (Chongqing) were not from the north. Of the “Eight Elders” of the 1990s and 1980s, six were born in central or south-central China; the other two in Shanxi. Even Xi Jinping, a northerner, spent his political career in central China or south-central China, in Hebei, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai.
The pattern, if it does actually exist, does not appear to be unique to civilian political leaders. Among today’s 11-man Central Military Commission, seven were born within northern China, while two were born in north-central China and two in south-central China. None are from the deep south.
Meanwhile, out of the 205 active members of the Party Central Committee, fewer than 15 were born in the deep south*. (*Here, please correct me if I am wrong. I do not speak Mandarin, and finding this information was difficult. Bo Zhiyue’s work was useful and worth reading, but has a different emphasis. In the end I had to sift through biographies of the Committee members one by one…). No person born in the vast southeast province Guangdong, or the vast south/centre- west province Sichuan, holds one of the 43 positions in either the Communist Party’s Politburo, Secretariat, or Central Military Commission, at or around the highest levels of China’s political hierarchy.
The Sichuan basin has also witnessed a spate of high-profile political take-downs in recent years, notably of Chongqing’ party leader Bo Xilai and, later, of Sichuan province’s former chief Zhou Yongkang. Now Chongqing’s party chief is Sun Zhengcai, who is the youngest member of the current 18th Politburo and formerly served as party chief of Jilin. Guangdong’s party chief, Hu Chunhua, is the second youngest member of the Politburo and formerly served as party chief of Inner Mongolia, after having spent most of his career working in Tibet.
This may be significant, in both cases. Southern China, as well as other areas that might perhaps also be considered to be ‘peripheral’ (including Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and even Jilin), appear often to have been used as something of a stepping-stone to power by young, up-and-coming leaders like Hu and Sun. The idea is—presumably—that they will do whatever it takes to secure the Party’s interests in those regions, given they have such bright future careers to lose if they fail to do so. Past instances may include Hu Jintao serving in Guizhou and Tibet, Zhao Zhiyang in Guangdong, or maybe even Xi in Fujian. In the case of Hu and Sun in Guangdong and the Sichuan basin, they might be there simply because of those regions’ large sizes and significance—but perhaps they are also there to preempt dissent.
…And yet. Much of China’s economic output is generated in areas from around Shanghai south to Guangdong; particularly if you include Taiwan as being part of the country. Guangdong alone accounts for an estimated 10% of mainland China’s GDP and more than 25% of its exports. This creates, perhaps, an unbalanced dynamic: China’s political periphery is also its top commercial engine.
Americans might be tempted to call this state of affairs “taxation without representation”. While I will not stoop to doing so, I would however be very interested in hearing feedback about these patterns from any of the billion or so people who are more knowledgable on Chinese affairs than I am.
So imagine it’s the wonderful future, and everyone has the option of being ferried everywhere by autonomous cars.
The places that were once parking lots have been converted into parks, shops, or homes; the places that were once useless archipelagos of land trapped within highway cloverleafs have been converted into vertical parking lots for autonomous cars, which are capable of holding far more cars within a given space than any traditional parking lot ever could.
Upon entering a car at the front door of one’s home, and perhaps after deciding whether or not to drive the car or let the car drive itself instead, passengers will be confronted with a choice of three basic transportation options:
The most expensive, but also simplest and most private, option is to travel directly by car to one’s destination.
The second most expensive, but generally fastest, option will be to travel by car to a train station, then travel by train to another train station and, if necessary, travel by another car from the station to a destination. In this future, the middle lanes of many urban highways will be converted into surface rail lines, making trains more widely available. (Also, subway systems will likely continue to expand over time). After dropping off passengers at these highway train stations, cars will be able to drive on to the nearby vertical parking lots.
Finally, the cheapest but slowest option will be to travel by car to a cable-car station. Cable-car stations will often be located within highway vertical parking lots, and also directly above highway train stations. After travelling by car to the nearest one, passengers will ride a cable-car to the train station.
In some places, cable-cars will also diverge from the highway, in order to link the highway to nearby areas that would otherwise be hard to reach as a result of barriers like rivers, escarpments, or valleys.
These cable-cars will not be eyesores — as are some current urban cable-cars, such as London’s Thames River cable-car; and as a monorail would be — as they will travel low to the ground in the middle of wide highways, rising higher only on occasion, mainly to pass over bridges that cross over highways.
Cable-cars will be the third option, for those not in a rush who are looking for a cheap way to travel. Their main purpose will be to link highway parking lots with highway train stations. This will be useful given that highway train stations will be spaced quite far apart from one another (since building train platforms in the middle of wide highways will be relatively expensive), and given that many parking lots will be located within the otherwise difficult-to-reach archipelagos of highway cloverleaf intersections.
As a bonus, cable-cars will increase the overall transportation capacity of a highway by roughly 2-4 thousand people per direction per hour, as well as overcome any topographic barriers adjacent to the highway. They will be particularly useful for highways that run along the floors of valleys, as many urban highways do.
What About Without Autonomous Cars?
This future arrangement does not even necessarily require fully autonomous cars. Semi-autonomous cars would be sufficient:
So long as cars could function autonomously from, say, 4am-5am, and so long as cars could function autonomously within vertical parking lots (which, unlike traditional parking lots, would be able to fill almost every last cubic metre of their volume with cars), the system could work. Passengers could order a car, and it would be delivered directly to their home overnight.
If the transportation of the future is to be autonomous cars — or even just semi-autonomous cars — then it makes sense to build transit bazaars: locations that your car could drop you off at, where you could then find a carpool, minibus, bus, or train to take you on to your final destination. As in any good market, a transit bazaar will work best when it has a lot of “liquidity”. In other words, when it is both very large and easily accessible.
In Toronto, the obvious place to put such a transit bazaar is by the intersection of the 401 and DVP. This intersection, of Toronto’s main north-south and east-west expressways, is enormous, and it is also only one kilometre away from the Sheppard Subway’s Don Mills Station.
With that in mind, here is a 4-step proposal for an alternative to the City of Toronto’s current plan to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway to Scarborough Town Centre:
1. Build a major Transit Bazaar immediately northeast of the intersection (the other areas surrounding the intersection are residential neighbourhoods); extend the Sheppard Subway tunnel 1 km to reach a new subway station under the bazaar.
2. Build vertical (semi-)autonomous parking lots in the “urban archipelago” lands that are located within and immediately surrounding the intersection’s highway cloverleafs. These parking lots will be able to serve far more cars than any traditional vertical parking lot could: with no humans in them, they will be able to fill nearly every cubic metre of their volume with cars.
3. Extend the Sheppard subway 6.3 km to Scarborough Town Centre — but, rather than in a tunnel, extend it as a one-stop surface railway that would travel along two of the middle lanes of the 401 Highway. This is in lieu of, not in addition to, the current one-stop, 6.2 km subway extension plan that is set to go from Kennedy Subway Station to Scarborough Town Centre.
4. Build a 12 km cable-car directly above the Highway 401:
The cable-car’s 7 stops, from west to east, will be: the DVP’s Transit Bazaar (with a new subway station beneath it), Warden (where the north-south Warden hydro corridor and the northwest-southeast Shropshire corridor meet), Kennedy (which will be halfway between the Agincourt GO Station and the current SRT/potential future LRT stations of Ellesmere and Midland), Scarborough Town Centre (the halfway point of the cable-car line), Centennial College, Rouge Valley Hospital, and U of T Scarborough.
The cable-car will increase the transit capacity of the 401 (a place where it won’t be an eyesore, as it might be if you were to put it above an ordinary street), and will also help connect people to the Transit Bazaar and the Scarborough Town Centre “Surface Subway” station.
Why This Wouldn’t Have Made Sense in the Past, But Might Now
In the past, this would have made little sense, as a result of the “first-mile/last-mile” problem. People do not want to live or work next to superhighways like they do next to subways, so most people using the train or cable-car would not be within walking distance of it.
In addition, building a decent train station in the middle of a highway is expensive, so it would not be affordable to have many stations—as a result, very few people would be within walking distance of it. (Cable-cars don’t have this second problem, since their stations wouldn’t need to be in the middle of the highway. This is one reason why the combination of the highway surface rail and highway cable-car could work well). As a result, such trains or cable-cars weren’t a good idea.
Toronto does, of course, have a few kilometres of surface rail in the middle of highways, namely on the Allen Expressway. However the Allen is much narrower than the 401 is, and runs in a shallow trench that made building subway stations like Glencairn and Lawrence West not too expensive. But even these stations have not been among the best at fostering urban development in the neighbourhoods around them.
Going forward, in contrast, while subways are obviously likely to remain worthwhile for a long time yet — downtown Toronto should definitely build a new subway line, for example — surface rail’s “first-mile/last-mile” challenge is likely to be overcome, or at least greatly reduced, by technologies such as parking apps, transit apps, ride-sharing, car-sharing, semi-autonomous cars, and eventually (and especially) fully autonomous cars. As such, building a train that needs no tunnelling, and a cable-car that needs no road space, could be a great move.
Certainly it would be better than the 6.2 km one-stop tunnel to Scarborough Town Centre that is the city’s current plan (voted for by 27 of Toronto’s 43 city councillors). Almost anything would be better than that.
The really great thing about cable-cars is, of course, that they can fly.
Obviously, this has caused cable-cars to be used mainly in mountainous areas: in ski towns like Banff or Whistler or in high-altitude cities like Medellin or La Paz. Where they are used outside of mountainous areas, as in NYC, it is usually to cross over rivers or sea channels.
The limitations that cable-car gondolas have faced thus far are for the most part the same as those of their riverboat counterparts: they travel relatively slowly, they can’t be used in most areas of any given city, and they can’t usually be used to transport cars. These three limitations have caused urban gondolas (or Trams) to be relatively few in number, and to be considered useful mainly for recreational rather than functional purposes.
This relative scarcity of urban gondolas may be coming to an end. With new transit technologies emerging — ride-sharing, car-sharing, bicycle-sharing, apps that find parking spots, cars that can parallel park themselves, semi-autonomous cars that can go find parking spots, even wholly self-driving cars — cities could be entering a new era of “intermodal” transportation. In this era, commuters may generally have the option of transferring seamlessly from one vehicle, or one mode of transportation, to another.
With people no longer tied to using a single vehicle or mode of transportation, cable-cars might end up with a significant role to play within city transportation networks, ferrying passengers over topographic barriers like superhighways, valleys, rivers, or hills.
Vertical Parking Towers and (Semi-)Autonomous Cars
Autonomous cars might work well with gondolas; a car could drop off a passenger at a gondola entrance, and another car pick up the passenger at the exit. However, even if fully autonomous cars do not become commonplace for many years yet, gondolas might still work extremely well in tandem with semi-autonomous cars:
Either for political or technological reasons, it might be that autonomous cars first become tolerated only in certain places (e.g. designated areas within parking lots), certain times (e.g. from 4am-5am, the “witching hour”), or at certain speeds. Even just allowing autonomous vehicles from 4am-5am, at no faster than a measly 10 km per hour, would benefit car-sharing services enormously, allowing them to deliver cars to customers for the following morning or have electric cars drive themselves to battery-charging stations. This, along with autonomous parking lots, might spur intermodal transit even more than fully-autonomous cars would.
The biggest impact of semi-autonomous cars, both for intermodal transit in general as well as for gondolas, might come from vertical parking lots. Today most parking lots are no more than a few stories tall at most, because drivers don’t want to wind their way up and down many stories to get in and out of the lot. (Using car elevators instead of ramps might be too slow unless the elevators were very large, in which case they would take up too much room). If, however, humans could get out of their cars and then have them park themselves, then winding up or down many stories in a vertical lot would no longer be a problem.
Vertical lots would also be able to hold more cars in them without humans, as they could have shorter ceilings per story, ramps that take up less space by winding more tightly, less space between each car on the ramps, and narrower parking spaces. In some cases, if the vertical lots were to hold car-sharing cars rather than personally-owned cars, they could be able to hold even more cars, and distribute them to passengers more quickly; they would function more like large take-a-penny/leave-a-penny jars for cars rather than traditional parking lots.
As a result, vertical parking lots could also serve as ideal urban gondola stations.
Highway cloverleafs might be one good place to put car-sharing parking lots, ride-sharing transfer areas*, and/or gondola stations. These cloverleaf loops are often huge and unused; the intersection of the 401 superhighway and Don Valley Parkway in Toronto, for example, has enough unused, highway-surrounded land to contain within it two entire Skydomes. Gondolas could in many cases be useful in linking these otherwise unusable lands to one another, while also helping to alleviate traffic jams on the highway itself and — especially in cases where highways run along the floors of valleys — connecting the highway to other nearby transit.
*A “ride-sharing transfer area” is a place where people could disembark their ride-sharing or car-sharing vehicles in order to switch to either a different vehicle or public transit. For example, a commuter from the suburbs could share a minibus to the city with people from his or her neighbourhood, then switch to a different carpool in order to get from the city to his or her office downtown. A transfer area is, in effect, a marketplace for transportation. As with other markets, they require “liquidity” to be effective, which is why putting them near major highway intersections and connecting them to public transit and parking lots is useful.
Highways and Railways
Putting parking lots and ride-sharing transfer areas alongside highways makes sense not only because highways are where automobiles tend to congregate most heavily, but also because you ideally would not want to put too many parking lots or transfer areas in other places in the city, where you could be building better things like housing or green spaces instead.
Cars, however, even if they do become autonomous or electric, are simply not as efficient as railways are in most cases, or even as efficient as Bus Rapid Transit (especially if the busses become autonomous) is*. The cheapest way of building new railways or Bus Rapid Transit lines in a city is by doing so on a highway. The problem, however — the reason this has not happened too often thus far — is lack of accessibility. You cannot easily use the outer lanes of a highway for a rail or rapid-bus line, as it would block the highway’s exit/entrance lanes, thus requiring either expensive construction or traffic lights to overcome.
Moreover, the rail/bus line would still only be accessible to those on the side of the highway you choose. The people on the other side of the highway would have to cross a bridge or tunnel — a long bridge or tunnel, given that highways can be very wide (the 401 is usually about 100 metres wide). And all this is in addition to the fact that building residential condos next to highways is not ideal, so people must first get from their home to the highway; something that car-sharing parking lots and (semi-)autonomous cars and parking spot apps and ride-sharing may make far easier, but which has not been too easy up until now.
It would be better, as in the graphic above, to put the railway/busway in the middle of the highway, where it would not block the highway’s entrance/exit lanes. This, of course, only makes the accessibility problem more severe. A gondola could help address this problem, linking parking lots and ride-sharing areas alongside the highway (and/or in highway cloverleafs) to the rail/bus stations in the middle of the highway. This would, of course, be especially useful for highways that run along the floors of valleys, like Toronto’s Don Valley Expressway.
*(While Bus Rapid Transit is not generally as efficient as railways are, it can in certain cases have advantages over rail, especially in the shorter-term. Not only does Bus Rapid Transit require far less construction, but it also, unlike railways, offers the possibility of building a one-lane system: a Rapid Bus lane could be used by busses going downtown in the morning, then switch directions and travel uptown after noon in order to keep with the main flow of traffic).
Where to Put Gondolas in Toronto
1. Don Valley-Danforth
A 1.2 km line from Parliament to Broadview, with stations at St James Town, Castle Frank, Bayview, and Broadview. The St James Town and Broadview stations would include take-a-car/leave-a-car vertical parking lots; Bayview’s would include both a ride-sharing transfer area and a new “Relief” train station on the Richmond Hill GO line.
2. Allen Expressway-Highway 401
A 1.75 km line, linking two shopping facilities and parking lots (at Yorkdale, just south of the 401, and next to Costco, just north of the 401 ), connecting to two subway stations (though you might have to walk through Yorkdale or through Yorkdale’s parking lot to get to Yorkdale’s subway), and next to two separated areas of Downsview “Park”. It could be built in two phases: its southern half from Yorkdale to Wilson first, and its northern half in the longer-term, if and when the Park is finally built. The parking lots by Yorkdale and/or Costco could be an ideal place to build a gondola station that is also a vertical car-sharing parking lot.
…to paraphrase Trump, let’s build a gondola and get Nordstrom to pay for it.
3. DVP-Thorncliffe Park
A 1.1 km line, descending in and out of the Don Valley at Don Mills Rd., which is at an elevation 25-30 metres below where the stations at Thorncliffe Park and at Coxwell Ave would be.
The intersection of Coxwell and O’Connor, or of Don Mills and O’Connor, might, maybe, be the site of a Downtown Relief Line subway station eventually
4. Don Valley Parkway-Eglinton
A 1.3 km line, similar to the Thorncliffe Park line in that it would descend into and ascend out of the Don Valley. In this case, however, its valley-floor station would be at a rail line (the Richmond Hill GO Line) and ravine trail, rather than at the DVP. It would, instead, meet the DVP where the DVP intersects with Eglinton, next to the Aga Khan Park & Museum stop on the Eglinton Crosstown.
The 401-DVP intersection is where Toronto’s main north-south and east-west expressways meet. It also happens to be less than a kilometre (as the gondola flies) away from Don Mills Station, the easternmost station on the Sheppard Subway line.
It is also enormous:
There are a few ways that you might be able to build useful gondola/vertical car-sharing lots/ride-sharing transfer areas at this intersection. The simplest is to build a 2.2 km gondola linking the 401-DVP intersection to Don Mills subway station, stopping along the way at the highway cloverleaf at the intersection of Sheppard and the DVP (aka Highway 404):
An alternative to this could be having the gondola run only 1.4 km, stopping at the DVP-Sheppard intersection. In this plan, the Sheppard Subway would be extended 650 metres eastward, to a new subway station/gondola station/vertical parking at the DVP-Sheppard intersection.
A different, more intrusive (but shorter and cheaper) alternative would be a 1.6 km gondola line, taking a more direct route to Don Mills station:
Given its intrusiveness, this alternative plan would not be worthwhile unless it were to be accompanied by a an ambitious project to turn this area between Don Mills Station and the 401-DVP intersection into a gigantic new transit/transportation hub for the northern part of Toronto.
This new hub would have to include some or all the following additional features:
— A 1 km line linking Leslie Station (on the Sheppard Subway line) to North York General Hospital, the 401 Highway, and Oriole Station on the Richmond Hill GO Line:
— A transit line reaching eastward from the new hub. This could be either a Sheppard East LRT, or a Rapid Bus route along either Sheppard or the 401, or a rail line on the 401 east of the DVP, and/or a gondola linking Leslie in the west to Warden in the east:
If we can even way, way more ridiculous here for a minute, I would like to propose not only turning the 401-DVP-Sheppard area into a transportation hub, but also into a housing and sports hub. It would feature mid-rise residential developments in the neighbourhoods surrounding the intersection, and would feature the world’s first transit station-sports stadium hybrid.
The stadium — Rob Ford Place — would be home to a new NFL team called the Toronto Housing, as well as a new NHL team (with affordable ticket prices!) called the Toronto Transit. The Transit would only play half their home games in the football stadium – the other half could be handled by the ACC — which would mean the stadium would only be used for sports about 30-40 days a year. The rest of the time, it would convert into a large transit station.
It’s the Mary Poppins approach: hockey and football is the sugar, transit and housing the medicine.
It would also be great for tourism: utterly unique, weirdly highly efficient, accessible from the airport, kicked-off with a Superbowl featuring a trio of Drake, the Weekend, and Ryan Gosling at the halftime show, and leveraging Canada’s primary brand: affordably priced ice hockey.
For more about the 401-DVP intersection, see A Bazaar Alternative to the Scarborough Subway
6. Exhibition Station and the Gardiner Expressway
Exhibition Station is, today, one of just two GO Train stations in the City of Toronto south of Bloor/Danforth, outside of Etobicoke. The Exhibition has a vast parking lot, the only lot of any significant size next to one of the downtown Gardiner Expressway’s on/off-ramps. A new gondola could be built at Exhibition in something like one (or both) of the following two ways:
A 2.3 km from the marina at Ontario Place Island, to Ontario Place’s parking lots (and the Martin Goodman lakeshore bike trail) next to Lakeshore Avenue, to BMO Field and Exhibition Station, then east over the GO rail line to Garrison Crossing next to Fort York and, finally, to Front Street’s (and the proposed Rail Deck Park’s) western terminus at Bathurst Street.
A 1.75 km line to the southern foot of Ossington, on Queen Street, passing over both GO rail lines along the way (and perhaps stopping not only at Exhibition Station, but also at the new planned Liberty Village GO and SmartTrack station). This could be preferable if there is a Queen Street subway built eventually. But, it would have to cross partly over a neighbourhood, which residents of the area might not want.
A 5.1 km line, linking highways to the Etobicoke North GO Train station (on the Kitchener-Waterloo GO line).
Or, much shorter alternatives might be possible instead, such as just linking the 409 cloverleafs to Etobicoke North station.
8. Mt. Dennis-Black Creek-Eglinton
A 1.3 km line, linking to the Mt. Dennis station on the Eglinton Crosstown, which is also expected to be the site of a new GO train/SmartTrack station and the starting point for the Crosstown’s extension westward to Pearson Airport.
Here’s a zoomed-in view:
9. Pearson Airport
John Lorinc of Spacing Magazine writes:
“I have every confidence that not a single person involved in the advocacy or planning debate over this [Pearson Airport transit] hub will ever schlep by bus or foot through the sidewalk-less industrial wilderness north of Pearson, asking themselves whether the last-mile problem isn’t really a last-ten miles problem…No compelling evidence exists to support an airport multi-modal hub which purports to serve the super low-density employment zones nearby, or shuttle executives between Pearson and the office parks in Mississauga or Waterloo. The densities simply aren’t there, and won’t be for a century or more.”
The Eglinton Crosstown west of Mt. Dennis has not yet begun construction, and, even when it is done, it is not clear that it is a good thing to have, as is planned, westernmost final stops at Convair or Silver Dart. These stops would not serve many people, and they make the trip to the airport slower than it would otherwise be (and it will already be fairly slow, since will not be an underground line west of Mt. Dennis). It might be better to build the line without stops at Convair or Silver Dart, either having the LRT run direct from Eglinton the airport or else having it not leave Eglinton at all.
The airport could instead be made accessible from Eglinton via the Mississauga Transitway’s rapid bus, and/or via the Kipling Subway Station bus (the 192 “Airport Rocket”, which uses Highway 427 to get from Bloor to the Airport, making only one stop, at Dundas St., in between). A car-sharing lot at Eglinton and Highway 427’s intersection could also be a way to get from Eglinton and other roads to the Airport.
Whatever does happen with the LRT, a gondola from Eglinton to the Airport could be a way of linking the two together, and also linking them to a cloverleaf car-sharing parking lot and/or ride-sharing area. The gondola could, perhaps, also provide access to Convair and Silver Dart, so that a future LRT would not have to make stops there. Finally, a gondola built from Eglinton to the Airport would provide interesting views of the Airport’s southern runways.
10. The Don River Portlands
A 1.8 km line starting at Portlands’ marina in the south, which would cross a 110 metres wide channel of water, then a 50 metres wide channel of water, then the Gardiner Expressway, and finally a 100 metres wide GO rail tracks, ending at the Corktown Common.
The Next Big Thing
Even if urban gondolas do experience another renaissance, the natural environment of cable-cars will of course still remain the world’s mountainous areas. Today, in the United States, mountain living is not very common. The only medium-elevation cities of any significant size are Denver, El Paso, and Albuquerque; the largest city higher than those is Colorado Springs, which has only around 400,000 inhabitants–and is still more than 400 metres lower than Mexico City. The highest US “city”, Leadville (pop. 2,000 ), is around a kilometre and half lower than El Alto (pop. 650,000) and barely higher than Bogota (pop. 8 million).
Mountain living is difficult: the reason that places like South America have so much more of it is that high-elevations provide a cooler-climate alternative to the tropical lowlands or rain-forests they overlook. Will Americans take to the hills more often in the coming years? Certainly people do like to go on mountain vacations, if they can afford it. So, if new technologies, like autonomous cars, trucks, snowplows, and aircraft, or like tele-commuting, allow living and transporting bulk goods in mountains to become cheaper, then it may indeed be that more Americans will choose to live in a more frequent state of apres ski.
In the nearer term, though, gondolas could be one of the surprise stories of city life. With intermodal transportation — easy parking, easy transferring, and easy public transit — it makes a whole lot of sense to provide more connections between superhighways, valley expressways, subways, railways, parking lots, and even ravines and waterways. In many cases, the cheapest, most efficient, and least intrusive way of doing this is with a flying car. A cable-car!
1. Allow autonomous cars during “the Witching Hour”: from 4 am-5 am. They can drive slowly in order to be safe and quiet; say, at no more than 10 km per hour when in residential neighbourhoods. Even at these slow speeds, this will allow people to have car-sharing cars to be delivered to peoples’ homes for the following morning. (In fact, the cars themselves do not even necessarily need to have an autonomous capability. They could instead just hitch a ride on top of slow-moving road roombas). In the case of electric cars, this will also allow them to drive themselves to and from battery-charing stations at night, when electricity tends to be cheap and road-traffic sparse.
2. On main streets, have both an express LRT lane — with stops very far apart from one another — and a non-express bus lane. On narrower streets, have the non-express busses share a lane with regular car traffic.
3. Next to many of the LRT stops, as well as next to train stations, construct “take a car, leave a car” vertical parking lots. These will be “valet” lots: you drive a car-sharing car to the lot’s entrance, then get out of the car and have it drive itself (or be carried by a road roomba) into the lot to park. This will not only save drivers time in parking, but will also allow the lot to hold far more cars than any traditional vertical parking lot could, since without humans it can have much shorter ceilings, more tightly winding ramps to get cars up or down floors, and many more parking spots per floor. It will allow easy pick-up or drop-off of car-sharing cars. Along with the Witching Hour, this will overcome the “first mile-last mile” problems that otherwise tend to limit public transit’s effectiveness and appeal.
…So, there you have it. Three easy steps! With the Witching Hour, and car-sharing, and vertical parking lots, we can finally help to get rid of our cities’ spooky traffic problems.
Atlantic Canada, where lives 30 percent of the Canadian population in five of the country’s ten provinces (Quebec*, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and PEI), has had slower population and GDP growth than central or western Canada in recent times.
(*I’m including Quebec in “Atlantic Canada” here. This is for three reasons: first, Quebec is geographically an Atlantic province; Quebec City is an Atlantic city. Second, Quebec has shared in the Atlantic trend of relatively low population and GDP growth. Third, the French-speaking area of Canada in a sense spills over into New Brunswick, where about a third of people speak French).
Atlantic Canada’s slower growth has been the result, more or less, of four factors: climate (Quebec’s winters are cold, the Maritimes’ snowy), commodities (fossil fuels are mostly in western Canada); language (much of Atlantic Canada’s population does not speak English well), and location (Atlantic is relatively far from East Asia or the US).
Population and GDP Growth Ahead?
I’m sorry, but I got real lazy here. So I’m just going to make pie-in-the-sky predictions, in point form:
- Migration and EnergyWith fossil fuel prices low today:
— the Maritimes (apart from Newfoundland) benefit, as they tend to be the most dependent on fuel imports among Canadian provinces
— Maritimers may move home from western Canada
— Migrants from Romance-language developing economies and the Arab world, which depend heavily on energy and other commodity exports, may move to Quebec or to New Brunswick. This is particularly true given current politics in the US (where many do not want more immigration from Latin America), France (where many don’t want Muslim immigration), Veneuela (a country of 32 million people, in turmoil right now), Algeria, Libya, Angola, DRC, and Brazil
— Migrants need affordable housing; Ontario and BC don’t have it, Atlantic Canada does
— Migrants need employment; France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium don’t have it
— Demographics: whereas today most of the world’s people of prime emigrating or studying-abroad age (20-40 years old) in the world are East or South Asian, over the next decade or two the biggest growth in this category by far will be in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this, in turn, will be in Atlantic countries (notably Nigeria), many of which speak English or French.
— In the Americas, the biggest relative growth in 20-40 year olds will be in Haiti (pop. 11 million)
— Even Romania, a Romance-language country with a population of 20 million, is an oil-exporting economy
2. Trade and Technology
— Brexit: England and/or Scotland and/or Ireland may look west to its ex-colonies in the Maritimes for new trade (or travel) relationships
— Trump: the Republicans have brought some uncertainty to NAFTA, and also seem poised to help keep energy prices low by allowing the US fossil fuel boom to continue. Atlantic Canada is less dependent on trade with the US than Ontario is, and less dependent on high fuel prices than western Canada is
— New Fur Trade: Europe is looking for commodities in order to wean itself off of Russia and the Arab world, and ports in Atlantic Canada may be able to provide it with the supplies to do so. In recent decades, most Canadian trade has been along north-south lines, a result of the significant barriers that are the Rockies (especially in winter), northern Appalachians (especially in winter), and the Canadian Shield’s lakes/rock formations/Great Lake Snow-belts. New technologies, however, notably autonomous trucks (or at least, “smarter” trucks) may help to overcome these barriers, allowing for more east-west trade
— Meanwhile, trade with Asia is unlikely to grow relatively quickly like it did in recent decades, given that Asian growth is shifting more from the northeast (Japan, South Korea, coastal China), which is relatively near western Canada, to the south and west (India, Southeast Asia, inland China) which is not so easily accessible from western Canada. Western India, in fact, is several thousand km closer to Halifax by sea than eastern India is to Vancouver
— Autonomous ships, aircraft: small autonomous ships, combined with climate change, might open up new North Atlantic sea lanes (Northwest Passage, Northeast Passage). Autonomous aircraft, similarly, might help open up the aerial Northwest Passage (by air, St. John’s-to-Beijing is only 20-25 percent further from than Victoria-to-Beijing). Autonomous cargo planes, when combined with modern precision airdrop technology, may also allow the Maritimes to benefit from being located along the aerial routes between North America and Europe — not entirely unlike how, in the pre-jet age, cities like Gander benefited from these routes
— If North America is to move in a direction away from fossil fuels, it will need abundant energy alternatives, as well as abundant energy storage to support intermittent sources like solar and wind. Quebec’s hydro industry is one of the world leaders in electricity production and storage
— If robots/autonomous vehicles become common, then the amount of energy that is in demand in the wee hours of the night will skyrocket, since robots don’t need sleep. This will benefit energy production that today cannot be turned off at night, such as nuclear and (in many cases) hydropower, in contrast to gas plants or, especially, solar. Outside of China and Russia, which produce prodigous amounts of nuclear and hydro but an even more enormous amount of fossil fuels, the leaders in hydro and nuclear are Atlantic economies: Brazil, France, Scandinavia, and the eastern half of Canada
— E-commerce: in a world of globalizing digital interaction, a region bilingual in both English and a Romance language might be in a good position
— Robotic factory workers: the Maritime provinces have excellent, abundant natural harbours to use as ports, but relatively small populations and, thus, small labour forces. Robots could, pehaps, change this equation, making ports (and energy) a more decisive asset
3. Climate and Tourism
— driving in snow or rain, both of which Atlantic Canada gets a lot of, may become much safer and more comfortable than in the past (good, among other things, for the 35 km drive between Halifax and the Airport)
— Atlantic Canada has an enormous amount of waterfront land. With people perhaps being able to spend more time in the countryside, as a result of automation (doing jobs for people), the Internet (e-commuting), and demographics (Baby Boomers cutting down their work hours), this waterfront land could help in tourism
— with more flexibility (because of technology), people from Canada, the US, and Latin America can become snowbirds: summering in Atlantic Canada and wintering down south
— cross-country skiing boom will continue over the next ten years, as Baby Boomers enter their 60’s and 70s
—Much of Atlantic Canada is islands and peninsulas. Airplane travel, particularly with small airplanes, may become cheaper if autonomous planes really do become a reality — or if it becomes easier to become a pilot because of high-tech modern flight simulators. Traveling by boat may become easier if people get more time on their hands, if technology increases safety, and if technology can address sea-sickness