Articles by author: Samantha Morris

  • New paper by Kevin Turner “Isotopic evidence of increasing water abundance and lake hydrological change in Old Crow Flats, Yukon, Canada”

    A new paper titled, “Isotopic evidence of increasing water abundance and lake hydrological change in Old Crow Flats, Yukon, Canada” co-authored by GeoTour Associate Professor, Dr. Kevin Turner, was recently published in Environmental Research Letters.

    Abstract:
    Lake-rich northern permafrost landscapes are sensitive to changing climate conditions, but ability to track real-time and potentially multiple hydrological responses (e.g. lake expansion, drawdown, drainage) is challenging due to absence of long-term, sustainable monitoring programs in these remote locations. Old Crow Flats (OCF), Yukon, is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance where concerns about low water levels and their consequences for wildlife habitat and traditional ways of life prompted multidisciplinary studies during the International Polar Year (2007–2008) and led to the establishment of an aquatic ecosystem monitoring program. Here, we report water isotope data from 14 representative thermokarst lakes in OCF, the foundation of the monitoring program, and time-series of derived metrics including the isotope composition of input waters and evaporation-to-inflow ratios for a 13 year period (2007–2019). Although the lakes spanned multiple hydrological categories (i.e. rainfall-, snowmelt- and evaporation-dominated) based on initial surveys, well-defined trends from application of generalized additive models and meteorological records reveal that lakes have become increasingly influenced by rainfall, and potentially waters from thawing permafrost. These sources of input have led to more positive lake water balances. Given the documented role of rainfall in causing thermokarst lake drainage events in OCF and elsewhere, we anticipate increased vulnerability of lateral water export from OCF. This study demonstrates the value of long-term isotope-based monitoring programs for identifying hydrological consequences of climate change in lake-rich permafrost landscapes.

    Reference:
    MacDonald, L.A., Turner, K.W., McDonald, I., Kay, M.L., Hall, R.I., and Wolfe, B.B. (2021). Isotopic evidence of increasing water abundance and lake hydrological change in Old Crow Flats, Yukon, Canada. Environmental Research Letters, 16(12): online.

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  • New paper by Dragos Simandan “Social capital, population health, and the gendered statistics of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality”

    A new paper titled, “Social capital, population health, and the gendered statistics of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality” by Professor Dr. Dragos Simandan was recently published in SSM – Population Health.

    Abstract:
    Scholars in the field of population health need to be on the constant lookout for the danger that their tacit ideological commitments translate into systematic biases in how they interpret their empirical results. This contribution illustrates this problematic by critically interrogating a set of concepts such as tradition, trust, social capital, community, or gender, that are routinely used in population health research even though they carry a barely acknowledged political and ideological load. Alongside this wider deconstruction of loaded concepts, I engage critically but constructively with Martin Lindström et al.’s paper “Social capital, the miniaturization of community, traditionalism and mortality: A population-based prospective cohort study in southern Sweden” to evaluate the extent to which it fits with other empirical findings in the extant literature. Taking as a point of departure the intriguing finding that social capital predicts cardiovascular and all-cause mortality only for men, but not for women, I argue that future research on the nexus of social capital, health, and mortality needs to frame gender not only as a demographic and statistical variable, but also as an ontological conundrum and as an epistemological sensibility.

      Reference:
      Simandan. D. (2021). Social capital, population health, and the gendered statistics of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. SSM – Population Health, 16: online.

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    • New paper by Julia Baird “Ecosystem services decision support tools: exploring the implementation gap in Canada”

      A new paper titled, “Ecosystem services decision support tools: exploring the implementation gap in Canada” by Dr. Julia Baird was recently published in FACETS.

      Abstract:
      This paper explores the degree to which the ecosystem services (ES) concept and related tools have been integrated and implemented within the Canadian government context at both the provincial/territorial and federal levels. The research goals of the study were to qualitatively assess the extent to which ES assessment is being integrated at different levels of government, consider the barriers to implementation, and draw lessons from the development and use of Canada’s Ecosystem Services Toolkit: Completing and Using Ecosystem Service Assessment for Decision-Making—An Interdisciplinary Toolkit for Managers and Analysts (2017), jointly developed by a federal, provincial, and territorial government task force. Primary data were collected through targeted semi-structured interviews with key informants combined with a content analysis of ES-related documentation from government websites. Results indicate that while the term ES is found in documentation across different levels of government, there appears to be an ES implementation gap. Issues of conceptual understanding, path dependency, a lack of regulatory mandate, lost staff expertise, and competition with overlapping conceptual approaches were identified as barriers to ES uptake. Areas requiring further policy and research attention are identified.

      Citation:
      Kerr, G.L., Holzer, J.M., Baird, J., and Hickey, G.M. (2021). Ecosystem services decision support tools: exploring the implementation gap in Canada. FACETS, 18: online.

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    • Micheal Ripmeester featured on The Brown Homestead Podcast

      Dr. Mike Ripmeester was recently interviewed on The Brown Homestead podcast to discuss the controversial statue of Private Alexander Watson that sits in front of St. Catharines City Hall.

      Episode 5: What to do about Watson

      In this episode, we dig into the complicated question of what to do about the controversial statue to Private Alexander Watson in front of St. Catharines City Hall. Brock University professors Michael Ripmeester (GeoTour) and Russell Johnston examine the complex history of the monument and walk us through ways that its challenging narrative offers opportunities for education and reconciliation.

      Listen here.

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    • Brock to celebrate GIS Days with week of online events

      Brock will join institutions from around the world in celebrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Days by participating in a free weeklong virtual conference that is packed with events open to the University community.

      GIS Days 2021 features more than 50 online presentations, tutorials and demonstrations taking place Monday, Nov. 15 to Friday, Nov. 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day.

      Several representatives from the Brock community — an alumna, a master’s student, a lecturer and a librarian — will each be presenting a seven-minute ‘lightning talk’ on projects they’ve worked on using GIS tools such as geovisualization, geospatial technologies and story mapping.

      Isaac Williams, GIS and Data Services Librarian with the Brock University Library, who will present Story Mapping Queer Dallas on Monday at 9:30 a.m, said the breadth of disciplines that can use GIS is part of what makes the technology so compelling.

      “I think a lot of people associate GIS with geology or earth sciences, but you can use it in any field that involves something you want to locate,” they said. “There is a lot of interesting work being done across disciplines. I have done some work with GIS in humanities contexts, for example, mapping existing geographies, but also historical geographies such as the ones found in ancient Roman literature.”

      Sharon Janzen, Brock’s Map Library Associate and Geospatial Data Co-ordinator, will be leading a one-hour tutorial Friday at 2 p.m. that introduces participants to ArcGIS Online, a web-based mapping software.

      She says GIS Days is an opportunity to experience the variety of GIS usage across educational institutions and the public sector, and encourages the Brock community to register for some of the free events.

      “Whether an attendee comes with little knowledge of GIS or they have been using GIS their whole career, the conference will be sure to not disappoint,” she said. “From the geography of Pokémon Go and the movement of muskox, to Esri technology and Open Source QGIS, sign up for what’s sure to be the GIS highlight of the year.”

      Registration is required to access events; however, there is no registration deadline. Registration can take place minutes before a presentation begins.

      Learn more about GIS Days events, including this year’s schedule, by visiting the event web page. The interactive program can be used to search by presenter, presentation title or location.

      Brock University GIS Days events

      Story Mapping Queer Dallas
      Monday, Nov. 15 at 9:30 a.m. — Seven-minute lightning talk
      Presented by Isaac Williams, GIS and Data Services Librarian, Brock University Library

      Queer Dallas StoryMap is a project highlighting queer history in Dallas, Texas. The American South is home to a rich history of past and present queer life, organizing, survival and joy. The project’s goal was to make this history more visible to Southerners and people who live elsewhere. The presentation will discuss resources used in the creation of the project, decisions made in the visualization process and ways the project was shared.

      Researching Military Service using Geovisualization in Eleventh to Twelfth Century Normandy
      Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. — Seven-minute lightning talk
      Presented by Christopher Hewitt, Lecturer, Geography and Tourism Studies, Brock University

      In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Duchy of Normandy was an important source for military adventurers. While much has been written about soldiers who fought on these campaigns, little has been written about where they originated. This study demonstrates the value of geographic-based analysis through the use of historical geographic information systems (HGIS) techniques, including mapping locations as well as performing nearest neighbour analysis and kernel density mapping. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings and the options for and benefits of applying HGIS analysis to other historical events.

      Using GIS to Re-imagine Historical Niagara
      Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. — Seven-minute lightning talk
      Presented by Brock alumna Jessica Linzel (BA ’18, MA ’20), Historical Researcher

      Linzel will explain how she incorporated historical GIS into her History master’s thesis. She used ArcGIS Pro to create a web map, which she then used to investigate Niagara’s economic development in the post-Revolutionary ‘Loyalist’ era. By mapping historical data from account books and ledgers and analyzing it alongside geographical features in the Niagara region, GIS technologies allowed her to bring a fresh perspective to a familiar topic.

      Using Geospatial Technologies: A Case Study of the Town of Lincoln, Ontario
      Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. — Seven-minute lightning talk
      Presented by Baharak Razaghirad, Brock University Master of Sustainability student

      Urban trees provide important benefits to communities, especially in the context of climate change. This presentation will discuss using geospacial technologies to assess urban tree canopies as a timely and accurate alternative to costly, ground-based assessments.  Razaghirad will discuss two approaches used to quantify the urban tree canopy for the Town of Lincoln —  remote sensing and a random sampling method.

      Introduction to ArcGIS Online
      Friday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. — One-hour tutorial
      Presented by Sharon Janzen, Map Library Associate and Geospatial Data Co-ordinator, Brock University

      During this hands-on experience, participants will explore ArcGIS Online, a popular web-based dynamic mapping software that is accessible on Windows and Mac platforms. No experience is necessary for this introductory tutorial, but curiosity is an asset. A valid login for the website is required (public or organizational accounts welcome). Visit the ArcGIS website to sign up for a public account.

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    • Five Brock courses with a focus on climate change

      As the COP26 climate summit continues with world leaders talking climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, the topic is also at the forefront of both research and courses at Brock University. Climate change and its effects is discussed in various Faculties and from a variety of angles at Brock. Here are five examples of how students are learning about climate change.

      Contemporary Environmental Issues

      ENSU 3P90 is an Environmental Sustainability capstone course for Brock students who share an interest in sustainability and a concern for improving the relationships between people and the planet. Students engage in a wide range of sustainability issues, including climate change and biodiversity loss as well as displacement and environmental racism.

      The course’s instructor, Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor in Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, says it resonates with students who are seeking to make a positive change in the world.

      “Many members of Gen Z feel overwhelmed by the state of the world and are responding by devoting their professional careers to finding solutions,” she said. “This course is designed to help students develop core competencies in sustainability science, including systems thinking, anticipatory and strategic skills, so they can thrive in sustainability careers and contribute to addressing the climate crisis.”

      Watershed Study and Assessment

      ERSC 4P31 is an Earth Sciences course that looks at the environmental health of two branches of the upper Twelve Mile Creek. Students in the course measure water quality parameters under different ambient conditions. They then get to compare their results with historical ones obtained in 1978 and 2001.

      Professor of Earth Sciences and course instructor Uwe Brand said the exercise encourages participants to re-evaluate their perceptions of clean water and its availability.

      “The course should show them that water is not only important to the fauna of the creek but also speaks to our water security,” he said. “In light of increasing CO2 emissions and global warming, don’t take anything for granted, including access to ‘clean’ water.”

      Environmental Economics

      ECON/TOUR 2P28 is a course that provides Economic perspectives on environmental and natural resource issues. Economics Instructor Geoff Black, who leads the course, said it is often an eye-opening experience for students.

      “We look at ways in which this shortcoming can be modelled and investigate policy that can bridge the gap,” he said. “It’s important for students to understand the market failures that occur regarding both common resources and public goods.”

      Ecocinema: History, Theory, Practices

      COMM/FILM/PCUL 4P58 is a Film Studies course that explores the proliferation of both fiction and nonfiction films that deal with the climate change, species extinction, resource extraction and other industrial practices.

      Course instructor Christie Milliken, Associate Professor of Film Studies, said the topic of climate change has been more prevalent in recent years, but it was also common in science fiction films in earlier decades.

      “The course invites students to consider the various rhetorical strategies deployed across a range of films as they invite us to rethink our relationship to the planet,” she said.

      Climate Crisis

      GEOG/ERSC 2P08 is a Geography course that provides an Introduction to the Earth’s atmosphere and the natural and anthropogenic drivers that change the Earth’s climate system. These include the Greenhouse effect, human activities that alter the climate system, climate models, climates of the past and projections of future climate.

       

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    • New paper by David Butz: “‘The road changes everything’: Shifting gendered mobilities, spaces and subjectivities in Shimshal, Pakistan”

      A new paper titled, “‘The road changes everything’: Shifting gendered mobilities, spaces and subjectivities in Shimshal, Pakistan” by Dr. David Butz and Dr. Nancy Cook (Department of Sociology) was recently published in Gender, Place and Culture.

      Abstract:
      Shimshal is the most recent village in the Gojal region of northern Pakistan to gain road access to the Karakoram Highway. This paper analyzes relational reconfigurations of gendered mobilities, spaces and subjectivities in the community that are contoured by the ensuing shift in local mobility system, in which vehicular mobility replaces walking as the means to access the highway. Drawing on longitudinal ethnographic data, we describe pedestrian-era gendered movement patterns and spaces, and the ways in which modernizing road infrastructure has reorganized mobilities and regendered village spaces. We then analyze changes in gender performances and self-representations that are commensurate to the modernized spaces in which they are enacted. We conclude by assessing the uneven and unanticipated consequences of these mobility-inflected processes for gendered futures in the community.

      Reference:  
      Cook, N. & Butz, D. (2021) ‘The road changes everything’: Shifting gendered mobilities, spaces and subjectivities in Shimshal, Pakistan. Gender, Place & Culture, 28(10), 800-822. DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2020.1811643. Read the full paper here.

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    • Brock research teams awarded federal funding for community partnerships

      Three Brock University teams have received a boost in funding for projects that aim to help Niagara organizations meet the needs of women and children during the pandemic and provide opportunities for Indigenous communities in the region’s tourism industry.

      The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has awarded the researchers a total of $57,477 through the Partnership Engage Grant (PEG) program, which provides short-term support for partnered research activities that respond to immediate needs and time constraints facing public, private or not-for-profit organizations in non-academic sectors.

      With the funding, Political Science Professor Charles Conteh and his Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) group are working with the YWCA Niagara Region to raise awareness of the need for safe and affordable housing for women locally and to identify systemic barriers facing under-represented women.

      Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Monique Somma and her team are partnering with the not-for-profit forest school Nature School and Education Centre in Lincoln to get a better understanding of how forest schools impact students’ mental health and well-being.

      Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies David Fennell and colleagues have teamed up with the Niagara Regional Native Centre to develop new tourism opportunities for Indigenous people through the Niagara Peninsula Aspiring Global Geopark, an initiative that explores how the region’s unique cultural and Indigenous heritage has been influenced by the peninsula’s underlying geology.

      Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon says the PEG awards are a testament to Brock’s effectiveness in forming dynamic community research partnerships.

      “The projects headed by Dr. Conteh, Dr. Somma and Dr. Fennell are powerful examples of how researchers and community organizations can come together to create positive change,” he says. “Each partner brings valuable knowledge to the table that, when combined, can make a tremendous difference in the lives of those around us,” says Kenyon.

      “Brock has long seen success with the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) version of these grants, between science researchers and industry partners,” he says. “With the advent of PEG awards for social science and humanities research, we are seeing the breadth and intensity of Brock researchers’ engagement with the wider community.”

      The NCO and YWCA formed a partnership last year following an NCO presentation on research dealing with affordable housing. The YWCA executive director was a panelist at that event.

      “The co-applicants, Joanne Heritz, Kathy Moscou and myself determined that an NCO-YWCA partnership to advocate for affordable housing would provide an excellent opportunity for the YWCA to advance its goals for affordable housing set forth in its strategic plan for 2019-2024,” says Conteh.

      The team aims to produce evidence-based research that would bring about policy changes to ensure that vulnerable women — particularly those who are Indigenous, racialized, seniors and low-income, among others — have access to emergency, transitional and affordable housing.

      “Further, the YWCA-NCO partnership aims to provide policy options to address housing needs resulting from poverty and worsened by the economic disruption of COVID-19,” says Conteh.

      He says that in 2020, 607 women, 55 men and 51 children in Niagara found sanctuary in YWCA emergency shelters and 120 women, 10 men and 78 children accessed YWCA transitional housing programs.

      Somma’s work with the Nature School and Education Centre follows up on earlier research that the two pursued from the time their partnership formed in 2017. Those results revealed “an increasing need for more focused inquiries on mental health and well-being,” says Somma.

      Forest schools are full- or part-time educational programs conducted in a variety of outdoor contexts, environments, age groups and climates. The programs take a ‘learner-centred’ approach in which children learn through playing, exploring and experimenting in woods or other natural settings.

      “Given the strong connection between time in nature and mental health benefits, outdoor nature programming is touted as one possible way forward to address some of the mental health challenges coming from the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Somma.

      Past research has shown that children aged six and younger have shown improvements in their overall health and well-being, increased motivation, concentration, confidence, knowledge of the natural environment and compassion by participating in forest schools, she says.

      The Nature School and Education Centre is seeking research on the impact of forest schools on older children to help the organization shape its programs and plans, says Somma. The Centre plans to offer about 10 tuition-free spots one day a week to new students and parents who would find this education approach helpful.

      Fennell says his work with the Niagara Regional Native Centre is looking at ways Indigenous people can “build new, cutting-edge tourism economies” connected to the Niagara Peninsula Aspiring Global Geopark.

      A ‘geopark’ is defined by the Global Geopark Network as an area that has ‘exceptional geological heritage’ that has scientific value, is rare, good for education or is particularly attractive.

      Opportunities for Indigenous communities exist in ‘smart tourism,’ which is the application of information and communications technologies to enhance tourism experiences and increase competitiveness, says Fennell. One example could be “personalized, interactive real-time tours,” he says.

      “The development of these new economies provides an opportunity to strengthen Indigenous tangible and intangible cultural and ecological heritage, through the telling of stories and celebration of historical connections with the Niagara region.

      Fennell says the research is meant to support the Niagara Regional Native Centre’s goal for Indigenous Peoples’ economic growth through principles and practices of sustainable development and is an “initial step” in developing a longer-term smart tourism project.

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    • Symposium to highlight social justice research partnerships

      FROM THE BROCK NEWS | by 

      Researchers from Brock’s Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI), who have teamed up with community partners on funded projects, will have their work showcased at an upcoming free, public event.

      The virtual symposium, Social Justice and Community Collaboration, takes place online Tuesday, Sept. 28 from noon to 2 p.m. as part of the ongoing Faculty of Social Sciences Symposium Series. Everyone is welcome to take part, but advance registration is required.

      “Our affiliates have been doing innovative and compelling social justice-oriented projects in collaboration with community groups, both locally and internationally,” says Rebecca Raby, Director of SJRI and a Professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies. “At this symposium, we want to share these projects, and to inspire other faculty and community members to think about the exciting range of collaborative projects that can be pursued.”

      The symposium will feature the following presentations:

      • “Reflections on the Key Principles of a Successful ‘Community-University’ Research Partnership,” presented by Andrea Doucet of the Department of Sociology, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work and Care, with Evan Jewell of X University and Master of Arts Sociology Research Assistant Jessica Falk.
      • “Body/Land/Sovereignty through Photography: Reflecting on a workshop with young Haudenosaunee women,” presented by Sherri Vansickle of the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, with Margot Francis of the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies and Department of Sociology.
      • “Road Construction, Mobility and Social Change in a Wakhi Village: Shimshali Perspectives in Words and Pictures,” presented by David Butz of the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, with Nancy Cook of the Department of Sociology.
      • “Collaborating with community to explore social exclusion and inclusion experiences of immigrant women in Niagara,” presented by Joanne Crawford of the Department of Nursing.
      • “Children Reading and Writing Photographs — Critical Literacies and Collaborations,” presented by Diane Collier of the Department of Educational Studies, with Melissa McKinney-Leep of the District School Board of Niagara and graduate students Simranjeet Kaur and Zachary Rondinelli.

      Raby says that as public health restrictions have eased, greater opportunities for collaboration have begun to open up, so she is eager to introduce new Brock faculty members and SJRI affiliates to the research that is already taking place.

      “Community partnerships provide an opportunity to meet community needs, to inform decision-making, to connect with local participants, to try something new and to build relationships,” says Raby. “They encourage us to tackle social issues in a collaborative way that can transcend a specific disciplinary focus and to work with faculty from outside of our own disciplines in order to have comprehensive engagements with community needs. They can invite us to see our scholarly work a little differently.”

      SJRI funding grants have been part of the Institute from its creation and are designed to “include social justice and transdisciplinary components, creating a shared focus on positive community-oriented social change,” according to Raby. The grants provide opportunities for both junior and established researchers to develop community-based research programs, facilitate relationship-building and lay the groundwork for larger funding applications.

      There are currently 80 researchers affiliated with SJRI, and new researchers are always welcome to get involved

      “SJRI offers opportunities for faculty members who are concerned about social justice and interested in transdisciplinary scholarship to connect with each other across the university,” says Raby. “We also post regular information about projects that community organizations are interested in pursuing in collaboration with Brock.”

      Anyone interested in learning more about SJRI or the process for becoming an SJRI affiliate should contact Project Facilitator Julie Gregory via email, and attend next week’s symposium to explore possibilities.

      To register for the event or for more information, visit the symposium web page.

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    • How can transit play a part in Canada’s pandemic recovery?

      Article reposted from TVO  |  By: Justin Chandler

      From left to right: Hamilton Street Railway New Flyer C40LF bus (Adam E. Moreira/Wikipedia); GO trains (tirc83/iStock); TTC streetcar (BalkansCat/iStock).

      HAMILTON — During the election campaign, there’s been plenty of discussion about how Canada can recover from COVID-19, and some experts want to make sure that one topic in particular isn’t left out: transit.

      “Transit has come to be recognized as an important aspect of making major cities run better and as fundamental to issues of equity,” says Drew Fagan, professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “Building back better — to use what’s become a slogan — involves transit, and you’ve seen governments recognize that,” he adds, pointing to greater federal funding and provincial and federal support for transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. “I think part of the issue is not just announcing the projects but ensuring that you get best use of that transit by developing intelligently along the lines.”

      So what would better post-pandemic transit look like, and how are the federal parties proposing to support it?

      What is a transit-oriented community?

      Building what people need along transit lines results in what researchers call “transit-oriented communities.” A recent policy paper Fagan cowrote with University of Toronto professor Matti Siemiatycki states that such communities “co-locate housing, jobs, public amenities and social services near high quality public transit. This maximizes the public benefits that come from major investments in public transit.”

      Experts say these sorts of communities can improve the quality of life for drivers and non-drivers alike. “The more people live within a fairly small activity space within their day-to-day lives, the more potentially useful transit could be to them to get around without a car,” says Chris Fullerton, a geography professor at Brock University. Fullerton notes that, while driving tends to be faster than public transit for longer trips — due to transfers, for example — public-transit travel times are often comparable for short distances. That means transit-oriented communities may also lure people out of their cars, something experts say should be a priority given that the pandemic seems to have led more people to drive.

      Public transit is about more than getting commuters from point A to B. “Public transit is a vital tool to promote our shared goals for social inclusion, public health, the climate emergency, and economic opportunity,” reads the Keep Transit Moving website. The national advocacy group points to a 2014 report by medical officers of health in the GTHA that found investments in transit and changes in land use (such as building transit-oriented communities) could increase physical activity and reduce air pollution, thereby preventing illness and deaths.

      “A major motivation we have is reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” says Ian Borsuk, coordinator with Environment Hamilton and member of the Hamilton Transit Riders’ Union steering committee. According to Fullerton, reducing car travel and transitioning transit fleets to renewable energy are both effective approaches to this. “If you can develop a fleet of electric buses, and then you’ve got those filled with passengers that take 20, 30, or 40 cars off the road, the impacts, as far as emissions, will be incredible,” he says. Although replacing vehicles comes at a significant cost, he notes, upper levels of government can provide funding to help.

      How COVID-19 has affected transit

      The University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute published survey data in August suggesting that, during the second surge of COVID-19 in Toronto and Vancouver, commuting patterns were changing. About 32 per cent of respondents said they would ride transit less following the pandemic, while 56 per cent said they wouldn’t ride less, and 12 per cent were unsure; 58 per cent of respondents agreed that the pandemic made owning a car more appealing, and 26 per cent reported having looked into buying one. Among those surveyed, there was a 14 per cent increase in vehicle ownership between May 2020 and March 2021.

      Matthew Palm, lead author of the report and research coordinator with U of T Scarborough’s Mobilizing Justice Project, which studies inequities in Canadian transportation systems, is concerned about how such numbers may shape future policy: “My biggest fear from a social-policy standpoint is that people are going to overreact and just let the transit systems go without considering that there are certain people for whom transit is how they get their groceries.” He also notes that the phenomenon of the pandemic turning riders into drivers may be overstated. Based on other research and on his own analysis of the survey, Palm says a good portion of those turning away from transit seem to be young people and recent immigrants who might have bought cars anyway. Regardless, he says, the focus should be on the people who never stopped taking public transit.

      According to the 2021 Vital Signs report by the Hamilton Community Foundation, Hamilton public-transit ridership fell 46 per cent to 11.7 million rides in 2020, compared to 21.6 million rides in 2019. There were similar decreases in Kitchener-Waterloo, York Region, and Mississauga. In Toronto and Ottawa, ridership initially fell 90 per cent but had returned to 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by November 2020.

      Hamilton’s comparatively low decrease shows just how many people in the city need the transit system, says Borsuk: “Without that service, they wouldn’t have been able to get to their jobs.” Borsuk says he and other transit advocates have worried that the pandemic will result in less support for transit, so in the early stages of the public-health crisis, they formed the national Keep Transit Moving Coalition. “If you have municipalities needing to make cuts to service because of budgetary shortfalls and [lower] fare revenue, it’s going to make it harder to keep people on transit — but also harder for them to adopt it as a new form of transportation.”

      What can the federal government do?

      Fagan says that although it’s not immediately responsible for transit, the federal government is well-positioned to provide guidance and funding. The question for the feds is just how many strings they want to attach, he says: “The federal government is spending a lot more on infrastructure, and one can argue it has been reticent to apply policy expectations to its expenditures over time.”

      In Hamilton, for example, the federal and provincial governments recently announced $370 million in funding for the bus system — on the condition that Hamilton buy new buses that run on natural gas instead of diesel and that money go to building a bus barn to charge and store electric buses. (Director of Transit Maureen Cosyn Heath tells TVO.org via email that the city plans to replace its diesel buses  —currently 49 per cent of its fleet — with natural-gas buses over the next four years but did not say when the Hamilton Street Railway might start using electric buses.)

      Keep Transit Moving is calling on federal parties to commit to, among other things, providing permanent operational funding and reliable capital funding for transit and establishing a national intercity and highway-bus service plan. (Capital funding is money that builds or acquires new things, such as bus shelters and vehicles, whereas operating funding covers day-to-day expenses including fuel, maintenance, and salaries.)

      Election-platform points, such as the Conservative plan to link housing and transit funding, show parties are willing to take a more hands-on approach, Fagan adds: “I think all parties are thinking to some extent on these lines. Issues of equity, issues of climate, issues of accessibility, all the kinds of issues that make a city, especially the GTHA, a global-scale city that operates effectively.”

      Borsuk says that’s a good thing. “We definitely need to see the federal government — if they’re going to be providing these investments — flex their muscles and say, ‘If we are going to be giving you this money, we need to see X number of affordable housing units built.’” And, he says, the coalition also has accessibility-related demands: “What we want to see is an accessibility audit of all bus, train, and streetcar stations. We want to see accessibility planning put in; we want to see more funding go to local transit agencies to improve and expand paratransit service where it’s necessary.”

      How are Canada’s political parties responding?

      TVO.org asked the Liberal, Conservative, NDP, and Green campaigns if transit is part of their plans for pandemic recovery, and if so, how.

      Tim Grant, the Green Party of Canada’s municipal-affairs and transportation critic, says that, if elected, the party would invest in transit services and infrastructure, electrify buses, and improve intercity transit. “We should not be providing funding to cities for rapid transit projects unless those cities have developed plans to put enough housing density around each station, so that the new lines can pay for themselves within a few years,” he tells TVO.org via email.

      The NDP campaign did not respond to a request for comment. In its platform, however, the party promises it would expand public transit within and between communities and prioritize funding for low-carbon projects — “with the goal of electrifying transit and other municipal fleets by 2030.” It would also help provinces and municipalities create fare-free transit, if asked.

      A spokesperson for the Conservative Party of Canada did not answer TVO.org’s question but pointed to promises to fund and build public transit. The party platform says that a Conservative government would “require municipalities receiving federal funding for public transit to increase density near the funded transit.”

      A Liberal Party of Canada spokesperson sent TVO.org a statement touting the government’s recent transit investments and the creation of a permanent public-transit fund slated to begin in 2026. In Ontario, the statement says, the Liberal government would continue investments in the Toronto area. The party platform promises support for rural transit, zero-emission buses, and intercity transit.

      Moving forward

      Palm says that people who depend on transit need to be the focal point going forward. “Building a transit system in tandem with neighborhoods — with the land-use to support those folks — can also get the choice riders back, particularly the choice riders who prefer those urban environments.” “Choice riders” are those who can get around without public transit but may choose to use it. When more commuters — including choice riders — use a transit system, service generally improves, he says.

      While the pandemic has presented many challenges, it has also changed the conversations around public transit for the better, says Palm: “There was just this conceptual paradigm shift in a lot of people’s thinking about what transit really is at the most basic level, because people were asked to only use it if they really need it. What we found is there are a significant number of people who truly need it.”

      Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

      Article reposted from TVO | By: Justin Chandler

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