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19 Feb 16:12

People in Toronto say they prefer streetcars over buses

by Mira Miller

The 505 Dundas streetcar has been replaced with buses since the end of September while Pantograph upgrades are made between Parliament and McCaul, and it's making TTC riders realize how much they prefer streetcars to buses. 

One Toronto resident tweeted this sentiment yesterday evening, and it's led to a whole lot of online discussion comparing the two forms of public transit. 

"Anybody who advocates for buses over streetcars should be damned to ride the Dundas bus replacement for a week," Twitter user Shawn Micallef wrote online. "Or eternity, for such bad opinion."

The tweet has garnered 41 retweets and 464 likes in the past 24 hours, and many Toronto transit users say they wholeheartedly agree with Micallef. 

"The lurching, in and out of traffic. The dizzying pull into a stop. The sudden gasp that comes with quick brakes," one user wrote. "Aw gawd, my blood pressure rises just thinking about it."

Toronto resident Asif Hossain quote tweeted the original post and added his own take, stating that the replacement buses on Queen a few years back taught everyone involved to appreciate streetcars. 

And one Twitter user even responded that anyone who prefers buses probably isn't actually a frequent transit user. 

For those who are specifically frustrated with the Dundas replacement buses, you'll be glad to know that streetcar service will resume on the route come March 29

02 Nov 19:24

A new study on measles reveals a scary side effect: “immune-system amnesia”

by Julia Belluz
Measles vaccine rates are dropping worldwide, with measles cases tripling between 2018 and 2019. | Getty Images/Image Source

It’s another reason to get the measles vaccine.

As measles cases soar worldwide, scientists have discovered yet another danger of the disease: the measles virus can wipe out the immune system, making people more susceptible to other illnesses later. The research sheds new light on a virus that’s infected humans for centuries.

The phenomenon is called “immune amnesia,” and a new study — published in Science — documented how it works. The measles virus appears to erase the body’s immune memory, destroying an average of 40 of the antibodies against other viruses and bacteria subjects in the study built up before the measles virus hit. This means people who get measles are more susceptible to other illnesses — pneumonia, flu, and skin infections — after an encounter with the virus, and that immune suppression can last for years.

This new side effect is an addition to all of the other well-known symptoms of measles, such as rash, cough, fever, and malaise. Measles can also lead to serious complications — pneumonia, brain swelling — and even death. In 2017, measles killed 110,000 people around the world and infected 6.7 million. About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the US who get measles need to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immune amnesia helps explain why the majority of deaths and complications are caused by infections people acquire after measles.

“[Measles] not only destroys overall immune function for a few weeks as children recover from the virus, it also prevents children’s ability to defend against pathogens they should have been equipped to deal with over the long term,” Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author on the paper, told Vox.

The research, which built on previous studies about measles immune system suppression, also has massive public health implications.

Measles vaccine rates are dropping worldwide, with measles cases tripling between 2018 and 2019, mostly because of problems with vaccine access or vaccine refusal. Several countries — including the United Kington, Greece, and Brazil — have recently lost their measles elimination status, meaning they had outbreaks lasting for more than a year at a time. And this year, the US nearly did too. So we’re sliding back on measles vaccination just as researchers are discovering how damaging the disease is to the immune system.

Why it’s even more important to get vaccinated against measles

The measles virus is one of the most infectious diseases known to humans. Let’s say a person with measles coughs in a room and leaves; hours later, if you’re unvaccinated, you could catch the virus from tiny droplets in the air the infected person left behind. No other virus can do that.

For anyone born before 1960, there’s a good chance they suffered through a measles infection. They may have lived to tell about it, but they probably had friends who didn’t. In the US, before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, there were 4 million measles cases each year, resulting in 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths. Measles was also a leading killer of children globally.

The beauty of the vaccine is that most people who get the proper doses will never get sick with measles, even if they’re exposed. And by 2000, because of widespread vaccination, the virus was declared eliminated in the US.

Researchers have long known vaccinating against measles works. And the side effects are rare and mostly very mild. But what they’re now coming to realize is that getting immunized is important for more reasons than they’d appreciated.

For the Science study, the researchers tracked 77 unimmunized children in the Netherlands, part of a vaccine-refusing Orthodox Protestant community there. They drew blood samples during a 2013 measles outbreak (before and two months after the kids got the infection) and looked for changes in the children’s immune systems using VirScan, a tool that can measure antibody levels in the blood for hundreds of pathogens. Separately, they tracked five unimmunized children who didn’t get the disease.

When the researchers compared the blood samples before and after measles, they found the virus had erased between 11 and 73 percent of a child’s antibodies, with an average loss of about 40 percent. They didn’t find the same effect in the five kids who never got the disease. And in a control group of children immunized with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, they also didn’t find any immune system loss.

In another simultaneously published study, in the journal Science Immunology, researchers studied the same cohort of kids but focused instead on their B cells, a type of white blood cell that includes memory cells that produce antibodies in the body. The researchers came to a similar conclusion: Measles primes the body for other diseases. In this case, the virus reduced the body’s immune memory B cells and reverted the immune system to an immature, baby-like state.

“The studies show that measles is more dangerous than we think and can have consequences on our immune system long after the symptoms of measles are gone,” said the lead author of the second paper, Velislava Petrova, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The public health message, she added, is that getting the MMR vaccination “is important not only to prevent you from measles disease, but also from other secondary infections you can have if you get measles and have your immune system damaged.”

Maybe this new research — coming at a time of measles resurgence around the world — will encourage people on the fence about the vaccine to get immunized. “In an era where individuals and even policymakers have a sort of amnesia about just how bad measles was,” said Harvard’s Mina, “this makes [it] glaringly clear that a measles infection is not just a simple benign childhood infection.”

16 Oct 21:51

Massive human trafficking bust takes down alleged pimp kingpin in Toronto

by Lauren O'Neil

An intense, more than one-year-long police investigation into a suspected human trafficking ring has resulted in the arrest of more than 31 people who are believed to have forced dozens of women and girls into the local sex trade.

York Regional Police announced the news on Wednesday, thanking the OPP, Toronto Police, Peel Regional Police and Quebec's Integrated Human Trafficking Task Force for their assistance in a multi-province investigation dubbed Project Convalesce.

More than 300 charges have been laid across so far as the result of this investigation, which saw officers execute search warrants in 34 locations across the GTA and Quebec last Thursday.

Roughly 100 of the charges faced by 31 suspects are related to human trafficking, according to police, while the others stem from fraud, drug trafficking and weapons offences.

"Through the investigation, officers identified 12 victims and determined that more than 30 women who were involved in the sex trade were associated to this group of suspects," reads a release from York Regional Police's Special Victims Unit - Human Trafficking Section.

"The majority of the women came from Quebec but had been moved to Ontario and across Canada for sex trade purposes."

Police say the investigation began in October of 2019 when two female victims came forward in an attempt to escape suspected pimp (and alleged kingpin of the organized crime operation) Jonathan Nyangwila.

"These victims endured violent assaults, sexual assaults and other degrading circumstances as they were controlled by these violent criminals," said York Regional Police deputy chief Brian Bigras during a press conference on Wednesday.

Police said that members of the crime group used violence to ensure compliance from more than 30 women and girls, and that officers working on the case discovered "horrific things" being done to them.

Twelve individual victims have been identified, but police believe at least 30 women involved in the sex trade — most of of them from Quebec — are associated with the trafficking suspects.

"Members of the York Regional Police Special Victims Unit - Human Trafficking Section are continuing their aggressive efforts in combating human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and underage girls," reads the YRP media release.

"In many cases, victims are forced into the sex trade through violence, threats of violence, coercion and trickery."

York Regional Police investigators are looking to speak with "anyone involved in the sex trade who may be looking for a way out or who may require assistance to escape these dangerous circumstances."

04 Nov 15:54

Metrolinx could kill massive Bombardier LRT contract

by Derek Flack

bombardier lrv metrolinxMetrolinx, the provincial transit authority in charge of numerous infrastructure projects around Toronto, has put Bombardier on notice that it plans to cancel a $770 million contract for LRVs to operate on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT route. The statement of intent follows a series of delays and manufacturing issues Bombardier has experienced in delivering a prototype model.

The Canadian transit and aerospace manufacturer has also failed to deliver the TTC its new low floor streetcars in a timely fashion, delays that surely play a role in Metrolinx's concern that the company won't be able to supply the Crosstown with vehicles in time for its launch.

For its part, Bombardier characterizes the notice of cancellation a normal part of the contractural process, and notes that manufacturing of LRV for the Crosstown isn't scheduled to begin until 2018 for the anticipated 2021 opening of the line. The line will require 76 vehicles on its opening date.

Metrolinx's notice to terminate the contract doesn't mean that it will ultimately follow through, but it does apply significant pressure on Bombardier, particularly given that the bidding for the contract to supply the Finch LRT line with vehicles has been opened up to other transit manufactures.

The question now is whether or not Bombardier can respond in such a way that restores confidence in its ability to fulfill the contract.

Photo by Radagast.

18 Oct 12:42

This photo series celebrates Toronto's corner stores

by Derek Flack

toronto convenience storesToronto's convenience stores are so ubiquitous you hardly even notice them. Sure, you might have the occasional bit of banter with the clerk as you buy milk, but as a rule, the store itself is entirely forgettable. And yet, there's a messy urbanism to these places that makes us feel at home.

Like most examples of vernacular architecture, corner stores are crucial to our sense of place even as we take them for granted. This steady tension has defined their place on the streetscape for over a century. But if you take a moment to stop and really look at these independent business, it's hard to appreciate the unique contribution they make to urban life.

toronto convenience storesIt's precisely the last point that photographer Derek Attewell hopes to draw attention to with a new photo series called Convenience TO. Following in the footsteps of Patrick Cummins, this series documents the humble Toronto variety store in the hopes that we'll pay heed to its "unique and odd aesthetic."

toronto convenience stores"I find them fascinating," he explains. "While each is completely unique, as a whole they somehow form a consistent aesthetic... The project isn't meant to rate the stores or provide detailed information about them. The focus is on the visual appeal of the often run-down storefronts."

toronto convenience storesAttewell has captured 60 stores so far in his series, but has plans to increase that number dramatically as he broadens his geographic range to the north and east. One day the series might become a coffee table-style book, but for now the focus is on shooting. In the meantime, you can follow along on his journey via Facebook and Instagram.

11 Oct 15:32

Gorgeous photos of NASA’s rockets and robots

by Jason Kottke

Redgrove NASA

Redgrove NASA

Wired took an exclusive tour of NASA’s rockets and robots with photographer Benedict Redgrove and the photographic results are — sorry! — out of this world. Best viewed on Redgrove’s site, who must be — still sorry!! — over the moon about how they turned out. But seriously, that DARPA centaur-on-wheels robot…how cool is that?

Also, you may remember Redgrove from his short film on how tennis balls are made. How that for service? (Stop. Just stop it. (You love it. (STOP!)))

Tags: Benedict Redgrove   NASA   photography   robots   space