Resilient cities need to be financially resilient too: Sandford Fleming Forum

The dining hall in the Faculty Club hosting the Sandford Fleming Forum on May 2 | Future Proofing: How Resilience Planning Supports the Future Functionality and Value of Fixed Assets and Infrastructure

Exploring the financial aspects of resilience, The Centre for Resilience of Critical Infrastructure hosted its twice-annual Sandford Fleming Forum on May 2. Tania Caceres (Senior Real Estate Expert at RiskNexus), Lisa Prime (Director of Environment and Innovation at Waterfront Toronto) and Michael Kosturik (Regional VP for Intact Insurance) weighed in on the risk, reward and responsibility of building resilient infrastructure.

Previous Forums concluded that resilient communities have five key components; community focus, community identity, balanced infrastructure, strategic framework and confidence in leadership. When all of these characteristics are present, a community can withstand various shocks and stresses, whether natural or man-made, like the 2013 floods in Calgary’s downtown.

The May 2 Forum discussed resilience in Toronto, the costs of funding resilience and insuring communities that have not resilience planned.

The dining hall in the Faculty Club hosting the Sandford Fleming Forum on May 2 | Future Proofing: How Resilience Planning Supports the Future Functionality and Value of Fixed Assets and Infrastructure

Sandford Fleming Forum on May 2 | Future Proofing: How Resilience Planning Supports the Future Functionality and Value of Fixed Assets and Infrastructure

In Toronto, the focus for resiliency is on affordable housing, flood protection, major event infrastructure, green space, accessibility, multi-use/future uses and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Furthermore, all proposed developments require design excellence, green building standards and link to sustainable transportation links. Planning for the future is achieved through intelligent communities and innovative, integrated systems in Toronto.

One challenge for GTA policy makers is to remedy past infrastructure mistakes, like the early diversions of the Don River, whereby straightening the curved waterway causes flooding near the mouth of the river.

But there is a cost associated with achieving resiliency. The cost to update infrastructure for resiliency cannot always be justified based on the risks of catastrophic events associated with the community. And without resiliency, the costs to insure a community can be just as large.

The frequency and severity of natural catastrophic losses have appeared to be worse because more events occur in areas of high concentration of people. More people means that they own more belongings, which need to be insured. In 2015, there was $66.5 billion in damage from catastrophic events, of which only $35 billion was insured. Insurance premiums will continue to rise to accommodate the increased cost of loss.

Read more about the Sandford Fleming Forums, the speakers and the Centre for Resilience and Critical Infrastructure

 

*Operating under the Chatham House Rule, the Sandford Fleming Forum facilitates open dialogue by ensuring the anonymity of all speakers. It is for this reason that no ideas or quotes in this article are attributed.

Clean air map from U of T Engineering researchers helps cyclists avoid air pollution

Civil engineering post-doctoral researcher Sabreena Anowar and Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) are studying the risks of air pollution on cyclists and their impact on route choice. (Photo: Tyler Irving)
Civil engineering post-doctoral researcher Sabreena Anowar and Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) are studying the risks of air pollution on cyclists and their impact on route choice. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Civil engineering post-doctoral researcher Sabreena Anowar and Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) are studying the risks of air pollution on cyclists and their impact on route choice. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

This story originally appeared on U of T News.

Cyclists face a difficult dilemma: on one hand, cycling is good for your health and the environment; on the other, cyclists are more exposed to risks such as accidents and air pollution. New research from U of T Engineering is helping cyclists map cleaner routes to minimize this exposure.

“In general, the benefits of cycling certainly outweigh the risks,” says Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE). “If you are a healthy person, you are better off to continue cycling than stop.” Nevertheless, when it comes to air pollution, cyclists are at a disadvantage.

“Studies have shown that the concentration of air pollutants tends to be higher inside vehicles than outside them,” says Hatzopoulou. “However, cyclists have a higher breathing rate, which means that they inhale more of these pollutants, and they go deeper into the lungs.”

Such pollutants include ultra-fine particles, as well as nitrogen oxides. Hatzopoulou cites studies associating increased exposure to these pollutants with respiratory problems and certain types of cancer. Her own research has shown that they can even have immediate, measurable effects on the cardiovascular system.

To help address this challenge, Hatzopoulou has created a tool called the Clean Ride Mapper for both Toronto and Montreal. It is essentially a Google Map with an extra layer representing the average concentration of pollutants in a given area, as measured by her team and collaborators. Using this data, algorithms can be constructed to work out not only the shortest route between two points, but also the one that exposes the cyclist to the lowest levels of air pollution.

Hatzopoulou and Anowar outfit a bicycle with equipment to detect the concentration of pollutant particles in the nearby air. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Hatzopoulou and Anowar outfit a bicycle with equipment to detect the concentration of pollutant particles in the nearby air. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Hatzopoulou intends to further refine the maps — for example, by incorporating real-time pollution concentrations instead of static data — but lately she has been pondering another question: are such tools actually useful to cyclists?

“There are a lot of factors that influence the choice of a cycling route besides pollution,” she says. “For example, there is safety, separation from traffic, elevation, distance, etc. Which ones would cyclists be willing to trade off in order to decrease their pollution exposure?”

Sabreena Anowar (CivE), a post-doctoral researcher on Hatzopoulou’s team, is working on an answer. She’s designed a survey that proposes several different cycling routes and asks cyclists to choose which one they would prefer.

“No route is perfect,” says Anowar. “They all vary in terms of traffic volume, pollution, elevation, travel time and other attributes.” By measuring which routes people would choose for either a recreational ride or a commuting ride, Anowar and Hatzopoulou hope to better understand how cyclists factor the risks of pollution into their activities. This in turn can help improve the design of tools like the interactive maps.

The survey was launched in Toronto, Montreal, Orlando, Austin, New York in collaboration with researchers in those cities. It will be open at least until June, and Anowar and Hatzopoulou are hoping to get at least 3,000 participants. In addition to their own research, Anowar says that the data could also be useful for city planners. “It will help identify how people value road infrastructure like separated lanes or signage,” says Anowar. “If we build more infrastructure like this, perhaps we can encourage people to cycle more.”

To help Hatzopoulou and Anowar in their research, complete the online survey for either a recreational ride or a commuting ride.

Eric Miller reports from the trenches of Toronto’s transit wars

Professor Eric Miller (CivE) addressed a crowd University of Toronto alumni and friends on as part of the U of T in Your Neighbourhood lecture series. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)
Professor Eric Miller (CivE) addressed a crowd University of Toronto alumni and friends on as part of the U of T in Your Neighbourhood lecture series. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

Professor Eric Miller (CivE) addressed a crowd University of Toronto alumni and friends on as part of the U of T in Your Neighbourhood lecture series. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

This story originally appeared on Engineering News.

Professor Eric Miller of the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering addressed a crowd of more than 80 University of Toronto alumni and friends on March 28 as part of the U of T in Your Neighbourhood lecture series.

Few topics are more relevant in Torontonians’ neighbourhoods than transit. Plans have been proposed, promoted, approved, denounced, scrapped, revived and altered in recent years, and Miller’s work on transit modelling may inform where the city goes from here.

At the talk, Miller told the group that wherever we go, Toronto needs to think long-term. “We argue too much about our current transit situation,” he said. “We should be planning for our children and our grandchildren.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory asked Miller, head of U of T’s Transportation Research Institute, to study his SmartTrack proposal and analyse its ridership potential. Miller’s report was released at City Hall in January 2016, and sparked extensive debate among citizens and in the media.

Miller thinks those discussions can only be a good thing: “Citizens starting informal debates [about issues such as transit] and giving politicians space to consider these things can help bring the conversation forward,” he said.

Read more about the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute’s report on SmartTrack.

Catch up on the latest topics in industry and hear from engineering and business thought leaders at BizSkule, U of T Engineering’s alumni networking series.

With files from Sara Franca.

Six engineering innovations get a boost from NSERC Strategic Partnership Grants

This story originally posted on Engineering News.

New funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) will advance U of T Engineering research in sustainable energy, telecommunications and more.

On March 1, NSERC announced six Strategic Partnership Grants to help U of T engineers address some of the greatest challenges facing Canada and the world. The projects include new technologies to extract valuable minerals from hazardous mine tailings and systems to enable cities to repurpose stormwater more effectively. In total, the program invested more than $3.2 million in U of T Engineering and more than $5.3 million across the entire University.

The six funded projects are:

Elodie Passeport

Elodie Passeport (ChemE, CivE) — Smarter stormwater management

Heavy rainstorms like those that hit Toronto in July 2013 do more than damage basements — they also wash street-level pollution into local rivers and lakes. Nature deals with this problem through wetlands, which swell or shrink with the rains and which contain microorganisms that break down harmful substances. Bioretention cells are artificial structures designed to mimic this process in urban areas, yet for unknown reasons, some work better than others. Passeport and her team aim to pin down the hydrological, chemical, and physical processes that determine the performance of bioretention cells in order to optimize their design. Better stormwater management could prevent pollution from reaching the environment.

 

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Mansoor Barati (MSE) — Reclaiming hazardous waste

The area around Sudbury, Ont. is surrounded by 50- to 100-million tonnes of liquid tailings left over from mining operations. This waste material poses environmental risks if left untreated. Yet it still contains useful elements such as nickel, iron and sulfur which continue to be in demand in manufacturing and other sectors. Barati and his team are developing a process that recovers these elements from the tailings and generates electricity at the same time. The process would provide a permanent solution for the waste as well as economic benefits to the mine and surrounding community.

 

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Aimy Bazylak (MIE) — Hydrogen for clean, on-demand power

Environmentally friendly fuel cell vehicles run on hydrogen instead of gasoline, producing no emissions other than water and heat. Unfortunately, most hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, but it can also be extracted from water using electricity produced from renewable energy, such as the wind and sun. Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electolyzers are a technology that essentially operate like reverse fuel cells, extracting hydrogen and oxygen from water. Moreover, they can enable us to efficiently deal with the huge peaks and troughs of intermittent electricity generated from variable renewable sources, such as wind, solar and tidal power. This project aims to use the team’s existing expertise in PEM-based fuel cells to advance PEM electrolyzers for clean hydrogen generation.

 

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Sean Hum (ECE) — Advanced Electromagnetic Surfaces for Next-Generation Communications Systems

The number of smartphones and connected tablets in the world is well into the billions and growing fast. Yet the wireless communications systems on which these devices depend use radio signals, and there are only so many frequencies to go around. Hum and his team develop advanced electromagnetic surfaces that can be used to redesign antennas, enabling more sophisticated control over radio signals. Used in satellites, these surfaces could dramatically improve communication capacity while reducing the size and weight of antennas. These surfaces can also be used in buildings, where they could improve reception and eliminate “dead zones.” By enabling more data to be transmitted wirelessly using the same bandwidth, the inventions will usher in the next generation of electronic communication.

 

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Ted Sargent (ECE) — Better lasers for transmitting digital information

Every time you upload a document, photo or video to the cloud your file is sent to a large collection of servers known as a datacentre. Within these datacentres, information is transmitted both electronically and optically. However, the devices that translate data between these two modes are inefficient, generating large amounts of waste heat and making datacentres enormous energy hogs. Using nano-sized particles called quantum dots, Sargent and his team are developing entirely new type of laser that is capable of being deposited directly on a silicon chip. The device will turn electrical impulses into light bursts in a much more efficient way, drastically reducing the amount of energy required to transmit data and the cost of cloud computing.

 

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Costas Sarris (ECE) — Redesigning train signalling for improved safety

Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) is aimed at replacing conventional rail signalling with train control enabled by wireless communication between the train and a network of access points. In a cellular communication system, a network outage may cause a dropped call, but in a CBTC network it directly compromises the safety of train passengers. Therefore, these safety-critical systems must meet high standards of reliability, beyond those of typical communication networks. Sarris and his team, along withThales Canada, are developing a new paradigm for the design of CBTC systems with enhanced robustness and reliability. These systems can effectively serve the increasing need for rail transportation safety and efficiency shared by a growing number of Canadians, especially urban commuters in large metropolitan areas.