Allo. Is it me you're looking for?

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Google's Allo messaging app is out, and its "killer feature" is the Google Assistant which you can bring into the conversation as needed. For example, I could have called in the assistant to provide suggestions when I was planning a wing night with some friends yesterday. Instead, I had to exit the chat, find the restaurant and then paste it back into the chat.

The internet had hoped that Allo would be like Apple's messaging system - it sends data messages to people also using the app but reverts to SMS for others - but this isn't the case. It's a closed system like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. So, its success will depend on getting enough of your friends to use it.

A lot of people will say "without SMS and a desktop client it's DOA", but let's not forget that we're heading towards a mobile-only world that doesn't use SMS. The developing world is already there and our North American preferences are the outlier. But, it will still depend on getting a critical mass of users. That's where this app will succeed or fail.

The beauty of the smartphone is that you can have all the apps, so if you want to reach me on Allo feel free to contact me that way. But I'm also on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and Hangouts. I'm not going to limit myself because I really don't have to.

If no one decides to switch I can still talk to the assistant, of course.

1938 Railway Map: Northern Alberta Railways

Originally a collection struggling lines that were taken over by the province, by 1938 the Northern Alberta Railways company was a joint venture between Canadian National Railways and the Canadian Pacific Railway. All lines carried First-Class Coaches and Standard Sleepers, with the Waterways and Dawson Creek services also carrying Dining Cars.

1938 Railway Map: The Soo Line

Connecting much of the upper mid-west to Chicago and the twin cities, the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway was probably better known as The Soo Line - a name which still lingers on to this day.

The Soo Line was controlled by the Canadian Pacific Railway, so it should come as no surprise that both flagship trains offered through service into Canada: 

  • "The Winnipeger" was an overnight service from the twin cities to Winnipeg, and was equipped with a Buffet Lounge Sleeper, Standard Drawing-room Compartment Sleepers, Coaches and a Diner. The timetable recommends the 1:00 pm Milwaukee Road "Hiawatha" for those departing from Chicago.
  • The "Soo-Dominion" was a Chicago - Vancouver service with the Chicago & North Western taking the train from Chicago to St. Paul, the Soo Line continuing on the border at Portal, ND / North Portal, SK, and the Canadian Pacific finally taking the train to Vancouver. The train carried Lounge Cars, Drawing-room Compartment Sleepers, Dining Cars and Coaches. Tourist Sleepers ran between Vancouver and the twin cities (this train was the winter service, as the timetable is effective November, 1937).

1938 Railway Map: Bangor & Aroostook

Serving northern Maine, the Bangor and Aroostook was probably best known for their brightly coloured red, white and blue boxcars. In 1938 their flagship train was the "Aroostook Flyer" (train #4 / #7), which boasted a Lounge Buffet Car and De Luxe Coaches from Bangor, Maine to Van Buren, Maine. The schedule lists connections at Bangor for Portland and Boston.

Thoughts on a transit terminal

Last week the Mohawk College Transit terminal opened on the northeast corner of the campus, and I must say that it has really improved access for students (like myself, for the next month) using Hamilton Street Railway to get to class. But, there are some issues that are worth mentioning, and they go to show that improving transit isn't just about putting more buses on the road. Sometimes, making something transit adjacent doesn't necessarily make it transit oriented.

Mohawk College Transit Terminal - just before opening day

Mohawk College Transit Terminal - just before opening day

The new transit terminal consolidates bus services into one convenient location, where previously someone on campus had to choose between three different boarding locations - each with their own issues. The stop on Fennell Avenue in front of the library only served the 33 SANATORIUM route, so waiting there generally meant that you would get a seat on the bus, but it meant the longest waits. The stop previously known as the South Entrance Loop was served by three routes (20 A-LINE EXPRESS, the 21 UPPER KENILWORTH and 35 COLLEGE) and had indoor waiting available, but it always seemed that the 21 and the 35 ran together. That meant long gaps between departures of any kind in the evening. Finally, the stop at West 5th Street and Fennell Avenue was where all the routes converged, but during the daytime it meant trying to get onto buses that had already loaded. Also, that stop is not very well lit, and it's adjacent to the vacant Auchmar mansion - so it's not the best place to user after dark. The new terminal places all of the routes together, has indoor waiting, is well lit, and has plenty of shelters. Overall, it's a great facility and a great addition to campus. So why do I have problems with it?

First of all, closest entrance to the terminal is not a main entrance by an means. In fact, the closest entrance leads to the J-Wing, which wasn't designed for through pedestrian volumes.

Entrance to the J-Wing from the terminal

Entrance to the J-Wing from the terminal

Inside the J-Wing. Note the narrow hallways, but also note the wayfinding.

Inside the J-Wing. Note the narrow hallways, but also note the wayfinding.

As a result, the primary entrance to the College is not what the building architect had envisioned. From a practical standpoint, this means the possibility of pedestrian congestion in the hallways. From a design aesthetic standpoint, this means that a visitor arriving by transit (the preferred mode, officially anyway), isn't given the best first impression of the campus.

The other issue I have with the terminal is the path between the on-street 35 COLLEGE stop and the rest of the facility. Since the 35 continues south along West 5th Street, the decision was made to have that route stop on the street rather than enter the terminal. Connecting passengers only have a short walk, but because of the grade difference the pedestrian path was designed with switchbacks.

Pedestrian path from West 5th Street (where some buses stop) to the terminal and the college.

Pedestrian path from West 5th Street (where some buses stop) to the terminal and the college.

My observations are that seemingly able-bodied pedestrians do not follow the path, and as a result I suspect the freshly laid sod will have a lifespan measured in days. Perhaps a design like the one near the library, where stairs and ramps are integrated into one structure, would have provided access without having to worry about replacing grass every few months.

Integrated accessible ramps, stairs and congregation area elsewhere on campus.

Integrated accessible ramps, stairs and congregation area elsewhere on campus.

All in all, I think that this facility has made the experience of using transit at Mohawk better. As Thursday night is my late night on campus, I previously had to check the schedule before the lecture was over to see which I direction I needed to run in order to make my connection at Hamilton GO Centre. No more. Now there is only one direction that I'll need to run in. Unfortunately, the added convenience doesn't change the design issues that I've tried to highlight. They're probably outweighed by the added convenience, but they are proof that putting something adjacent to transit doesn't truly make it oriented to transit.