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2 million in Times Square for New Year’s? Experts say no way

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Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press


Published Saturday, December 29, 2018 10:45AM EST


Last Updated Saturday, December 29, 2018 10:49AM EST

NEW YORK — Ryan Seacrest and Anderson Cooper will be there. Snoop Dogg, too.

But 1 or 2 million people in New York’s Times Square for New Year’s Eve? As Snoop would say, you must be sippin’ on gin and juice.

Crowd-size experts scoff at those mammoth figures — floated annually by city officials and event organizers — saying it’s impossible to squeeze that many of even the skinniest revelers into such a relatively small space.

The real Times Square ball drop crowd likely has fewer than 100,000 people, crowd science professor G. Keith Still said.

“Generally, people are overestimating crowd sizes by 10- to 100-fold,” said Still, who teaches crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in England and trains police departments on techniques to calculate crowd sizes.

The crowd estimates come from the New York City Police Department, according to the Times Square Alliance, which runs the ball drop.

In recent years, the department estimated that 2 million people had packed into Times Square. Mayor Bill de Blasio used a big number again Friday, saying the city expected “up to 2 million people in Times Square itself,” a bow-tie-shaped zone running five blocks between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

New York University professor Charles Seife, a mathematician and journalist who explored statistical manipulation in his book “Proofiness,” said the city has an interest in promoting a bigger number because it “helps cement the image of New York City as the centre of the universe at a certain date and time.”

He suggested fuzzy math and fuzzier geography were also at play.

“How do you count a participant in the Times Square ball drop?” Seife asked. “Is it everyone who can see the ball, or anyone squeezed into a bar in Manhattan?”

To actually fit 1 million revelers, the city would have to jam more than the equivalent of a sold-out Yankee Stadium on every block of 7th Avenue between Times Square and Central Park — which starts about 15 blocks to the north.

Still and his colleagues perform detailed analyses when calculating precise crowd totals. But even using simple techniques, like measuring Times Square on a map and running a few calculations, it’s clear the numbers don’t get anywhere near 1 million.

Times Square would hold about 51,000 people at a density of 3 people per square meter (square yard), Still said, or about 86,000 at 5 people per square meter. It might reach 120,000 if the crowd packed in at 7 people per square meter, but he said that density, involving people squished together front-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder, is unlikely.

Those numbers don’t count people watching from hotel and office building windows or from penned-off areas farther away. They also don’t account for space taken up by stages, security apparatus and egress routes, where people would otherwise be able to stand.

New York’s crowd estimate has evolved over time. As late as 1998, the police department was estimating that roughly 500,000 people attended. But for the millennium bash at the close of 1999, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani predicted as many as 2 million.

At big events, an accurate crowd estimate is critical to public safety. The wrong number can leave cities devoting too many or too few resources to an event, Still said. But New York — despite inflating the size of its crowd — manages the throngs well, funneling revelers into penned off areas, so there’s no opportunity for overcrowding, and screening each person for weapons.

Police are planning for 65 such pens this year, stretching well north of Times Square proper. To get 1 million people into those 65 pens, each would have to fit around 30,800 people.

Estimating crowd sizes has long been subject to inexact guesswork and political pressure.

Arguments about crowd size flared after President Donald Trump claimed he had the largest presidential inauguration audience in history. The National Park Service stopped estimating crowds for events on the National Mall in Washington D.C. after a dispute with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan over the attendance for his 1995 Million Man March.

Parades for victorious sports teams involve some of the most over-the-top estimates. Officials claimed 3.2 million people crammed the streets of Philadelphia for last year’s Eagles Super Bowl parade. The city’s mayor later conceded that the crowd was probably closer to 700,000.

And forget about a million people packing tiny Vatican City for Christmas, Easter or anything else.

“Unless they are 17 metres high, stacked on top of each other, shoulder to shoulder, you can’t get that many people in St. Peter’s Square,” Still said.

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LIFESTYLES

Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

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Top environment official urges Canadians to back Ottawa’s ambitious plans to tackle plastic trash

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The second in command at the federal Environment Ministry challenged Canadians to continue to speak up about the problem of plastic pollution and push elected officials, scientists and businesses to do more.

Quebec MP Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, made the comments online at Vancouver’s annual zero waste conference on Friday.

He said most Canadians want solutions to curb the tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic garbage that ends up as litter each year on the country’s beaches, parks, lakes and in the stomachs of animals. 

“Making sure that message is heard with industry stakeholders, elected officials and make sure that they are constantly putting pressure on it … so we notice that this is something that Canadians want, the backing of Canadians to go and undertake these huge challenges,” he said.

Schiefke filled in for  Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson at the last minute after Wilkinson was called away to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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OC Transpo’s monthly bus pass one of the most expensive fares in Canada

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OTTAWA — OC Transpo’s monthly bus pass is one of the most expensive passes in Canada, and transit riders are facing another 2.5 per cent hike in transit fares on New Year’s Day.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Transit Commission meeting on the 2021 budget, CTV News Ottawa looked at the cost of a monthly adult bus pass at transit services across Canada. Ottawa ranks behind the TTC in Toronto, Mississauga’s “MiWay”, Brampton Transit and Vancouver “TransLink” Zone 2 access to the suburbs for most expensive transit fares in Canada.

The cost of an OC Transpo adult monthly bus pass is currently $119.50 a month.

The 2021 City of Ottawa budget includes a proposed 2.5 per cent hike in transit fares. If approved, an adult monthly transit pass will increase $3 to $122.50, while a youth pass will increase $2.25 to $94.50 a month.  The cost of an adult single-ride cash fare would rise a nickel to $3.65.

The TTC is the most expensive transit service in Canada, charging $156 a month for an adult fare. MiWay charges $135 a month, and the cost of an adult monthly pass with Brampton Transit is $128.

Metro Vancouver’s transportation network “TransLink” has three fare zones. The monthly bus pass cost for “Zone 1”, which covers Vancouver, is $97 for adults. The “Zone 2” fare, which covers Vancouver and the suburbs of Richmond and Burnaby, is $131 a month.

Edmonton Transit Service, which includes a Light Rail System with 18 stations on two different lines, charges $97 a month for an adult monthly bus pass.

An adult monthly bus pass in Calgary costs $109 a month.

The survey by CTV News Ottawa of transit fares across Canada shows Gatineau has higher transit fares than Montreal and Quebec City. The STO charges $99 a month.

A monthly adult bus pass costs $88.50 in Montreal and $89.50 in Quebec City.

The cheapest adult monthly bus fare is in Charlottetown, at $58.50 a month. A monthly bus pass in Whitehorse costs $62 a month.

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