Drivers Not Wanted

July 6, 2015

Perhaps some of the signage and cues had been updated along the new Queens Quay before I finally made it down there on Saturday, queensquayafter Ed Keenan wrote his first article on the street last week. As I rode and strode along the strip east from Bathurst to Sherbourne and back, there was little of the ‘potentially lethal’ chaos Keenan had witnessed there. One wide left turn and some willful pushiness on the part of three cars intent on making that light were pretty much it for me. Outside of that, perhaps not serenity now, but a pretty pleasant run, all in all.

That said, I still think Ed Keenan is wildly off-the-mark on his assessment of the street, and the need to mollify and coddle car drivers. “This is a new kind of street,” Keenan writes. “It takes intuitive signals about how streets work, patterns people have spent a lifetime learning, and up-ends them. That can be a good thing, but there have to be some instructions.”queensquay3

If Queens Quay is a ‘new kind of street’ here in Toronto, don’t you simply undercut that attempted innovation by catering to old ways of going about our business? The old way being about putting cars atop our transportation hierarchy. The whole point of the new Queens Quay is not to put drivers at ease with their traditional ways of driving.

This is the problem the city faces currently. Designing and building roads with the emphasis on car drivers not driving like they should. The result is wider than necessary streets and avenues, to safely accommodate drivers not obeying speed limits. Streets unfriendly to most other non-vehicular traffic.

I think the new Queens Quay should be disorienting to drivers, unwelcoming even. Aside from living down along that run of the waterfront, why on earth would you want to drive there? It’s the lake, folks, with the kind of public access we’ve been clamoring decades for. Now we should be concerned for those who want to cruise the strip in their cars?queensquay1

If you’re going to insist on doing that, you do it by the new rules. Slow the fuck down. Figure out what the fuck you’re doing. Fall the fuck in line behind the other modes of transport operating there. Streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians. Consider yourself an unwelcome but obligatory guest, like an obnoxious uncle, invited to a wedding purely out of family protocol.

Keenan’s not wrong in pointing out that a distracted, disoriented (and frustrated) driver is a dangerous one. Rather than hold their hands, though, and calm them with soothing, familiar signs, arrows and blinking lights, I’d prefer more of a New York Mayor de Blasio approach. Fall in line. Drive carefully. Suffer real consequences for not doing so. Vision Zero.

Driving along Queens Quay should be a nightmare. It shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t be intuitive in the traditional way of, as a matter of fact, I do own the road.

Frankly, in this writer’s opinion, there’s still too much of the space given over to car traffic especially as you head east past Yonge Street. Bikes and pedestrians vie for increasingly smaller amounts of the road while 4 lanes remain for cars, much of it underused on this particular Saturday at least. queensquay2Hopefully with more development in the area, that ratio will be readjusted in favour of non-car traffic.

If the new Queens Quay is truly about upending “lifelong habits and assumptions about Toronto streets”, let’s start with the biggest assumption and habit of all. Car drivers gonna car drive, and everyone else needs to adjust their behaviour and attitude accordingly because, well, car drivers couldn’t possibly change theirs.

stridently submitted by Cityslikr


The Grimes Reality Of Unseating An Incumbent

July 5, 2015

garyowens

We sit down with Russ (no relation) Ford and talk about how he came this close to ousting longtime Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore lump, Councillor Mark Grimes.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


We Need To Have That Car Talk

June 30, 2015

Having arrived back in town yesterday after about 10 days away, the top 3 stories on the local news this morning were as follows: traffic accident causes a.m. traffic chaos, 2 car crash kills a cyclist (another one), 3 person HOV lanes in place for PanAm Games, grrrrrrrr.trafficjamGTA

Do we live in a city so eye-splittingly uninteresting that our headline grabbing news consists largely of traffic? Whatever your opinion may be, we do have the aforementioned PanAm Games coming up in a couple of weeks, the biggest sporting event ever on Canadian soil, or something. Toronto just finished up with another successful Pride celebration, re-integrating the mayor’s office into the proceedings after 4 years in the homophobic wilderness. A Poverty Reduction Strategy is under consideration by the Executive Committee.

And yet, here we are, talking traffic, specifically car traffic, private automobile traffic.

Yeah. This fucking city.

Nothing says ‘car obsessed’ more than always obsessing about cars, and the problems drivers face driving their cars around town.

If you’re a driver and your commute times have increased because, I don’t know, reason X, change up how you get around. roadrageYou can’t because it still takes longer than public transit would? Well, good for you. Imagine the poor bastards who don’t have the choice to drive, putting in that extra time to get where they’re going. Think about that for just a second before having a tantrum about your diminished quality of life and seeing less of your family.

Blah, blah, blah, Wah, wah, wah.

Of all the things to be outraged about around here, of all the things to be touting the merits of civil disobedience over, being inconvenienced while driving in your car is hardly a worthy cause. It’s petulantly selfish, as a matter of fact. Amazingly self-absorbed and anti-social.

We’ve been hearing recently about ‘frustrated’ drivers having to deal with lower speed limits on downtown local roads or new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling. A ‘frustrated’ driver may become a dangerous driver, is the inference. Incidents of road rage increase. Risky behaviour leads to more accidents, injuries and fatalities. Don’t make drivers angry. You won’t like drivers when they’re angry.

Rather than stare that kind of bullshit down, we indulge it. WHOVlanee operate as if deciding to get behind the wheel of a car absolves us of adhering to any sort of societal norm. Rules of the road are simply helpful suggestions. Enforcement is the first step to totalitarianism.

You can’t take a lane of highway from me! I pay my taxes! I have a right to—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

I do not think it too extreme a statement to suggest that fighting to rebalance our transportation system, to rein in the terror of private automobile use inflicted on this city and region, is a fight for the soul of the GTA. We are where we are in terms of congestion, mobility, lost productivity for two simple reasons, one inevitably following the other. A lack of vigorous investment in public transit for almost a generation now and a continued over-investment in our car-centric infrastructure.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Outside of the downtown core, how many times have we heard the reason for driving is because it’s faster than public transit? As has been said many, many times by many, many people, you don’t change that by making it easier to drive. deathrace2000You don’t change anything by attempting to make it easier to drive except maybe changing it for the worse, for drivers and non-drivers alike.

Toronto and the GTA is at a crucial juncture where it is impossible to try and make it easier to drive without exacting long term and, quite possibly, irreversible damage on almost every other aspect of living and doing business here. It is not 1965. There are no more open roads to ride to freedom on. Believing that is what’s brought us to this point now. Denying that reality is willfully short-sighted, a delusional folly.

auto-immunely submitted by Cityslikr


Inclusionary Zoning (F)or Inclusionary Housing

June 28, 2015

garyowens

With an emphasis on the ‘inclusion’.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Speed Kills But In A Worthy Cause

June 24, 2015

Look.

When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. standfirmStatus quo versus agents of change.

In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!

Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. carspeedingStill bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.

Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!

Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.

Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). givethefingerThe faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?

The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.

City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. icantdrive55Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.

That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.

Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.

“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. deathrace2000“The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”

In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.

Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.

I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.

Why are we so quick to exempt car drivers from adhering to the rules of the road we collectively seek to establish?crybaby

Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.

Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. wrongwayWhat’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?

Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr


The Perfect End To The Perfect Week

June 21, 2015

garyowens

And I mean that sarcastically. This week’s Two Twits Talking is the perfect compendium to Monday’s angry post about the deplorable state of governance in this city.

Enjoy!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club XI

June 19, 2015

There are times while reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto where it’s difficult to dismiss that niggling voice chirping away in your head. Alright already, Mr. Crankypants! governingtorontoMr. Back In My Day Everything Was Better! We need to get back to the garden of Metro Council.

Yes, our current form of government in Toronto is not functioning properly. Yes, we need an overhaul. Yes, amalgamation, as implemented, has failed us by almost every measure. Yes, yes, yes.

But simply turning back the clock is rarely the solution to circumstances going forward. So called Golden Ages seldom shone as brightly as supporters remember. The idea that returning to an earlier form of government – Metro council, perhaps not directly elected, as part of a wider set of separate municipalities – would restore our lost luster strikes me as hopeful rather than practical. It suggests that many of the intractable problems the city faces now, affordable housing and transit to name two, came packaged up with amalgamation. They didn’t. A restoration of a form of pre-amalgamated governance in Toronto alone ignores the other variables at play the city’s faced since the mid-90s or so. The sharp decrease in funding by both the provincial and federal governments for many of the services we provide for one, funding which was integral to our earlier Golden Age.

This is not to dismiss Governing Toronto. It is a good read for at least 3 reasons. One is the history it provides especially for a non-native Torontonian like myself, toting around all my ignorance. fredgardinerAlan Redway served for 6 years as mayor of the pre-amalgamated borough of East York, which put him also as a member of the Executive Committee on Metro Council. He later became Member of Parliament as part of the Mulroney Progressive Conservative government.

So the city’s politics run deep with Mr. Redway. He tells the history of Toronto governance with the passion of someone who lived it. Governing Toronto is full of the personal partiality you would expect from a participant in the proceedings. Rather than off-putting, it brings the story to life.

The book serves up two other very important points that are definitely worth exploring.

The Ontario government used to study and tinker with governance models of Toronto and the region on a very regular and, quite possibly, intrusive basis. “When the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was established on January 1, 1954,” Redway writes, “the provincial government of then Premier Leslie Frost promised to review its experience within five years.” lesliefrostIn fact, it was back at it 3 years later. And then again 5 years after that. And again in 1975. And in 1986. 1995 brought us the Greater Toronto Area Task Force. In 1996, Mike Harris commissioned his own report plus a study, ‘Who Does What’ with David Crombie at the helm.

Since amalagamation? Nada, unless you count the reduction of councillor numbers from 56 to 44 in 2000. So this unwieldy and, at times, dysfunctional form of government gets imposed on Toronto in 1997, and there’s not so much as an official follow-up to see what’s working, what’s not, how we might iron out the kinks?

Just simple neglect or is there something more at work here?

The cynic in me looks askance and says, Of course there’s something at work here. A divided, squabbling Toronto is like a circular firing squad. Too busy shooting itself rather than aiming their fire at Queen’s Park. Whether or not we’re talking just 416 or on a wider, GTA regional level, the idea of a united Toronto area, “an emergent political jurisdiction” as the 1995 Golden report called it, has to be an uncomfortable scenario for a provincial government. johnrobartsAs far back as the mid-60s, when the exploration of establishing a borough system for Toronto was entertained, it was sent back for further study because it “would stir up too much opposition to the government which would not be desirable at this time.”

Bringing us to Redway’s third and (arguably) most important point. Regional governance. Hey, Queen’s Park! You’re not the boss of me!

Well, yes they are. Creatures of the province and all that. In the absence of any other organized body, as it stands right now the provincial government represents is the GTA regional government. And there’s lots to be concerned with about that. This, from the Golden Report in 1996:

The Task Force believes that, regardless of how the government of Ontario is structured, it is inherently unable to meet Greater Toronto’s co-ordination needs effectively. The region must develop its own identity and focus as a city-region if it is to compete with other city-regions internationally. The provincial government, by definition, cannot achieve this focus because it defines its constituency Ontario-wide. It also lacks the capacity to advocate freely and effectively on behalf of the city-region, a function that is essential to the GTA’s ability to influence federal and provincial policies affecting the region.

You might even argue that the province as a regional government has a fundamental conflict at its core. Whether or not it’s playing off the 905 against the 416 or meddling with the plans of its own regional transit body – Metrolinx — like it did with the Scarborough subway for its naked political interests, there is a perception of not being an honest broker. nathanphillipsWhat’s more, regardless of party stripe, any government at Queen’s Park has to maintain a credible anti-Toronto bias to keep some semblance of support in other parts of the province. That’s an unhealthy dynamic to have as a governance model.

If you want to see that funky relationship in all its fraught action, just follow along with the proceedings of the Ontario Municipal Board [OMB] in the politics of Toronto. It is very much a can’t-live-with-it-can’t-live-without-it state of affairs. Imagine this city without any sort of OMB oversight. You came up with a quick, pleasing picture? You probably weren’t looking closely enough.

Aaron A. Moore’s Planning Politics in Toronto examines the influence the provincial body plays on urban planning in very, very dry, academic detail. It is a policy wonk’s book, for sure, but accessible enough for the likes of me to establish some thought-provoking ideas. Covering a handful of cases between 2000-2006, Moore lays out how the presence of the OMB affects developers, city politicians and staff, residents’ associations positioning around development.

Some of the conclusions he draws may surprise a few of you.

Moore’s research suggests that the OMB is not the land of Mordor ruled by developer Saurons (I hope I have that right. I really don’t now Tolkien at all.) planningpoliticsinTO“The OMB significantly contributes to a politics in the city that simultaneously pushes actors towards compromise while fanning conflict,” he writes. Often times, the mere threat of an OMB appeal will compel those involved in a development process toward an acceptable compromise.

Undoubtedly, this will favour those with the deepest pockets. OMB appeals don’t come cheap. Yet, Moore suggests that isn’t the usual outcome in. Conflict looms. Peaceable resolutions tend to prevail.

One of the reasons Moore suggests this may happen is that the OMB seems inclined to favour expert opinion in making its decisions. Advice, a thumbs-up or thumbs down from city planning staff is crucial in building an appealable case for or against a development in front of the OMB. Which is why it’s ludicrous for a city, any city, but especially a city like Toronto under extreme development pressure, to leave a planning department understaffed. Any developer or city councillor worth their salt will do the utmost to figure out how to bring city planning staff on board. A city can really strengthen its hand when it comes to development by having a top-notch, non-desiccated planning department.

The emphasis on expert opinion at the OMB also takes away what could be the petty power of a local politician which is both bad and good, I guess. Should planning a city be left exclusively in unpredictable, political hands? stopspadinaWe can’t build sensible, proper public transit because of that. Can you imagine trying to build an entire city that way? Moore points out that Ontario municipalities have a greater freedom than many jurisdictions to regularly change and amend official plans and zoning bylaws. The OMB’s presence helps to insure there’s some “rhyme or reason to planning decisions…beyond municipal councillors’ political calculations.”

So our local politicians will tend to use the OMB as either a shield to protect themselves from their constituents when unpopular developments arise, punt blame over onto the OMB, or a gentle cudgel to tap away at their residents’ resistance to said development. Let’s take what we can now or we might get nothing at an OMB hearing. If you aren’t given ultimate authority over planning and development decisions, why assume the responsibility when they get made?

Still, beware the city councillor decrying the undemocratic nature of the OMB and demanding its abolition. mordorIf you think developers have undue influence over city council now, imagine if final decisions lay in their hands? On the other side, we all know about the density creeps and the village atmosphere maintainers amongst us. City councillors bound to the demands of their local residents and neighbourhood associations – “agents against change” in Moore’s words — in terms of city planning are not city builders.

“The neighbourhoods most involved with City Council [on planning and development issues] are those with the most to protect; that is those in areas with higher median incomes… higher home values… and higher proportions of professionals,” Moore writes. This winds up “enforcing a conservative stance towards neighbourhood change.” NIMBYs, in other words, attempting to keep the future at bay.

Ridding cities of the OMB would leave city planning to the tug of war between developers and the more affluent residents and neighbourhoods, attempting to keep their communities exactly as they found them. That would make for an uneven future, let’s call it, an unhealthy check and balance between unfettered greed and reactionary time stoppers. nimbyNo city could prosper under those conditions.

Reform the OMB? Sure. Moore questions the “vagueness and ambiguity of [its] powers.” That might be a place to start but, like Alan Redway’s demand to de-amalgamate in his book Governing Toronto, a call to get rid of the OMB is an easy and annoyingly populist reaction that ignores the complexity of how Toronto really functions. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater and all that. Let’s sit down and figure out how to make it better, how to govern ourselves better. That’s a conversation we need to have.

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


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