Mayor Busy McBusy

November 30, 2015


I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at this Toronto Star file photo of our mayor, John Tory, stepping through the subway turnstiles, all the morning papers in hand. Mayor McBusy. Busy, busy, busy. Off to tend to the city’s business and keeping on top of all necessary and pertinent Toronto information a mayor needs to know.

Relentless PR.

The mayor is everywhere. Mayor Tory is on the job! The era of the absentee mayor is over. Full steam ahead!

But a year into his first term now, what’s really been accomplished? The rollbacks of the previous administration, most specifically on the transit file, have been slowed. The police budget continues to grow. Road repairs have sped up with the corresponding cost increase to getting the job done. lucyinthechocolatefactoryA war on rush hour parking infractions has been waged when Mayor Tory’s needed to look like he’s very serious about combating congestion. Then, back to business as usual.

We have a poverty reduction strategy that, at this juncture, is about as valuable as the paper the report’s written on, all good intentions but, as of yet, lacking any serious funding. And Mayor Tory talks of keeping any sort of property tax increase – the city’s biggest source of revenue — for the 2016 budget ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. So yeah, don’t expect the bucks to be flowing in to start fighting poverty.

A short, permeable list of done deeds, amplified by plenty of do-good rhetoric and posturing. Or, more generously, as David Nickle wrote last week in his The City column, “…baby steps are better than none…a very tiny step in the right direction.” Or, more generous still, as now mayor staffer, director of strategic initiatives, Siri Agrell, put it back in March: “I respect @JohnTory approach to governing and think it should be the model: small, tangible actions that add up over time to real progress.”todolist1

An argument for incrementalism (h/t @JohnTory_) after 4 years of radical reactionism of the Ford era. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.

But what if every, say, 3 tiny, incremental steps forward are countered by one massive cock-up clusterfuck? A horrendous policy pursuit which will invariably set the city back decades? What’s the sum total of that calculation?

Mayor Tory’s continued obstinacy in the face of increased pushback on the Scarborough subway threatens to derail proper transit planning in this city. Never mind his own SmartTrack where all signs point to an equally monumental grievous transit planning setback. Those two backward steps alone overwhelm any incremental gains he may’ve made since taking office.

His pursuit of a Gardiner East hybrid solution flies in the face of any progress he hopes to achieve in attending the climate change conference in Paris later this week. As he coddles car drivers in this city, our chief planner points out that 40% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicle use. Forget incrementalism. goodimpressionThe mayor’s actions are outright counter-productive and working at cross purposes to his public stance.

Besides, a very strong argument could be made that, at this point of time, municipalities need much more than incremental leadership. Not just in terms of environmental issues but on the governance and financial files as well. If Toronto regressed on those fronts while Rob Ford was mayor, less regression isn’t necessarily a step forward. Bold initiatives need to happen. A boldness Mayor Tory proclaims to be driven by but a boldness not much in evidence in the actions he’s taken.

The mayor and his team spend an awful lot of time carefully crafting the image of a dynamic, energetic man of action, wrestling civic matters into a positive submission. A resolved future-facer, boldly (did they mention ‘bold’?) grappling mightily with our 21st-century problems and challenges. Yielding ‘baby steps…in the right direction’, leaving crises looming larger, image is everything, the only thing, in fact.


Look busy and everyone will assume things are getting done.

busily submitted by Cityslikr

The Death Of The Automobile — Part 2

November 27, 2015


(With this morning’s news of yet another pedestrian hit and killed by a vehicle, that’s what now, 4 in the past 4 days?, we excerpt another passage from John Jerome’s 1972 book, The Death of the Automobile. “Accidents” like this are simply the natural outcome of a transportation system and hierarchy perverted by the relentless product push of the automotive industry. An industry… a-hem, a-hem… driven by whimsical business practices and dependent on what Jerome calls a ‘captive market’.)


*  *  *

The Smugness of Abundance, and Vice Versa

There are men in Detroit whose sensibilities are not blunted to the anguish of the country, men sensitive enough to recognize the reasons for their own insularity and humble enough to seek external, non-automobile-industry assistance in understanding the public who buy their cars. The very best help is sought: psychologists, motivational researchers, men whose scientifically sound research methods yield computer-quantifiable results, as well as men to whom public accolade gives credit for certifiable wisdom. The purpose of the seeking is additional profit, of course, and no great amount of money is spent on these pundits – nothing like the sums invested in a new rear-fender shape, for instance. But wisdom is sometimes sought. Even the advertising agencies – high-priced agglomerations of professionals trained to gauge public taste – are consulted. The industry gets a lot of advice, not all of it worthless. That it chooses so consistently to ignore the advice it purchases is not, in view of recent history, entirely surprising. It sought the advice that generated the compacts, in 1960 – but it misunderstood the advice it got (it often does), and turned an intelligent marketing gambit into a short-lived defensive reaction. Somewhere the industry must have gotten the advice that it could ignore pollution and safety for a long, long time.

A great deal of the industry’s imperviousness to advice undoubtedly comes from the sales figures. Against the insubstantialities of external market advice, the industry can point to the reality of 7 million passenger cars sold, on average, every year since 1955. If we are so insulated and unresponsive to public needs, the industry seems justified in saying, why are we so rich?

Given the traditional public faith in the sovereignty of the free market, the argument is tough to refute. We bought ‘em, we must love ‘em. Perhaps Detroit does give the people what they want, as the industry is so fond of saying. If the numbers are to be believed. One might even go so far as to assume, as Detroit has assumed, that the industry has some kind of magic taste-indicator – the stylists claim to live five years ahead of the desires of the great unwashed – and can therefore unerringly fashion machinery and sheet metal to match that taste.

A number of counterindications, however, undercut the industry’s self-proclaimed position as ultimate arbiter of public taste. The infallibility of that taste produced “up” years – upward rising scales curves – in only a little more than half of the model years of the golden era. Of course sales successes are always triumphs of judgment and perspicacity, but slippages are the result of “the economy” – or strikes. That 7-million-car average hides wild fluctuations of sales totals – a drop of 47 percent between 1955 and 1958, of more than 25 percent between 1968 and 1970 – despite the best efforts of the industry’s planners to gear for consistent production figures. The sales charts do mirror the major economic indicators, although no one seems quite willing to say whether car sales push or are pulled by those indicators. At any rate, if the economy is responsible for the plunges of the sales curve, it seems quite likely that the sales peaks are also a result of national economic health, rather than the product of specific design responses by the industry to the public’s ineffable aesthetic needs.

Imported car sales also seem pegged to more stable indices. The imports began to come into this country in statistically significant numbers before the beginning of the golden era; Detroit said it would begin to worry about the imports in the, heh heh, unlikely event the little bugs (“shitboxes” is the almost universal familiar term among Detroit’s forward thinkers) ever got 3 percent of the market. The little bugs did. Detroit revised its worry point upwards to 6 percent; the imports surpassed it. By 1959 the foreign cars were getting 10 percent of the market while Detroit sales were sagging badly. Detroit counterpunched in 1960 with the compacts (in the works since about 1957) and scored, and foreign-car dealerships throughout the land began closing their doors. But with two or three years out for retrenchment (and for some makes, badly needed redesign to fit American driving habits), the little cars began slowly and steadily chomping off those percentage points again. In 1971 import sales peaked out a just below 20 percent of the market; Nixonomics thereupon scrambled the picture so badly that the future of imported cars sales in this country is virtually unreadable, but no less a seer than Henry Ford II has estimated that the imports will hold a steady 15 percent for the foreseeable future.

The imports are, by and large, “rational” cars, predicated on economy, functionality, simplicity (sports cars excepted, of course). Their manufacturers have not engaged in styling wars, attempting to anticipate in sheet metal the fickleness of American tastes. In fact the import manufacturers haven’t worried much about “giving the public what it wants”; they’ve simply produced as many cars as they could, to their own standards, and in the case of the more successful makes in which a high level of quality is clearly present – Volkswagen, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz – they’ve sold all the cars they could spare for the American market. Meanwhile the domestic small cars – counterpunch number two against the Old Country menace – seem to be succeeding primarily in taking percentage points of market share away from their own big brothers.

The compacts eventually died because they were not profitable enough as “economy” cars, and so Detroit loaded them with extras and let them balloon in size. The new domestic small cars are clearly less profitable than the old compacts, and their chief function so far seems to be to reduce the sales for domestic big cars. It is little wonder that the moguls are crying poor about profitability these days. It is little wonder also that the industry looks askance at the outside advice; everyone told them they had to stem the foreign invasion, but nobody told them how to do it and continue to make money.

In the final analysis there is, as ex-Department of Transportation aide John Burby has pointed out, a market for about 8 million new cars a year in the U.S., come what may. The figure will expand gradually with population growth until the detrimental aspects of car ownership outweigh the service it provides. “Market” isn’t precisely the term – “rate of consumption” might be more accurate. That “market” is virtually captive. Our motorized miles per year mean that 86 percent of our travelers use private cars, for 79 percent of the trips (by number) that are taken. Commercial airlines absorb another 13 percent of the trips, leaving a full 8 percent for all of the other transportation systems in the U.S. to grow rich over – and expand to the point that they can relieve us of the necessity of pouring our personal wealth into private automobiles. No less than 82 percent of our commuting workers use automobiles to go to and from work; the same percentage of our families now own automobiles. Sixty percent of our poverty-level Americans “own” cars, as do 25 percent of the under-$1000-per-year population (The figure must include a lot of teen-agers). The statistics roll on and on; they are the Automobile Manufacturers Association’s own, published annually in a paperback horror story of overconcentration of an industry.

It is pointless to try to convince ourselves otherwise: we have a single transportation system in this country, pure and simple, with a couple of curious small-time competitors in the form of airplanes and railroads. We have a population pushing 210 million, and we throw away more than 7 million cars a year. The manufacturers – those fellows who defend every tasteless and wasteful gimcrack tagged onto the cars in the effort to stimulate sagging public enthusiasms with the justification that they are giving the public what it wants, nay, demands – know their market so well that in 1970, 25 percent of it slipped away they know not where, and their miniaturized competitors from across the seas stole away almost 20 percent of what was left.

We can, perhaps, be thankful. If the industry really did know how to give the public what it wants – rather than simply grinding out units of production to stuff into the gaping hole of otherwise unfilled transportation needs – our nation might be even more desperately unbalanced in its transportation network, its economic centricity, its misplaced social priorities, than it already is.

excerptly submitted by Cityslikr

Just Don’t Expect Any Actual Answers

November 26, 2015

I would say that Tuesday’s #AskMayorTory event couldn’t have been scripted any better for the mayor if his staff had written it themselves.
Which I’m sure they didn’t. Why would they go to all that trouble when, instead, they could just plunk him down at a local venue, in this case, a church in the Bayview/Lawrence area, and watch him express his views on hyper-local issues like tree cutting and sidewalks. navelgazingWho doesn’t want to know what the mayor of city of 2.5 million people thinks about basement flooding?

(Spoiler alert: Mayor John Tory cares a lot about basement flooding.)

Nothing reinforces the highly parochial nature of municipal politics like a local town hall meeting. The city would be a much better place, better run and function better, if every neighbourhood was just like [fill in your neighbourhood here]. Or, the flip side of that. [Fill in your neighbourhood here] is so much different than that neighbourhood. We’re historically different. We couldn’t possibly change or adapt.

Did you know that, according to one local resident, the Bayview/Lawrence area of Toronto has a ‘rural character’?

It’s impossible to sit through an hour of one of these town hall gatherings and not come away amazed that this city has budged an inch from its high agrarian, 18th-century roots. Change is for other people, other places! nimby1Or maybe I’m just not cut out to follow along so closely to the nuts-and-bolts of local governance. Not because I find it boring. It just reveals an unlikeable self-absorption in so many of us.

It’s also impossible to watch these sorts of public meetings and not see clearly why John Tory was the choice of so many to step in and calm the civic waters after the turbulent Ford era. The man challenges few of our presumptions or approaches to doing things. He soothingly feeds our biases. Does almost nothing to question the status quo.

Even when Mayor Tory takes on a just cause, like he has with the Syrian refugee crisis, it’s somehow posed like it was Tuesday night in opposition to the most extreme view from the other side, that of Rob Ford. Although the mayor said that he didn’t want to mention his predecessor’s name too much, he raised that specter whenever it was convenient. Right from the outset, he was assisted in this by co-moderator, thisguyRoyson James of the Toronto Star, who began the evening regurgitating something Ford had said about the city not being able to cope with new refugees, blah, blah, blah.

So we get to sit for nearly 10 minutes, listening to Mayor Tory say all the right things about making a home here in Toronto for whatever number of refugees come our way, all the while thinking, Man, imagine if Rob Ford was still mayor of this city. Wipes our brow and gives a collective sigh of relief.

That was the high point of the mayor’s performance on Tuesday night. After that, it was pretty much business as usual. Users of the TTC should expect annual fare increases because, well, it costs money to deliver the service. Even so, the mayor pointed out that a transit ride was “still subsidized by the rest of the taxpayers”. To the tune of the least subsidized of almost every other transit system in North America. Still. Subsidized.

As for similar expectations on car drivers, when asked by an audience member about instituting tolls to pay for the roads they use, Mayor Tory swatted the idea aside. “It’s a tough issue,” he said, pointing out that many drivers believe they already payemptyspeech their share through gas taxes and licensing fees, proving only that if you’re a powerful enough voting block, pandering politicians will let you believe whatever it is you want to believe regardless of how untrue that belief may be.

This double standard of the mayor’s went largely unchallenged until Royson James came back to this notion of fee-for-use about 30 minutes later. Curiously, the comparison he used was between TTC fares and water rates which he pointed out, to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, had been going up 8, 5, 3% year after year. Why not do that with the TTC? Which is pretty much exactly what Mayor Tory is proposing with annual fare increases, isn’t it?

Royson proved himself to be pretty much that kind of paper tiger in the mayor’s presence, leading me to wonder exactly what he was doing up on the stage in the first place. I was given my answer when, in the last segment of the show, James competed with Mayor Tory in  a game of Idiot Questions or whatever it was called. cricketThe other co-moderator, filling in for a sick Cynthia Mulligan, asked the two men trick questions like… You don’t really give a shit, do you? Let me just say, it was 3 or so minutes I’m never getting back.

Three or so minutes the mayor could’ve taken answering the last question posed from the audience about his SmartTrack plan. How would it help those transit users who are already packed tightly on the Yonge subway line? SmartTrack, Mayor Tory assured the gentleman, would serve as a ‘relief line’.

It won’t. Nobody else except for Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker makes such a ludicrous claim. And Councillor De Baeremaeker will say anything about public transit that he thinks people want to hear.

Remember how he loved the idea of a Scarborough LRT?

And then how he hated it?

But on Tuesday night, Mayor Tory got to run with the line about SmartTrack being a relief subway line, unchallenged, because time had expired and the final 3 minutes or so were needed to play Idiot Questions or whatever.

Turns out #AskMayorTory is more of an exercise of Listen To Mayor Tory. lotsofquestionsDon’t challenge Mayor Tory. Don’t question the statements he makes, the hyperbole he uses, the crass hypocrisy he employs.

#AskMayorTory shows the mayor, casually plopped down on his bully pulpit. There’s no back and forth, no actual discourse. Just questions lobbed up and batted back in the direction he wants to send them. Mayor Tory wants you to know, Toronto, that he hears you. He’s just not really listening if your voice doesn’t already have his ear.

— into-the-voidly submitted by Cityslikr

The Death Of The Automobile — Part 1

November 25, 2015


Our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, alerted us to the presence of this book written by John Jerome way back in 1972. Jerome had been an advertising copywriter working on car ads as well as a journalist, writing for such pro-automotive magazines as Sports Car Digest and Car and Driver.

I’m only halfway through The Death Of The Automobile, so don’t know if Jerome was being overly-optimistic with the title or if there’s something else at work. Certainly, more than 40 years on, such a predicted demise must be considered greatly exaggerated. His take on the city of Detroit, on the other hand, comes across as grimly prescient.

This particular passage caught my attention for its portrayal of the destructive, divisive force the car industry has played both economically and societally. In what I guess might be considered some sad, sad irony, Woodward Avenue, the street at the centre of the following excerpt, has been the site of a pitched battled between entrenched interests, fighting over the proposed building of rapid transit right through the heart of the Motor City.


Or maybe more, read `em and weep.



*  *  *


To say that Detroit is the most American of cities is to be both mordantly accurate and balefully pessimistic about the future of cities in this country. Detroit is where the awful ugliness of urban life first began to be visible. From labor strife to racial disaster to polluted unlivability, Detroit has been the honor guard, the advance men, setting up the territory, for the urban crisis.

Detroit is buried in a flat sump of American midlands, just above the grossly polluted Lake Erie (polluted primarily by Detroit, with a little help from Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron). It sprawls for uncounted miles and yet is almost impossibly congested. It is ringed, gouged, sectioned by freeways, most of them sunken in greasy, claustrophobia-inducing moats – freeways which despite frantic construction programs seem to hang ten years behind the mass of traffic volume. The city’s murder rate has zoomed off-scale in recent years, its drug problems rival New York’s, its police still maintain that car theft – in the Motor City – is the most significant crime. Two of the most severe and destructive racial uprisings in the U.S. in the twentieth century took place in Detroit, and racial ghettos – black impaction – now absorb most of the city proper. To the south the city is bordered by the Detroit River and somnolent Canada. On the east is Lake St. Clair and the enclave of the Old Money, the foundation fortunes in the Detroit industrial empire, Grosse Point. On the west is Ford’s-town, Dearborn, symbol to the rest of the unreconstructed U.S. of militant antiblack bigotry, best personified by its colour perennial mayor, Orville Hubbard.

It is to the north – “out Woodward” – that Detroit limns the shape of the American sixties. Woodward Avenue begins at the river, downtown Detroit, amidst broad plazas and shiny office buildings constructed two decades ago in a downtown urban renewal scheme. If the downtown area seems airy and well ordered, it is closely ringed by ghetto and crumbling freeway; if it seems limited, somehow too small for a city of nearly two million, it is because little of Detroit’s reason for being – GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors – is located there.

Woodward Avenue points…out. String-straight to the northwest, it penetrates the ring of urban renewal within a few blocks of the deepest heart of the city, and immediately enters territory still marred by the warlike ruins of the 1967 racial rebellion. Woodward splits the campus of Wayne State University, which, like so many urban universities, is also tightly surrounded by ghetto. The Avenue connects downtown Detroit with the General Motors Building and its ancillary office complex, a strange collection of 1930’s-style buildings more than three miles from Detroit’s “city”. The GM complex is also encircled by ghetto, very close to the center of the 1967 riot’s white-hot violence. Three of four miles of ghetto-strip line the broad expanse of Woodward beyond the GM complex; with meat-cleaver abruptness, the American Dream begins.

Parks. Golf courses. Churches. Eighteen miles of intermittent commercial strip, interspersed with woodsy suburb and public parks. The architecture, the décor of the commercial strip, rapidly escalate in both expense and garishness to the north, from filling station to fast-food franchise house to sporting-goods store. Carpet shops and tire-recappers, soft-ice-cream stands and pizza parlors. Used-car lot after used-car lot. And to the sides, beyond the borders of the thundering commuter traffic of Woodward, lies suburban Detroit, in rapidly rising economic brackets. The flatland countryside was early divided, in the Midwest tradition, into neat squares; thus Eight Mile Road, Twelve Mile Road – numerical demarcation lines of the class of the neighborhood – butt up against the northwest arrow that is Woodward. The suburbs line up: Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods, Berkley, Royal Oak, and finally, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. Management country.

(Woodward goes on. As U.S. Route 10 it splits Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, up the lower peninsula, toward the big Hemingway woods. Another Country. Big trout, clear streams, lakes, misty coniferous forest, half-breeds and subsistence loggers. A long way from Detroit, physically as well as psychically. There is aching symbolism in the way Woodward points toward all that, another kind of life.)

Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, and Grosse Point – in rising order of exclusiveness – are the suburbs where automobile industry management resides. Birmingham is an imitation New England village, spotless white wood facades on expensive small shops, a couple substantial modern department stores. Surrounding the village are concentric rings of progressively more expensive suburban homes, three-car garages and carefully protected maple trees, winding streets. The contours of the terrain have been religiously preserved, to relieve the rigid block-organization of more citied suburbs. It is affluent, snobbish, resolutely white. As Birmingham melts into Bloomfield Hills to the north, all pretense of town or village disappears, along with any democratic notions about inconspicuousness in the act of consumption: Bloomfield Hills is rich. It is countryside, one hundred-acre estates, the horsy set, country clubs and finishing schools. Tone. Memberships in upstate gun clubs, ski trips to Europe. Very carefully constructed to be as un-Detroitish as physically possible, a soft, rich antidote to the pain of the city.

Grosse Point is richer. The automobile industry rewards its captains very well. (The position of chairman of General Motors is carefully maintained as the highest-paid salaried job in the U.S. In a normal golden-era year, with bonuses, its occupant would gross over half a million dollars. In 1969 James Roche received $655,000.) Grosse Point is where the supercaptains live, men who no longer run automobile companies but who run the economy instead, whose principal occupation could perhaps best be described as moving their money about, in order that it might grow. Women here, too – mostly widows of men who formed, founded, managed, inflated and deflated, and often simply sold out the car companies. A musty rich town of stone mansions and walled estates, fortunes seventy-five and one hundred years old – as compared with fifteen and twenty-five years in the other two managerial suburbs. Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are relatively new, and thus are substantially buffered by other, cheaper middle-class white suburbs which have grown out from Detroit. Grosse Point is old enough that the city has grown around it with the squalor of the explosive urban Detroit ghetto.

The females who reside at this level of purest capitalistic entrepreneurship are exceptions rather than rules, attaining their positions through longevity rather than business careers. Below that level the society of the auto-makers is exclusively male. (The closest a woman ever got to a position in industry management was when Mary Wells’s advertising agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, took over the American Motors account.) The males of the administrative-managerial class inhabit these three suburbs, their wives and children live their lives there, but the men inhabit. They put in legendarily long hours, choosing to compete not just with other corporations, not just within the palace intrigues of their own corporate politics, but even over such minutiae as who will be first at his desk in the morning, last to leave. It is an industry custom freighted with significance. (Might as well come early and leave late; the traffic jams made possible by the bounty of their production make standard commuting hours impossible for industry leaders anyway.)

Come early, go late, whisk through the city as quickly as possible. Duck home with relief to the splendidly affluent, total insulation of the suburbs. These men often fight their way into the industry from external purviews – the industry record for tight-family, father-son successions is not good, Semon Knudsens and Henry Fords to the contrary – but once inside, it is the industry life. They work, play, lunch, vacation in the industry. They belong to the same country clubs, hunt clubs, garden clubs, luncheon clubs. They attend Detroit’s society affairs in each other’s company, frequently sharing automobiles (which are often chauffeur driven). They meet in sterile but plush executive dining rooms for lunch, in the various administrative office buildings of the major manufacturers – or, if they want alcohol in a strangely puritan industry, they meet at the Detroit Club, the Athletic Club, the London Chop House. (To eat with the same faces, in the same places, year after year…) When they travel, they fly – and are met at airports by regional managers delivering the most carefully prepared, sparkling new examples of their own product. They tunnel through the masses on the freeways, to work and home, insulated. Spinning up broad Woodward Avenue, they traverse a serial representation of the American angst: squalid ghetto, tawdry commercial-strip jungle, splintered campus, fire-bombed whitey furniture stores and glittering drive-in teen-age hangouts in the same eighteen-mile stretch. What must these men think about America while they pass through it? Soot-blackened, smoke-billowing public-transit buses competing for commuting space with chrome-plated supercars, art nouveau hot rods, sports cars, motorcycles, hitchhiking hippies, as well as executive limousines. The whole arteriosclerotic urban sprawl and its commuter tangle, twice a day, and the men who make it insulated from it, air-conditioned out of contact, dreaming of sales campaigns for ever quieter, ever more insulative dreamboats, at whatever cost.

The public stance of the industry becomes automatic, built in. It comes with the territory. It sees Vietnam as defense contracts for its distant corporate divisions, as draft cells that squelch the Youth Market. It sees racial unrest as a demarcating force that cordons off sections of the city no longer safe to travel, as a vague terror that somehow enervates governance of the city, as irritating pressure from do-gooders such as the Fair Employment Practices Commission to force expensive, wasteful, risky new hiring policies. It sees the crisis of the cities as short-sighted failure on the part of government to build enough new streets and roads. It sees ecological disaster first as a scare campaign to play on the fears of the weakhearted; later as another uncomfortable pressure from the federal government intended to crimp free enterprise; still later, finally, as a whole new bonanza market, endless profitability to be gained, albeit at the distasteful cost of learning new technologies. (Profit on the waste-making, and then profit on the waste-removal; and the government is even doing the selling!) It sees automobile safety as the exclusive responsibility of its customers – and the police. It sees poverty as laziness, youth rebellion as slack discipline, the erosion of institutions as encroaching communism. It looks at these eruptions on the fair epidermis of society only in search of places to insert the lance of profit. Prick them just right, and they might somehow yield up another fraction of a percentage point of market share.

cut and pastely submitted by Cityslikr

Who Should Pay The Piper?

November 24, 2015

This has been nagging at me for a couple weeks, and kind of bubbled up to the surface yesterday, following along with the TTC commission debate over a fare increase in the new year. forkitover“I believe fares should be adjusted every year because the cost of running the system,” Mayor Tory responded when asked about any possible fare hike. But when it comes to the question of property tax increases because the cost of running the city? Or, I don’t know, a vehicle registration fee to help pay for expedited repairs on the Gardiner expressway?

That’s another matter entirely.

There are those with a similar political bent to the mayor who don’t agree with such an obvious double standard, certainly when it comes to charging drivers more to pay the costs of roads. Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne, for one. He was on a panel I attended (and wrote about earlier this month) where tolling and road pricing was very much the rage. We must stop subsidizing car drivers, Coyne pronounced. We need to let the free market deal with congestion.

OK, sure. Let’s have that conversation. At least we’re agreed that drivers in no way, shape or form, fully pay the price of the road space they use.

And stop subsidizing public transit, Andrew Coyne went on. waitwhatWhy our public transit system is so bad, he stated, was because the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ had been kept from performing its magic on it. (He’s been saying such things for a while now.)

If wishes were fishes and all that. An argument can be made that the private sector might augment the delivery of public transit but there are few examples of it doing so alone especially in larger metropolitan areas, and especially in North America. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t here but it does lead to a bigger question. Should it?

If public transit is, in fact, a public service, what role does the profit motive have to play in that? There is a considerable segment of the population living in places like Toronto who don’t view public transit as just another option to get around the city. It is the only way they can do it. They’re what we refer to as a ‘captive ridership’. They don’t choose to take public transit. They depend on it. Start with everybody under the age of 16 and count from there.tollroad

Should they be subject to the vagaries of the private sector as they endeavour to get to school, to work, to their doctor’s appointment?

I’ll take it a step further.

Shouldn’t those who use public transit as their mode of transportation be viewed as people actually delivering a public service rather than receiving a public service (for which they are charged here in Toronto nearly 75% of the operating costs)? Along with cyclists and walkers, aren’t transit users contributing to the quality of life in a city by not driving? Why does Andrew Coyne believe people using transit should be treated equally to those moving about a city in cars? No subsidies for anyone. Pay your way. Our current mayor, John Tory, is less even-handed, demanding “… those who use the system [public transit] should continue to maintain their proportional share of the cost.” crowdedsubwayHe wouldn’t dream of suggesting the same from car drivers.

The private vehicle is the least efficient, most expensive form of mobility there is in large urban areas like Toronto. Cars and driving place onerous demands on municipal budgets, pervert quality design and planning, overuse public space while underpaying for the privilege of doing so. So it’s way past time we have a discussion about them owning up to all that, starting with opening their wallets a little wider.

Those who either choose to or must use public transit have been paying more than their fair share, their ‘proportional share’ for some time now. We need to start acknowledging the contribution they’ve been making to this city and stop penalizing them for it. They’re doing us a favour while we keep acting like it’s the other way around.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr

A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

smarttrack1It’s hard to believe that during last year’s municipal campaign someone from Team Tory didn’t take the time to drive the length of Eglinton Avenue, west from Mount Dennis to Pearson airport, the western spur of what became the concoction known as SmartTrack, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. More incredible still, how anyone claiming to be a transit planner looked at the plan and gave it their imprimatur, shrugging off the bit about running heavy rail, “surface subway” along that route without tunneling. “Criticisms [of SmartTrack] have, instead, focused on the line’s ‘constructability’ where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme,” wrote Eric J. Miller, director at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute. “As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot.”

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

I drove that stretch of the SmartTrack western spur and back last week. The notion you could run any sort of heavy rail (electrified or not) along it without tunneling is immediately laughable. As for tunneling? The rumblings we’ve been hearing about the forthcoming staff reports, and the price for going underground, suggests that SmartTrack’s “$8 billion price tag and seven-year timeline are based on considerable analysis,” as Miller wrote in the October 2014 Toronto Star article, weren’t, in fact, ever subject to ‘considerable analysis’. Or much of any sort of analysis, it turns out.

No, what should happen, what those really concerned with connecting people to places in this city should be concentrating on now, is building that western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Black Creek (its current western terminus) out to the airport. Fuck SmartTrack. changecourseOr, at least, stop pretending it’s anything more than some enhanced regional rail that might contribute some to alleviating this city’s congestion and commuter woes but isn’t the silver bullet solution supporters are hyping it as.

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that penny to drop, however. In making SmartTrack a priority signature item of his mayoralty, John Tory will have a tough time walking this one back. He painted himself into a corner, his campaign too clever by half, in attempting to be seen as a subway proponent, promising to deliver up ‘subway like service’ with SmartTrack. Now leading the charge to push ‘fancy streetcars’ directly through the heart of Ford country? Hard to imagine.

Even if he were so inclined, the mayor shouldn’t expect to get any help from local councillors on re-establishing the LRT idea on Eglinton West. “People do not want to see an LRT,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell stated. “If you’re going to put a subway or rail, it’s far better for the neighbourhood if it’s buried. But is it feasible to bury it?”

He thinks a busway might be more appropriate to cut congestion. But the population density doesn’t justify laying tracks, said Campbell.

It’s difficult to see how the councillor arrived at that conclusion. A 2010 ridership projection for the entire proposed Eglinton Crosstown from Kennedy station to the airport pegged the numbers at 170,000 daily, 5000-5400 at peak hours by 2031 (h/t Matt Elliott and Ev Delen). eraseWhile the section of Eglinton West running through his ward may not justify laying tracks, Councillor Campbell is missing the bigger network picture. Never mind the major transit node that is the airport but the rest of Eglinton is peppered with high and mid-rise buildings and growing communities with schools and shopping centres. Places not everybody can or wants to drive to.

In addition to which, how exactly will a busway preserve the green spaces the councillor says he wants to protect from the scourge of an LRT? Never mind the added transfer riders would have to take moving from the busway to the Crosstown at Black Creek. A busway just makes absolutely no sense in this situation. It is parochial and short-sighted.

Which pretty much sums up transit planning in Toronto. Anti-LRT nimbyism begat subways everywhere begat SmartTrack. Transit solutions gave way to political calculations. pointofnoreturnPolitical calculations gave way to transit slogans, leaving consequences for others to deal with.

There was a viable transit plan in place for this city. Bit by bit, we’ve chipped away at it for no other reason than short term political gain. Travelling west along Eglinton, it becomes apparent that if SmartTrack somehow comes into being (or Councillor Campbell’s ridiculous busway gains any traction outside of his own mind), the final nail will be put in the coffin of that transit plan. The damage that will inflict will be near impossible to repair.

dismally submitted by Cityslikr

Thanks! … I Guess

November 21, 2015

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, and yeah, the specs for Project: Under Gardiner look pretty nice indeed but you’ll have to excuse my hesitancy in lavishly embracing the idea. projectundergardinerIt’s still public space under a fucking urban expressway. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. Making the best of a bad situation, Our Strength.

And you’ll also have to excuse me a certain, I don’t know, dubiousness about the timing of all this. Remember back earlier this year when Mayor Tory was fighting tooth-and-nail for his hybrid option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated. While pooh-poohing the notion of a grand boulevard if that part of the freeway was brought down and rebuilt at grade, he extolled the virtues of the glorious urban life that could be had under expressways. Granville Island in Vancouver, for example, thrives under an expressway.

London, England — one of the greatest and oldest cities in the world — has developed one of the most expansive animated expressways in the world. Today underneath the Westway Expressway there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto: imaginative, animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.

The mayor won the day. The Gardiner from Jarvis Street east will remain elevated, probably, depending on just how expensive it will ultimately wind up being, projectundergardiner1which is still to be decided, by the way, and, to use Mayor Tory’s own words, “… lo and behold, two months later, in come the Matthews, and they want to do this incredible philanthropic city-building thing.” Imagine that! Suddenly, we’re all ga-ga over the possibilities of what can happen under those elevated expressway slicing through the downtown core of this city.

It’s hardly surprising then that the mayor ‘leaned on staff’ and ‘moved mountains’ to get this done, and get it done quickly. What better way to deflect from keeping an under-used segment of elevated expressway propped up for cheap political posturing than a well-timed example of philanthropic private sector largesse manifest in near sublime urban design? Lo and behold indeed.

Not to mention my purely ideological opposition to a single person dictating how the city prioritizes providing public space. gardinerexpressway“The Matthews’ only conditions were that Under Gardiner, as it’s called, be completed by 2017 and that the city agree to maintain it. Failure to do so meant the deal was off.” That’s what I’d call butting in line. For his part, Mayor Tory affectionately referred to it as a ‘bulldog’ approach. “‘We want to do this, but we’re not going to do it if it doesn’t get done quickly, if it doesn’t get done in a way that the city gets behind it,’ and so on.”

Well then. Who are we to get our collective backs up at being dictated to like that? Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say.

And yes, no question, what’s being proposed for that under-Gardiner strip from basically Fort York to Spadina is preferable to the dead zone there currently. I stood on the fort’s grounds in September, entranced by the odd juxtaposition of layered eras of city life on display, emphasized really, by the monstrous intrusion of the Gardiner, a relic of its time. gardinerfortyorkProject: Under Gardiner can only further highlight that fact, underline the folly of our automotive era.

And yes, it isn’t like the Gardiner is going anywhere anytime soon. What with hundreds and millions of dollars being literally poured into its upkeep at this very moment, we’ve insured its presence in our lives for a few decades at least. (But where will the cars go! Where will the car goes?! Oh, the humanity!) Lemon, meet lemonade.

Perhaps there’s a positive take away from this. Rather than focus on what could be considered the coward’s way out, yet another concession to the irrepressible domination of this car-first way of thinking that continues to mar our quality of life, Project: Under Gardiner should be chalked up to a little victory. gardinerexpressway1We’re reclaiming, at a barely perceptible creeping pace, some of the damaging fallout of past mistakes, mistakes we continue to make, mistakes that can’t be fully erased, only modified and made less worse.

That’s something, I guess, just not enough, in my opinion, to celebrate as much of a victory for 21st-century urbanism. It will inevitably suggest to many, including our current mayor, that automobile ascendancy is compatible with city life. What we’re left with is scraps. Scraps provided by a couple enlightened individuals and championed by a politician desperate to show that he’s in any way forward thinking.

ungratefully submitted by Cityslikr


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