Street Carnag–Oh! I Get It!

July 23, 2014

You know what I love about people who offer up easy solutions to not-so-easy problems? brightidea1Their firm belief that no one else has ever come up with that easy solution. If it were so easy, asshole, don’t you think it would already be in place?

So it goes with the National Post’s recent War on the Streetcar series, where they tap noted transit and municipal affairs expert, Terence Corcoran, and some dude from Vancouver to give us the lowdown on the congestion woes that ail us here in Toronto. Their inevitable conclusion? Replace our streetcars with buses and Bob’s yer uncle. Done, and done. Next problem you want solved?

Geez. Thanks, guys. That’s such a solid idea even Rob Ford has floated it before.

(Note to those handing out transit advice: if Rob Ford agrees with you, it has to be the dumbest idea ever. imwithstupid2He gets his views on public transit from reports he reads behind the wheel of his SUV while driving on the Gardiner.)

For all of those deciding to give voice to your opinions on this city’s congestion, the one constant in the discussion, among all the other variables, the one factor that never, ever changes is the overwhelming presence of private vehicles in the equation. If streetcars were the root of the problem, there wouldn’t be congestion on Dufferin Street, on Finch Avenue, on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, all of which run buses. What about the expressways that intersect the city? The 401, the DVP, the 427, Gardiner/QEW? No streetcars there, either. Some buses. But mostly cars and trucks.

If you want to chime in with your transit/congestion problems, start and end with how to deal with private automobile use. Anything else is simply white noise. You’re not helping. You’re hindering.

Look at the photo accompanying Mr. Hopper’s empty screed. lonestreetcarThe 501 to Long Branch, trapped on all sides by a sea of cars. What problem does he see? The one, the lone streetcar. There’s a joke in there somewhere about not seeing the forest for all the cars.

Of all the laughably contemptible points made by Mr. Corcoran in his anti-transit blathering, perhaps the most laughably contemptible is his final one. “Now there is talk of clearing all automobile movement on King Street and other streetcar-strangled streets,” huffs Corcoran, “all to facilitate the trundling vestige of the horsecar along tracks that lock Toronto into the 19th century.”

Actually no, Terry. It’s not all about facilitating ‘the trundling vestige of the… blah, blah, blah.” It’s about facilitating the movement of as many people through our streets as efficiently and economically as possible. buscongestionWithout introducing lane, turning and parking restrictions on ‘automobile movement’, replacing the 19th-century horsecars with your beloved trolleybuses (which, by the way, would take 3 times as many to move the same number of passengers) won’t make a lick of difference. Bus or streetcar will still be stuck in traffic, battling for scarce road space with cars.

To give the National Post some credit, this peculiar ‘Street carnage’ series of theirs did include Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article ‘Streetcars are not the problem, too much automobile traffic is’ which, essentially, stated what I’ve just been stating for the past 500 hundred words or so. But the paper then spent the better part of the week trying its best to refute that article. youdontsay1Worse, refute it by ignoring the main thrust of his argument. Too much automobile traffic.

How exactly to deal with the congestion problem of too much automobile traffic. Now, there’s a poser, a real conundrum. Until you’re prepared to tackle that, everything else is just re-arranging the furniture, and chances are, somebody else has come up with the idea before you did.

 

yeahyeahyeahly submitted by Cityslikr


Ward 2′s Family Jewels

July 22, 2014

Look. I’ll cut Mikey Ford, candidate for city council for Ward 2 Etobicoke North, some slack.

mikeyford

Age alone should not be a determinant for holding public office. Mikey Ford is not the only young candidate running in this year’s municipal election. Hell, there’s a high schooler in the mayor’s race and she’s being taken seriously by some folks.

Mikey Ford’s uncle, Rob Ford, wasn’t a whole lot older than his nephew is now when he first ran for city council back in 1997. Like Mikey, Rob hadn’t completed his post-secondary schooling. Like Mikey, Rob had a job title in the family’s business, Deco Labels and Tags. Like Mikey, Rob had some family connections in the business of politics.

And look at all that Uncle Rob’s accomplished during his tenure in office, mikeyford1with just those humble beginnings and an early start at it.

If Rob, why not Mikey?

Give the kid shot. See what he’s got. Maybe there’s more of Uncle Rob’s common touch than the ham-fisted destroyer of all that he lays a finger on of his immediate predecessor, Uncle Doug.

Besides, a Ward 2 Etobicoke North without a Ford would be like, I don’t know. Councillor Vincent Crisanti’s Ward 1 Etobicoke North?

I just wish somewhere in Mikey Ford’s C.V. there was even the slightest whiff of previous political engagement. Something more than simply picking up the SUV from City Hall after one of his uncle’s drunken stupors. A whiff of civic interest.

As it stands right now, I’m seeing… camp counsellor. Oh, and a whole lot of willful, privileged entitlement. Clearly, another inherited trait from his family.

Forget ‘career politician’. What the Fords are trying to perpetuate is generational politicians. A dynastic lineage based on name recognition alone. mikeyford2No wait. Also, inherited wealth.

Even if I admired a politician, thought highly of the contribution they made to the public good, I’d look askance at them trying to unload one of their family members as little more than a placeholder as they moved on (or were moved along) to other pursuits. Hey, folks. Vote for Mikey because he has the same last name as we do.

In fact, I might take offense to such a move.

Why, just last election here in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, I faced a similar situation. Another Mikey, Mike Layton was running to fill a council vacancy created when Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor. Mike Layton, son of NDP leader and former city councillor, Jack Layton, the  husband to the local MP and also former city councillor, Olivia Chow, who even came knocking at my door, canvassing for Mike.

I was underwhelmed, to tell you the truth. Even though Mike had spent some time prior to entering politics working for an actual public cause, I rankled at the appearance of nepotism. fordnation2For me, there was a more qualified, interesting candidate in the race and that’s the way I voted.

Turns out, Mike Layton is a hell of a city councillor. He’s worked his ass off becoming a solid constituency representative while facing huge development pressures in a ward that is transforming almost daily. There’s no question he has my vote in October.

So maybe the lesson should be, give Mikey Ford a break. Grant him the opportunity to prove himself up to the task of being a city councillor. Or at least, hear him out when he decides to tell us why it is he’s running and why he’s the best choice to represent Ward 2 at City Hall. Which, according to the CBC news this morning, will be in a couple weeks when he starts knocking on doors after… his summer camp session is finished, I guess?

kidprince

Until such time, however, you’ll have to indulge me my scepticism about this whole Ford driven enterprise. I’m not sure what electoral presumption smells like but I hope residents of Ward 2 are able to detect it if a stink cloud of it appears during this campaign.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Call The Question

July 21, 2014

If they want to make it a campaign issue, I say, bring it on. Let’s have the discussion we should’ve had in 2010. replayAll that talk of gravy and the city’s spending problem. The mayor, his brother, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong all want to put it back on the table again this time around. Fine. Let’s revisit the conversation.

The current object of their fiscal hawk ire is Waterfront Toronto, and its spending practices on a couple projects as part of the wider waterfront revitalization. I’ll try and ape their tone of outrage. $12,000 on umbrellas!! Half a million dollars on rocks!!! $600,000 for a washroom!!!

Resign! Resign!! Resign!!!!

You see, when it comes to the public realm (of the non-road related kind), everything can be done more cheaply. Some parks build public washrooms for 25 grand. Why does Cherry Beach need one for 600 grand? Half a mil for rocks? mockoutrage1Councillor Doug Ford offered some from up at his cottage for a fraction of that cost.

Never mind that Waterfront Toronto has some perfectly legitimate explanations for the cost. The umbrellas at Sugar Beach are permanent, all weather umbrellas intended to last for 25 years. The sports field washroom was installed in a spot away from any sewer infrastructure that needed its own septic system to deal with the large number of people using it.

But as a Toronto Sun editorial warns us, “Too many appear prepared to take whatever Waterfront Toronto says at face value. Bad idea.”

Absolutely. Instead, take at face value what a handful of grandstanding-happy, campaigning politicians tell us.

As Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell points out, the agency is overseen by all 3 levels of government. demagogueWhere are the other outraged voices at all this profligacy? Why are we just hearing the loudest and the crankiest? Or more to the point, why are we giving them any sort of credence?

Even many fellow city council conservatives aren’t onside with this shameless bit of pure self-promotion. Economic Development and Culture Committee Chair Michael Thompson gave one of the best speeches I have seen him give in a fiery defense of Watefront Toronto earlier this month. By investing public money into previously derelict areas of the city’s waterfront, some $2.5 billion in private investment in the area has happened.

“Notwithstanding,” sniffs the Toronto Sun.

Notwithstanding?! That’s the entire fucking point. While not technically a public-private partnership, it’s kind of the theory in practice. Public money used to improve a public asset which, in turn, encourages private investment and development.

notlistening2Not to mention improved public spaces although it’s more difficult to put a price tag on that.

“What taxpayers know is that when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront,” the Sun goes on, undeterred by reason or even simple observation, “politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies from all levels of government have been over-promising and under-delivering for years.”

So when those ‘politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies’ do start delivering, as they have with the steady march of development along the waterfront, as indicated by $2.5 billion in private investment, you stand back, unimpressed, and moan about the cost. Did it have to be so expensive? Couldn’t you have done it cheaper?

Geez, I don’t know, Toronto Sun, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Ford Brothers. Could we? Tell us all about how you would’ve done it while saving the taxpayers’ a bundle. neverhappyHow about just slapping up, I don’t know, an outhouse at the Cherry Beach sports field would’ve accomplished the same result.

It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong, who’s been a city councillor for nearly 20 years now, step up and start telling us, not what’s wrong, but how exactly he’d make it right. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong told us about the positive contributions he’s made to the life of this city, how he’s served to make the residents’ lives better. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong start justifying his continued public presence.

And if, in the end, all he can point to are numbers with dollar signs on a ledger sheet and refer to those he represents as ‘taxpayers’, I’ll suggest that’s not enough, not even close. As we have seen with a similarly small-minded, monstrously narrow-focussed, anti-government conservative in our current mayor, big cities need big pictures not just the itty-bitty ones that spark indignation fueled solely on fallacious resentment. texaschainsawmassacreNay-saying is an easy political platform to build. Unfortunately, it collapses under the weight of governance.

So yeah, if Councillor Minnan-Wong, the Fords and the Toronto Sun want to try and re-hash the 2010 campaign, pitting their self-proclaimed record of stinginess against the idea of productive city-building, let them. This time, however, demand they show the results of their actions. Demand a full accounting of the costs and benefits. Demand actual leadership and not just mindless, crowd-pleasing axe wielding.

daringly submitted by Cityslikr


The Results Are Not All In

July 18, 2014

I’d love to vote for him but he’s not going to win.

This was said, more than a few times, about Mayoral candidate David Soknacki after what was, apparently, lostcausea very strong debate performance (I didn’t see it) on Tuesday night.

It’s July. The election’s still more than 3 months away. This is what you would call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More embarrassingly, I think of it as a very passive participation in the democratic process.

You have an incumbent. You have a former high profile city councillor and a federal M.P. until just recently. You have a frequent candidate for office, a former leader of a provincial party and a long time A.M. talk radio show host.

The fact that these 3 candidates sit atop every poll taken should hardly be a surprise to anyone. While not purely a recognition factor (if it was, the mayor would be sitting at 98%), these are all recognizable names to even the most casual of political observers of City Hall. manoflamanchaWho would I vote for? Yeah. I’m going with the one there I’ve never, ever heard of.

“If a few of the people lamenting the fact that Soknacki can’t win started telling pollsters they intend to vote for him…” John McGrath suggested, post-debate.

Maybe if I just clap a little harder, for a little longer, the Soknacki campaign won’t die. Cross my fingers. Pray. Send it my mental best wishes.

A successful candidacy doesn’t simply materialize as if by magic or run the race fueled by good ideas and noble intentions. It takes work. Lots of it by lots of people over a long period of time.

I’ve written about this in terms of city council races but it’s equally true at the mayoral level.

By reputation or experience or a good network or access to a shitload of money (maybe all of them together), favourites for the mayor’s office quickly emerge in any race. They are granted or have gained a certain degree of institutional support. This gets them even more exposure, more air time and print space. People see them as serious contenders. wishfulthinkingSo they then lend their support, money, time, resources.

It’s a closed, feedback loop that is very, very difficult to break into if you don’t gain access quickly. Soon, the ‘fringe’ label sticks and you get deemed unelectable. I love your ideas and your platform but, really, voting for you will just be throwing my ballot away.

But we’ve been down this road before, people. Democracy is about much more than voting. To sit and observe, and then stew about the choices you’re being given is unproductive and lazy. Agitate. Make noise beyond your Twitter bubble. Get a campaign going to harass broadcasters to include the candidate of your choice in the next debate it’s hosting.

Better yet. Organize your own mayoral debate. Find a free space somewhere in your neighbourhood. Print off a few flyers. Invite the candidates you want to see to come out and debate. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

If that’s too grandiose, host a BBQ for 20 or 30 friends. Invite the candidate to come over and speak for a few minutes, introduce themselves. highhopesThen pass the hat around for some campaign donations.

It’s what makes municipal politics so accessible and user-friendly. You can have a direct impact on the outcome far and above just your one vote. (Two if you count mayor and your local councillor. Three, actually. Mayor, councillor, school board trustee.) But you have to get active.

It’s at this point in the post where I have to obligatorily write about how, back in 2003, David Miller was still polling in the single digits on Labour Day, less than two months before that election. It was just assumed to be a two-way race between John Tory and Barbara Hall.

During Tuesday’s debate, the fact was being bandied about that at this time in July of 2010, a no-name candidate, Naheed Nenshi, found himself sitting at about 2% in the polls for the Calgary’s mayor’s office. 6impossiblethingsThe very same Naheed Nenshi who got re-elected mayor last year with about 74% of the popular vote.

So can we stop with the tortured anguish of entrapment to pre-determined election outcomes already? Those leading the pack in the summer don’t always cross the finish line first in the fall. It’s anybody’s race still to win, and anybody’s to lose too.

You want to vote for David Soknacki as the next mayor of Toronto, and want him to be in a position to do so in order to vote for him? Chip in. Do something about it. Donate. Volunteer some of your time. Ditto Morgan Baskin. Ari Goldkind. Richard Underhill. Robb Johannes.

Election victories don’t emerge from best wishes and wishful thinking. Hard work, long hours and, frankly, something of an indomitable spirit are all that matter really. That, and a boatload of volunteers who are prepared to put some effort into the campaign beyond remarking and complaining from the sidelines about how all the good candidates don’t have a hope in hell of winning.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VI

July 16, 2014

I found myself in a part of the city where it’s best taking a GO Train to get to if you’re going there. notinkansasanymoreWhere the roads are wide and the parking lots full. Plenty of green space too. Oh my god! Is that the soon-to-be Rouge National Park?

WE’RE ALMOST IN PICKERING, PEOPLE!!

Tucked away in the further south-east region of the city is Ward 44 Scarborough East. Toronto’s often forgotten ward. Wait. We have 44 wards?

I’m there chatting with city council candidate Jennifer McKelvie on the afternoon of her official campaign launch. She’s been already out canvassing, fitting it in around her full time work schedule, and will continue to do so until throwing all in come September. So, I have to ask what made her decide to take the leap into politics.

She’s always figured there’d be a political run in her future. It took a question from her kids to set it in motion, one probably asked by hundreds, thousands of children (dare I say a billion) around the city of Toronto. Why can Mayor Ford do drugs and still have a job? Good question with no easy answer but, clearly, the time had come to step up and try to help bring a little decorum and G-rated business back to City Hall.running

Aside from good intentions, I asked Jennifer what specifically she wanted to deliver as a municipal representative. Housing was high up on her list. She was worried about affordability being in her children’s future. Would they be able to afford living in the neighbourhood if they chose to?

She expressed particular concern about seniors in Ward 44. Where would they go when they were no longer able to live on their own at home? This isn’t a theoretical exercise for this part of the city.

Ward 44 has a higher than city average of people living there in the 45-74 year-old age ranges and its single detached home ownership is more than double that of the city. Play that scenario out over the next decade and you’ve got yourself something of an exodus from the area if not dealt with fully. How? New development directed at various types of assisted living, I’d imagine.ward44

But here’s the thing.

New, more intense kind of development is not always embraced in Ward 44. Check out 3 of the 4 candidates in the 2010 council campaign (including the current incumbent but not yet registered for 2014, Ron Moeser). “It’s a single-family community and whatever we do, we have to make sure it fits the character of our community.” “I think we should aim for zoning that keeps it as residential as possible. I would resist condo developments in the ward.” “…it fits with the neighbourhood, it keeps in a theme of green and trees and all the things that are really important to this area.”

Even on Ms. McKelvie’s website, she states: “When I see kids on the street playing, couples strolling, and people running, I smile. This tranquil Ward 44 lifestyle, tucked inside a metropolitan city, is why I live here.” I ask her about that because, for me, this tranquil lifestyle ‘tucked inside a metropolitan city’ sets off alarm bells. It’s what I hear, this ‘character of our community’, just before people blast any sort of new development proposal.

McKelvie is protective of that view. Ward 44 isn’t downtown. But she gets that stand alone single use, single house, entirely car-dependent development is no longer sustainable, at least not at the cost we’re currently charging for it.

Many of the people she’s talked to so far during the campaign seem to get it too. They’re not demanding taxes be kept low. holdingthedoorshutThey want to see value for their money. An amorphous concept in many ways. When I look at, I see the tranquil lifestyle and think, well, hey, you get to live out here in your big lots and tree filled neighbourhoods, and isn’t that the lake I’m looking at right now? That’s pretty good value for your money.

But then Jennifer tells me about the flooded basements during last year’s storms, the damage done by the ice storm. And public transit options. Ward 44’s pretty good if you live near the GO Train and can afford to take it every day. But I hopped aboard the Lawrence East bus to come home and let me tell you…

Like much of Scarborough, Ward 44 is a bus dependent area of the city. Whether or not the LRT or subway gets extended out along the Bloor-Danforth line, the ward will remain bus dependent.

So it’s about improving service through frequency and reliability. Maybe an express line or two. Hell, I don’t know if the ridership numbers warrant it but Lawrence Avenue out in this part of Scarborough is plenty wide enough for its own dedicated bus lane. lawrenceeastbus(My opinion not the candidate’s, in case anyone asks.)

Of course, any sort of talk about BRTs or densification in Ward 44 runs smack dab into the wall of obdurate resistance that is its local councillor, Ron Moeser. Jennifer shrugged politely when I brought the incumbent’s name up. She winced slightly in reaction to my question about whether Councillor Moeser’s health should be an issue during the campaign if he chooses to run again. Felt a little bit like “mudslinging” to her.

I’m not so sure, frankly.

The fact is, the councillor was absent for a good chunk of the first 18 months of this term. Eighteen of some of the most tumultuous months this amalgamated city has seen. Even with his return, I wouldn’t consider him reliable or up to speed on the matters in front of him. movearockOn the day last week Jennifer and I were talking, Councillor Moeser went missing for a vote to determine the future of the current Ombudsman.

One way or the other, Ward 44 Scarborough East needs new representation, a new approach to governance, a new, reliable voice at City Hall. One of those now speaking up is Jennifer McKelvie. She deserves to be listened to.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


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