Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr

Carless In LA

February 12, 2014

Don’t get the wrong idea. Los Angeles has not become a car-free mecca. There’s still a love affair going on there between humans and their driving machines. kardashiancarPublic displays of affection appear regularly in the form of Lamborghinis, sporty sport Lexi and monstrously big, military looking SUVs.

But there does seem to be something of a change in the air, at least to someone like myself who has not visited the city in nearly 20 years after having lived there for a brief portion of the early 90s. Ah, the early 90s… The early 90s… Nope. I got nothing. You know what they say. If you can remember the 90s…

Back then, you’d never even think of moving to Los Angeles without owning a car. Cycling was pure recreation, done far from the roads, by the sides of concrete rivers and very welcoming and expansive ocean side paths. Public transit? Oh my. Public transit in LA.

A personal example.partridgefamilybus

From where we lived, the morning commute to the school campus was, on average, about 20 minutes one way by car, barring any sort of natural disaster or riot that was prone to flare up along the way. That very same trip by bus? Usually more than double that time, clocking in at 45 minutes. And if I remember correctly, the bus route that got you there in the most direction fashion stopped running by 7pm.

So seriously. Who’s not going to drive over taking the bus? Pretty much nobody except for those who couldn’t afford the luxury of having a choice.

It’s been a slow grind over the course of the ensuing two decades. Change from such auto-orientation could not possibly happen any quicker. This is LA, after all. The land where dreams of unfettered car ownership, top down, wind in your hair, Beach Boys My Little Deuce Coup, are born.redlinebusLA

We’ve got all these freeways, man. Neighbourhoods were destroyed putting them up. We gotta use them.

Still, I have to say the transformation to a less car-dependent place is noticeable even if you’re not really looking for it, I think. For starters, there are buses everywhere, regularly spotted throughout the day even weekend days. Blue buses. Orange buses. Red buses. The occasional green bus.

According to Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker, it was the bolstering up of the bus networks throughout Los Angeles County, especially the MTA’s red beauties, all shiny, all articulated, that kick started LA’s public transit revolution. And I have to tell you, my bus trips on Monday’s Carless in LA outing were not under-used, both a mid-day trip downtown from Santa Monica and the “other” red rocket during rush hour back west along Wilshire Boulevard. Standing room only for a segment of the latter trip and by the time the morning bus ride hit the Santa Monica Freeway, it was hauling at near capacity.

Of course, by their very nature, the long denigrated, lowly buses don’t really grab the headlines when it comes to transit discussions. LA’s got subways, baby. Hey. What world class city doesn’t, am I right? metroLAmapTwo lines, running mostly through the downtown core — Yes, Virginia. There is a downtown Los Angeles. — with one extending right over and up into the San Fernando Valley to North Hollywood. It’s not an extensive network. Barely could be considered much of spine of the system. One gets the feeling it’s something of a Fordian-like sop to keeping transit from taking up precious road space but, hey, it’s not cars.

In actual fact, the real gem of the current transit build in Los Angeles (of course, I may be somewhat biased) is the series of LRT lines it’s put down and continues to extend.

Folks. For the record and despite what has been incorrectly stated again and again and again during Toronto’s ongoing, rage-y transit debate for the past 3 years or so, our city doesn’t have any sort of LRT operating within its system. LRTs are not glorified streetcars. The St. Clair disaster was not perpetrated by any sort of LRT. The Spadina bus was not replaced by an LRT.

Los Angeles has LRTs. Toronto does not.

I only had the opportunity during my ever so brief transit foray to take one of the LRT lines, the Gold Line, running from one terminus in downtown’s East LA and the other, up to the north and back east, in Pasadena. goldlineTwo other LRT lines connect to Union Station via subway, one running south down to Long Beach, a second, the Expo line, heads west toward the Pacific, now ending in Culver City but a much needed extension to Santa Monica is slowing inching its way to a 2015/2016 completion date. A 4th light rail line, the very first one built, runs south for about 35 kilometres from downtown-ish to Long Beach, connecting to both the Blue Line LRT and the Silver Line BRT along the way.

You may ask why, if I’m such a big fan of LRTs, I wasn’t all over that map, giving each and every one of those lines a serious test run. Here’s the thing. One, there was only so much time in one day. Secondly, what the LRTs offered to someone such as myself, armed with a $5 day pass and curiosity bordering on obsessiveness, was the ability to hop on and off the train wherever it caught my fancy. With much of it being above ground, you looked out the window and seeing something interesting, off you got.

Which is how we ended up in South Pasadena. Mission Station was situated in what looked to be the main intersection of some quaint little town lifted right out of Frank Capra movie. missionstationSteps off the train, you walked along a street of refurbished buildings now housing bars, coffee and artisanal shops. Or what they used to refer to as Mom & Pops. Huh, I thought. I might’ve missed this had I been travelling underground, heading hell bent to my destination further on.

Of course, transit isn’t built for demanding tourists who want the luxury of sightseeing without the hassle of driving to get there. You build transit in order to efficiently move as many people as possible around a region. Places like Los Angeles have realized relying on the private automobile is not the most effective or healthy way of doing that.

My guide for the day, Ned let’s call him because that’s his name, is a long time Angelino now looking to live a less car-dependent life in LA. 90sWhen we first met, back over 20 years ago, such a thing was nothing but a pipe dream. You don’t want to get around by car in Los Angeles? Move to San Francisco.

Now? Not a pipe dream. It isn’t easy, certainly not everywhere, trying to navigate the city without your own four wheels. Parts of Los Angeles remain severely under-serviced by public transit including the affluent west side where recalcitrance to share the roads (both at grade and below) on the part of municipalities like Beverly Hills have left places like UCLA in Westwood isolated from the rest of the city.

Still, this is not the laughably public transit stunted city I remember. While the state as a hole has suffered severe economic blows over the past decade or so. Los Angeles has managed to fund their public transit renaissance. TOtrafficcongestionFormer mayor Antonio Villaraigosa helped convince a normally tax-averse population to accept a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a 30 year transit expansion. He then took this Measure R to Washington to secure federal loans in order to shrink the 30 year timeline down to the 10. 12 proposed major transit projects in 10 years.

If such a feat can be accomplished in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, what exactly is holding us back here in Toronto?

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Mr. City Planner, Tear Down That Expressway!

February 6, 2014

So after some delay due to unknown circumstances [**cough, cough** Denzil Minnan-Wong **cough, cough** Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair **cough, cough**], the city staff report on what the hell to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway (not the official name) dropped yesterday. Maintain. Improve. Replace. Remove.

This picture won’t do it justice. If you want to get a really good look at what the various proposals might wind up looking like, check out the report, pages 32 & 33 specifically. Throw in 34 for good measure.

GardinerOptionsBy every other measure except for travel times by car, removing this section of the Gardiner appears to be the smartest move the city could make. Economically. Environmentally. Design and planning-wise. It presents an exciting city building opportunity rather than an obstacle.

One thing that should really jump out at you when reading the report are the a.m. peak hour numbers of how commuters got downtown. Between GO and the TTC, 68% arrived by public transit while only 28% made it there by car. I don’t know why, but if you asked me, subwaycrowdI would’ve predicted the exact opposite. 68-28 in favour of downtown car commutes.

How could I be so wrong?

Well, here’s a wild guess.

This city’s continued default car-centricity. Everybody drives everywhere they go, right? I mean, look at all that traffic.

Nothing gets talked about here that isn’t ultimately filtered through the lens of how it’ll affect drivers. Parking regulations. Bike lanes. Separated transit right of ways.

What will the drivers think? We can’t inconvenience the drivers. Won’t somebody please think about the drivers?!

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been having a conversation in the comments section of this blog, a fairly amicable discussion, about my anti-car/anti-suburb views and opinions. Kind of along the lines of imposing my lifestyle choice on others. You don’t want to drive? Don’t drive. roadrageBut you’ll have to pry the steering wheel out of my cold dead hands.

There’s a fundamental divide at work here, pitting one side who sees through their proverbial windshield any imposition on the right to drive as a deviation from the norm, against those of us who’ve come to the realization that prioritizing private auto use above all other modes of transport is harmful to healthy city building.

Do I want to ban cars? Not in most places but I do think a whole lot more Times Squares would be a very, very good idea. Do I want to restrict the use of cars? Again, in some places where it warrants. And I want those driving cars to start paying the actual cost of what we all pay to maintain the necessary infrastructure for drivers to get around this city.

Is that an imposition of my lifestyle choice on other people? I don’t know. Is demanding a fair share of the public space now disproportionately given over to automobile use an imposition?

For some 80 years now, the assumed priority by city planners and builders for cars has imposed its unhealthy values on every resident, driver or not. caradRoads designed for speeds that make any other forms of using them dangerous and unpleasant. Pollution. An atomized sense of individuality that fosters a sense of isolation at the expense of community. Gridlock and congestion.

Yes, folks. The main cause of gridlock and congestion is cars. The thing you’re sitting inside of. Too many cars and too little space to accommodate them.

The Gardinder Expressway was built during an age when we believed cars were a source of freedom. They would get us further faster. Bill Haley and the Comets playing on the radio, wind in our hair, my best girl cuddled up beside me. All hail, the emperor automobile!

How do you like me now?

Only a slim slice of daily commuters are going to be adversely affected if we tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner. That’s unfortunate but, frankly, they’ve been catered to for too long to the detriment of everybody else who lives in this city. It’s past time to re-balance the scales.

There’s a chance right now (and by right now, I mean maybe before the decade is out) to chip away at a city building mistake that was made with the best of intentions. That happens. congestiontoWe don’t always make the right decisions, and lacking 20/20 foresight, there’s always going to be unintended consequences.

Recognizing those mistakes, however, is the key to successful adaptation and change. It’s glaringly apparent the encouragement of car dependence was a terrible mistake for the general well being of this city, most cities, all cities. Let’s not make the same mistake again. And again. And again.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Death By Carcentricity

December 12, 2013

There’s a building at the top of the street. It’s a nice building, mostly office, I think. I’ve never been inside. thumbsup2My guess is, it’s a converted warehouse or maybe light industrial something something.

It gives off a good vibe as a place I’d be happy going to and working in everyday. Easy to get to too. A couple streetcar route stops within a two minute walk, another maybe four minutes. There’s a subway stop about fifteen minutes by foot in one direction and a second, I don’t know, twenty minutes the other way?

A downtown elitist’s dream location.

Earlier this fall, the tiny front piece of land underwent what I assumed to be some landscaping work. The yard was dug up, a pile of bricky flagstone material brought in. Gussying up the curb appeal, I imagined.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. Instead what the place got was a parking pad. A parking pad where a Range Rover now sits, no less. Pushed aside, now unusable in its current position is a 6 bike parking stand that used to be where the car’s now parked. uponblocksMaybe there’s another spot planned for it but it certainly isn’t going to be sharing the space with an SUV.

I don’t know why this bugs me as much as it does – Oh! Did I tell you? There are also two pay parking lots, one outside and the other underground, just steps from the building? No wait. I do know why it bugs me.

Who the fuck would do this, aside from some jag off Range Rover driver. Oh yeah. I forgot. There’s another street level parking lot a minute’s walk behind the building.

But no. Somebody’s got to have parking right in front of the building. Just hillybillying up the streetscape. Why? Because car. If you own one, drive one, it is an inalienable right to park it as close to where you’re going as possible. Otherwise, you might as well be taking public transit.

It all just comes on the heels of the news that the city’s at a 10 year high for pedestrian fatalities, currently sitting at 38, I think it still is. deathrace2000(42 if you throw in the 4 dead cyclists.) And according to Christopher Hume, 70% of the pedestrians were in the right when they were run over and killed.

The first impulse always, of course, is to blame the weather, the change of seasons, not enough brightly coloured apparel. As our mayor once said back in his councillor days when talking about cyclists being killed, at the end of day, well, swimming with sharks, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. The roads were meant for cars.

This overweening sense of entitlement continues, I’d hazard a guess, at least in part because of this administration’s victimization of car drivers and its embrace of the fanciful notion of some War on the Car. Yeah! We’re tired of being told we have to share the roads! You heard the mayor. As a matter of fact, we do own the road.

A walk along College Street yesterday, at 3 intersections, I’m finding myself either having to stop or speed up my pace because cars turning right or left have just pushed aggressively into my space at a perfectly legal crossing. asamatteroffactMove it! Move it! Move it! I’ve got places to go!

“The lights are just not adjusted for seniors,” says 92 year old Howard Cable. “They’re adjusted for traffic.”

Sorry, Mr. Cable. Our roads (and front yards), our entire transportation system is adjusted for vehicular traffic. Until we change that priority, we all just have to accept the risks of venturing outside if you’re not behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes you’ll make it safely across the street. Sometimes you won’t.

But remember, even the hardest of hearts will bleed for you if you don’t.

mournfully submitted by Cityslikr

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

October 17, 2013

If you’re reading this, chances are you already know my rather strong views on private automobiles. carhateBluntly, I can’t stand them. I fucking loathe them, in fact. At my most vituperative, I see them as the root cause of all that’s blighted cities and social connectivity since World War II.

Yes, I can be unreasonable on this particular issue.

My car-hatred is much more nuanced than that, hopefully at least. I’ve had some of my greatest travel moments on road trips, seen stuff I’d probably never have the time to see otherwise. In fact, I came across this little gem over the Thanksgiving weekend just north of the shores of Lake Erie. Never would’ve happened without being behind the wheel of a car.

But as a form of commuting on a daily basis? And designing and building cities around that form of transportation? An unmitigated disaster in terms of, not only liveability, but pressures it puts on the public purse.

You see, the conventional wisdom holds that to build, maintain and operate the road network needed to accommodate private vehicle use costs much more than the revenue brought in by users of that system. In short, we subsidize lifestyles based around car use. roadtripThose dependent on their vehicles to get around aren’t paying their fair share.

Of course, by ‘conventional wisdom’, I mean people like me who are trying to imagine a post-car city which is not a city without cars but one where they’re down the hierarchy of how people get from point A to point B. Those who don’t necessarily share my views may see things another way. They will point to all the money they hand over to operate their vehicles. Gas taxes. Licensing and registration fees. Insurance. Parking. Parking tickets.

The problem is, there’s not enough actual data to point to in order to settle the argument and, more importantly, set good public policy. There are dribs and drabs, fragmentary information here and there that only really ever seem to back up one’s particular point of view. That’s what makes the Conference Board of Canada’s report, Where the Rubber Meets the Road: How Much Motorists Pay For Road Infrastructure, so important.

It starts to put some meat on the bones of this debate.notenoughinformation

Now whether or not it’s grade A, prime cut meat, that’s for another day. I haven’t read the report thoroughly enough to pass judgement on the methodology (and not entirely sure I could even if I wanted to). I’m just so happy it’s out there, ready to be talked about.

A couple things jumped out at me.

“The report finds that road users in Ontario cover a significant portion of road infrastructure costs…”

To my mind, ‘a significant portion’ is not the full portion. So that the costs associated with building and maintaining our road networks are more than the revenues generated from those using the networks. In other words, drivers are being subsidized.

“…  and that cost recovery [revenues through taxes, fees and fines etc.] in the GTHA is higher than it is for the province as a whole.”

As Tess Kalinowski writes in the Toronto Star, “… Toronto-area drivers paid about $3.7 billion in fuel excise taxes, licensing fees, fines and other expenses, wimpycompared with $2.7 billion that governments spent on building, policing and maintaining the region’s roads” while in Ontario as a whole, “…drivers generate about $7.7 billion in revenue and the province and municipalities spend between $10 billion and $13 billion on roads.”

That suggests while drivers in the GTHA are more than covering the costs of roads they use, they’re subsidizing drivers in the rest of Ontario for their roads. In other words, we’re being short-changed here. Leading to this future exchange when Metrolinx starts talking about revenue tools for the Big Move: Why should I be paying for transit in Toronto? I don’t know. Why is Toronto paying for your roads in Petawawa?

Again, let me repeat, these are all numbers that haven’t been widely vetted and in no way should be treated as set in stone. The conversation has just begun.

For me though, the real eye-opening number in the report is the cost of owning a vehicle. Over $10, 000 per household in 2011. That is a whole whack of cash and highlights why many drivers honestly believe they are more than paying their way. How couldn’t they be? 10K a year! And now we want more from them?

It’s not enough to just respond with a shrug and say, If you don’t like it. Get rid of your car. This entire region outside of a small portion of the downtown core has been built on the promise that you can get to wherever it is you want to go, cheaply and quickly, in the comfort of your own private vehicle. roadrage3Maybe that was once true. Turns out not to be the case anymore.

We have to offer better alternatives before demanding everybody leave their cars behind. We can only do that if we honestly start calculating the full costs of how we get around this city, this region, this province. I suspect Where the Rubber Meets the Road doesn’t do that to everyone’s satisfaction but it’s a start. That’s what every journey begins with, right? A start.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


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