With an emphasis on the ‘inclusion’.
— audibly submitted by Cityslikr
When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. Status quo versus agents of change.
In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!
Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. Still bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.
Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!
Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.
Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). The faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?
The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.
City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.
That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.
Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.
“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. “The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”
In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.
Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.
I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.
Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.
Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”
Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. What’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?
Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.
— leisurely submitted by Cityslikr
And I mean that sarcastically. This week’s Two Twits Talking is the perfect compendium to Monday’s angry post about the deplorable state of governance in this city.
— audibly submitted by Cityslikr
There are times while reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto where it’s difficult to dismiss that niggling voice chirping away in your head. Alright already, Mr. Crankypants! Mr. Back In My Day Everything Was Better! We need to get back to the garden of Metro Council.
Yes, our current form of government in Toronto is not functioning properly. Yes, we need an overhaul. Yes, amalgamation, as implemented, has failed us by almost every measure. Yes, yes, yes.
But simply turning back the clock is rarely the solution to circumstances going forward. So called Golden Ages seldom shone as brightly as supporters remember. The idea that returning to an earlier form of government – Metro council, perhaps not directly elected, as part of a wider set of separate municipalities – would restore our lost luster strikes me as hopeful rather than practical. It suggests that many of the intractable problems the city faces now, affordable housing and transit to name two, came packaged up with amalgamation. They didn’t. A restoration of a form of pre-amalgamated governance in Toronto alone ignores the other variables at play the city’s faced since the mid-90s or so. The sharp decrease in funding by both the provincial and federal governments for many of the services we provide for one, funding which was integral to our earlier Golden Age.
This is not to dismiss Governing Toronto. It is a good read for at least 3 reasons. One is the history it provides especially for a non-native Torontonian like myself, toting around all my ignorance. Alan Redway served for 6 years as mayor of the pre-amalgamated borough of East York, which put him also as a member of the Executive Committee on Metro Council. He later became Member of Parliament as part of the Mulroney Progressive Conservative government.
So the city’s politics run deep with Mr. Redway. He tells the history of Toronto governance with the passion of someone who lived it. Governing Toronto is full of the personal partiality you would expect from a participant in the proceedings. Rather than off-putting, it brings the story to life.
The book serves up two other very important points that are definitely worth exploring.
The Ontario government used to study and tinker with governance models of Toronto and the region on a very regular and, quite possibly, intrusive basis. “When the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was established on January 1, 1954,” Redway writes, “the provincial government of then Premier Leslie Frost promised to review its experience within five years.” In fact, it was back at it 3 years later. And then again 5 years after that. And again in 1975. And in 1986. 1995 brought us the Greater Toronto Area Task Force. In 1996, Mike Harris commissioned his own report plus a study, ‘Who Does What’ with David Crombie at the helm.
Since amalagamation? Nada, unless you count the reduction of councillor numbers from 56 to 44 in 2000. So this unwieldy and, at times, dysfunctional form of government gets imposed on Toronto in 1997, and there’s not so much as an official follow-up to see what’s working, what’s not, how we might iron out the kinks?
Just simple neglect or is there something more at work here?
The cynic in me looks askance and says, Of course there’s something at work here. A divided, squabbling Toronto is like a circular firing squad. Too busy shooting itself rather than aiming their fire at Queen’s Park. Whether or not we’re talking just 416 or on a wider, GTA regional level, the idea of a united Toronto area, “an emergent political jurisdiction” as the 1995 Golden report called it, has to be an uncomfortable scenario for a provincial government. As far back as the mid-60s, when the exploration of establishing a borough system for Toronto was entertained, it was sent back for further study because it “would stir up too much opposition to the government which would not be desirable at this time.”
Bringing us to Redway’s third and (arguably) most important point. Regional governance. Hey, Queen’s Park! You’re not the boss of me!
Well, yes they are. Creatures of the province and all that. In the absence of any other organized body, as it stands right now the provincial government represents is the GTA regional government. And there’s lots to be concerned with about that. This, from the Golden Report in 1996:
The Task Force believes that, regardless of how the government of Ontario is structured, it is inherently unable to meet Greater Toronto’s co-ordination needs effectively. The region must develop its own identity and focus as a city-region if it is to compete with other city-regions internationally. The provincial government, by definition, cannot achieve this focus because it defines its constituency Ontario-wide. It also lacks the capacity to advocate freely and effectively on behalf of the city-region, a function that is essential to the GTA’s ability to influence federal and provincial policies affecting the region.
You might even argue that the province as a regional government has a fundamental conflict at its core. Whether or not it’s playing off the 905 against the 416 or meddling with the plans of its own regional transit body – Metrolinx — like it did with the Scarborough subway for its naked political interests, there is a perception of not being an honest broker. What’s more, regardless of party stripe, any government at Queen’s Park has to maintain a credible anti-Toronto bias to keep some semblance of support in other parts of the province. That’s an unhealthy dynamic to have as a governance model.
If you want to see that funky relationship in all its fraught action, just follow along with the proceedings of the Ontario Municipal Board [OMB] in the politics of Toronto. It is very much a can’t-live-with-it-can’t-live-without-it state of affairs. Imagine this city without any sort of OMB oversight. You came up with a quick, pleasing picture? You probably weren’t looking closely enough.
Aaron A. Moore’s Planning Politics in Toronto examines the influence the provincial body plays on urban planning in very, very dry, academic detail. It is a policy wonk’s book, for sure, but accessible enough for the likes of me to establish some thought-provoking ideas. Covering a handful of cases between 2000-2006, Moore lays out how the presence of the OMB affects developers, city politicians and staff, residents’ associations positioning around development.
Some of the conclusions he draws may surprise a few of you.
Moore’s research suggests that the OMB is not the land of Mordor ruled by developer Saurons (I hope I have that right. I really don’t now Tolkien at all.) “The OMB significantly contributes to a politics in the city that simultaneously pushes actors towards compromise while fanning conflict,” he writes. Often times, the mere threat of an OMB appeal will compel those involved in a development process toward an acceptable compromise.
Undoubtedly, this will favour those with the deepest pockets. OMB appeals don’t come cheap. Yet, Moore suggests that isn’t the usual outcome in. Conflict looms. Peaceable resolutions tend to prevail.
One of the reasons Moore suggests this may happen is that the OMB seems inclined to favour expert opinion in making its decisions. Advice, a thumbs-up or thumbs down from city planning staff is crucial in building an appealable case for or against a development in front of the OMB. Which is why it’s ludicrous for a city, any city, but especially a city like Toronto under extreme development pressure, to leave a planning department understaffed. Any developer or city councillor worth their salt will do the utmost to figure out how to bring city planning staff on board. A city can really strengthen its hand when it comes to development by having a top-notch, non-desiccated planning department.
The emphasis on expert opinion at the OMB also takes away what could be the petty power of a local politician which is both bad and good, I guess. Should planning a city be left exclusively in unpredictable, political hands? We can’t build sensible, proper public transit because of that. Can you imagine trying to build an entire city that way? Moore points out that Ontario municipalities have a greater freedom than many jurisdictions to regularly change and amend official plans and zoning bylaws. The OMB’s presence helps to insure there’s some “rhyme or reason to planning decisions…beyond municipal councillors’ political calculations.”
So our local politicians will tend to use the OMB as either a shield to protect themselves from their constituents when unpopular developments arise, punt blame over onto the OMB, or a gentle cudgel to tap away at their residents’ resistance to said development. Let’s take what we can now or we might get nothing at an OMB hearing. If you aren’t given ultimate authority over planning and development decisions, why assume the responsibility when they get made?
Still, beware the city councillor decrying the undemocratic nature of the OMB and demanding its abolition. If you think developers have undue influence over city council now, imagine if final decisions lay in their hands? On the other side, we all know about the density creeps and the village atmosphere maintainers amongst us. City councillors bound to the demands of their local residents and neighbourhood associations – “agents against change” in Moore’s words — in terms of city planning are not city builders.
“The neighbourhoods most involved with City Council [on planning and development issues] are those with the most to protect; that is those in areas with higher median incomes… higher home values… and higher proportions of professionals,” Moore writes. This winds up “enforcing a conservative stance towards neighbourhood change.” NIMBYs, in other words, attempting to keep the future at bay.
Ridding cities of the OMB would leave city planning to the tug of war between developers and the more affluent residents and neighbourhoods, attempting to keep their communities exactly as they found them. That would make for an uneven future, let’s call it, an unhealthy check and balance between unfettered greed and reactionary time stoppers. No city could prosper under those conditions.
Reform the OMB? Sure. Moore questions the “vagueness and ambiguity of [its] powers.” That might be a place to start but, like Alan Redway’s demand to de-amalgamate in his book Governing Toronto, a call to get rid of the OMB is an easy and annoyingly populist reaction that ignores the complexity of how Toronto really functions. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater and all that. Let’s sit down and figure out how to make it better, how to govern ourselves better. That’s a conversation we need to have.
— bookishly submitted by Cityslikr
During the lead up to last week’s Gardiner expressway east debate and council decision, an interesting statistic was tweeted from Laurence Liu into my consciousness. Taken from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow survey, it gave a breakdown of morning commute time travel modes into Toronto’s downtown core from all 44 wards in the city. In a previous post, I pointed out that in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, the beating heart of Ford Nation, ground zero for the war on the car, only 22% of those making their way downtown in the morning actually drove. 77% of Rob Ford’s constituents commuting to the core in the a.m. relied on public transit.
Strange, eh? With such heavy transit dependence in his ward, you’d think the councillor would have different priorities. You’d think.
Stranger still, as I was looking over the table, I realized in my ward, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, more people drive downtown to work in the morning than do those in Ward 2, 27%. That’s right. In Ward 19 – as downtown a ward as you can get – more than a quarter of morning commuters to downtown jobs drive.
How is that possible?
Ward 19 is crammed full of transit options. Off the top of my head, 4 east-west and 1 north-south streetcar lines pass through it. There are three bus routes, I think. The Bloor-Danforth subway line. Ward 19 has some of the city’s best biking infrastructure in it.
And, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that I could walk from the most north-westerly part of this ward to the very southeast corner of the official downtown core in around an hour or so with a stop for coffee.
Why on earth would anyone living in Ward 19 drive to their job in the downtown core?
The simplest explanation, I’d guess, is that they can.
Often times, this war on the car that’s been raging in the minds of too many city councillors is couched in terms of looking out for the little guy, as one of the battle’s prime warriors likes to say. We can’t talk tolls and other forms of road pricing because, well, some people depend on their cars to get around the city. Should they be penalized for that? We must keep road capacity in order for people to get as quickly as possible between the 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet
The automobile provides the life line to those who need it most, those hardworking taxpayers just looking to get ahead while spending as much quality time with their families.
Except that, owning and operating a car in this city is an expensive proposition although not as expensive as it should be, if gasoline was priced accordingly and the use of public space to park our cars charged properly. It would seem to me that car dependence is a burden on those struggling to get by not something to be encouraged. We do that by trying to make it easier to driver and short-changing the public transit system.
Sean Marshall created a map (which is what he does so well) from the table drawn up by Laurence Liu. Some of the heaviest transit use during morning commutes to downtown comes from the farthest reaches of the city. Northwest Etobicoke. North North York. Scarbourgh. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who couldn’t make up his mind last week on what to do with the Gardiner east (None of the above) represents a ward in this city were only 15% of residents drive downtown to work. You might think that he’d take every opportunity to divert money into transit projects that would benefit the other 85% of his residents who rely on public transit.
Now overlay that map with any that David Hulchanski’s produced over the last little while. The ones showing Toronto’s growing income disparity, and the specific locations of low income neighbourhoods. Funny, eh? There appears to be some sort of relationship between income levels and transit use. Specifically, the less you make, the more you use transit.
So tell me again why we must be redirecting public resources to free up car traffic instead of investing every dollar we can get our hands on in public transit?
Some of the highest car use in morning commute times to downtown come from some of the more affluent spots in the city, spots, in some cases, better served by transit than the places with more transit users. “Fun TTS 2011 fact,” Laurence Liu tweeted, “of those who drive downtown during AM peak period, 64% live in households with 2 or more cars.” Two or more cars? That’s not dependence. It’s an addiction.
You’ll have to excuse my impatience then with those trying to espouse notions of equality and fairness when they push for increased spending on road infrastructure or tout the need to bury public transit in order to clear up the streets for cars. This isn’t about the little guy. It’s about an overweening sense of entitlement by those who can afford to make an active choice to drive in this city. My neighbours in Ward 19 with every amenity at their disposal to get around but they pick the most expensive one because they can afford it.
— automiserly submitted by Cityslikr
Last weekend, the weekend before last weekend actually, Councillor Jaye Robinson, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, reached out over social media to ask to meet up ahead of the Gardiner east debate at city council to discuss the issue. I’d been jabbing at her, in the virtual sense, over the pro-“hybrid” stance she’d taken during a press conference a few days earlier. I wondered aloud how she could have rushed to the defence of waterfront development when Doug Ford had concocted his ferris wheels-and-monorail plan a few years back but was perfectly willing to plop a newly rebuilt expressway down to inflict similar damage on the area. She also, to my mind, was brushing aside well-researched evidence that suggested the traffic chaos “hybrid” supporters predicted would happen if the Gardiner came down wouldn’t happen.
So we met on Tuesday, the day before the city council meeting began for a very amiable 15 minutes. Councillor Robinson came across as deeply conflicted on the issue, trying to figure out a better solution than was on the table in front of her and colleagues to decide on. Why she had chosen to spend time chatting it out with me – whose tear the fucker down preference was up front and centre – remains something of a mystery. While my arrogance might suggest otherwise, I am fully aware of my limited reach and ever so slight standing in the local political scene. It struck me as strange the councillor would waste her time talking to some asshole with a blog.
Despite unhealthy outbursts of political naïvete that catch me by surprise, I had no illusions about the meeting. There was no way Councillor Robinson was going to change her mind, having so publicly come out in favour of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” stance. Still, I thought, maybe, some compromise might be in the works, an attempt to perform a tactical retreat.
You can only imagine my disappointment, let’s call it, over the course of the following few days, watching as Councillor Robinson displayed little propensity toward any sort of compromise on the Gardiner east. When she spoke, she varied little from the “hybrid” hymnbook the mayor was preaching from, the one he used in a speech to the Empire Club, the speech the Torontoist referred to as “full Ford”, full of “at least 36 falsehoods or misleading statements”. When she wasn’t speaking, Councillor Robinson could be seen with a clipboard, conversing with the mayor’s staff and other councillors, presumably helping out to get the vote count right in favour of the “hybrid” option.
She did. The Gardiner east “hybrid” won out, narrowly, setting in motion a period of uncertainty that often times follows bad decisions. Are we really going to do this? Really? (I remain sceptical. But again, what the fuck do I know?)
Sitting here, a few days on, and I still can’t figure Jaye Robinson out. The cranks and the kooks you get. Vainglorious, idiotic and imbecilic. Dummies gonna be dum, am I right? You can only hope to minimize the damage they try to inflict.
But Councillor Robinson is different. She seems like she wants to do the right thing, to leap toward a more enlightened kind of governance, a better city. Yet she can regularly be counted on to come down on the wrong side of important issues like the Gardiner.
And by the ‘wrong’ side, I don’t necessarily mean the ones I disagree with her on. I’m talking about the one like the Gardiner that defy facts, evidence and the future, settling for easy, mindless catch phrases like common sense. “Why have experts if politicians care little for their expertise?” Matt Elliott asks today. There was a deliberate attempt by the pro-“hybrid” council gang to muddy the waters of debate by disparaging and disbelieving city staff and other expert opinion, elevating lone voices of dissent to positions of authority far beyond the reality of the situation, to put opinion before thoughtful reasoning.
Gut feeling prevailed once again at City Hall. Councillor Jon Burnside revealed the height of the “hybrid” hypocrisy when he rose to speak in defence of it, saying that his heart wanted the boulevard but his head told him the “hybrid” was the way to go. The fact is, very little thinking went into the “hybrid” argument. It was pure obedience to a mayor who had made his decision known well before the debate had truly begun. Again.
Life’s too short, I concluded over the weekend. Having been at this now for over 5 years, I find myself tired and bored covering the ins-and-outs of a city council that seems determined to work against the best interests of the city. This isn’t one mayor’s problem. It’s endemic to the institution itself, the people constantly returned to office to govern.
I don’t get paid to do what I do. (Most days I don’t think I deserve to be.) There are far better people doing a far better job than I could ever do. I’m contributing largely noise.
The city works pretty well despite its ill-governance. Not everywhere certainly and not for everyone obviously. We could be, should be doing a whole lot better. It’s not for a lack of tools at our disposal. Just a lack of political will. The DenzilMinnanWongization of City Hall.
Where things work, how they work is an area I’d like to further examine. How do we build a better sense of public good, the public common? One of the aspects I’ve learned about municipal politics is the potential for affecting change is right there not somewhere in the vague distance. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, your voice can be heard. We saw it just recently with Desmond Cole and the issue of police carding.
I’ve got a stack of books about yay-high, scattered in piles around the house. Books about cities, how they work, how they don’t work, how to fix those that don’t work, great cities, bad cities, cities on the move, cities bogged down in the past. I want to read those books, learn from them, write about them. I just keep letting myself get interrupted by the terrible goings-on at City Hall.
We also need to figure out a way to elect better local politicians. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. It doesn’t happen magically as we learned last October. Deadweight is lying heavily on this city, crushing the breath of life out of it. This is something that can wait until 2018. Organizing must start now.
These are the things I want to explore and write about. The basic nuts and bolts of civic life. I’ve focused far too much on the… a-hem, a-hem… the nuts and dolts. (Thank you. Try the veal.)
Near the end of the Gardiner debate last Thursday, Councillor Robinson, in her role as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, spoke last on the issue. Using that time, she introduced a series of motions that might offer some workable alternatives to the “hybrid” option as it currently stands. Why this didn’t happen at the beginning of the meeting, or days, weeks before the debate even went to council is the disheartening thing about all this for me.
It was about crass fucking politics, winning optics for the mayor. The exact opposite of good governance, of practical, sensible, common sense governance Mayor Tory is always trying to assure us he’s all about. It’s bullshit and, ultimately, impossible to continue watching without hollowing out your core a little.
Councillor Robinson could’ve taken a different path. She chose instead to play along with the game and diminish the process just a little bit more. I’m tired. I don’t want to write about Councillor Jaye Robinson anymore.
— resignedly submitted by Cityslikr
Today we talk transit with insidetoronto.com’s Rahul Gupta. And it’s not all about the Scarborough subway!
— audibly submitted by Cityslikr