For Hamish and Jared and Janet and…

May 15, 2014

If cycling advocates can’t agree on the best way forward on building a better bike network throughout the city, disagreehow exactly does one get built?

Some believe that protected and completely separate bike lanes, installed where conditions warrant, will encourage more riders, many too fearful for their lives (somewhat correctly) to mingle directly with car traffic, to take up cycling. Ridership grows. A network grows. Others contend that just starting out with brightly coloured lines that seamlessly connect easy routes from east to west, north to south will increase ridership that will ultimately justify further spending to build a more permanent cycling infrastructure of protected and separate bike lanes.

Two opposite approaches aiming for the same ultimate goal. The elevation of cycling to equal consideration as part of the city’s transportation grid.

Into the void of tactical disagreement, let’s call it, step the decision makers, bikinghippiessome who don’t believe cycling has any place within our transportation system, who can’t comprehend how more people on bikes, getting around the city, could possibly help alleviate Toronto’s congestion. For them, cycling is a diversion, a pastime not used by serious people intent on going about their business in any sort of serious way. It’s something done by elitists or hippies, physical fitness nuts. Real commuters don’t commute on bikes.

Our current mayor is one of those types. Bikes have no place on the roads, he once famously said, comparing it to swimming with the sharks. At the end of the day, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

So, in many ways, it’s kind of remarkable that 4 years into his term, the streets of this city remain as full of cyclists as they do. sherbournebikelaneDMWI know it’s cold comfort to say but the situation could’ve been so much worse. Things have ground to a crawl but haven’t been irretrievably reversed.

That fact is even more remarkable given the person sitting in the Public Works and Infrastructure chair, the committee that oversees road construction and design, is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He is no slouch when it comes to car-centricity. Why, just yesterday in fact, during a PWIC meeting, he wanted to make sure there was a representative from the CAA present when going forward with school zone safety measures. Why? Well, because drivers of cars that “allegedly” hit pedestrians need to have their voices heard too.

Or something.

*shrug*

Yes, under PWIC chair Minnan-Wong, the bike lanes of Jarvis Street were torn up and moved a couple blocks east to Sherbourne where, ostensibly, “better”, “protected” and “separated” lanes were built. The more I ride them, the more ridiculous they seem, having to share the space with public transit sherbournebikelane(which they didn’t have to do on Jarvis) and almost never are they fully protected or separate. Cars and delivery trucks easily and regularly breach the porous barriers.

I will set aside my normally disparaging opinion of the councillor and refuse to accept the possibility that he simply threw cycling advocates a few small bones purposely to hear their cries of outrage in order to throw up his hands and claim that these people are never happy. There’s never any pleasing them. They want the entire road or nothing.

Instead, I choose to believe that he did the best he could, given the circumstances at hand and his inherent lack of understanding toward anyone who might willingly decide not to get around town in any way other than by car. He did not kill cycling in this city. He merely succeeded in frustrating it.

Of bigger concern is the next four years. What direction the incoming administration will go in terms of biking. emptypromiseSo far, there’s little to get excited about and much to be fearful of.

Mayoral candidate John Tory had this to say to Global News’ Jackson Proskow about the PWIC’s decision to approve a pilot project for bike lanes along Richmond and Adelaide Streets:

“My priority from day 1 as mayor is going to be to make sure we keep traffic moving in this city, and I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too because that will help, in its own way, to get traffic moving too. But I want to look at the results of discussions that are going on today and other days and make sure that whatever we do we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city, because traffic is at a stand-still at the moment and that’s costing us jobs, it’s hurting the environment, it’s not good for Toronto.”

There is so much wrong and mealy-mouthed about that statement that it’s impossible to imagine the person saying it actually lives in this city let alone thinks they can lead it. Bikes in no way constitute traffic. The idea that more people riding bikes, especially in the downtown core, means less people driving cars (or using public transit) seems incomprehensible to someone like John Tory. Bikes are nothing more than ‘additional obstructions’ for people – people being car drivers – ‘getting around in this city’.

“I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists.” John Tory might’ve well said roads are meant for buses, cars and trucks. littlewinsThere’s not much daylight between the two sentiments.

It isn’t going to get any easier going forward. Cyclists and those fighting for them at City Hall have to accept the little victories, the pilot projects, as serious steps forward. The status quo never gives way easily, and the status quo in Toronto remains tilted in favour of cars. Two generations of bias don’t change overnight. Or in a day. Or in a week. Month. Year. Decade….

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


A New Generation Of Suburban Resentment

March 25, 2014

How would you best sum up Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest) first term in office? is a question nobody’s asked me until now.surprisedbythequestion

Hmmm. Councillor Berardinetti, huh? Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, eh?

Elephants, bike lane hatred and other terribly misguided public transit views.

Yeah. That about sums it up.

As to the elephants, I can’t offer up much in the way of analysis. Something about moving them from an unhealthy environment at the Toronto Zoo to a nicer place more conducive to the elephant lifestyle. How best to do that. Bob Barker. Different coloured t-shirts in the council chamber.

I remember Councillor Berardinetti being all up in that debate. No judgement from me about it. Wasn’t high on my list of things to be concerned about. bobbarkerKudos to the councillor for making it one of hers.

While she seemed to love the elephants, Councillor Berardinetti had little time for bike lanes. During the 2010 campaign, she claimed that some residents living along Pharmacy Avenue had moved because they could not “get out of their own driveway”, and within a year of taking over as councillor in Ward 35 had the damn bike lanes torn up along with those on Jarvis Street. In fact, run through this list of council votes from July 2011. Councillor Berardinetti pretty much came out against every pro-biking measure.

We get it, councillor. You represent a suburban ward. Everybody likes to drive there. Bikes have no place in your vision of how a city moves people around.

Or LRTs, for that matter.

Between she and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre), they played point for the 7 other Scarborough councillors who eventually helped then TTC Chair Karen Stintz flip the planned Bloor-Danforth LRT extension to a subway. crybabiesNot so much good cop-bad cop, the two traded off on being perpetually outraged and indignant. World class transit! Scarborough is owed! Selfish downtowners!

“You can’t go to residents with revenue tools and not even deliver a subway,” Councillor Berardinetti pronounced. Subways are the only mode of transit worth paying for. Nothing for nothing. Something for subways.

Yeah so, pretty much stamp their feet, whine loudly and hold their collective breath until they got their way.

To give her full marks, at least Councillor Berardinetti had been consistent in her opinion that Scarborough deserved a subway, any subway. She went along with Mayor Ford when he sought to bury the Eglinton crosstown and agreed that his Sheppard subway folly didn’t need any of the Dr. Gordon Chong suggested revenue tools to proceed. The councillor was an early and eager adopter of the Scarborough LRT/subway swap, even voting for an additional property tax increase to fund it, waitingforasubwayan inclination she didn’t show a lot of on almost any other issue so far during her time at City Hall.

Throughout much of this term, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has proven herself comfortably in line with Mayor Rob Ford, especially on fiscal matters. She’s voted to keep taxes low, freezing and eliminating important sources of revenue. Just this year, as a member of the Budget Committee, she pushed a motion to ignore the staff recommended property tax increase, lowering it by .25% and making up the difference with any surpluses from the projected Land Transfer Tax revenue. Credit where credit’s due, the councillor didn’t then turn around and vote in favour of a report looking at any possible reduction in the LTT rate.

She pretty much reflects the arc of the city council story during the Ford era. As an original member of his powerful Executive Committee, Councillor Berardinetti enabled all his destructive instincts early on. But as he pissed away his power to influence the agenda, she slowly changed course, jumping from the Executive Committee during the mid-term shuffle. berardinettifordShe had also left the Budget Committee for a while from March 2012 until January of the following year. A trendsetter, let’s call her. Totally comfortable with his policies but unhappy with his politicking.

Maybe this might play well for her constituents.

In 2010, she handily beat incumbent Adrian Heaps, concluding a bitter struggle that had gone back to the 2006 election that resulted in lawsuits and all sorts of legal wrangling. Ward 35 went strongly pro-Rob Ford in that election, so maybe she’s tapped into a certain ambivalence toward the mayor amongst her residence, loving the message, just not the messenger. If that’s the case, she may be hard to unseat.

But if anybody were to run against her based on her record, take her to task for her habit of underfunding the city’s ability to pay for programs and services, call her out on her subway love taking priority over common fiscal (not to mention transit) sense, Councillor Berardinetti would have a lot to answer for. She’s been very much at the epicentre of a couple of the city’s most divisive debates over the last three years, nutcrackerand has not provided a particularly cooperative voice, opting instead for the us-versus-them, suburban-versus-downtown tone of anger and resentment that has plagued Toronto since amalgamation. Having been put into a couple positions of leadership as a first time councillor, with an opportunity to change that tone, she failed to provide much leadership at all.

It’s hard to imagine she’ll grow into the role going forward, having adopted the familiar position of Scarborough councillor with a chip on their shoulder that seems to be the commonplace feature with many. Why change? It’s an approach that’s been working since long before Councillor Berardinetti came to Toronto City Hall.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


Still Swimming With The Sharks

July 22, 2013

So, tired of all the congestion and gridlock in the city? Working hard, trying to figure out how to get more cars off our roads? ideaI’ve got a simple but obviously overlooked solution.

Strip irresponsible, reckless and dangerous drivers of their right to drive. Stop our collective shrug when the misuse of a motorized vehicle leads to death and bodily harm. Accidents will happen. For sure. But less so if we cull from the driving ranks not only repeat offenders but anyone who uses a car or truck as a weapon of intimidation and confrontation.

Two articles in the Toronto Star today highlight a certain War With Cars rather than a War on Cars.

On Thursday night, the police allege that a driver ran down and killed a pedestrian he’d got into some sort of set-to with. For me, if found guilty of the array of bodily harm charges he faces, this driver would never be allowed to legally drive again. deathrace2000aZero tolerance. One strike and you’re out. Privilege revoked irrevocably.

The exact opposite of what appears to happen, even for multiple offenders.

Like the driver involved in a cyclist’s death last November. With 8 driving infractions in just over 2 and a half years, including speeding, disobeying a police signal and violating novice driving conditions, the driver added to that tally with a failing to remain at the scene of an accident that caused death charge. Is it unreasonable to expect at least some sort of time out in the form of a suspension of his license?

Especially since it seems everything was not as it first appeared when news of the accident broke.

Police said that the cyclist was struck when he rode through a red light. deathrace2000bUnfortunate but hardly the fault of the motorist who struck him. Even fleeing the scene could be viewed sympathetically for the driver, just driving along, minding his own business, obeying the rules of the road. Out of nowhere, bike rides right in front of him, bang. Driver panics, takes off. Shock gets the better of good judgement and any sort of concern for a fellow human being.

Turns out that might not be exactly how things transpired.

In a letter responding to inquiries from the dead man’s family’s lawyer, the Crown now says that it is “not taking the position that [the cyclist] was travelling north or that he ran a red light.” In fact, “…they’re acknowledging [the cyclist] was stationary or near-stationary, waiting to turn left, as he was lawfully obliged to be, when he was rammed from behind.” Turns out that it was the cyclist who was minding his own business, obeying the rules of the road when, out of nowhere car slams right into him from behind, bang. deathrace2000cDriver panics etc., etc.

It’s enough to make you think there’s an inherent bias when it comes to dealing with accidents on our roads. That our mayor is not alone when he suggested back in his councillor days that, “… it’s their own fault at the end of day” when a cyclist is struck by a bus, car or truck. Responsibility for road safety lies squarely on the shoulders of pedestrians and cyclists and not those with the greatest capability of inflicting damage upon those they so reluctantly share space with.

We can talk all we want about building biking infrastructure to encourage more people to see cycling as a viable means of transport around the city, there’s undeniable merit to that discussion. Ditto mandatory helmet laws and bike sharing programs. deathrace2000But until we treat everybody equally when it comes to using the roads, when there are actual consequences to bad behaviour and lack of diligence, when driving stops being regarded as an inalienable right rather than a privilege, bike culture will remain on the fringe, a hobby for only the foolhardy and pinkos.

Unfortunately, it’s a status quo too many people and institutions would be only too happy maintaining.

disquietly submitted by Cityslikr


Sink Or Ride

April 18, 2013

If we were only permitted to travel around this city on modes of transport paid in full, upfront by each of us on a fee-for-service basis, we’d all be walking everywhere we went. hackingthroughthejungleThere’s probably an argument to be made about bicycle use as well. Its impact on infrastructure a fraction of its costs.

For every other way we get from point A to point B? Subsidized to the hilt. Roads for vehicular traffic are not fully paid for through gas taxes and registration fees. While transit users in Toronto pay an unusually high percentage of the system’s annual operating costs, a good chunk of it comes from other revenue sources. And we haven’t even got to the matter of capital costs.

So if our car, bus, streetcar, subway travel all is subsidized to varying degrees, why do we expect the public bike sharing system, Bixi, to pay its own way?

In normal circumstances that would be purely a rhetorical question. You’d think mobility was mobility regardless of the number of wheels under your ass. This, however, is Toronto 2014. subsidizeCycling is nothing more than a sport or a jaunty ride about town, to and fro places of latte-sipping.

Reports of Bixi’s financial duress emerged on Tuesday. The Montreal based company is looking to sell off its franchises including the one in Toronto. A couple years back, the city signed on as a loan guarantor to help get the operation up and going. Now it’s on the hook for about $3.9 million.

Unsurprisingly, Mayor Ford is uninterested in helping out. The chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, is not any more enthusiastic about the idea. He’d prefer to off-load it onto the private sector.

“Government, fundamentally, isn’t the first place where you look to run a business,” the councillor said. “The private sector is better at making a dollar because it is their dollar. tossoverboardI’m a firm believer that if it can be in the Yellow Pages, it shouldn’t be in the Blue Pages.”

*sigh*

On Tuesday, I wanted to hug Councillor Minnan-Wong to my bosom for having the courage of his convictions in speaking out and voting against a casino. I’d always questioned his courage and believed his only conviction was reducing local government to a heaping rubble. But by later that day, he’d returned to form.

Only the firmest set of anti-cycling minds saw the bike sharing program as some blue chip business venture. bixiAccording to the National Post’s Megan O’Toole, in a report going to the Executive Committee next week, Toronto’s GM of Transportation Services suggests BIXI has become “’an important part of the transportation mix’ in the city and a key component of the Pan Am Games transportation plan.” ‘An important part of the transportation mix’, you say? Well, let’s just hand that over to the private sector to maximize profits why don’t we.

BIXI was never intended to individually cover great distances. It’s all about short hauls. Think timed transfers we’d like to have on the TTC – hop on-hop off privileges – but on a bike.

Set up to actually succeed, BIXI could immediately begin paying back any investment in it from the city by helping to alleviate the stress along certain transit routes. Right now, I’m thinking the downtown streetcar lines, especially King Street. fieldofdreamsReduce the ridership there in order to re-allocate TTC resources in other parts of the city.

Of course, it’s not as easy as simply putting up more stands filled with more bikes. Biking infrastructure also has to be improved to further entice reticent but interested would-be riders to casually start using the system as part of their transit routine. All part of the concept of induced demand. Build it (and maintain it properly) and they will come.

As part of the city’s overall transportation outlay, coming to the rescue of BIXI would be a modest outlay. For a fraction of the amount we’re looking to shell out keeping the Gardiner in the pink, we could triple the number of BIXI bikes and broaden its reach from High Park to Broadview and Dupont Street to the lake. Hardly the ‘drain on the city’s finances’ the Public Works chair pretends to fret about. eraseA concern particularly rich coming from the man who cost the city a couple hundred thousand dollars reverting the Jarvis bike lanes back to a 5th lane for cars and another $19.4 million trying to bury the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment without council consent.

But we all know this isn’t about sound policy or good governance. It never is with this administration. BIXI’s financial problems offer up yet another golden opportunity to kill off a David Miller initiative. That’s really the only kind of agenda they have left.

sharingly submitted by Cityslikr


Is This A David Simon Project?

October 4, 2012

The Rob Ford Story was starting to play out like a classic Hollywood narrative.

Underdog outsider, derided by all the cool kids, defies the odds and becomes student council president mayor of Toronto. The heady heights go straight to his ego, hubris rising, he nearly throws it all away, forgetting where it was he came from and alienating all those who believed in him when nobody else did. He wallows in self-pity, mistakes piling on mistakes, looking very much like he’ll fall back into the little man obscurity he’d just escaped.

That part where Rocky, having achieved international fame after the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, has tapped him to be his next an opponent, slacks off, distracted by adoring fans and all the temptations of celebrity. Burgess Meredith is always yelling at him and makes him chase a chicken. I think that’s in Rocky, right? Maybe Rocky II. I just know it’s not the one with the Russian robot.

Redemption awaits.

Or as former campaign director and chief of staff, now unofficial Fordian gadfly, Nick Kouvalis exclaimed: Rob 2.0 He gets his shit together, bounds up the set of stairs and dances/shadow boxes triumphantly. Flying high now! Flying high now!

At the fall city council meeting, the first after his summer of deep discontent, Mayor Ford promises and delivers to beat back those angling to keep the Jarvis bike lanes, one of his early shows of power in Act One. “It’s what the people want,” the mayor pronounced, embracing the populism that got him elected. The foul weather now behind him, it was playing out like a blockbuster storybook tale. Eye of the Tiger and all that.

Except that there seemed to be some genre busting going on. It wasn’t really the mayor who trumped his adversaries on the bike lane issue but, instead, his diabolical evil henchman, Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He seemed to do all the heavy lifting while Mayor Ford basked in the accolades.

And then there was the addition of a mystery element.

Three middle of the road councillors inexplicably flip-flopped and swung the vote in the mayor’s favour. Why? As Matt Elliott pointed out yesterday, councillors Ana Bailão, Michelle Berardinetti and Josh Colle had all expressed their intention to keep the Jarvis bike lanes and had they all voted that way the result wouldn’t have been a 24-19 win for the mayor but a 22-21 loss. What happened?

Probably some horse trading. One of the amendments was to pay for the removal of the bike lanes not from the biking infrastructure budget as has been floated earlier. Some good ol’ tit for tat. But there was little other glaringly obvious swapping in evidence.

Surely none of these shifty three were still intimidated by the mayor or the power he didn’t really yield. Maybe back in the day when his power was absolute and they were greenhorn rookies. Not now. They were in control, the decision in their hands. Such capitulation seemed more than a bit baffling.

We had now entered Sidney Lumet territory.

Everybody but Mayor Ford, that is.

He continued on his rag-to-riches-to rags-to riches arc. With victory secured, redemption was now at hand. Reaching out to his enemies as represented by the downtown elitists at CBC, the mayor would admit to his own failings, how he’d learned from them and would now rise above the fray to secure his rightful place as the mayor of all people. Everyone hugs (or in the Bollywood DVD only version for increased global sales, dance and sing together), credits roll, The End.

But again, Mayor Ford went off script.

As John McGrath beautifully detailed at the Torontoist this feel good ending did not come to pass. The mayor blustered, made up facts and figures, disputed staff numbers, spouted platitudes and empty rhetoric. Basically reverted back to his desultory Act Two behaviour.

This is what happens when your script is written by committee.

Mayor Ford returned to council to slay the dragon of the much hated plastic bag ban but there was no deus ex machine in sight, the cavalry did not ride in over the hill. The mayor did not have the 30 votes needed to re-open the ban debate. It ended just like that. A whimper. Wait, what? It’s over? Where’s the twist? The surprise plan B that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat?

Worse still for Mayor Ford, he faded into the background, became a bit player. Yesterday’s news was not about him, not about his ignominious defeat but about the Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti-Gord Perks face off. City Hall Brawl, the Toronto Sun screamed.

Earlier in the day, before the plastic bag ban showdown, Councillor Mammoliti rose in chambers and harrumphed something about the Ombudsman’s Report that was to be debated later in the meeting being ‘politically motivated’. Chastised by council and told by Speaker Frances Nunziata to retract his statement and apologize. He refused, stomping from the council floor before being forced out, and up to the media gallery, the councillor continued his tirade in front of the cameras.

Enter our shaggy anti-hero, Councillor Perks. He gets all up in his colleagues face, demanding he apologize or leave the chambers. Back off, out my face. Get out. Stand back. Get out.

Conflict. The key ingredient of any good drama.

In what then appears as a reversal of fortune, Councillor Perks is forced to apologize for his outburst at council while Councillor Mammoliti issues a typical non-apology apology. The mayor’s foes have over-stepped and succeeded only in embarrassing themselves. They hand him the public opinion victory he could not secure himself.

Except the story’s not done yet.

It could be seen that our seemingly reckless anti-hero, Councillor Perks, tactically fell on his sword. In making his confrontation today’s headline, it left people wondering what the two councillors fighting about. What indeed? The Ombudsman’s Report damning the mayor’s office’s involvement in the civic appointments process.

As I sit writing this, I’m listening to city council’s debate over the report. No good can come of this for the mayor. It’s bad news about bad conduct and that’s what everyone’s going to be talking about. This council meeting, the first of what was supposed to be his comeback, will be remembered only for a report highlighting his failure of governance as mayor.

Hardly the Hollywood ending he needed. In fact, this isn’t a movie at all with its interminable requisite sequels. It’s a sprawling miniseries saga that continues to defy expectations. A cautionary tale where the hero does not triumph.

cinematically submitted by Cityslikr


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