A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

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

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

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

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

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dismally submitted by Cityslikr

Car2Go To Hell

November 17, 2015

“While you may be ready for the city, I’m not sure the city’s ready for you.”notlistening

This is why Toronto can’t have nice things.

A car-driving councillor like Stephen Holyday couldn’t possibly imagine a near future where other car owners willingly give up their auto-dependence if the opportunity arose. Oh sure, people living in other places might give such a change a whirl. But not Torontonians, no way, uh uh. We are a static people, we Torontonians.

At last week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee the car-sharing company, Car2Go, made a request for more parking spots on city streets, to allow people to park the cars closer to home, freeing them up from finding the nearest Green P lot where Car2Go vehicles are currently relegated. car2goGiven an easier option, it was argued, people might sign on to the program and use their own cars less. Less car use might mean less demand for private parking space on public streets.

Unfortunately, the PWI committee members couldn’t get their collective heads around such a concept. People driving their own cars less? People giving up their own cars? Preposterous! Maybe in other places. Not here in Toronto.

Now look, far be it from me to extrapolate my experience to that of the wider city but I think it is slightly more representative of the street parking question than that of Councillor Holyday who lives in Etobicoke Centre where the houses are largely detached, the roadways wide and the driveways are plenty. Curbsides there are used to collect leaves, awaiting vacuum-like collection. Private vehicles don’t vie for precious road space. In fact, in parts of suburban Toronto, overnight parking isn’t even allowed!car2go2

Down in the core where I dwell, it should be first pointed out that public transit is readily, if not always reliably, available. So not using a car is a viable option. Driveways here aren’t the norm. There is a smattering of garages and parking spaces, usually tucked away off back alleys. Many of the older homes are used as multi-residences, so parking spots don’t evenly match up to residents. Throw in in some parts of the older city commercial and retail pressure, with a regular flow of drivers looking for places to throw out the anchors for a quick stopover.

Street parking in these parts of the city represent prime real estate.

You would never know it, however, by the prices we charge for it. On the street I live, for example, if you have one car and “no access to on-site parking” it costs you just under $15 (plus HST) a month for an on-street parking permit. $15 a month. car2go1That’s 50 cents a day. It’s a bit pricier if you have access to on-site parking but want to park out on the street anyway. That’ll set you back just over $50 a month. A month. Roughly two bucks a day. And don’t get me started on residents with more than one vehicle.

Street parking permits for visitors are even more ridiculous. Nine bucks for 24 hours. About $15 for two days. And a whole $20.60 (plus HST) for a week of on street parking. While it may be different in different parts of the city, of the handful of times I’ve wanted a visitor parking permit, it’s never been a problem, never encountered a no availability turn down.

Toronto encourages on street parking. We contribute to the affordability of owning and operating a car in this city. We do little to dissuade visitors from bringing their car to the city. inconceivableParking is treated as a right, one that should not be onerous on the wallet.

The notion of freeing up some of that space for something other than private vehicle use, for something that might even subvert our traditional belief in the primacy of car ownership? Inconceivable. The city, or rather, too many of those we’ve elected to represent the city, simply aren’t ready to entertain such a radical concept.

inconceivably submitted by Cityslikr


November 13, 2015

The good news just keeps rolling in for SmartTrack.

And by good news, I mean bad news. And by rolling in, I mean like pulling teeth.notagain

Delayed reports, ridership modelling problems, notices of being ‘unaffordable and unworkable’. That’s not a stroke you’re having. It’s the acrid smell of desperation.

Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Jennifer Pagliaro reported that there’s a number floating around City Hall that represents the price tag for the so-called western spur of the SmartTrack plan. The part of the plan that very likely calls for the dreaded ‘tunneling’ word, digging up stretches of Eglinton Avenue. An aspect of the plan that, as a candidate for mayor, John Tory first said wouldn’t be necessary but as time went on, and he transformed from candidate to frontrunner, admitted to, yeah, probably, they’d have to dig but that had been accounted for in the $8 billion cost.

Well now, apparently, there’s an actual number but those in the know at City Hall are either pretending there isn’t or that we’ll be told what that number is when the time comes for us to be told.

It’s hard not to read this as just another setback in the making for the mayor and his signature transit plan. Ismarttrack1f the number being held back was favourable to SmartTrack’s cause, you’d think the mayor and his supporters would be shouting it loud and proud. He certainly needs some positive spin on this that isn’t just his. Unless, of course, he’s going all Henry the IVth on us, piling on the disappointment and dim expectations in order to amplify the success when it all turns out to be exactly like he said it would. “…he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”


But maybe not.

The question is, just how far down dug in is Mayor Tory on pursuing SmartTrack if it does indeed turn out to be the lemon every indication is suggesting it is right now? Does he ride it, Slim Pickens-like, right into a fiery explosion, taking a whole lot of shit with it? drstrangeloveIn typical fashion, he’s left himself with very little wiggle room to step back. Just like he did on police carding. Just like he did on the Gardiner East.

How badly off the mark do the reports and whatever numbers they contain have to be before Mayor Tory is willing to about-face, admit it was a bad idea, his intentions were good and noble but… let’s move on, shall we? He’s said almost from the start that they hadn’t done any engineering studies or the like when the pitched the plan on the campaign trail. There were bound to be some mistakes in calculation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn’t love 53 kilometres and 22 stations of surface subway all up and ready to go in just 7 years? Just 7 years!

Even if the mayor remains undeterred in the face of mounting evidence that SmartTrack isn’t all that, plus a bag of 3 day old, stale donuts, are there really 22 councillors willing to follow his transit folly? hidenumberI know, I know. Much of this is the same council who wound up dancing the Scarborough subway jig that Rob Ford beat out time to. Let’s not rule out any dire possibility because these people, a majority of them at any rate, are clearly capable of doing anything, absolutely anything.

But it just seems to me SmartTrack doesn’t carry the same visceral, emotional baggage a subway in Scarborough did/does. Nobody’s picked up the mantle of deserving SmartTrack. This is John Tory’s baby, fully, completely. Bully pulpit or not, he’s got to sell it to his council colleagues and if there’s a stink attached, how much political capital does the mayor still have to use?

If you want to get a sense of just how tough a sell SmartTrack is shaping up to be, re-read Pagliaro’s article and remember, it isn’t an editorial, an opinion piece. It’s a news report and I don’t recall reading such a pointed newspaper article, at least not since the frenzied crack period of the Ford administration. The article oozes testiness and impatience.

Pagliaro refers to SmartTrack as something ‘dreamed up by Mayor John Tory’s campaign team’. keepawayShe points out that a staffer in the city manager’s office stopped communicating with her. The mayor seems to be obfuscating, saying the report isn’t finished, there are no numbers or he hasn’t seen any numbers or document.

Pagliaro sums up what we do know so far about the SmartTrack reports city staff have delivered.

What’s noticeably absent are the costs.

But it’s not because they’re not available.

I spoke to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat this week, who confirmed the actual HDR report submitted to the city contains “high-level” costs for the western spur options.

So, what are they?

Keesmaat won’t tell.

She told me to take it up with the city manager’s office.

Colour Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star SmartTrack skeptical. It’s feeling more and more like we’re being dicked around here. It was a plan that from the very beginning was full of holes (not the good kind you could drive a subway train through), and nothing that’s happened over the course of the past 18 months has done anything to begin filling them. skepticalIn fact, Mayor Tory continues to dig more holes, creating an even bigger hill he has to push this thing up.

After the Scarborough subway debacle, there are very few bridges left for this mayor to burn on the transit file. Unrealistic cost estimates, questionable alignments, dubious ridership numbers. We’ve heard it all before, just recently, in fact. It’s hard to imagine there’s enough political will to suck another one up, not now, not again.

So, just how persuasive does Mayor Tory believe he is? Just how gullible does he think we are? Just how gullible are we?

still smartingly submitted by Cityslikr

Benign Neglect Is Still Neglect

November 11, 2015

At a press conference yesterday (a ‘press avail’ in journalese), Mayor Tory announced that progress had been made in reducing the 2016 police budget. mayorjohntoryOf course, when it comes to the police budget, reduced actually means less of an increase. So, an original ask of 5.8% knocked down to 2.76% works out to be a decrease in the police budget. It’s what we call ‘progress’!

The day before, on Monday, the TTC budget committee met, and in discussions about proposed waterfront transit projects, seemed ‘resigned’, in the words of the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore, to some sort of people moving walkway linking Union Station to Queen’s Quay. Yeah, an escalator rather an actual vehicular link like the one that was favoured here, way back in 2013 (h/t Matt Elliot). Why? A serious lack of capital funds. No money.

This is Mayor John Tory’s Toronto, folks. Where police budgets continue to rise despite evidence showing crime statistics declining. nomoneyPublic transit budgets keep growing too but not enough to accommodate the increasing ridership numbers that continue to go up despite a less than optimal service, let’s call it.

Mayor Tory’s Toronto.

To be sure, this isn’t all on him. He’s only officially held the office for some 11 months. Bloated police and insufficient public transit budgets most definitely preceded him.

But the mayor wears this current Police Services Board. The former chair, Alok Mukherjee, left the position before his term was up, and replaced by the mayor’s buddy and former chief of staff, Andy Pringle. Upon assuming office, Mayor Tory dumped the only black member on the TPSB, Councillor Michael Thompson, and took his spot on the board. The new police chief, Mark Saunders, is his choice.

So, yeah. The 2016 police budget belongs to Mayor Tory.

And as the TTC struggles to maintain proper levels of service and plan future transit projects, Mayor Tory has dropped a huge turd into the proceedings, his election campaign ready SmartTrack. whitewashingDraining money and time resources from city and TTC staff, the plan is no less fuzzy and ill-formed than it was when it was pitched for votes some 18 months ago. Reports on it have been delayed. Ridership models adapted to work it. There’s no lid tight enough to contain the stink coming from the project.

None of his gestures toward the TTC, bus service bumped back up to 2011 levels, free transit for the kids, are making any dent in the pressures weighing down on the system. So the ongoing problems facing public transit in this city are now Mayor Tory’s problems.

Is there any reason to believe that he’s up to the task of dealing with them?

His full on commitment to seeing SmartTrack through, regardless, seems nothing but self-serving, an eye solely on re-election in 2018 rather than improving transit for the city. He’s spent much more of his political capital (not to say a lot of the city’s actual capital) catering to the perceived needs of drivers, speeding up repairs on expressways, keeping others elevated for absolutely no reason aside from optics. Being modestly more transit-friendly than the previous administration in no way should be perceived as being any less car-friendly.

On the policing front, Mayor Tory’s wading in to the carding issue was a complete and utter fiasco. He got bailed out temporarily by the province who redirected the focus onto themselves as they figure out how to try and reconfigure regulations. sweepundertherugHis TPSB chair dropped the ball on a KPMG report on police budgeting that’s been on or near the table (depending on who you believe) for nearly a year now. Chair Pringle, in responding to questions about why the report hadn’t been made public yet, referred to it as an ‘internal think document’. “Random suggestions aren’t necessarily something that we report back on,” the chair said.

Mayor Tory has subsequently suggested the KPMG report be made public but not in time to have any impact on this year’s police budget. A budget that will be increasing again despite how the mayor’s office tries to spin it. An increase is an increase no matter how small an increase it is.

Given the current crisis level climate in the city toward its police services, with the laughably light penalty given to the only office convicted of a G20-related crime and the ongoing trial of Constable James Forcillo in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, Mayor Tory’s not rock the boat approach seems wholly inadequate. The additional strain of his SmartTrack plan on an already over-stressed transit system is the exact opposite. Unnecessarily burdensome in a white elephant kind of way.

This is a mayor completely tone deaf to the reality of the city he was elected to lead. He preaches steady stewardship but practices little of it. whatsthatTimid when he needs to be bold. Heavy-handed when required to be conciliatory. Wanting to be everything to everybody, Mayor Tory is proving to be nothing to anyone.

If the Ford Administration was a reaction to the instability Toronto now faces, brought about by unequal access to income, mobility, opportunity, Mayor Tory’s soothing can-do cheerleading in no way addresses that instability. It doesn’t even provide a band aid. It’s the blank, toothless smile of a nothing to see here sensibility that focuses all its energy looking back over its shoulder instead of at the rocky road ahead.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr

Ward Boundary Review — Take A Moment. Have Your Say.

November 9, 2015

Near the end of the last public session I attended of the first round of the city’s Ward Boundary Review earlier this year (Got that?), a young man (I’m old enough to use that term in a non-pejorative way) raised his hand to ask a question. wardboundaryreviewWill any of this really affect my life? More or less. I’d have to dig back in my archives to get the exact quote but it’s Monday, I don’t much want to. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

It was a perfectly valid question. Of all the things we’re facing living in Toronto at this moment in history, are proposed changes to ward boundaries, the possible number to them, the number of city councillors we elect to represent us, all that important? Will it really affect the transit we build or the police budget we agree to? The wonk in me would immediately say Yes, yes, in fact, it would. But, that’s just the wonk in me.

Judging by the turnout for the 2nd round of public consultations over the course of this fall, I’d have to say most people resoundingly came down on the No side of the equation. How many wards we have, how they’re drawn up will have no effect on their respective lives. At least, nothing big enough to compel them out to participate in person.

Back during the 1st round, the weather was often cited for a reason turnout to public meetings wasn’t bigger. fakeglassesIt was winter. It was cold, dark.

This time around, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but from the 4 meetings I attended, anecdotally I’d guess fewer people attended than previously, we were caught up in the prolonged federal election, the Blue Jays were in the middle of their amazing run. The weather was unseasonably warm! Who wants to spend time indoors, talking ward realignment, while the sun’s shining brightly and the temperature makes no socks demand on you?

I guess what I found unfortunate about our collective shrug at the process so far is that the city and the consultants it hired to conduct the public meetings, to write the reports, to make recommendations did their level best to engage with Torontonians. They listened intently to the feedback they received, incorporating it their report and recommendations. Their report after the 1st round of public sessions was highly readable, clear and precise. It cannot be claimed, as I heard from more than a few people after that report was issued, that the public had been kept in the dark. There was (and remains to be) plenty of opportunity for everyone to have their say.

Without broader public input, the ultimate decision makers on this, city council itself, will, not at all incorrectly, see a certain apathy on the matter and ultimately put its interests first, with only a possible Ontario Municipal Board appeal looking over its shoulders. slicingpieThe loudest voices will be the only ones heard, and those, from what I witnessed at the meetings, are largely older and white. Not exactly agents of change.

So I’m guessing when the 5 recommendations that are before the public during these 2nd round of consultations are winnowed done to just one early next year, it will be some variation of the minimal/no change options, either 44 or 47 wards. There seemed to be little appetite with the smaller, 58 wards options, mostly because that would mean more politicians. The bigger/fewer ward option also elicited very little support from the public at the meetings I attended.

The most intriguing option for me is the one that adheres to natural and physical boundaries. It received very little attention until the last couple meetings I was at. The reason I like it is that it reconfigures the entire city, setting aside long established ward boundaries and the community council structure arbitrarily imposed on us with amalgamation. Although I think there are too few wards (41) and a number of them are geographically imposing, I like the idea of re-designing a post-amalgamated Toronto. That would positively affect our lives, to answer the young man’s question.

Don’t agree with me?hitsend

Well, there’s still time for you to have your say. Online input is available all this week until November 15th. From the comfort of your very own desk, you can study the options that are on the table and give your opinion of what you’d like to see happen, even to the smallest detail. You can’t fight City Hall or, in this case, reshape it, without letting your opinion be known. If you’re reading these words, there’s really no excuse for you not to.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr

Give Him Enough Rope

November 5, 2015

If the predominant response to witnessing the Ford mayoralty was anger (followed by a profound sadness), cynicism is the emotion that springs forth watching Mayor Tory in action (followed closely by anger). cynicalIs cynicism even an emotion? I don’t know. It sure feels like an emotion.

It sure felt like it watching the mayor speak to the TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy item at city council yesterday. ‘Aspirational’… but. A ‘moral issue’… but. Proud of this document. Proud of the work having gone into it. Proud, proud, proud … but.

Mayor Tory took much of his speaking time to explain that the strategy, as such, spread out over a 20 year framework, was ‘not an instant answer’. He took great pains to explain ‘what it is not’. Aspirational … but. Almost as a warning, he informed us that at the budget committee, they will endeavor ‘to do as much as we can’ … but. Competing priorities, and all that.

Until that time, when this poverty reduction strategy goes through the buzz saw that will be the budget committee – as Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam pointed out, the mayor’s “direction to reduce 2016 overall budget by 2%” is not compatible with the new funding called for in the TO Prosperity document – likeI’ll set aside my cynicism, and take a moment to applaud those who are pursuing this with the upmost of earnestness and serious intent. Those who, for the time being, are willing to take Mayor Tory for his word on this, as qualified and mealy-mouthed as the words may sound to my jaded ears.

Hats off to Councillor Pam McConnell for her genuine acceptance of the title of Deputy Mayor, and her belief that the man who gave her that title is actually committed to this course of action. Her diligence in putting this report together, and exhorting her council colleagues that it is a worthy and absolutely essential undertaking, should be acknowledged and commended. Councillor Janet Davis said that McConnell “gave one of the best speeches of her career… Passionate and inspiring call for a fairer, stronger city.”

Applause too to all the advocates who contributed their time and effort to make sure this didn’t simply slip through the cracks, as poverty issues tend to do. aweSuch tirelessness is, I can’t even come up with the proper word that amplifies the inadequate ‘admirable’. It’s unfathomable to me, that kind of determination.

Many of you were probably in the council chambers gallery to watch the vote, and applauded when it was approved, clapped for Mayor Tory when he spoke to it. I cannot express the kind of awe I feel at that sheer act of trust in the good intentions of others, the conviction enough of us will do the right thing when push comes to shove. Again, humbled does not even begin to describe how I regard such faith and principle.

… but … but … but …

Let’s remember these words that the mayor uttered near the end of his speech yesterday, remember them, and hold him to account for saying them when he inevitably fails to live up to them. And Mayor Tory, as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, will fail, will prove to be a false ally. He’s already qualified his support, showing none of the can-do, inevitable triumphalism he’s flashed for SmartTrack or the Gardiner East hybrid, pledging only ‘to do as much as we can…to the extent we can’. Aspiration is great until it runs smack dab into the reality Mayor Tory has established. “More isn’t always better.” So please dim your expectations.

I think this is one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments that we’re going to make as a council during this entire term without even knowing what else is going to come up over the next 3 years.

That’s what he said. Those were Mayor Tory’s exact words. This poverty reduction strategy was one of the most important decisions city council would make this term. Mayor Tory said so.


Let’s make sure he’s held to that. Make this his signature item. Its success or failure will determine his success or failure as mayor of this city. He will try and wiggle free of it. Don’t let him.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr

Mayor Shrug

November 4, 2015

“We’re not in the loan business. We’re in the government business.”

This is the guy we’ve pinned our hopes on in leading the way to implement, for real, Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy? You got a problem, facing a money crunch and can’t keep a roof over your head? “You find a way to do it. You borrow money from your family. You borrow money from a bank. You take it out of your savings account.”

Mayor Tory is the king of shrugs, mindful, concerned but ultimately indifferent and ineffectual shrugs. He lauds good intentions but can’t get past his inherent distrust of the efficacy of government to help its citizens out, unless of course, you’re a driver stuck in traffic. Hey! An idea! Can’t afford housing? Live in your car.

“We do these things [things being, trying to help people from drinking lead contaminated water] because they sound like a nice answer to solving what is a very legitimate concern on the side of public health…


Mayor Tory’s just “seen too many fiascos” from governments trying to deliver nice answers to legitimate concerns.

“Neither of these [these being, items attempting to help people from drinking lead contaminated water] solve the problem, which is lead in pipes. So… ?”

No answers. No alternatives. No solutions.



“We’re not in the loan business. We’re in the government business.”

Hey, Toronto. Have you driven a Ford lately?

concernedly submitted by Cityslikr


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