Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

August 12, 2015

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly submitted by Cityslikr


Old New Is Still Bad News

July 18, 2015

For anybody following along with the surreal and torturous Scarborough subway debate for the past 5 years, none of this comes as any sort of surprise. The ridership numbers, the cost estimates were all highly suspect, right from the outset.hardofhearing Then mayor Rob Ford was the prime pusher behind the idea for a new Scarborough subway. How could the numbers be anything but questionable?

“Should there have been an extensive due-diligence process before those numbers were quoted and used publicly? Yes,” Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat told the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro. “Was there? No.”

In the post-Gary Webster era at City Hall, it’s not hard to comprehend how staff did their upmost to tell their political masters what they wanted to hear especially when it came to public transit. The former TTC General Manager was forced to walk the plank when he publically expressed an opinion in support of building LRTs instead of subways. It clearly wasn’t safe for staff to be laying their cards on the table.

With the provincial transportation body, Metrolinx, demanding an almost immediate decision from city council on how to proceed with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (a decision the province itself had its own vested opinion about), city staff had been given a couple weeks to come up with a report, a report that many councillors were going to use by any means necessary to justify their support for a subway extension into Scarborough.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“A politically driven process,” according to the chief planner, that wound up inflating ridership numbers to within the acceptable range for building a subway, 14,000 at peak hours. Where that number came from, nobody quite knows. Somewhere from within the planning department, it seems. fingerscrossedbehindbackA number not “necessarily documented”, according to the city director of transportation planning, Tim Laspa, but a number “discussed in meetings.”

Not that the numbers matter now. “Irrelevant” today, says Keesmaat. Not that they ever mattered during the debate. This story’s prime villain, Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he supported the subway regardless of ridership numbers simply on a matter of “fairness”. “Scarborough should have equal access to transit with other areas.”

That’s nonsense, of course.

Scarborough would be better served, more fairly served by implementing the full LRT plan that was part of Transit City. That’s just a plain fact.

But as we’re learning more explicitly now, as many of us have known since 2010, facts have very little to do with this debate. City staff found the environment for reporting facts toxic to their careers. Facts proved to be inconvenient to mayoral ambitions and other political opportunism. notlisteningHell, facts didn’t even have to be factual.

Who knows if this news is coming in too late. Shovels are not yet in the ground but it still feels like the fix is in. What is obvious at this point, though, is it’s going to cost us a lot of money, a lot, a shit tonne of money, stretching out for decades, to go on ignoring the facts as they continue to come to light. An expensive ignoring of facts that won’t, in the end, make much more than a dent in our already woefully under-performing public transit system.

still angrily submitted by Cityslikr


The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

June 17, 2015

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. buslineTaken 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%. crowdedbusThat’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. crowdedbus1We 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. SeanMarshallMapWe 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. DavidHulchanskiMapSpecifically, 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. openroadThis 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


Metrolinx

June 14, 2015

garyowens

Today we talk transit with insidetoronto.com’s Rahul Gupta. And it’s not all about the Scarborough subway!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


CAPITALIZING The Future

June 9, 2015

“Realistically cars are NEVER going to disappear.” [Capitalization ENTIRELY the author’s doing.]

So proclaimed former city councillor and transit advocate, Gordon Chong, in this weekend’s Toronto Sun, and in one sentence putting out there EVERYTHING that is wrong with the Gardiner East’s “hybrid” supporters – led by Mayor John Tory — argument.blinkers

They cannot get see a future that will not be exactly like the past, their past.

That no one I’ve ever heard (or, at least, taken seriously) has stated that the private automobile is going the way of the dinosaur is of no consequence to “hybrid” proponents. Hyperbole and the assigning of extremely held beliefs to opposition voices is the hallmark of those pushing policy that lacks any sort of evidentiary base. The entrenched status quo sees any change as wild-eyed and unthinkable revolution. Utopian. Idyllic. Latte-sipping.

The fact that driving patterns have changed since the Gardiner first went up seems of little consequence to unabashed automobile enthusiasts like Gordon Chong. The number of drivers using the Gardiner, the ENTIRE Gardiner, during peak commute hours has remained relatively stable since the 1970s despite the explosive growth the GTAs have seen in the period. Why? Because there is only so much road space. Only so many cars can fit onto it at any given time.

So people use alternative methods to get around the city and region. Public transit, for one. There’s where you’ve seen a corresponding EXPLOSIVE GROWTH to our population boom. Despite what the TTC CEO called this morning “a chronic lack of funding” for public transit in this city, people in greater numbers keep using it. keepdiggingStill, “hybrid” supporters don’t think it’s up to the task of accommodating whatever overflow may occur if the elevated portion of the Gardiner East is removed.

Which is a funny position to take because, looking at the morning rush hour to downtown (that is where the Gardiner east is located), there isn’t a ward in the city that has more than half its commuters driving. (h/t Laurence Liu). Fun fact? In Ward 2, the beating heart of Ford Nation, transit users coming downtown in the a.m. outnumber drivers, 77%-22%. You read that correctly. Unfortunately, I can’t capitalize it for emphasis.

Driving has become only a component of how people move around the city and not the primary one either, certainly not downtown. There is a shift in our relationship to automobiles. Many more of us aren’t experiencing the freedom we’re promised in car ads. Trends suggest more people are settling down into the core. Driving becomes less desirable.

That’s before we even get to the hard charging technology of driverlessness which promises to alter not only the occupant’s experience but the efficiency with which traffic flows. Will it? Who knows? But pretending it won’t possibly be a factor is tantamount to suggesting computer chips haven’t changed how we live our lives.

Refusing to accept reality, though, is a big part of the “hybrid” game plan. caradIt’s no mistake in his speech yesterday to the Empire Club Mayor Tory raised the spectre of Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, the first chair of Metro Council and the political architect of urban expressway building in Toronto. The mayor talks Gardiner, and speaks of cars and driving, while ignoring process.

Gardiner (the man) threw his energy into making Toronto car-friendly because he was operating on the best available evidence of the time. The private automobile was about the future, with cheap gas and limitless land in which to build our suburban getaways as far as the eye could see and the mind imagine. It’s easy, with more than half a century of hindsight, to roll your eyes. What were they thinking?!

Unless, of course, you support the “hybrid” option. You can’t let go of that thinking. As it was, so it must ever be. Mayor Tory touts Fred Gardiner. Who can argue with Big Daddy, am I right?

In their mind, as expressed by Gordon Chong in the Toronto Sun, “ …an expressway under Lake Ontario is the REAL VISIONARY FUTURE [capitalization mine], much like the Bloor Viaduct was decades ago.” Build more car infrastructure! Screw the cost (BOSTON) or technical nightmares of tunneling near water (SEATTLE). This ‘guerilla war fought against the car for decades’ must come to an end. Driving is not the source of congestion. aroundinawarenessNot enabling more driving is.

It’s not that cars are NEVER going to disappear (although, it seems, they do if you take road space away from them). It’s the zombie-like belief Gordon Chong, Mayor Tory and all the other “hybrid” supporters hold in the primacy of cars as the transportation mode people will use that refuses to die or, at least, face reality. Driving habits have already changed since the time of Fred Gardiner. Evidence heavily suggests it’s a trend that will continue into the future. Investing unnecessarily to fight congestion in the name of cars is doing nothing more than fighting the future, and investing in a dream Fred Gardiner had more than 50 years ago.

As it turns out, a dream that has not aged particularly well.

submitted by Cityslikr


Damn The Torpedoes

May 27, 2015

Despite protestations to the contrary, it appears as if the Scarborough subway will be open to further debate. At our mayor’s behest no less. To build more of it.wtf

Good god.

Yesterday the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro wrote about the behind-the-scenes mad scramble of the Team Tory’s increasingly desperate attempt to square the circle of building SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, two lines of high order transit that threaten to gobble up each others’ ridership numbers, inflicting on one, possibly both of them, a bad case of white elephantitis.

“SmartTrack, which Tory largely staked his election campaign on and which hinges on the use of existing GO rail in the east, can’t be moved,” Pagliaro states. “The subway, which he also promised to build, can. At what cost, however?”moneytoburn

In order to keep what was a questionable from the outset campaign transit pledge (‘bold’, as his team called it), Mayor Tory is prepared to start burning through (more) money, expand an equally dubious transit project and wreak even further havoc on an already havoc-wreaked transit system.

This, at the same time he’s determined to ignore a growing mountain of expert advice recommending against his (again, hastily drawn up) “hybrid” option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated.

Our mayor, it should by now be apparent, is a big proponent, like his predecessor in the job, of what the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Armine Yalnizyan referred to on MetroMorning today as, “decision based evidence making”.notlistening

Or, politics trump good policy, hands down. Every time. No matter what.

What kind of position does this leave city staff in (which is what I was writing about when the Star transit story broke)? What purpose do they serve a politician determined to only listen to them when there’s agreement? Props, to be used to buttress an argument when it suits or to rail against when not. Bureaucracy! Red tape! A culture of no!

Last week, when the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, spoke out unequivocally in favour of removing the Gardiner east, Mayor Tory shrugged, saying she was certainly entitled to her opinion.

“But I’ve sort of set out my own position. She’s set out hers,” the mayor said.squarepeg

As if by merely taking a position, having an opinion makes it valid for no other reason than its existence.

That is not to say politicians are obliged to carry out staff recommendations. We don’t vote for our civil service. It, and our elected representatives, ultimately serves at the people’s pleasure in a democracy.

To simply wave such advice off, however, sum it up as little more than competing points of view undermines the very idea of the civil service. Why bother if you’re simply going to ignore them when it’s politically expedient to do so? Somebody’s got to create the reports we need to show voters we’re not beholden to some unelected body. Come on. Are we going to let some egghead know-it-alls tell us what kind of city we want to live in? Not on my watch.

City staff, filled with expertise, certainly don’t get it right all the time. Anyone can look at a finished development or cite a flawed traffic study and conclude, What were they thinking? Our civil service is not infallible.

Should they be treated as just another opinion, though? Oplottingliver Moore of the Globe and Mail pointed out in the Toronto Star story how the mayor’s staff seemed to be telling the chief planner where subway stops needed to go. Are you fucking kidding me? In Mayor Tory’s Toronto, common sense equals supplanting expertise with political calculation.

Campaign governance. That was the Ford era speciality, now infecting the Tory administration. There is no amount of money too rich, no plan too outrageous that musn’t be pursued to the bitter, ugly end if it’s been slapped on a campaign lawn sign or featured prominently in the campaign literature. Sure, in retrospect that idea I floated while running for office seems misguided and completely unworkable but I said it, so now I have to do it.

Damn your torpedoes, man! Damn them straight to hell!!

Once more, political strategy defeats city building, leadership by poll tracking rather than informed consensus building. Don’t tell me what we need to do. damnthetorpedoesTell me how I get to do what I want to do.

Few should be surprised that’s the territory Mayor Tory’s operating in. The depth to which he’s prepared to wade into it, well, that’s somewhat shocking. He’s proving to be as comfortably shameless as the administration he chased from office, two points converging on the nexus of pure and unadulterated self-interest at the expense of a city that had closed its eyes and crossed its fingers in the hopes of something different.

sinkingly submitted by Cityslikr


Let’s Go Over This One More Time.

April 8, 2015

It’s inconceivable to me that this discussion still has to happen, that a reporter for a local news station feels compelled to shoot a segment on such an obvious topic. saigonshitToronto needs a property tax hike to pay for crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there it is.

As the video shows, a wall of bricks showers down from a community housing building, concrete chunks off a major thoroughfare, subway closures occur frequently due to fires and floods, water mains rupture, roads sinkhole. Splice the visuals together with appropriate smash cuts and you’re left with the impression of a crumbling city, apocalypse now. Toronto. Shit.

Everybody’s got an opinion about why this situation has come to be. A bloated, fat cat bureaucracy, gorging itself on big fat bonuses while the most vulnerable residents live in slum-like conditions. Out-of-control spending on public works projects, over-budget, heavily delayed. Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. Pick your favourite bugaboo. Pink umbrellas and boulders from northern Ontario.pointingfingers

None of these complaints are wrong, necessarily — except for the pink umbrellas and rocks down at Sugar Beach which only reveals a myopic inattention to the bigger picture. Public spending should be heavily scrutinized.  Misspending and misappropriation only heightens an already suspicious belief out there in the public sector. It’s a negative feedback loop, feeding into an always ready to pounce anti-government sentiment.

Yet, do the math and in the scheme of things, added all together, none of these projects or particular bones to pick will make even a dent on the infrastructure needs this city faces. Sure, every little bit counts but every little bit is just that, a little bit, and they don’t count for much, maybe millions when we’re taking billions. We face a far deeper crisis than the easy nickel and dime solutions offered up by the apostles of outrage. We’ve grown content living on the cheap, and living off the hard decisions and sense of community obligation by previous generations.

Amidst all the tales of infrastructure decline and dissolution in Avery Haines’ news segment came the stark fact that we’re paying, in real inflationary adjusted dollars, less in property taxes now than we did back in 2000. That’s right. Less. In 2000, 3 years after amalgamation, 3 years in which there was a property tax rate freeze. hillofbeansWe’re still paying less than that.

Toronto residents pay less in property taxes than many of the GTA’s other municipalities, in some cases significantly less. This is not particularly news to anyone disinclined to think any property tax is too much property tax. During this year’s budget debate Councillor Gord Perks wrote in the Toronto Star that owing to inflation, this city has effectively cut property taxes by 12.4% since amalgamation. Inflation keeps inflating. City council keeps on not keeping up to it. Even all of those ‘through the roof’ over-the-rate-of-inflation property tax rate increases by the profligate David Miller couldn’t help the city’s coffers keep pace.

And Boom! goes the Gardiner. Boom! the brick façade of a TCHC building. Gush! goes the water spout from the busted water main.

And our new-ish mayor, John Tory, shrugs. He was elected by the voters of Toronto to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation. Why? Because he told them anything more than that would be unnecessary. sweepundertherugPlenty of money in the efficiency banana stand, I guess.

“The property taxpayers of Toronto should not be asked to bear those expenses and investments on their own,” Tory said yesterday. “The property tax was never meant to do that.” The mayor’s not wrong. In referring to downloaded social costs like housing and major infrastructure investment in things like public transit, municipalities with their limited revenue gathering base largely on property taxes aren’t supposed to be expected to pay for those big ticket items. Here in Toronto, up until 1995, the provincial government even paid for half of the TTC’s annual operating costs. In 2015, the city is putting nearly $480 million up for that cost. That’s almost one-quarter of a billion dollars that should, in a properly function system, be coming from Queen’s Park. Multiply that by 20 years and, yeah, no wonder our transit system is barely limping into the future, let alone all the other infrastructure needs the city has.

So we can get all pissed off about city council’s quick decision to step up with $90 million to cover shortfalls with the Spadina subway extension, as Ari Goldkind does today in the Star, but it misses the larger debate. cheshirecatThe city shouldn’t be paying for any part of a major transit build. It shouldn’t be contributing anything to the Union-Pearson airport link. Why are we putting up money to renovate a regional transportation route like the Gardiner Expressway?

The province has walked away from its traditional obligations, leaving cities to pick up the slack. That’s what we should really be angry about. That’s the fight we need to be engaged in.

But then we allow the province (along with the federal government to a lesser extent) off the hook, we provide them with their one bit of buckshot of ammunition when we campaign and govern on under-taxation. We’ve given you these revenue tools to deal with the added responsibilities, the province tells Toronto. Why not use them instead of always coming to us for money?

Disingenuous, accompanied with a Cheshire cat grin? You betcha. Download both the obligations and the taxing powers so loathed by the public. citybuildingThank you very much.

Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. By standing idly by, talking about moral and business cases for more investment by the senior levels of government, while deliberately chocking off your own sources of revenue even those not part of the property tax base, is simply being an accomplice to the crumbling of the city. You know there are ways to help, at least, bolster the state of disrepair. They won’t be immediately popular (made even less so by irresponsible campaign pledges that helped get you elected). The alternative, however, is untenable. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable overseeing a city that will continue to decline.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


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