Street Carnag–Oh! I Get It!

July 23, 2014

You know what I love about people who offer up easy solutions to not-so-easy problems? brightidea1Their firm belief that no one else has ever come up with that easy solution. If it were so easy, asshole, don’t you think it would already be in place?

So it goes with the National Post’s recent War on the Streetcar series, where they tap noted transit and municipal affairs expert, Terence Corcoran, and some dude from Vancouver to give us the lowdown on the congestion woes that ail us here in Toronto. Their inevitable conclusion? Replace our streetcars with buses and Bob’s yer uncle. Done, and done. Next problem you want solved?

Geez. Thanks, guys. That’s such a solid idea even Rob Ford has floated it before.

(Note to those handing out transit advice: if Rob Ford agrees with you, it has to be the dumbest idea ever. imwithstupid2He gets his views on public transit from reports he reads behind the wheel of his SUV while driving on the Gardiner.)

For all of those deciding to give voice to your opinions on this city’s congestion, the one constant in the discussion, among all the other variables, the one factor that never, ever changes is the overwhelming presence of private vehicles in the equation. If streetcars were the root of the problem, there wouldn’t be congestion on Dufferin Street, on Finch Avenue, on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, all of which run buses. What about the expressways that intersect the city? The 401, the DVP, the 427, Gardiner/QEW? No streetcars there, either. Some buses. But mostly cars and trucks.

If you want to chime in with your transit/congestion problems, start and end with how to deal with private automobile use. Anything else is simply white noise. You’re not helping. You’re hindering.

Look at the photo accompanying Mr. Hopper’s empty screed. lonestreetcarThe 501 to Long Branch, trapped on all sides by a sea of cars. What problem does he see? The one, the lone streetcar. There’s a joke in there somewhere about not seeing the forest for all the cars.

Of all the laughably contemptible points made by Mr. Corcoran in his anti-transit blathering, perhaps the most laughably contemptible is his final one. “Now there is talk of clearing all automobile movement on King Street and other streetcar-strangled streets,” huffs Corcoran, “all to facilitate the trundling vestige of the horsecar along tracks that lock Toronto into the 19th century.”

Actually no, Terry. It’s not all about facilitating ‘the trundling vestige of the… blah, blah, blah.” It’s about facilitating the movement of as many people through our streets as efficiently and economically as possible. buscongestionWithout introducing lane, turning and parking restrictions on ‘automobile movement’, replacing the 19th-century horsecars with your beloved trolleybuses (which, by the way, would take 3 times as many to move the same number of passengers) won’t make a lick of difference. Bus or streetcar will still be stuck in traffic, battling for scarce road space with cars.

To give the National Post some credit, this peculiar ‘Street carnage’ series of theirs did include Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article ‘Streetcars are not the problem, too much automobile traffic is’ which, essentially, stated what I’ve just been stating for the past 500 hundred words or so. But the paper then spent the better part of the week trying its best to refute that article. youdontsay1Worse, refute it by ignoring the main thrust of his argument. Too much automobile traffic.

How exactly to deal with the congestion problem of too much automobile traffic. Now, there’s a poser, a real conundrum. Until you’re prepared to tackle that, everything else is just re-arranging the furniture, and chances are, somebody else has come up with the idea before you did.

 

yeahyeahyeahly submitted by Cityslikr


All So Depressingly Familiar

June 2, 2014

Sadly, none of it comes as much of a surprise. For anyone following along with the disaster of a transit debate since about 2010, screaminginfrustrationsince the then newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead, little of John Lorinc’s Spacing series seems at all revelatory or shockingly improbable. But seeing more of the gory details, right there in black and white bytes, makes for some seriously disheartening and infuriating reading.

The sheer arrogance of the principals involved in the Scarborough subway/LRT debate is nothing short of monstrous. From Premier Kathleen Wynne, her Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murrary, to councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker, all seemed to operate under the presumption that their own personal political survival or advancement trumped good transit planning. Expert advice was ignored or buried. Numbers, in terms of projected costs and ridership, were massaged. shellgameSound arguments and reasoned decision making replaced by stoking the fires of regional resentment.

“It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit,” Glen Murray said last summer. Subways, folks. People want subways, subways, subways.

While transit activists and government appointed commissions did their upmost to promote a rational discussion about transit building in this city, elected officials at both Queen’s Park and at Toronto City Hall undercut all that work and goodwill by quietly scheming behind the scenes to push a Scarborough subway plan that made absolutely no sense except for trying to ensure some electoral advantage. friendlyfireIt’s one thing to fight a fight against a known enemy. It’s an entirely different matter when you’re knee-capped from behind by supposedly friendly-fire.

This is the root of political apathy. When good governance is sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency. It’s not leadership. It’s not public service. It’s the very reason so many people are fed up with politics.

Perhaps what’s most appalling about this entire clusterfuck is how those many of us hoped would stand opposed to the popular fiction that arose around this post-Transit City debate — that the only worthwhile form of transit to build is the underground kind of transit which is nothing more than a car driver’s fantasy – not only cowered in the face of it but did their best to help propagate it. For a by-election seat here, a mayoral run there, in reaction to robo-calls from a spent political force, a city’s desperate and long overdue need for an infusion of public transit has been jeopardized. whackamoleBecause if Scarborough deserves a subway, what about residents along Finch Avenue West or Sheppard Avenue East? Why should they suffer under the ignominy of 2nd-class transit?

Once you pull that thread, you wind up now having to contend with the likes of the Sheppard Subway Action Coalition (h/t CodeRedTO), another campaign spreading false and misleading information about transit choices many of us had thought already decided on. It’s policy whack-a-mole. A game played not just by hack politicians like Rob Ford but every politician prioritizing their career over judicious, fact-based governance.

Back in 2009, the provincial government restructured the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, fictionalicejpgbooting elected officials from the board in order to rid regional transit planning of any whiff of politics. It was a laudable goal in intention made laughable in implementation. Over the past 4 years, transit planning in Toronto has been about nothing but politics. Bad, craven, self-serving politics, at that.

If that old maxim is true, that we get the politicians we deserve, unfortunately what seems to follow, is we also get the transit we deserve. Remember that, the next time you’re waiting for what seems like forever for the next bus or crammed tightly into that subway car. There’s nobody else to blame for that than ourselves.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Conservative Public Transit Blues

April 9, 2014

What is it with conservative politicians and their loathing and disregard of public transit?robfordstreetcars

Granted, I’m going out at the far end of the political spectrum and south of the border, referring to the comically diabolical but somehow frighteningly real Koch Brothers – equal parts Montgomery Burns and Lionel Barrymore’s Henry F. Potter – and a bunch of southern Republican lawmakers. Together they set out to push back a Nashville plan, where only 2% of daily commutes are made by public transit, for a Bus Rapid Transit route.

The Tennesse state senate passed a bill with an amendment that read:

This amendment prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation. This amendment also prohibits such entities from loading or discharging passengers at any point within the boundary lines of a state highway or state highway right-of-way not adjacent to the right-hand, lateral curb line, or in the absence of curb lines, the right-hand, lateral boundary line or edge of the roadway.

None of your fancy dedicated bus lanes in these parts, you stinkin’ communists.

Now we get the Koch Brothers’ angle. Oil industrialist types, private vehicle use fuels their empire. overturnbusPoliticians taking donations from them or their arms length groups like Americans for Prosperity, or simply those relying on them for information, such as it is, will do their legislative bidding.

That’s pretty straight forward.

But the otherwise conflicted conservative attitude toward public transit couldn’t be on better display than in this interview with William Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. From a fiscal, free-market standpoint, the upside to public transit is clear. Mr. Lind also notes that the more people you get onto public transit, the less cars there are on the roads and, thus, less congestion.

On the other hand, buses and… race. Seems the whiter shades of the middle class don’t care to darken the doors of a bus because… well you know where this goes.poorbus

Race and class are never too far from a transit debate. In the battle over the Nashville BRT, some folks were concerned about transit bringing the ‘riff raff’ into their neighbourhoods. An invasion of ‘burger flippers’ needed to be guarded against.

In Los Angeles, the wealthy enclave of Beverly Hills has fought off a subway expansion and peak hour bus rapid transit only lanes along Wiltshire Boulevard. Swimming pools, movie stars. But we certainly don’t want the help messing with the ambience of the place, getting here more quickly and easily. There is a dark whole of nothingness on the city’s transit map in much of the north-west side of LA where the rest of Los Angeles’ subway, lametromaplight rail and bus expansion fears to go.

Up here, I think, such issues are not so overt, the question of race not so fraught with history. Still, there’s something about the push for subways as ‘1st-class transit’. The whole Scarborough subway fight was underpinned by a certain social status anxiety. If downtown gets a subway, why not Scarborough. Vaughan is getting subway? Why not Scarborough?

Anything less, even those sleek, reliable, iPads of transit, LRTs would not be good enough. (Even a bona fide, bike riding lefty can get all caught up in transit envy.) It would be an indignity, a slight, a civic slap in the face. What, Scarborough isn’t good enough for a subway?

Of course, a certain conservative faction at city council grabbed hold of the fight for not only political reasons but, ultimately, as a way to kick building public transit even further down the road. Promise subways, subways, subways everywhere and, the reality is, you won’t have to build them anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. A subway on Sheppard. A subway on Finch. A subway in every backyard. The more ridiculous the claim, the better because the less likely it will ever be built.fingerscrossed

Back in 2010, how many subways did the mayor promise to have built by now, 2014? And how many have been built? Rinse, and repeat.

The conservative leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park has taken a similar tack, promising subways to everywhere throughout the GTA, LRTs to none. When’s that going to happen? When the provincial deficit is eliminated. Uh huh. And how’s he propose to pay for them? Finding efficiencies and waste.

So yeah. Don’t be counting on subways any time soon.

Suckers!

It’s hard these days to reconcile conservative politics with sound public policy especially when it comes to public transit. Maybe that’s because their base has dwindled to regions where public transit remains negligible, sweetridein rural and suburban areas. But I think the harder truth is the conservative movement has been hijacked by those who simply believe there is no such thing as the greater good. We’re all just self-interested individuals making our way alone in the world.

There are no free rides, just sweet rides. If you want to get anywhere, you don’t do it, sitting at the back of bus.

fed uply submitted by Cityslikr


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