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


A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse

July 17, 2015

Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.

In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.

This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.

But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.

“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”

Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?

“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”

Rules? M’eh. Whatever.

While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.

Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? gavelOur elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.

Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?

More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.

If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. youcantdothatWhy not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?

Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.

searchingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sober (Almost) Second Thought

July 13, 2015

It may not be immediately apparent to the naked eye but I am not an expert on all things. In fact, it could be argued, there are times I might not know what I’m talking about. thoughtfulYet, that doesn’t always stop me from talking about them.

Somewhere in between those two points on a curve, I wrote about the newly designed, rebuilt and unveiled Queens Quay. In the post, I suggested Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star was, how did I put it again? “Wildly off the mark” in his early assessment of the roadway. In hindsight, it would probably have been better stated: I disagree rather emphatically with Mr. Keenan, suggesting more that our opinions on the subject differed rather than I was right and he was wrong.

Last Wednesday, I travelled back down to Queens Quay for a couple hours to supplement my original take on it registered by a quick bike through there and back on the previous weekend. I talked for a few minutes with a TTC worker, queensquay4standing at the Lower Spadina intersection, manually realigning streetcar tracks as the newly installed on-board switch mechanism wasn’t functioning properly. I chatted for a few more minutes with a couple motorcycle traffic enforcement police officers, taking a quick snack break.

Their general take on the new Queens Quay, a couple weeks into the new era, was a general bemused bewilderment. There were spots along the way people, whether on foot, on bike or behind the wheel of a car, were genuinely confused. Hell, one of the cops told me on his first run along it, he’d made an improper turn. The layout was confusing at times. Right of ways weren’t always clearly marked and obvious. Tweaks and rejigs would be necessary to avoid a serious accident at some point of time. Up to now it had been fender-benders and heated exchange of words.

Which was Ed Keenan’s point in his articles. Queens Quay was good but it could be better, it needed to be better. One of the motorcycle cops suggested for advanced turn signals, use arrows instead of solid colours so that drivers would realize that signal was directed at them and not simply some helpful suggestion to take or leave. queensquay7At points of possible conflict, make it obvious not merely intuitive.

In my defense, however, after parking myself with a coffee at one of the street’s flashpoints, Queens Quay and Lower Simcoe, to take in the proceedings, there was a lot more going on than simply confusion especially on many drivers’ parts. Despite a sort of new quirky layout especially with the streetcar right of way positioned along the side of the street (counter to the established in Toronto right down the middle alignment), some pretty straight-forward things were either willfully ignored or absent-mindedly overlooked, let’s say. Clearly marked – with accompanying bright new neon coloured NEW signs — No Right Turns went regularly unnoticed, resulting in cars either scattering pedestrians or stopping street cars. The aforementioned advance turn signals were oftentimes run while red, resulting in [see previous sentence].

As for the frequently assailed streetcar right of way, let me just say this. With its ever so slight but still unmistakable ramp up onto it, drivers have to be either completely unaware of their surroundings or entirely determined to miss the fact that they’re not supposed to be driving there. queensquay5Neither option is particularly assuring. I saw a driver wind up on the streetcar tracks as she looked up from a phone in her hand. Another one deliberately used the right of way to jump out ahead of pedestrians crossing to make the left turn.

Painting the right of way a different colour or installing more obvious signage wasn’t going to alter that kind of behaviour. Simple enforcement of basic traffic laws would. A changing of the mindset that the power balance of road usage here was different than elsewhere in the city. That’s what was ultimately going to be needed for the new Queens Quay to work.

I guess my real beef with Ed Keenan’s view was my resentment that drivers needed more help understanding the concept. Fuck them, am I right? queensquay6If more assistance was necessary, maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car in the first place or, at least, maybe you should be driving better.

In retrospect though, maybe I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. Change doesn’t happen just because you want it to and not everyone welcomes the same kind of change you do. The new Queens Quay represents a definite change of approach to moving people through and along a very small but important part of the city. Why not do whatever you can to help people get comfortable with the change? Even the ones, both literally and figuratively, in the driver’s seat.

(almost) humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Muddling Through Or Is He?

July 10, 2015

Just 4 days after yet another black man, Andrew Loku, a father of five, a former Sudanese child soldier, living in an apartment building “leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide affordable housing and services for people suffering from mental illness” was shot to death by Toronto police —“Andrew died right in front of me. There was no reason for it.” – just 4 days after the incident, Mayor John Tory, delivering one of his “angrier speeches”, fought to have his friend, not that that was relevant in any way, his friend and 2014 campaign fundraiser and chief of staff when Tory was the provincial leader of the P.C. party, Andy Pringle, re-appointed to the Toronto Police Services Board despite the fact that according to the former vice-chair of the TPSB, Councillor Michael Thompson, the lone black member of city council who the mayor dumped from the TPSB upon assuming office, according to Councillor Thompson, Mr. Pringle provided “a deafening silence on major police issues” and “consistently rubber-stamped police actions…not in the best interest of the community”, “policing was not his finest hour”, waving such criticism off as just politics, Mayor Tory pushed the pro-police carding Mr. Pringle’s appointment through council on what proved to be an easy, lopsided (and possibly whipped) vote, further highlighting that the mayor has no idea what the hell he’s doing on the police file or he knows exactly what he’s up to.

unbelievably submitted by Cityslikr


Drivers Not Wanted

July 6, 2015

Perhaps some of the signage and cues had been updated along the new Queens Quay before I finally made it down there on Saturday, queensquayafter Ed Keenan wrote his first article on the street last week. As I rode and strode along the strip east from Bathurst to Sherbourne and back, there was little of the ‘potentially lethal’ chaos Keenan had witnessed there. One wide left turn and some willful pushiness on the part of three cars intent on making that light were pretty much it for me. Outside of that, perhaps not serenity now, but a pretty pleasant run, all in all.

That said, I still think Ed Keenan is wildly off-the-mark on his assessment of the street, and the need to mollify and coddle car drivers. “This is a new kind of street,” Keenan writes. “It takes intuitive signals about how streets work, patterns people have spent a lifetime learning, and up-ends them. That can be a good thing, but there have to be some instructions.”queensquay3

If Queens Quay is a ‘new kind of street’ here in Toronto, don’t you simply undercut that attempted innovation by catering to old ways of going about our business? The old way being about putting cars atop our transportation hierarchy. The whole point of the new Queens Quay is not to put drivers at ease with their traditional ways of driving.

This is the problem the city faces currently. Designing and building roads with the emphasis on car drivers not driving like they should. The result is wider than necessary streets and avenues, to safely accommodate drivers not obeying speed limits. Streets unfriendly to most other non-vehicular traffic.

I think the new Queens Quay should be disorienting to drivers, unwelcoming even. Aside from living down along that run of the waterfront, why on earth would you want to drive there? It’s the lake, folks, with the kind of public access we’ve been clamoring decades for. Now we should be concerned for those who want to cruise the strip in their cars?queensquay1

If you’re going to insist on doing that, you do it by the new rules. Slow the fuck down. Figure out what the fuck you’re doing. Fall the fuck in line behind the other modes of transport operating there. Streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians. Consider yourself an unwelcome but obligatory guest, like an obnoxious uncle, invited to a wedding purely out of family protocol.

Keenan’s not wrong in pointing out that a distracted, disoriented (and frustrated) driver is a dangerous one. Rather than hold their hands, though, and calm them with soothing, familiar signs, arrows and blinking lights, I’d prefer more of a New York Mayor de Blasio approach. Fall in line. Drive carefully. Suffer real consequences for not doing so. Vision Zero.

Driving along Queens Quay should be a nightmare. It shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t be intuitive in the traditional way of, as a matter of fact, I do own the road.

Frankly, in this writer’s opinion, there’s still too much of the space given over to car traffic especially as you head east past Yonge Street. Bikes and pedestrians vie for increasingly smaller amounts of the road while 4 lanes remain for cars, much of it underused on this particular Saturday at least. queensquay2Hopefully with more development in the area, that ratio will be readjusted in favour of non-car traffic.

If the new Queens Quay is truly about upending “lifelong habits and assumptions about Toronto streets”, let’s start with the biggest assumption and habit of all. Car drivers gonna car drive, and everyone else needs to adjust their behaviour and attitude accordingly because, well, car drivers couldn’t possibly change theirs.

stridently submitted by Cityslikr


We Need To Have That Car Talk

June 30, 2015

Having arrived back in town yesterday after about 10 days away, the top 3 stories on the local news this morning were as follows: traffic accident causes a.m. traffic chaos, 2 car crash kills a cyclist (another one), 3 person HOV lanes in place for PanAm Games, grrrrrrrr.trafficjamGTA

Do we live in a city so eye-splittingly uninteresting that our headline grabbing news consists largely of traffic? Whatever your opinion may be, we do have the aforementioned PanAm Games coming up in a couple of weeks, the biggest sporting event ever on Canadian soil, or something. Toronto just finished up with another successful Pride celebration, re-integrating the mayor’s office into the proceedings after 4 years in the homophobic wilderness. A Poverty Reduction Strategy is under consideration by the Executive Committee.

And yet, here we are, talking traffic, specifically car traffic, private automobile traffic.

Yeah. This fucking city.

Nothing says ‘car obsessed’ more than always obsessing about cars, and the problems drivers face driving their cars around town.

If you’re a driver and your commute times have increased because, I don’t know, reason X, change up how you get around. roadrageYou can’t because it still takes longer than public transit would? Well, good for you. Imagine the poor bastards who don’t have the choice to drive, putting in that extra time to get where they’re going. Think about that for just a second before having a tantrum about your diminished quality of life and seeing less of your family.

Blah, blah, blah, Wah, wah, wah.

Of all the things to be outraged about around here, of all the things to be touting the merits of civil disobedience over, being inconvenienced while driving in your car is hardly a worthy cause. It’s petulantly selfish, as a matter of fact. Amazingly self-absorbed and anti-social.

We’ve been hearing recently about ‘frustrated’ drivers having to deal with lower speed limits on downtown local roads or new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling. A ‘frustrated’ driver may become a dangerous driver, is the inference. Incidents of road rage increase. Risky behaviour leads to more accidents, injuries and fatalities. Don’t make drivers angry. You won’t like drivers when they’re angry.

Rather than stare that kind of bullshit down, we indulge it. WHOVlanee operate as if deciding to get behind the wheel of a car absolves us of adhering to any sort of societal norm. Rules of the road are simply helpful suggestions. Enforcement is the first step to totalitarianism.

You can’t take a lane of highway from me! I pay my taxes! I have a right to—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

I do not think it too extreme a statement to suggest that fighting to rebalance our transportation system, to rein in the terror of private automobile use inflicted on this city and region, is a fight for the soul of the GTA. We are where we are in terms of congestion, mobility, lost productivity for two simple reasons, one inevitably following the other. A lack of vigorous investment in public transit for almost a generation now and a continued over-investment in our car-centric infrastructure.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Outside of the downtown core, how many times have we heard the reason for driving is because it’s faster than public transit? As has been said many, many times by many, many people, you don’t change that by making it easier to drive. deathrace2000You don’t change anything by attempting to make it easier to drive except maybe changing it for the worse, for drivers and non-drivers alike.

Toronto and the GTA is at a crucial juncture where it is impossible to try and make it easier to drive without exacting long term and, quite possibly, irreversible damage on almost every other aspect of living and doing business here. It is not 1965. There are no more open roads to ride to freedom on. Believing that is what’s brought us to this point now. Denying that reality is willfully short-sighted, a delusional folly.

auto-immunely submitted by Cityslikr


Speed Kills But In A Worthy Cause

June 24, 2015

Look.

When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. standfirmStatus quo versus agents of change.

In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!

Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. carspeedingStill bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.

Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!

Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.

Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). givethefingerThe faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?

The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.

City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. icantdrive55Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.

That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.

Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.

“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. deathrace2000“The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”

In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.

Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.

I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.

Why are we so quick to exempt car drivers from adhering to the rules of the road we collectively seek to establish?crybaby

Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.

Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. wrongwayWhat’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?

Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr


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