Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


Will The Real Josh Colle Please Step Forward

February 14, 2014

There are more than a few sitting city councillors whose presence on the municipal scene baffles me. headscratcherWhether they seem ill at ease in a public forum or are just complete busts when it comes to understanding policy issues, I scratch my head and wonder what forces brought them to where they’re currently sitting. Accidents of circumstance or just freak electoral accidents?

Curiously, none are more of a mystery to me than Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence). He seems smart and is definitely articulate. No dummy is Councillor Colle. It’s just, I can’t get a handle on the man.

Even before he started sporting a goatee that made him look like the son of Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), he struck me as someone who was up to something. That something, I haven’t been able to figure out. Colle’s like the thinking man’s Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), City Hall’s Machiavellian Prince.

Back during the highly contentious 2012 budget debate, Councillor Colle was the face of the pushback to save some $20 million in cuts that the Ford administration had put on the chopping block. twofacedHe stood defiantly in opposition to the mayor when it wasn’t necessarily politically advantageous to do so. It was probably the first symbolic lump Mayor Ford took.

A little more than a year later, the very same Councillor Colle stood up and gave perhaps one of the most dispiriting defences of city council not doing a single thing when it came to dealing with revenue tools for building transit. He was pushing an amendment to colleague Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion to proceed with some of the revenue recommendations from city staff that essentially struck all the suggested revenue streams out of the motion. In effect, Colle was seeking to turn a pro-tax motion into a non-tax motion. He won.

It was a shrug. An outright rejection of responsible governing. Councillor Colle’s version of Homer Simpson’s I’m not not licking toads denial.

Looking through the councillor’s voting pattern via Matt Elliott’s council scorecard reveals little up about what he represents. lickingtoadsHe sits at just over 40% of agreement with Mayor Ford, almost smack dab in the middle of the pack. That’s not far off the number he was at after year one on council. While support for the mayor from his strongest allies has dropped off precipitously over the last couple years, Councillor Colle has remained fairly steady throughout.

Even in this last budget cycle where the mayor was pretty much abandoned by everybody but the hardest of hardcore, far right on council, Colle punched in at 33% alignment with Mayor Ford. A very small sample size mind you, but it was on par with the usual unthinking mayoral yeah-sayers like councillors Cesar Palacio, Gary Crawford and above even the likes of the normally dependable Councillor Mark Grimes.

This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Early on in the term, when Councillor Colle had inherited the Lawrence Heights redevelopment in his ward, you could sense he was forced into some horse trading with the mayor who’d campaigned against the redevelopment, in order to protect it. orelseA scenario where he was operating with a gun to his head, as is the mayor’s standard operating procedure.

But Mayor Ford doesn’t swing that kind of pipe any more. Still, Councillor Colle continues to play ball. Maybe he’s comfortable politically aligned with the mayor 40% of the time on the big issues affecting the city. It’s just odd that his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe, famously said Rob Ford couldn’t pass gas if a majority of council didn’t let him, and here’s Councillor Colle – who Moscoe endorsed to replace  him – enabling Mayor Ford to pass gas 4 out of 10 times.

It all leaves me cold with ambivalent uncertainty toward Josh Colle.

As the scion of the local MPP and with all the Liberal party election machine operations that entails, it’s hard to see how a candidate could dislodge him in October. In 2010, Colle’s main opponent was the established conservative candidate Rob Davis, so picture him running as the reasonable progressive in the field. beatfromthebushesMaybe it might be worth a try this time around for someone to run against him from the left, challenge the councillor on his progressive credentials. Ask Councillor Colle why he continues to support the Scarborough subway extension while voting against ways to fund it.

Ask him anything that might chase him from the bushes and force him to define who exactly he is and what he stands for. After nearly 4 years in office, we deserve to know that much, I think.

– curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Mr. City Planner, Tear Down That Expressway!

February 6, 2014

So after some delay due to unknown circumstances [**cough, cough** Denzil Minnan-Wong **cough, cough** Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair **cough, cough**], the city staff report on what the hell to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway (not the official name) dropped yesterday. Maintain. Improve. Replace. Remove.

This picture won’t do it justice. If you want to get a really good look at what the various proposals might wind up looking like, check out the report, pages 32 & 33 specifically. Throw in 34 for good measure.

GardinerOptionsBy every other measure except for travel times by car, removing this section of the Gardiner appears to be the smartest move the city could make. Economically. Environmentally. Design and planning-wise. It presents an exciting city building opportunity rather than an obstacle.

One thing that should really jump out at you when reading the report are the a.m. peak hour numbers of how commuters got downtown. Between GO and the TTC, 68% arrived by public transit while only 28% made it there by car. I don’t know why, but if you asked me, subwaycrowdI would’ve predicted the exact opposite. 68-28 in favour of downtown car commutes.

How could I be so wrong?

Well, here’s a wild guess.

This city’s continued default car-centricity. Everybody drives everywhere they go, right? I mean, look at all that traffic.

Nothing gets talked about here that isn’t ultimately filtered through the lens of how it’ll affect drivers. Parking regulations. Bike lanes. Separated transit right of ways.

What will the drivers think? We can’t inconvenience the drivers. Won’t somebody please think about the drivers?!

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been having a conversation in the comments section of this blog, a fairly amicable discussion, about my anti-car/anti-suburb views and opinions. Kind of along the lines of imposing my lifestyle choice on others. You don’t want to drive? Don’t drive. roadrageBut you’ll have to pry the steering wheel out of my cold dead hands.

There’s a fundamental divide at work here, pitting one side who sees through their proverbial windshield any imposition on the right to drive as a deviation from the norm, against those of us who’ve come to the realization that prioritizing private auto use above all other modes of transport is harmful to healthy city building.

Do I want to ban cars? Not in most places but I do think a whole lot more Times Squares would be a very, very good idea. Do I want to restrict the use of cars? Again, in some places where it warrants. And I want those driving cars to start paying the actual cost of what we all pay to maintain the necessary infrastructure for drivers to get around this city.

Is that an imposition of my lifestyle choice on other people? I don’t know. Is demanding a fair share of the public space now disproportionately given over to automobile use an imposition?

For some 80 years now, the assumed priority by city planners and builders for cars has imposed its unhealthy values on every resident, driver or not. caradRoads designed for speeds that make any other forms of using them dangerous and unpleasant. Pollution. An atomized sense of individuality that fosters a sense of isolation at the expense of community. Gridlock and congestion.

Yes, folks. The main cause of gridlock and congestion is cars. The thing you’re sitting inside of. Too many cars and too little space to accommodate them.

The Gardinder Expressway was built during an age when we believed cars were a source of freedom. They would get us further faster. Bill Haley and the Comets playing on the radio, wind in our hair, my best girl cuddled up beside me. All hail, the emperor automobile!

How do you like me now?

Only a slim slice of daily commuters are going to be adversely affected if we tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner. That’s unfortunate but, frankly, they’ve been catered to for too long to the detriment of everybody else who lives in this city. It’s past time to re-balance the scales.

There’s a chance right now (and by right now, I mean maybe before the decade is out) to chip away at a city building mistake that was made with the best of intentions. That happens. congestiontoWe don’t always make the right decisions, and lacking 20/20 foresight, there’s always going to be unintended consequences.

Recognizing those mistakes, however, is the key to successful adaptation and change. It’s glaringly apparent the encouragement of car dependence was a terrible mistake for the general well being of this city, most cities, all cities. Let’s not make the same mistake again. And again. And again.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


My Conservatism’s 4 Realz!

January 23, 2014

This one’s a long shot.

longshot

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East).

As divisive and stridently ideological as the mayor and his councillor-brother are and have been, in terms of divisiveness and hidebound anti-tax, small/anti-government sentiment, Councillor Minnan-Wong has matched them step for step. Set aside his new found abhorrence of the mayor’s personal behaviour over the past year or so — their ‘personal’ politics couldn’t be more different – when it comes to politics politics, Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Fords are soul mates.

Yes, the councillor called the mayor out on his cowardice yesterday at Executive Committee for failing to put the money where his mouth is especially when it came to the Scarborough subway. peasinapodHe is positioning himself as a more reasonable conservative than the mayor. Well, good for him. Who isn’t and still maintains the ability to walk upright?

But don’t be fooled by this attempt at political relativity. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is second to only one in his hatred of taxation and the attempts of government to have a positive effect in people’s lives. He was as anti-David Miller as they come, being part of the right wing Responsible Government Group established in opposition to the Miller administration. He lustily embraced the role of henchman for Mayor Ford during the early years, using his powerful position as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to roll back a number of key initiatives the previous council enacted.

Jarvis bike lanes? Gone. Rebuilt a few intersections over along Sherbourne Street. texaschainsawmassacreThe environmental assessment in progress to study various options of what to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway? Quietly shelved, work on it stopped. Hey. What’s going on in Kristyn Wong-Tam’s ward? Let’s fuck some of that shit up, shall we?

Councillor Minnan-Wong may tout himself as a devout fiscal conservative but what he really is is a destructive conservative. None of the actions in the previous paragraph saved the city any money. In fact, the delay caused by ignoring council’s request for the Gardiner EA will wind up costing the city more in the long run as we have to ad hoc patch and maintain parts of the expressway while waiting longer than we needed to for EA to be finished.

Respect and all that blah, blah, blah.

Even the councillor’s righteous indignation at the Scarborough subway Mayor Ford’s unwilling to pay for is, what would you call it? Rich? henchmanCouncillor Minnan-Wong was in the majority of TTC commissioners who engineered the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster at the mayor’s behest for having the temerity to oversee a report that recommended maintaining the course of LRT building rather than throwing money at a phantom subway. So, he sort of helped set fire to transit plans already in place and ushered us into the next phase of uncertainty and delay.

More respect!

Hold on, you might be saying at this point. Maybe we won’t have to worry about Denzil Minnan-Wong creating havoc as a councillor at City Hall for much longer. He’s rumoured to be looking at a run for mayor.

Well, maybe. I just don’t see it happening, though. For a couple reasons.

With the news this week of John Tory definitely maybe jumping into the race, joining Mayor Ford, David Soknacki and (soon) Karen Stintz, all to the right of centre, there’s precious little room left on that perch for Minnan-Wong. Unless he has something up his sleeve, the big back room guns and money will have already found a place elsewhere. And how exactly is he going to position himself? More conservative than the others, less outrageously unpredictable than the mayor. noroomIt’s the sound of the slicing and dicing of the centre-right vote into smaller and smaller bits.

Besides, ignoring political differences for the moment, Councillor Minnan-Wong just doesn’t strike me as an overly appealing candidate. Whatever the populist appeal is that Mayor Ford has (and I’m told he has it although it remains a mystery to me), Councillor Minnan-Wong ain’t got it. Watching him work council chambers, he seems ill at ease with anyone not wearing a suit and lobbying some issue or another. He’s like that guy we all know who isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks he is.

It’s impossible to imagine him making much of a dent into the loyalist Ford base which leave him trying to capture the rest of the conservative vote as he’s certainly dead to anyone sitting centre-left. Just don’t see the numbers breaking his way.

So that leaves us with the prospect of another term of a Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As entrenched an incumbent as he is, I mean, the guy’s been at City Hall, some city hall, since 1994 and he captured over 50% of the popular vote in 2010, there is a slight glimmer of opportunity. unimpressedIn the last 3 elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined each campaign from a high of over 70% in 2003 to 53% last time out. Perhaps the longer voters in Ward 34 see Councillor Minnan-Wong, the less they take to him.

And they have seen a lot of him in the past 3+ years, doing what he’s good at. Gutting the city from the inside out under the banner of faux fiscal conservatism. Responsible government? Hardly. A small-minded bean counter with little regard for healthy city building.

He’s kept your taxes low, Ward 34, but at what cost?

Somebody really should take a crack at forcing him to answer that question in 2014.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Up To The Mayor

October 15, 2013

Here’s why I’m not a gambling man.

kennyrogers

Back in the early days of the Ford administration if you’d offered me the longest of long shot odds that Councillor Paul Ainslie would be a likely candidate to publicly break with the mayor, I’dve turned you down flat. Not possible, I’d say. There aren’t odds oddsy enough to make me take that bet.

Well, here we are.

On Friday, Councillor Ainslie not only resigned his chair of the Parks and Recreation committee exitstageright(automatically walking away from the powerful Executive Committee in the process) but he did so in a very loud and public fashion.

According to the councillor, Mayor Ford “ran out of ideas a long time ago” and has a “lack of strategic objectives.”

Ouch.

Councillor Ainslie isn’t the first former ally and Executive Committee member to part ways with the mayor but he might be the noisiest. Both councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Giorgio Mammoliti slipped away gently, citing their own reasons for doing so. Councillor Mammoliti has already crawled back onto the Executive Committee, directly replacing Ainslie.

Only Councillor Jaye Robinson’s departure from the inner sanctum back in June made a similar kind of splash. She was turfed for suggesting in her outside voice that maybe Mayor Ford should take a little time away from his position to deal with any sort of personal issues he might be having. pileonRobinson has not shied away from her break with the administration, weighing in on her colleague’s exit and the subsequent robo-call roll out from the mayor’s office that followed.

“We should be encouraging independent thought at City Hall,” she said in the radio interview and referred to Mayor Ford’s ‘leadership style’ as nothing more than “bluster and intimidation” “The farthest thing from transparent and accountable government.”

Along with Ainslie’s transition from an almost Tommy-like support (deaf, dumb and blind…actually, let’s call it Gary Crawford-like support) at the beginning of this term to a bona fide outspoken maverick of Mayor Ford, Councillor Robinson’s increasingly pointed criticism may well represent the soft support that put the mayor over the top in the 2010 election. It’s now evaporating and that should be of some concern to those dreaming of a second term. tommyThe simple fact of the matter is, there isn’t one without at least some of the mushy middle voting public across the city.

Of course, for some this latest schism with a former ally is no fault of the mayor’s. After Councillor Ainslie’s resignation on Friday, councillor-brother Doug went on full smear alert, chalking it up to Ainslie being miffed for having been overlooked to replace outgoing budget chief, Mike Del Grande (who himself kicked up some dust leaving the position. It didn’t amount to much as he seems to just have retreated into a sullen surliness). Frankly, I’d be pissed too if I’d been passed over for the job by Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. If anything is proof of Councillor Ainslie’s assertion that the mayor lacks strategic objectives, it would be his appointing of Frank Di Giorgio as budget chief.

As with almost everything that comes out of the mouth of councillor-brother Doug, the truth about the rift between Ainslie and the Ford administration is much more robust, let’s call it, beginning a lot earlier and in a far more nuanced way.

While Councillor Ainslie was enabling the mayor to run roughshod through the halls of City Hall, cutting this tax and that service, he was also steadily tinkering as chair of the Government Management Committee. yourefiredHe pushed through small but important things like getting wireless service throughout all of City Hall that helped further citizen engagement to the bigger enchilada on that score: sending a request to Queen’s Park for permission to start using alternative voting methods in forthcoming municipal elections. He was actually helping Mayor Ford keep a campaign promise of delivering a more open and transparent government.

But then things seemed to come unglued with some back stage mayoral shenanigans at the Garrison Ball in March. Ainslie was knocked from his post as Government Management Committee chair a couple months later and served briefly as chairs of the Parks and Recreation Committee until this week.

Until his decision to reject the Scarborough subway on Tuesday and opt for the already in place subway. When he stood up at council to make his case for the LRT, he said that he’d gone into the previous weekend fully intending to vote for the subway. Then he started really reading the staff report and just saw the mounting costs that had no definite end to them. yourefired1He found himself weighing his options between a fully funded LRT, ready to go, with no extra costs lurking in the corners versus a subway proposal dripping with unknowns and a much higher price tag.

However, subways have become so integral to the Team Ford brand that to vote against them and vote against them so overtly couldn’t be seen as anything other than an outright rejection of the administration. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another member of the Executive Committee, also voted against the subway but did so in a more low key fashion, so escaped notice.

Or maybe as a potential rival for the mayor’s job next year, he’s being allowed to keep close relations so he doesn’t have much distance between himself and the mayor if they have to campaign against one another.

Or quite possibly, Councillor Minnan-Wong shares enough of Mayor Ford’s loathing of government and taxes hediditthat he’s allowed a longer leash in order to wreak all the damage he can while the clock’s running down.

That’s not the kind of fiscally conservative politician Councillor Paul Ainslie is, obviously. Plus, he’s from the holy land of folks in Scarborough. So he was expendable. He needed to be made an example of.

It’s nothing personal, according to the mayor, although it seems voting against the Scarborough subway was nothing short of a ‘personal attack’ on Mayor Ford according to Councillor Ford. Go figure. *shrug* It’s about politics and political calculation. Plain and simple. The plan is to ride the subway issue to re-election and anybody seen as standing in the way? Electoral road kill.

This couldn’t come as any sort of surprise to Councillor Ainslie. He too must’ve made some calculations and decided to roll the dice on his political future, prepared to face his constituents as a careful custodian of their tax dollars rather than just another mayoral flunky. Again, I’m no betting man but if I were, I wouldn’t put my money against the councillor on this one.

rollthedice

fingers crossedly submitted by Cityslikr


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