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


Celebrity Mayor

April 14, 2014

Is it possible Rob Ford has always been a celebrity candidate? Even back in 2010 when he was a little known councillor from Etobicoke deciding to take a run at the mayor’s office, celebritybobblehead2it was all about his personality, that everyman in an ill-fitting suit, looking out for the little guy. He wasn’t a politician. He was a brand.

Everywhere he goes, Rob Ford is treated like a rock star, at least according to his councillor-brother-campaign manager, Doug. Wherever he goes everybody wants to get their picture taken with the mayor. Look, guys! It’s me and the mayor! The mayor who’s been on a late night talk show! The mayor who’s admitted to smoking crack!

It’s not necessarily a recent phenomenon, in the wake of his increased notoriety over the last 18 months or so. People always seemed to want to get their pictures taken with him. At the first Ford Fest after he was elected mayor, there was a steady stream of attendees waiting to pose with Mayor Ford. He has always been a larger-than-life figure. His politics ride shotgun with his persona.

So the direction his re-election campaign is taking cannot come as much of surprise to those who’ve been following along for the last 4 years. It is a full on embrace of his celebrity status. Anyone – and they mean anyone – abelincolnbobbleheadswith any sort of name recognition, good or bad, is welcomed aboard Team Ford. Ben Johnson. That guy from the Trailer Park Boys. No, not that one. Not that guy either. The one in that episode where—Does it matter? The Trailer Park Boys!

And as with any sort of celebrity campaign, whether electoral or some product promotional tour, you can never forgot the merchandise. Some swag. With Rob Ford, it’s all about the bobbleheads. Sports stars. Dead presidents. Anybody who’s anybody (or anybody who was anybody) gets their own bobbleheads.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about the tactical approach of these bobbleheads in helping not only with donations but in compiling voters and volunteers lists. Buy one, give us your data in return. “Rob Ford and his brother…are either the smartest people in the room or the dumbest and I don’t know,” says Ralph Lean, celebritybobbleheada long time political bagmen who knows a thing or two about raising money.

I do know that the Fords are smart in using the mayor’s celebrity as the focus for eliciting donations and names for the campaign. Smart, or it’s just the result of a basic process of elimination. It’d be hard to run on his record of accomplishments (spotty) or his time in office (horrific, if you’re not a big fan of your mayor smoking crack in drunken stupors, etc., etc.) So, it’s full on celebrity mayor. Do you like a mayor who puts Toronto on the map of late night American talk shows and international news wires? Re-elect Mayor Rob Ford in 2014!

It’s little wonder then that the latest installment of Ford Nation on YouTube is dedicated solely to bobbleheads and Jimmy Kimmel. Looks, folks. Your celebrity mayor hobknobs with actual, real life celebrities. No talk of policy issues the city the mayor wants to continue to lead faces. Who’s got time to discuss transit? It’s Jimmy Kimmel, folks! A celebrity. Endorsing the mayor. Sort of. He said he might come to town in November for a “fun-raiser” and to celebrate brother Doug’s birthday.

Jimmy Kimmel, folks!

The question now is, have the Fords so degraded public discourse in this city that there’s a big enough audience – and that’s how they view their base of support, as an audience of taxpayers not engaged citizens – to secure them a second term in office? Will boasting that the likes of Jimmy Kimmel had never even heard of Toronto before Rob Ford became mayor activate another winning Ford Nation who see something ‘world class’ about that? It’s a risky road to take, even in the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but the reality is, Team Ford has no other alternative.

star struckly submitted by Cityslikr


On Self-Justification

April 11, 2014

Earlier this week, as part of our Municipal Election 2014 Wards To Watch series, we wrote a few words about Ward 17 Davenport councillor, defenseCesar Palacio. While certainly not flattering, it could’ve been so much worse, in our judgement, since we were writing about, well, Cesar Palacio. Still, we received a couple forceful replies in the councillor’s defence (here and here), both calling us out for being fact unfriendly, and suggesting we try to employ a little something called ‘research’.

One (which may or may not have come from a former employee of Councillor Palacio’s; we’re still waiting for a response to our enquiry about that) asked a very direct question: This is journalism?

Is this journalism.

Of course it isn’t. As least as I understand the term which itself is kind of interesting because I think we all have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes journalism. journalism1Like pornography, we might not be able to define ‘journalism’ but most of us recognize it when we see it.

[Stops. Eyes narrow at the suitability of the above analogy. Continues on.]

What this is, what I’ve always imagined it to be, may go back further than our notion of journalism, perhaps to the very roots of modern journalism, if my grasp of the history can be trusted.

A personal story.

Back in 2009, while deep into my epic poetry phase, I was reading a biography of John Milton. Best known as the author of Paradise Lost, during his lifetime he would’ve been seen more as a political prose writer, a staunch defender of republicanism, divorce and a separation between church and state. Such views almost cost him his life when Charles II returned to the monarchy and was looking to exact some payback on those seen as responsible and sympathetic to the execution of his father 11 years earlier.

See Milton’s The Tenure of Magistrates and Kings.

At this time, I was getting much of my political news, especially U.S. political news, thehangingvia the interwebz. Not just from big name online publications like Salon and such but through these things the kids were calling blogs. Hullabaloo and Sadly, No! were a couple of my favourites. (HTML Mencken remains one of my favourite pseudonyms, a tradition, for all you anonymous haters out there, that goes back centuries, even before the advent of all this computer gadgetry.)

2009, the summer of it in fact, was also when you might remember Toronto enduring the indignities and tumult of a municipal outside workers’ strike. Some things struck me at the time. Firstly, we as a society had become incredibly soft, easily outraged at being in any way slightly inconvenienced. How dare they put upon us so! Garbage in our parks! The stench! Won’t someone think of the children!

Secondly, at the strike’s conclusion, we were immediately told that the administration had caved to the unions, given them the keys to the vault, blah, blah, blah. The fact that this wasn’t quite true seemed to have no bearing on the volume and frequency with which it was broadcast. It’s a sound bite still reverberating today, 5 years on, giving an undeserved fiscal bump of credibility to many who hardly deserve it.garbagestrike

Thirdly, it became clear to me that then mayor David Miller was being ridden out of town on the rails in a disturbingly orchestrated fashion. I was, and remain a fan of David Miller, and still believe it to be a travesty how his record and legacy has been wilfully and deliberately distorted, much to the detriment of this city. Does that mean I think he and his administration were perfect? I won’t even dignify that possible straw man of a question with a response.

In the wake of Miller’s political demise, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke was born.

Now, why am I telling you this, spooling out our origin story, as the kids like to say about their fancy colouring book superheroes? Journalism. We ain’t that. Especially not the narrowly defined and hopelessly misguided version of it media critics like to trot out. Objectivity. He said but then he said. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

We’re not even the truly good and noble form of journalism that Toronto has a lot of in its newspapers, radio, online. What you’re reading is a political tract. All subjectivity and polemic, based, we hope and endeavour, on the facts we’ve gathered along the way, the observations we make. The opinions we have about how this city is being governed, and the better ways to go about doing that.

This isn’t anything new or the result of modern technology. discourseHell, if you think that somehow sites like these, all internetsy and free from editorial oversight, have somehow degraded the public discourse, you haven’t been following along for the last, I don’t know, 500 years. Politics has rarely been courteous or decorous or, ultimately, objective. Expressed political opinion even less so.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke welcome criticism and disagreement. Encourage it, even. Just don’t pretend or expect us to be something we’re not. Something that, in fact, might not exist or never, ever existed in the first place.

mea culply submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Live Here But…

April 10, 2014

Ever since our inception, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have found ourselves in a regular state of civic suspension of disbelief. crazysquirrelI know this isn’t actually happening but… but it seems so real. I know it’s just some crazy made-up shit but… but it’s so compelling, so engrossing to follow along with, you know?

Not coincidentally, our appearance came about during the rise of Rob Ford from that goofy, malevolent but largely impotent politician every local government has to contend with to becoming mayor of the largest city in the country. Of course things were going to get nutty. Toronto had elected Rob Ford as its mayor.

Nearly four years on, it has proven to be more than some prolonged nightmare of Dali/Buñuel, eye-slicing proportions. Not even a deranged Truman Show explanation suffices where we’re just the game pieces for a God-like producer with an eye only on the TV ratings. Our story’s taken on biblical dimensions, frankly. The political book of Job. Pushed beyond any sort of reasonable limits, we cry out in anguish. Why, Lord? jobWhy are you doing this? Who can deliver us from your hands? And from the whirlwind comes the response. I don’t have to explain myself to you.

If you’re reading this, I don’t have to recount the whole sad, sordid tale, the multitude of ways we’ve traveled down through the rabbit hole. Municipal governance gone wild! You’d think what with everything that’s gone on, we’d be one and done, talking about what comes next. But no. Our disgraced, discredited mayor cannot be discounted from possibly securing himself another term in office.

Which naturally, as this kind of thing must, can only lead to further fantasy sequences, more outbursts of the bizarre. If his first kick at the can embraced the improbable, the second go-round will be all about the unimaginable. You think that was weird, folks? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

unchienandalouBringing us to two days this week that best encapsulate the thick sticky freakiness we find ourselves in.

The mayor holds a press conference to announce that Ben Johnson and an actor from the TV series/movie franchise The Trailer Park Boys are joining the campaign team in some capacity. What capacity? Nobody’s quite sure. It will all become clear in due time. Or it won’t since forethought and strategic planning are not really what these guys are about. They’re more instinctual than that.

When you think Ben Johnson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Right. Drugs. Steroids. Gold medal and record setting stripping steroids.

Seems an odd choice then, doesn’t it, for a mayor dogged by stories of personal drug use and outrageous drug-induced behaviour. We’re all mavericks and outlaws here, folks. The all-star Team Nobody’s Perfect. Are you?

But wait, it gets better. It always gets better with these guys. A bottomless pit of ¿¡WTF?!

The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale reported today that the Trailer Park Boy the mayor introduced yesterday, Sam Tarasco, hosts an internet pot smoking show called High Fuckers. That’s right. High Fuckers. druglifeYou pay $4.20 a month to watch guys get high and shoot the shit. High Fuckers.

So instead of trying to distance itself from the heavy cloud of drugs and the drug life, Team Ford seems to be embracing it. Yeah, we do drugs. Yeah, we know people who do drugs. We’re not perfect. Are you?

Counterintuitive? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. Like much of the way they operate, there just isn’t an English word to do it justice. It’s post-verbal.

While all this… whatever you want to call it… was happening, there was also much excitement over the new edition of Mayor Ford bobbleheads. $100 a pop and bearing almost no resemblance to the man himself, we’re told proceeds would be going into the mayor’s campaign war chest. Hmmm, we wondered. Would those purchasing a bobblehead be eligible for the 75% candidate donation rebate the city offers? If so, they’d be a steal at just $25. You could easily make a healthy return on that with an eBay sale.

Talk about your retail politician. Everybody makes a buck when Rob Ford is out on the campaign trail. bobbleheadWin-win-win-win-win!

In case you thought there was no bread with this circus, the mayor took time out of his celebrity tour to announce some serious policy yesterday. Or I should say, to re-announce some serious policy, telling the media that, if re-elected, he will start to phase out streetcar service in Toronto. Just like he promised back in 2010 and immediately didn’t pursue upon taking office. Promises made, promises forgotten.

But this time, he means it, man.

“I know one thing. I won’t get on a streetcar,” the mayor told the press. “If I have an option to drive or take a streetcar, I’m going to get in my car.”

Forget the sheer lunacy of the idea. Buses could never make up the capacity without causing even more congestion that the mayor is supposedly fighting with his no-streetcar idea. And the subways he keeps touting will never be built. Not in his lifetime. Not in his children’s lifetime.

Like the sad spectacle of fluffing a campaign team with D-list celebrities, the streetcar announcement was an empty gesture, intended only to inflame the urban-suburban divide on which the mayor exists. mayordrivingA petulant outburst from a confirmed non-transit user who views the world entirely through his car windows. It doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t have to. It’s meant solely to excite those unable or unwilling to see through it. Governance based on Dada rules.

The only internal logic to it, probably not even grasped entirely by the mayor or his campaign manager-brother, came through in tweet sent out by the CBC’s Jamie Strashin in the wake of the mayor’s out-with-streetcars declaration. “When someone says, ‘oh I’m going to resolve the issue of gridlock’,” the mayor said. “You’re not going to resolve the problem with gridlock.”

Solve this problem? Are you kidding me? You can’t solve this problem. Just keep on gridlocking. Keep on keeping on.

So deeply held are his anti-government views, so engrained in his sensibilities, Mayor Ford can’t even begin to imagine actually any way anyone could solve a problem like gridlock. Government’s the problem, remember? Never the solution. So, of course he doesn’t take his role as mayor at all seriously. Why would he? It wouldn’t make things better. mayorfordbenderIn fact, it would make things worse.

Government’s a joke, and an expensive joke at that. Acting responsible in his role as mayor, coming up with ideas to help run the city and surrounding himself with people who have even a trace of good will toward public service, would mean Rob Ford might have to take the job seriously. We know he doesn’t. He proves it almost every day when he seems to take delight only in pissing on the carpets.

The joke is on us if we think for even a second that he’s ever going to change.

insanely 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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