Vengeance is Ford’s

Upper Jarvis Street was a lovely avenue when my grandfather’s grandfather, William R. Johnston, built his mansion on it in 1875. He and his family lived there until 1916, when they were part of the exodus of Toronto’s high society north to the suburbs of Rosedale and Forest Hill. Today, neighbours call 571 Jarvis, at the corner of Isabella, The Grey Lady and it serves as office and training space for Casey House. Meanwhile, Jarvis St. became a battleground for competing visions of what Toronto can and should be.

One sides sees Jarvis as a 1950s-style “traffic corridor,” a glorified highway to zip central Toronto residents downtown and provide suburbanites an alternative to the Don Valley Parkway’s congestion. Another vision, championed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam among others, would have Jarvis as a pedestrian-friendly cultural corridor. Of course, we didn’t hear much about cultural corridors at city council this week, just rage over bike lanes.

Jarvis was actually an unlikely site for such a crusade. Despite the whining of the soccer moms in Councilor Karen Stintz’s North Toronto ward, the bike lanes weren’t really that disruptive for carists. Maybe they added a couple of minutes to the commute, but the five-lane system was far from elegant and left the lanes too narrow to really be safe. As Councilor Josh Matlow noted, the bike lanes actually improved the road for drivers. Meanwhile, let’s face it, if we could install just one north-south bike lane between the one on Sherbourne and the one on St. George and Beverly, we wouldn’t put it on Jarvis—we’d want it on Bay or Yonge. Besides, bike lanes aren’t essential to a cultural corridor; in fact, they meant the sidewalks weren’t widened as originally planned.

Nevertheless, the cyclists picked my great-great-grandfather’s old street to make their stand. Inevitably, they were frustrated that the carists showed absolutely no understanding of even the most rudimentary elements of transportation planning. Mayor Rob Ford’s allies treated self-serving anecdotes as data and dismissed contrary evidence as corrupt. They also delighted in their procedural deviousness. So while the cycling community held out hope that the vote would be close, the bike brigade never had a chance.

For Ford Nation, this skirmish was about far more than bike lanes or even just a clash of competing visions—it was a triumph of vengeance over vision. Ford and his faction on the previous council felt so dismissed by the Miller administration that once they grabbed power, they were going to make damn sure to treat the council’s left wing the same way. Only worse. (This comes as no surprise to anyone who understands Ford’s essential childishness.) More than that, the mayor is determined to undo as much of Miller’s legacy as he possibly can, no matter the merit or the cost. Transit City’s four LRT lines? Now just one. The Fort York bridge? Gone. Jarvis as a cultural corridor? Nope. Instead, the five lanes will return at a cost of $500,000 to respected taxpayers.

Those of us who saw Don Cherry’s rant at Ford’s investiture as classless and inappropriately partisan missed the real message: he was signaling that Ford’s reign would be all about spite. But vengeance is not only a disastrous way to run a city, it’s a foolish political strategy.

So the bad news is: a lot of things in Toronto are going to get much worse before they have a chance to get any better. By shrinking the planned expansion of transit (and even cutting back on existing service), by making our streets more inhospitable to cyclists and by completely ignoring pedestrians, Ford ensures that our roads will become even more congested.

But the good news is: Ford’s government by vengeance ensures that voters will react by giving a strong and clear mandate to a city builder with a vision of Toronto as a place that works for everyone, not just those behind the wheel. And someday Jarvis will become a cultural corridor because those are the kinds of streets great cities nurture. I’m pretty sure that’s what William R. Johnston would want for his old ‘hood.

— submitted by Tim Falconer is the author of three books, including Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile.

9 thoughts on “Vengeance is Ford’s

  1. I am not so sure that his Vengeance crusade will really be undoing Ford in the next election. Mostly, so far, he has come down on the people who didn’t vote for him in the first place. The death of the LRT plan, although hitting his supporters, will be deflected onto the Province (if the Liberals manage to win the next election) or the “lefty political spectrum” who just doesn’t want to make those Subways work.

    The reality is that most people simply do not follow politics and in addition have a very short memory, by doing most of his destructive stuff in the first year he almost certainly ensures that by the time the next election rolls around people will have forgotten.

    Additionally: If the economy really does sour again (and I am sure it will, the numbers all over the world just don’t support it), he has the perfect excuse for really starting to cut things. Most people will gladly swallow the: “Well, yes, we cut services, but on the other hand in these hard times we didn’t raise your taxes.” line he’ll be starting to spout by sometime mid next year.

    • Dear Michael; the 2011 budget was hastily passed with the 2012 budget hole that looks to be around $443 million. Ford has a tendency to make up numbers…

      The Consultants didn’t find much gravy at City Hall aside from the cafeteria. That is why they are proposing CUTS to Services like Snow Clear, Grass Cutting, Waste Diversion, Environmental, Child Care, Senior Centre etc. I mean er “reductions”

  2. Tim:

    Your analysis of what makes Team Ford tick (vindictiveness, immaturity, utter lack of reflection) makes a lot of sense, and I wish I could share your optimism about what will come afterwards. Anyone with even a smidgen of progressive sensibility and more than a handful of brain cells can anticipate the damage this bunch is going to do if we don’t act to stop them.

    Unfortunately, recent history suggests that periods of far-right scorched-earth governance aren’t followed by efforts to repair the damage. The best we can hope for are centrist-leaning technocrats who talk a good game but don’t really do anything substantive to roll back the pain. Thatcher gave way to Blair (Major didn’t really count). Bush to Obama. Harris/Eves to McGuinty. Mulroney to Chretien/Martin (this last analogy may be a bit of a stretch in that Mulroney doesn’t really fit in with the axe-wielding far-right barbarians, but if there was a meaningful policy shift when he was succeeded by Chretien, I must have missed it).

    The last thirty years, unfortunately, have seen the goalposts moved steadily down the field. Whenever we manage to oust the crazies, all we get in the interim is feckless damage control.

    If there’s a solution to this, and an effective way to reclaim what’s been lost, I’m all ears.

  3. If there’s a solution to this, and an effective way to reclaim what’s been lost, I’m all ears.

    Revolution and a restart. Nothing short of this will bring the change you’re looking for. The reality is that too many people still have it way too good to care about the ones that have fallen to the wayside. When that rubber band snaps though it won’t be pretty.

    • I fear you are right, Michael. It took two world wars and the great depression to create the impetus for the post-war liberal state. There are fewer people every year with a living memory of what those horrors were like and I am deeply worried we are going to have to re-live them (or similar catastrophes) before things get better.

      • Dear mark; the compromise by Boehner(pronounced behner OR boner?) vs Cantor who is pandering to stubborn TEA party congressmen. Their House is controlled by the Republicans. Should a deal not be made soon there would be rising interest rates and a collapse of the financial market & Capitalism?!

        P.S. Princess Leia is into Wishful Drinking

  4. Dear Tim; if the cyclists is close to Sherbourne or riding from the east, take Sherbourne. If the cyclist is near Jarvis or riding from the west, take Jarvis.
    In the U$, it looks like Republican vs Republican on the Debt ceiling. Which could have Canadian/Torontonian ramifications…

    On a side note; business – Ford Canada wants $200 million plus in subsidies from the provincial & federal gov’ts?!

  5. Harris brought McGuinty. I just hope that whoever follows Ford can undo some of the damage. Maybe Toronto voters won’t be so gullible next time.

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