TTC Capo

June 30, 2012

I often imagine what it was like behind the scenes back in the heady days of the fall of `10, just after Rob Ford’s surprise mayoral victory. Transitioning into power, drawing up their enemies candidates list for positions in the administration. The only absolute condition was a shared visceral antipathy toward the mayor-elect’s predecessor. Also, being yes men toadies a must.

“So, Stintzie wants to run the TTC. What do you think?”

“Ummm… Don’t know. Did she hate Miller as much as I did?”

“Nobody hated Miller as much as you, Robbie.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I fucking hated that guy. But you think she respects the taxpayers enough? Remember those voice lessons she paid for out of her office expenses?”

“As long as she votes with us to cut those expenses, we can let bygones be bygones. But I’ll tell you what. If she’s still thinking about ever running for mayor—”

“I will crush her. Ford Nation will tear her apart. Like LT snapping Theismann’s leg, Crrrr-acckkk!”

“That’s the thing, Robbie. You won’t have to. The shit we’re going to do to the TTC. Cuts… cuts… cuts–”

“You know who else I fucking hate, Dougie? Jerry Webster. Can we so fire that guy?”

“Why not. You’re the mayor now. You can do anything.”

“Yeah… sweet. Can we go home now?”

“It’s like 11 a.m. There’s still stuff to do.”

“Fine.”

“Stop pouting.”

“I’m not. You’re pouting.”

“The thing about being the TTC boss is that we’re going to so mess it up but it’ll be their face attached, you see what I’m saying?”

“… no… not really.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this, OK? It’s a good move. We’re going to vote for Stintzie to be TTC Chair.”

“Hey. Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“And it’s also good, she’s a girl.”

“Is it?”

“… I think so, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be good?”

“Dunno. Why would it be?”

“… Yo, Adrienne! It’d be good to have a chick run the TTC, right?”

With that scene (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), Councillor Karen Stintz became TTC Chair Karen Stintz and dutifully fulfilled her role as a loyal Team Ford member, standing silently by as the mayor killed Transit City and obediently overseeing a 10% cut to the department’s budget when asked. She pretty much did what the mayor and almost everyone expected her to do.

And then, then she went rogue. No, check that. She went Michael Corleone on Team Ford’s asses.

I’m unprepared to attach motives to the about face. The better angel of my nature, that blackened, wizened, flightless better angel, likes to think she simply grew into her position. Listening to staff and other knowledgeable voices around her, she slowly realized Mayor Ford’s transit plan, such as it was, was unworkable. Way back last October, she raised a red flag of concern about how they were going to tunnel the Eglinton LRT across the Don Valley.

When then TTC General Manager Gary Webster backed her view that LRTs might be the smartest way forward, the mayor and his TTC commissioner boys iced him at the proverbial toll booth. If their goal was to intimidate the TTC Chair back into line, it failed spectacularly. In retaliation, she offs the mayor’s men on the TTC commission, emerging from the fracas in The Limey style.

Tell them I’m coming! I’m fucking coming.

(Yes, municipal politics came be this cinematic.)

It was all downhill for the mayor from that point. In short order, he was pushed, kicking and screaming Subways! Subways! Subways, to the sidelines. Transit City revived in all but name. And then this week, the TTC Chair and her Vice-Chair unveiled a much grander, 30 year transit plan called One City that lit up the switchboards for about 2 days before the province went out of its way to throw cold water on it. (That’s for another post entirely. Suffice to say, the premier and Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation might be well served noting how our TTC Chair dealt with the mayor when he crossed her.)

How One City grew to even see the light of day is, if nothing else, instructive as to how Toronto can actually govern itself in the absence of mayoral leadership. Take a moment to read John McGrath’s account of it at Open File, Don Peat’s in the Toronto Sun and David Rider’s in the Star. It is a microcosm of how council can and should be working together on vital initiatives for the city. A centre-right, centrist and two left wing councillors setting aside ideological differences in order to put forth a discussion paper on how to move forward on building a transit system Toronto so desperately needs. A discussion neither the mayor is capable of conducting and our dark overlords at Queen’s Park are unwilling to consider.

If nothing else, this latest transit saga has shown what is possible in a leadership vacuum when a politician sees that normal operating procedures don’t apply and decides to fill in the void constructively. Karen Stintz, arguably a councillor of little consequence during her first two terms in office, has seized the “opportunity” given her under this malignantly negligent administration and made a mark in a file not usually known for its generosity toward those toiling within its parameters. It’s a lesson others granted positions of power under Mayor Ford could well learn from and act upon.

auteurly submitted by Cityslikr


N O Are The First Two Letters In Nothing

June 29, 2012

This needs to be said.

Our parents and grandparents and great grandparents mobilized and defeated Nazi Germany. So, surely to god we can build a better transit system. Is that really too much to expect?

The hand-wringing and bed wetting and patronizingly stern tsk, tsk, tsk, we’ve seen this all before m’eh reactions to Wednesday’s One City public unveiling seem a little over-the-top in their underwhelmed haughtiness. Blah, blah, blah, “…the real issue that calls the OneCity plan into question: The fact that it will never, ever happen,” sniffs the National Post’s Matt Gurney. “A Tax Attack,” screeched the Toronto Sun, followed by “Taxaholics” yesterday.

Of course, the mayor hated the plan. As did his brother. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti warned of seniors reduced to eating cat food if the plan ever saw the light of day. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong riffed on anything Mayor Ford and the Toronto Sun said.

Others like Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Councillor Michael Thompson didn’t like the fact proper procedures weren’t followed in bringing the plan public. “A political move to try and make the mayor look bad,” said the Deputy Mayor to the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. “I’m appalled actually,” Peat quotes Thompson, “that the mayor’s office has not been consulted on this particular, very important issue.” On the CBC’s Here And Now Wednesday, Councillor Peter Milczyn suggested the architect’s of One City, TTC Chair and Vice-Chair Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker were “up to something”.

Whatever could you mean by that insinuation, councillor?

Is One City a perfect transit plan? Of course not. Many reasonable voices have pointed that out and elaborated on their concerns. John Lorinc. Steve Munro. Edward Keenan. David Hains (here at this site yesterday). Matt Elliott.

It’s just a kick start to the conversation the city needs to have before it falls into the inevitable post-subway-versus-LRT debate torpor that could set in with the belief that our transit situation has been settled for good. No, it hasn’t, folks. We’ve only just begun…

One complaint about One City that I’ve seen repeatedly so far bemoans the fact that it’s just another talky talky plan, some variation of something everyone’s heard before, and that has inevitably landed in the dustbin. We’ve discussed ourselves into substandard public transit. Enough, already! As if, like mushrooms, all the words sown under a damp shadow of neglect will suddenly, magically sprout up into a working, joyful 21st-century transit system.

I’m only guessing here but isn’t it this type of miserly, parochial foot-dragging that’s got us into our current mess? I’d love a DRL but we simply can’t afford it. Why do they get a subway and we don’t?! All we ever do is talk! Just stop talking and do something! Like what? I don’t know. We can’t afford it anyway.

Ad infinitum and here we are in 2012 discussing another big idea transit plan. *yawn*

“Wow! Those Germans really cut a swath through France, didn’t they,” points out the rest of the unoccupied world. “They look like a real tough nut to crack. Maybe we should just lie low for a bit. Keep quiet. Let them tire themselves out a bit.”

Wouldn’t it be great to be a part of something that contributed positively to the future instead of yet another generation dissuaded by indifference and big scary numbers? Pick one. $30 billion? $50 billion? $500 billion? Half a trillion dollars to build a world class transit system from Hamilton to Oshawa, from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. Daunting. Yes. Absolutely necessary. Yes. Achievable. Well.. errr, ahhh, geez… that’s a lot of money. I mean, how are we going to—

[Annoying game show buzzing noise.] Wrong answer.

Cost is just half the equation. The half fiscal hawks only ever focus their sights on. The price of not doing it slowly but relentlessly, exponentially tally up. Lost productivity. Decreased liveability. A gridlocked future our children and grandchildren will simply move away from in search of a better, more prosperous life.

For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost and all that.

Nothing is easier than saying no. Isn’t that how a two year-old takes a first stab at independence? Isn’t that how we’ve found ourselves in the transit mess we’re in now?

No one, and I mean no one, has suggested One City will be the answer to our transit troubles. Let’s embrace the spirit of its intentions. An agreement that the status quo is no longer tenable, and hasn’t been for about two decades now. We can do better. We have to do better. And there’s going to be sacrifices involved. The rainy day’s here and we need to, as the currency of the day seems to be, put some skin into the game.

After all, in the scheme of things, it’s only building transit we’re talking about here not defending the world from a totalitarian scourge.

cheerleadingly submitted by Cityslikr


Why One City’s Flaws Are OK

June 28, 2012

(Our 2nd favourite City Hall watcher — come on, seriously, who can top the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy? — David Hains deigns to grace our pages with his thoughts on the new proposed transit plan, One City. Every now and then we do like to offer up some actual clear-headed analysis. Thanks, David.)

* * *

When it came time to discuss how to fund the Sheppard subway plan, Doug Ford knew how he felt. As is his talent, he put it simply, “All taxes are evil, as far as I’m concerned.”

With this statement, the councillor for Ward Two made it clear that there was no discussion to be had. His was an absolutist belief, and it is one which says nothing is worth having unless it is free.

Of course, that is not the world most of us live in, the one called ‘reality’.

The reality of the situation is Toronto needs massive investment in transportation to be economically competitive and make the city more livable. With an average commute found to be the worst in North America, the current ‘Big Move’ strategy is projected to only maintain current levels of congestion, and focusing on a cars-only strategy won’t deliver the progress that’s needed.

Which brings us to One City, the supposed antidote for Toronto’s transit ills. It’s massive in every dimension: investment, scope, and ambition. And for a city that is preternaturally risk-averse and provincial when it comes to realizing its stated visions, this actually seems to have political support.

Council’s newfound pluralism, as left-leaning councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) put it, is the direct result of the necessity of leadership created by a mayor lacking vision, moral authority or a solid attendance record at city hall.

Into that void steps Stintz, fulfilling her role as TTC chair with a plan and some staggering numbers. $30 billion. Six subway lines. 10 LRT lines. 5 bus and streetcar lines. $180 per year in property taxes for the average household over the next 26 years (phased in over four years).

Naturally, there are flaws and this process will have immense obstacles.

It needs equal investment from the federal and provincial governments, hardly sure things when their word of the year is ‘austerity’.

The map, already a very political document (of course) will have councillors try to graft on further squiggles that will lead to further squabbles.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Etobicoke Centre, Ward 4) will insist on the Eglinton Crosstown to be underground from Scarlett Rd. to Martingrove. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ward 5) asked today where the western leg of the downtown relief line and western Bloor-Danforth extension were, adding that he prefers to wait until October to hear from staff.

Councillors Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) will wonder whether too much of this is an expensive sop to suburban councillors.

Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) will use the occasion to advocate for a sales tax, and Norm Kelly (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ward 40) might even join her.

People will worry about all sorts of things: paying for the unfunded operating costs, the most effective funding methods (like parking taxes), the wisdom of building a subway between Yonge and Spadina along Sheppard when geologists say that’s not possible and how Toronto can pull all this off without the mayor’s support.

While these concerns are well placed, One City is not meant to be immutable. Like a constitution, it speaks more to a framework of aspirations than a detailed model going forward. In this case dissent to that plan is the entropy of progress; the healthy and messy part that demonstrates why the process is worthwhile.

Despite all this, the key is Toronto has something to talk and get excited about. It finally has a holistic vision for the TTC that has an attached funding model (albeit just for capital). And it got to this point in spite of the mayor, not because of him (Yesterday the mayor toured a beer factory, looked at a caterpillar, and didn’t go to Pride’s police reception.)

So here we are, at the start of a transit journey and not entirely sure what the destination will be. And that’s OK, because unlike Doug Ford’s earlier statement, we finally have a conversation on how to get there.

guestily submitted by David Hains


One City

June 27, 2012

So, if this is what’s possible when a city doesn’t have a mayor, I move a motion to abolish the office entirely.

Imagine if you will (and I normally hate doing this but bear with me), former Mayor David Miller at the height of his popularity, early on in his second term, back before there was even a thought about a garbage strike, in the halcyon days of Transit City wishful thinking, where it all seemed possible. Imagine his initial transit expansion proposal containing the kind of funding strategy now being put forth for what’s being called One City.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it.

Replace the snarling photo of the current TTC Chair with a snarling pic of David Miller and Bob’s yer uncle. David Miller never had the political support to put forward a transit plan with a hike in property taxes at its heart. Ironically, at least in part, due to councillors like Karen Stintz and other members of the Responsible Government Group who viewed their role as primarily defenders of the mythical taxpayers’ wallets rather than any sort of city builders.

That’s not a knock against our current TTC Chair. Politicians should be allowed to evolve. Never trust one who doesn’t.

Which is exactly how we have found ourselves where we are today. A transit plan born from intransigence. (Thank you. Thank you very much. Next show at 10pm.)

In the crater left behind from the spectacular crash-and-burn of Mayor Ford’s woefully ill-thought out Subways! Subways! Subways! The People Want Subways plan, One City springs forth. Not a replacement for the reinstatement of parts of the Miller era Transit City plan that council salvaged from under the mayor’s fist earlier this year; a supplement and an addition. On paper anyway, a huge fucking addition.

Is it at all feasible? Too early to tell. Yes, there are holes in the plan as critics more thoughtful than those from the Toronto Sun are already pointing out. Matt Elliott gives a good opening summation today at the Urban Compass. Politically motivated placement of some subway lines. A sole reliance on property taxes for funding. Some hopeful finger-crossing for involvement from our senior levels of government.

But the important aspect of One City at this juncture should not be sniffily dismissed. An actual funding mechanism put on the table for discussion. You know, how we think we might pay for expanding our transit system.

After two years or so of absolute make believe, that somehow we could build subways for nothing and get our chicks for free, the children have been told to run along and play outside so the adults can have a grown-up chat. We’re done indulging Mayor Ford’s ‘The city doesn’t have a revenue problem’ schtick and are ready now to take up his predecessor’s challenge. You want a liveable city? You gotta pay the price.

Boom! Right there gets tossed a grenade into the ideological bunker that’s long hampered this city’s attempts to upgrade absolutely necessary infrastructure. Fiscal conservative Karen Stintz, coupled with traditional tax-and-spender Glenn De Baeremaeker step forward together and lay out a vision – yes, that vision thingie. Here’s what we could do. Here’s how we could pay for it. Any questions?

Only ideologues are going to reject One City based purely on the fact it involves a tax increase. Oh hello. What’s that you’re saying, Mayor Ford?

“I will not and cannot support the plan. The taxpayers can’t afford it.”

Councillor Ford?

“It’s a tax city plan, it’s not a One City plan.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong?

 A “massive, backdoor tax increase.”

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti

Blargh, blargh, blargh. Cat food.

What the mayor and his dwindling minions might not yet realize is that the agenda for the remainder of his term has now been established. Campaign 2014 officially kicked off. And it’s not going to swing on the right-left axis they so hope it does.

This will be about city building. What we’re prepared to pay for the services we need. Team Ford has already shown they are willing to pay for nothing and are content to get nothing. Shrug. Hey. We kept your taxes low and packed your buses past capacity. 4 More Years! 4 More Years!

Today, with One City, councillors of varying political stripes brushed aside such vapid sloganeering and laid out a plan that asks the city’s residents to reach into their pockets in order to bring our transit system up to speed for the 21st-century. It’s got nothing to do with political ‘sides’. It’s about responsible governance and responsible citizenship.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Ford? Mayor Ford? Yoo-hoo! Mayor Ford?

June 26, 2012

I write this with an almost disinterested perplexity. Really? Do I have to? Really??

That the mayor of Toronto should, at the very least, attend the flag raising kick off to Pride week just a short drive walk from his City Hall office is beyond question to all but the most confirmed of homophobes. After a similarly uneasy Mel Lastman set aside his qualms and jumped feet first into the festivities, the die was cast. Some acknowledgement of the event had become part of a mayor’s job description.

The matter’s settled. End stop. Continued discussion of Mayor Ford’s rebuff is now officially boring and not much of a story anymore. He’s got issues, let’s just say. What other explanation could there be at this point?

But what perplexes me, frankly, is the manner in which the mayor once again went about excusing himself. And remember, we’re not talking about the parade here and its conflict with a family gathering up at the cottage. A non-holiday Monday gathering to read out the city’s proclamation touting tolerance, diversity, blah, blah, blah. At noon. Right when the mayor usually starts his work day.

He’s busy, we’re told.

Now, anyone who’s been following along with Mayor Ford’s performance recently knows that’s simply a blatant lie. It’s incomprehensible that he couldn’t find the time to squeeze in 15 minutes to do his duty, make an appearance, read what’s in front of him and get the hell out of there before he got any of teh gay on him. As an excuse, it was as lame as it was lazy.

A couple months back, the mayor’s former press secretary and now Toronto Sun columnist something, Adrienne Batra, suggested (while advising him to at least attend yesterday’s flag raising event it should be noted), it wasn’t a case of Mayor Ford being homophobic as it was him not wanting to ‘tick off’ or alienate his political base. Somehow to her mind that makes it more understandable? What happened to that straight shooting, tell it like it is, just one of us guys the mayor said he was? That just sounds like the unprincipled type of politician the mayor used to rail about.

It’s also amazingly passive, not wanting to alienate anybody. What happened to that unruly, renegade, maverick Councillor Rob Ford that 47% of voting Torontonians supported back in 2010? That guy would’ve avoided like the AIDS plague anything to do with Pride and told us right up front why. The city shouldn’t be in the business of supporting any sort of lifestyle choice or something along those lines. Anything.

He wouldn’t be afraid of alienating his base. He’d be activating it with dog whistles and coded language, using the opportunity to burnish the Ford brand of small-minded neo-conservatism. What happened to that guy?

MIA. AWOL. Hiding behind some make-believe itinerary and, in a scene that’s becoming more and more routine, winding up increasingly isolated on the wrong side of an issue. A healthy majority of council was present yesterday including some of the mayor’s closest allies. (Wait. Maybe ‘closet allies’ worked better.) Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Speaker Frances Nunziata. Councillors Gary Crawford, Frank Di Giorgio and Cesar Palacio.

The mayor has simply stopped trying and leaves his more ardent defenders with little to stand up for him with aside from the usual meaningless tripe. Family first! (*sigh* We’re not talking about the parade.) Where does it say a mayor has to do anything about Pride? (*sigh* That’s like me, writing a Toronto municipal politics blog, saying who says I have to talk about the mayor?) It just comes with the territory.

Mayor Ford has become so detached from the proceedings at City Hall that not only is he blatantly shirking his responsibilities but he can’t even bother to come up with adequate excuses in an attempt to cover his tracks. The Mayor of Nothing, doing nothing and nothing doing as to why. If you ask me, it is the most curious of re-election routes.

wide openly submitted by Cityslikr


Bike Lane Crazy

June 25, 2012

This isn’t just about bike lanes although it might seem that way.

If you’re going to build bike lanes, you don’t simply build bike lanes. You build a bike lane network. Off-road doesn’t mean out of sight. It’s all well and good to dedicate hydro corridors to a safe and leisurely Sunday meander but if it leads only in circles, going nowhere in particular, it won’t serve as a needed form of transit.

And that’s why we build bike lanes. We’re not merely slapping in a lane here and another there, wherever we can find space that least inconveniences the non-bike riders amongst us, to score empty political points. As responsible city builders rather than hell bent ideologues, we’re all looking for ways to help alleviate traffic congestion.

At least, that’s what cities that take alleviating traffic congestion seriously do. (No, not just in Europe. Look what’s happening in New York City.)

Rather than view cyclists as irritants, determined only to inflict the maximum amount of aggravation on already put upon vehicle drivers out of nothing more than smug, self-righteous spite, there are places that accommodate bikes as viable transit alternatives. Modes that help ease traffic flow not impede it. Infrastructure gets built enthusiastically with the expectation of removing cars from the roads. Yes, there’s an ecological element to it — fewer cars mean less pollution — but each additional commuter on a bike, well, you do the math.

Over the course of 3 days last week in the Netherlands, I rode some 160 kilometres from small seaside towns through country sides, across protected dunes and into cities. In my best estimation maybe 10 but probably closer to 5 kilometres of that distance was on shared roads without some sort of designated lane, and truthfully, some of that happened due to errors in my navigation. There were segments entirely segregated from everything but other bikes. Some shared with only pedestrians. Protected on road lanes and those demarcated only by painted lines.

No one size fits all solution. Just an accepted notion that cycling was an integral part of any rational transit system and should be accorded appropriate space and value. Biking as more than some left wing conspiracy seeking to bring about the downfall of capitalism. People wanting to go about their business on 2 wheels.

It really is that easy. There just has to be the will. The will comes from understanding this isn’t a zero sum equation. Cars and bicycles can exist together in something resembling harmony. Places as cold and wet as ours is sometimes; places as seemingly inhospitable to a culture of cycling as ours can be in, say, mid-February. Places that weren’t always the bike friendly havens they appear to be today.

Failure to accept this possibility is nothing more than a failure of imagination and nerve. A basic inability to move past the status quo.

That’s why this is more than just bike lanes.

cyclingly submitted by Cityslikr


Going Dutch

June 18, 2012

I swear from the air I could see bike paths. Certainly, wind turbines surrounded oil refineries. An entire industrial park was roofed with solar panels.

I think I have found a new mistress in the Netherlands.

lowlandly submitted by Cityslikr