Delivering Low Expectations

February 19, 2014

Don’t look…Don’t look…Don’t look…And if you have to look, don’t look directly into his eyes. Whatever you do! Do not look directly into the man’s eyes!

blankstare

I looked.

I know I shouldn’t have. But I did. I even looked directly into that man’s eyes and saw what I can only assume to be is the eternal abyss of nothingness, swirling deep down inside of them.

Worse, against Ed Keenan’s sage advice, I’m now talking about what I saw when I looked, giving them a free bump, an additional bit of publicity, such as we can offer here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.cableaccess

Ford Nation on YouTube.

Exactly why the good Lord in His infinite wisdom created scientists, so they could create the Internetz.

Ford Nation on YouTube.

Having burned all their bridges to access of uncritical and unthinking media platforms, save maybe Sue-Ann Levy and Joe Warmington, including every newspaper in town, AM talk radio, Sun TV – Sun TV, folks! – the Fords, Mayor Rob and Councillor Doug, have turned their mostly undivided attention to the internet for getting their message out to their unswerving supporters and snickering adversaries. No bias there except the good kind of bias. No difficult questions to answer. Not even those squishy-hard ones always lobbed their way by the likes of CP24’s Stephen LeDrew.

The web. The free range domain of conspiracy theorists, rational denialists and amateur political punditry (yeah, I beat you to it) since 1997. internetzI’m pretty sure that’s when the internet was invented.

There’s really no need to offer up any sort of analysis here. Others are doing it more thoroughly and entertainingly. And besides, any evaluation of the merits or lack thereof in the videos, anything that might smack of treasonous disagreement with what’s being said, is simply brushed off as the self-satisfied smugness of a downtown latte sipping elitist dipper leftie subway and Scarborough hater.

Did I leave anything out?

Oh, right. Bike riding, anti-car cyclist. Repetition entirely intentional.

Because if Rob Ford or Doug Ford or any other member of Ford Nation never has to be right, can just make shit up all the live long day, spout nonsense every time they open their mouths without immediately stuffing it with food or drink, why is anyone else held to a higher standard?upyours

Ford Nation is this hermetically sealed place where rational discourse and civil debate are smothered in their cribs. Every number when added together comes out to a billion. The private sector builds a healthy public realm out of the goodness of its own heart. Demands that the mayor do his job and stand up for everyone he was elected to represent, that’s called bullying. War declared on anyone who dared to sanction the mayor for his deplorable behaviour both on and off the clock. Half day, part time work weeks are of no concern to any serious minded denizen of Ford Nation.

Ford Nation on You Tube is amateurish and hackneyed because anything else would come across as slick and too professional and unRob Ford. I mean, frankly, I don’t think at this point Team Ford such as it is could produce anything else. The operations are amateurish and hackneyed. But you go with what you know.

Low production values and low rent drivel is what Team Ford thinks Ford Nation wants to hear. It’s the mark of the non-politician, don’t you know. Sure the mayor fibs every time he’s caught in a lie. Who doesn’t? suaveandsophisticatedYeah, the mayor’s math may be bad but only egg-headed accountants should be expected to get such big numbers right. Of course, the Fords appear awkward and tongue-tied on camera. Who know who isn’t? Actors. Any politician who doesn’t lie, who can do complex math, who looks and talks good on camera is nothing but an actor.

Rob Ford is the real deal. I mean, look at him. He’s just like I would be if I ran this city. I wouldn’t be able to produce some polished, contrived video either. He’s the mayor of Toronto, folks. Not James Cameron.

How exactly we arrived at this juncture, where fumble-assed, know-nothingness with a solid dose of reprobate conduct passes as more than enough qualifications to oversee a city of 2.5+ million people, I’m not exactly sure. We’re told it’s because of the aloofness and disconnect of downtowners to the plight of those living in the inner suburbs. It’s the snark of privilege. We’re out of touch with the needs of the little guy and hard-working taxpayers. They don’t expect much from the city they live in, maybe a returned phone call and occasional visit. Mayor Rob Ford delivers them exactly that and nothing more.

Bargain basement governance, sold as is. The campaign pitch delivered with all the razzamatazz of a late-night informerical. ShamWow, Ford Nation!

insane

It’s the intersection of little effort and low expectations. Even if they were capable of delivering something better, something more informative, something beyond Wayne and Garth in the basement, Team Ford wouldn’t. It’s not their style. Their rock solid supporters wouldn’t recognize them if they did.

It wouldn’t be Ford Nation on You Tube.

under-whelmingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sad Reflection

February 18, 2014

Last week, the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, released her office’s 2013 annual report. badnewseveryoneIt did not paint a pretty picture of the interface between the city’s bureaucracy and its residents. Complaints were up 28% over 2012 with a solid majority of them having to do with ‘poor communications and inadequate information provided by city staff.’

“It’s not returning phone calls, it’s rudeness,” Ms. Crean stated, “it’s problems that need fixing in a timely fashion such as basement flooding, where no responses are occurring or little to no explanation is provided.”

That probably only serves to confirm what many already believe about our civil servants. Unhelpful. Lazy. Rude. Overpaid and underworked, the lot of them.

It may be worth pointing out, I think, 2013 contained more than a few unexpected and unwelcome turn of events that put undue pressure on city services. The torrential rain of early July and the ice storm in late December spring immediately to mind. While no excuse for bad or uncooperative behaviour, especially if these so-called 100 year type storms begin happening on a more frequent basis, it would be charitable to chalk up at least some of the problems in communication and inadequate information provision to staff being caught both unprepared and undermanned for such unexpected turn of weather events.

As the report points out, there are more than 2500 vacant positions currently in the ranks of the city’s civil service. complaintsWe hear about the big ones, the chronic shortages in departments like planning. Gapping, is the euphemism used to suggest that short staffing is a temporary situation. Let’s just get past this little rough patch. Then we can start filling the roster back up.

While it may warm the cockles of the cold, cold hearts of everyone who sees four guys gathered around one pothole in the road as proof the city is bloated with useless workers, the success of any municipality ultimately lies in its ability to provide residents with day-to-day services. That can’t be done on the cheap or without the necessary number of bodies to deliver the necessary services. Or, at least not yet, with robots. Believing otherwise is simply wishful, ideological thinking.

“There’s no question that resources are tight,” the Ombudsman said. “It’s a difficult time to be a public servant. The stress is tremendous, but there’s never an excuse for poor communication.”

Obviously one of the prerequisites to working for the city, particularly if it’s a job interacting directly with the public, should be a certain grace and unflappability in the face of even the harshest of approaches by those you’ve been hired to serve. complaints2It comes with the territory. Being surly or unfriendly only feeds into the anti-bureaucracy sentiment that bubbles perpetually just below the surface in the public’s imagination.

Interestingly, the report suggests that the antagonism isn’t purely a one-way street. “…  complainants are becoming more hostile,” the Ombudsman writes. “Citizens have shouted at and cussed her staff, and security has had to be called to intervene.”

Ms. Crean generously talks about that dynamic in terms of people becoming more desperate. “There are more frustrated residents,” she told reporters which “may reflect ‘growing social inequality’”.

“We have more complaints from seniors, from people who are poor, from people with disabilities, people with diminished capacity.”

“People are becoming poorer; the waiting list for subsidized child care is over 15,000 now. The number of working poor has spiked from about 16 per cent to 21 per cent.”

“The greater the marginalization, the more residents depend on public services.”complaints1

And it probably doesn’t help when there’s an administration at City Hall that has forged its reputation as gravy stoppers. As much as the Ford team has picked away at perceived councillor extravagances like office budgets, snacks and retirement parties, it has also hit on, time and time again, finding efficiencies. No matter how many reports are paid for and come back telling everybody that the city runs a pretty tight ship and operates near peak efficiency, there’s always more to cut, more to slash and burn.

That’s the services you want and those that provide them to you, folks.

Never mind the fact that the mayor and his dwindling band of supporters consistently vote against all those things that the Ombudsman believes are making people more desperate and cranky. Subsidized child care. After school and nutritional programs. A continued lack of funding for the repair backlog for TCHC with a preference for selling off its stock instead.texaschainsawmassacre

It’s a double sided machete of underfunding programs and services while berating and belittling city staff for not providing those programs and services with a smiling face and peppy personality. Demanding excellent customer service without any sort of support for the chances of doing just that.

Little wonder everybody involved is cranky, frustrated and more than a little stressed out.

complainingly submitted by Cityslikr


Nick And John

February 17, 2014

John and Nick.

Nick Kouvalis and John Tory. courtingcoupleA political match made in heaven.

Nick Kouvalis, the bare-knuckled political strategist who was part of the team that improbably brought Rob Ford to the mayor’s office in Toronto. Don’t hate Nick because of that, because he’s good at what he does. He only did what he was paid to do.

(We can talk about how he fared during his time as the newly elected mayor’s chief of staff. Or maybe over some drinks and red meat — I always imagine talking to Nick Kouvalis over a plate of red meat — he can dish the dirt about when exactly it was he realized just how big a turd he helped dump on this city, at what point of time he knew that the man he helped elect as mayor may have had something of a ruinous substance abuse problem.)

John Tory, a political lightweight, a candidate who seldom met an election campaign he could not lose. needsapushA guy with the DNA of a winning politician, money, influence, privilege, but lacking in the necessary acumen and wiliness to make much of a lasting impression. Oh right. John Tory. That guy I didn’t vote for last election.

Face it. Somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis in his corner. Somebody like John Tory is exactly the kind of challenge somebody like Nick Kouvalis must relish. An nth-time loser with increasingly longer odds of ever getting elected to anything again. Bring it on. If Nick Kouvalis can get Rob Ford elected mayor, who can’t he put in that office?

As someone disinclined to ever vote for someone like John Tory, nothing Nick Kouvalis does to help Tory’s cause will likely bring me to change my mind. In fact, while I understand if Tory taps Kouvalis to help with his campaign, it will only confirm for me my long held suspicions of the man.

Again, this is not a slam against Nick Kouvalis. If anything, I respect him. He’s pretty upfront with his beliefs and what drives him. noholdsbarredHe’s paid to get politicians, mostly conservative leaning politicians, elected. And he will stop at almost nothing to get that done. This ain’t a popularity contest, folks.

I’d say it’s almost the exact opposite of how I view John Tory. I don’t know what’s behind his ambition. There’s no discernible motivation about why he wants to be mayor. There’s this guy with all this opportunity to present himself as a serious, civic-minded, urban thinker and where does he ultimately settle? On AM talk radio, the beating heart of the city’s raging id that is Ford Nation.

As much as I recognize the fact somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis, I don’t understand how Tory, in good conscience, can bury the hatchet and go down that road.

Soon after the 2010 election Kouvalis talked publicly about his plan to keep Tory out of the race.

“Kouvalis..said he sensed in July [2010] that Tory was itching to reverse his surprise January decision not to run for mayor. Internal Ford polling suggested Tory would enter 9.5 points ahead of Ford and 11 points ahead of George Smitherman.underhanded

Kouvalis said he warned Ford and his brother/campaign manager Doug that a Tory campaign would poach their donations and volunteers, and devised a four-point plan aimed at letting Tory know his integrity would be attacked if he jumped in…”

Included in the plan was this cheesy Stop the Gravy Train video and a staged call in to Tory’s show, challenging his integrity. Kouvalis claimed later that keeping Tory from the race was the key to Ford’s victory. Tory shrugged off the tactics as non-factors in his decision not to run. “Water under the bridge,” he said, even considering taking some sort of position in the Ford administration after the election, one that I don’t think ever materialized.

I guess if Tory easily accepted such things as just being part of the game back in 2010, there’s no raising an eyebrow at the possibility of him now working with a guy who fought so hard to keep him from running back then. sellyoursoulIn it to win it, am I right? Bearing grudges doesn’t seem to be a productive approach in political life.

It’s safe to assume that if he decides to toss his hat back into the ring this is John Tory’s last kick at the can. He cannot lose and needs to pull out all the stops to make sure that doesn’t happen. Still, what does it say about the man’s judgement and character that he’s willing to try and do that with the person who is at least partially responsible for inflicting on this city the monstrosity that is the current administration, and who did his level best to knee cap anyone and everyone standing in the way of making that happen back in 2010?

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


A Farewell To Mike

February 16, 2014

I just canx.

With the same grace and class he displayed while serving his time on city council, mikedelgrandeMike Del Grande announced he would not be seeking re-election to Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. Which is to say, he’s basically intent on burning the place to the ground on his way out the door. So long, suckers. You won’t have Mike Del Grande to kick around anymore.

After what will be 11 years in office, the councillor and former budget chief doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about anyone or anything. To accentuate the dyspepsia and kick up the bile and acrimony a notch or four, the Toronto Sun’s tapped their former City Hall scribbler and now on book leave author, Sue-Ann Levy to transcribe Councillor Del Grande’s farewell note. There will be blood, spilt, mixed with the usual bit of meandering, pointless prattling.

“It [the dynamic at City Hall] gets very nasty, very personal and I just don’t want to be part of that anymore,” Councillor Del Grande tells Sue-Ann. “I just detest that.”

This from a man who I can’t remember ever turning on his microphone at council or committee meetings without eventually shouting at somebody, everybody. rageyHis colleagues, deputants, visiting members of the public.

His spiteful adieu is nothing short of pure psychological projection. The gruffest, least cordial member of city council signs off, accusing everyone else of being meanies. Mike Del Grande, an oasis of calm and civility in a desert of nasty.

Usually I could stop and at least applaud a person for the years of dedication to public service. Clearly the man’s time in office did his health no good. As he reminds readers, as budget chief, he worked 75-80 hours a week without help from anyone. Just him, his cross and a handful of nails.

I really can muster no good thing to say about Mike Del Grande as an elected official.

Surprisingly, the one person he sort of holds his fire with is Mayor Ford. Yes, he has his problems with the lying and imagines the substance abuse probably affected the mayor’s professional performance. But no mention of that time during Del Grande’s third and final budget, where he worked 75-80 hours a week all on his own, when the mayor wound up voting against him, instead whimsically getting behind a zero % property tax increase thrown up by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. robfordbellicoseThanks for the effort, Mike. It’s just, there’s optics to think about.

None of these shortcomings, it seems for Councillor Del Grande, were the fault of the mayor. It was the elites who never recouped from Ford’s unexpected rise to power. Or the gutter journalists, with their mob mentality, refusing to cut the guy a break.

No. In fact, the councillor shows a grudging respect for Rob Ford, and his lack of political correctness. “He was a very good Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Del Grande dictates to Sue-Ann, going on to say that he “actually enjoyed watching Rob Ford the councillor ‘go bonkers’”.

Ahhh, yes. Go bonkers.

Remember. The councillor told Sue-Ann that “the ‘level of decorum (and) personality attacks’ at council factored highly into his decision not to run again. In fact,” she continues, “there were times he was so ‘disgusted’ with the conduct of his colleagues, he walked out of council meetings.” ebenezerscroogeEvidently, Councillor Del Grande draws some sort of distinction between a lack of decorum and enjoying watching somebody go bonkers.

What I think Mike Del Grande should be remembered best for, aside from his totally misguided attempts to right the fiscal ship of the city, is his pithy and totally respectful response early on in his tenure as budget chief. “We need firm discipline. I get a little concerned when we start making arguments about the widows and orphans. Negligibles add up. We cannot afford to do everything that everybody wants us to do… the 2011 budget is cupcakes. We tend to spoil everybody. We need to learn to say ‘no.’”

Oh, the poor widows and orphans, always wanting their cupcakes. And I suppose they want to take off work early on Christmas Eve!

If Mike Del Grande possesses a decorous or generous bone in his body, I never saw it on display. His demeanour and the tenor he brought to City Hall never much wavered from pure vitriol and mean-spiritedness. goodriddanceHe was the exact problem he bemoaned of in others but somehow everybody else was to blame, never Mike Del Grande.

I wish the man well in whatever future endeavours he pursues and hope he finds some sort of peace and well-being. But, I for one, feel free to say that his malignant presence at City Hall won’t be missed. He represented the worst, most penurious of our civic instincts. Our municipal government will be better off in his absence.

grudgingly 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


Civic Audacity

February 13, 2014

Point 7.

happycity(Points 1-5 summarized here. Point 6 here.)

I’m just going to come right out and lift it from Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. I couldn’t phrase it any better or more succinctly.

Civic audacity. [page 105]

What Toronto needs now is a whole lot of civic audacity.

Not the kind of audacity we’ve been exposed to over the last three years or so. To re-coin another author’s turn of phrase, that’s The Audacity of No Hope. Toronto as some sort of Get Off My Lawn, Grumpy Old Man. Oh, no we can’t. It’s too expensive. Keep it down, kids. Can’t you see we’re in one of our drunken stupors.

The audacity of mendacity, let’s call it.

No. I’m talking about boldness now. A certain daring-do and courage to step up and say, I’ve got an idea. I’ve got an idea that’s so crazy it just might work.dipmytoein

This may be a little too much to expect. Even discounting the current reactionary regime at City Hall, it’s been some time since the city as a whole has embraced audacity or boldness. Radical initiatives aren’t really in our DNA. We’re toe-dippers, averse to changing what isn’t working right now because it used to work before.

And I fear after the tumult in the wake of the Ford administration that all we’re really going to be looking for is a little peace and quiet. We’re tired of turmoil and embarrassment. Could you dial down the tomfoolery a notch and just get on with governing. Gently. Without kicking up too much of a fuss.

I guess, everything else being equal, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable request. This city has been put through an emotional wringer, a theme park roller coaster that simply will not end. timeoutSince 2010, it hasn’t been about governance but pitched battle.

Makes perfect sense to want a little respite. A break from the non-stop action. Hey! We’ve all got lives to live here.

The thing is…

This is no time to fall back to sleep at the switch. There’s too much to be done. We’ve avoided tough choices and necessary action for too long. While the city grows, it has begun to groan and creak under the weight of neglect and indecision. These past three years have been little more than simply fending off further damaging destabilization.

Breathing a big sigh of relief and letting down your guard at this point of time is nothing short of the Coyote opening up an umbrella to protect himself from the falling boulder. coyoteumbrellaAn empty gesture. Futile, even.

In the face of such an open attack on the proper state of affairs of this city, what we need now is a spirited, forceful pushback. “A grand experiment”, in the further words of Charles Montgomery, requiring “grander rhetoric”. We don’t want measured. We don’t want milquetoast. We don’t want a bringer of calm.

We want boldness. We want inspiration. We want audacity.

For instance?

OK. Take the matter of the recent staff report on the future of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, for instance.

The easy thing to do (if not exactly the fiscally responsible thing) would be to maintain the status quo. Throw a billion dollars or so (rounding off in a Ford manner) at it and leave everything as is. Steady as she goes. Doesn’t upset the applecart that’s already pretty much been overturned for some time now.

Or… or… we could tear it down and open up a whole new host of possibilities and opportunities in its place. Yes, some car commuters are going to be inconvenienced, time added on both going to and coming home from work. bebold1But you know what? It’s not 1954 anymore. We won’t be the first place that’s started to re-jig our transportation priorities.

Or how about the matter of public transit?

This is an area obviously ripe for audacity, nerve, zazz and more than a little chutzpah. A bold vision, if you will, outlining how this city’s going to get around over the next 25, 30 years. A view that looks beyond vote-generating pet projects and lays out a plan for an entire network and system. Enough of the technology porn already. Tell us how you’re going to get people from point A to point B, quickly, seamlessly and, yes, enjoyably. And not just some people. Every resident of the city.

Pick a thread of our municipal fabric and pitch us as to how exactly you’ll stop it from further unravelling. Affordable housing. Community development. Neighbourhood planning.reachforthesky

Wow us. Don’t underwhelm us. Tell us what we can do not what we can’t. Set the bar higher. Stop diminishing our expectations.

Give the city and its residents something to aspire toward rather shrink away from. Challenge us instead of placating us. Appeal to our better angels. Stop inflaming our worst instincts.

Be bold. We’ve tried brazen. Only later did we realize there’s a big difference between the two.

upliftingly submitted by Cityslikr


Carless In LA

February 12, 2014

Don’t get the wrong idea. Los Angeles has not become a car-free mecca. There’s still a love affair going on there between humans and their driving machines. kardashiancarPublic displays of affection appear regularly in the form of Lamborghinis, sporty sport Lexi and monstrously big, military looking SUVs.

But there does seem to be something of a change in the air, at least to someone like myself who has not visited the city in nearly 20 years after having lived there for a brief portion of the early 90s. Ah, the early 90s… The early 90s… Nope. I got nothing. You know what they say. If you can remember the 90s…

Back then, you’d never even think of moving to Los Angeles without owning a car. Cycling was pure recreation, done far from the roads, by the sides of concrete rivers and very welcoming and expansive ocean side paths. Public transit? Oh my. Public transit in LA.

A personal example.partridgefamilybus

From where we lived, the morning commute to the school campus was, on average, about 20 minutes one way by car, barring any sort of natural disaster or riot that was prone to flare up along the way. That very same trip by bus? Usually more than double that time, clocking in at 45 minutes. And if I remember correctly, the bus route that got you there in the most direction fashion stopped running by 7pm.

So seriously. Who’s not going to drive over taking the bus? Pretty much nobody except for those who couldn’t afford the luxury of having a choice.

It’s been a slow grind over the course of the ensuing two decades. Change from such auto-orientation could not possibly happen any quicker. This is LA, after all. The land where dreams of unfettered car ownership, top down, wind in your hair, Beach Boys My Little Deuce Coup, are born.redlinebusLA

We’ve got all these freeways, man. Neighbourhoods were destroyed putting them up. We gotta use them.

Still, I have to say the transformation to a less car-dependent place is noticeable even if you’re not really looking for it, I think. For starters, there are buses everywhere, regularly spotted throughout the day even weekend days. Blue buses. Orange buses. Red buses. The occasional green bus.

According to Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker, it was the bolstering up of the bus networks throughout Los Angeles County, especially the MTA’s red beauties, all shiny, all articulated, that kick started LA’s public transit revolution. And I have to tell you, my bus trips on Monday’s Carless in LA outing were not under-used, both a mid-day trip downtown from Santa Monica and the “other” red rocket during rush hour back west along Wilshire Boulevard. Standing room only for a segment of the latter trip and by the time the morning bus ride hit the Santa Monica Freeway, it was hauling at near capacity.

Of course, by their very nature, the long denigrated, lowly buses don’t really grab the headlines when it comes to transit discussions. LA’s got subways, baby. Hey. What world class city doesn’t, am I right? metroLAmapTwo lines, running mostly through the downtown core — Yes, Virginia. There is a downtown Los Angeles. — with one extending right over and up into the San Fernando Valley to North Hollywood. It’s not an extensive network. Barely could be considered much of spine of the system. One gets the feeling it’s something of a Fordian-like sop to keeping transit from taking up precious road space but, hey, it’s not cars.

In actual fact, the real gem of the current transit build in Los Angeles (of course, I may be somewhat biased) is the series of LRT lines it’s put down and continues to extend.

Folks. For the record and despite what has been incorrectly stated again and again and again during Toronto’s ongoing, rage-y transit debate for the past 3 years or so, our city doesn’t have any sort of LRT operating within its system. LRTs are not glorified streetcars. The St. Clair disaster was not perpetrated by any sort of LRT. The Spadina bus was not replaced by an LRT.

Los Angeles has LRTs. Toronto does not.

I only had the opportunity during my ever so brief transit foray to take one of the LRT lines, the Gold Line, running from one terminus in downtown’s East LA and the other, up to the north and back east, in Pasadena. goldlineTwo other LRT lines connect to Union Station via subway, one running south down to Long Beach, a second, the Expo line, heads west toward the Pacific, now ending in Culver City but a much needed extension to Santa Monica is slowing inching its way to a 2015/2016 completion date. A 4th light rail line, the very first one built, runs south for about 35 kilometres from downtown-ish to Long Beach, connecting to both the Blue Line LRT and the Silver Line BRT along the way.

You may ask why, if I’m such a big fan of LRTs, I wasn’t all over that map, giving each and every one of those lines a serious test run. Here’s the thing. One, there was only so much time in one day. Secondly, what the LRTs offered to someone such as myself, armed with a $5 day pass and curiosity bordering on obsessiveness, was the ability to hop on and off the train wherever it caught my fancy. With much of it being above ground, you looked out the window and seeing something interesting, off you got.

Which is how we ended up in South Pasadena. Mission Station was situated in what looked to be the main intersection of some quaint little town lifted right out of Frank Capra movie. missionstationSteps off the train, you walked along a street of refurbished buildings now housing bars, coffee and artisanal shops. Or what they used to refer to as Mom & Pops. Huh, I thought. I might’ve missed this had I been travelling underground, heading hell bent to my destination further on.

Of course, transit isn’t built for demanding tourists who want the luxury of sightseeing without the hassle of driving to get there. You build transit in order to efficiently move as many people as possible around a region. Places like Los Angeles have realized relying on the private automobile is not the most effective or healthy way of doing that.

My guide for the day, Ned let’s call him because that’s his name, is a long time Angelino now looking to live a less car-dependent life in LA. 90sWhen we first met, back over 20 years ago, such a thing was nothing but a pipe dream. You don’t want to get around by car in Los Angeles? Move to San Francisco.

Now? Not a pipe dream. It isn’t easy, certainly not everywhere, trying to navigate the city without your own four wheels. Parts of Los Angeles remain severely under-serviced by public transit including the affluent west side where recalcitrance to share the roads (both at grade and below) on the part of municipalities like Beverly Hills have left places like UCLA in Westwood isolated from the rest of the city.

Still, this is not the laughably public transit stunted city I remember. While the state as a hole has suffered severe economic blows over the past decade or so. Los Angeles has managed to fund their public transit renaissance. TOtrafficcongestionFormer mayor Antonio Villaraigosa helped convince a normally tax-averse population to accept a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a 30 year transit expansion. He then took this Measure R to Washington to secure federal loans in order to shrink the 30 year timeline down to the 10. 12 proposed major transit projects in 10 years.

If such a feat can be accomplished in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, what exactly is holding us back here in Toronto?

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr