Capital Report III

May 29, 2014

washingtondc

Clearly Pierre L’Enfant set about designing the layout of this nation’s capital in the late 18th-century with cyclists in mind. Take it from someone who has made his way around Washington by all sorts of modes, biking in D.C. is the way to go.

When the city introduced its bike share program back in the fall of 2010, it did so with a certain degree of gusto. It now has more than 300 stations and 2500+ bikes in use. Compare that with Toronto’s BIXI or whatever it’s called now and its 80 stations and a 1000 bikes. While a far cry for the Velib in Paris (1230 stations, 14,000+ bikes), finding a place to grab and drop off a ride is relatively easy. Even during a busy Memorial Day long weekend, we found ourselves bikeless only on a couple of occasions and not for very long.

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And, oh the places I have seen by bike this week! Neighbourhoods and off the beaten track sites that might have otherwise remained unseen. Would I have hopped onto the Metro to go see the grave of John Philip Sousa buried in the Congressional Cemetery? No. But by bike? Why not. Who knows the places we might discover along the way? The ‘Historic Capital Hill’ neighbourhood, in fact.

The city is still catching up in terms of bike lanes. There are a fair amount but you get no sense of a network yet. Yet. The big difference between riding here and in Toronto is the politeness of the drivers. Maybe it’s all that southern hospitality but drivers don’t really seem to mind sharing the road with cyclists.

Washington on foot is an undertaking. Pleasant to walk but there are significant distances between monuments and museums. Travelling by Metro is fast but you can miss some of the more quiet asides.

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Biking in D.C. is the way to go. You might almost call it, capital! (But you wouldn’t because that’s British and people are still touchy about having their White House burned down.)

pip-piply submitted Cityslikr


Capital Report II

May 27, 2014

washingtondc

Aspirational.

It’s difficult comparing the actual centre of the universe to the in its mind only version (although I have yet to meet that mythical being who really locates Toronto at that point in their cosmology). Washington embraces its capital-ness with gusto. This is what we’re about, folks. This is US.

Yes. The hypocrisy at its core is not lost on me. Thomas “All Men Are Created Equal” Jefferson was a slave owner. The grinding poverty existing mere blocks from the White House. Miles and miles of museums dedicated to science and knowledge in a country filled by climate change skeptics and creationists.

Still.

Aspiration.

Washington flaunts its ideals even if it doesn’t always live by them.

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While I’ll leave it to Americans to wrassle with the implications of that, I still love visiting the city those ideals built. There’s always the possibility some of them may rub off.

hopefully submitted  by Cityslikr


Capital Report I

May 25, 2014

washingtondc

Ha Ha.

I bet no one’s ever called anything they’ve written about Washington ‘Capital Report ‘ before. There’s just something about this place that fills the head with creative thoughts.

Anyhoo…

Connect the airport to the city with easy, accessible public transit.

Getting into DC from National by subway is a breeze. It basically took us as long to walk from the gate to the metro as it did to take the six stops across the Potomac. Driving couldn’t have been faster.

I know National is closer to the heart of things here in Washington than Pearson is to downtown Toronto. Certainly Dulles Airport isn’t as transit friendly. But no major city should be without a rail link to its airport.

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Toronto is finally getting there with the Union to Pearson line next year. (Fingers crossed!) I’ll leave the matter of electrification for another discussion. But if we were really being bold in Toronto, we’d be working on connecting to Pearson with the Eglinton crosstown and the Finch LRT. So everyone could make their way directly to the airport by public transit along north, south and central corridors.

beltwayly submitted by Cityslikr

 


Be D.Ceeing You Later

May 24, 2014

Off to the U.S. capital for a week.

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Ahhhh, Washington.

Along with Chicago, it is my favourite American city. That’s no slight against New York or San Francisco or New Orleans. Fine destinations, all of them. But I rarely turn down an opportunity to travel to Washington.

Why is that, I’ve been asked. What’s so great about Washington? Well, because it’s only an hour or so from Camden Yards, my favourite baseball park.

Actually, it’s a fair question and one I’m going to try track down the answers for while I’m down there. Ideally, I’ll be delivering up short bursts of D.C. enthusiasm throughout the week. Fingers crossed. There’s always the possibility I could find myself otherwise engaged passing the time at the FDR Memorial, having a drink on the roof of the Kennedy Centre, hanging out with the orangutans at the Zoo, eating crab cakes somewhere in Georgetown…

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stars and stripely submitted by Cityslikr


Roads To Nowhere

May 23, 2014

Although never far from the surface, if you ever want to scratch open the drivers’ sense of entitlement, entitledask one How’s it going? during their favourite time of the year, construction season.

2014 is turning out to be doozy.

“This is not how you run a city,” mayoral candidate and noted transportation expert John Tory pronounced in the wake of the news there’d be concurrent construction on both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. “Torontonians shouldn’t be forced to arrive late for work because of the lack of thought or planning by city officials. Sadly, the situation on our major roads is now once again a world-class mess.”

Ahh, there it is. Always with the world-class, one way or another. And by Torontonians, Mr. Tory means car-driving Torontonians of course.outrageous

“When we should have been planning ahead and making calculated decisions to address congestion, this administration has provided poor judgment by compounding gridlock on our roads,” another mayoral candidate and one with some actual municipal governance under her belt, Councillor Karen Stintz said. “We have a responsibility to ensure residents have options to move in and out of the city. Today, we have created roadblocks.”

They do, Councillor Stintz. It’s called getting out of their cars and using public transit.

Even noted cyclist and alleged car hater, Olivia Chow (also running for mayor) got in on the indignant act. “My traffic plan says you can’t shut a street (Lake Shore) if used to avoid one (Gardiner) under construction,” Ms. Chow stated on the Twitter.

With everyone jumping on the city staff kicking bandwagon over this, obviously somebody screwed up, somebody fell asleep at the switch. The mistake is so glaring, there’s no way anyone who was paying any attention would’ve allowed it to happen. This requires a strongly worded admonishment.

“Believe it or not, I have confirmed that the office running the smaller Lakeshore job did not communicate with the office running the bigger Gardiner job, overreactionwhich is simply unreal,” John Tory said in his e-mail blast blast. “As mayor I will ensure this will never be repeated.”

Simply unreal.

Or “completely untrue”, depending on whom you ask.

“I’m at the table for both of these,” said General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley. “However, the reality is we needed to get the Gardiner work going, and we needed to get the Lake Shore work done. Folks want the infrastructure to be upgraded and put in good condition. Unfortunately these are both in the same location.”

Folks want their infrastructure upgraded, and want it upgraded at their convenience.

Mr. Buckley went on to say that, “The two specific teams carrying out the Gardiner and Lake Shore work were fully aware of what was going on and meeting regularly.”

Between the long harsh winter just past and the upcoming PanAm Games next summer, the city is obviously facing something of a construction crunch. Given there’s going to be work on the Gardiner well into the next decade, chances are, more overlaps in our future. roadconstructionThat just comes with aging infrastructure over-burdened by usage.

Only in car commercials are our roads ever open and maintenance free.

“This drives people crazy,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Chair and automobile nut, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “it drives me crazy and hopefully an important lesson has been learned and will be applied.”

And what lesson would that be, councillor?

“Some disruption with the daytime Lake Shore work,” suggests Mr. Buckley who is being paid to manage road work. Much of the work is being done overnight. No lanes would be closed going in the direction of rush hour traffic. The city, he said, is keeping an eye on the situation. outofmywaySo far, during the day, delays on Lake Shore were “about a minute long.”

“This is probably the worst of it, we’re not seeing significant delays,” Mr. Buckley claims.

Insignificant delays and maximum outrage.

Stirring up driver resentment is a potent political tactic. Just ask Rob Ford. War. On. The. Car.

It feeds into that ingrained sense of privilege that once you’re behind the wheel of your automobile, nothing and no one should obstruct your ease of movement between point A and point B. I pay my taxes, dammit! I shouldn’t be inconvenienced.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of other drivers believe the exact same thing at the exact same time of day, every day. As that old saying goes, you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

The only way we’re going to actually address the soul-sucking, business-hampering congestion that is plaguing us now is to confront the entitlement of the car driver head-on. We cannot road build our way out of this. punchyourselfThe private automobile is the least efficient and least cost-effective way to move people and goods around this region. Leadership means acknowledging that and offering up real alternatives.

What we’re getting right now is craven opportunism and political posturing. A supreme silly season during peak construction season.

under constructionally submitted by Cityslikr


Wards To Watch — Surprise Edition

May 22, 2014

There’s a dust up brewing over in Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth where Jane Farrow, the Jane Farrow, former CBC media type, donnybrookformer Executive Director of Jane’s (the other Jane) Walk, former Executive Assistant to Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon and just generally fabulous left of center Jane Farrow registered to run against the incumbent, Paula Fletcher, a well-established, long time left of center councillor who barely squeaked out a victory in 2010 over media celebrity, notably not left of center and back for another run at it, Liz West.

VOTE SPLIT!! was the almost immediate reaction by many City Hall watchers, with the assumption generally being that this automatically paves the way to victory for Ms. West. Each ballot cast for Ms. Farrow would be one less cast for Ms. Fletcher. ptahasdisbandedThat only needed to happen about 250 times and the race would be over.

This is presumptuous on a whole bunch of levels.

To start, Councillor Fletcher hasn’t even registered to run yet. Sure, the election’s still over 5 months away but if she is in the race, she really should signal her intentions. Waiting on the sidelines is kind of oily incumbent behaviour. Keep everybody guessing. Either a bunch of people jump in with the expectation of an open ward, ending up carving up the vote or it keeps everybody on the sidelines, wondering, should they enter, shouldn’t they, until it’s too late to mount a serious campaign.

As I tweeted out when the news broke, since when has incumbency bestowed any sort of squatter’s rights on a ward? kingofthecastleA designated position until either the candidate or voters deign to say otherwise. Until there’s an actual vote splitting scenario, you know, between two actual candidates, maybe we can back off the sturm und drang for a bit.

More annoyingly, who says all progressive, left of center voters are the same, expect the same from candidates? It is hardly a uniform bloc of singular group think. In fact, just the opposite, much to its exploitable electoral detriment.

Maybe it’s time that Councillor Fletcher has her progressive qualifications taken out for a test run, see if they’re still what the residents in Ward 30 are looking for. My guess is, while there is much overlap between the two, she and Ms. Farrow have some very distinct views of what constitute progressive values in Toronto in 2014. allthesameA good airing out of ideas and opinions never hurt any discourse or policy positions in the long run.

Besides, how do we know for a fact that this thing’ll get settled on a left-right split? Sure, Liz West was a Ford-lite sounding waste and efficiency finding vessel and Councillor Fletcher was a high ranking target of the outgoing David Miller administration. While I don’t think she’d achieved a Sandra Bussin level of loathing in the media, Fletcher did make something of a spectacle of herself when she badgered one budget deputant she thought to be a John Tory radio show plant. “Come on down, baby!”

Couldn’t it have been Ms. West just struck Ward 30 residents as the best possible alternative to Fletcher in 2010? She was a two term councillor at the time. Maybe she had just almost worn out her welcome.

What’s not to say that Jane Farrow may present Ward 30 voters as their best alternative come October? toughchoiceIn that case, she may just as well strip votes from Liz West who, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t spent the time between the last election and this one, working the constituency, establishing herself ready to step up and serve as city councillor. Unless, of course, appearing on Hamilton TV constitutes working the constituency.

Look, I don’t have any beef with Councillor Paula Fletcher. Her voting record over the last 4 years shows a strong resistance to the Ford agenda. The Boys and their crew never missed an opportunity to drag her name out as the prime example of the tax and spenders they were constantly doing battle with in order to be respecting the taxpayers.

But from my perch observing the proceedings at City Hall, she was not one of the go-to bulwark stalwarts against the hurry up offense of the Fords. toughchoice2That grunt work was done more often than not by the likes of councillors Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan, both at council meetings and with regular appearances as visiting councillors at standing committees where much of the public input happened and policy decisions took shape. A reliable no vote? Sure. But there’s that goes into the sausage making than that.

Perhaps most annoyingly about all this is that we’re still having the same conversation about vote splitting. If there was ever the case to be made for ranked ballots, this would be it. Two candidates, of similar political persuasion, neither would be a terrible choice for councillor. rabitOne speaks to your sensibilities, just a little bit more. That one is # 1. The other, # 2. And let the run off begin.

Unfortunately, we’re still lagging behind on that count. Until such time as we finally step up and embrace ranked ballots (Hello, Queen’s Park!) voters are going to sometimes have to face the unpleasant prospect of vote splitting. We’re not there yet in Ward 30. So let’s take a step back, relax, and enjoy having too many good candidates to choice from rather than too few.

excitedly submitted by Cityslikr


Still Plenty Of Room On The Stage

May 21, 2014

Such is the voter’s dilemma, living in a first past the post electoral world.

snowballchanceinhell

You come across a candidate who hits all the right notes and you think to yourself, yeah, I can get behind this one at about the exact time you realize, yeah, they don’t have a hope in hell of winning.

That’s me and Ari Goldkind right now.

Running as he is for mayor in a town that doesn’t take kindly to electing strangers to that position, calling his campaign a long shot is being generous. donquixoteAt this juncture, Mr. Goldkind sits with about 52 other candidates out on the fringes of the race, Don Quixote’s all of them, tilting at a seemingly impregnable windmill.

Anyone who has followed us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke from the beginning knows that we spent a lot of time and bytes during the 2010 election writing about the fringe candidates for mayor. Hell, we even ended up endorsing one of them. We have a certain fondness for the outsiders especially when the slate of endorsed insiders can be so patently uninspiring.

The fact of the matter, however, is that 95% of those relegated to the fringes are fringe candidates. Madmen, publicity seekers, stunt takers and single issue candidates. offtheradarFew have any sort of grasp of the full breadth of issues this city faces. What makes them run is anyone’s guess but even in a campaign as long as our municipal one is, there’s not enough time to spend offering up a wider platform to them.

After attending Ari Goldkind’s campaign launch last Wednesday, I can confidently say that we would be doing ourselves a huge disservice if we continue to think of him as unelectable and not worth our time listening to. Yes, the odds remain high against him. Until he can get himself on the radar of the mainstream media, he will continue to be an unknown. Toronto does not have a history of throwing caution to the wind and electing a complete outsider like Naheed Nenshi, say.

Am I comparing Goldkind to Nenshi? No. But I think any progressive voter should take a moment or two to look through his campaign literature and the issues he is talking about.

Most impressively for me is his boldness in talking upfront about the necessity for more taxes, tolls and other revenue streams. “Toronto Needs the Truth” his campaign flyer insists. arigoldkindHe’s also not afraid to talk about one of the city’s biggest budgetary bugaboos: the Toronto Police Services.

As a proud, self-proclaimed outsider to municipal politics, I have some concerns Mr. Goldkind hasn’t fully brushed up on all the nuances of municipal powers and the always thorny matter of city-province jurisdiction. It won’t be as easy as just declaring an intention to toll. The city currently doesn’t have the power to collect any HST. Queen’s Park hangs protectively over all such decisions.

But, hell, if that lack of knowledge disqualified every candidate from running for office, there would never have been a Mayor Rob Ford.

More worrisome for me is Ari Goldkind’s lone wolf/anti-career politician campaign rhetoric. (h/t to @judemacdonald for this particular conversation.) While he sits diametrically opposed to everything Rob Ford represents, the two men share a certain seeming disdain for a collaborative approach that city council depends on to function. lonewolfOf this mayor’s many colossal failures, perhaps the most damaging in terms of governance was his go-it alone, my way or the highway approach. A mayor unable to work with those not always sharing the same opinion or ideology is a mayor unable to lead the city.

At this point, however, I will give Ari Goldkind the benefit of the doubt. Inclusion is not necessarily the language of the outsider, long shot candidate. Certainly the speech he gave at his campaign launch was much less combative, as he spoke of surrounding himself with smart people with differing opinions.

As voters, we will do ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t insist on Ari Goldkind getting a shot on stage to debate the other mayoral candidates. With the news that Sarah Thomson will get the fill-in spot in Rob Ford’s absence at next week’s National Ethnic Press mayoral debate round table discussion, obviously the definition of ‘fringe candidate’ is somewhat elastic. Sure, sure. She ran in 2010 and gained almost no traction before dropping out late in the race. Nothing she’s done subsequently lends any credence to the notion she’ll fare better this time around.

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If we can’t even dream a little at this point of time in the municipal campaign and insist that all credible candidates get an opportunity to be heard, what chances are there that we can move beyond accepted conventional wisdom in building a better city? Ari Goldkind has, I think, proven to be a credible candidate for mayor. He has a small but committed and enthusiastic organization behind him. His platform is one many progressive voters can get excited about. There is no downside that I can see to this campaign if he moves from the fringe and joins the always unofficial rank of serious contender.

Let’s see to it that happens. Let’s demand that it happens.

pushily submitted by Cityslikr