A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse

July 17, 2015

Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.

In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.

This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.

But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.

“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”

Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?

“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”

Rules? M’eh. Whatever.

While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.

Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? gavelOur elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.

Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?

More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.

If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. youcantdothatWhy not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?

Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.

searchingly submitted by Cityslikr


Driving The Dream

July 16, 2015

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret. Just this one, though.

I love driving.

camaro1

That’s right. This car-hater loves the wide open roads, top down, wind blowing back your hair, car commercial driving. Zoom zoom, or whatever that weird kid in the ads says.

Problem is, to truly experience such movie moving images, you have to get off the beaten track, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, far from the madding crowd. Be dedicated to no timetable and prepared to detour at a moment’s notice when other freedom seekers clog up your automobile induced bliss. Who the hell wants to drive 55?

Alas, such fantasy is rarely achievable. Driving, for most of us, most of the time, amounts to little more than a daily slog, nothing more than a utility, a mobility utility. Getting from point A to point B in the least efficient, most expensive way possible. Zoom zoom, my ass.

Trouble begins when we demand the dream promised us in the incessant push of television commercials. Have car, must travel. Must travel fast, top down, wind blowing back my hair. Open the goddamned roads up.

As we’ve discovered, cities suffer in their attempts to cater to that. The car life requires lots of space. Such space devolves into sprawl. Sprawl means distance. Distance needs speed. Without speed, distance simply becomes, well, distance, a time suck.

carcommercial

The road trip, as we’ve come to think of it, dream of it, is an entirely different beast than the work trip or that quick trip around the corner to get some milk. We need to differentiate between the two, and stop building communities and cities around the illusory freedom of the open roads. Such a thing only exists on TV and on the rare occasions we are able to get away from it all, the traffic, the congestion, the HOV restrictions lanes, and truly put the pedal to the medal and fly as God and Madison Avenue intended us to do.

confessingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sober (Almost) Second Thought

July 13, 2015

It may not be immediately apparent to the naked eye but I am not an expert on all things. In fact, it could be argued, there are times I might not know what I’m talking about. thoughtfulYet, that doesn’t always stop me from talking about them.

Somewhere in between those two points on a curve, I wrote about the newly designed, rebuilt and unveiled Queens Quay. In the post, I suggested Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star was, how did I put it again? “Wildly off the mark” in his early assessment of the roadway. In hindsight, it would probably have been better stated: I disagree rather emphatically with Mr. Keenan, suggesting more that our opinions on the subject differed rather than I was right and he was wrong.

Last Wednesday, I travelled back down to Queens Quay for a couple hours to supplement my original take on it registered by a quick bike through there and back on the previous weekend. I talked for a few minutes with a TTC worker, queensquay4standing at the Lower Spadina intersection, manually realigning streetcar tracks as the newly installed on-board switch mechanism wasn’t functioning properly. I chatted for a few more minutes with a couple motorcycle traffic enforcement police officers, taking a quick snack break.

Their general take on the new Queens Quay, a couple weeks into the new era, was a general bemused bewilderment. There were spots along the way people, whether on foot, on bike or behind the wheel of a car, were genuinely confused. Hell, one of the cops told me on his first run along it, he’d made an improper turn. The layout was confusing at times. Right of ways weren’t always clearly marked and obvious. Tweaks and rejigs would be necessary to avoid a serious accident at some point of time. Up to now it had been fender-benders and heated exchange of words.

Which was Ed Keenan’s point in his articles. Queens Quay was good but it could be better, it needed to be better. One of the motorcycle cops suggested for advanced turn signals, use arrows instead of solid colours so that drivers would realize that signal was directed at them and not simply some helpful suggestion to take or leave. queensquay7At points of possible conflict, make it obvious not merely intuitive.

In my defense, however, after parking myself with a coffee at one of the street’s flashpoints, Queens Quay and Lower Simcoe, to take in the proceedings, there was a lot more going on than simply confusion especially on many drivers’ parts. Despite a sort of new quirky layout especially with the streetcar right of way positioned along the side of the street (counter to the established in Toronto right down the middle alignment), some pretty straight-forward things were either willfully ignored or absent-mindedly overlooked, let’s say. Clearly marked – with accompanying bright new neon coloured NEW signs — No Right Turns went regularly unnoticed, resulting in cars either scattering pedestrians or stopping street cars. The aforementioned advance turn signals were oftentimes run while red, resulting in [see previous sentence].

As for the frequently assailed streetcar right of way, let me just say this. With its ever so slight but still unmistakable ramp up onto it, drivers have to be either completely unaware of their surroundings or entirely determined to miss the fact that they’re not supposed to be driving there. queensquay5Neither option is particularly assuring. I saw a driver wind up on the streetcar tracks as she looked up from a phone in her hand. Another one deliberately used the right of way to jump out ahead of pedestrians crossing to make the left turn.

Painting the right of way a different colour or installing more obvious signage wasn’t going to alter that kind of behaviour. Simple enforcement of basic traffic laws would. A changing of the mindset that the power balance of road usage here was different than elsewhere in the city. That’s what was ultimately going to be needed for the new Queens Quay to work.

I guess my real beef with Ed Keenan’s view was my resentment that drivers needed more help understanding the concept. Fuck them, am I right? queensquay6If more assistance was necessary, maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car in the first place or, at least, maybe you should be driving better.

In retrospect though, maybe I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. Change doesn’t happen just because you want it to and not everyone welcomes the same kind of change you do. The new Queens Quay represents a definite change of approach to moving people through and along a very small but important part of the city. Why not do whatever you can to help people get comfortable with the change? Even the ones, both literally and figuratively, in the driver’s seat.

(almost) humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Talking Accountability

July 12, 2015

garyowens

If you think the city’s accountability offices are unnecessary relics from a past administration, you’re probably not looking closely enough.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Muddling Through Or Is He?

July 10, 2015

Just 4 days after yet another black man, Andrew Loku, a father of five, a former Sudanese child soldier, living in an apartment building “leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide affordable housing and services for people suffering from mental illness” was shot to death by Toronto police —“Andrew died right in front of me. There was no reason for it.” – just 4 days after the incident, Mayor John Tory, delivering one of his “angrier speeches”, fought to have his friend, not that that was relevant in any way, his friend and 2014 campaign fundraiser and chief of staff when Tory was the provincial leader of the P.C. party, Andy Pringle, re-appointed to the Toronto Police Services Board despite the fact that according to the former vice-chair of the TPSB, Councillor Michael Thompson, the lone black member of city council who the mayor dumped from the TPSB upon assuming office, according to Councillor Thompson, Mr. Pringle provided “a deafening silence on major police issues” and “consistently rubber-stamped police actions…not in the best interest of the community”, “policing was not his finest hour”, waving such criticism off as just politics, Mayor Tory pushed the pro-police carding Mr. Pringle’s appointment through council on what proved to be an easy, lopsided (and possibly whipped) vote, further highlighting that the mayor has no idea what the hell he’s doing on the police file or he knows exactly what he’s up to.

unbelievably submitted by Cityslikr