The Gold Line

March 18, 2016

It ain’t easy, building public transit in the automobile age we live in. Demands are greater. Expectations higher. proveitPurse strings much tighter to pry open.

Cars are the status quo. The status quo gets a wider pass when it comes to building, rebuilding and over-building all the infrastructure necessary to maintain its primacy. Look at Toronto lately. Want to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway? Money found. Done. A billion dollars more may also be spent keeping another section of that highway elevated just right. Done, and done.

Here in Los Angeles, the local public transit builder and provider, Metro, seems overly concerned about holding drivers’ hands, assuring them that they’re driving interests are being looked after too. “Metro eases traffic by tackling bottlenecks.” “Metro eases traffic with more options for drivers.” “Metro funds $430 million worth of local improvement projects each year, from signal synchronization to filling potholes and repaving roads.”

Yet every transit decision made – subway or LRT, rail or bus, this alignment or that – seems microscopically scrutinized in comparison. Success of whatever claims are made for public transit must be immediate and absolute. therethereAn empty bus spotted running its route is seen as a failure. An empty freeway or parking lot? Not so much.

My friend Ned and I rode the Gold Line yesterday, from end-to-end, Atlantic station in the central-east, around, up and out to the newest terminus, APU/Citrus College in the more north-east. The line just opened up a new, “6 stations, 5 cities”, 11.5 mile extension into the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Mountains to much anticipation and mixed reviews. Boon or blunder/One has to wonder?, the tormented transit poets asks.

“Politics brought the Gold Line into existence,” rail enthusiast Ethan N. Elkind wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week, not at all favourably.

Better mass transit is necessary across the region. But not every part of the county has the population to support rail. In the case of the Gold Line, we’ve brought expensive train technology to a generally low-density area that could be more economically served by bus rapid transit or commuter buses running in the right-of-way.

In the LA Weekly over the past week or so, Gene Maddaus has been writing extensively about the transit future of Los Angeles, exploring the complicated politics of it. Will More Transit Actually Ease L.A.’s Traffic? he asks in one article. goldline2On the Gold Line yesterday, running alongside the packed 210 freeway for a bit, it’s hard to respond to Mr. Maddaus’s question in the affirmative. We’re building all this and traffic’s still bad? Not to mention that earlier this year, it was reported that transit ridership numbers were down. We’re building all this and people aren’t using it?

All these questions and concerns are legitimate and should be asked and not shrugged off. The 6 new stations on the Gold Line certainly do feel more like a commuter rail service. All stopped right next to parking lots. There was little sign of much street life around any of the stations (albeit, just from my view aboard the train). When we arrived at the last stop, we got out to get a coffee. goldlineINot seeing anything in the immediate vicinity, Ned asked a woman who had just parked her car and was heading to the Metro to get to the Kings game downtown (one less car on the road which is not insignificant) if there was a nearby coffee shop we could get to. “Walking?!” she responded, as incredulously as that. Not easily. Not quickly.

Should this LRT have been a bus lane instead? Maybe. But we all know the politics of that. Buses engender little love or respect. Buses in their own dedicated bus lane can draw the ire of drivers.

That isn’t meant to negate the argument. It’s just that the rigorousness applied to building and paying for public transit is rarely brought to bear when it comes to other forms of transportation, and by other forms of transportation, natch, I mean the private automobile. Conventional wisdom seems to already be that self-driving cars will relieve us all of our congestion woes. trafficcongestionHow do we know that to be a fact any more than we know the Gold Line should’ve been a bus route instead of an LRT?

In discussing the upcoming ballot initiative to raise $120 billion for new transportation projects, former Los Angeles County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky said, “Everything’s gotta go perfectly for Metro politically” for the measure to win. Perfectly. On a measure that includes, according to the LA Times Transportation and Mobility writer, Laura J. Nelson, nearly 20% of the proposed money would go to highway construction and enhancements. Where 80% of the 18.4 cents federal gas tax still goes into roads.

Billions of dollars being spent to build, expand and enhance roads and freeways when we know, categorically, that doing that only serves to increase driving numbers, cars on the road, congestion. stubbornBut when it comes to public transit? It’s gotta be perfect.

We need to change the terms of this debate. Driving cannot be the default mobility mode around which everything else must function. It will be an uphill battle. It will not happen overnight. That’s the thing about the status quo. It’s dug in deep. Dislodging it will take a lot more effort than it should.

confoundedly submitted by Cityslikr


Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


How High Sir?

February 19, 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 17 million times.

You want to fix City Hall? Start electing better city councillors. upthehillEasier said than done, for sure, given the disheartening results of last year’s municipal campaign. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight incumbents returned to office including one still under the cloud of a police investigation. Another, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South Weston.

The councillor was on Metro Morning today along with another former budget chief, Shelley Carroll, to talk about the city’s need for more revenue, new revenue tools. “Do you think we need new taxes, Frank Di Giorgio?” asked the show’s host, Matt Galloway. Here’s how the councillor responded:

Not at this point. I think certainly, I think the one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor…

Say what?

That’s what’s important in the immediate future? City council needs to support the mayor? [Begins flipping frantically through the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council. Must support the mayor…Must support the mayor….] fealtyNope. Not seeing that stipulation.

Councillor Di Giorgio has been a local representative for almost 30 years now, at City Hall in amalgamated Toronto since 2000. This is the sum of all his civic wisdom. “I think one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor.”

If the councillor actually believes that — and he’s not alone in that way of thinking, sadly, in talking to a candidate during last year’s election who was running against another deadweight incumbent, I was told that a few years earlier in discussing with the councillor why he had voted a certain way, he was told that, You gotta support the boss — why bother with city council races in the first place? Just elect a mayor, be done with it. No messy debates to deal with, rubber stamp city council meetings, items all passed with a waxed red royal seal.

Parsing Councillor Di Giorgio’s go along to get along logic a little further, consider his 2014 re-election. At Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall has done fantastic work breaking down the numbers October’s election. waxsealA look at the results in Ward 12 shows that less than one in five voters there voted for John Tory. The councillor fared little better, garnering under 30% of the popular vote where just over 1300 ballots separated him from the 4th place challenger.

So, less than one in three voters gave Councillor Di Giorgio a mandate to unwaveringly support a mayor who fewer than one in five Ward 12 voters backed? It’s how first-past-the-post elections work, I get it, but it’s almost as if the councillor thinks we have some sort of presidential system at City Hall, though. The Big Guy wins. You fall in line behind the Big Guy.

Councillor Di Giorgio’s views on such ring-kissing fealty to the mayor also extends to city staff. As Jude MacDonald reminded me, back during the last administration when the councillor was still TTC commissioner and voted to fire then-CEO Gary Webster, he had his reasons. “Excellence in bureaucracy means the ability to perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation, the leaders of a city,” he declared. “It’s the ability to put forward positions that are consistent with positions adopted by the mayor.”

Your councillor for Ward 12 York South Weston, folks.  Frank Di Giorgio.

So, city councillors are elected to merely to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Such passiveness from Di Giorgio extends to the city’s dealings with the province evidently. jumphighhowDuring the Metro Morning discussion, he said exploring the idea of more revenue tools will simply let the province off the hook for paying their share of stuff like social housing. They’ve already stopped paying, Councillor Carroll pointed out. That’s why the city’s scrambling to plug the hole in its operating budget. That’s why we need to a discussion about new revenues. It’s all on us now.

The councillor was having none of it. No need to rush. We already have revenue tools in the arsenal, like the Land Transfer Tax which is bringing in substantial amounts of money to the city coffers. Maybe we could milk some more from that cash cow. If not, the City of Toronto Act is coming up for renewal in a few years, 2018 or so. Let’s revisit this discussion then. In the meantime, don’t ‘undermine the mayor’s initiatives’ because that would be ‘dangerous’. Loose lips sink ships, I guess.

Councillors like Frank Di Giorgio are throwbacks to an era when municipalities were little more than wards of the province, where we were given the property tax to play with, to largely pay for local initiatives, roads, sewers, maybe a portion of public transit. A time when the province contributed substantially more to the overall operations of this city than it sees fit to now. As Councillor Carroll (as well as the city manager, Joe Pennachetti) pointed out, Toronto is a big boy now, closing in on 3 million people. asleeponthejobIt’s time we put on our big boy pants and realize we’ve been pushed out of the nest.

Provincial contributions to the well-being of this city will be grudging and probably when it is only politically advantageous for them to do so. We can act like two year-olds and hold our breath until we turn blue in the face in hopes of changing their attitude but, well, umm, I wouldn’t…hold my breath. But that’s what Mayor Tory has in mind, and loyal foot soldiers like Councillor Di Giorgio see it as his job to follow the mayor’s marching orders.

After all, that’s what he’s been doing for three decades now. That’s what he was elected to do.

at your servicely submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s Hoping

November 28, 2014

I’m ready to go on record as saying this.acceptance

Maybe John Tory is the mayor Toronto needs at this point of time.

Affable, well-intentioned, not ideologically strident.

A big ol’ stew of comfort food. Haute cuisine stew, mind you. Truffles and duck, with handmade dumplings. No recording devices, if you don’t mind.

There was kind of a, I don’t know, settling, while watching the mayor-elect’s state of the city address yesterday. Campaign sound bites and slogans set aside, replaced by, if not inspirational words, something close to adult conversation. He made a frank admission of the substantial problems Toronto faces – crises, he labelled a couple of them, prioritizing them in a way that seemed to accentuate people not numbers.

Traffic and congestion. Affordability. Child poverty. Unemployment.

Tory pointed out that while spending time on things like cutting councillor office budgets – stopping the gravy train, in other words — were of high symbolic value, it didn’t ultimately make much of a dent on the overall budget. Meanwhile, bus service was reduced. comfortfoodThe repair backlog of Toronto Community Housing grew as did the waiting list for people to live there. Infrastructure aged and crumbled just a little bit more.

It feels like after 4 years of non-stop campaigning, we might actually be sitting down to some actually governing. Not governing simply by default and in the face of a mayor’s worst intentions, but with a mayor’s best ones. Here’s the situation as it is (rather than how I make believe it to be). How do we go about dealing with it?

Don’t mistake my willingness to give the incoming mayor some benefit of the doubt as any sort of ringing endorsement. I remain highly skeptical of his SmartTrack scheme. He seems determined to plow ahead with the Scarborough subway craziness. Sometimes he says a lot of words in quick succession that all sound sensible but when you play them back, they don’t add up to much. He talked about needing to restore TTC services that had been cut and scaled back over the past 4 years. Perhaps think about bringing back buses that, well, were no longer available but, still, maybe there was something we could do, all within the constraints of what money’s available in the budget.benefitofthedoubtjpg

Parse it any way you want, John. Restoring TTC service is about one thing and one thing only. Money. More of it means more service. Less of it? Well, we’ve seen how that goes.

Our mayor-elect remains dogged in his belief that the city’s revenue needs will be met by a combination of long overdue largesse from the other two levels of government and further found efficiencies around City Hall. For sure, the feds and province need to start opening their respective wallets and chip in to help municipalities, and I believe Tory a better ambassador to make Toronto’s case than the previous administration, still… We might want some sort of backup plan in case either one comes up a little short. Again.

As for efficiencies?

After the election, Tory convinced the city manager, Joe Pennachetti, to put off his impending retirement for a bit to help ease the transition. The city manager is on record as saying that, we’re pretty tapped out in terms of efficiencies, there’s not much change left to be found under those cushions. cleanslate1Toronto needs new sources of revenue, he’s stated quite emphatically. Otherwise, expect reductions in services and programs.

Hopefully, he made that point in private to the mayor-elect, as a condition to remaining on the job. Hopefully, the mayor-elect heard him and is merely maintaining his electoral stance until certain budget realities force him to step back and be frank with residents. I’m willing to believe John Tory is reasonable enough to do that.

Right now, he sounds reasonable. Right now, we need to think we’ve elected somebody reasonable to lead the city. Right now, after the past 4 tumultuous years, that’s good enough for me.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto, Order Must Be Restored, Our Strength

October 19, 2014

If nothing else good comes out of this 2014 municipal election (and yes, I assume nothing good will come out of it as it’s just easier to deal with the crushing disappointment that way), diversityourstrengthI hope that we will finally lower that torn and frayed Toronto the Good, Diversity, Our Strength flag, bundle it off, put a frame around it and hang it somewhere in the basement of City Hall with a placard: Historical Curio, and underneath: We Really Thought That?

Yes, apparently we did.

And yet…

The latest burp of racist indigestion during the campaign appeared in a Globe and Mail article written by David Hains on the race in Ward 7 York West, the long time domain of Giorgio Mammoliti. It appears Giorgio Mammoliti has a problem with outdoor basketball.

“Some kind of sports just need a bit of supervision, and I think basketball” {blackpeople}* “is one of them,” the councillor said.

“For one reason or another, [basketball hoops] seem to attract the wrong crowd” {blackpeople}* “outside,” Mr. Mammoliti said in a telephone interview.

“What I’ve heard loud and clear is that nobody is playing outdoor basketball” {blackpeople}* “any more, they seem to be selling drugs” {blackpeople}*, Mr. Mammoliti said – a claim, he added, that he heard from the local police division.

He said that at least one of the basketball courts {blackpeople}* has been replaced with outdoor ball hockey {whitepeople}*, which has made it safer for families {whitepeople}*.

*italics ours.

This after news of a candidate in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, Munira Abukar, having her election signs defaced with Go Back Home and mayoral candidate Olivia Chow also told to Go Back To China. dogwhistleWe heard too that another mayoral candidate, Doug Ford, is not in the least bit anti-Semitic. Why some of the best lawyers/doctors/accountants he knows are Jewish.

Isolated incidents, signifying little more than outlying racism, you think? Nothing to see here except for a handful of bully bigots? There’s no such thing as “white privilege”, says a third mayoral candidate although he’s revised that thinking. “There are people who are not treated fairly based on the colour of their skin,” John Tory later told Daniel Dale.

The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting there’s a problem to be dealt with.

Royson James’ sprawling, troubling and problematic epic of a column pretty much lays out Toronto — politically, socially, geographically – here in 2014. It comes on the heels of last week’s Real City Matters, Can’t We All Just Get Along? 3citiesThe city isn’t so much Good as it is divided. Along racial, economic, social, cultural and geographic lines. Divisions easily exploited by self-serving and havoc-wreaking politicians like the Fords and their ilk.

We can hide behind all the indices we want, the world’s 4th best city to live or do business in or whatever. But we can no longer pretend that such bounty applies to everyone city-wide. Access to opportunity is not equally spread. It is dictated by income and geography which both in Toronto of 2014 run very much in parallel to race.

Look hard at our race for mayor.

Two white men, millionaires both, battle it out for the hearts and minds of our diverse city, assuring all of us they understand what it’s like not to be white, male and worth millions. whiteguymillionairePeople just need a hand up not a hand out, you’ll hear both of them say, like the generous benefactors they tell us they are and will continue to be.

In 3rd place now is a woman, a non-white woman, who entered the race as the presumptive favourite. Lord knows, she’s run a terrible, terrible campaign. We’ve talked about it in these very pages. She ran away from her strengths out of fear for being called out on those very strengths. She took her base for granted, and it wandered off in search of a more edifying candidate long enough for her to drop down in the polls and hand one millionaire man the opportunity to claim that only he could defeat the other millionaire man which was really the only thing this city was pretty much agreed upon.

But aside from championing the Stop the Ford Family movement, how good a campaign has John Tory run? He’s offering nothing of substance on any of Toronto’s most pressing problems. respectableoldetymePoverty, housing, childcare, infrastructure. Just more low taxes and finding efficiencies.

And his transit plan, SmartTrack? Fanciful lines on a map funded by a whole boatload of wishful thinking. Sound familiar, folks?

Issues, however, were never really a part of this campaign. It all boiled down to one thing. Character, and the strength of it.

After 4 years of international embarrassment, only John Tory, we’re told, will restore respectability back to the office of mayor of Toronto. John Tory, a leader in the business community. John Tory, community leader. John Tory, leader.

Toronto the Good re-established under the symbol of a white male millionaire who’s only different from the previous white male millionaire in matters of style and presentation.

elephantintheroom2

Diversity, Our Strength? We’ll just have to go along pretending that’s a thing for a little bit longer.

subdudely submitted by Cityslikr