We Need To Have That Car Talk

Having arrived back in town yesterday after about 10 days away, the top 3 stories on the local news this morning were as follows: traffic accident causes a.m. traffic chaos, 2 car crash kills a cyclist (another one), 3 person HOV lanes in place for PanAm Games, grrrrrrrr.trafficjamGTA

Do we live in a city so eye-splittingly uninteresting that our headline grabbing news consists largely of traffic? Whatever your opinion may be, we do have the aforementioned PanAm Games coming up in a couple of weeks, the biggest sporting event ever on Canadian soil, or something. Toronto just finished up with another successful Pride celebration, re-integrating the mayor’s office into the proceedings after 4 years in the homophobic wilderness. A Poverty Reduction Strategy is under consideration by the Executive Committee.

And yet, here we are, talking traffic, specifically car traffic, private automobile traffic.

Yeah. This fucking city.

Nothing says ‘car obsessed’ more than always obsessing about cars, and the problems drivers face driving their cars around town.

If you’re a driver and your commute times have increased because, I don’t know, reason X, change up how you get around. roadrageYou can’t because it still takes longer than public transit would? Well, good for you. Imagine the poor bastards who don’t have the choice to drive, putting in that extra time to get where they’re going. Think about that for just a second before having a tantrum about your diminished quality of life and seeing less of your family.

Blah, blah, blah, Wah, wah, wah.

Of all the things to be outraged about around here, of all the things to be touting the merits of civil disobedience over, being inconvenienced while driving in your car is hardly a worthy cause. It’s petulantly selfish, as a matter of fact. Amazingly self-absorbed and anti-social.

We’ve been hearing recently about ‘frustrated’ drivers having to deal with lower speed limits on downtown local roads or new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling. A ‘frustrated’ driver may become a dangerous driver, is the inference. Incidents of road rage increase. Risky behaviour leads to more accidents, injuries and fatalities. Don’t make drivers angry. You won’t like drivers when they’re angry.

Rather than stare that kind of bullshit down, we indulge it. WHOVlanee operate as if deciding to get behind the wheel of a car absolves us of adhering to any sort of societal norm. Rules of the road are simply helpful suggestions. Enforcement is the first step to totalitarianism.

You can’t take a lane of highway from me! I pay my taxes! I have a right to—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

I do not think it too extreme a statement to suggest that fighting to rebalance our transportation system, to rein in the terror of private automobile use inflicted on this city and region, is a fight for the soul of the GTA. We are where we are in terms of congestion, mobility, lost productivity for two simple reasons, one inevitably following the other. A lack of vigorous investment in public transit for almost a generation now and a continued over-investment in our car-centric infrastructure.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Outside of the downtown core, how many times have we heard the reason for driving is because it’s faster than public transit? As has been said many, many times by many, many people, you don’t change that by making it easier to drive. deathrace2000You don’t change anything by attempting to make it easier to drive except maybe changing it for the worse, for drivers and non-drivers alike.

Toronto and the GTA is at a crucial juncture where it is impossible to try and make it easier to drive without exacting long term and, quite possibly, irreversible damage on almost every other aspect of living and doing business here. It is not 1965. There are no more open roads to ride to freedom on. Believing that is what’s brought us to this point now. Denying that reality is willfully short-sighted, a delusional folly.

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Music To A Councillor’s Ears

Tell the truth.

communitybenefits

Have you ever heard of a CBA before? Community Benefits Agreement. Apparently, they’re all the rage in other places.

This from a handout I picked up at the Community Benefits Mount Dennis Weston public forum on Friday:

A community benefit agreement or CBA is a contract negotiated between a developer or public agency and a community that outlines the benefits the community will receive from the development in return for community support of the proposed project. Benefits can range from guarantees of local hiring and training to a Project Labour Agreement to community-space allocations and funs for community programmes.

When big development projects like the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Vancouver Island Highway came to life from the planning stages, representatives from impacted communities stepped forward to start negotiating for things like living wage agreements and apprenticeship programs. staplescenterBig development projects, you say? Toronto’s got development projects. Where are our CBAs?

The Community Benefits group is trying to get that on the table as construction for the Eglinton LRT kicks into gear. (Never mind that the PanAm Games are just a little over two years from now.) On the former Kodak lands in Mount Dennis, Metrolinx is set to build a maintenance and storage facility. Aggressive pursuit of a CBA would greatly help the area economically. An area in need of an economic boost.

Yet, on Friday evening the audience is told only six people in the entire city are working on the CBA angle. Six people. $8.4 billion is going into LRT lines in Toronto. How much in getting ready for the PanAm Games? And six people are trying to kickstart the idea of Community Benefits Agreements?

Our mayor expends what little energy he actually expends on his job talking up the economic upsides of a possible waterfront casino or island airport runway extension (while talking down new taxes that would directly lead to more jobs building transit). bigmoveWhy is he not tubthumbing about CBAs on projects that are already up and going? Fighting for fantasy jobs when there are real ones right here already to be had?

And Councillor Frances Nunziata whose ward the Kodak lands are in, one of the most economically disadvantaged wards in the city, where is she on CBAs? Why is she spending her time cheerleading Mayor Ford’s phantasmagorical pursuits rather than acting as a conduit between her community’s economic interests and Metrolinx on a development running right through her ward?

Councillor Nunziata is one of the biggest complainers at City Hall. Never does she miss an opportunity to point out how deprived and in need her Ward 11 is. An area of the city she has represented one way or another since 1988, it should be noted. Surely to christ she must be one of the six people in Toronto working away on Community Benefits Agreements for the Eglinton LRT construction. If she isn’t, why isn’t she?

The councillor made the briefest of appearances at Friday’s public forum. Shook a few hands. Stood in front of a camera. panamgames2015But was gone before the discussion got started.

A discussion that included Patricia Castellanos, the Deputy Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who was instrumental in forging a CBA on the Staples Centre development. Ms. Castellanos praised the municipal politicians in Los Angeles she worked with, calling them enlightened on the topic of CBAs and very helpful in getting them finalized. She said that many of the councillors she worked with were embarrassed with high employment rates in their districts, so were driven to find ways to provide jobs and benefit their communities.

Maybe the first step residents of Mount Dennis Weston and Ward 11 need to take is to elect municipal politicians who will actually care about such local concerns as employment, training and poverty. Some new blood willing to learn about alternative approaches to community building like CBAs. Enlightened politicians embarrassed about unemployment and poverty rates in their ward, and prepared to do something about them other than just to use them as a cudgel to make divisive noises.

headinsand

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Diminshed Expectations Are Contagious

I have come to terms with the fact that our 4 dailies, most of the mainstream media actually, take a dimmer view of government than I do. For I continue to believe that our elected representatives act only as badly, goodly, cravenly, bravely, miserly or magnanimously as we allow them. Their faults are our faults. Their successes ours. At the end of the (election) day, governments remain accountable to the people and to the people only.

Yeah. I do actually believe that.

So most political coverage from our newspapers that comes across my desk I read with a mixture of anger, dismay, incredulity, angrier, disbelief, confusion, angrierer. (But not you, Christopher Hume.) It’s not that I simply disagree with much of what’s written. That’s a given. I just find it discouraging to think of the influence the discourse has on our political atmosphere. A disheartened atmosphere of No Can Do-ism and diminished expectations. Ask not what your government can do for you because it can do diddly squat.

So it was as I read Chris Selley’s piece in the National Post a couple days back, Let’s get diesel trains to airport on track Mr. Selley may have a tepid point with his analysis of the diesel vs. electric debate. Let’s take whatever we can to get a rail link between downtown and Pearson. Finally. It’s long, long, very long overdue. But isn’t it this grudging acceptance, this settling for something less, this sense of diminished expectations that has got us into our current transit mess in the first place?

Had the newly minted Harris government not experienced a failure of nerve or a failure to take the long view or just been less… oh, I’m so tempted to drop the c-bomb and add an ‘ish’ here but I’ll restrain myself… back in 1995, we’d already have a subway running along Eglinton Avenue. Fast forward 13 years, Premier McGuinty wavering in the face of a recession induced deficit and scaling back plans on funding Transit City, itself something of a We-Don’t-Have-The-Density/Money-To-Build-Subways compromise. The result? More delays and opening the door wide to the new mayor’s ridiculously under-thought out Sheppard subway plan that, whatever the outcome, only means even further delays for Toronto.

What happened to the time when our politicians marshalled an uncertain public to embrace the great unknown for the greater good? Like JFK sending Americans to the moon. I’m sure a very solid dollars and cents case was made why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Or (and I hesitate to go here, fearing that I may just be invoking Godwin’s Law which I only recently learned about from @jm_mcrath) back in 1939, imagine western governments worrying about the costs, both human and financial, of going to war with the Nazis? You know, the timing’s really bad. Winter’s coming. We’re still a little behind the 8 ball with this Great Depression-y thing…

Oh, right. We now have leaders marshalling an uncertain public to embrace bad causes for the lesser good. Like say going to war in Iraq. Deregulation. The debasement of government itself.

The strange thing is, we watch as the private sector nose dives into a near death spiral through mismanagement, criminality and irrational swings in triumphant certainty to baseless fear, only to be picked up, dusted off and sent back along their way with billions of dollars of government cash, yet still we lionize these titans of industry for their daring-do, spirit of adventure and risk taking in the face of daunting odds. Our politicians? Not so much. Just deliver the services we demand, don’t take too much money from us and try and keep quiet over there.

While no transit expert, I think the case for electrifying the rail link from downtown to Pearson is a slam dunk. Yes, the upfront costs are more but the general feeling is we will recoup that money through lower operational costs down the line. Electrification would allow more flexibility in terms of the numbers of stops along the way. There’s that whole concept of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I know some of our electricity is coal generated but it is more flexible to future energy innovations (although there’s another front where our politicians are easily swayed away from green energy by dubious arguments). Diesel is diesel and electric trains simply make public transit a joy.

Mr. Selley does his argument a great disservice by blithely pointing out that the diesel trains Metrolinx has contracted to buy are convertible to electric as if it’ll be as easy as that. Slap up some wires, attach a couple of those rod thingies to the trains and we’ll be good to go. It’ll be a little more burdensome than that and, if history can be used as an example, the cost will be much higher in the long run than if we just electrified it now. (And while we’re in critical mode with this. Please, Chris. “If I worked downtown and was flying to London, I’d much sooner change in Montreal, or even Newark, than brave Pearson.” Seriously? A connecting flight rather than making your way to Pearson for a direct one? A little over the top, wouldn’t you say?)

But that seems to be what we do these days, make questionable claims to back up our demand for less bold measures from our governments. Bold measures are inherently risky, unpredictable and oftentimes don’t immediately pay off. It takes some courage to step up and see them through. If our politicians aren’t capable of such conviction, maybe it’s because we aren’t either.

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