The Simple Truth

June 23, 2016

For the second time in about five years, the audit/advisory/consultant thingie, KPMG, was asked to answer the burning question: Does Toronto have a spending or revenue problem? tellmewhatiwanttohearFor the second time in five years, KPMG has reported back: All things considered, there’s more of a revenue problem at work than spending. The city’s pretty tightly run. To avoid seriously cutting essential and even mandated services and programs, City Hall should look at accessing increased revenues.

Oddly though, what many of our elected local representatives, including Mayor John Tory have heard and concluded is: Right. Just like I thought. We need to cut spending. Tighten our belts. To the efficiency-mobile, Batman!

Some urban legends die hard, it seems, if at all, when they run contrary to the political ideology of right wing, small government politicians. There is always more fat to be trimmed, gravy to be drained, excess to excise before we can start talking about revenue. We must learn to live within our means. There’s always money in the banana stand.

This sentiment is so strong with enough of our city council that it’s more than a little surprising that KPMG was called upon to deliver a revenue tools report at all.deaf It was and it did, the City of Toronto Revenue Options Study coming out earlier this week. A boatload of suggestions for raising revenue, some immediately in the city’s purview, others it would have to get provincial permission to implement.

I want to focus on one section of the report, 17, pages 165-170. (A PDF I cannot figure out for the life of me how to load up on this page here, so you’ll just have to follow along via this link). Property Tax Analysis.

This is another shibboleth our mayor and his council allies, and the administration before it, and pretty much every small-minded member of council since at least amalgamation, has taken and spouted as gospel truth. We pay too much in property taxes, dammit! Homeowners (as if it’s just those owning their homes pay property taxes) are already stretched to the max. They cannot afford any more hikes in their property taxes. Seniors will be chased out into the streets…

Similarly, the information presented above suggests that residential property tax rates levied by the City of Toronto and the implied burden on households, expressed both in dollar terms and as a percentage of household income, are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities. This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities reviewed, while also considering that Toronto is the only city in the sample that also applies MLTT.

What’s that, you say? By almost any measure, Toronto’s property tax rates “are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities”? That simply can’t be. If it were, our local politicians wouldn’t be pretending otherwise. “This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities…” youdontsay1So, why all this ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ insistence Mayor Tory’s pursuing?

Now, I get all the property tax caveats. It’s not a tax that accurately reflects or benefits from current economic realities. The city is too dependent on it and needs to diversify its revenue sources more. There are people who are house rich but cash poor, and property tax increases could jeopardize their ability to own. Toronto does have access to another form of property taxation, the Municipal Land Transfer tax, that other municipalities don’t.

All these can be addressed but the point I’m trying to make here is this determined pursuit of at or below the rate of inflation property tax rate increase simply does not measure up to reality. parrotToronto property tax payers are not already overburdened like the mayor claims, just like his predecessor had trumpeted. As Matt Elliott pointed out last month after City Manager Peter Wallace’s Long Term Financial Report came out, “Since 2010, when adjusted for inflation, the city’s overall take from property taxes has gone down by 4.8%. Homeowners have gotten a break.”

Property taxes have contributed less to the city’s budget over the past 6 years, and even keeping rate hikes at the rate of inflation will further reduce them since costs will inevitably rise higher than that. 5%, I believe the city manager told the budget committee yesterday in its initial meeting about the 2017 budget. If so, other sources of revenue will be needed to help balance the operating budget or further cuts to spending which is already down in terms of per capita numbers since 2010, as Elliott also pointed out.

Arrows heading in a different direction than the one Mayor Tory wants us to believe.

There will be new revenue tools introduced, though very likely not in time for the 2017 budget. texaschainsawmassacreThe mayor, however, has made a point of saying for capital spending which explains his spate of transit announcements this week. Softening the public up for new taxes or fees, dedicated to building all this new stuff the city wants and needs while the operating budget will continue to be squeezed.

Or, as Councillor Mike Layton quoted the city manager telling the budget committee, heading toward “direct austerity” and “smaller government”.

As the KPMG revenue options study suggests, that will be a choice Mayor Tory and his council allies will make not one made out of necessity.

factually submitted by Cityslikr


We Pledge Our Allegiance To Ford Nation

June 21, 2016

texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe in order to keep from descending into daily bouts of screaming madness following along with local politics in this burg, one needs to step back and accept the fact that a majority of voters in this city are small c conservatives. They expect very little from City Hall and believe (erroneously in most cases) they make very few demands upon it. Keep our taxes low, streets clean and safe and get the garbage picked up, and we’ll get along just fine.

Rob Ford’s biggest mistake as mayor wasn’t his loutish and illicit behaviour, at least not directly. The faux pas he committed was exposing us as the bumpkins we truly are in supporting such a character in the first place, the miserliness at our civic core. David Miller’s time in office was an outlier. He tried dragging us into the 21st-century and we didn’t care for it one little bit. John Tory has restored us to our natural state, explaining his continued popularity in spite of his continued mishandling of important files. No matter. As our friend John McGrath suggested earlier this year, “Toronto got exactly what it voted for in 2014: 85% of Rob Ford’s policies with 200% more syllables.”

Mayor Tory continues to dig in and boldly adhere to our traditional ways of municipal governance with his letter to the budget committee, laying out his ‘Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget’. Which are? High in aspiration, low in actually delivering anything other than keeping property taxes unsustainably low and further squeezing the life out of many city services and programs.

David Rider in the Toronto Star and David Nickle of Inside Toronto go into much more detail about what happens if the budget committee and, ultimately, city council follow the mayor’s lead with this. While he talks of new revenue discussions and finding savings from the biggest line item in the city’s budget, the police services, it’s hard to imagine any of that will be in place in time for this year. So in the meantime, Mayor Tory gets to shake every other tree at City Hall in the hopes of finding more low-hanging fruit despite the fact he’s been told repeatedly there’s very little left, none in some cases. Any further paring, so to speak, will only end up causing damage.

And we will cheer him on because that’s what we expect of our elected municipal officials to do. As little as possible, costing us as little as possible. If urban planner, Brent Toderian is correct when he says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations in its vision. It’s found in its budget,” what does that say about Toronto and its vision, its expectations, its aspirations? Mayor Tory’s letter to his budget committee would indicate that we remain, deep down, Ford Nation.

What other conclusion can we draw?

Below, is a copy of Mayor Tory’s letter to the budget committee with some editorial work of mine in red.

* * *

June 17, 2016

City Hall, 2nd floor

100 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

To: Gary Crawford, Budget Chief, and Members of Budget Committee

Re: Mayor’s Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget

Toronto is a vibrant and growing city, but it is changing quickly. Our population is increasing and our demographics are shifting, bringing new pressures and expectations.

To compete in today’s global economy and maintain Toronto’s character as vibrant, affordable and liveable for all ages and income levels, the City must keep up with the pace of change and think differently about its role in people’s lives.

We must prioritize our investments and spend our money wisely, providing services with a direct, positive impact for the public.

To that end, this letter outlines my expectations of all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices for the 2017 operating and capital budgets:

The City’s tax-supported 2017 net operating budget target is zero percent over the 2016 net operating budget, meaning $3.97 billion; (No new money)

Inflationary pressures and negotiated wage increases should be absorbed within existing budgets; (In fact, even less money than last year)

Any new or enhanced services should be funded from within existing budgets; (You want to try or buy anything new? Get rid of some old stuff first)

Any new or enhanced services with a “net zero” funding impact should be reviewed for impact on staff time and planned service delivery; (Maybe your new or enhanced service isn’t “net zero” if it costs money for the city to implement and deliver. Did you ever think about that?)

Current service levels should be assessed to confirm their value for money and benefit to the public; (A nice-to-have or a need-to-have?)

Opportunities for efficiencies and alternative service delivery models should continue to be pursued, including contracting out; (See Ford, Rob, Mayor, 2010-2014) and,

Any property tax increase should be at or below the rate of inflation. (No new money. In fact, very likely, less.)

City Building Priorities

While our budget is under real strain (Self-imposed), we must continue to build the city we want (In theory). To that end, I have also identified strategic priorities to complete the mandate we have set out over the past two years.

(This following section is a house of cards built on the contradictory impulses expressed in the first sentence. All the stated intentions here are undermined by (a) the faultiness of the intentions themselves i.e. SmartTrack and/or (b) the budgetary constraints stated above. This is a zero sum game here. For any of this to happen, something else will have to be sacrificed somewhere else in the budget.)

It’s time to exert discipline and ramp up our efforts to build a modern city and an efficient, ambitious and effective government, through:

The ongoing planning, design and construction of our transit network expansion, including SmartTrack, the optimized Scarborough network and the Relief Line, which will take cars off the road, reduce overcrowding on existing transit lines and dramatically increase and improve service across the city, while protecting the existing new transit investments. This transit expansion must move forward efficiently, in order to capture the full value of the currently proposed federal infrastructure investments;

Continued investment in Toronto’s mobility network to provide safe, efficient and reliable ways to move around the city for those travelling by car, bike or on foot;

Continued implementation of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy investments provided for in the 2017 work plan;

Further investment in affordable housing, through our Open Door program; and,

Continued investments in building on Toronto’s standing as one of the most liveable cities in the world through support for arts, culture and public realm projects across the city. (Hoo-rah! A whole bunch of empty cheerleading)

Government Modernization

In the last two years, we have taken some long overdue steps to confront the City’s real underlying pressures without just making arbitrary cuts. (Mayor Tory’s previous call for 5% across the board cuts belies this statement)

The real waste and inefficiency in our City government is found in outdated systems and services, unnecessary duplication and a slow embrace of technology. This is why, despite the declarations of victory made by some, I continue to believe there is much work to be done making large government operate much more efficiently. (No one I know has ever said there’s no more efficiencies. As the city manager has made very clear, there are simply not enough to pay for the stuff the mayor says he wants)

And so, to achieve further real progress, I would like to see an increased focus on digital solutions, measurement and analytics, as well as the expedited completion or implementation of the following reports and reviews:

The Real Estate Review, which will provide an up-to-date assessment of the City’s real estate holdings and create important city-building opportunities;

The Toronto Police Transformational Task Force, which will make recommendations to reduce the growing TPS budget through modernization;

Procurement Review, which is examining the City’s procurement process, especially related to technology solutions;

An immediate prioritization of work that transitions the City to a data-driven organization. All work by City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should be measured, tracked and analyzed so the City can make budget decisions based on sound analytics;

City Programs should also work to meet our Open Data Strategy and targets; and,  City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should prioritize work that provides the people of Toronto with mobile friendly, technology enabled services. This efficiency will free up resources to offer direct services to those who cannot access this service on line.

There is no either/or choice between government efficiency and ambitious city building. (Again, nobody has said otherwise) We can and must contain spending and become more efficient while continuing to make strategic investments in transit, housing and vital infrastructure.

We can do this while maintaining the values and character that make Toronto great.

But it will require a new approach. (If by new approach, the mayor means the same one employed by the previous administration, then yes)

For too long, we have relied on property tax and MLTT revenues without introducing new ways to pay for the city building efforts we support. Alongside the 2017 Budget Process, we must have a serious conversation about new ways to raise revenues, especially to finance longer term capital investments like transit and housing, and we will. (Seems here the mayor is willing to talk about new revenue sources for capital spending, leaving the operating side of the equation dwindling under the weight of at or below the rate of inflation property tax increases)

In the meantime, we owe it to the public to spend their money wisely, before we ask them to contribute more. (**cough cough** Scarborough subway **cough cough** Gardiner East hybrid **cough cough** **cough cough**)

I encourage staff from all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices to help us build a truly modern city that is the envy of the world and to do it while keeping the interests of the people we serve, the residents of Toronto, first and foremost in our minds. (Define “interests”)

 

Sincerely,

John Tory

Mayor of Toronto

submitted by Cityslikr


Yapping

June 20, 2016

So twice within the last 2 weeks, Scarborough Centre MPP and Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, has come forward to help bail out Mayor John Tory when bad news kept on coming about the proposed one-stop, “express” subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. “The critics, it’s time for them to take a rest,” yappinghe stated after news about woefully low projected ridership numbers broke earlier this month. Then this weekend, after the mayor took media heat over nearly a billion dollar increase in the project’s price tag, the provincial minister demanded that all the downtown elitists need to stop their yapping.

“I’m very confident the people of Scarborough will get their subway.”

And by ‘the people of Scarborough’, of course, Minister Duguid meant ‘the politicians of Scarborough’.

Ever since the Ford camp blared ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, local politicians of all stripes and at all levels have basically co-opted the slogan rather than confront it. They have convinced themselves that campaigns have been fought and won on the subway issue as if it were the only variable that mattered to voters, city-wide, province-wide, country-wide. The Scarborough subway. The defining issue of every election since 2010.

So no matter how ridiculous the project gets the more planning that goes into it, no matter how much money the fucking thing’s going to cost, how damaging it’s going to be to the wider transit network, nothing is too good for the politicians people of Scarborough. countmeinThey deserve another subway stop. If you stand opposed, it’s for no other reason than you hate Scarborough and refuse to take your elitist head out of your downtown ass.

Like one of those comic book movies with a cast of thousands of supervillains, it’s hard to pick your favourite bad guy in this sad saga. So many too choose from! The one irony in all this is that the guy who raised the curtain on this shitshow, the late Rob Ford, may have been the least worst offender. While always politically calculating, he seemed to actually believe, owing to his solid grounding in ignorance fed by an extreme disinterest in much to do with public transit, that if you were going to build public transit, subways were the only way to go. He didn’t know any better. Everybody else most surely does. They know, and they don’t care.

For me, the real face of this mess is Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. There is no nonsense he won’t spout, no gratuitous shot he’s unwilling to take, no number too fabtabulist for him to cite in support of a Scarborough subway. He’s the go-to guy to say the questionable things that need to be said in order to push a major infrastructure project that otherwise possesses absolutely no merit. The kind of things that only someone lacking any sense of self-awareness or shame would be able to say with a straight face.

The thing is, Councillor De Baeremaeker wasn’t always a subway champion. crayondrawingHe loved LRTs. He was a big fan of Transit City that promised to deliver more higher order transit to more people in Scarborough than either variation of a subway would.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker decided his political future was more important than the future of public transit in Toronto. He’s not alone. Liberal premiers, ministers, MPPs and MPs all took the easiest, most craven route, as did many of those running election campaigns against them. Mayor John Tory fell into place too.

It’s just Councillor De Baeremaeker’s conversion was so obvious, so unprincipled, so thoroughly… greasy, and he stands so smugly defiant in his posturing as Captain Scarborough that, while he’s certainly not the biggest player in this unfolding scandal, he’s most certainly its chief enabler.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2016

(h/t @JohnToryWatch)

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2012

 (h/t Himy Syed)

sickeningly submitted by Cityslikr


Folie á Deux

June 17, 2016

canx

It’s Friday. The weather outside is dee-lightful. I may or may not have had too much to drink last night.

My will to fight, rant and rage is compromised.

Mayor Tory is determined to lead the charge in the transit debacle that is the Scarborough subway currently unfolding before our eyes. Today he showed grit and determination to bury (along with the Bloor-Danforth extension) whatever vestiges of prudence, reasonableness and good governance he was clinging on to, fully stepping into crank hackery territory. Zero vision indeed. Credibility gone. Leadership void.

The degree with which the mayor is now trying to stifle further discussion is directly proportional to the growing realization how terrible a project this one-stop, “express” subway actually is, reflected in the latest bit of bad news from Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. For Mayor Tory, any criticism of the plan comes from naysayers, scaredy-cats and those who just want to debate not build things. Almost as if those kind of people really exist.

This mayor is as lacking in good judgement as I feared he would be. He is not leading us from the civic wilderness the Ford administration took us into. He’s just taking us down another awful path. And if you think that’s the case, Mayor Tory wants you to know that you’re the one with the problem, not him. He’s a doer, goddammit! His critics are just an obstacle to progress.

But, it’s Friday and sunny. Let’s take a few days off and pretend not to be worried that Toronto is, once again, in incapable hands. Ahh, well. This city’s tendency to elect incompetent mayors will still be staring us right in the face come next week.

(h/t John Tory Watch)

sunnily (on the outside) submitted by Cityslikr


Blind Spot

June 16, 2016

Here’s how it starts.

On Monday’s edition of the CBC’s The Current, carsofthefuturethe show’s host Anna Maria Tremonti was talking to the president of General Motors Canada about technology, innovation and the future of transportation. It essentially went like this:

Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. E-bikes (manufactured by GM natch). Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Multi-modality. Cars, e-bikes, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

With self-driving cars, our future roads will look pretty much like our current roads. Filled with cars. In a 24 minute segment, public transportation wasn’t mentioned once. Unsurprisingly, at least from GM’s standpoint, as it looks to shore up its share of the electric and, ultimately, autonomous vehicle market. The nature of car ownership may change, with more of an emphasis on ‘sharing’ ownership. carsofthefuture1But car ownership there will be and General Motors wants to be a major part of that.

There continues to be very little talk, though, of autonomous vehicles and public transit which, one would think might be a relatively hot topic of conversation. Setting aside a discussion about the loss of yet another sector of well-paying jobs, since labour costs are the prime driver of public transit operating budgets, you’d think municipal governments all over the place would be salivating over the possibility of self-driving buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams. Just like the move toward automated subway systems. Not only cheaper to run but also better in terms of route management and increased frequency, owing to the absence of messy human imperfectness.

Yet, it’s still largely all about the new technology and cars. Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

Almost simultaneously with The Current interview on Monday, the city and Mayor Tory announced its road safety plan to… and I’ve been waiting pretty much my entire writing life to use this phrase in a sentence… carsofthefuture2universal opprobrium. “Very unambitious,” the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore called it. Where other cities around the world have adopted the Swedish concept of Vision Zero, essentially a target of no traffic deaths with aggressive time lines and money to pursue it, our mayor championed the idea of reducing traffic fatalities by 20% over the next decade. A target “smaller than many of the normal [traffic fatality] fluctuations from year to year,” Moore pointed out.

“Very unambitious,” is a nice way of putting it.

As for money budgeted to achieve this modest target? Equally modest. $40 million extra over the next 5 years. Cities like New York? “An additional $115 million this year alone.” San Francisco? $70 million in the next 2 years.

Mayor Tory made the appearance of scrambling backward on the road safety plan on Tuesday when he told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday that it was a ‘mistake’, a ‘communications mistake’ not to make it clear that he and the city had every intention of aiming for the Vision Zero standard of 0 road deaths. “The objective is to get to zero as quickly as possible without trying to put a time frame on this” Not really the “aggressive” approach to traffic safety Vision Zero calls for but very much the Mayor Tory way on policy issues he agrees with in theory. carsofthefuture3Why shoot for the moon when, really, the appearance of doing something is what’s called for?

As he was performing his radio mea culpa, the mayor’s traffic congestion enforcement blitz was underway and, wouldn’t you know it? It was the pedestrians’ fault all along! Not obeying the rules of road and following traffic lights that were set up to keep them in the proper place. Huddled together on the curb, waiting for their brief window of opportunity to scurry across the street and be one their way. Yep. If pedestrians would just follow the laws and traffic lights, cars would be free to do what they were designed and built to do, what cities have designed and built their infrastructure around. The domination by private automobiles of the public space that are our roads and streets. The terrorizing of other road and street users into submission.

The conclusion of this dynamic is perfectly logical.carsofthefuture4

Such pampered entitlement and obvious preferential treatment of car drivers leads to a contempt of anyone else not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. A fraternity of the self-righteous and self-important. A confederacy of disregard.

As a matter of fact, I do own the road. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers. Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.

And if somebody dies, we’ll call it an accident. Of course, it was an accident. No one would mean to jump a curb with their car and kill somebody. It’s more of a faulty assessment of the possible outcomes to bad, split-second decisions made to get just one car length further forward.

Damage done, death inflicted, it usually ends the only way it possibly could. A fine. Demerit points. Probably a bump in insurance rates. But no jail time. No talk of a life time ban for blatant indifference or lethal inattention to anyone else on the road. carsofthefuture5Fatalities merely chalked up to going about your daily business in the big city.

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, if certain carmakers are to be believed, technology will save us from our indifference to the death and killing in our streets. Fingers crossed. Nothing to be sneezed at, for sure. It’s just, by the sound of things, it won’t make a dent in how we prioritize our transportation hierarchy. Cars, first and foremost. Cars, now and forever.

carfully submitted by Cityslikr


Orlando

June 13, 2016

rainbowflag

I’m not left speechless very often. I lose lots of things, words are seldom on that list. But then Orlando, and the Pulse nightclub mass shooting/murder.

Our urge to explain the unexplainable seems to be a defining trait of our species. Understandable, since it is much easier to do than actually trying to prevent the unexplainable. Hindsight being 20/20.

Apportioning blame is as simple as pointing your finger and raising your voice. As is the case in many of these kinds of situations, it’s just a matter of a hate pile-on. If only we had banned/killed/jailed X, then Y would never have happened, and we’d all be as happy and content as Z.

The one unspoken current running through all of that, of course, is an absolving ourselves of responsibility, the ‘othering’. It was Them not Us. We’re all good here.

This last thought struck me as I was watching on my TV, from my safe distance on my couch in Toronto, a panel discussion on The National about the Orlando tragedy. The CBC had gathered 3 voices from the national security and international politics arena. Not surprisingly, I heard ISIS mentioned significantly more often than either homophobia or gun control. This, after all, was what these 3 experts knew best.

On first glance, it makes sense. The shooter was a Muslim-American. The FBI had, apparently, investigated him for suspected Islamic extremism ties. He had, again apparently, phoned in to 911 before the assault, pledging allegiance to ISIS.

There’s your answer, easy answer, on a platter.

This isn’t about homophobia in a country where there’s plenty of it. This isn’t about gun control in a country where there’s virtually none of it. It can only be about one thing, and one thing only. Reality is complicated. Our perception of it doesn’t have to be.

But I wonder…

If I’m a damaged man, and it’s always about men when it comes to these mass killings, a damaged Muslim man looking to go out in a hail of gunfire, what do I want as my epitaph? I Pledge My Allegiance to ISIS or I Hate Faggots. There’s a certain ring of righteousness and nobility to fighting for a cause rather than murdering out of pure hatred.

I’ve got my opinions, of course. Some informed, others far more viscerally-based. The investigation is still in its early stages. What we think we know now will need to be later updated.

But the one truth I think cannot denied here?

When we vilify others, or enable the vilification of others through the words we say, the ideas we spread, the laws we pass or don’t pass, based on gender, race, sexual orientation, political views, we create and target vulnerable individuals and communities. Hide behind degrees of hatred as you might – In this country we don’t throw them off roofs! – it’s a self-congratulatory pat on the back that passes for plausible deniability. See? No blood is on these hands.

It’s them. It’s always them. If everyone else would just act, be, believe, think, pray like we do, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems. What we need is capitulation to the norm, not more cooperation or accommodation.

Diversity has its place, as long as it doesn’t challenge established practices. People get agitated when their way of seeing the world comes under attack. Lashing out is to be expected. Shocked by the news we’re hearing? We shouldn’t even be surprised.

That’s simply how those people operate.

minaretandmoom

submitted by Cityslikr


Thanks For The Hat

June 10, 2016

I’m not going to bore any of us with the sad, ridiculous, anger-making madness that was yesterday’s city council debate over Toronto’s 10 year bike plan. killmenowRehashing tired arguments, already overwhelmingly dispelled and dust-binned pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world. Airing grievances from those who see Toronto as a special, unique snowflake, a delicate, hothouse, exotic flower, deathly susceptible to any sort of winds of change.

Bike lanes will decimate business. No, they won’t. They haven’t anywhere else where a biking network has been properly installed and maintained. But Toronto’s a winter city. Nobody rides a bicycle in the winter. Tell that to New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. But we’re not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Did you not hear me mention New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal? But it’s too expensive. We don’t have the money. Except for $400 million for the Gardiner East rebuild. And how many billions on a one-stop subway?

Thursday’s performance provided proof positive once again that too many of our elected local officials cannot imagine a future that isn’t just like the past. Or, in Councillor Norm Kelly’s case, one old man believing the future, the real future, is right around the corner. Why bother building terrestrial based transportation infrastructure when in 20 years we’ll all be hovering back and forth between destinations?! chickenlittleThe former deputy mayor of this city has obviously been talking to certain Russian scientists again.

That said, reason, albeit a battered and bruised version of reason, emerged from its mauling victorious. The staff recommended 10 year bike plan, slightly amended worse for wear, would go ahead. Huzzah! It’s a start, supporters claimed. A start from way back, almost so far back you couldn’t even see the pole position. Still, a start. Toronto would be spending — if my math is right here but it is in the neighbourhood – about 70% less in a decade than Oslo, Norway is spending on bike infrastructure in a year. A year, folks! Oslo, Norway! A city that once hosted the winter Olympics.

(Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It won! Toronto now has a 10 year bike plan with some money to actually back it up. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)

There are two thoughts I would like to further explore here, lines of attack trotted out by the most vehement of status quo supporters. Licensing and “psycho cyclists”. notthisagainYeah, I think Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thought he was the first one ever to come up with that variation of a play on words.

Licensing of bikes and/or cyclists has never worked where it’s been tried either as some sort of safety measure or as a way of paying for cycling infrastructure. It costs too much to implement and operate, becoming the kind of red tape politicians like Councillor Mammoliti deplore in other situations. Besides, cyclists pay for the infrastructure they use, and use in a much less onerous manner than drivers do with roads, through the property taxes they pay, and every cyclist, renting or owning a residence in Toronto pays property taxes. Many cyclists also drive on occasion, and will further contribute to transportation infrastructure costs when they pay gas taxes.

Licensing cyclists makes no sense.

As for the scourge of the “psycho cyclist”? Yeah, well. Given the daily, hourly carnage on our roads done by those behind the wheel of motorized vehicles, and the pathological disregard for the rules designed exclusively for their mobility, railing about wayward cyclists is… there’s not even a word in English robust enough to describe that kind of hypocrisy. The Germans, I’m sure have a word for it, and I imagine it isn’t very pretty. crazycyclistThe kill-rate and injuries inflicted on others by those on bicycle is so infinitesimally small as to be barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes, really. Remember that time when that person on the sidewalk…

From a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, the 6 Most Frequent Sources of Pedestrian Injury were: “Tripped on uneven/cracked sidewalk” 24%, “Tripped/fell” 17%, “Hit by a car” 12%, “Wildlife/pets involved” 6%, “Tripped on stone” 5%, “Stepped in a Hole” 5%.

Aside from the obvious need to repair pedestrian infrastructure and the general clumsiness and inability to safely walk their dogs of the pedestrian population, what jumps out at me from that list is the absence of cyclists. Apparently, they’re not quite the menace anti-cycling activists try to make them out to be. Oh, there was that time I was walking across the parking lot and that guy on the bike nearly clipped me. I saw that cyclist riding the wrong way down the street. He could’ve killed someone. (Are you sure it wasn’t a counter-flow lane?)

This is not to say there aren’t asshole people riding bikes in this city. They just ruffle feathers, get under peoples’ skin and, no doubt, at times inconvenience other street users. livestockonbikesThat’s a long way from the killing and injuring inflicted by asshole car drivers.

Here’s where I diverge from some of my cycling allies. While not condoning bad cycling behaviour, I most certainly understand it. Hell, I even engage in it from time to time. Because I’m a rebel and scofflaw? No. Because most of the streets I use have been built, designed and are operated almost exclusively for the movement of motorized vehicles, motorized private vehicles, no less. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders are all after-thoughts.

Here’s a personal example.

I’m out for a run yesterday, heading west, nearing the intersection of Ossington and Argyle, just that side of Trinity Bellwoods Park. You know it. It’s got that pho place on the south-east corner.

I see that the soutbound pedestrian signal on Ossington is counting down to zero, meaning the light will change in my favour and I can continue running without stopping. Sometimes runs just break like that. waitingataredlightThere’s, I don’t know, 5 or 6 pedestrian waiting to also cross the street, and that many people on bikes too.

Except that there are no cars on Argyle waiting to cross Ossington. So that southbound pedestrian signal hits zero and turns back white, meaning the north-south traffic signal didn’t change. Apparently none of the pedestrians or cyclists pushed the button to announce their presence at the intersection, so by all traffic control measures, none of them exist. Even when I do stop to press the button, I’m not immediately acknowledged. We’ll all have to wait until the full cycle is complete.

This, on a street that HAS A FUCKING PAINTED BIKE LANE ON IT! This, when there’s no north-south car traffic in sight along Ossington. So a bunch of pedestrians and cyclists wait for non-existent cars before they are expected to cross a road with the light.

I don’t wait. I continue my run through a red light. Other pedestrians and cyclist make their way across too.

Until we start to design and rebuild our streets and roads more equitably, stop forcing non-drivers to play only by driving rules, deathrace2000there’s going to be law-breaking, tension, and continued lethal competition between the various modes of mobility, with drivers almost always coming out on top and fending off any attempts to level the playing field. Yesterday’s approval of the 10 year bike plan is a start in the right direction. A grudging, tiny, tiny start. But it’s Friday. I will force myself to be content with that.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


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