A Second Chance To Get It Right

October 4, 2013

Hey Toronto.

What do you say we kill this Scarborough subway nuttery once and for all? steakthroughtheheartWith city council meeting next week to consider the City Manager’s subway report it requested back in July, there seems to be a real opportunity to put a fucking nail in the coffin of this nonsense. A silver bullet through its already malfunctioning heart.

We can chalk the underground madness up to a giddy summer revelry. The heat and mint juleps got to our better judgement. Our collective fever’s now broken and we can come to our senses. A little bit self-conscious about our embarrassing outburst of irrationality but, hey, who hasn’t at least once followed a very bad idea down the rabbit hole?

“The purpose of this report,” city staff writes, “is to inform Council that the terms and conditions for supporting the McCowan Corridor Subway have been met crazyfromtheheatwith the exception of the $1.8 billion ($2010) commitment from the Province [italics mine].

“With the exception of”, in fact, negates the very claim that statement makes of all the terms and conditions for supporting city council’s preferred subway route in the McCowan corridor. Not all the funding from the two senior levels of government has been secured and, in an ideal world, that would automatically kill the subway plan and revert back to the LRT. There was a lot of chatter about the poison pill motions that were voted in favour of at the July council meeting that would ensure the city wouldn’t go ahead with building a subway without all the other money it asked for in place.

Taken at their word, a majority of council is obligated to vote against a Scarborough subway.

Yeah. My eye just popped a blood vessel writing that last sentence.

Even assuming that ain’t going to happen, the city manager’s table for the necessary property tax increases to pay for the city’s portion for the subway build, .5% in each of the next two years and .6% the year after that, dedicated solely to the Scarborough subway, should give many of the councillors pause.bestcasescenario

Let’s call those numbers a best case scenario. It doesn’t include cost overruns, interest rate increases, credit rating changes, capital maintenances, etc., etc., that the city would have to assume with a subway (that it wouldn’t with the LRT). We’ll refer to the city manager’s numbers as ‘for starters’.

Even if they were spot on, these property tax hikes will pressure not only other demands for revenue tools to build more necessary transit infrastructure throughout the GTA as part of the province’s Big Move but for the basic ongoing operations of the TTC and its capital budget for things like state of good repair. The TTC chair is already demanding more money for the transit system after years of a flat lined budget from the city and fare increases. In an atmosphere where voters are still only very reluctantly willing to consider new taxes and levies to go to enhanced transit infrastructure, saddling the public with property tax increases for a vanity project of dubious need seems counter-productive to the wider goal.

Never mind the kind of pressure this would put on the rest of the city budget. You start with a .5% property tax increase for the Scarborough subway, how much more will council be willing to stomach to help pay for other basic city services and capital outlays? takeastepbackGoing into an election year, it’s difficult to imagine many councillors signing up for the kind of bump needed in order to avoid cutting programs and other infrastructure needs.

And that’s what this is all about, all that it’s ever been about. Next year’s election. A handful of councillors have bought into the notion that being on the bad side of the Scarborough subway issue will imperil their political future. Fearful in the face of an angry Ford Nation, they’ve traded in common sense for a slab of red meat to feed their constituents. They’ve jeopardized the city’s transit planning prospects for nothing more than individual advantage.

But I truly believe they’ve miscalculated.

The biggest proponent for the Scarborough subway has put himself into an awkward position, re-election wise. Mayor Ford has held steadfast in his view folks can only afford a property tax increase of .25% and not one per cent more. Clearly, that’s well short of what’s needed. droppedtheball1So, he’s either going to have to get behind a tax increase he’s made a career of railing against or be a subway supporter in name only, unwilling to cough up the dough to make it happen.

While logic hasn’t always been the strongest suit of those supporting the mayor, I think there’s another factor his council colleagues need to consider going into next week’s transit debate. Just how potent a force is Mayor Ford going to be in 2014? With the news of his occasional driver and full time friend Sandro Lisi’s arrest Tuesday on drug related charges and today’s whammie about the police following the mayor’s movement with air surveillance, it’s increasingly impossible to see him remaining a viable candidate outside of his hardest of hardcore support.

So let’s move beyond the crass political calculations of this transit debate where one of the variables is the mayor and his Scarborough Deserves A Subway legion. In a letter to the city earlier this week, Metrolinx once again points out that the preferred option remains the Scarborough LRT. More stops providing better access to more people. No property tax increases to build it. No money burned in sunk costs. All costs overruns and other financial changes picked up by the province. Ready to go now and not 5 years down the road.

Andy Byford, the TTC CEO, has been very emphatic if diplomatic in pointing out that the next subway Toronto actually needs is a relief line, bereasonableproviding transit users in the north and east of the city (including, yes, Scarborough) a less congested route into the downtown core that by-passes the already at-capacity Yonge line. It could easily be called the Scarborough Relief Line. Here, Scarborough. There’s your subway.

A genuine do-over has presented itself to city council next week. An opportunity for councillors to re-right a previous mistake, made with the worst of intentions but under a lot of self-inflicted duress. That’s a situation that doesn’t happen very often in life. Let’s make the most of it and put this sad, sorry spectacle behind us.

 — hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Calculus Of Crazy

June 20, 2013

So this morning TTC CEO Andy Byford lit the always short fuse of car-loving Ford Nation. uttermadnessIn an interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, he floated the idea of closing King Street to car traffic during the morning rush hour. Reaction from the auto-huggers was swift and sadly predictable.

“Where are the cars supposed to go?” tweets radio talk show guy, Jerry Agar.

WHERE ARE THE CARS SUPPOSED TO GO?!

WAR ON THE CAR!!

Nothing Mr. Byford suggested was new or novel or particularly bold. In fact, King Street has been a problem for the city’s transportation department for over 20 years now. I wrote about this very thing in February. Back in the early-90s, city staff tried banning cars along the route during peak times in the day, using overhead signs and markings on the road.

upyoursGuess what happened?

“… this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work,” according to a staff report, “motorists did, and continue to, ignore it.”

Motorists ignored the rules of the road. Just said, fuck it. I need to turn left here, I’m turning left here.

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city.

I attended a seminar last night given by Jarrett Walker, author of the book and blog site, Human Transit. He talked about ‘symbolic transit’ and symbolic decisions made about transit based on incomplete information.

For at least two generations now, the Car has been presented as a symbol of freedom. That which will get you wherever you want to go whenever you want to go there. There are car advertisements attesting to it. carcommercialSleek machines blowing down the open roads, never another car in sight.

I remember that happening with me behind the wheel once. Driving in Montana. When was the last time you experienced that commercial sensation making your way through Toronto or the GTA?

The fact is, the primary source of congestion on our streets now is the over-abundance of private vehicles, and the position where they sit at the top of our transit policy decision making. Streetcars aren’t the problem. Not even the St. Clair disaster. Not bike lanes. Not scrambled pedestrian intersections.

Cars, and our continued catering to those who drive them.

Of course, you can say this until you’re blue in the face, trot out studies to back up the case but those fixated with their cars will simply tighten their grip on the wheel and demand the removal of anything they perceive that impedes their forward motion. redqueen1The Deputy Mayor’s response to the TTC CEO’s thinking? Replace the King streetcars with buses. How would that be better? Who the fuck knows other than they can get out of the way of cars when they pull to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers.

But a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

Who else demands a space to stop their car right in front of the place they’re stopping? I live on a street that neither buses nor streetcars run down. I have to walk to where they are. And then, when I arrive where I’m going, I have to exit at the nearest stop to my destination and walk to it.

Why do drivers expect preferential treatment?

And why do people look around and see congestion on King Street, or Bathurst Street or Dufferin Street, Bloor Street and Finch Avenue, all roads with different modes of public transit, snarled in traffic, and come away saying, get rid of the streetcars/buses/build us a subway? When the one common element is cars and the excess of them on our roads?

60people

It’s car madness, frankly. A steadfast refusal to admit the obvious and be open to real solutions in alleviating the problem. Problem, what problem? I don’t have a problem.

The first step to dealing with it is to admit you have a problem.

Unfortunately, we still seem not to have hit bottom quite yet.

sanely submitted by Cityslikr


King Of The Road

February 28, 2013

A recent Twitter exchange got me a-thinking. (Yes, I am growing comfortable acknowledging the Twitter/thought equation.)

twitter

It started with Global News’ Jackson Proskow in conversation with the TTC’s CEO, Andy Byford. They were talking about the news streetcars slated to join the fleet sometime next year. You know the ones the mayor and his team swore were going to break the city’s bank? Or was that the new subway cars? Public transportation is so expensive.

I’ll edit the chat for intelligibility for the non-Twitter types in the audience although you really need to get with the program.godzillafordtorontosun

So tweets Mr. Proskow:

TTC CEO confirms you may have to wait longer for a streetcar once new fleet arrives, but says reliability & capacity will improve.

“There are fewer streetcars but let’s remember they are much bigger” said Andy Byford. “my challenge is to make sure they don’t bunch up”.

Byford on new streetcars “people may have to wait a little bit longer but the actual reliability of the service will be that much better”.

Sometime during this, our friend Matt Elliott chimes in.

How fun would a botched launch of the new streetcars be in 2014, right in the middle of a municipal election?

Oh-oh. People hate streetcars, remember? Gulp!

dedicatedstreetcarlaneCouncillor Gord Perks adds a little fuel to the fun fire.

So the TTC is saying I will be certain that my morning ride will be worse.

Then, all jokes aside, JP Boutros, advisor to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, floats a little something-something into the Twittersphere.

Downtown TO politicos, please debate amongst yourselves as to why Giambrone’s Mar2007 504 King [streetcar] idea went nowhere & why it might (not) now.

What’s that, JP? some of us asked. 504 King streetcar idea? Giambrone? Why are you interrupting our laugh fest here?

After a little research, and by research I mean Googling, I came across this report, from way back in 2001, during the Mel Lastman era. A certain David Miller was still a councillor and TTC commissioner. Rob Ford was a council newbie. If there really were robots able to go back in time in order to alter the future, it would be to roughly this period where it would travel to in an attempt to kill our current mayor’s political career in its infancy.

Meeting Date: April 11, 2001 Subject: Dedicated Streetcar Lanes On The 504 King Route

OK, while you finish your fits of laughter, allow me to quote some from the report.

illbeback

…two of the options under consideration at this time are: i) banning all traffic, except streetcars, taxis, and commercial vehicles, from King Street during the busiest traffic hours; and ii) a full-time, permanent solution, with physical modifications to the street, whereby through traffic would be banned at all times, but vehicles would still be able to access each block..

* * *

Staff tried to create a dedicated streetcar right-of-way on King Street in the past, but the concept failed. In the early 1990’s, general traffic was prohibited from driving on the streetcar tracks on King Street, through the downtown, during peak periods. This was to be effected through the use of overhead signs and pavement markings, some of which are still in place today.

However, this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work; motorists did, and continue to, ignore it. While this was disappointing, staff learned a valuable lesson from that experience: there is no “low-impact” way of establishing dedicated streetcar lanes on King Street. For dedicated lanes to be effective, there must be a dramatic change in the way in which King Street operates.

 

*  *  *kingstreetcar1

And in summary,

It is impractical to continue to operate the 504 King streetcar route, with service frequencies as great as every two minutes, in congested mixed traffic conditions. There are a number of initiatives being undertaken by staff to address the variety of problems contributing to the slow and, typically, unreliable service on this route. The most dramatic of these would be the creation of effective, dedicated lanes for the streetcars. TTC staff are working with Toronto ransportation Services and City Planning to identify a design for dedicated streetcar lanes which would fully respect the commercial activities in this corridor. To be effective, any solution will require trade-offs between substantial improvements in the quality of transit service on King Street and auto traffic and on-street parking.

Remember, this was twelve years ago. The King streetcar was already the most heavily used surface route in Toronto, carrying over 50,000 riders a day. (Now close to 57, 000 according to the 2011 stats). kingstreetcarAt peak morning rush hours, the streetcar was carrying almost double the number of people between Spadina and Yonge than were travelling along the route in other vehicles. While the numbers may’ve changed since then, there’s no reason to think the ratio has.

Flash forward six years to 2007. (Or flash back five years from the present.)

David Miller is now mayor. Adam Giambrone is the TTC chair. They’re still trying to do something about the congestion along King Street. Hey! How about a trial restricting vehicular traffic along a stretch of the corridor? See what happens.

Get the cars of King, TTC asks City Hall. TTC Streetcar Proposal for King ‘Madness’.

You can pretty much guess how that all went.

Local residents and businesses get all up in arms, claiming without any substantiation that the plan will kill the area. Without easy access for cars, the strip will shrivel up and die. Even so much as a pilot project will be a death knell.

It’s the exact same argument we’re hearing right now from the owners of Pusateri’s on Bay Street in defense of their ‘lay-by’ cut in to the sidewalk in front of their store that allows cars to temporarily throw out the anchors for easy pickups and drop offs. They’ll live and die by ‘walk in’ traffic (a curious use of wording) only from cars that are able to park right by their doors. kingstreetcar2AS IF NO ONE EVER GETS OFF A BUS OR STREETCAR TO GO TO A RESTAURANT OR GROCERY STORE!

It’s this lethal combination of a white-knuckled grip on the status quo and an overweening sense of entitlement that leaves us stuck in this congestion rut. A War on the Car? Really? As the 2001 TTC report shows, motorists just simply ignore “passive” deterrents to stay off streetcar tracks or make illegal left turns. As a matter of fact, yes, I do own the road.

Show me somewhere that a decrease in private vehicle traffic in densely populated downtown areas adversely affects business. Give me the numbers instead of just scare tactics and dire warnings. What is it that we’re so afraid of if it turns out that in some spots of the city car traffic is really an impediment to better business and quality of life? How could that be a bad thing?

Clearly traffic flow isn’t functioning properly along King Street and hasn’t been for a while now. As the TTC CEO pointed out, our new streetcars aren’t going to fully alleviate the problem. It’s long past time we stop sitting on our hands and try a new approach. Hard to imagine how it could make matters any worse.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Not Just About The Money

March 24, 2012

In hindsight, I wish the outcome of this week’s subway-LRT transit battle hadn’t been settled on the question of money. Everyone conceding the ground that subways would be great but we just can’t afford them. If money grew on trees, we’d have subways running every which way until Sunday. But it doesn’t so we can’t.

There’s always money in the banana stand. Everybody has a scheme for raising money to build subways. Even tight-fisted fiscal conservative, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande, gave the impression of floating a proposal to look at the possibility of a parking levy before trying to pull it the following day. Earlier in the week at a TO Townhalls transit debate, Councillor Norm Kelly checked off a list of taxes and fees the city could pursue in order to raise enough funds to build a subway as if it was as easy as all that, as if any of these ideas hadn’t already been swept aside by Mayor Ford.

Councillor Kelly invited the audience to join him in being bold. A variation that Dr. Gordon Chong employed as well in getting us to think big, to think outside the box. Don’t have a closed mind, you stick in the mud squares. Explore the possibilities of private public partnerships. There’s always money in the banana stand.

Except there’s not, of course, there never was. All nonsense or hogwash to use the parlance of the mayor. Team Ford had the better part of two years to come up with a funding plan for the Sheppard subway, to think outside the box, to be bold, to give us a transit vision. But what did they deliver? Let’s start digging and go from there. Use some $1 billion ($2 billion if you do your math in the Councillor Doug Ford double-clutch fashion) in funding from the provincial and federal governments and get those shovels in the ground. Say, whatever happened to all that private sector cash to fill the subway funding gap, Mayor Ford? Those magical tales of a city with a spending not a revenue problem. A guarantee we could have it all, low taxes and shiny new infrastructure. No money down. No interest payments. Ever.

Councillor Jaye Robinson epitomized that gulf between fact filled reality and misguided fantasy. I’m trying really hard to like the councillor. She seems very honourable, sensible and well-intentioned. But her speech on Thursday (including her first ever request for a speaker’s extension) coming out in favour of closing the Sheppard subway loop was nothing more than ill-informed, area-centric parochialism.

Firstly, there was no talk of how to pay for a complete Sheppard subway loop. Ooops. There I go, doing it myself, asking about funding, funding, funding.

The councillor opened up with an attempt to undermine those who pointed out that 1st class cities such as Paris and Madrid are building/have built LRTs, saying those places already have a robust, fully integrated subway system. Their LRTs are simply feeding into it. Toronto’s subway system needed a full Sheppard loop to bolster its subway system not an LRT to feed into it.

That’s simply wrong. What Toronto needs to shore up its subway system is the Downtown Relief Line. Not to cater to the core elites but to relieve capacity on the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines for all those coming in to work downtown from the… wait for it, wait for it… inner suburbs and exurbs.

Don’t believe me? Fair enough. I’m no transit expert. Why not ask the TTC’s new CEO?

Despite being expropriated by Team Ford as a proponent of their crazy scheme, Andy Byford quietly stated his actual subway priority at a Board of Trade breakfast talk yesterday. “Although the TTC accepts the decision made by council, I maintain the city does also need to have a sensible debate around a subway provision,” he told reporters. “Sooner or later we’ve got to address the subway capacity, particularly in regard to the downtown relief line.”

‘A sensible debate’.

In fairness, that did begin to happen this week. With the mayor’s refusal to provide any sort of cogent funding plan for his pet subway project, his allies rushed to fill in the void. Half-hearted and vague as most of the proposed measures were, right wing councillors kicked started the conversation about revenue generation that had been pooh-poohed pretty well since our previous mayor stated that you can’t build a great city for free.

That said, great cities aren’t simply great cities because they build subways everywhere. Great cities build subways where it’s feasible, where subways transport the greatest number to the places they need to get to.

For Toronto, all of Toronto not just where Mayor Ford’s trying to get the greatest amount of votes, the answer isn’t along Sheppard Avenue. It never was. We should never have been talking about it in the first place.

So let’s start having that sensible debate.

calmly, coolly submitted by Cityslikr