Transit Talk And Talk And Talk

July 12, 2013

It’s kind of like living in a time lapse photography sequence these days, following along with the twists and turns of the city’s ongoing and perpetual transit debate. timelapseIn three years, we‘ve been able to catch a glimpse of decades after decades after decades of toil and strife, where talk almost always trumps action. Weren’t paying attention first time around? Fear not. There’s always another kick at the can. Always.

Word emerged yesterday that the dreams of more Scarborough subways weren’t dead. Such rumours were apparently exaggerated. The province’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murray, and the city’s TTC chair chatted openly about the possibility the door hadn’t yet closed and that there just might be some way to work out the details of finding the extra cash necessary to convert the proposed Bloor-Danforth LRT extension at Kennedy to a subway. moneytreeWhat’s another half billion to 900 million dollars generated by as of yet agreed upon revenue tools when there’s by-election outcomes and mayoral aspirations at stake?

Look, at this point, I almost (almost) couldn’t give a fuck what kind of transit gets built in Scarborough as long as it leads to the How You Going To Pay For It conversation. There’s never been any logical reason to build further subways either along Sheppard or as an extension to the existing line there. Lord knows, there’s certainly no compelling economic reason to do so. It’s always been about divisive political posturing, pure and simple. Subways, subways, subways. The people want subways.

Or the latest idiocy to tumble out of a councillor’s mouth about the issue. “The province needs to step up to the plate, otherwise they will be letting down the people of Scarborough,” mewled Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. “You can’t go to residents with revenue tools and not even deliver a subway.” tellmewhatIwanttohearYou see, Scarborough deserves subways because, well, subways. Subways, subways, subways.

But if you think the province is acting any more sensibly, get a load of Minister Murray’s thoughts on the matter. “We’ve certainly been flexible in the past and will continue to be when it comes to accommodating a municipality,” the Globe and Mail quotes him saying. “It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit. I’m not prepared for people in Scarborough to miss this round…”

Flexible. Isn’t it adorable how the minister positively frames being politically craven and calculating. If this Liberal government at Queen’s Park hadn’t proven to be so ‘flexible’ at the outset, if they hadn’t immediately caved to our new mayor’s 2010 unilateral decision to junk Transit City, we wouldn’t still be having this conversation three years on.

And what the fuck is he talking about with the Scarborough ‘wanting for high speed, rapid transit’ and the ‘miss this round’ business? jumphowhighThis kind of bullshit only serves to further unfairly diminish LRTs in the already dim view of some and continues to put the notion of subways on this entirely unwarranted 1st class pedestal. It’s technology porn and completely warps the conversation.

Every time you think (no, hope and pray) you see a little ray of sunshine on transit – hey, maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe, maybe, maybe – the dark clouds of naked ambition roll in. It’s enough to make you think we get transit built only when it’s expedient for a critical mass of politicians. The most cost conscious of mayors has been joined by elected officials covering the entire ideological spectrum essentially telling voters in Scarborough that when it comes to getting them their subway, money is no object. In this, they are all tax-and-spenders minus the taxing part.

You’d think that after the scandals that continue to plague them, the Liberal government might shy away from such obvious pandering and willingness to throw money around in order to shore up support for ridings that are in play. Change of leader, change in approach. igotnothingIt most certainly is not business as usual.

But maybe their calculus factors in one other variable. If, as a voter, public transit in Toronto is your big issue and you find the Liberals’ ‘flexibility’ on the subway versus LRT question counter-productive, where do you turn for a better solution? Both Hudak’s Conservatives and the NDP have been content to stand on the sidelines, with fingers crossed, hoping the government self-immolates, occasionally shouting BOONDOGGLE as their sole contribution to the conversation.

You don’t like how we’re going about building transit, the Liberals might ask. Ask them how they’re going to do it. And, of course, neither opposition party will provide a satisfactory answer. They’ll shrug and yell BOONDOGGLE again.

Who could blame them really? There doesn’t seem to be any negative consequences to not building transit. Posturing will suffice. It doesn’t really cost much out of pocket. The problems will get worse but after many of the politicians have moved on to other careers. murderersrowThis city’s history is filled with characters dedicated to inaction on the transit file, so the current players including our mayor, TTC chair, premier, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Queen’s Park opposition parties aren’t going to stand out as exemplary villains in this story.

They’ll just be joining the ranks of murderers’ row. The long line of politicians who put their own self-interest before the city’s. It’s not a particularly exclusive club.

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Is There A Gaffe The TTC Isn’t Prone To?

July 13, 2010

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the Toronto Transit Commission is purposely trying to radicalize community groups throughout the city. Maybe that’s outgoing chair and departing councillor, Adam Giambrone’s secret, socialist plan. To so infuriate Toronto homeowners that they band together in solidarity and eventually rise up to take back the city. The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Otherwise, I’m at a loss to understand what the hell was on their minds as they went public with their Second Exit plans. In the works since 2002 or so, the commission has targeted 14 subway stops as lacking essential 2nd exit locations for use in the case of emergencies. Fair enough. It seems like a no-brainer, really. Imagine the howls of outrage if people died because there was only a single exit in a subway available during a crisis? It’s startling that it’s taken this long to get around to dealing with a situation like that.

But the ham-fisted, imperious manner in which the TTC went about engaging the residents living around the Donlands and Greenwood stations along the Bloor-Danforth subway line on the matter is nothing short of astonishing. Given that this was in the works for about 8 years, the fact that affected homeowners weren’t notified about the plans until 2 weeks ago and a commission vote to proceed was slated for this Wednesday, July 14th (Bastille Day, no less) simply fueled the fire of suspicion that the TTC was up to something behind closed doors. What’s the rush, community members wondered. Where’s the (ah, ha, ha… ha, ha) fire?

More astoundingly, the 2nd exit plans put forward by the commission included the expropriation of homes. Expropriation! You would think that word alone would set off a series of alarm bells up and down the hallways of the Yonge Street headquarters. You would think. Apparently not. The TTC sent out what was essentially a form letter to the proposed houses that they’d need to gobble up, telling them that the de facto decision would be made at a commission vote a couple weeks hence.

It speaks to an institutional idiocy that is so ingrained that it just has to be part of the job description for all prospective management candidates. Must be deaf to outside opinions. A fully functioning foresight capability absolutely unessential.

There was nobody in the planning process that didn’t imagine the likelihood of at least one of the owners of one of the houses they wanted to expropriate having a story that would pull on the heartstrings and attract a whole lot of media attention?! Cue the Calias, Grace and Danny who have lived in their house for 51 years where they raised 5 kids and 8 grandchildren. Husband Danny – wait for it, wait for it – is a retired TTC maintenance worker!!! Wow! Who would’ve seen that coming?

Perhaps an organization that’s been battling bad publicity for most of this past year with sleeping ticket takers and slightly tipsy drivers. Or the same organization still smarting from the fallout of the St. Clair streetcar lane mess where they wound up shouldering much more than their fair share of the blame. To watch TTC chair Giambrone stand up at last night’s public consultation gathering at Danforth Collegiate and try to calm the restive crowd with talk of a process now in motion to review how the commission engages with the public on matter like these only begs the question a reporter on The Simpsons asked when Krusty the Clown announced his retirement: Why now, Krusty? Why not 20 years ago?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against the idea of expropriation. Sometimes the collective good must supersede individual aspiration, hopefully in a fair and equitable manner. That the TTC still so badly mishandles these situations speaks either to gross organizational incompetence or simple disregard bordering on contempt.

At the outset of last night’s session, the commission seemed to understand it had screwed up and sought to make amends. Operating at an additional disadvantage in that the school auditorium where the meeting took place was as hot as a southeast Asian POW camp box, they apologized right off the bat for their lack of true public consultation in the matter, drawing a round of applause. They then seemed to mollify the portion of the crowd that was present to fight for the Greenwood station plans, accepting one of the options the community had submitted to them.

Of course, never an institution to not allow victory to slip from its hands, they let fly with this little gem: Should unseen conditions arise then the TTC will revert to its preferred option and advise the community. What was that again? Instead of saying, should unseen conditions arise then the TTC will return to consult with the community on the next steps to be taken, they just couldn’t help themselves from delivering a little patronizing kick at the crowd. When asked to give some examples of possible unseen conditions that might arise, the response was a masterpiece in offering up nothing. We don’t forsee something unforeen.

But by that time the TTC representatives had long since lost the crowd. Whatever goodwill they had initially generated with its Greenwood decision had dissipated entirely after spitfire Lisa Dymond delivered a public evisceration. While containing more than a hint of nimbyism – “We don’t need a TTC building in the middle of a residential neighbourhood”… ahhhh, Ms. Dymond? You did move to a house on top of a subway line. The TTC is a part of your neighbourhood. – and a whole lot of razzle-dazzle, Ms. Dymond revealed the commission to be doggedly rigid and willfully resistant to community input even at this point, in the face of growing public indignation. Her call for a major shakeup of the organization played right into the hands of outrage vultures like Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi who both skulked around the meeting’s periphery.

How could one woman, regardless of how well prepared and informed, catch an organization like the TTC so flat footed? How did they not see this shit storm developing and do something to contain it? Are they simply incapable of accommodation and adaptation? If I read the room right last night, all the TTC had to do was agree to designate the 2nd exit at Donlands as an emergency exit only (as opposed to a daily use exit) and they might’ve had a deal done. They wouldn’t and with their insistence on pushing for the vote on Wednesday regardless of continued community concerns only served to heighten the suspicion that they were hiding their real intent with the 2nd exits and these so-called ‘consultation’ were nothing but a sham.

It’s as if once a person joins the organization, they are drained of all ability to socially interact constructively and filled instead with myopic, hierarchical, inscrutable thinking. This, and only this. By maintaining such a closed door approach to public consultations, the TTC makes it almost impossible for outsider defenders of the organization to continue defending it.

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