A Higher Bar

April 20, 2016

Here’s what bugs me about Mayor Tory’s reaction to the proposed Bloor Street bike lane pilot project that’s heading to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee for debate next week? The wet blanket act. getsmygoatYou know, well, if we have to…

The mayor’s not ‘averse to a pilot project’. He’s not excited about it either. He couldn’t be less enthusiastic, if the CityNews video is anything to go by. Instead, he’s using his bully pulpit to dampen any sort of expectations about it.

And suspicious of the whole enterprise? Let’s make sure this “pilot project” isn’t such in name only. Mayor Toy demands that “an honest effort to objectively find out, after you’ve done it, the impact” on all “stakeholders”. These are the words of someone who thinks cycling advocates are trying to pull a fast one on him. Get those plastic bollards go up, they can never be brought down again. It’s a done deal. Game over.

“Big decisions we end up making”, the mayor intones, and we “cannot make them in a cavalier manner or politically correct manner.”

Really?

Says the guy who full-throatedly pushed to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, ignoring and even mocking staff opinion that it would be best (suspiciousand least expensive) to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard. Cavalier, much? Hundreds of millions of dollars, unnecessarily spent to maintain a burdensome piece of legacy infrastructure that will be with us for decades to come. And his eyes narrow at a summertime bike lane pilot project?

Is it any wonder then, one of the bike lane proponents, Councillor Joe Cressy goes on Metro Morning, sounding as if he’s a coach guiding his team into a do-or-die, sudden-death championship game? “If we fail, then we fail with cycling infrastructure throughout the city.” Holy crap! What? The very future of cycling in Toronto, it seems, hinges on the outcome of this bike lane pilot project.

During the interview, Councillor Cressy expressed confidence that, in the end, the Bloor bike lanes would confirm what most every other example of de-emphasizing automobile use around the world has shown. It’s better for business. More people come. More people linger. More people shop. suspiciousIt’s pretty much been the case for 50 years now.

“But we’re not going to trust those studies that have been done,” Councillor Cressy said.

Of course we’re not. Because we’re Toronto, after all. The exception to every and all rules and studies of urbanism. Terra incognita. Unless it’s for cars, the wheel must be re-invented again and again here.

I get, grudgingly, the status quo has home court advantage in these matters. Change is always scary. Can could be for the worse.

But it’s not like this strip of Bloor Street couldn’t do with a little nudge, a little boost of freshness. I’ve lived in the area for years now and I wouldn’t call it vibrant. With a few exceptions, there’s a regular turnover of retail. Walking isn’t terrible but it isn’t particularly pleasant either. You bike through it not to it.

Mayor Tory should be cheerleading for the possibility of a positive transformation of a major piece of public space instead of working the refs to secure the outcome he wants to see. clearthebarIf a reconfigured street works here, why not extend it westward, out towards High Park and beyond, east out along the Danforth? With the exception of the newly spruced up Yorkville segment, from Avenue to Yonge Street (and I’d suggest that ain’t perfect either), most of this run of road could do with a 21st-century makeover.

Unfortunately, given his lukewarm… what’s the opposite of embrace?… of this tiny pilot project, the concept runs contrary to the mayor’s preconceived notions of how a city operates. Mess with cars and drivers, you’re messing with a — if not successful — an established formula. A formula he’s comfortable with, accustomed to.

And as he’s exhibiting over and over again, Mayor Tory is not one who seems at all comfortable operating outside of his comfort zone.

dampeningly submitted by Cityslikr


The Great Divide

August 22, 2010

If campaign 2010 continues on its present trajectory, come around Oct. 23rd, 24th, we’ll be preparing to head to the polls believing we live somewhere like Londonerry or Belfast. Beirut or Jerusalem. Kirkuk. (Plug in the divided city of your choice).

Thirteen years into amalgamation and this election has finally blown the lid off the pressure cooker of simmering hostilities between the old downtown core and its inner suburban brethren. Us coristas have milked the `burbs dry with our bike lanes, waterfront developments and faggy artistic pursuits. In turn, the proverbial Wayne and Garths have pinched off a couple political turds named Mel Lastman and Rob Ford smack dap into our skinny café lattes.

Or so the story goes.

Last week, the Toronto Star’s Urban Affairs reporter, Robyn Doolitte, delved into the city’s schism. A dirty job but someone had to do it. What did she discover? The divisions separating us are as much imaginary as they are real. All those questions of who has and gets what is – surprise, surpise – a lot more complicated than we’re hearing in the media and on the campaign trail.

Former mayoral candidate and former York city councillor and now Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti insists the city’s inner suburbs have been getting short shrift since amalgamation. His staff analyzed the “numbers” and left him with “no doubt that the majority of spending goes downtown”. Just look at the money being splurged on Union Station, the waterfront, Bloor Street, G20 security. Imagine what the suburbs could’ve done with that billion dollars or so.

However, other “numbers” suggest that residents of the old city of Toronto receive less funding from the city on a per person basis than those dwelling in the former burgs of North York, Etobicoke and York. After the last election, Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a study to examine allocation of city resources which came back with the not entirely rock solid conclusion that, in fact, Scarberians were not being hosed on half the services that were assessed while on the other half, it was hard to tell.

From all this, we’re now in the midst of a ‘culture war’ as Ms. Doolittle suggests?

It wouldn’t be the first time that misinformation and the power of perceived persecutional exclusion drives a debate especially during a political campaign. A wedge is a much easier tool to use when digging for support. Even more so when you lack an uplifting, unifying theme. I know candidate Rob Ford immediately springs to mind but Rocco Rossi was the first to employ the method this time around with his war on cars schtick. Ford simply sniffed which way the wind was blowing and realized he could do it so much better than Rossi. And he has.

That is not to say gaps and inequalities don’t exist throughout the city. They most certainly do. But to try and suggest that they are the result of an uneven financial flow since amalgamation is playing fast and loose with the facts for the purpose of pure divisiveness. All 6 of the cities that were forced against their choice into one by the Harris government each brought their own respective pros and baggage to the table. As many of the now 13 high priority neighbourhoods were located outside the old city of Toronto as were within its boundaries. Now money is being spent by all of us trying to deal with the disparities in those parts of the new, bigger city of Toronto.

Of course, that’s awfully murky grey and nuanced. Easier to point fingers and wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days before we had to deal with those leftist downtowners or dumbfuck suburbanites. Remember when those nice people from the city used to come and de-weed the boulevard, Betsy? I got an idea, pops. Why don’t you weed your own boulevard and we’ll spend that money building a community centre next door in the old city of York. Hey, North York. How be you try shoveling snow off your sidewalks like we do down here in the core and we’ll toss a little money your way to fix all those pipes you neglected to deal with?

Like it or not everyone, we’re all one big, happy family now here in the megacity, and that spending spree all of you are talking about, that gravy train, may just be the price we’re paying for trying to make one size fit all. Only the willfully ignorant or blindly ideological truly believed the cost of amalgamation would be otherwise. Economies of scale don’t always apply if that was, in fact, ever actually the intention of all this at the provincial level. So, here we are, 13 years later, in an unproductive pissing match with each other.

There’s nothing territorial about this. I’d be very happy voting for a suburban candidate running for mayor. Isn’t Shelley Carroll from North York? Why won’t she run? It’s just that, instead, what keeps rising up from the inner ring are monstrosities of dumbness, intolerance and irrationality. If you truly believe that Mayor David Miller has made a bigger mess of this city than did his predecessor, Mel Lastman, than you are simply unwilling to engage in constructive dialogue and are determined to see that this project called amalgamation fails.

And if that’s the very definition of a ‘culture war’, I guess we are in the middle of one.

miffedly submitted by Cityslikr


Cars Versus People

April 8, 2010

A couple recent posts over at Kris Scheuer’s blog caught my eye as they related to a major pet peeve of mine that anyone who has read anything I’ve ever written here will attest to. Cars, parking, bicycles, bike lanes, pedestrians. The whole kit and caboodle.

The first entry reveals some surprising information emerging from a survey done by Clean Air Partnership. It seems of the 500+ folks interviewed who were going about their business along the Dundas Street West strip between Kennedy and Jane streets, more than ¾ of them arrived there through non-car means. In fact, more than twice as many walked to their destination rather than drove.

More surprisingly, a majority of business owners in the area favoured reducing parking along the street to make way for bike lanes and wider pedestrian friendly sidewalks. This has long been my argument about persistent retail woes along some of our major downtown arterial roads including much of Dundas Street West. Pedestrian unfriendliness. Even the Bloor-Danforth corridor, our main east-west drag, is largely devoid of strolling appeal. Nevermind it being unfriendly terrain to bike except for the portion between the Bloor Street viaduct and roughly Sherbourne Street. There’s the Danforth’s Greektown from Broadview to about Pape that makes for a pleasant few hour wander but that’s about it. Even trendy Yorkville draws its pedestrian crowds to the side streets one, two and three block north of Bloor.

Despite sitting atop a subway line, Bloor Street is not ultimately an attractive and desirable stop to hang out, browse, shop and generally revel in city life. It is little more than a (semi) functional traffic conduit whose fortune lies almost exclusively with the ups-and-downs of the nearby residential areas that border it. Anything that can be done to make Bloor-Danforth (or Dundas Street West) more people friendly will inevitably increase retail health as well, despite what your local B.I.A. might tell you.

Which segues nicely – something a writer always likes – to Kris Scheuer’s second post of note. After a decade+ back-and-forth on the issue, Forest Hill Village is finally getting 11 new parking spots and it’s only going to cost slightly more than a million dollars! Does that seem entirely out of whack to anyone else? There’s no reason to disbelieve that the price tag will be quickly recouped through parking fees as the Toronto Parking Authority claims, so it’s not the money that grates. But are 11 additional spaces for cars really going to alleviate the congestion and traffic problems that plague Forest Hill Village? Won’t having more parking simply bring more cars with the promise of less driving hassle? As anyone who’s ever tried to drive there (or bike) will tell you, it ain’t pretty. How more cars on the scene will alleviate the problem is a mystery to me.

Cars, cars, cars. They are the past, people, not the future. Making the city more amenable to drivers and their deathmobiles lessens the livability index rather than increases it. Pedestrians know it. Cyclists know it. Transit users know it. Even enlightened business owners know it. So let’s stop catering to the increasing minority of those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of it.

doggedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Tales In The City

March 21, 2010

Part 1 – “You’re not from around these parts, are you.”

So I’m gliding home after a nice cozy meal with some good company and a little vino. Yes, I am literally gliding. On the bike (helmet affixed to the head, lights flashing), it’s all downhill from Bloor Street to my place. It is a startlingly warm spring night on this late, late winter’s eve. Zooming around the city doesn’t get much better than this.

I hang a right into an alleyway for half a block and then a left onto another alley for the home stretch to the back of the house. Suddenly, boom. I’m on the brakes, skidding to a stop on loose stones, broken glass and used condoms in order to avoid colliding with two young bucks who are milling about in the semi-darkness. A waft of the Mary Jane, I think the kids are calling it these days, hangs in the air around us.

“Are you a cop?” one of the kids in baggy pants and an ill (and I mean that in its original sense)-fitting baseball cap asks. It is a question that startles me even more than I already am due to its complete and utter lack of artifice. I am, momentarily and unusually, at a loss for words.

“If I were, son,” I respond, re-gathering my wits about me, “you’d either already be face down on the ground, my knee digging into your back, in the process of being detained for possessing an illegal substance or… or…”, and I’m just getting going now, “I’d tell you no, I’m not a cop, in order to buy me some time to figure out if you’re up to something else back here other than smoking a doob. Either way, that was an unnecessary question you just asked.”

Needless to say, the kids are now stymied, not in the least bit sure how to proceed. I figure it’s as good a time as any to take my leave of the situation in case either catches on that they’re having the piss taken out of them and feels the need to lash out. Although it has been my experience that those on the pot don’t tend to lash out for any reason whatsoever. At least not very effectively.

“Have a good night boys,” I bid them as I start to peddle my bicycle once more down the alley toward home. Not a peep comes from them and as I pull up outside the garage, waiting for the door to open, I look back in their direction. They haven’t moved an inch, looking very much like statues in the shadows, still trying to process our exchange, I imagine. I wheel my bike into the garage and close the door behind me.

God, I love living in this city.

reverily submitted by Urban Sophisticat