The Gold Line

March 18, 2016

It ain’t easy, building public transit in the automobile age we live in. Demands are greater. Expectations higher. proveitPurse strings much tighter to pry open.

Cars are the status quo. The status quo gets a wider pass when it comes to building, rebuilding and over-building all the infrastructure necessary to maintain its primacy. Look at Toronto lately. Want to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway? Money found. Done. A billion dollars more may also be spent keeping another section of that highway elevated just right. Done, and done.

Here in Los Angeles, the local public transit builder and provider, Metro, seems overly concerned about holding drivers’ hands, assuring them that they’re driving interests are being looked after too. “Metro eases traffic by tackling bottlenecks.” “Metro eases traffic with more options for drivers.” “Metro funds $430 million worth of local improvement projects each year, from signal synchronization to filling potholes and repaving roads.”

Yet every transit decision made – subway or LRT, rail or bus, this alignment or that – seems microscopically scrutinized in comparison. Success of whatever claims are made for public transit must be immediate and absolute. therethereAn empty bus spotted running its route is seen as a failure. An empty freeway or parking lot? Not so much.

My friend Ned and I rode the Gold Line yesterday, from end-to-end, Atlantic station in the central-east, around, up and out to the newest terminus, APU/Citrus College in the more north-east. The line just opened up a new, “6 stations, 5 cities”, 11.5 mile extension into the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Mountains to much anticipation and mixed reviews. Boon or blunder/One has to wonder?, the tormented transit poets asks.

“Politics brought the Gold Line into existence,” rail enthusiast Ethan N. Elkind wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week, not at all favourably.

Better mass transit is necessary across the region. But not every part of the county has the population to support rail. In the case of the Gold Line, we’ve brought expensive train technology to a generally low-density area that could be more economically served by bus rapid transit or commuter buses running in the right-of-way.

In the LA Weekly over the past week or so, Gene Maddaus has been writing extensively about the transit future of Los Angeles, exploring the complicated politics of it. Will More Transit Actually Ease L.A.’s Traffic? he asks in one article. goldline2On the Gold Line yesterday, running alongside the packed 210 freeway for a bit, it’s hard to respond to Mr. Maddaus’s question in the affirmative. We’re building all this and traffic’s still bad? Not to mention that earlier this year, it was reported that transit ridership numbers were down. We’re building all this and people aren’t using it?

All these questions and concerns are legitimate and should be asked and not shrugged off. The 6 new stations on the Gold Line certainly do feel more like a commuter rail service. All stopped right next to parking lots. There was little sign of much street life around any of the stations (albeit, just from my view aboard the train). When we arrived at the last stop, we got out to get a coffee. goldlineINot seeing anything in the immediate vicinity, Ned asked a woman who had just parked her car and was heading to the Metro to get to the Kings game downtown (one less car on the road which is not insignificant) if there was a nearby coffee shop we could get to. “Walking?!” she responded, as incredulously as that. Not easily. Not quickly.

Should this LRT have been a bus lane instead? Maybe. But we all know the politics of that. Buses engender little love or respect. Buses in their own dedicated bus lane can draw the ire of drivers.

That isn’t meant to negate the argument. It’s just that the rigorousness applied to building and paying for public transit is rarely brought to bear when it comes to other forms of transportation, and by other forms of transportation, natch, I mean the private automobile. Conventional wisdom seems to already be that self-driving cars will relieve us all of our congestion woes. trafficcongestionHow do we know that to be a fact any more than we know the Gold Line should’ve been a bus route instead of an LRT?

In discussing the upcoming ballot initiative to raise $120 billion for new transportation projects, former Los Angeles County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky said, “Everything’s gotta go perfectly for Metro politically” for the measure to win. Perfectly. On a measure that includes, according to the LA Times Transportation and Mobility writer, Laura J. Nelson, nearly 20% of the proposed money would go to highway construction and enhancements. Where 80% of the 18.4 cents federal gas tax still goes into roads.

Billions of dollars being spent to build, expand and enhance roads and freeways when we know, categorically, that doing that only serves to increase driving numbers, cars on the road, congestion. stubbornBut when it comes to public transit? It’s gotta be perfect.

We need to change the terms of this debate. Driving cannot be the default mobility mode around which everything else must function. It will be an uphill battle. It will not happen overnight. That’s the thing about the status quo. It’s dug in deep. Dislodging it will take a lot more effort than it should.

confoundedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor Declares

September 15, 2015

It looks like now very few of us will ever learn why it was Mayor John Tory caught himself a case of Olympic fever and, for the last month or so, tried to spread the contagion city-wide. torontosignHolding a curious press conference on the roof of snack bar in Nathan Phillips Square (to afford a better camera angle on the PanAm/ParaPan Toronto sign, I guess) to announce his intention not to submit a commitment to bid letter for the 2024 summer games, the mayor cited most of the same reasons those opposing a possible bid had been trotting out since the idea popped up in the wake of the above mentioned PanAm/ParaPan games. Too short a time line to put together a proper bid. No committee in place to do so. A lack of support from the private sector, and by support, I mean money.

One reason he didn’t mention that I think should be pointed out here is the soft public support for a bid. Perhaps the veil of secrecy that surrounded the mayor’s consultative process during the last few weeks dampened any sort of chance at a last minute surge in pro-bid momentum. Who exactly was he talking to? puttingoutthefireWhile he claimed he’d been in conversation with, among other stakeholders, his council colleagues, Anthony Perruzza might beg to differ. In fact, he did just that yesterday on Metro Morning. The hush-hush, behind closed doors approach the mayor engaged in leading up to this decision generated more suspicion than enthusiasm.

Why Mayor Tory took to the podium to make this negative announcement remains something of a mystery to me. Wouldn’t a simple press release have sufficed, given he was saying no? I guess having beaten the bushes to scare up some semblance of interest in hosting the Olympics, words on page might’ve seemed like the coward’s way out. Nope. Step up. Claim the decision as your own.

Which, arguably, has been something of the intent and optics of all this from the outset. The mayor as the authoritative voice, the buck stops with him guy. City council as merely an afterthought, a rubber stamp on mayoral decisions.

None of this is true but you wouldn’t know that from how the entire will he-or-won’t he bid on the Olympics played out. bigcheese1Mayor Tory’s face was all over the push, his words treated as official statements. He brushed aside calls for a special meeting to ensure full council input into the decision, to make the ultimate decision which it inevitably had to do to go forward. This was his decision, the mayor wanted you to think, his alone to make.

Today’s press conference was also an opportunity for Mayor Tory to show everybody he was not rash. He was reasonable, prudent and whatever else he wants you to think he is that isn’t rash. And all that stuff he told you we needed the Olympics for in order to build? Transit and other major infrastructure needs. Affordable housing. Poverty reduction. Yeah well, not necessarily. The other levels of government need to get onboard, helping out with that. Toronto is the country’s biggest city, an important economic engine. When Toronto thrives, the country thrives.

Exactly where we were before all this talk of an Olympic bid to spur senior government action on such vital municipal issues. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess. Hey. It was worth a shot. Except that it wasn’t, as it turns out, as Mayor Tory announced today.startfinish

During the press conference, Mayor Tory took a not so subtle swipe at the previous administration, stating an Olympic bid was no ferris wheel. He was no Doug Ford, impetuously redesigning a decade’s worth of planning on the waterfront, with elaborate renderings of amusement park rides and monorails. No, if you’re going to indulge in spectacle, go big. How about an 80,000 seat stadium on the waterfront! Now that would garner us some serious infrastructure. It would have to, right?

So Mayor Tory gets applauded today for his wise and pragmatic decision not to pursue a course of action he himself had encouraged and championed for the entire last part of the summer. Not only encouraged and championed but fluffed with his talk of the September 15th deadline being simply a letter of interest in possibly bidding when, in fact, as he admitted at the podium today, it was a commitment to bid. slowclapI guess it took him all this time to finally get around to reading the not so fine print in the IOC’s bid process documents.

Oh well. It could’ve been worse. The mayor could’ve made the wrong decision today. A decision city council would’ve had to clean up afterwards.

That, I think, earns him a slow clap for prudently and reasonably making a decision on a bid for the 2024 Olympics that was never his to make in the first place and shouldn’t even have been entertained at this late stage in the game.

Well done.

decisively submitted by Cityslikr


We Need To Have That Car Talk

June 30, 2015

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.

auto-immunely submitted by Cityslikr


A Dark Gloomy Day

April 30, 2014

Maybe it was just the rain and the relentless reminder that we’ve been forsaken gloomydayby pleasant weather. Everybody’s lost a little grip on their senses. Or maybe it was the void of idiocy left behind by Mayor Ford after he went all radio silent, having dared the city’s top bureaucrat to run in the election so they could debate the $1.1 billion in savings claim the mayor makes and the city manager disputes. Quick! Say something dumb before a reasonable conversation breaks out.

Or maybe, just maybe, politicians and their handlers all now just assume we’re prepared to put aside critical thought to fall happily for any snappy slogan or nonsensical notion that involves us not having to actually contribute anything to the future well-being of this city. Let’s call it the Ford Factor. No problem too big to pretend there’s not an easy fix for it. And it won’t cost you a single dime, folks!

Whatever the reason, yesterday had to be about the most dispiriting day in the 2014 mayoral campaign so far. stunt1And it hasn’t exactly been an embarrassment of riches to date. Just kind of embarrassing.

It started with Karen Stintz’s transit announ—

No wait.

First it was Team Tory’s PR grab. Olivia Twister (at least, that’s what I’m calling it in the spirit of fun. A pun. Olivia Twister. Oliver Twist?) The classic party game Twister played to highlight Olivia Chow’s apparent policy changes. The Relief Line isn’t a priority. The Relief Line is a priority. The Scarborough subway. No. The Scarborough LRT.

It was hilarious. Actually, it was as hilarious as you’d imagine a John Tory campaign stunt to be. Which is to say, no, it wasn’t hilarious.

As for Karen Stintz’s announcement, she fleshed out how she planned to pay for the city’s portion of the relief line. Sell off a majority of the city’s share of Toronto Hydro. Bring in a parking levy in city owned downtown Green P lots and use some of the revenue from enforcement fees – parking tickets. All things considered, it wasn’t completely and utterly mad. One terrible idea. One intriguing idea. One debatable idea. seeifitsticksNot a bad percentage, coming as it was from the Stintz campaign.

This was followed by Olivia Chow’s speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Pretty much old news. She’d revert back to the original Scarborough LRT instead of the subway, re-directing the already agreed on property tax increase for the proposed subway to start on the Relief Line which, according to transit planning timelines, still wouldn’t be done until 2031. Ms. Chow was also going to lean on the provincial and federal governments to chip in with their fair share… More infrastructure spending… Increased bus service… Nothing new. Nothing particularly exciting or scandalous.

Nothing we hadn’t already heard.

But it was more than enough for some.

Setting aside any credibility she might have garnered from her transit announcement, Karen Stintz fired off an indignant tweet. Today I proposed a war on congestion, while Olivia Chow proposed a war on taxpayers. twisterFollow this if you can… a property tax increase to pay for a subway in Scarborough is a war on congestion. That very same property tax increase to pay for the Relief Line is—Don’t bother. It’s not even supposed to make any sense.

Untangling themselves from Twister, Team Tory was not to be outdone in its outrage and incredulity at the Chow speech. Of course, the NDP candidate for mayor would resort to taxation as a way to pay for a subway. Of course. And in 2031?! Just because it’s part of Metrolinx’s 25 year plan!? We need the relief line now!!

John Tory has officially been in the race for about two months now. From the very beginning he’s made the Relief Line his number one issue. Yet, he still hasn’t told us how he’s going to pay for it. He still hasn’t told us how he’s going to get it built any sooner than 2031. But well, Olivia Chow’s an NDP candidate. That’s the thing to remember right now. Not how John Tory’s going to pay to build a subway on an expedited time line. Hey. emptypromiseDid you see us playing Twister earlier today?

And if that ain’t all underwhelming enough for you, with a provincial election quite possibly looking down the barrel at us as early as mid-June, and the fate of many of these transit plans in the balance, pending the outcome, the opposition leader, Tim Hudak waded neck deep into the dumb with a promise to kill the Hamiliton LRT proposal and replace it with… wait for it, wait for it… a new highway! You can’t load pipes onto a bus, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph…

As we all know, the best way to relieve congestion on our roads is to build more roads. Don’t believe Tim Hudak? Ask Atlanta.

What’s truly amazing about this parade of the ridiculous is that our mayor played no part in it. Not so much as a peep from him during the sad spectacle. He’s just established the route. John Tory, Karen Stintz and Tim Hudak are simply following in his footsteps, hoping it ends up just like it did for Rob Ford in 2010. sadparadeWith them first past the finishing line.

As long as the cheap stunts, empty rhetoric and painless promises prove effective, politicians will return to that well. Why wouldn’t they if we continue to reward them for doing so. We keep acting like chumps, they’ll keep treating us like chumps.

That’s as sure as another gloomy grey day in April.

soggily submitted by Cityslikr


Not A Showdown So Much As A Show Off

January 29, 2014

The 2014 budget city council meets this week to iron out is shaping up to be the most madcap one yet under the Ford administration. madcapAnd that’s saying something, given last year, I believe it was, when Mayor Ford voted against his own budget, following the always reasonable Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti down the rabbit hole of a property tax freeze.

This ain’t a budget debate, Chuck! It’s college hijinx!

No doubt the extra splash of wacky sauce comes, in part, from the fact that it’s a campaign year budget. Nobody wants to be seen as a tax-and-non-spender. You’re going to wind up pissing off some constituency and handing a flaming torch to a willing challenger. Best to try and go unnoticed, quietly not upsetting the status quo.

Not possible, of course, with our very own raging bull, the braying mayor, Rob Ford, doing his very unleveled best to ring the alarm bells about the budget debate. This time around, he’s an absolute free agent when it comes to the budget process. It’s not his budget, he’ll tell anyone still willing to listen to him with any degree seriousness. bullinachinashopHe was stripped of all his powers back in November for no good and probably illegal reason. Stabbed in the back by both friend and foe alike.

Budget 2014 is all on these traitors. Mayor Ford’s hands are clean. Neutered as he was from reining in their tax-and-spend inclinations, this is what happens when he’s not allowed to single-handedly watch over every single dime.

Which is all kind of weird when you start looking more closely at it.

The proposed budget limped out of the Executive Committee with a 2.23% property tax increase attached, roughly the same as the Budget Committee had recommended earlier. Both were down from the 2.75% city staff had advised. Both were roundly criticized by the mayor.

The worst budget ever!” he bellowed.

exactlythesameHere’s the thing.

In 2012, when Mayor Ford was still in (never quite) full control of the budget process, he signed off on a 2.5% property tax hike. In line with this worst one ever but not including a .5% bump dedicated to the first stage of building a new subway. Or, as the mayor likes to claim, an already built subway.

So the mayor’s deriding a budget that, give or take a few million over nearly $10 billion in total, is essentially the same as one he was on board with two years earlier, but now with some new subway attached to it.

You can’t make this shit up, folks.

Making matters even more… what’s a word for nut job zany?… Mayor Ford insists he’s going to move motions that will amount to the tune of some $50 million in savings, therefore removing the need for over 2% of that property tax hike. Without… wait for it…wait for it…affecting services and programs enough that anyone will notice. Easy. Guaranteed.

What kind of cost savings is the mayor proposing? It’s a secret, he says. nottellingStrategically kept from all those back-stabbers who are just waiting to tear his motions to shreds. But don’t get too tied up in knots over his approach. Mayor Ford is sure everything he puts forward will get defeated. So it’ll be like the whole thing never happened.

The Budget and Executive Committees didn’t help the cause in fending off the mayor’s magical budget thinking, ignoring staff recommendations on both the revenue and spending sides of the ledger. In the end, the document going to full city council today reduced the property tax hike while adding additional expenditures, counting on a higher amount of revenue from the Land Transfer Tax than staff estimated. That darned staff. Always keeping their projections low. Fingers crossed, the good times keep on rolling!

As it stands, the members of the Executive Committee attempted a tricky optical manoeuvre, sucking-and-blowing at the same time, only less so than the mayor (although as of this writing, Councillor David Shiner is now singing the praises of yet another cheap stunt property tax freeze, going full out MammoFordie), insaneand we’re now facing what staff has called an unbalanced budget. An unbalanced operating budget is unnatural at the municipal level, unnatural and illegal by provincial statute.

So by the end of this, by hook or by crook, and likely with a little razzle dazzle and smoke and mirrors, someone has to step up and balance the books. But I’m sensing before we arrive at that place, unbalanced will be the order of the day(s). Unbalanced. Unhinged. Unglued.

That’s just how we roll these days.

maniacally submitted by Cityslikr