The Gold Line

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.

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The Mayor Declares

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

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.

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