Road Rage

July 6, 2016

I know most of you reading these digital pages on a regular basis imagine that I always write angry. To be sure, I do often write angry. elevenOften but not always.

Today, indeed, I am angry, really angry, like white fucking hot angry. Pissed was a spot way back there on the angry spectrum, just passed annoyed and miffed. I am 11 on the angry dial.

I live just a block or so from the intersection of Bathurst and College which is currently undergoing streetcar track and stop reconstruction. Since being closed to vehicular traffic a couple weeks ago, our side street has seen a stream of detoured car traffic making its way around the road work. When they’re not speeding crazily through the residential neighbourhood, they’re backed up at times for almost the entire block, annoyed, honking at garbage trucks that are in their way and whatever else they perceive to be blocking their forward motion. Walking down the line of cars, it’s always interesting to note just how many of them are on their hand-held devices. Hey. We’re stopped, aren’t we? Where’s the harm?

The alleys running between streets and behind the houses in the neighbourhood have also seen an uptick in traffic trying to find alternative ways around the slow down. carseverywhereThis has led to standoffs were cars meet, heading in opposite directions on what is decidedly a one lane right of way. You back up. No, you back up. No, you. Cue blaring of horns.

Traffic further south along Dundas Street, a big block south of the construction, heavy under normal driving conditions, is pretty much snarled now especially during what constitutes rush hours. On my regular runs… OK, not so much runs as grinds, like a first time marathoner slogging out those last couple miles… traversing Dundas at a couple points, I regularly encounter bad, egregiously bad, driving behaviour. Rolling stops, throwing out the anchors up on sidewalks and in bike lanes, reckless speeding past parks and schoolyards, the requisite reading phone while driving.

You know, your everyday, run of the mill driver entitlement. As a matter of fact, I do own the road, and the alley, and the sidewalks. caronsidewalkInconvenienced in any way whatsoever, and this sense of sole proprietorship grows even stronger.

Why wouldn’t it, though?

Private vehicle use enjoys the favourite child status in our transportation family. We build our networks around it. We subsidize it to a degree only dreamed of if you take a bus, ride a bike or even walk to get to where you’re going. We tremble in fear of getting car drivers mad at us.

The results of such coddling are predictable.

That’s about 5 weeks. 58 cyclists and 67 pedestrians struck by car drivers. Nearly 12 cyclists a week. More than 13 pedestrians a week. 1 dead pedestrian a week.

And the fallout from that?

What’s even less than sweet fuck all?diein

Unless you’re driving drunk and wipe out an entire family or, maybe, behind the wheel going race course speed or take off from the scene after mowing somebody down, chances are there will be no consequences to bad driving causing death or injury. A few demerit points, perhaps. Insurance rate hike. Occasionally, jail time spent over the course of a few months’ weekends because nobody wants to disrupt your life too, too much. Certainly, sometimes, a ban on driving, for sure. A year or two. Lifetime? Are you kidding me?

All extreme examples. Rarely do we see such penalties imposed even if the driver is at fault, and the driver is usually at fault, 67% of the time in collisions between pedestrians and drivers, according to a Toronto Public Health report, pedestrians have the right of way when they’re struck by a driver in a car. Yeah but… were they wearing bright enough clothes? Were the walking distractedly, looking at their phone? Did they signal their intentions to cross the street?

In an overwhelming majority of these situations, where car meets pedestrian, car meets cyclist, car hits pedestrian, car hits cyclist, the presumed assumption is what did the pedestrian do wrong, what law did the cyclist break? Idistracteddrivingn yesterday’s cyclist death (not registered in the above list), it was initially reported that the cyclist had been cut off and slammed into a parked car and the driver left the scene. Then came news that maybe a 2nd car hadn’t been involved. Then stated outright that the cyclist was at fault, and shouldn’t have been riding in between moving and parked cars. Oops. Correction. Cyclist had right of way after all. Investigation still ongoing.

Many jurisdictions have looked at what’s going on in their streets, examining the data and evidence, and come to the only conclusion they possibly could. The private automobile is anathema to 21st-century cities. It is the most expensive, least efficient way to move people around a region. Cars contribute mightily to greenhouse gas emissions and thus climate change, not to mention a sedentary lifestyle. The faster drivers are allowed to go, the more dangerous their cars become.

The spoiled child has grown out of control and has become a certifiable threat to everybody’s well-being. It’s time to roll back its privileges. crashstatisticsTeach it some lessons in sharing and responsibility.

Here in Toronto, though, we’re only grudgingly facing that cold hard truth. Official protestations to the contrary, the last six years we’ve done our upmost to improve the flow of cars not people. Spending on non-driving infrastructure remains infinitesimally low compared to what we shell out for those in cars. In doing so, we’ve only encouraged drivers’ disregard for other road users, inflated their self-importance.

As I write this, 2 more cyclists and a pedestrian have been hit since about 8:30 this morning by somebody driving a vehicle. Just the cost of doing business in a city that places such an emphasis on private automobiles. You want to stay safe on our streets? Get behind the wheel of a car, the bigger the better. Sure, you still might get hurt or killed but at least you’ve giving yourself a fighting chance to emerge from the wreckage alive.

We know the toll this is taking. We know the costs we are incurring. Worse still, we know how to solve this problem. deathrace2000It’s as simple as summoning the political will, screwing on a little courage and showing some leadership.

But I don’t see any of that anywhere in the places it should be. It’s all just steady as she goes, no need to change course now. Sometimes we have to suck it up and live with acceptable losses. Vision Zero? Absolutely. All in good time.

So yeah, I’m fucking angry.

grrrrringly submitted by Cityslikr

Blind Spot

June 16, 2016

Here’s how it starts.

On Monday’s edition of the CBC’s The Current, carsofthefuturethe show’s host Anna Maria Tremonti was talking to the president of General Motors Canada about technology, innovation and the future of transportation. It essentially went like this:

Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. E-bikes (manufactured by GM natch). Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Multi-modality. Cars, e-bikes, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

With self-driving cars, our future roads will look pretty much like our current roads. Filled with cars. In a 24 minute segment, public transportation wasn’t mentioned once. Unsurprisingly, at least from GM’s standpoint, as it looks to shore up its share of the electric and, ultimately, autonomous vehicle market. The nature of car ownership may change, with more of an emphasis on ‘sharing’ ownership. carsofthefuture1But car ownership there will be and General Motors wants to be a major part of that.

There continues to be very little talk, though, of autonomous vehicles and public transit which, one would think might be a relatively hot topic of conversation. Setting aside a discussion about the loss of yet another sector of well-paying jobs, since labour costs are the prime driver of public transit operating budgets, you’d think municipal governments all over the place would be salivating over the possibility of self-driving buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams. Just like the move toward automated subway systems. Not only cheaper to run but also better in terms of route management and increased frequency, owing to the absence of messy human imperfectness.

Yet, it’s still largely all about the new technology and cars. Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

Almost simultaneously with The Current interview on Monday, the city and Mayor Tory announced its road safety plan to… and I’ve been waiting pretty much my entire writing life to use this phrase in a sentence… carsofthefuture2universal opprobrium. “Very unambitious,” the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore called it. Where other cities around the world have adopted the Swedish concept of Vision Zero, essentially a target of no traffic deaths with aggressive time lines and money to pursue it, our mayor championed the idea of reducing traffic fatalities by 20% over the next decade. A target “smaller than many of the normal [traffic fatality] fluctuations from year to year,” Moore pointed out.

“Very unambitious,” is a nice way of putting it.

As for money budgeted to achieve this modest target? Equally modest. $40 million extra over the next 5 years. Cities like New York? “An additional $115 million this year alone.” San Francisco? $70 million in the next 2 years.

Mayor Tory made the appearance of scrambling backward on the road safety plan on Tuesday when he told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday that it was a ‘mistake’, a ‘communications mistake’ not to make it clear that he and the city had every intention of aiming for the Vision Zero standard of 0 road deaths. “The objective is to get to zero as quickly as possible without trying to put a time frame on this” Not really the “aggressive” approach to traffic safety Vision Zero calls for but very much the Mayor Tory way on policy issues he agrees with in theory. carsofthefuture3Why shoot for the moon when, really, the appearance of doing something is what’s called for?

As he was performing his radio mea culpa, the mayor’s traffic congestion enforcement blitz was underway and, wouldn’t you know it? It was the pedestrians’ fault all along! Not obeying the rules of road and following traffic lights that were set up to keep them in the proper place. Huddled together on the curb, waiting for their brief window of opportunity to scurry across the street and be one their way. Yep. If pedestrians would just follow the laws and traffic lights, cars would be free to do what they were designed and built to do, what cities have designed and built their infrastructure around. The domination by private automobiles of the public space that are our roads and streets. The terrorizing of other road and street users into submission.

The conclusion of this dynamic is perfectly logical.carsofthefuture4

Such pampered entitlement and obvious preferential treatment of car drivers leads to a contempt of anyone else not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. A fraternity of the self-righteous and self-important. A confederacy of disregard.

As a matter of fact, I do own the road. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers. Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.

And if somebody dies, we’ll call it an accident. Of course, it was an accident. No one would mean to jump a curb with their car and kill somebody. It’s more of a faulty assessment of the possible outcomes to bad, split-second decisions made to get just one car length further forward.

Damage done, death inflicted, it usually ends the only way it possibly could. A fine. Demerit points. Probably a bump in insurance rates. But no jail time. No talk of a life time ban for blatant indifference or lethal inattention to anyone else on the road. carsofthefuture5Fatalities merely chalked up to going about your daily business in the big city.

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, if certain carmakers are to be believed, technology will save us from our indifference to the death and killing in our streets. Fingers crossed. Nothing to be sneezed at, for sure. It’s just, by the sound of things, it won’t make a dent in how we prioritize our transportation hierarchy. Cars, first and foremost. Cars, now and forever.

carfully submitted by Cityslikr

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.”


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

Skid Row

March 4, 2016

You’d think that a city, competing as it might on a 21st-century global scale to attract the best and the brightest, business and industry, skidrowits slice of the tourist trade pie, would do what it could to erase from the guide book maps the Skid Row name of a neighbourhood. It’s so, I don’t know, Dirty 30s. Old school dismissive and denigrating. Get a job, ya lousy hobo!

Or, you know, because morality.

Not Los Angeles. Right there below Little Tokyo, the Downtown Arts District, the Toy District, the Old Bank District. South and east of the Jewelry District.

Skid Row.

I didn’t make my way there to see if it was actually true, if such a place could really officially still exist. I arrived by accident. Not an uncommon occurrence for someone without much spatial-directional-geographic skill who likes to wander cities. Sometimes you wind up in unexpected places.hobo

For anyone who’s been to Los Angeles, homeless encampments are not an unusual sight. Freeway overpasses provide shelter from some of the elements nature inflicts. Under-used strips of sidewalk space outside of fenced off commercial buildings like self-storage businesses keep pedestrian levels low and possible conflict to a minimum. There’s a woman outside the parking lot of my favourite Ralphs living under what seems to be a semi-permanent tarp enclosures.

But the magnitude of the homeless population in Skid Row is nothing short of shocking. Blocks and blocks of largely men, as best as I could tell, simply existing in the streets, some in full makeshift camping like conditions, sleeping bags, tarpoline shelters, suitcases or duffel bags or plastic bags, stuffed with their belongings. Others, just out there, with nothing more than a concrete bed.

I didn’t stop to linger, to take a closer look, to more fully assess the situation. breadlinesI kept my head low, responded politely to anyone who engaged with me, but continued moving. The immediate response to finding myself where I did and recognizing the scale of it, of course, was to turn around, go back to the safety I’d come from.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Maybe if it had been dark or late. It wasn’t.

Besides, the immediate fearfulness I felt was completely baseless. No matter how justified every one of these people I passed would be in stomping me to death for my complicity in their current condition, there’d be more chance of me being struck by lightning in this place lightning seldom strikes than being assaulted by anyone here. Even if I were flashing hundred dollar bills and a Rodeo Drive purchased watch on each wrist, the upside for anybody here accosting me would only be short term, breadlines3met most certainly with a heavy-handed crackdown that wouldn’t even have to explain itself.

As I was expressing my discomfort and disbelief on the Twitter (after safely reaching my destination, natch), Tobias Vaughan suggested I look up Jones v. City of Los Angeles. I did. Turns out this city has something of a sad, nasty history of trying to criminalize its homeless. “Is LA the meanest city in America to its skid row homeless?” The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless cite a 2007 UCLA study pointing out that, at the time, “… Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services.” The kind of crime? mymangodfreyStuff like jaywalking and loitering.

I haven’t seen more recent data to know if things have changed. If conditions were less dire for those living on Skid Row now than before, that’s difficult to imagine. How could it be worse? Less police harassment?

This, at a time when other jurisdictions have accepted the fact that using the criminal system to penalize and deal with the homeless is much more expensive and ineffective than actually trying to deal with it in a more constructive manner. “If you want to end homelessness, you put people in housing,” the director of Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division, Gordon Walker said. “This is relatively simple.”

It’s not as if there isn’t space to construct housing in the area of Skid Row, filled as it is, unsurprisingly with derelict buildings and empty lots. sullivanstravelsThe problem with that, I imagine, would be you’d establish a sense of permanence. The homeless housed. Skid Row as an actual place, with actual foundations, as opposed to just a name on a map, a name that can be changed when the conditions warrant.

A more traditional approach would be to slowly squeeze Skid Row out of existence. As downtown Los Angeles DTLA continues to revitalize outward, and make no mistake, it is revitalizing – the margaritas I found out on the fringes were fantastic! — there will eventually be no place for a Skid Row here. It’ll linger only as a hip bar name. Homelessness won’t cease to exist, of course. It will simply be re-located where people like me wouldn’t possibly want to go to or find ourselves by accident.

This is not a problem unique to Los Angeles. Remember, even Toronto the Good criminalizes ‘aggressive panhandling’ with its very own Orwellian named bylaw, the Safe Street Act. skidrow2Safe from what and for whom exactly? For the likes of me, naturally, from the nuisance and annoyance of having to deal with the result of the unfairness and inequality we like to, instead, ignore and wish away.

Until we actually get serious about dealing with homelessness, and all the facets that create it, there’s never just one reason someone finds themselves living on the streets, maybe it’s good a Skid Row remains on the map. It’s there for people to see if they choose to look close enough. Huh. Skid Row. That’s still a thing? How?

incredulously submitted by Cityslikr

Keep On Your Mean Side

September 10, 2015

“How many kids drowned in pools in Canada this last summer? Do you blame the government for that?”

I imagine most of us can picture that statement erupting from a relative at some family gathering where the boozy conversation has turned political. angryfamilygatheringNot necessarily a close relative. Maybe not even a relative. How about the boyfriend of a 2nd cousin, say, a boyfriend who was apparently raised by wolves, wolves devoid of any feeling of empathy toward their own.

Such a mean streak is not a new phenomenon. We’ve all had those kinds of relatives or acquaintances in our lives, either tolerating them with a tight smile and pivot to another gathering of people at the party or responding with a bellicose, Fuck you, you fucking idiot fuckity fuck!

But I’d argue that it’s relatively recent that we’ve started putting those holding such extreme anti-social views to positions of power. On the whole, we managed to marginalize them on the fringes, shouting their ridiculous cant at the passing clouds. Any appearance of contributing to actual decision making was merely a formality. Oh, right. Enough people thought you capable of holding public office to elect you. manyellsatcloudSo just sit down, shut up and we can make it look as if you’re somehow involved in the process.

In these parts that all changed in 1995 with the coming of the Common Sense Revolution and the election of Mike Harris as premier of Ontario. Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto in 2010. Stephen Harper’s eventual ascension to majority status in 2011 that began its slow crawl to the Prime Minister’s office in 2006.

His hideous non-response this week to the Syrian refugee crisis now spilling over its Middle East borders, manifest in the drowning of two young children fleeing the war zone across the Mediterranean (and eliciting the above outburst from one of his vetted supporters at a campaign rally) represents everything that comes from indulging our mean streak. “This is a challenge for African and European countries in and around the Mediterranean,” then Conservative Defence Minister Jason Kenney said back in April. “We do not bear responsibility for decisions that people make to hire unscrupulous human traffickers and put them in danger’s way.”

A shrug. Not my problem. People fleeing death and destruction should be more careful who they trust when trying to stay alive.

Forget the fact this very same Conservative government loved to boast how it was playing its part in bringing the death and destruction with bombing sorties in the region. meanstreakIt was about killing the bad guys. The collateral damage just came with the territory and we bore no responsibility in dealing with that aspect of our warmongering.

When the grim reality of the situation finally sank in this week, many harkened back to a more enlightened and humanitarian time in our history. 1979 and 60000 ‘Indochinese refugees’ fleeing a war we weren’t even involved in relocated here. What happened to that Canada, we wondered.

That was a blip in our national consciousness, I’d argue, the result of a federal leadership’s aspirational call for a Just Society. Implicit in that, of course, is that we as a country hadn’t always endeavoured toward justice. Every example of compassionate goodwill and generosity can be clouded by evidence of cowardly and vitriolic intolerance. Hell, the notion of Canada is built on a foundation of genocidal colonialism that still reverberates, grudgingly acknowledged but hardly addressed.

So maybe it’s not good enough to simply try to keep our collective mean streak in check and relegated to the sidelines in a dim spotlight. blindfoldedTo keep pretending that it’s not really us, not who we are, really. A few bad apples who don’t represent our true, more benevolent nature.

Let’s dispense with that willful affectation that keeps us feeling better about ourselves. It’s time, long past time, to confront who we actually are as a country, what values we represent, the kind of community, society, world we want to build and be part of. We have to face down our mean streak and either defeat it resolutely or accept the nasty fact that’s just who were are and stop feigning anything different.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr