Biking The Rossi Way

July 12, 2010

Last night I was thinking of Rocco Rossi.

Biking enthusiast, bike lane antagonist, earlier this year on the campaign hustings the mayoral candidate vowed to put an end to any further intrusions onto arterial roads by bike lanes. In fact, he suggested he might even tear up existing ones while he was at.

Now, don’t get Mr. Rossi wrong. It’s not that he hates bicycles or cyclists. He is an avid one himself, he assures us. They just shouldn’t be taking up space on our busy roads, making it difficult for the suburban drivers that Rossi’s desperately courting to zip into work in the morning and back home again at night. What he would take away with one hand, however, Rossi would give back with the other, vowing “to expedite building more bike lanes, but on quieter streets.”

Which is why he was on my mind in the early hours of this morning.

Hours after World Cup 2010 came to a merciful conclusion with a predictably dreary final game, I found myself zipping down an off road bike lane in a south south-east direction along the Bloor Go line, heading to Little Italy from Silverthorne. I’d only previously got a glimpse of the path a couple times when crossing over the tracks on Dundas Street West as it takes a northerly turn. Now I was on it, and loving it and thinking that, hey, if Rocco Rossi can build us a bunch of these, I will happily forgo street travel with all its inherent dangers and annoyances.

The bike lane is a particular slice of urban heaven. A smooth ride along an unpotholed path, it takes you past quiet little neighbourhood streets, converted factories, a couple derelict – or rather, transitional – sites, all wrapped up in wild, city appropriate landscaping (I know nothing of flora) and metal artwork placed throughout. It is well lit and as I rode, taking in the surroundings, I could just imagine doing this as the new electrified trains shoot past me on their way to destinations throughout the GTA. Oh wait, right. They’re not doing that.

That bummer thought aside, there’s little question that from a biking standpoint, this would be the way to get around town. I’m told the city’s ultimately going to take the lane along the tracks all the way down to Strachan Ave. not far from the lakefront trail. Again, you go, girl. I am right there with you. The more you can keep my interaction with cars to an absolute minimum, the more I’m on board.

This is exactly what I’m thinking as I pull up and off the trail and back onto the road for a left turn onto College Street. So how’s this all going to work under Rocco Rossi’s War on Arterial Bike Lanes®™© scheme? Clearly we can’t have off road bike lanes everywhere in the city. That would necessitate questions of expropriation and people apparently get a little touchy over that kind of talk. Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home? If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars? Because this is his biggest argument against bike lanes on arterial roads, isn’t it? The inconvenience it causes to those driving cars.

It certainly can’t be a safety issue as there would be no evidence to back such an argument up. In fact, while Rossi competes with Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson to see who can be the biggest urban planning Luddite, much of the rest of the civilized world is going in the completely opposite direction. Many places are experimenting with seriously mixed use roadways, de-curbed level surfaces devoid of much signage where motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians share streets equally. The onus is on the biggest, fastest, most lethal mode of transport to adjust its behaviour accordingly, operating under the premise of expecting the unexpected. From this, emerge more livable streetscapes.

Instead, candidate Rossi wants to relegate bikes to the periphery, making any necessary foray onto the main roads that much more dangerous. Drivers get used to not having to deal with bikes. Drivers become inattentive. Cyclists are in greater danger.

But the lack of Big Idea, forward thinking is simply a matter of fact during this election race. And the candidates wonder why they can’t light a fire under the electorate. Rather than attempt to bridge the car-bike (suburban-urban) divide, they endeavour to exploit it for political gain. So that we are offered only a fleeting look at how things could be (riding the briefest of stretches down a well designed bike lane) while having to make due with a steady diet of the grimmest, dullest, perfunctory realities.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Easter Contemplation

April 3, 2010

Being an outsider in all matters religious I must confess to a certain unease with the concept of Easter. It is a period of observance that, laying it all out on the table for you, kind of gives me the willies. The joy that springs from death, and not only death but a savage, grisly, barbarous death at that, unsettles me.

Yes, yes, I do understand that this is the serious meat and potatoes of Christian faith. Death and resurrection and one must die in order to live eternally and that Jesus was put up on the cross for our sins but couldn’t he He have taken the whole Socratic route and insisted on drinking a cup of poisoned hemlock instead? Too suicidal for you? How about just one to the back of the head then? Clean, simple and we’re all off for the rest of the weekend to wait for his miraculous, heaven-bound reappearance.

It’s the reveling in the gory details of the death – the Gibsonian Passion of the Christ – that seems so unnecessary, so full of life denouncing abnegation. Existence is nasty but we must bear it devotedly in order to live again gloriously in the presence of our Lord and Saviour. Just putting in time, probably miserably, until I can shrug off this mortal coil and kick back to enjoy eternity without a care in the world. Far too much stake in the future for my liking.

In addition to which, if the whole Easter holiday is so important to Christians, why did I get a phone call from a friend in the U.S. yesterday who expressed surprise that I wasn’t working? It’s Good Friday, dude. The whole place is closed up almost as tightly as it would be at Christmas. Apparently not so much Stateside. Aren’t they supposed to be the most religious country in the western world? If the whole Easter commemoration isn’t that important to them, are they practicing their religion incorrectly? Should someone explain it to them?

And another thing. If the death and resurrection of Jesus is so integral to Christian doctrine, what’s with all the Christian based anti-Semitism? If he He had to die in order that we all shall live again, shouldn’t we be thanking our Jewish friends for setting the Romans on Him? Judas should be celebrated rather than reviled for betraying Jesus. If he’d done the honourable thing and not sold Jesus down the river for a few pieces of silver, history, as they say, might have been entirely different.

Still, I’m not going to turn down the prospect of a couple days off for the sake of a theological quibble. Especially not this weekend given that it seems we’ve skipped the whole spring thing and plunged right into summer. I slip into my sockless shoes, pull out the old straw fedora and head out for a mid-afternoon promenade along College Street.

Only to be stopped up by crowds of people that can only be described as nothing less than a throng. It’s as if taking a cue from the weather, the street festival season has just decided to start. Cars are parked everywhere. Huge packs of families meander, ice creams in hand. It’s a holiday, sure, with exceptionally good weather but.. all of Toronto has descended onto College Street? The Eaton Centre must be closed.

Then the music kicks off, a dreary funeral dirge, and I suddenly come to my senses. The Good Friday Easter Procession making its way through the heart of Little Italy. You think I would’ve remembered, what with all the previous talk about this particular religious festival. So I step up onto a restaurant doorway to watch the passing of the parade.

Almost immediately, The Godfather or, more precisely, The Godfather Part II springs to mind. Robert DeNiro’s young Vito Corleone stalks the white suited local mobster, Don Fanucci, during a similar religious procession in New York and kills him in the darkened hallway of a tenement walkup. Another Easter. Another execution. There seems to be no escaping it.

The procession participants are mainly older expect for those having to do anything at all overly physical. Like the Jesus who’s getting beaten up by Roman soldiers. Outside of that, the numbers skew heavily toward the elderly. I wonder if their children, down visiting from places like Woodbridge and now watching from the sidelines, will step up and fill the void when this generation dwindles. There’s that whole death and rebirth symbolism at work again. It’s hard to imagine. Rather than occupying a central spot in the lives of the younger folks, religion is merely observed, thought of only during the holiest of days and on monumental occasions like weddings and funerals.

There it is again. Funerals. Death. No escaping it, it seems when Easter comes around. A funny thing to design a life around if you ask me.

Politicians on Parade

No wonder they came up with the whole bunny angle. Sure, sure. Life is full of pain and misery. Death awaits us all. But it’ll all be worth it when we go to heaven (if we go to heaven… otherwise… well, just get to heaven) and live forever in blissful contentment. Not sold? OK, so there’s this bunny and he brings you chocolate…

religiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Public Service

March 15, 2010

It doesn’t take much these days to turn a pleasantly innocuous conversation about this and that into a full fledged, one-sided rant about the political state of things. Feckless, corrupt politicians. Lazy, ill mannered civil servants. Union members. Oh god don’t get me started on union members!

It’s enough to make you stop and wonder what kind of discussions go on at gatherings of these maligned groups. Do they bitch about the misinformed and self-interested voters whose concerns go no further than the front walks outside their houses? Of the sense of entitlement that occurs with every exchange at a fare box or Ministry of Transportation counter? I pay your salary, so I want this done yesterday! And, oh god, don’t get me started on members of other unions.

I thought these thoughts as I sat beside yet another pile of garbage on the subway this past weekend on route to my favourite little brunch spot. Somebody had simply left behind a couple empty bottles and a balled up paper bag on a seat for others to deal with. It’s not like trash cans and recycling bins are in scarce supply at subways stations here. They haven’t been removed as possible terrorist bomb depositories as has been done at times in cities like London and Paris. One need not go too far out of one’s way in order to rid oneself of one’s refuse while riding the subway in Toronto.

Then, having bummed myself a post-goat’s cheese crepe cigarette, I stood outside, huddled under a tiny awning along with 6 others, in a vain attempt to stay dry. To a smoker, including yours truly, upon finishing we flicked our butts out onto the sidewalk and street for someone else to deal with. This stopped me up. What we had done was no less an act of littering than the cretinous boars who left their garbage on the subway. Yet, judging from an early morning walk along my strip of College Street on any given morning, this is routine practice for smokers. We witness it so often, butts tossed from doorways and car windows, that it seems completely natural to walk on concrete littered with discarded ends of cigarettes.

Other places aren’t so indifferent to the habit. Cities as dissimilar as Tokyo and Dublin deem the careless tossing of finished cigarettes as an infraction, punishable by sizeable fines. Arguments can be made about the practical enforcement of such bylaws but it at least pronounces to the wider public that such behaviour is no longer socially acceptable.

The bigger issue here, however, is the disengagement with the rest of society that is on display. Personal convenience trumps consideration of others. Wherever I am, wherever I go, it is my personal space to do with it what I will. I litter therefore I am.

It is an attitude I would trace back to the time when we stopped calling ourselves citizens and choose instead to be thought of as ‘customers’ or ‘stakeholders’. The corporatization of the public sphere. I cough up my fare, I can leave my garbage behind. With all those taxes I hand over on a pack of smokes, we can obviously pay somebody to clean the streets up after me. Especially those lazy unionized city workers. That’s why they make the big bucks. To clean up after me.

scoldingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat