For Hamish and Jared and Janet and…

May 15, 2014

If cycling advocates can’t agree on the best way forward on building a better bike network throughout the city, disagreehow exactly does one get built?

Some believe that protected and completely separate bike lanes, installed where conditions warrant, will encourage more riders, many too fearful for their lives (somewhat correctly) to mingle directly with car traffic, to take up cycling. Ridership grows. A network grows. Others contend that just starting out with brightly coloured lines that seamlessly connect easy routes from east to west, north to south will increase ridership that will ultimately justify further spending to build a more permanent cycling infrastructure of protected and separate bike lanes.

Two opposite approaches aiming for the same ultimate goal. The elevation of cycling to equal consideration as part of the city’s transportation grid.

Into the void of tactical disagreement, let’s call it, step the decision makers, bikinghippiessome who don’t believe cycling has any place within our transportation system, who can’t comprehend how more people on bikes, getting around the city, could possibly help alleviate Toronto’s congestion. For them, cycling is a diversion, a pastime not used by serious people intent on going about their business in any sort of serious way. It’s something done by elitists or hippies, physical fitness nuts. Real commuters don’t commute on bikes.

Our current mayor is one of those types. Bikes have no place on the roads, he once famously said, comparing it to swimming with the sharks. At the end of the day, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

So, in many ways, it’s kind of remarkable that 4 years into his term, the streets of this city remain as full of cyclists as they do. sherbournebikelaneDMWI know it’s cold comfort to say but the situation could’ve been so much worse. Things have ground to a crawl but haven’t been irretrievably reversed.

That fact is even more remarkable given the person sitting in the Public Works and Infrastructure chair, the committee that oversees road construction and design, is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He is no slouch when it comes to car-centricity. Why, just yesterday in fact, during a PWIC meeting, he wanted to make sure there was a representative from the CAA present when going forward with school zone safety measures. Why? Well, because drivers of cars that “allegedly” hit pedestrians need to have their voices heard too.

Or something.

*shrug*

Yes, under PWIC chair Minnan-Wong, the bike lanes of Jarvis Street were torn up and moved a couple blocks east to Sherbourne where, ostensibly, “better”, “protected” and “separated” lanes were built. The more I ride them, the more ridiculous they seem, having to share the space with public transit sherbournebikelane(which they didn’t have to do on Jarvis) and almost never are they fully protected or separate. Cars and delivery trucks easily and regularly breach the porous barriers.

I will set aside my normally disparaging opinion of the councillor and refuse to accept the possibility that he simply threw cycling advocates a few small bones purposely to hear their cries of outrage in order to throw up his hands and claim that these people are never happy. There’s never any pleasing them. They want the entire road or nothing.

Instead, I choose to believe that he did the best he could, given the circumstances at hand and his inherent lack of understanding toward anyone who might willingly decide not to get around town in any way other than by car. He did not kill cycling in this city. He merely succeeded in frustrating it.

Of bigger concern is the next four years. What direction the incoming administration will go in terms of biking. emptypromiseSo far, there’s little to get excited about and much to be fearful of.

Mayoral candidate John Tory had this to say to Global News’ Jackson Proskow about the PWIC’s decision to approve a pilot project for bike lanes along Richmond and Adelaide Streets:

“My priority from day 1 as mayor is going to be to make sure we keep traffic moving in this city, and I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too because that will help, in its own way, to get traffic moving too. But I want to look at the results of discussions that are going on today and other days and make sure that whatever we do we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city, because traffic is at a stand-still at the moment and that’s costing us jobs, it’s hurting the environment, it’s not good for Toronto.”

There is so much wrong and mealy-mouthed about that statement that it’s impossible to imagine the person saying it actually lives in this city let alone thinks they can lead it. Bikes in no way constitute traffic. The idea that more people riding bikes, especially in the downtown core, means less people driving cars (or using public transit) seems incomprehensible to someone like John Tory. Bikes are nothing more than ‘additional obstructions’ for people – people being car drivers – ‘getting around in this city’.

“I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists.” John Tory might’ve well said roads are meant for buses, cars and trucks. littlewinsThere’s not much daylight between the two sentiments.

It isn’t going to get any easier going forward. Cyclists and those fighting for them at City Hall have to accept the little victories, the pilot projects, as serious steps forward. The status quo never gives way easily, and the status quo in Toronto remains tilted in favour of cars. Two generations of bias don’t change overnight. Or in a day. Or in a week. Month. Year. Decade….

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Part One Billion)

May 13, 2014

I’m sorry I have to go back to this well but I think the point is well worth repeating and remembering.repeatmyself

As important as the mayor’s race is to the future proper functioning of the city, the direction it ultimately goes will be determined by the make up of the 44 councillors. And as long as the likes of Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby and Denzil Minnan-Wong remain in the mix, we should expect a rocky road going forward. These two are why we can’t have nice things in Toronto, to paraphrase the old lament.

“Why is it when tolls are proposed in this city, they always end up targeting those who live in Etobicoke?” Councillor Lindsay Luby tweeted. “Of course we get nothing in return.”

Nothing in return, save the roads that move you back and forth to your detached homes with their big yards and green lawns. nonono4How dare we even bring up the subject of finally getting around to start charging for the actual cost of building and maintaining the system that allows those behind the wheel of a car to move about the city and region from great distances. Why must we always be so anti-Etobicoke?

Why indeed.

It’s a marvel to me that someone who has served in public office for as long as Councillor Lindsay Luby continues to see the city through such a fundamentally skewed lens. Why Etobicoke? Perhaps because the very skeleton of its existence is built on 3 major thoroughfares running through it. The 401. The 427. The Gardiner Expressway. Why’s the man always got to stick it to poor ol’ E with his road tolls? It just might have to do with you living in a car-dependent, highway heavy area of the city, councillor.

While Councillor Lindsay Luby may be misguided, even woefully so, I don’t think she is trying to be willfully destructive or dismissive. nonono2That would be the domain of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong who seems to have slithered out more into the sun since the shadow of Rob Ford has receded somewhat.

In response to an intriguing article written by the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, in the Globe and Mail, Here’s how to change Canada from a suburban to an urban nation, Councillor DMW fired off a couple tweets. “We love our gardens and lawns in Don Mills. We are proud of our neighbourhood in the suburbs.” A couple minutes later, this. “Not everyone wants to live in a little box in the sky.”

Never mind the chief planner didn’t suggest anything of the sort. There was no talk of razing detached suburban homes or pulling up their manicured lawns and fancy gardens, and replacing it all with 80 story monstrosities, devoid of windows, air and sunshine. nononoThat’s just what the councillor wants you to think, wants you to believe is part of the urbanism espoused by our chief planner. There’s no in-between with this extreme. Only unholy, enforced communal living in tiny little boxes in the sky versus the clean open spaces (and lawns and gardens) preferred by right thinking people.

The suburban-urban divide. You might recognize that tune having been sung before.

In the second sentence of her Globe article, Ms. Keesmaat writes “…it is unlikely that our next wave of development will resemble the last.” This echoes a sentiment I heard from Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker earlier this year when he suggested people always assume (incorrectly, it turns out) the future is going to be just like the past. You grow up and live in a leafy suburb, driving everywhere you go, so it is, so it will always be.

For the likes of councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Gloria Lindsay Luby, they refuse to comprehend any other approach to going about business aside from the way it’s always been done during their respective lifetimes. Back in October 2012, nonono5Councillor Lindsay Luby led the charge against a development proposal in her ward’s Humbertown (since settled to everyone’s relative satisfaction without going to the OMB). Railing against the idea of affordable forms of housing like, what do you call them, apartments being built in the neighbourhood, she said famously: “That’s never been the demographic for that area.”

Change? My family didn’t settle here back in the 1950s in order to have things be different sixty years later. You will get road tolls from me when you drag the coins from my cold, dead hand.

It’s the blanket incuriosity that is most infuriating. Everybody knows that there’s a serious problem with mobility in this city and region. Getting around, to work, to school, to errands, has become a burden to many, an unnecessary burden.

But when it comes to offering up solutions? Led by politicians like councillors Minnan-Wong and Lindsay Luby, it’s all about, don’t be looking at me. nonperpetualmotionThere’s no sacrifice they’re willing to make, no change in lifestyle they’re prepared to undergo to contribute in order to begin fixing anything. Low taxes. No user fees. No little boxes in the sky. Only wide, green lawns and brightly flowered gardens for now and forever.

Steady as she goes. Never change course. Always looking back, never forward.

As long as city council is infused with this way of thinking, Toronto will be doomed to repeating past mistakes, and coming to grips with the problems we face will always be an uphill battle.

sick and tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Tough To See The Bigger Picture When You’re Always Looking For Change On The Floor

May 9, 2014

I imagine when Councillor Josh Matlow begins canvassing for re-election in earnest around his Ward 22 St. Paul’s, polishhe will present himself as a relentless fighter for sensible transit planning. A consensus seeker who went to City Hall and bravely sought the middle way in a toxic environment of hard, harsh partisanship. A uniter not a divider.

But I think the councillor’s first term in office is more aptly summed up by a little ditty of an amendment he pushed through yesterday at city council, divesting the proposed Photo Laureate post put forth by Councillor Joe Mihevc of any monetary value. Photo Laureate. What a great idea. As long as it doesn’t cost anything. Essentially establishing, as pointed out by a number of people after the amended motion passed, an official City of Toronto unpaid internship.

We’ve come to expect such penury of spirit from the likes of Councillors Mike Del Grande, original holder of the item, and Denzil Minnan-Wong, the item’s mocker in chief. A Photo Laureate, he peeped. execrableWhat next? An Instagram Laureate? A Twitter Laureate?

(Back in the olden days, there’d be a picture of the councillor hung on the walls in the halls of power, painted by the Portrait Laureate. At the bottom, it would read: Denzil the Execrable.)

Such use of public money is inconceivable to the likes of Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong. Their paucity of imagination and civic verve is so stunted, so atrophied that they cannot possibly see past the $10,000 price tag attached to the position to grasp any kind of positive contribution it could make to the well-being of the city. $10,000! Ten thousand dollars!!

To put that into perspective, again, as we always have to do with these things, it’s like having $10 in your pocket and agonizing over purchasing this little trinket you’ve come across that will bring you so much joy. But the cost, you fret. The cost, you agonize. If you buy it, you will only have $9.999999 left over.

Let’s ignore for the moment the crass economic calculation of 44 councillors, each making $400 a day, spending an hour to debate a $10,000 item and cut right to the inevitable rebuttal. $10,000 here. waste$10,000 there. And all of a sudden you’ve built yourself a great big shiny gravy train. You want a Photo Laureate? No problem. When there are no more potholes to fill. When we have subways running underneath all our avenues.

The zero sum game. As long as there’s a need for this, we cannot spend money on that. Haven’t you heard? We’re living in austerity city, baby.

In Austerity City, the roads are always smooth and clear. The garbage always gets picked up. And all those nice to haves you want, the private sector provides, paid for out of your own pocket.

We know all this from the Del Grandes and Minnan-Wongs on council. The Fords. The Shiners. The cost of everything and the value of nothing.

But what’s Councillor Matlow’s deal here? Why would he spend even a moment of his time crafting an amendment like this? miserlySurely he’s smart enough, or at least isn’t soulless enough, to realize any city worth its salt is more than the total of all its filled potholes. That out of a position like a Photo Laureate might burst a little ray of civic pride or engagement. The Toronto Story told in pictures.

I can only think of two explanations for this.

One, the old cynical Matlow has resurfaced, the suck and blow at the same time, the truth is always somewhere in the middle guy. Hey. Photo Laureate! That sounds like a great idea. $10 000?! How about a little respect for the taxpayers. Here’s a thought. A Photo Laureate. For Free. A win-win for everybody. Except maybe, the Photo Laureate.

Or, and probably worse, Councillor Matlow is just one of those guys. He can’t make a case for a funded Photo Laureate because, well, he doesn’t have one. He, in fact, like councillors Del Grande and Minnan-Wong, can’t think of one reason why we would want or need such a thing. potholerepairmanThe thought of having to explain to one of his residents what benefit it would be to them, this post of Photo Laureate, that cost them, this single taxpayer, almost but not even a penny, was simply too daunting to contemplate. It’s a good idea but hardly worth investing in.

There remain potholes to be filled.

Yesterday Councillor Matlow proved he is nothing, if not a filler of potholes.

profligately submitted by Cityslikr


Will No One Rid Us Of This Turbulent Councillor?

April 27, 2014

I had to laugh. One of those chuckles really, a combination of knowing, disbelief and a dollop of self-loathing. laughAlways a dollop of self-loathing.

“Minnan-Wong not running for mayor,” stated the headline of Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article on Thursday.

HeeHeeHeeHee, I chortled to myself. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong running for mayor. Please. It’s a testament to the era of lowered political expectations we live in that anyone, and I mean anyone, including the councillor himself, actually thought for anything longer than a passing notion or fancy that Denzil Minnan-Wong could be considered a legitimate mayoral candidate.

Now, I know that after electing someone like Rob Ford as mayor, the reasonable response to that view is, well, all bets are off. If Rob Ford, why not, I don’t know, a chia pet? chiapetClearly we’re comfortable scraping from the bottom of the barrel. Whatever else you might say about him, Councillor Minnan-Wong cuts an acceptable figure. His suits aren’t ill-fitting.

The difference is, Rob Ford wears the necessary populism any self-proclaimed far right conservative politician needs to win. I don’t get it either but he’s not trying to appeal to me. Enough of the folks believe he represents their values and views of local governance that a quarter of Toronto voters see him as one of them, always looking out for the little guy. Councillor Minnan-Wong is not that, not even close.

He’s more… ummmm, how would you describe the Minnan-Wong brand of conservatism? It’s most certainly not populist. You wouldn’t consider him a John Tory country club conservative. It’s just, I don’t know, loathsome? Along with the mayor, his brother, the speaker and maybe Councillor Mike Del Grande, loathsomecreatureno one is more divisive, petty and single-minded in their pursuit of small government and low taxes than Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

We’ve already written about Minnan-Wong as councillor in our Wards To Watch series but I think it bears repeating now that he’s officially registered to run for re-election in Ward 34 Don Valley East.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is why we can’t have nice things in Toronto. His view of the city seems to come almost exclusively from behind the wheel of his car, out through the windshield. (Or standing, tending to his lawn, evidently.) It’s very telling that in saying why it was he was running again, the councillor said, “There is a lot to do in this city and I’m clearly engaged in gridlock and congestion and trying to make our roads better.”

Trying to make our roads better.

Now, I know it may seem like I’m playing semantics here. Roads could be seen as just a generic word denoting travel or a commuting route. texaschainsawmassacreBut he didn’t say he was trying to make our commute easier or reduce our travel times in the city. No. The councillor’s attitude toward city building is as auto-centric as our mayor’s and just as stuck in the ‘70s suburban mindset of his youth.

He opposes anything that challenges the supremacy of cars to get around the city. Bike lanes. Open streets. Scrambled intersections. Expressway removal. He loves the view of Toronto from the elevated eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway!

Denzil Minnan-Wong has been a city councillor since amalgamation, having sat on the North York council before that, and I think it’s fair to ask for one positive contribution he’s made to life in Toronto in all that time. citybuildingSince 2010, he’s been the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, arguably the third most powerful position on council (4th if you count whatever position it is Doug Ford occupies) and I’m hard pressed to think of anything on the plus side of the ledger he’s done. Even if it’s just saving taxpayer’s money, I’m thinking that for every dollar in contracting out waste collection and the collective agreement with other city unions, there’s a bunch of cash burned in torn up and rebuilt bike lanes and buried Environmental Assessments.

“In the interests of the public and the City of Toronto,” the councillor told the press after signing up for re-election, “I thought the interests of the people was best served by returning to city council as a councillor.”

Well, I beg to differ, Councillor Minnan-Wong. This city’s interests would be served a whole lot better, justoneand our political discourse more civil if you took your low tax loving, government hating detrimental act elsewhere. Over the course of the next 6 months those running against the incumbent councillor in Ward 34 should badger him relentlessly with one line of questioning and one line of questioning only. What has he ever done for the residents of his ward or this city? Name one positive contribution he’s made during his time in office. One.

It’s a question Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong would be hard pressed to answer.

— demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr