A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

smarttrack1It’s hard to believe that during last year’s municipal campaign someone from Team Tory didn’t take the time to drive the length of Eglinton Avenue, west from Mount Dennis to Pearson airport, the western spur of what became the concoction known as SmartTrack, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. More incredible still, how anyone claiming to be a transit planner looked at the plan and gave it their imprimatur, shrugging off the bit about running heavy rail, “surface subway” along that route without tunneling. “Criticisms [of SmartTrack] have, instead, focused on the line’s ‘constructability’ where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme,” wrote Eric J. Miller, director at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute. “As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot.”

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

I drove that stretch of the SmartTrack western spur and back last week. The notion you could run any sort of heavy rail (electrified or not) along it without tunneling is immediately laughable. As for tunneling? The rumblings we’ve been hearing about the forthcoming staff reports, and the price for going underground, suggests that SmartTrack’s “$8 billion price tag and seven-year timeline are based on considerable analysis,” as Miller wrote in the October 2014 Toronto Star article, weren’t, in fact, ever subject to ‘considerable analysis’. Or much of any sort of analysis, it turns out.

No, what should happen, what those really concerned with connecting people to places in this city should be concentrating on now, is building that western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Black Creek (its current western terminus) out to the airport. Fuck SmartTrack. changecourseOr, at least, stop pretending it’s anything more than some enhanced regional rail that might contribute some to alleviating this city’s congestion and commuter woes but isn’t the silver bullet solution supporters are hyping it as.

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that penny to drop, however. In making SmartTrack a priority signature item of his mayoralty, John Tory will have a tough time walking this one back. He painted himself into a corner, his campaign too clever by half, in attempting to be seen as a subway proponent, promising to deliver up ‘subway like service’ with SmartTrack. Now leading the charge to push ‘fancy streetcars’ directly through the heart of Ford country? Hard to imagine.

Even if he were so inclined, the mayor shouldn’t expect to get any help from local councillors on re-establishing the LRT idea on Eglinton West. “People do not want to see an LRT,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell stated. “If you’re going to put a subway or rail, it’s far better for the neighbourhood if it’s buried. But is it feasible to bury it?”

He thinks a busway might be more appropriate to cut congestion. But the population density doesn’t justify laying tracks, said Campbell.

It’s difficult to see how the councillor arrived at that conclusion. A 2010 ridership projection for the entire proposed Eglinton Crosstown from Kennedy station to the airport pegged the numbers at 170,000 daily, 5000-5400 at peak hours by 2031 (h/t Matt Elliott and Ev Delen). eraseWhile the section of Eglinton West running through his ward may not justify laying tracks, Councillor Campbell is missing the bigger network picture. Never mind the major transit node that is the airport but the rest of Eglinton is peppered with high and mid-rise buildings and growing communities with schools and shopping centres. Places not everybody can or wants to drive to.

In addition to which, how exactly will a busway preserve the green spaces the councillor says he wants to protect from the scourge of an LRT? Never mind the added transfer riders would have to take moving from the busway to the Crosstown at Black Creek. A busway just makes absolutely no sense in this situation. It is parochial and short-sighted.

Which pretty much sums up transit planning in Toronto. Anti-LRT nimbyism begat subways everywhere begat SmartTrack. Transit solutions gave way to political calculations. pointofnoreturnPolitical calculations gave way to transit slogans, leaving consequences for others to deal with.

There was a viable transit plan in place for this city. Bit by bit, we’ve chipped away at it for no other reason than short term political gain. Travelling west along Eglinton, it becomes apparent that if SmartTrack somehow comes into being (or Councillor Campbell’s ridiculous busway gains any traction outside of his own mind), the final nail will be put in the coffin of that transit plan. The damage that will inflict will be near impossible to repair.

dismally submitted by Cityslikr


No More Important A Key Item

November 3, 2015

At this month’s city council meeting, Mayor Tory has made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He’s talked a lot about it. He appointed one of his Deputy Mayor’s (“Deputy Mayor”?), Pam McConnell, to oversee its realization to this point. The mayor’s talked about it some more.

We can call this a good first step but make no mistake. It’s only a first step. If I’m reading the agenda item correctly (not always a sure thing), the item before council this week “…proposes an Implementation and Accountability Structure to oversee and coordinate the strategy’s implementation, beginning with the first of five action plans…” These first of five action plans involve very little spending of money. That point “when the rubber hits the road,” according to the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As part of this initial implementation of the strategy, there is talk of talking money. “…to include consideration of the funding needs of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy in the Long Term Fiscal Plan.” “…to develop a cost-benefit analysis and framework for poverty-related spending as part of the TO Prosperity implementation.”

But as Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong suggested above, and the mayor himself said at last month’s Executive Committee meeting, “There are going to be competing priorities”. Talk’s great. Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but… but… “Budgetary implications have to be considered,” Minnan-Wong intoned, darkly, we can assume, since this is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong we’re talking about.

It will be later this month, when the 2016 budget debate begins in earnest, that Mayor Tory’s actual ‘priorities’ will start to take shape. So far in his tenure, he’s found money to fund his SmartTrack reports, to build an increasingly expensive Gardiner East hybrid, to expedite repairs on the rest of the expressway. Just how much political capital will he be willing to spend to actually address poverty in this city? With the likes of Councillor Minnan-Wong looking over his shoulder or Etobicoke councillor John Campbell who’s already expressed his view that the mayor’s over-emphasized the ‘Progressive’ part of Progressive Conservative in terms of spending at City Hall.

Mayor Tory cannot be allowed to use this vital process of fighting poverty as just some window dressed display, a reiteration of last year’s municipal campaign where he pointed to all the things he said as proof of his progressive bent. Mayor Tory says a lot of things. Much of it simply filling up space, empty words.

Today, the mayor’s made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He cannot be allowed to do nothing more than wear it as some badge of honour, as meaningless proof of his commitment to social justice. Not a show piece of his administration but a centre piece. This has to stick to him. We must demand Mayor Tory do more than talk about Toronto poverty or use this as a rickety platform of self-promotion.

I’m sure Mayor Tory cares about poverty in Toronto. I’m sure he would like nothing more than to be seen as contributing to the alleviation of it. How much he’s willing to risk to put actual commitment and dollars behind the strategy, I’m less certain of. Failure to do so on his part must be seen to be just that, a failure, and not a more noble failure, where the mayor did his best, tried his darndest, but the rock was just too big to roll up the hill, competing priorities simply too overwhelming, for him to deliver.

upthehill

Mayor Tory needs to realize that on this, good intentions will not be good enough.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Democracy By The Square Foot

August 28, 2015

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr


Tolling Smoke And Mirrors

May 21, 2015

hammeragoodideaOut of the fog of debate over the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway, Budget Committee member James Pasternak floated the idea of imposing a toll on non-residents using the city owned and maintained Don Valley and Gardiner expressways. “I think the mayor’s hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it,” the councillor mused publicly yesterday.

While any talk of tolling roads should be warmly welcomed into the conversation, coming as this does in the service of the willfully misguided effort of Mayor Tory to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated, we have to simply shrug. It’s feels like little more than a dodge, frankly. An attempt to offset the cost argument against the hybrid option, and serving to deflect from the real issue at hand: the hybrid option is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

Besides, the mayor has no time for toll talk. Att least, ever since re-running for mayor. There was time when he held a different view. Of course.

Now as mayor of Toronto, money is no object for John Tory when it comes to dealing with his beloved Gardiner expressway. There’s just a secret stash of it, tucked away somewhere apparently, whenever he’s looking to gussy or speed it up and burnish his pro-car image.

Without mayoral support for the idea, it’s hard to imagine Councillor Pasternak’s toll item garnering much support, consigned surely to the trash bin at the next Executive Committee if it gets even that far along. The right place for it, if for the wrong reason. I mean, why would the councillor stop at tolling non-residents, aside from the fact they can’t vote in a municipal election in Toronto, freeing him of facing any electoral ire? It can’t be just that crass an idea, can it?

No, no. It’s a question of fairness. trashbinCouncillor Pasternak told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning yesterday [segment not yet archived] that Toronto residents pay to maintain the Gardiner and DVP from their property taxes. Why should outsiders get to freeload on our roads, paid for by our hard-earned property taxes?

But how about extending that sense of fairness a little further? Why should I, a resident of Toronto who helps pay for those expressways I rarely use, be forking over the same amount of cash as someone using them on a daily basis? That hardly seems fair, if we’re introducing the concept of road use/pay fairness.

Another member of the Budget Committee, Councillor John Campbell agrees. “I don’t see why all residents and all users of the highway shouldn’t be paying for it. Basically the TTC is a user-pay system. 80% of the funding for the TTC comes out of the fare box. Why shouldn’t our roads be the same?”

That’s just the tip of the inane iceberg of Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea, a half-baked measure with a full on helping of self-interest. letmecorrectitThe expense of co-ordinating the whole thing would immediately bite into any money made to throw at road maintenance. Fellow Budget Committee member (and former Budget Chief) Shelley Carroll said tolls had been discussed extensively, back in 2006 and the introduction of the City of Toronto Act. “What my colleague is proposing is ridiculously expensive,” she tweeted in response to Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea.

“You can’t collect from ‘outsiders only’ without use of transponder system or Tech ‘Road Pricing’ technology of some sort. Would need to be GTA wide, therefore, not just Gardiner. Would cost minimum $300/400 million to install. $30+million a year to operate. All of this would earn about $20/30 million net to Toronto because we would have to partner with GTA & Province.

Despite the fact the Gardiner and DVP are ours to pay for and maintain, in yet another example of the paternalistic relationship we have with Queen’s Park, we’d have to go to the province for permission to toll them even if it was economically feasible which it isn’t. In other words, Councillor Pasternak is just making noise in an attempt to sound as if he’s put a lick of thought into his idea.

But wait. There’s more from the councillor.

Maybe we should just upload responsibilities for these two expressways to the province, as if it were as easy as wishing. toshredsCiting a ‘historical imbalance’, Councillor Pasternak pointed out that other GTA municipalities don’t have to directly financially support their expressways, the QEW, 401, 404, 407. (Did I miss any?) Why should Torontonians have to bear the burden of the Gardiner and DVP alone?

I hate to break it to him but the Gardiner and DVP have always been ours. Aside from the strip of the Gardiner from the Humber to the 427 which the Harris government downloaded onto the city (h/t to Sean Marshall for that bit of info), these 2 urban expressways were Toronto’s from the outset, birthed and raised into being by the 1st chair of Metro council, Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, inspired as he was by the city building prowess of New York City “construction coordinator” Robert Moses. We’ve been maintaining them for some 50 years now. Why suddenly should the province feel compelled to start bearing that burden?

There’s nothing wrong with having a discussion about utilizing road tolls in order to raise revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure. facethemusicIt’s being done throughout the world. We wouldn’t be breaking any new ground there.

But let’s have a realistic discussion on the subject instead of something floated like a lead balloon for no other reason than to divert attention away from an equally politically loaded topic like what to do with the crumbling eastern section of the Gardiner expressway. Councillor Pasternak should be working on answering why we need to throw money to ‘retain and drag’ such an antiquated beast, why exactly is the hybrid option the way to go, not how do we pay to do that. The answer would be much simpler.

We don’t. It’s time to bring the fucker down.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr