Leaving Town To Sell SmartTrack At Home

October 23, 2015

We hear it regularly from our mayor that, as CEO of the corporation of Toronto, one important aspect of his job is to be the city’s ‘chief salesman’. salesmanPitch it. Sell it. Tell the world this is a great place to live, work, a prime location to set up a business in.

Thump the Toronto tub. Cheerlead. Boost civically.

Nothing wrong with that. In the urban age we live, it can’t hurt to have someone out there, trying to get a place noticed although I am more a proponent of actions speaking louder than words. Build a livable city and they will come which, of course, is much easier said than done.

But have at it. Go forth, Mr. Mayor, nationally, internationally, sell the product that is Toronto. Hey, world! We are open for business.

It’s tough, though, on his current trip to London, England, to figure out what aspect of this city Mayor Tory’s trying to sell. Most of his second day over there was spent comparing his barely embryonic SmartTrack transit plan to that city’s Crossrail project, well underway and under the streets of London. boosterismMaybe this isn’t a sales trip so much as a journey of discovery?

Or perhaps, and much more cynically, this official excursion is about selling SmartTrack to its critics back in Toronto. Photo ops with Mayor Tory swooning over transit maps and tunnels, citing Crossrail as the inspiration for his SmartTrack plan. “Talking to UK Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin about Crossrail & what we can learn as we build SmartTrack,” tweeted the mayor’s office. If Crossrail exists (and it does, we have pictures to prove it), so does SmartTrack.

The mayor is even receiving some uncharacteristically uncritical boosterism from the Toronto Star whose Jennifer Pagliaro is over there, covering the trip. “Touring the future 118-kilometre rail line in London, Mayor John Tory sees a future he’s been dreaming of for Toronto,” states the article’s sub-headline.

The tour Thursday appears to have renewed Tory’s resolve to make SmartTrack work no matter what. For too long, he said, there has been arguing without end in Toronto, which has struggled to secure the kind of funding it needs from other governments to build bigger and better transit. It’s what Tory calls the “Old Toronto way.”

“Crossrail went through a whole lot of stages where people were doubting it, people wondered if they had the money . . . the private sector participation wasn’t assured and so it had a lot of hiccups along the way but now they’re sitting here saying, ‘Thank god,’“ Tory said. “For me the lesson is also patience.”

Never mind that SmartTrack itself is contributing in a major way to Toronto’s transit argument ‘without end’, as the mayor puts it. An election campaign platform hastily grafted onto an already overdrawn transit wish list map, it has, once more, thrown concrete planning into disarray, nudging other, longer established priorities into limbo. crossrailAs for patience? 22 stations in 7 years, we’re told. The clock is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock.

What inspiration SmartTrack drew from London’s Crossrail is also not immediately obvious to the naked eye. Both could be classified as using surface rail — although the mayor liked to refer to SmartTrack as surface subway until some people frowned on that usage. How about regional rail ‘urban service’? While we saw lots of pictures of Mayor Tory touring tunnels yesterday, as Steve Munro pointed out, at the beginning, there was no talk of SmartTrack tunneling. In fact, that was the exact up sell selling point about it. Using existing infrastructure to speed up the delivery and reduce the cost of a new transit service.

SmartTrack is nothing like Crossrail, and not just because the latter exists while the former doesn’t aside from the stubborn figment of one man’s election campaign promise. crossrail1When Crossrail opens in 2018, it will be after a 40+ year, up and down, back and forth stretch of time that wound up incorporating both private and public funding, and will serve as a long sought after link in what is already a very extensive transit network. Compared to it, SmartTrack is an unwelcome interloper that will do little to alleviate Toronto’s transit backlog and bursting at the seams system.

If Mayor Tory was truly taking in the lessons of Crossrail on his trip to London, he’d come home convinced that his SmartTrack dream is not only wholly inadequate but equally as implausible. Good public transit planning is a tough slog. You can’t just summon it out of thin air during a night of election strategizing. It isn’t cheap and someone else isn’t going to pay for it. smarttrackAn overseas PR exercise won’t magically bring it into existence.

Like I said, I’ve got no problems with our mayor and other elected officials hitting the road to sell the Toronto brand. I’m less sanguine about a trip abroad used, at least in part, to convince those of us already living here about the viability of a clearly troubled transit plan. Say what you will about Rob Ford, but it’s hard to imagine him wasting hard-working taxpayers’ money to travel outside the 416 in order to try and persuade people back in Toronto that the People Want Subways. Subway! Subways! Subways!

not buyingly submitted by Cityslikr


I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

October 21, 2015

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr


How Not To Be A City Councillor

October 13, 2015

Recently, a Scarborough community of about 12 households took their fight to City Hall over plans to install sidewalks along their street. Yes, you read that correctly. protestagainstResidents have been fighting the city over plans to install sidewalks.

This item, let us call it, first came to my notice when the local city councillor, Gary Crawford, tried to ix-nay hetay idewalksay at September’s Public Works and Infrastructure meeting. Rebuffed, it came back this month before finally being subdued and, hopefully, deep sixed for good last week after much commiserative mumbling from a few of the committee members. “I’m not a big fan of pavement myself,” said PWIC chair, Jaye Robinson.

How so very Joni Mitchell of her.

That the pushback even got this far along in the process is truly an abject lesson in pandering and How Not To Be A City Councillor. Listen to Councillor Crawford speaking up for his aggrieved dozen of households.

I fully support the construction of sidewalks, especially in my ward. I really do support sidewalks. But what I support is sidewalks that make sense. When you look at this particular little section, the community looked at the foot traffic and how busy that road is. They’ve indicated there’s very little foot traffic.

‘Sidewalks that make sense’.

Looking at this photo of Ramona Drive from the Scarborough Mirror, it’s hard not to conclude that, of course, there’s very little foot traffic. Who the hell would want to travel by foot along here? It basically screams, Stay Off My Lawn and Get In Your Car! RamonaDriveAfter the committee vote, the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore asked Councillor Crawford why he thought the sidewalk issue was so ‘divisive’. “It’s partly because people have become accustomed to having/using the road allowance,” the councillor responded.

In other words, the residents of Ramona Drive don’t need sidewalks because they use the road to walk on. But it’s not really that pleasant walking on the road, so, unsurprisingly, there’s very little foot traffic. Therefore, we don’t need no stinkin’ sidewalks!

Never mind the fact that the sidewalks would be put in on city property, so it’s not really up to residents to say yes or no to them. The installation is being coordinated with the replacement of watermains in order to keep construction time to a minimum and, hopefully, save some money in the process. Like it or not, this is just something that comes with living in a city. You want untouched bucolic where you collect your water from a stream and shit in an outhouse? There are places you can move to for that even without building a time machine to travel back to. Toronto, even Scarborough, isn’t one of them.johndenver

Another complaint from the residents was that the city didn’t consult enough with them beforehand, to come up with some sort of compromise, a more sensible sidewalk, I guess. This is often a legitimate complaint from people in dealing with the city about city plans but I do get the sense that on this one that from staff’s position what was there to consult about? They’re putting in a sidewalk, for fuck’s sake. Who’s going to have a problem with that?

Apparently, residents of Ramona Drive, Scarborough, Toronto. That’s who.

Interceding with and navigating the often times antagonistic dynamic between City Hall and city residents is part of the job of being a city councillor. That doesn’t mean always siding with the public because it’s the politically expedient thing to do. An angry constituent means a hostile voter. If people living on Ramona Drive weren’t notified in a timely fashion, the blame ultimately should lie with their councillor, and this whole ridiculous business feels like a councillor scrambling to the defense of his residents in order to keep up appearances. Councillor Crawford wants people to know he isn’t against sidewalks, in theory. gotyourbackHe’s just against this sidewalk, in practice, because these 12 households are against it.

Hedges have been built, Councillor Crawford points out. We can’t just bulldoze over front yards because people have been operating under the misconception that their property was their property even when it isn’t. People must be indulged, in other words, not enlightened or guided in the right direction. By doing just that, Councillor Crawford helps to exacerbate the animosity and feeling of alienation residents can feel toward City Hall rather than do his best to try and smooth over the relationship.

That wasn’t what he was elected to do.

submitted by Cityslikr


… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr


Emperotory

September 11, 2015

Let me run this one up the flagpole for you.alcaponedeaddeaddead

Regardless of where he lands in terms of a 2024 Olympic bid for Toronto, after his agonizing to watch, behind-the-scenes deliberations, the only firm conclusion you can come to is Mayor John Tory has arrived at his Rob Ford ‘Transit City is Dead’ moment.

You remember that one, right? On the day of his swearing in as mayor back in 2010, Ford stepped up to the microphones and unilaterally declared that the previous administration’s massive transit plan, one of the projects already well underway, was dead, finished, over and out. Just like that. No debate with his council colleagues. Rob Ford was now the mayor, the big cheese. What he said, goes. End of discussion.

Of course, it wasn’t. That particular discussion was far from over, is far from over. 1984pigsIt lingers on still.

But Rob Ford, in that single utterance, made with no consultation outside of his small gang of vandals, drew a line in the sand, daring anyone to cross. Few did, initially, at least. For about 18 months or so after that, Rob Ford’s primacy as city council alpha went unchallenged.

Now listen to Mayor Tory’s most recent utterances about a possible Olympic bid less than a week before the deadline for making a decision.

I’m engaged in a very extensive consultative process with groups and individuals and I continue to do that. I will make what I hope will be a considered decision — that people will respect as being considered — when the time comes.

What groups or individuals? We’re only getting dribs and drabs of that information. But we can be pretty much assured it doesn’t include many other members of city council. Mayor Tory has brushed aside a request from Councillor Anthony Perruzza for a special council meeting to discuss the city putting in a bid letter next Tuesday.

I just felt in the circumstances that the decision as to whether to even send a letter or not expressing interest was one that I could make, in consultation with my colleagues and a lot of other people. So I’ll be held accountable for that decision.

“I just felt…the decision…was one that I could make.”

Like Rob Ford, this mayor single-handedly feels he can make a monumental decision on his own. Don’t get side-tracked by his weasel assurances that this is just a letter ‘expressing interest’ in a bid. igotthisThere’s no evidence anywhere that I can find that next Tuesday’s deadline is anything other than a ‘commitment to bid’. It says so right in the International Olympic Committee’s very own 2024 bid document, page 20 to be exact.

As for Mayor Tory being ‘held accountable’ for the decision he makes on this? I say, sure, starting right now. Let’s hold him accountable for his arrogant disregard for our local democratic process. If the Rob Ford years taught us nothing else, we should be well aware of what happens when one man and his small coterie of advisors and hangers-on tries to steamroll city council, and city council allows itself to get rolled over. Nothing good.

And if your response to that statement is to jump to John Tory’s defense, to point out that he’s no crackhead, that he shows up to work on time, that he’s no dummy like his predecessor, that he’s reasonable, sensible, prudent, you’re missing the bigger point. He shares Rob Ford’s point of view that as mayor he gets to call the shots, and city council’s backing simply comes with the territory. A mayor is just one vote but it’s the only vote that counts.

You like your mayors strong, if not in statute, in practice. I don’t. illgetbacktoyouI think a mayor of Toronto has as much power as he needs, and if he’s unable to use it to push an agenda through city council, that’s on him not the system.

As the clock clicks down to the bid decision deadline next Tuesday, and more and more information leaks out about the backroom maneuvers that have been going on – through Freedom of Information access to e-mails, the mayor’s been forced to admit there’s an unofficial bid ‘working group’ operating to assist him in “planning his consultations” – and the names of the people he’s been consulting with, largely unelected names – revealed, city council should realize that its authority is being usurped by the mayor’s office. He ignored a request for a council meeting to debate a possible bid. He has not been forthcoming in providing information to the public about how any decision is being made.

Whatever decision Mayor Tory makes next week, the city council cannot let this moment pass without making some sort of stand. That’ll be easier, obviously, if he decides to proceed with a commitment to bid and needs council approval for any money the city might need to come up with (and there will be money needed). royalsealBut even if the mayor declines to proceed, city council needs to make it clear, in the strongest way possible, that this was never a mayor’s decision to make alone, that all the behind-the-scenes, Freedom of Information access only deliberations were unacceptable and undemocratic. If Mayor Tory’s doing all that on an Olympic bid, what else is going on back there?

City council needs to nip this mayor’s imperious inclinations in the bud now. It needs to show the mayor exactly who the boss is here. Like Rob Ford before him, Mayor Tory seems to have claimed a mayoral mandate as some sort of executive fiat. He’ll keep thinking that until city council shows him otherwise.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr