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


Skirmish Won. Battle Still Ongoing. Victory From From Secure.

September 27, 2011

(As we were in absentia for Team Ford’s waterfront retreat, we turn to colleague Sol Chrom for a summary of last week’s important but very, very fluid victory on the waterfront.)

*  *  *

If Team Ford’s Port Lands plans are truly dead, would someone mind driving a stake through them?

The plans, that is.

That’s how a tweet from Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan is describing things, linking to a quote from Councillor Paula Fletcher.

This is a triumph for the public…This is a Toronto moment, a Jane Jacobs moment.

Can’t argue with the sentiments, but I’m inclined to agree with a comment left on the Torontoist site by one dsmithhfx:

Don’t celebrate quite yet… I don’t trust this cabal of scumbag opportunists as far as I could throw them. It’s a setback, to be sure. And much as we’d like to think of it as a turning point, the point where the wave of ignorance, resentment, stupidity, and short-term greed that the Ford approach taps into finally broke, let’s not start the happy dance just yet.

The Port Lands/Waterfront fiasco has captivated our attention for several weeks, to be sure, and we can’t underestimate its symbolic importance. But it’s also possible to think of it as this week’s Shiny ObjectTM — something thing that attracts our attention and keeps us all occupied while other things are going on.

A thoughtful essay by Dylan Reid in Spacing last week discussed the slow decline of a community through a process of dozens of little cuts. Cancel a minor program here, put less resources into something else there, cut back on the scope of something else over there. The examples Reid cites include things like litter pickup, tree planting, neighbourhood improvement programs, snow clearing, and making bylaw enforcement reactive rather than proactive. As Reid writes:

Individually, the impact of each of these is small. And it’s quite possible some of them could be reasonable proposals for a city with a screwed-up budgetary process if they were thought through properly (e.g. all parks could have citizen committees that take care of flower planting and care, if the city provides the flowers and eases up on regulation). But done all in a rush, and all together, the overall impact will be a gradual degradation in the walking environment. It will get dirtier and trickier, and many programs that make it more attractive will be abandoned. People will still be able to walk, of course. They just won’t want to walk as much, unless they have to. And since walking is how people experience their city most directly, Toronto will feel a little bit more like a city in decline — which, given the amount of building going on and people moving in, it really shouldn’t.

By themselves, these measures may not amount to much. They don’t have the impact or the visibility of the Port Lands clusterfuck, because they don’t carry the same scale or price tag. That’s why they’re mostly off the radar. Cumulatively, however, their effect on our quality of life could be just as serious. The places we love and live in, whether they’re downtown or in the suburbs, would become dirtier, more threadbare, and less welcoming.

But this is what happens when the function of government is entrusted to people with no commitment to the public sphere. I’ve already written that the current administration seems colonized by people with no interest in using the power of government to advance the common good, and the events of the past few weeks have done nothing to suggest otherwise. When you start pulling at the threads that hold a community together, you never know when the whole thing’s going to unravel.

This is not to take anything away from the the people whose efforts forced a retreat on the waterfront, of course. And the folks involved in CodeBlueTO deserve a special shout-out. Let’s just remember, though, that this is a long war that has to be fought on many fronts. These guys aren’t done yet. There’s still a long slog ahead.

submitted by Sol Chrom

(Not only is Sol Chrom an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posteroustumblr and OpenFile.)


The Mayor’s Bid For Greatness

May 10, 2011

There is another possible explanation, of course.

While everyone (especially around these parts) simply assumes our mayor is, at heart, an monstrous anti-(sub)urbanite, intent on nothing more than making the city the best place in the world to drive in, perhaps there’s more to it than that. Perhaps Mayor Ford has a far broader reaching and comprehensive agenda in mind. Perhaps in a sheer act of mad genius, he is playing long ball on us, poised to elevate Toronto to New York and London status. Perhaps, we’ve got him all wrong in terms of city building.

This thought struck me as I read through the Financial Times article, ‘Livable v. Lovable’ (h/t @dylan_reid). “We need to ask, what makes a city great?” urban development professor Joel Kotkin tells the FT. “If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community…”

Any city with a mountain backdrop or the ocean lapping up at its toes or laid out in a well designed grid pattern that enables an efficient transit system can claim to be more livable. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a city great. Great cities breathe paradox. Obscene wealth brushes shoulders with abject poverty. Traffic snarls, giving the inhabitants the edge they need to survive in the concrete jungle. Neighbourhoods rise and fall and rise again to accommodate the forever changing face of a city.

Great cities aren’t just lived in. They’re loved. They can’t be planned. They just happen. Like a civic flash mob.

Maybe the mayor’s up to creating a little less livability in exchange for an added dose of lovability. He’s looking to take the Swiss out of Peter Ustinov’s descriptor of Toronto and make it more New York. Not current day New York, mind you. New York City circa mid-1970s, near bankruptcy. Zurich is cute and well run and all that. It can have its way on the livability index but where’s its NFL franchise?

So the mess Mayor Ford seems determined to create is deliberate, only not in the bad way most of us have been ascribing to it. It’s to put us on the road towards greatness. If it’s ‘friction’ that gives great cities their spark, the mayor’s prepared to start a bonfire of impressiveness here in Toronto.

Neglect leads to deterioration which leads, inexorably, to renewal. That’s what urban planners say. Maybe the problem in Toronto is that we’ve tried too hard to maintain things and it’s all ended up half-assed.  Maybe it’s time to really let things go to seed. Infrastructure, transit, heritage, parks. Build us some really dodgy neighbourhoods, one or two of our very own favelas even. I’m thinking somewhere in Scarborough. It’ll become really cheap to live there. When that happens, artists and bohemian types move in. That’s the trendy stage and gentrification is sure to follow.

In the article, Mr. Heathcote opines that great cities mix beauty with ugliness. “… beauty to lift the soul, ugliness to ensure there are parts of the fabric of the city that can accommodate change.” Arguably, Toronto has contributed more than amply over the years to the ugly front. But that’s not to say we can’t do better. Take for example the proposed Fort York pedestrian bridge. Too arty for the likes of Councillor Shiner, it seems. Take it back to the drawing board and gussy it down. Uglify it so to attract the less desirable elements of society. Have them establish a troll like community under the ugly bridge. Hipsters will inevitably displace them with their edgy bars and galleries. Next stop, a great city.

Now, my theory on the possibly positive approach Mayor Ford is taking to re-imagine Toronto falls down somewhat in his war on graffiti. What says ‘gentrify me, please’ more than graffiti? To be fair, though, the Financial Times does worry about the affect of violence on a city’s capacity to be great. The mayor may just be adhering to the Rudy Giuliani view of stopping small crimes stops big crimes. So I think you could stuff his anti-graffiti crusade into the thought of helping make Toronto great.

Of course, some might consider this putting all your eggs in one basket based on one article from a writer clutching at straws to explain how his hometown always seems to be left off other Best Of lists. Or, more generously, one particular school of thought of what makes a city great. There are other metrics to make such judgments. Like, say, this one for instance. The World’s 26 Best Cities for Business, Life, and Innovation.

“We’re measuring what makes a city successful,” Merrill Pond, vice president at the Partnership for New York City told The Atlantic. “Success as we define it cuts across business opportunity, cultural opportunity, and education opportunity. We use ten indicators [including Transportation and Infrastructure, Intellectual Capital and Innovation, and Lifestyle Assets], each made up of smaller variables [within Lifestyle Assets: share of green space, skyline impact, hotel rooms].”And how did Toronto do? #2. Just behind New York City. “Toronto is a ‘beta’ city…because it’s not considered a part of the conversation with London, Paris, and New York for greatest city in the world. But it has all the building blocks of a superlative international city, beginning with smart ideas about sustainability and innovation.” [bolding ours]

Yeah but, innovation’s hard. It takes lots of… innovative ideas. As for sustainability? Well, that costs money upfront, and just in case this Merrill Pond hasn’t been following along here, Toronto’s got a spending problem. Rather than building on those so-called ‘building blocks’, it’d be so much easier just to knock them down and start over again. With no more thought put into it then off-the-cuff remarks based on rumours and gut instincts.

An organic mess, let’s call it. That’s the mayor’s plan for this city. It’s quicker, cheaper and requires only part time participation. Football teams aren’t going to coach themselves, you know.

Sometimes you just have to think small to build big things. If there’s one thing Mayor Ford is good at, it’s thinking small. We need to stop criticizing him for that and start realizing that maybe, just maybe, great things can grow on such shallow, fallow land.

hopefully submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Anti-Tax Is Anti-Citizen

January 14, 2011

Since government, or social organization, is among the wants of man, as truly as food or clothing, we must recognize it in the science of political economy, and provide for it. Government implies functionaries and expenditures. How shall these be maintained? Evidently by the contributions of all, for all are interested in its existence. It may, therefore, rightfully claim a share of all that labor and capital have created.

— “The Science Of Wealth” (1866), by Amasa Walker

When Mayor Rob Ford succeeded in having the Vehicle Registration Tax repealed last month, he crowed, “It’s a great day for the taxpayers of Toronto. We just put $64-million back in their pockets. They can do what they want. They can go out and spend it, create jobs and stimulate the economy or they can save it.”

I don’t know if the mayor really believes all that neoconservative nonsense about tax cuts stimulating the economy and, in turn, increasing government revenues. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t since it’s an empty trope that’s been all the rage for the past 30 years or so despite having little real world evidence to back it up. And I also wonder if the mayor understands that even if tax cuts were shown to increase government revenue, municipal governments in this province would not see their coffers filled much as the kind of tax revenues they have access to aren’t the sales or consumption taxes that, theoretically, increase in a stimulated economy. It’s a subtle distinction Mayor Ford hasn’t shown much of a propensity in understanding.

In cutting the VRT, city council has essentially amputated one of the hard earned revenue tools it was granted through the City of Toronto Act. As it will if the mayor eventually carries through on his pledge to do away with the land transfer tax. His proposal to freeze property taxes on this year’s budget (which is actually a cut – see Spacing’s Dylan Reid explain in his post) slices mightily into the city’s biggest generator of revenue.

Despite what politicos on the right and their media promoters insist on telling us, taxation is not a dirty word. It’s what buys us civilization and all that. Striking the right balance on which taxes to implement and at what levels in order to not stifle healthy economic growth is the key to successful governance. Any idiot can simply appeal to our basest instincts of greed and self-interest in a call for slashing taxes. It’s proven to be a winning strategy for decades now.

The loss of the VRT revenue and the mayor’s proposed property tax freeze will cost the city in excess of $100 million. How will that money be offset? Service cuts that Mayor Ford guaranteed on the campaign trail wouldn’t happen and some $23 million in user fee increases. What’s that about Torontonians tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death? His Respect For Taxpayers seems to be very, very selective.

Anti-tax politicians are never looking out for ‘the little guy’ despite their claims to the contrary. The last thing they want to do is to give a voice to the voiceless. Their primary intent, first and foremost, is to diminish the power of government to properly look after all of its citizens regardless of where they are on the economic spectrum. If they can get in a little reverse Robin Hood wealth redistribution while they’re at it, so much the better. Anti-tax politicians are not grassroots heroes.

They are abrogators of responsibility. They don’t govern. They vandalize and plunder. They never leave anything better than they found it. They only make things worse. And time and time again, we have to chase them from office and start to clean everything up.

You’d think we’dve learned all that by now.

get it through our thick skullsly submitted by Cityslikr