Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr