CAPITALIZING The Future

June 9, 2015

“Realistically cars are NEVER going to disappear.” [Capitalization ENTIRELY the author’s doing.]

So proclaimed former city councillor and transit advocate, Gordon Chong, in this weekend’s Toronto Sun, and in one sentence putting out there EVERYTHING that is wrong with the Gardiner East’s “hybrid” supporters – led by Mayor John Tory — argument.blinkers

They cannot get see a future that will not be exactly like the past, their past.

That no one I’ve ever heard (or, at least, taken seriously) has stated that the private automobile is going the way of the dinosaur is of no consequence to “hybrid” proponents. Hyperbole and the assigning of extremely held beliefs to opposition voices is the hallmark of those pushing policy that lacks any sort of evidentiary base. The entrenched status quo sees any change as wild-eyed and unthinkable revolution. Utopian. Idyllic. Latte-sipping.

The fact that driving patterns have changed since the Gardiner first went up seems of little consequence to unabashed automobile enthusiasts like Gordon Chong. The number of drivers using the Gardiner, the ENTIRE Gardiner, during peak commute hours has remained relatively stable since the 1970s despite the explosive growth the GTAs have seen in the period. Why? Because there is only so much road space. Only so many cars can fit onto it at any given time.

So people use alternative methods to get around the city and region. Public transit, for one. There’s where you’ve seen a corresponding EXPLOSIVE GROWTH to our population boom. Despite what the TTC CEO called this morning “a chronic lack of funding” for public transit in this city, people in greater numbers keep using it. keepdiggingStill, “hybrid” supporters don’t think it’s up to the task of accommodating whatever overflow may occur if the elevated portion of the Gardiner East is removed.

Which is a funny position to take because, looking at the morning rush hour to downtown (that is where the Gardiner east is located), there isn’t a ward in the city that has more than half its commuters driving. (h/t Laurence Liu). Fun fact? In Ward 2, the beating heart of Ford Nation, transit users coming downtown in the a.m. outnumber drivers, 77%-22%. You read that correctly. Unfortunately, I can’t capitalize it for emphasis.

Driving has become only a component of how people move around the city and not the primary one either, certainly not downtown. There is a shift in our relationship to automobiles. Many more of us aren’t experiencing the freedom we’re promised in car ads. Trends suggest more people are settling down into the core. Driving becomes less desirable.

That’s before we even get to the hard charging technology of driverlessness which promises to alter not only the occupant’s experience but the efficiency with which traffic flows. Will it? Who knows? But pretending it won’t possibly be a factor is tantamount to suggesting computer chips haven’t changed how we live our lives.

Refusing to accept reality, though, is a big part of the “hybrid” game plan. caradIt’s no mistake in his speech yesterday to the Empire Club Mayor Tory raised the spectre of Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, the first chair of Metro Council and the political architect of urban expressway building in Toronto. The mayor talks Gardiner, and speaks of cars and driving, while ignoring process.

Gardiner (the man) threw his energy into making Toronto car-friendly because he was operating on the best available evidence of the time. The private automobile was about the future, with cheap gas and limitless land in which to build our suburban getaways as far as the eye could see and the mind imagine. It’s easy, with more than half a century of hindsight, to roll your eyes. What were they thinking?!

Unless, of course, you support the “hybrid” option. You can’t let go of that thinking. As it was, so it must ever be. Mayor Tory touts Fred Gardiner. Who can argue with Big Daddy, am I right?

In their mind, as expressed by Gordon Chong in the Toronto Sun, “ …an expressway under Lake Ontario is the REAL VISIONARY FUTURE [capitalization mine], much like the Bloor Viaduct was decades ago.” Build more car infrastructure! Screw the cost (BOSTON) or technical nightmares of tunneling near water (SEATTLE). This ‘guerilla war fought against the car for decades’ must come to an end. Driving is not the source of congestion. aroundinawarenessNot enabling more driving is.

It’s not that cars are NEVER going to disappear (although, it seems, they do if you take road space away from them). It’s the zombie-like belief Gordon Chong, Mayor Tory and all the other “hybrid” supporters hold in the primacy of cars as the transportation mode people will use that refuses to die or, at least, face reality. Driving habits have already changed since the time of Fred Gardiner. Evidence heavily suggests it’s a trend that will continue into the future. Investing unnecessarily to fight congestion in the name of cars is doing nothing more than fighting the future, and investing in a dream Fred Gardiner had more than 50 years ago.

As it turns out, a dream that has not aged particularly well.

submitted by Cityslikr


The Nub Of It

February 14, 2012

“Getting to the nub of it.” 16h06m at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting, after Gordon Chong’s ‘Toronto Transit: Back on Track’ report on the Sheppard subway extension had been delivered and the debate and discussion raged, famously loquacious Councillor Michael Thompson bid everyone to cut to the chase and get to the nub of the matter at hand.

People want subways, people.

OK, fuck. You know what? You big bunch of crybabies want a subway so bad, fine. Extend your fucking Sheppard subway, east, west, both. I don’t care. You refuse to listen to reason. Hell, Dr. Chong, D.D.S., gave us permission to stop paying attention to experts which I’ll remember next I go to the dentist and am told the sharp, shooting pain in my back left molar is a cavity that needs to be fixed. Nah, you know what, doc? My gut tells me the searing sensation is more a respiratory affliction. The tooth only hurts when I breathe. Vicks VapoRub should do the trick.

It’s like dealing with a two year-old’s temper tantrum. Red faced, hands over ears, screaming at the top of their lungs, stomping both feet on the ground. We want a subway! You have a subway! Why can’t we have a subway?! We want a subway!! We want a subway!!

But here’s the deal. The Eglinton LRT stays as is according to the Transit City configuration city council voted to re-install last week. Underground where necessary, above ground where possible. That means all the way west of Keele and east of Laird above ground. To bury it all the way takes valuable transit from both Sheppard and Finch Aves. That’s a little bit selfish on your part to demand otherwise, wouldn’t you say?

Secondly, you want a subway, start talking congestion fees, tolls and all the other vehicle fees and levies that KPMG floated as possibilities (Table 26, page 85 of the report) for filling that glaring funding gap staring up at you from the pages of Dr. Chong’s report. Oh yeah, that’s right. No matter how shiny a spin he put on the concept of the public-private partnership that would build the subway for a fraction of the cost estimate delivered by the TTC, even with the bestest of best case scenarios with everything falling just perfectly into place, there was still a great big chunk o’ change shortfall. Nearly a billion dollars to be exact.

Seems Mayor Ford was a little off in promising to build your precious subway completely with private sector money. Not possible. The report from his own handpicked representative says so, unequivocally if a little sneakily.

So which promise will the mayor have to break? Not build subways or not jack up fees and charges for car owners? He can’t not not do one without not not doing the other. Or.. wait.. he can’t not do one without doing the other.. or he can’t do one without not doing..

It’s all so confusing. Is the War on the Car over or not? Because it’s now crystal clear to everyone but the most wilfully obstinate: the Sheppard subway extension can only be delivered with the help of a basketful of increases to the cost of operating a private vehicle in this city. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply being dishonest and spinning a fantasy, regaling the electorate with a fairytale.

If Mayor Ford and his subway supporters are so sure that he was elected on a mandate to build subways, that the people want subways, I challenge them to run a serious poll question. Would you prefer subways to LRTs if it meant a substantial increase in fees paid to own and operate a private vehicle? Frame it in a way that best captures the reality of the situation, that gets to the nub of it, you might say.

If a majority responds, hells yeah!, well then, we have ourselves a completely different situation than the one Mayor Ford is currently trying to convince us of, where subways can be built at no extra cost to the already put upon taxpayers of Toronto. We can all join with the suddenly Big Idea conservative caucus at city council who normally take any and every opportunity to lambast the former Miller regime for its political overreach, and build us a real, first class transit system with subways running everywhere, up and down, back and forth and beyond, even if it doesn’t make a lick of technical sense. People want subways, people. They’re even willing to pay for it.

And if they’re not? If they answer in the negative to the question, Would you prefer subways to LRTs if it meant a substantial increase in fees paid to own and operate a private vehicle? Well, sorry. You can’t have your subways. That’s not just me, a downtown, subway hoarding elitist telling you no either. Gordon Chong, his associates and the good folks from KPMG have put it down in writing. You want subways? Fine. It’s going to cost you. Until subway fans are willing to grow up and face that most unpleasant of facts, and start talking openly about new taxes and fees instead of referring to them euphemistically and obliquely (transit revenue tools) as if by not saying the dirty words out loud, it doesn’t really count, then all this is merely a diversion, a big ol’ waste of time and resources. Cheap, political grandstanding that has already set transit planning in this city back decades.

sick and tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


You Can Have Your Subway, Sir. But It’ll Cost You.

February 2, 2012

Pssst. Residents of Scarborough. You’re not falling for it, are you? He’s the Little Engine That Could. Mayor Ford (Secretly) Loves Transit City.

This story is so fucking messy and convoluted, 2 parts farce and 1 part tragedy, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s all stop, start. A good idea followed by a dud but then upon reflection, hey, that’s not too bad either. To paraphrase Gordon Chong, I have to confess that over the last few moments I have gone from optimism to deflation about this post but now I’m back on track.

Unlike transit planning in Toronto. Ba-dum-tsssh! I got a million of them, folks.

Watching Mayor Ford’s Scarborough press conference yesterday where he basically announced he would be no longer listening to his handpicked TTC chair, I couldn’t help wonder just how much gullibility remained in the pool of support Scarborough residents had toward the mayor. The former east side municipality showed a lot of love for candidate Ford in the 2010 municipal election, voting overwhelmingly for him. While such heady numbers have slipped in recent opinion polls, the mayor is still more popular in Scarborough than anywhere else in the city.

Despite reneging on at least one of his major campaign platforms (“No Service Cuts. Guaranteed.”) that has hit Scarborough particularly hard, Mayor Ford was there with his Grey Cup, just one of you folks’ football jacket to express solidarity with his peeps and let them know that he would not fail them on the matter of subways. He said he would rid their streets of the scourge of streetcars, and that’s what he was going to do. Subways were the only way to go, the only form of rapid transit according to the mayor. So burying all the Eglinton LRT was the only sensible, reasonable thing to do.

And with all the savings that wouldn’t be seen doing that, he would build the fine taxpayers of Scarborough a real, honest to god subway by extending the Sheppard subway east to the Scarborough Town Centre. I love you, Scarborough! Thank you and g’night!

Before all the sceptics out there could finish their first eye roll and mumble something about pixie dust, Mayor Ford had the hard facts to prove that his transportation plan was ‘doable’. Excerpts from the long awaited report from former councillor and both TTC and GO Transit vice-chair, Gordon Chong, began leaking out. Hells yeah, we can build the Sheppard subway extension. The private sector was chomping at the bit to get the party started. They might even pony up as much as 50, 60% of the cost in return for three to decades of air rights and such. Come on. What are you waiting for?

That only leaves, what, 40-50% left over for the city to pick up since the province has washed its hands off any involvement in a Sheppard subway. No problem, right? We’ll just start levying tolls, congestion fees, hiking parking rates, maybe get us some municipal sales taxing powers.

Wait, what? Where the hell did all that come from? Isn’t that kind of talk a little, I don’t know, war-y on the car? I thought that had been declared over and done with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would love to have that conversation but if we’re going down that road (or tunnelling under it to reduce the traffic), it changes everything. LRTs versus subways, where and how many. It’s, what do they call it? A game-changer.

If the mayor really wants to open that discussion, I’m all ears. But until he does, until he comes right out and says, yeah, I’m willing to talk about road tolls, then Gordon Chong’s report is an absolute non-starter, meaningless, not worth the paper it’s written on and certainly not worth the money paid to Mr. Chong to write it.

And how exactly does Mayor Ford approach that subject? Remember when he told us the city didn’t have a revenue problem, it had a spending problem? Remember how he championed the removal of the vehicle registration tax? Remember?

Now he’s going to turn around and try to persuade all those he’d convinced on the campaign trail that they were over-taxed and under-serviced that if they really wanted that subway he promised wouldn’t cost them an extra cent, well, they were going to have to chip in a little more to help out. And oh how they will look back on those wistful, innocent days of paying the VRT, and laugh and laugh at how they’d been fooled into believing the city didn’t have a revenue problem. Your basic case of lying to Peter to pay Paul.

But what’s the alternative for the mayor? Rejecting the notion of any additional revenue generation from private vehicle use leaves him with no ability to pay for a Sheppard subway extension into his beloved Scarborough. That means all he’s accomplished is unnecessarily burying the eastern portion of the Eglinton LRT while depriving many of the neighbourhoods of additional new transit lines.

At which point, many transit users in Scarborough would be right in asking, so why bury the Eglinton LRT? It won’t be the first time the question’s been asked. Certainly it’s one Councillor Karen Stintz, the TTC chair, wondered out loud. By any measure, Mayor Ford’s transportation plan without at least the eastward Sheppard subway extension amounts to less new public transit for Scarborough. No road tolls, congestion fees etc. means no Sheppard subway. There’s no getting around that fact.

And if the mayor can’t guarantee Scarborough anything other than a buried Eglinton LRT isn’t resurrecting Transit City from the dead the next logical step? Hey. It ain’t subways but it’s a whole shit load better than what’s there now, folks.

This is what you might refer to as being between a rock and a hard place for the mayor. By building a subway, he’s going to have to find a way to re-define the so-called war on cars. Failing that, he faces becoming the poster boy for a transit plan he unilaterally tried to kill, doing what its supporters failed to do properly way back when. Promoting and championing it as a doable, more affordable way to get better transit to those lacking it.

Barbarinoily submitted by Cityslikr


The Mammoliti Meter

June 2, 2011

I’ve written Rob Ford off before. Often and with a great deal of certainty. Gleefully, I’ll admit. As a mayoral candidate. As a newly installed mayor. He’ll never get elected. He’ll never command a majority of city council.

And I’ve been wrong. Each and every time. So I am hardly in a position to pass any sort of judgment at this juncture, at least not accurately or in a manner that would be deemed noteworthy, worthwhile even.

But I do think it safe to say that May was not the kindest month to Mayor Ford.

Now, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Politicians have their ups and downs. None are capable of burning as hotly popular over the long haul as this mayor has seen himself since his election last fall. There will be dips, valleys. It’s inevitable. Only an idiot would stand up, just half a year into the mayor’s mandate and declare the man finished, done like dinner, fork sticking in time.

Still, I can’t turn down the opportunity to idiotically divine the near future just a little.

Suddenly last month, Mayor Ford started to lose the occasional vote at council. Nothing monumental or game changing. But the iron grip with which he pushed through the repeal of the vehicle registration tax, have the province declare the TTC an essential service and squeeze out the 2011 budget has clearly loosened a little. Councillors occupying the so-called ‘mushy middle’ weren’t falling in line as pliably and even some right of centre allies were not marching in lockstep.

When the mayor tried to by-pass council in his push to outsource garbage collection, he met some resistance in the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and was forced to bring the idea before city council. Once there, it squeaked through but not without significant amendments. Getting the matter passed is now no longer the slam dunk Mayor Ford and his people might’ve thought it was a month or so ago.

His head-scratcher of a bid to eliminate all citizens advisory committees hit a bump in the road while in Executive Committee and was further delayed pending a staff report when it went to council. Good buddy Jim Flaherty came to town and essentially thumbed his nose at the Brothers Ford’s dim view of Toronto’s waterfront development. Appointee Gordon Chong openly mused about road tolls and congestion charges as ways of financing the mayor’s Sheppard subway line which the mayor seems to think only needs the power of positive thinking and the private sector to make happen. City Clerk Ulli Watkiss defied the mayor’s wishes to proceed with a by-election in Ward 9, choosing instead to appeal the ruling. Police Services vice-chair Councillor Michael Thompson asked Chief Blair to look at the implications of laying off 400-500 of his people, directly opposite Mayor Ford’s campaign promise of 100 new police officers.

And Transit City, long since pronounced dead and buried, is back, zombie-like to hound the mayor. As Matt Elliott reported a couple days back, in response to inquiries from Councillor Janet Davis, City Manager Joe Pennachetti raised the spectre of multiple votes that might have to go through council before the stake can be officially driven through the heart of Transit City and the mayor’s Transportation City (I still laugh when writing out that lacklustre name) plan anointed its true successor. With the viability of the Sheppard subway coming under closer scrutiny, Mayor Ford might just find that simply clapping his hands and chanting Make It So no longer constitutes a sound method of implementing his agenda.

Let’s not forget the order from the Compliance Audit Committee to examine Mayor Ford’s unorthodox financing of his mayoral campaign last year. All, hey, I’m an open book with nothing to hide, audit away last week, the mayor and his lawyer filed a last minute appeal to have the audit quashed in court. Even if successful, the real outcome may be tarnishing his common guy, I’m just one of you, folksy image that has served him well in the past.

Reality may well be crashing in on the mayor. It had to happen sometime because that’s just the nature of reality. Only the misguided and deluded believe otherwise.

How Mayor Ford deals with this altered landscape will ultimately determine the fate of his term in office. Edward Keenan over at The Grid last week saw the possibility of a softening toward consensus building not in the mayor himself but in his right hand man and older brother, Councillor Doug. Seen as more politically astute, Doug Ford may accept the fact that the winds are a-changing, and trampling over foes and striking fear into the hearts and minds of possible friends may no longer be the best course of action. The far-right territory Team Ford has staked out may not be comfortable enough for a workable majority of councillors, so the mayor is going to have to settle on a more moderate course.

Mayor Ford moderate, you say? Does not compute. C’est impossible. Leopard’s changing their spots and all that.

The thing is, if the mayor wants to avoid being reduced to little more than a sideshow freak as the city governance circus goes about its business around him, he might not have a choice but to reach out to at least some of those he has no natural political affinity toward. Failure to do so could put him into a position of ineffectual isolation many of us stupidly and ignorantly predicted he’d assume from the get-go. It’s adapt or die time.

As an outlying rogue figure of little consequence during his time at council, no doubt adaptation is foreign soil for Mayor Ford. He hasn’t had to play nicely with others before because, well, no one cared what he thought or how he voted. He’s the mayor now, so keeping at least 22 councillors on side matters. That’s been possible so far by power of his perceived popularity and ability to wield it threateningly. Do this or face the wrath of Ford Nation! Those councillors who don’t adhere strictly to his right wing doctrinaire will begin to wander once they feel there will be no consequences in doing so. Moreover, if supporting him starts to adversely affect their popularity, his fair-weather friends will make a point of publicly abandoning him.

Enter the Mammoliti Meter. Perhaps the most nakedly opportunistic member of the current city council, after his failed mayoral bid last fall Giorgio Mammoliti casually tossed aside a career of heated enmity toward Rob Ford and threw his lot in whole-heartedly with his one-time adversary. Seated to the right of the mayor, Councillor Mammoliti now proudly dubs himself Team Ford’s quarterback, helping to whip votes and giving a big thumbs up or down to signal which way his team mates should vote. He basks in the mayor’s status.

But it’s hard to imagine he’d be willing to go down with the ship if it starts taking on water. No, I won’t follow that analogy to speak of rats. As a measure of the tenuous nature of the alliance Mayor Ford has forged through division and intimidation, I’m willing to suggest that as goes Giorgio Mammoliti, so goes the Ford administration. It is a nation built on dodgy landfill.

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr