For Hamish and Jared and Janet and…

If cycling advocates can’t agree on the best way forward on building a better bike network throughout the city, disagreehow exactly does one get built?

Some believe that protected and completely separate bike lanes, installed where conditions warrant, will encourage more riders, many too fearful for their lives (somewhat correctly) to mingle directly with car traffic, to take up cycling. Ridership grows. A network grows. Others contend that just starting out with brightly coloured lines that seamlessly connect easy routes from east to west, north to south will increase ridership that will ultimately justify further spending to build a more permanent cycling infrastructure of protected and separate bike lanes.

Two opposite approaches aiming for the same ultimate goal. The elevation of cycling to equal consideration as part of the city’s transportation grid.

Into the void of tactical disagreement, let’s call it, step the decision makers, bikinghippiessome who don’t believe cycling has any place within our transportation system, who can’t comprehend how more people on bikes, getting around the city, could possibly help alleviate Toronto’s congestion. For them, cycling is a diversion, a pastime not used by serious people intent on going about their business in any sort of serious way. It’s something done by elitists or hippies, physical fitness nuts. Real commuters don’t commute on bikes.

Our current mayor is one of those types. Bikes have no place on the roads, he once famously said, comparing it to swimming with the sharks. At the end of the day, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

So, in many ways, it’s kind of remarkable that 4 years into his term, the streets of this city remain as full of cyclists as they do. sherbournebikelaneDMWI know it’s cold comfort to say but the situation could’ve been so much worse. Things have ground to a crawl but haven’t been irretrievably reversed.

That fact is even more remarkable given the person sitting in the Public Works and Infrastructure chair, the committee that oversees road construction and design, is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He is no slouch when it comes to car-centricity. Why, just yesterday in fact, during a PWIC meeting, he wanted to make sure there was a representative from the CAA present when going forward with school zone safety measures. Why? Well, because drivers of cars that “allegedly” hit pedestrians need to have their voices heard too.

Or something.

*shrug*

Yes, under PWIC chair Minnan-Wong, the bike lanes of Jarvis Street were torn up and moved a couple blocks east to Sherbourne where, ostensibly, “better”, “protected” and “separated” lanes were built. The more I ride them, the more ridiculous they seem, having to share the space with public transit sherbournebikelane(which they didn’t have to do on Jarvis) and almost never are they fully protected or separate. Cars and delivery trucks easily and regularly breach the porous barriers.

I will set aside my normally disparaging opinion of the councillor and refuse to accept the possibility that he simply threw cycling advocates a few small bones purposely to hear their cries of outrage in order to throw up his hands and claim that these people are never happy. There’s never any pleasing them. They want the entire road or nothing.

Instead, I choose to believe that he did the best he could, given the circumstances at hand and his inherent lack of understanding toward anyone who might willingly decide not to get around town in any way other than by car. He did not kill cycling in this city. He merely succeeded in frustrating it.

Of bigger concern is the next four years. What direction the incoming administration will go in terms of biking. emptypromiseSo far, there’s little to get excited about and much to be fearful of.

Mayoral candidate John Tory had this to say to Global News’ Jackson Proskow about the PWIC’s decision to approve a pilot project for bike lanes along Richmond and Adelaide Streets:

“My priority from day 1 as mayor is going to be to make sure we keep traffic moving in this city, and I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too because that will help, in its own way, to get traffic moving too. But I want to look at the results of discussions that are going on today and other days and make sure that whatever we do we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city, because traffic is at a stand-still at the moment and that’s costing us jobs, it’s hurting the environment, it’s not good for Toronto.”

There is so much wrong and mealy-mouthed about that statement that it’s impossible to imagine the person saying it actually lives in this city let alone thinks they can lead it. Bikes in no way constitute traffic. The idea that more people riding bikes, especially in the downtown core, means less people driving cars (or using public transit) seems incomprehensible to someone like John Tory. Bikes are nothing more than ‘additional obstructions’ for people – people being car drivers – ‘getting around in this city’.

“I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists.” John Tory might’ve well said roads are meant for buses, cars and trucks. littlewinsThere’s not much daylight between the two sentiments.

It isn’t going to get any easier going forward. Cyclists and those fighting for them at City Hall have to accept the little victories, the pilot projects, as serious steps forward. The status quo never gives way easily, and the status quo in Toronto remains tilted in favour of cars. Two generations of bias don’t change overnight. Or in a day. Or in a week. Month. Year. Decade….

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Standing Up To The Mayor

Here’s why I’m not a gambling man.

kennyrogers

Back in the early days of the Ford administration if you’d offered me the longest of long shot odds that Councillor Paul Ainslie would be a likely candidate to publicly break with the mayor, I’dve turned you down flat. Not possible, I’d say. There aren’t odds oddsy enough to make me take that bet.

Well, here we are.

On Friday, Councillor Ainslie not only resigned his chair of the Parks and Recreation committee exitstageright(automatically walking away from the powerful Executive Committee in the process) but he did so in a very loud and public fashion.

According to the councillor, Mayor Ford “ran out of ideas a long time ago” and has a “lack of strategic objectives.”

Ouch.

Councillor Ainslie isn’t the first former ally and Executive Committee member to part ways with the mayor but he might be the noisiest. Both councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Giorgio Mammoliti slipped away gently, citing their own reasons for doing so. Councillor Mammoliti has already crawled back onto the Executive Committee, directly replacing Ainslie.

Only Councillor Jaye Robinson’s departure from the inner sanctum back in June made a similar kind of splash. She was turfed for suggesting in her outside voice that maybe Mayor Ford should take a little time away from his position to deal with any sort of personal issues he might be having. pileonRobinson has not shied away from her break with the administration, weighing in on her colleague’s exit and the subsequent robo-call roll out from the mayor’s office that followed.

“We should be encouraging independent thought at City Hall,” she said in the radio interview and referred to Mayor Ford’s ‘leadership style’ as nothing more than “bluster and intimidation” “The farthest thing from transparent and accountable government.”

Along with Ainslie’s transition from an almost Tommy-like support (deaf, dumb and blind…actually, let’s call it Gary Crawford-like support) at the beginning of this term to a bona fide outspoken maverick of Mayor Ford, Councillor Robinson’s increasingly pointed criticism may well represent the soft support that put the mayor over the top in the 2010 election. It’s now evaporating and that should be of some concern to those dreaming of a second term. tommyThe simple fact of the matter is, there isn’t one without at least some of the mushy middle voting public across the city.

Of course, for some this latest schism with a former ally is no fault of the mayor’s. After Councillor Ainslie’s resignation on Friday, councillor-brother Doug went on full smear alert, chalking it up to Ainslie being miffed for having been overlooked to replace outgoing budget chief, Mike Del Grande (who himself kicked up some dust leaving the position. It didn’t amount to much as he seems to just have retreated into a sullen surliness). Frankly, I’d be pissed too if I’d been passed over for the job by Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. If anything is proof of Councillor Ainslie’s assertion that the mayor lacks strategic objectives, it would be his appointing of Frank Di Giorgio as budget chief.

As with almost everything that comes out of the mouth of councillor-brother Doug, the truth about the rift between Ainslie and the Ford administration is much more robust, let’s call it, beginning a lot earlier and in a far more nuanced way.

While Councillor Ainslie was enabling the mayor to run roughshod through the halls of City Hall, cutting this tax and that service, he was also steadily tinkering as chair of the Government Management Committee. yourefiredHe pushed through small but important things like getting wireless service throughout all of City Hall that helped further citizen engagement to the bigger enchilada on that score: sending a request to Queen’s Park for permission to start using alternative voting methods in forthcoming municipal elections. He was actually helping Mayor Ford keep a campaign promise of delivering a more open and transparent government.

But then things seemed to come unglued with some back stage mayoral shenanigans at the Garrison Ball in March. Ainslie was knocked from his post as Government Management Committee chair a couple months later and served briefly as chairs of the Parks and Recreation Committee until this week.

Until his decision to reject the Scarborough subway on Tuesday and opt for the already in place subway. When he stood up at council to make his case for the LRT, he said that he’d gone into the previous weekend fully intending to vote for the subway. Then he started really reading the staff report and just saw the mounting costs that had no definite end to them. yourefired1He found himself weighing his options between a fully funded LRT, ready to go, with no extra costs lurking in the corners versus a subway proposal dripping with unknowns and a much higher price tag.

However, subways have become so integral to the Team Ford brand that to vote against them and vote against them so overtly couldn’t be seen as anything other than an outright rejection of the administration. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another member of the Executive Committee, also voted against the subway but did so in a more low key fashion, so escaped notice.

Or maybe as a potential rival for the mayor’s job next year, he’s being allowed to keep close relations so he doesn’t have much distance between himself and the mayor if they have to campaign against one another.

Or quite possibly, Councillor Minnan-Wong shares enough of Mayor Ford’s loathing of government and taxes hediditthat he’s allowed a longer leash in order to wreak all the damage he can while the clock’s running down.

That’s not the kind of fiscally conservative politician Councillor Paul Ainslie is, obviously. Plus, he’s from the holy land of folks in Scarborough. So he was expendable. He needed to be made an example of.

It’s nothing personal, according to the mayor, although it seems voting against the Scarborough subway was nothing short of a ‘personal attack’ on Mayor Ford according to Councillor Ford. Go figure. *shrug* It’s about politics and political calculation. Plain and simple. The plan is to ride the subway issue to re-election and anybody seen as standing in the way? Electoral road kill.

This couldn’t come as any sort of surprise to Councillor Ainslie. He too must’ve made some calculations and decided to roll the dice on his political future, prepared to face his constituents as a careful custodian of their tax dollars rather than just another mayoral flunky. Again, I’m no betting man but if I were, I wouldn’t put my money against the councillor on this one.

rollthedice

fingers crossedly submitted by Cityslikr

King Of The Road

A recent Twitter exchange got me a-thinking. (Yes, I am growing comfortable acknowledging the Twitter/thought equation.)

twitter

It started with Global News’ Jackson Proskow in conversation with the TTC’s CEO, Andy Byford. They were talking about the news streetcars slated to join the fleet sometime next year. You know the ones the mayor and his team swore were going to break the city’s bank? Or was that the new subway cars? Public transportation is so expensive.

I’ll edit the chat for intelligibility for the non-Twitter types in the audience although you really need to get with the program.godzillafordtorontosun

So tweets Mr. Proskow:

TTC CEO confirms you may have to wait longer for a streetcar once new fleet arrives, but says reliability & capacity will improve.

“There are fewer streetcars but let’s remember they are much bigger” said Andy Byford. “my challenge is to make sure they don’t bunch up”.

Byford on new streetcars “people may have to wait a little bit longer but the actual reliability of the service will be that much better”.

Sometime during this, our friend Matt Elliott chimes in.

How fun would a botched launch of the new streetcars be in 2014, right in the middle of a municipal election?

Oh-oh. People hate streetcars, remember? Gulp!

dedicatedstreetcarlaneCouncillor Gord Perks adds a little fuel to the fun fire.

So the TTC is saying I will be certain that my morning ride will be worse.

Then, all jokes aside, JP Boutros, advisor to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, floats a little something-something into the Twittersphere.

Downtown TO politicos, please debate amongst yourselves as to why Giambrone’s Mar2007 504 King [streetcar] idea went nowhere & why it might (not) now.

What’s that, JP? some of us asked. 504 King streetcar idea? Giambrone? Why are you interrupting our laugh fest here?

After a little research, and by research I mean Googling, I came across this report, from way back in 2001, during the Mel Lastman era. A certain David Miller was still a councillor and TTC commissioner. Rob Ford was a council newbie. If there really were robots able to go back in time in order to alter the future, it would be to roughly this period where it would travel to in an attempt to kill our current mayor’s political career in its infancy.

Meeting Date: April 11, 2001 Subject: Dedicated Streetcar Lanes On The 504 King Route

OK, while you finish your fits of laughter, allow me to quote some from the report.

illbeback

…two of the options under consideration at this time are: i) banning all traffic, except streetcars, taxis, and commercial vehicles, from King Street during the busiest traffic hours; and ii) a full-time, permanent solution, with physical modifications to the street, whereby through traffic would be banned at all times, but vehicles would still be able to access each block..

* * *

Staff tried to create a dedicated streetcar right-of-way on King Street in the past, but the concept failed. In the early 1990’s, general traffic was prohibited from driving on the streetcar tracks on King Street, through the downtown, during peak periods. This was to be effected through the use of overhead signs and pavement markings, some of which are still in place today.

However, this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work; motorists did, and continue to, ignore it. While this was disappointing, staff learned a valuable lesson from that experience: there is no “low-impact” way of establishing dedicated streetcar lanes on King Street. For dedicated lanes to be effective, there must be a dramatic change in the way in which King Street operates.

 

*  *  *kingstreetcar1

And in summary,

It is impractical to continue to operate the 504 King streetcar route, with service frequencies as great as every two minutes, in congested mixed traffic conditions. There are a number of initiatives being undertaken by staff to address the variety of problems contributing to the slow and, typically, unreliable service on this route. The most dramatic of these would be the creation of effective, dedicated lanes for the streetcars. TTC staff are working with Toronto ransportation Services and City Planning to identify a design for dedicated streetcar lanes which would fully respect the commercial activities in this corridor. To be effective, any solution will require trade-offs between substantial improvements in the quality of transit service on King Street and auto traffic and on-street parking.

Remember, this was twelve years ago. The King streetcar was already the most heavily used surface route in Toronto, carrying over 50,000 riders a day. (Now close to 57, 000 according to the 2011 stats). kingstreetcarAt peak morning rush hours, the streetcar was carrying almost double the number of people between Spadina and Yonge than were travelling along the route in other vehicles. While the numbers may’ve changed since then, there’s no reason to think the ratio has.

Flash forward six years to 2007. (Or flash back five years from the present.)

David Miller is now mayor. Adam Giambrone is the TTC chair. They’re still trying to do something about the congestion along King Street. Hey! How about a trial restricting vehicular traffic along a stretch of the corridor? See what happens.

Get the cars of King, TTC asks City Hall. TTC Streetcar Proposal for King ‘Madness’.

You can pretty much guess how that all went.

Local residents and businesses get all up in arms, claiming without any substantiation that the plan will kill the area. Without easy access for cars, the strip will shrivel up and die. Even so much as a pilot project will be a death knell.

It’s the exact same argument we’re hearing right now from the owners of Pusateri’s on Bay Street in defense of their ‘lay-by’ cut in to the sidewalk in front of their store that allows cars to temporarily throw out the anchors for easy pickups and drop offs. They’ll live and die by ‘walk in’ traffic (a curious use of wording) only from cars that are able to park right by their doors. kingstreetcar2AS IF NO ONE EVER GETS OFF A BUS OR STREETCAR TO GO TO A RESTAURANT OR GROCERY STORE!

It’s this lethal combination of a white-knuckled grip on the status quo and an overweening sense of entitlement that leaves us stuck in this congestion rut. A War on the Car? Really? As the 2001 TTC report shows, motorists just simply ignore “passive” deterrents to stay off streetcar tracks or make illegal left turns. As a matter of fact, yes, I do own the road.

Show me somewhere that a decrease in private vehicle traffic in densely populated downtown areas adversely affects business. Give me the numbers instead of just scare tactics and dire warnings. What is it that we’re so afraid of if it turns out that in some spots of the city car traffic is really an impediment to better business and quality of life? How could that be a bad thing?

Clearly traffic flow isn’t functioning properly along King Street and hasn’t been for a while now. As the TTC CEO pointed out, our new streetcars aren’t going to fully alleviate the problem. It’s long past time we stop sitting on our hands and try a new approach. Hard to imagine how it could make matters any worse.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr