A Streetfighting Mayor?

April 29, 2016

Oh, to be young again. Young and full of hope, dreams, aspirations. hopeHope. Hope, hope, hope.

Dreams.

You know the difference between someone who’s been around the block a time or two and somebody still standing on the curb, waiting for the light to change so they can cross the street? After a couple key events here in Toronto this week, the second person in the scenario claps their hands together enthusiastically and thinks — really, really thinks — that this could happen in Toronto. The other one, the more grizzled, beaten down fellow? All he’s thinking is that he really needs to figure out a way to move to New York City.

Confused? Not surprising. You’re listening to the ramblings and lamentations of a jaded, former optimistic glass half fuller, as they used to call me back in the barracks.streetfight

Earlier this week, former New York City transportation commissioner and overseer of, I don’t know, 17,000 miles of new bike lanes in 4 months, Janette Sadik-Khan was in town, giving a couple talks, promoting her new book, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. The audience squeed in delight at her tales of transformation throughout North America’s largest city. To paraphrase her rephrasing, “If they can remake it there, we can remake it anywhere.”

Is that so?

At Toronto City Hall, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee laboured through what should’ve been a breezy debate on a proposal to put in a bike lane pilot project along a 2.5 kilometre strip of Bloor Street west. How is that possible, you ask? Let me try explaining it for you with popular cultural references you’re familiar with.

There are city councillors, many holding key positions within the current administration, who are like those puffy old clients Larry Tate brings in for ad man Darrin Stephens to pitch ideas at to sell their products. dickyorkThey look on while smoking, in disbelief at what they view to be the young man’s crazy, magical thinking. (And it just might be because Darrin’s wife, Samantha, is a witch!)

What? Never heard of Bewitched? It was hilarious! Darrin’s mother-in-law, Endora, who disapproved of her daughter’s “mixed-marriage” to a mortal, could never get his name right. Derwood? Dustin. Dustbin? Comedic gold.

Still nothing? OK. Update. Bewitched = Mad Men. Darrin Stephens = Don Draper. Samantha Stephens = Better Draper. Larry Tate = Roger Sterling. Clients = Clients.

No?

The point I’m trying to make here is that we’ve moved from the stale, toxic air of the Ford era to that musty dankness that hits you when you walk into a grandparent’s room to discover they’ve been dead for a couple days. … What do you mean that’s never happened to you? In my day, that was a rite of passage!

Mayor John Tory just doesn’t get it. I don’t think he truly grasps the challenges (and opportunities, don’t forget the opportunities) cities like Toronto are facing and what needs to be done to address them. endoraHe says words. He mouths the right sounds. Yet, nothing about his actions indicate he has an understanding or inclination of the way forward. Certainly, nobody he’s appointed to positions of power strike you as agents of change. Not his deputy mayor. Not his budget chief. Not his chair of Public Works.

When Ms. Sadik-Khan joined the Bloomberg administration, the mayor there had a detailed agenda on moving the city into the 21st-century. PlaNYC, it was called.

From Streetfight:

The document that Mayor Bloomberg and Team Camelot under Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff (pronounced “Plan-Y-C”) was the first real inventory of the city’s collective resources, assets, and deficiencies. It systematically reverse-engineered the city to accommodate expected population growth, amortizing the costs of investments over decades instead of election cycles, and looked at the impact of growth on health, the environment, and quality of life. From 2000 to 2005 alone, New York City’s population grew by 200,000 people.

To address the increase demands on the city, PlaNYC returned to a central theme: density is New York’s destiny, and city planning must leverage that strength to enhance mobility and the quality of city life and avoid sprawl. Successful urban density isn’t simply a matter of tall buildings stacked next to one another. City residents require both space and privacy, green space and open sky, breathing room and room to run. How cities deliver their services must be organized in ways that can be maintained over decades without depleting their coffers or making neighbourhoods and the environment inhospitable.

Our mayor? He goes to Asia, looks around and comes back to tell us we need more private sector involvement in public transit.emptysuit

So, you see why I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to thinking he’s up to the task of transforming Toronto in any positive, 2016 way? After nearly 18 months in office, what issues has he enthusiastically grabbed and run with? Keeping the Gardiner East expressway elevated and expediting road construction. And racoon proof green bins.

Talk about “a change-based urbanism”, as Ms. Sadik-Khan does in Streetfight, and very little of what our mayor is doing right now suggests he gets the concept or, if he does, is at all comfortable with it. He was elected to change the mayor. Changing the city isn’t really part of his constitution.

There was so much excitement around Janette Sadik-Khan’s visit to our city — it seemed to tap into all the anticipation, frustration, and hope that Torontonians hold for the future of our streets. But armed with new copies of her book, Toronto is now ready to win the streetfight.

This is one Claire Nelischer, writing at the Ryerson City Building Institute blog. God bless, Ms. Nelischer, and her clearly young beating heart, full of hope and optimism. Some of Toronto may be ready for a streetfight, some are engaged in it already. Unfortunately, the elected leadership at City Hall is, once more, proving to be on the wrong side of that fight.

selfinflictedfiringsquad

crustily submitted by Cityslikr


Wheeling And New Dealing

December 7, 2015

Let me run a hypothetical by you here.whatif

A pedestrian illegally crosses a street, grievously misjudging how fast an oncoming car is moving, say, 20 kilometres over the legal speed limit. Pedestrian is struck. It’s called an “accident”.

Who’s at fault in this case?

Pedestrian shouldn’t have been crossing the street at that spot. The driver has the right of way. But what rights does a driver forfeit by not adhering to posted speed limits?

I pose this, having made my way around my area of town over the weekend, exclusively on foot, taking advantage of the pleasant late fall weather, observing and participating in – excuse me while I butcher Jane Jacobs — our mobility ballet.

And I can only arrive at one simple conclusion: cars remain the prima ballerina assoluta of the dance. Even in the heart of the downtown core, in spots of the city never designed or unnaturally rejigged for car use, private vehicles rule the roost. roadrage1They dictate the speed and tone of place. In spots, their dominance has been challenged but not seriously so.

Cars speed. Cars park and stop illegally. Cars block bike lanes and transit stops. Cars blow past open streetcar doors. Cars are regularly driven by people using their cell phones. Cars browbeat other road users through intimidation (some intentional, some not) and the always present threat of injury and death.

Yes, cyclists break the law too. Pedestrians disobey traffic lights. But their disregard rarely alters the flow and feel of the streetscape or impinges on others.

As I responded to a reader of this site who had commented to a post last week about the need for non-drivers to accept responsibility for their actions on the roads and sidewalks, Pedestrian makes a mistake, is struck by a car, pedestrian dies. Driver makes a mistake, strikes pedestrian with their car, pedestrian dies. The dynamic is unequal. The burden of responsibility should always be placed on those capable of inflicting the most damage. Drivers should always drive like a 4 year-old could suddenly pop out of nowhere right in front of them. chalkoutlineDrivers should always drive like that elderly gentleman ahead of them won’t make it across the street as quickly as you might think.

I was making my way up an alley early Friday evening, in the dark, as it tends to be in these parts this time of year, when a big fucking pick-up truck came barreling toward me. I don’t know what the speed limit is in our alleyways but this driver was going faster than the limit would be on the road just parallel west of us. Unsurprisingly, I tucked in out of the path of the truck. If I didn’t, I’d be dead. That’s how fast this vehicle was moving. I knew it. The driver knew it. It was my job to get out of his way.

On two separate runs over the weekend, making my way along the sidewalk, cars pulled out of blind alleys, blowing right through the sidewalk and stopping at the road just beyond that. There had been no one that the drivers could see walking in front of them, so they just continued forward, operating under the assumption that any pedestrians coming that way would stop for the car. streetfestWhy? Because they’d have to, for their own personal safety.

Why is it that pedestrians and cyclists are forced to go about their business always on the lookout for some inattentive driver just lurking around every corner or alley, not paying them equal attention? The answer’s simple. Because our lives depend on it.

In order to change how we get around this city, we have to transfer the risk of “accidents” and altercations to where the possibility of inflicting damage is most. Car drivers. There has to be serious consequences for drivers who fail to adapt their driving to the circumstances they’re driving in. That means slowing down, always yielding to more vulnerable road users, shouldering the responsibility to ensure no loss of life or injury.

Drivers should be as fearful of driving in the presence of pedestrian and cycling traffic as pedestrians and cyclists are afraid of travelling in the presence of cars.

In case you think I’m just talking some radical, utopian, Eurotrash talk, read the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore on the former New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan’s talk last week. deathrace2000In short, that city’s gone hard and quickly in reordering its road and street hierarchy, placing private vehicle use right down at the bottom of the list. “Moving at the speed of life,” I believe she called it. As a matter of fact, drivers, you don’t own the road.

In some places, at least. Not any longer. While we here in Toronto are still moving about in the dark ages.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Car Troubles

December 2, 2015

Last week, Toronto writer, Shawn Micallef, fired off the following tweets:

It’s been a bad few years for pedestrians in Toronto, deaths up 90% over the past 4 years, 34 so far this year (and counting), compared to 18 in 2011. speedingcarsAs Jessica Smith Cross wrote in Metro over the weekend, that accounts for 59% of road deaths in Toronto this year. In the first 10 months of 2015, over 1500 pedestrians have been struck by cars.

And the official response from those tasked with the oversight of street safety, the Toronto Police? Do The Bright Thing. “We have to put ourselves in the position to be seen,” Constable Hugh Smith informs us.

How twisted is that? Those most vulnerable, the ones not behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, sanctioned to go lethal limits of speed, those of us with the least control, are held responsible to make sure we don’t get run over. Because, you know, drivers have places to go, people to meet.

So even when we are full in our rights, crossing a street legally, as Micallef pointed out, we have to check and re-check around us to make sure somebody’s not rushing to make it through that light or checking their phone or just simply zoned out, unburdened of any consequence of their inattention. overthespeedlimitHow many of us pedestrians have had to stop up short in an intersection out of fear that driver may not have judged his stopping distance correctly? Who amongst us pedestrians haven’t had cars blow through a well-lit crosswalk or open streetcar doors?

Why just yesterday, in fact, I had to pick up my pace crossing a street at a green light as some fucking jag off making a left turn, committed to going despite me being in his way in order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic. A collision, no doubt, that would’ve harmed me, the literal innocent bystander, more than any of the occupants of the cars involved. And in the end, invariably written up as an “accident”. An unfortunate “accident” but an “accident” nonetheless. Harm but no foul.

Drivers go about their driving business with relative impunity. Even the most egregious transgressions, like impaired driving or vehicular manslaughter, are rarely met with the severest of punishments. intheintersectionJail, sometimes, but usually not for very long. How many people do you know who’ve ever had their licence revoked permanently?

Is that too much to demand from someone who’s got into a driver’s seat drunk and killed somebody as a result? Never mind incarceration. Should they ever be allowed to drive again?

Or how about those driving at dangerously high speeds, just one little unforeseen glitch away from losing complete control of their vehicle? They do so knowingly, not only at the risk of their own lives but everyone who just might be in their path. Another tragic “accident”.

How much over the speed limit is too much? 20 kilometres an hour? 40? 50? At what point do we say, you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car?

We know a car travelling at 30 km/h puts the odds of a pedestrian dying if struck down at about 5%. At 50 km/h? 37-45%. 64 km/h? 83-85%.pedestriandown

We know this and yet, as Mr, Micallef pointed out, cars whipping down Jarvis Street are regularly travelling at 10-20 kilometres over the legally posted limited of 50 kp/h. That puts them right smack dab in the high probability kill zone if they hit a pedestrian or mow down a cyclist. Even without the possibility of casualties, racing cars make for an unappealing environment for anyone else not driving in the area.

We know all this and still, not only do we put up with it, we accommodate it with wider lanes to compensate for driver error, tearing up bike lanes which, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, slow traffic down and greatly reduce the rate of road fatalities. pedestriandown1New York has recently experienced the fewest traffic deaths in a 100 years! But here in Toronto, whatevs. Mom’s got to get home a few minutes quicker to have supper with the kids.

My intention is not to demonize drivers here. I’m demonizing the system that continues to coddle them, entitle them, under-charge them and very, very, rarely penalizes them appropriately for the life-altering and often life-ending choices they make (largely for others) when they are behind the wheel of their vehicles. The political and societal clout the cult of the automobile is far greater than any good it delivers, often falling short by orders of magnitude.

Others cities throughout the world have recognized this and are attempting to reorder the hierarchy of their transportation system. Not just European cities. Cities we here in Toronto look to in terms of inspiration. New York City, for example. De-escalating our car dependency can’t be written off as simply some lifestyle choice. deathrace2000It is now nothing short of an absolute necessity.

Unless Toronto’s car-bound leadership recognizes that fact, we will jeopardize whatever competitive advantages we have as an international city. We have to stop pretending that somehow Toronto’s different than other places. We aren’t. We built this city on the belief that prioritizing car travel was the future. It wasn’t or, at least, that future didn’t last. It is our duty to now fix that mistaken but hard to shake belief.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr