Thanks For The Hat

June 10, 2016

I’m not going to bore any of us with the sad, ridiculous, anger-making madness that was yesterday’s city council debate over Toronto’s 10 year bike plan. killmenowRehashing tired arguments, already overwhelmingly dispelled and dust-binned pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world. Airing grievances from those who see Toronto as a special, unique snowflake, a delicate, hothouse, exotic flower, deathly susceptible to any sort of winds of change.

Bike lanes will decimate business. No, they won’t. They haven’t anywhere else where a biking network has been properly installed and maintained. But Toronto’s a winter city. Nobody rides a bicycle in the winter. Tell that to New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. But we’re not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Did you not hear me mention New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal? But it’s too expensive. We don’t have the money. Except for $400 million for the Gardiner East rebuild. And how many billions on a one-stop subway?

Thursday’s performance provided proof positive once again that too many of our elected local officials cannot imagine a future that isn’t just like the past. Or, in Councillor Norm Kelly’s case, one old man believing the future, the real future, is right around the corner. Why bother building terrestrial based transportation infrastructure when in 20 years we’ll all be hovering back and forth between destinations?! chickenlittleThe former deputy mayor of this city has obviously been talking to certain Russian scientists again.

That said, reason, albeit a battered and bruised version of reason, emerged from its mauling victorious. The staff recommended 10 year bike plan, slightly amended worse for wear, would go ahead. Huzzah! It’s a start, supporters claimed. A start from way back, almost so far back you couldn’t even see the pole position. Still, a start. Toronto would be spending — if my math is right here but it is in the neighbourhood – about 70% less in a decade than Oslo, Norway is spending on bike infrastructure in a year. A year, folks! Oslo, Norway! A city that once hosted the winter Olympics.

(Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It won! Toronto now has a 10 year bike plan with some money to actually back it up. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)

There are two thoughts I would like to further explore here, lines of attack trotted out by the most vehement of status quo supporters. Licensing and “psycho cyclists”. notthisagainYeah, I think Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thought he was the first one ever to come up with that variation of a play on words.

Licensing of bikes and/or cyclists has never worked where it’s been tried either as some sort of safety measure or as a way of paying for cycling infrastructure. It costs too much to implement and operate, becoming the kind of red tape politicians like Councillor Mammoliti deplore in other situations. Besides, cyclists pay for the infrastructure they use, and use in a much less onerous manner than drivers do with roads, through the property taxes they pay, and every cyclist, renting or owning a residence in Toronto pays property taxes. Many cyclists also drive on occasion, and will further contribute to transportation infrastructure costs when they pay gas taxes.

Licensing cyclists makes no sense.

As for the scourge of the “psycho cyclist”? Yeah, well. Given the daily, hourly carnage on our roads done by those behind the wheel of motorized vehicles, and the pathological disregard for the rules designed exclusively for their mobility, railing about wayward cyclists is… there’s not even a word in English robust enough to describe that kind of hypocrisy. The Germans, I’m sure have a word for it, and I imagine it isn’t very pretty. crazycyclistThe kill-rate and injuries inflicted on others by those on bicycle is so infinitesimally small as to be barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes, really. Remember that time when that person on the sidewalk…

From a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, the 6 Most Frequent Sources of Pedestrian Injury were: “Tripped on uneven/cracked sidewalk” 24%, “Tripped/fell” 17%, “Hit by a car” 12%, “Wildlife/pets involved” 6%, “Tripped on stone” 5%, “Stepped in a Hole” 5%.

Aside from the obvious need to repair pedestrian infrastructure and the general clumsiness and inability to safely walk their dogs of the pedestrian population, what jumps out at me from that list is the absence of cyclists. Apparently, they’re not quite the menace anti-cycling activists try to make them out to be. Oh, there was that time I was walking across the parking lot and that guy on the bike nearly clipped me. I saw that cyclist riding the wrong way down the street. He could’ve killed someone. (Are you sure it wasn’t a counter-flow lane?)

This is not to say there aren’t asshole people riding bikes in this city. They just ruffle feathers, get under peoples’ skin and, no doubt, at times inconvenience other street users. livestockonbikesThat’s a long way from the killing and injuring inflicted by asshole car drivers.

Here’s where I diverge from some of my cycling allies. While not condoning bad cycling behaviour, I most certainly understand it. Hell, I even engage in it from time to time. Because I’m a rebel and scofflaw? No. Because most of the streets I use have been built, designed and are operated almost exclusively for the movement of motorized vehicles, motorized private vehicles, no less. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders are all after-thoughts.

Here’s a personal example.

I’m out for a run yesterday, heading west, nearing the intersection of Ossington and Argyle, just that side of Trinity Bellwoods Park. You know it. It’s got that pho place on the south-east corner.

I see that the soutbound pedestrian signal on Ossington is counting down to zero, meaning the light will change in my favour and I can continue running without stopping. Sometimes runs just break like that. waitingataredlightThere’s, I don’t know, 5 or 6 pedestrian waiting to also cross the street, and that many people on bikes too.

Except that there are no cars on Argyle waiting to cross Ossington. So that southbound pedestrian signal hits zero and turns back white, meaning the north-south traffic signal didn’t change. Apparently none of the pedestrians or cyclists pushed the button to announce their presence at the intersection, so by all traffic control measures, none of them exist. Even when I do stop to press the button, I’m not immediately acknowledged. We’ll all have to wait until the full cycle is complete.

This, on a street that HAS A FUCKING PAINTED BIKE LANE ON IT! This, when there’s no north-south car traffic in sight along Ossington. So a bunch of pedestrians and cyclists wait for non-existent cars before they are expected to cross a road with the light.

I don’t wait. I continue my run through a red light. Other pedestrians and cyclist make their way across too.

Until we start to design and rebuild our streets and roads more equitably, stop forcing non-drivers to play only by driving rules, deathrace2000there’s going to be law-breaking, tension, and continued lethal competition between the various modes of mobility, with drivers almost always coming out on top and fending off any attempts to level the playing field. Yesterday’s approval of the 10 year bike plan is a start in the right direction. A grudging, tiny, tiny start. But it’s Friday. I will force myself to be content with that.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


In Praise Of Paul

April 2, 2015

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

positively submitted by Cityslikr