Folie á Deux

June 17, 2016

canx

It’s Friday. The weather outside is dee-lightful. I may or may not have had too much to drink last night.

My will to fight, rant and rage is compromised.

Mayor Tory is determined to lead the charge in the transit debacle that is the Scarborough subway currently unfolding before our eyes. Today he showed grit and determination to bury (along with the Bloor-Danforth extension) whatever vestiges of prudence, reasonableness and good governance he was clinging on to, fully stepping into crank hackery territory. Zero vision indeed. Credibility gone. Leadership void.

The degree with which the mayor is now trying to stifle further discussion is directly proportional to the growing realization how terrible a project this one-stop, “express” subway actually is, reflected in the latest bit of bad news from Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. For Mayor Tory, any criticism of the plan comes from naysayers, scaredy-cats and those who just want to debate not build things. Almost as if those kind of people really exist.

This mayor is as lacking in good judgement as I feared he would be. He is not leading us from the civic wilderness the Ford administration took us into. He’s just taking us down another awful path. And if you think that’s the case, Mayor Tory wants you to know that you’re the one with the problem, not him. He’s a doer, goddammit! His critics are just an obstacle to progress.

But, it’s Friday and sunny. Let’s take a few days off and pretend not to be worried that Toronto is, once again, in incapable hands. Ahh, well. This city’s tendency to elect incompetent mayors will still be staring us right in the face come next week.

(h/t John Tory Watch)

sunnily (on the outside) submitted by Cityslikr


Blind Spot

June 16, 2016

Here’s how it starts.

On Monday’s edition of the CBC’s The Current, carsofthefuturethe show’s host Anna Maria Tremonti was talking to the president of General Motors Canada about technology, innovation and the future of transportation. It essentially went like this:

Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. E-bikes (manufactured by GM natch). Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Multi-modality. Cars, e-bikes, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

With self-driving cars, our future roads will look pretty much like our current roads. Filled with cars. In a 24 minute segment, public transportation wasn’t mentioned once. Unsurprisingly, at least from GM’s standpoint, as it looks to shore up its share of the electric and, ultimately, autonomous vehicle market. The nature of car ownership may change, with more of an emphasis on ‘sharing’ ownership. carsofthefuture1But car ownership there will be and General Motors wants to be a major part of that.

There continues to be very little talk, though, of autonomous vehicles and public transit which, one would think might be a relatively hot topic of conversation. Setting aside a discussion about the loss of yet another sector of well-paying jobs, since labour costs are the prime driver of public transit operating budgets, you’d think municipal governments all over the place would be salivating over the possibility of self-driving buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams. Just like the move toward automated subway systems. Not only cheaper to run but also better in terms of route management and increased frequency, owing to the absence of messy human imperfectness.

Yet, it’s still largely all about the new technology and cars. Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

Almost simultaneously with The Current interview on Monday, the city and Mayor Tory announced its road safety plan to… and I’ve been waiting pretty much my entire writing life to use this phrase in a sentence… carsofthefuture2universal opprobrium. “Very unambitious,” the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore called it. Where other cities around the world have adopted the Swedish concept of Vision Zero, essentially a target of no traffic deaths with aggressive time lines and money to pursue it, our mayor championed the idea of reducing traffic fatalities by 20% over the next decade. A target “smaller than many of the normal [traffic fatality] fluctuations from year to year,” Moore pointed out.

“Very unambitious,” is a nice way of putting it.

As for money budgeted to achieve this modest target? Equally modest. $40 million extra over the next 5 years. Cities like New York? “An additional $115 million this year alone.” San Francisco? $70 million in the next 2 years.

Mayor Tory made the appearance of scrambling backward on the road safety plan on Tuesday when he told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday that it was a ‘mistake’, a ‘communications mistake’ not to make it clear that he and the city had every intention of aiming for the Vision Zero standard of 0 road deaths. “The objective is to get to zero as quickly as possible without trying to put a time frame on this” Not really the “aggressive” approach to traffic safety Vision Zero calls for but very much the Mayor Tory way on policy issues he agrees with in theory. carsofthefuture3Why shoot for the moon when, really, the appearance of doing something is what’s called for?

As he was performing his radio mea culpa, the mayor’s traffic congestion enforcement blitz was underway and, wouldn’t you know it? It was the pedestrians’ fault all along! Not obeying the rules of road and following traffic lights that were set up to keep them in the proper place. Huddled together on the curb, waiting for their brief window of opportunity to scurry across the street and be one their way. Yep. If pedestrians would just follow the laws and traffic lights, cars would be free to do what they were designed and built to do, what cities have designed and built their infrastructure around. The domination by private automobiles of the public space that are our roads and streets. The terrorizing of other road and street users into submission.

The conclusion of this dynamic is perfectly logical.carsofthefuture4

Such pampered entitlement and obvious preferential treatment of car drivers leads to a contempt of anyone else not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. A fraternity of the self-righteous and self-important. A confederacy of disregard.

As a matter of fact, I do own the road. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers. Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.

And if somebody dies, we’ll call it an accident. Of course, it was an accident. No one would mean to jump a curb with their car and kill somebody. It’s more of a faulty assessment of the possible outcomes to bad, split-second decisions made to get just one car length further forward.

Damage done, death inflicted, it usually ends the only way it possibly could. A fine. Demerit points. Probably a bump in insurance rates. But no jail time. No talk of a life time ban for blatant indifference or lethal inattention to anyone else on the road. carsofthefuture5Fatalities merely chalked up to going about your daily business in the big city.

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, if certain carmakers are to be believed, technology will save us from our indifference to the death and killing in our streets. Fingers crossed. Nothing to be sneezed at, for sure. It’s just, by the sound of things, it won’t make a dent in how we prioritize our transportation hierarchy. Cars, first and foremost. Cars, now and forever.

carfully submitted by Cityslikr


Predetermining Outcomes

June 8, 2016

It has been my experience that someone who attempts to frame an opposing view in a dishonest, distorted manner has no intention of engaging in an honest, informative debate.

Exhibit A:

Mayor John Tory’s opening statement at yesterday’s city council meeting on Toronto’s long-term fiscal plan of action.

There are people who will say that we don’t have any problem with respect to expenditures, and my answer to that would only be to say that anybody who’s part of any multi-billion dollar organization that says they’ve found every single efficiency that there is to be found is either ill-informed or is trying to mislead.

The thing is, I’ve never heard anybody, inside or outside of the multi-billion dollar organization that is the city of Toronto, say anything remotely like that. How could they with a straight face? A quick glance in any direction will turn up misspent money and cost overruns. Renovations of Union Station, Nathan Phillips Square. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. The **cough, cough** Scarborough subway extension. Bunny suits and retirement parties. Remember those? Oldies but goodies.

It would be foolish to suggest none of that matters. That’s why very few people I know have ever said such a thing. texaschainsawmassacreThat’s not what this debate is about, no matter how much the mayor would like you to think it is.

What this city manager has been telling Mayor Tory, like the city manager before him said, like the KPMG report back in 2012 concluded, all of them, is that the city is pretty tightly run already, and much more cutting of budgets finding efficiencies will begin to negatively impact the delivery of services and programs. More to this particular aspect of the debate, City Manager Peter Wallace has been emphasizing the point that no amount of further efficiencies or selling off of city assets alone will generate the necessary revenue to a) continue funding the day-to-day operating budget, and b) or be enough to build the new infrastructure we want/require and rebuild the state of good repair of infrastructure we already have. We have to have the revenue tools discussion, boys and girls.

What the mayor heard, however, came straight out of a game of broken telephone. What do you mean there’s no more efficiencies to be found? (That’s not what I said.) What do you mean selling off city owned assets won’t generate revenue? (Again, that’s not what I said. Nowhere in my report did I write that.)

Mayor Tory has acknowledged that we will have to have an “honest” discussion about revenue tools. “I’m glad revenue tools are on the table,” admitted his budget chief, Councillor Gary Crawford. But…But…

The city must maintain a fundamental focus on responsible and effect expense management…We must continue to explore efficiencies and cost reduction in order to create resources for other investment opportunities…Once we get those correct, once we look at those, I think we can have the discussion on revenues.

To suggest that we have found everything is absolutely not responsible.

Again, nobody has ever suggested such a thing. Mayor Tory and his council allies are determined to distort the terms of this debate while at the same time attempting to establish impossible to meet standards in order to put off any sort of serious discussion about revenue tools. actingNo stone will be left unturned! No efficiency unwrung! This city must be a perfectly oiled, flawlessly operating machine. Until such a time – “Once we get those correct,” in the words of the budget chief – there will be no talk of new revenue tools.

At least, no serious discussion. We’ll get the pretense of a serious discussion, the theatre of an informed, honest debate. Mayor Tory will give the impression of earnestly grappling with our fiscal future. It’ll be just an act, though. Talk of good intentions masking no intention whatsoever to move beyond his preconceived, ideologically hidebound notions of how government should work. His own political rigidity reflected in how he’s attempting to paint opposing views in stark, rigid terms.

predictingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sad Symmetry

June 1, 2016

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

similarly submitted by Cityslikr


I Told You So, Sadly

May 30, 2016

I really, really resisted writing this. The tone, invariably, would be predictable, dreary even. I Told You Sos are boring, bringing little satisfaction to even the teller, this teller.

But Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, had a terrible, terrible week last week. Like, amazingly bad, exuding a willful, stubborn defiance of good judgment, an eager willingness to swipe aside anything that ran contrary to his rigid, preconceived notions.

Sound familiar?

At his Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Tory plugged his ears and refused to listen to City Manager Peter Wallace lay out all the reasons to consider new and increased revenues. Did you say, Find more efficiencies? Sell off city owned assets? That’s what I thought you said.

(NOW magazine’s Jonathan Goldsbie does an excellent job recreating the Tory-Wallace exchange.)

Also at his Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Tory punted the ward boundary review debate off into the fall, threatening the timeline that would see any changes in place for the 2018 municipal election. He pooh-poohed 3 years of work and public and stakeholder consultation that wound up recommending the addition of only 3 new wards, simply shook his head and shrugged his shoulders with a blithe We Don’t Need More Politicians down here at City Hall. Consult some more. Come back with the mayor’s preferred choice of 44 wards.

(David Hains in Torontoist explains why this is a particularly boneheaded and short-sighted direction the mayor seems determined to take.)

Fine. Fuck it. Whatever. None of this should come as any sort of surprise. John Tory is performing his duties as mayor pretty much as underwhelmingly as I expected.

And then his week got even worse.

That’s when the Toronto Police Services carried out its ill-advised raids of illegal pot dispensaries throughout the city, a course of action Mayor Tory seems to have encouraged in a letter he wrote 2 weeks earlier to the Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director. While this was happening, the mayor decided, not at all coincidentally I’m sure, to go plant some flowers while taking a crap on the head of a city council colleague and staff in the process. “Awful. A cheap stunt,” Metro’s Matt Elliott tweeted.

Indeed.

Isn’t this the kind of bullshit grandstanding we were supposed to have left behind in not electing a Ford mayor of Toronto? This isn’t Mayberry RFD. We live in a city of more than 2.5 million people with far bigger problems than a weedy street garden plot. It is not the mayor’s job to get involved in this kind of penny ante, day-to-day type of customer service.

If Mayor Tory really wanted to help the situation, speed the process up, maybe he should stop insisting on below-the-rate of inflation property tax increases and demanding across the board budget cuts to the departments that would take the lead on matters like this. Or he’d realize that in one of the fastest growing wards in the city where this neglected street garden plot was, the little things sometimes get missed and, in fact, we could use a few more councillor office’s at City Hall. If, you know, the mayor was interested in anything other than photo ops and playing political games.

After his sad sack performance this week, it dawned on me why, in the end, I believed electing John Tory mayor would be worse than Doug Ford. If Doug Ford had won, I think we would’ve remained on guard, prepared to fight the inevitable civic assault he’d attempt to carry out. With John Tory’s victory, we collectively stood down, many of us believing that whatever else, we’d elected a reasonable, competent candidate who might not do much but wouldn’t inflict too much damage.

Nearly 18 months into his tenure as mayor of Toronto, John Tory has proven to be anything but reasonable or competent. He has no ideas. He possesses an utter lack of imagination. His urban views are amber encased in the 20th-century, the mid-20th-century, no less. The only thing he’s proven adept at so far is avoiding our 21st-century challenges.

Let’s not mistake regular press conferences and media availability for dynamism. The boldness of this administration is inversely proportional to the number of times it claims to be bold. As the world moves on, continues forward, simply running on the spot still leaves us further behind. This isn’t a holding pattern we’re experiencing in Toronto. It’s just quiet regression that seems acceptable only after the noisy havoc of the Ford years. Little of that damage is being undone. The messenger has changed. The message remains firmly in place.

The frustrating thing about all this is that Mayor Tory has been given plenty of cover to adapt and rework his positions. A case has been made to consider new approaches to revenue generation, to civic governance, to the redesign of our streets and how we get around this city. The opportunities have been presented for the progressive side of John Tory to step forward, the red carpet rolled out for CivicAction John Tory to make his way into the spotlight, that side of the candidate voters were assured would figure prominently if elected.

“Progressive” John Tory has gone AWOL, if there was every such a thing as a “progressive” John Tory. I don’t want to say, I told you so but… I told you so. We’ll all probably be better off going forward if we stop pretending, and hoping for that side of the man and his administration to emerge. It was never really a thing anyway despite our insistence to believe otherwise.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr