The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

June 17, 2015

During the lead up to last week’s Gardiner expressway east debate and council decision, an interesting statistic was tweeted from Laurence Liu into my consciousness. buslineTaken from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow survey, it gave a breakdown of morning commute time travel modes into Toronto’s downtown core from all 44 wards in the city. In a previous post, I pointed out that in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, the beating heart of Ford Nation, ground zero for the war on the car, only 22% of those making their way downtown in the morning actually drove. 77% of Rob Ford’s constituents commuting to the core in the a.m. relied on public transit.

Strange, eh? With such heavy transit dependence in his ward, you’d think the councillor would have different priorities. You’d think.

Stranger still, as I was looking over the table, I realized in my ward, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, more people drive downtown to work in the morning than do those in Ward 2, 27%. crowdedbusThat’s right. In Ward 19 – as downtown a ward as you can get – more than a quarter of morning commuters to downtown jobs drive.

How is that possible?

Ward 19 is crammed full of transit options. Off the top of my head, 4 east-west and 1 north-south streetcar lines pass through it. There are three bus routes, I think. The Bloor-Danforth subway line. Ward 19 has some of the city’s best biking infrastructure in it.

And, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that I could walk from the most north-westerly part of this ward to the very southeast corner of the official downtown core in around an hour or so with a stop for coffee.

Why on earth would anyone living in Ward 19 drive to their job in the downtown core?

The simplest explanation, I’d guess, is that they can.

Often times, this war on the car that’s been raging in the minds of too many city councillors is couched in terms of looking out for the little guy, as one of the battle’s prime warriors likes to say. crowdedbus1We can’t talk tolls and other forms of road pricing because, well, some people depend on their cars to get around the city. Should they be penalized for that? We must keep road capacity in order for people to get as quickly as possible between the 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet

The automobile provides the life line to those who need it most, those hardworking taxpayers just looking to get ahead while spending as much quality time with their families.

Except that, owning and operating a car in this city is an expensive proposition although not as expensive as it should be, if gasoline was priced accordingly and the use of public space to park our cars charged properly. It would seem to me that car dependence is a burden on those struggling to get by not something to be encouraged. SeanMarshallMapWe do that by trying to make it easier to driver and short-changing the public transit system.

Sean Marshall created a map (which is what he does so well) from the table drawn up by Laurence Liu. Some of the heaviest transit use during morning commutes to downtown comes from the farthest reaches of the city. Northwest Etobicoke. North North York. Scarbourgh. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who couldn’t make up his mind last week on what to do with the Gardiner east (None of the above) represents a ward in this city were only 15% of residents drive downtown to work. You might think that he’d take every opportunity to divert money into transit projects that would benefit the other 85% of his residents who rely on public transit.

Now overlay that map with any that David Hulchanski’s produced over the last little while. The ones showing Toronto’s growing income disparity, and the specific locations of low income neighbourhoods. Funny, eh? There appears to be some sort of relationship between income levels and transit use. DavidHulchanskiMapSpecifically, the less you make, the more you use transit.

So tell me again why we must be redirecting public resources to free up car traffic instead of investing every dollar we can get our hands on in public transit?

Some of the highest car use in morning commute times to downtown come from some of the more affluent spots in the city, spots, in some cases, better served by transit than the places with more transit users. “Fun TTS 2011 fact,” Laurence Liu tweeted, “of those who drive downtown during AM peak period, 64% live in households with 2 or more cars.” Two or more cars? That’s not dependence. It’s an addiction.

You’ll have to excuse my impatience then with those trying to espouse notions of equality and fairness when they push for increased spending on road infrastructure or tout the need to bury public transit in order to clear up the streets for cars. openroadThis isn’t about the little guy. It’s about an overweening sense of entitlement by those who can afford to make an active choice to drive in this city. My neighbours in Ward 19 with every amenity at their disposal to get around but they pick the most expensive one because they can afford it.

— automiserly submitted by Cityslikr


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


A Tory Budget

January 20, 2015

Today kicks-off the official launch of the city’s Budget 2015 process. Day 1 of nearly 40 days of numbers, haggling, debate, deputations, bluster, compromise and, finally, a dead reckoning. kickoffCampaign bullshit walks. Tough decisions talk.

While Mayor Tory and his budget team may be attempting to give him a little working distance with their talk of a ‘staff-generated budget’, what we’ll be hearing this morning will be simply staff recommendations. During the next 6 weeks or so, the mayor and council will be making the ultimate call on what gets paid for and how. When they’re through, make no mistake, it will be Mayor Tory’s budget.

What I’ll be watching for is how the mayor navigates the treacherous waters of fulfilling his campaign promises while coping with the reality of the numbers presented to him. He’s already taken one on the chin yesterday, announcing a TTC fare hike to help pay for serious and much needed service enhancements. On the campaign trail last year, Tory ill-advisedly vowed (along with his two main opponents, it should be added) to freeze TTC fares. Ooops!

The mayor fell back on the old trope of not realizing how bad things were when he made that promise. whoopsAfter all, he was just a radio talk show host commenting on municipal affairs as well the CEO of an organization that made transit and the fight against congestion a priority. How was to possibly know the sorry state of transit in the city?

Look. I’ll cut Mayor Tory some slack and even give him some very reluctant credit for accepting the inevitable and pushing ahead with the transit improvements. Should it come largely on the backs of TTC users? That’s going to be part of the budget debate but it should be pointed out (it has been pointed out) that regular riders on the system, those using a Metropass, will have paid over $500 more by the end of 2015 than they did in 2011 in return for 2010 levels of service. The better way indeed.

Still, the mayor seems unprepared to apply the same logic – improved service means more money — to the overall operating budget as he has to the TTC. At the press conference announcing the TTC news, he remained adamant that any property tax increase would remain at or below the rate of inflation. Without new sources of revenue (and the fare increase does not appear to be enough to cover the service bump), that campaign promise can only result in service reductions elsewhere. addingupIt certainly won’t lead to any type of expansion of services or programs. The numbers don’t add up.

If this is truly a Joe Pennachetti budget, as the Star’s Daniel Dale suggested, new revenue would be flowing into city coffers. For a couple years now, the city manager has been telling anyone and everyone who’s been listening that as it is, Toronto’s future fiscal health is unsustainable if we continue to ignore the need for new revenues. The mayor’s going to keep any property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation? Barring new money from the other levels of government, expect more user fees and the like or just start expecting less from the city.

Taking the most generous assessment of inflation, 2.7% for the city of Toronto, add an additional .5% for the Scarborough subway, the 2015 property tax increase has to come in at 3.2%. Anything less, anything, will mean cuts somewhere in services and programs. chainofofficeEven at just 3.2%, without other revenue sources, reductions will have to happen in order to pay for the increased spending like on the TTC Mayor Tory has already committed to.

Today’s budget recommendations mark the end of the 2014 municipal campaign. The time for hedging and hair-splitting has ended. The mayor will try his best to convince us that his hands are tied, that he’s just responding to situation not of his making. While there’s a grain of truth to that, come the middle of March, the city budget will be his to wear like the chain of office he also inherited.

watchfully submitted by Cityslikr