Our Ongoing Sorry State Of Civic Affairs

June 6, 2015

stinkupthejoint

On a side trip from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Edmonton down to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with somebody or other from Cisco systems to talk about—actually, at this point in the story it doesn’t matter, Mayor Tory’s chief of staff, Chris Eby, tweeted this from a cab on the way in from the airport:

Enroute from SFO to San Jose with [Mayor Tory]. Asked the driver what happened when the Embarcadero was torn down. “Traffic is much worse.” This guy makes his living driving. So I tend to believe him not the mythology that traffic just disappears.

The Embarcadero was an elevated expressway in San Francisco that came down in the 1989 earthquake. It was replaced by an at-grade roadway. You can read about it in a Toronto Star article by Edward Keenan, San Francisco’s waterfront freeway was removed 25 years ago. No one misses it. No one except the mayor’s driver, apparently.

The “mythology” the mayor’s chief of staff referred to is the heavily studied, real-life phenomenon referred to as, disappearing traffic. It suggests that traffic levels drop as road space decreases. The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore details it in his article about the West Side expressway in New York. If you think he’s just some biased, lying journalist, there’s an academic study about it that looked at cases in some 70 cities that pretty much confirms the thinking.

For the mayor’s chief of staff, however, it’s simply “mythology”. Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, simply stated she didn’t believe it when questioned during her press conference this week, called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east. My opinion is set. Keep your facts away from me.

I don’t know if it’s too strong a statement but, I’ve come to believe, that even this early in his administration, Mayor Tory has lost any and all moral authority the voters of this city gave him last October to lead this city. On this particular debate, along with the issue of police carding, he’s simply stood in the way of reform and good governance. He’s proven as resistant to change as his predecessor and, more alarmingly, equally as comfortable engaging in orchestrated campaigns of outright misinformation. Misleading rather than leading.

At every opportunity, he spouts the words ‘practical’, ‘sensible’, ‘prudent’, ‘rational’, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that’s what he’s engaged in. But clearly they’re being used as words of incantation in an attempt to create the illusion of all those things. If the words are spoken out loud enough, it creates the appearance of reality.

And for the city councillors insisting on following him down these crooked paths back to the past, they’re proving themselves unfit to govern. For many, we already knew that. For others, we suspected. A few, however, we held out a little hope for. But that door’s now closed.

Your job as a city councillor (or any elected official) is to look at all the information set out in front of you and make the best decision possible. For your constituents. For your community. For the city at large. Hopefully, that decision will align with the mayor. If it doesn’t, a city councillor is not indebted to the mayor’s office, the job description is not to punch the mayor’s ticket. It’s to do the right thing for those who put you in office.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Gardiner east debate, doing the right thing flies in the face of the term Mayor Tory has hijacked for his own purposes, ‘common sense’. Less road space naturally leads to more congestions and traffic ‘chaos’, as the “hybrid” supporters claim. That’s just common sense.

Yet, it isn’t. Anyone who’s spent even an hour reading up on the issue would know that. If they were open to ideas and facts that challenged their beliefs and biases.

Obviously, Mayor Tory and his merry band of “hybrid” supporters don’t possess such capacity. Rather than going out and explaining to sceptics about the upside and benefits to bringing down the 1.7 kilometre stretch of the Gardiner east, alleviating the fears of ‘traffic chaos’, they’ve chosen instead to ramp up the fear-mongering, ignore the facts and evidence in front of them, and cling desperately to dated thinking about city building.

Toronto may be saved from these worst instincts if city council does go with Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option next week. There’s plenty of reason to think cooler, more rational heads will prevail. The provincial government could nix the “hybrid” option if it’s determined to deviate too far from the 2009 environmental assessment’s terms of reference. A new federal government in the fall might view the “hybrid” option as a breach of the tripartite agreement on waterfront development. Possible litigation against the city from developers of waterfront properties negatively impacted by the “hybrid” solution.

Deux ex machine-like, the city could be rescued from the sheer incompetence of its city council, if the Mayor Tory led ineptitude wins out next week. That shouldn’t blind us to the fact that, once again, we’ve elected a mayor and a large percentage of city councillors who are not up to the task of leading this city with any sense of vision, bravery or forward-thinking insight. We seem to have a knack for that. We need to start figuring out why.

deusexmachina

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


A Diminishing Debate

June 5, 2015

“This is really a transportation issue, not a planning issue,” said Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, after a particularly prickly press conference she called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east section of the expressway.

stiflingdebate

It’s difficult to know what to make of that quote. Champions of the “hybrid” option, like the mayor and Councillor Robinson, regularly trot out the claim that their choice opens up the Unilver site for massive redevelopment (hinting by omission that the other option, the boulevard option doesn’t which it does). How exactly then is this not a “planning issue”?

Well apparently, it isn’t when it’s pointed out that the “hybrid” option also locks out possible other development potential, some 12 acres of it, worth in the neighbourhood of a cool $2 billion. The boulevard option keeps that development open but also may slightly increase commute times for a small fraction of car driving commuters. Thus, for our mayor and chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, “This is really a transportation issue”.

If the councillor truly believed that, you’d think then, she’d be more open to understanding the transportation issue of this debate. dontbelieveitfaceThat doesn’t appear to be the case. During the press conference, Councillor Robinson played up the traffic havoc that would result if the 1.7 kilometre stretch of elevated expressway came down, replaced by an 8 lane at-grade road. A 5 minute increase in driver commute time. Each way. Negating that would be a “windfall”, the councillor claimed.

Never mind that the numbers in relation to the drive times are contentious. No one knows for certain what they’ll be. What we do know, as rigorously studied and researched examples of other cities that removed expressways have shown, traffic tends to disappear with diminished road capacity. People find other ways to get around the city.

When asked about that fact at the press conference, Councillor Robinson simply replied, “I don’t believe it.”

Just like that. I don’t believe it. I know what I know.

When you refuse to grasp what may be counter-intuitive, you wind up spinning the counterfactual.

While some may be in their element doing that – our current mayor has grown comfortable, trolling in that territory – others wind up diminishing not only the bogus case they’re trying to make but their reputation also. elephantCouncillor Robinson brightened her rather tepid presence at city council last term by stepping up to defend waterfront plans from the incursion made on them by Doug Ford. Now she seems prepared to return to the pod of obedient soldier, stumping for Mayor Tory’s ill-advised assault.

Highly respected urban planner and architect, John van Nostrand, did similar disservice to his reputation with an aggressive performance at the press conference yesterday. A well-regarded name with years of experience, working with the city on waterfront plans and the Gardiner expressway specifically, van Nostrand is the lone ace up the administration’s sleeve in terms of the planning side of the debate. Rather than try to pitch his vision of waterfront development with the Gardiner east remaining elevated, he played pitbull instead, gracelessly attacking the opposing side as simply wrong.

What he tried to do was sell the idea that a better urban form could be developed under and around an elevated expressway than could be with an 8 (or possibly 10) lane, at-grade roadway. granvilleislad“Specious”, he waved off any comparison between the boulevard option and University Avenue while straight-facedly suggesting we could have something similar with the Gardiner east as they have in Vancouver with Granville Island. Counter-intuitive? No. Just counterfactual.

John Lorinc showed John van Nostrand to be an innovative and bold thinker in an article from more than 10 years ago. He was all about enhancing the public realm that had been denigrated by the presence of elevated expressways. A worthy endeavour, for sure, as van Nostrand touted examples of such projects around the world.

As he did at yesterday’s press conference. London, New York, Madrid. But I wanted to know if these places had the choice Toronto faces with the Gardiner east. Did these cities have the option to remove the expressways and bridges or were they simply making do with what was in place? Adapting and adjusting to the results of an earlier age’s choice.

With the Gardiner east, we have another option. Get rid of it, create an entirely new environment. Build and develop essentially from scratch. If that choice was available to London, New York and Madrid, would they have passed it up and simply worked around what was already there?

Of course, we’re long past that kind of nuance in this debate. Arguably, nuance was never part of it. beatenMayor Tory dug in early, set up the ramparts as a bulwark against a rational and robust debate, for reasons still either unclear or absurdly simplistic and calculating.

In falling in line behind him and resorting to mouthing the mayor’s vacuous talking points, not only did “hybrid” supporters like the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair and respected professionals like John van Nostrand do the city a disservice, they sullied their own reputation and work in the process. A victory at city council won’t change that.

belittlingly submitted by Cityslikr