TTC Capo

June 30, 2012

I often imagine what it was like behind the scenes back in the heady days of the fall of `10, just after Rob Ford’s surprise mayoral victory. Transitioning into power, drawing up their enemies candidates list for positions in the administration. The only absolute condition was a shared visceral antipathy toward the mayor-elect’s predecessor. Also, being yes men toadies a must.

“So, Stintzie wants to run the TTC. What do you think?”

“Ummm… Don’t know. Did she hate Miller as much as I did?”

“Nobody hated Miller as much as you, Robbie.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I fucking hated that guy. But you think she respects the taxpayers enough? Remember those voice lessons she paid for out of her office expenses?”

“As long as she votes with us to cut those expenses, we can let bygones be bygones. But I’ll tell you what. If she’s still thinking about ever running for mayor—”

“I will crush her. Ford Nation will tear her apart. Like LT snapping Theismann’s leg, Crrrr-acckkk!”

“That’s the thing, Robbie. You won’t have to. The shit we’re going to do to the TTC. Cuts… cuts… cuts–”

“You know who else I fucking hate, Dougie? Jerry Webster. Can we so fire that guy?”

“Why not. You’re the mayor now. You can do anything.”

“Yeah… sweet. Can we go home now?”

“It’s like 11 a.m. There’s still stuff to do.”

“Fine.”

“Stop pouting.”

“I’m not. You’re pouting.”

“The thing about being the TTC boss is that we’re going to so mess it up but it’ll be their face attached, you see what I’m saying?”

“… no… not really.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this, OK? It’s a good move. We’re going to vote for Stintzie to be TTC Chair.”

“Hey. Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“And it’s also good, she’s a girl.”

“Is it?”

“… I think so, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be good?”

“Dunno. Why would it be?”

“… Yo, Adrienne! It’d be good to have a chick run the TTC, right?”

With that scene (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), Councillor Karen Stintz became TTC Chair Karen Stintz and dutifully fulfilled her role as a loyal Team Ford member, standing silently by as the mayor killed Transit City and obediently overseeing a 10% cut to the department’s budget when asked. She pretty much did what the mayor and almost everyone expected her to do.

And then, then she went rogue. No, check that. She went Michael Corleone on Team Ford’s asses.

I’m unprepared to attach motives to the about face. The better angel of my nature, that blackened, wizened, flightless better angel, likes to think she simply grew into her position. Listening to staff and other knowledgeable voices around her, she slowly realized Mayor Ford’s transit plan, such as it was, was unworkable. Way back last October, she raised a red flag of concern about how they were going to tunnel the Eglinton LRT across the Don Valley.

When then TTC General Manager Gary Webster backed her view that LRTs might be the smartest way forward, the mayor and his TTC commissioner boys iced him at the proverbial toll booth. If their goal was to intimidate the TTC Chair back into line, it failed spectacularly. In retaliation, she offs the mayor’s men on the TTC commission, emerging from the fracas in The Limey style.

Tell them I’m coming! I’m fucking coming.

(Yes, municipal politics came be this cinematic.)

It was all downhill for the mayor from that point. In short order, he was pushed, kicking and screaming Subways! Subways! Subways, to the sidelines. Transit City revived in all but name. And then this week, the TTC Chair and her Vice-Chair unveiled a much grander, 30 year transit plan called One City that lit up the switchboards for about 2 days before the province went out of its way to throw cold water on it. (That’s for another post entirely. Suffice to say, the premier and Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation might be well served noting how our TTC Chair dealt with the mayor when he crossed her.)

How One City grew to even see the light of day is, if nothing else, instructive as to how Toronto can actually govern itself in the absence of mayoral leadership. Take a moment to read John McGrath’s account of it at Open File, Don Peat’s in the Toronto Sun and David Rider’s in the Star. It is a microcosm of how council can and should be working together on vital initiatives for the city. A centre-right, centrist and two left wing councillors setting aside ideological differences in order to put forth a discussion paper on how to move forward on building a transit system Toronto so desperately needs. A discussion neither the mayor is capable of conducting and our dark overlords at Queen’s Park are unwilling to consider.

If nothing else, this latest transit saga has shown what is possible in a leadership vacuum when a politician sees that normal operating procedures don’t apply and decides to fill in the void constructively. Karen Stintz, arguably a councillor of little consequence during her first two terms in office, has seized the “opportunity” given her under this malignantly negligent administration and made a mark in a file not usually known for its generosity toward those toiling within its parameters. It’s a lesson others granted positions of power under Mayor Ford could well learn from and act upon.

auteurly submitted by Cityslikr


N O Are The First Two Letters In Nothing

June 29, 2012

This needs to be said.

Our parents and grandparents and great grandparents mobilized and defeated Nazi Germany. So, surely to god we can build a better transit system. Is that really too much to expect?

The hand-wringing and bed wetting and patronizingly stern tsk, tsk, tsk, we’ve seen this all before m’eh reactions to Wednesday’s One City public unveiling seem a little over-the-top in their underwhelmed haughtiness. Blah, blah, blah, “…the real issue that calls the OneCity plan into question: The fact that it will never, ever happen,” sniffs the National Post’s Matt Gurney. “A Tax Attack,” screeched the Toronto Sun, followed by “Taxaholics” yesterday.

Of course, the mayor hated the plan. As did his brother. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti warned of seniors reduced to eating cat food if the plan ever saw the light of day. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong riffed on anything Mayor Ford and the Toronto Sun said.

Others like Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Councillor Michael Thompson didn’t like the fact proper procedures weren’t followed in bringing the plan public. “A political move to try and make the mayor look bad,” said the Deputy Mayor to the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. “I’m appalled actually,” Peat quotes Thompson, “that the mayor’s office has not been consulted on this particular, very important issue.” On the CBC’s Here And Now Wednesday, Councillor Peter Milczyn suggested the architect’s of One City, TTC Chair and Vice-Chair Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker were “up to something”.

Whatever could you mean by that insinuation, councillor?

Is One City a perfect transit plan? Of course not. Many reasonable voices have pointed that out and elaborated on their concerns. John Lorinc. Steve Munro. Edward Keenan. David Hains (here at this site yesterday). Matt Elliott.

It’s just a kick start to the conversation the city needs to have before it falls into the inevitable post-subway-versus-LRT debate torpor that could set in with the belief that our transit situation has been settled for good. No, it hasn’t, folks. We’ve only just begun…

One complaint about One City that I’ve seen repeatedly so far bemoans the fact that it’s just another talky talky plan, some variation of something everyone’s heard before, and that has inevitably landed in the dustbin. We’ve discussed ourselves into substandard public transit. Enough, already! As if, like mushrooms, all the words sown under a damp shadow of neglect will suddenly, magically sprout up into a working, joyful 21st-century transit system.

I’m only guessing here but isn’t it this type of miserly, parochial foot-dragging that’s got us into our current mess? I’d love a DRL but we simply can’t afford it. Why do they get a subway and we don’t?! All we ever do is talk! Just stop talking and do something! Like what? I don’t know. We can’t afford it anyway.

Ad infinitum and here we are in 2012 discussing another big idea transit plan. *yawn*

“Wow! Those Germans really cut a swath through France, didn’t they,” points out the rest of the unoccupied world. “They look like a real tough nut to crack. Maybe we should just lie low for a bit. Keep quiet. Let them tire themselves out a bit.”

Wouldn’t it be great to be a part of something that contributed positively to the future instead of yet another generation dissuaded by indifference and big scary numbers? Pick one. $30 billion? $50 billion? $500 billion? Half a trillion dollars to build a world class transit system from Hamilton to Oshawa, from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. Daunting. Yes. Absolutely necessary. Yes. Achievable. Well.. errr, ahhh, geez… that’s a lot of money. I mean, how are we going to—

[Annoying game show buzzing noise.] Wrong answer.

Cost is just half the equation. The half fiscal hawks only ever focus their sights on. The price of not doing it slowly but relentlessly, exponentially tally up. Lost productivity. Decreased liveability. A gridlocked future our children and grandchildren will simply move away from in search of a better, more prosperous life.

For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost and all that.

Nothing is easier than saying no. Isn’t that how a two year-old takes a first stab at independence? Isn’t that how we’ve found ourselves in the transit mess we’re in now?

No one, and I mean no one, has suggested One City will be the answer to our transit troubles. Let’s embrace the spirit of its intentions. An agreement that the status quo is no longer tenable, and hasn’t been for about two decades now. We can do better. We have to do better. And there’s going to be sacrifices involved. The rainy day’s here and we need to, as the currency of the day seems to be, put some skin into the game.

After all, in the scheme of things, it’s only building transit we’re talking about here not defending the world from a totalitarian scourge.

cheerleadingly submitted by Cityslikr


Bike Lane Crazy

June 25, 2012

This isn’t just about bike lanes although it might seem that way.

If you’re going to build bike lanes, you don’t simply build bike lanes. You build a bike lane network. Off-road doesn’t mean out of sight. It’s all well and good to dedicate hydro corridors to a safe and leisurely Sunday meander but if it leads only in circles, going nowhere in particular, it won’t serve as a needed form of transit.

And that’s why we build bike lanes. We’re not merely slapping in a lane here and another there, wherever we can find space that least inconveniences the non-bike riders amongst us, to score empty political points. As responsible city builders rather than hell bent ideologues, we’re all looking for ways to help alleviate traffic congestion.

At least, that’s what cities that take alleviating traffic congestion seriously do. (No, not just in Europe. Look what’s happening in New York City.)

Rather than view cyclists as irritants, determined only to inflict the maximum amount of aggravation on already put upon vehicle drivers out of nothing more than smug, self-righteous spite, there are places that accommodate bikes as viable transit alternatives. Modes that help ease traffic flow not impede it. Infrastructure gets built enthusiastically with the expectation of removing cars from the roads. Yes, there’s an ecological element to it — fewer cars mean less pollution — but each additional commuter on a bike, well, you do the math.

Over the course of 3 days last week in the Netherlands, I rode some 160 kilometres from small seaside towns through country sides, across protected dunes and into cities. In my best estimation maybe 10 but probably closer to 5 kilometres of that distance was on shared roads without some sort of designated lane, and truthfully, some of that happened due to errors in my navigation. There were segments entirely segregated from everything but other bikes. Some shared with only pedestrians. Protected on road lanes and those demarcated only by painted lines.

No one size fits all solution. Just an accepted notion that cycling was an integral part of any rational transit system and should be accorded appropriate space and value. Biking as more than some left wing conspiracy seeking to bring about the downfall of capitalism. People wanting to go about their business on 2 wheels.

It really is that easy. There just has to be the will. The will comes from understanding this isn’t a zero sum equation. Cars and bicycles can exist together in something resembling harmony. Places as cold and wet as ours is sometimes; places as seemingly inhospitable to a culture of cycling as ours can be in, say, mid-February. Places that weren’t always the bike friendly havens they appear to be today.

Failure to accept this possibility is nothing more than a failure of imagination and nerve. A basic inability to move past the status quo.

That’s why this is more than just bike lanes.

cyclingly submitted by Cityslikr


Marvelling At The Committee Of Adjustment

June 1, 2012

For City Hall watchers, it’s easy to get caught up in the big show. Our larger than life mayor (no, put down your complaint pens, people, that wasn’t a reference to Mayor Ford’s weight), the ideological schism at council and this kind of stuff. It practically writes itself.

So it’s understandable if indefensible that small but vital matters go largely unnoticed. Like, for example, the regular doings at the Committee of Adjustment meetings. Until this week, I’d never attended one and only did so because a development application in my neck of the woods. You might’ve heard about it? A proposed RioCan retail proposal incorporating the Kromer electronics store on Bathurst between College and Dundas streets.

As these things go, this one was a biggie with much community opposition to the 8 ‘minor’ variances RioCan was requesting. But many of the other 14 items before the committee in the same block where unopposed applicants wanting to build a deck or extend basement foundations. Routine matters to everyone but those involved. Yet, the very building blocks of how our city grows and evolves.

The Committee of Adjustment is made up of civilian members, and Toronto has 4 panels, representing 4 areas of the city, Etobicoke-York, North York, Toronto-East York and Scarborough. Members sit for 4 year terms and bring varying degrees of expertise to the job: a working knowledge of law, planning, architecture, government, economic development, community development, land development or citizen advocacy. In other words, a background in engaged citizenry.

A couple things struck me as I watched the proceedings on Wednesday. One was the civility in the room despite a dynamic that could pit neighbour against neighbour or corporate black heartedness against residential entitlement. There was none of the barking and sniping that occurs at council or other committee meeting. Before taking contested applications to the committee, interested parties were requested to conduct a meeting outside the room to see if their issues could be resolved. How often this works, I don’t know. The RioCan representative pointed out to committee members that none of the opponents to their plan chose to talk with them beforehand. Still, there was the sense the committee desired an amicable resolution before they were forced to arbitrate on applications.

The other interesting observation for me was just how thoroughly prepared all committee members were on every application. Those who presented items and spoke against them were frequently but gently nudged along by the committee chair, Gillian Burton, assured that the committee was well versed with the particular application and were looking for any new information. Questions from the committee were informed and concise. It didn’t strike me as some trial by fire or inquisition. Of course, I was simply observing from the audience not up pleading my case.

As for the RioCan application?

First, let me say that I wasn’t simply observing that one. I have a vested interested since I live not too far from their proposed development and took part in one of the residents’ meetings that talked strategy in opposing it. While not impacted directly by the plan, I was concerned greatly about the traffic impact of it on the surrounding neighbourhoods. What?! More cars!?! Well, that just won’t do…

The opposition was fantastically organized with just 4 people taking 5 minutes each to explain their positions but covering concerns from the Kensington Market Business Improvement and a couple of resident associations’ perspectives as well as one who questioned the very legitimacy of the development in terms of the city’s own Official Plan. Was it really adhering to the Avenues idea of proper planning? All retail including a massive box store that took little of its surroundings into consideration.

That seemed to be the Committee of Adjustment take on the matter as well. Beginning with member John Tassiopoulos’s questioning of why this application had even come before them. These weren’t ‘minor’ variances RioCan requested, he suggested, wondering if it wasn’t more a matter for zoning to deal with. The consensus was that the variances amounted to a cumulative overdevelopment of the site and the committee rejected the application outright. So adamant was the decision that committee members searched for strong enough language in their motion to bolster their judgment in case of an appeal to the OMB.

Oh yes, the OMB.

But before I go down that road, I want to express my amazement at just how transparent the Committee of Adjustment process is. They actually have to discuss their decisions in public. No hearing an application and any opponents to it and then retreating to privately arrive at a verdict. It’s right there in front of everyone in the room. Undoubtedly, each member must have inclinations going in based on the written proposals but they still have to air out their views publicly and, at times I’m sure, in the face of those who may ultimately be plenty displeased by the outcome.

If only it all ended so openly.

Looming largely over any Committee of Adjustment decision, of course, is the Ontario Municipal Board. Where the democratic process ends and money and attrition begins. That’s for another post and written by somebody much more well versed in the matter than I am. I will only say that I am concerned that our budget chief is submitting a notice of motion to council next week to study the benefits of ‘sending the City Solicitor to the Ontario Municipal Board on appeals of Committee of Adjustment decisions.’ Nothing wrong with wanting to ensure a bang for our buck but coming from where it does, I worry about nickel and diming the city’s ability to defend itself and its residents in what oftentimes turns out to be a costly process. If we signal our unwillingness to go to the mat purely for monetary reasons, why wouldn’t every applicant with deep pockets automatically appeal to the OMB?

That’s for another day, however.

For now we simply take pleasure in the fact that sometimes it’s not about successfully fighting City Hall but working with it in trying to develop Toronto in a fair and judicious manner.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Fight For City Hall

April 27, 2012

OK. Here’s an idea.

During Mayor Ford’s unofficial leave of absence, instead of tucking back and sharing the same shell of disengagement, why not expand your municipal politics horizons. Get to know your city councillor, say. Who’s that, you ask? Don’t even know what ward you’re in? Well, now’s the time to do a little brushing up on your civics as I imagine they say in show business.

If you need a little help, David Hains has a series going on over at Open File Toronto, Better Know a Ward, featuring councillor interviews. The Toronto Star’s David Rider works similar terrain with his occasional councillor focussed articles. These are your actual local representatives, folks. The ones addressing your day-to-day concerns at City Hall.

The timing’s also good because it seems the mayor is reaching out to individual councillors even some he wouldn’t have had the time of day for back when he was the king of the castle.  He’s looking for ideas that city council should pursue going forward since apparently he’s done everything he was elected to do already. A small checklist it must be because I’m not needing more than two hands to count off the accomplishments. And I lost 3 fingers in a deep sea fishing accident. (Thank you. Next show at 10. Remember to tip your waitress.)

On top of which, as the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reported, a group of the more centrist councillors met yesterday in order “…to hash out what issues they want city council to tackle next.” Ranging from TTC Chair Karen Stintz to TCHC task force chair Ana Bailão (an average of 52.5% on the Matt Elliott Ford For Toronto Ford Nation scale), the sit down seems intended to combat the inertia that settles in at City Hall with Mayor Ford’s abdication of authority. “Councillor Colle says agendas are pretty light at City Hall lately,” Peat tweeted, “nine items on four committee agendas.”

Just a whole lot of chin wagging, according to the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy in a screed intended to diminish any attempt at consensus building that Mayor Ford seems unable to build himself. And while the group emerged with no concrete list of ideas they did agree to continue talking and meeting. Rome wasn’t built in a day and to expect a group of politically disparate councillors to deliver a package of working proposals in a matter of hours after 18 months of divisive and contentious battles at City Hall may well be the height of deliberate sabotage.

So the timing of this is favourable to all those who want to get their voices heard, opinions counted. With power in flux on council, chime in to your local councillor, let them know what you think is important and how you’d like them to proceed. If everyone’s looking for ideas, now’s the time to speak up.

The vacuum that has materialized at City Hall is no accident and neither is it the result of some evil cabal of scheming councillors bound and determined to undermine the will of the people and push Mayor Ford to the sidelines. This administration is based on the principle of reducing the size and role of government in our lives. While they will use innocuous sounding terms like ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘culture of entitlement’ and, yeah, ‘stopping the gravy train’, it’s all about putting a hurt on the public sector and roll back its ability to do the job it was it was designed to do.

Mayor Ford, his brother and deputy mayor have made it known on more than one occasion that in order for them to fully implement their anti-government agenda, the people of Toronto need to send councillors to City Hall more attuned to this sensibility. They’ve declared war on dissent and gone as far as to threaten electoral ‘execution’ on those who do not toe their line. Council has stepped up and asserted its power and the administration has petulantly reacted by asserting some sort of divine mayoral right, claiming a mandate to override the will of majority rule.

The mayor is one voice, the loudest voice since the office is the only one elected city wide, but still just one voice of 45. That’s how this is supposed to work. Councillors should adhere to that and continue to assert their authority. This authority comes from the voters, the people of Toronto. Start letting your local elected representatives know that this is what you expect of them, to represent your best interests and those of the city.

Paul Ainslie Ward 43 Paula Fletcher Ward 30 Denzil Minnan-Wong Ward 34
 

Maria Augimeri Ward 9

 

Doug Ford Ward 2

 

Ron Moeser Ward 44

 

Ana Bailão Ward 18

 

Mary Fragedakis Ward 29

 

Frances Nunziata Ward 11

 

Michelle Berardinetti Ward 35

 

Mark Grimes Ward 6

 

Cesar Palacio Ward 17

 

Shelley Carroll Ward 33

 

Doug Holyday Ward 3

 

John Parker Ward 26

 

Raymond Cho Ward 42

 

Norm Kelly Ward 40

 

James Pasternak Ward 10

 

Josh Colle Ward 15

 

Mike Layton Ward 19

 

Gord Perks Ward 14

 

Gary Crawford Ward 36

 

Chin Lee Ward 41

 

Anthony Perruzza Ward 8

 

Vincent Crisanti Ward 1

 

Gloria Lindsay Luby Ward 4

 

Jaye Robinson Ward 25

 

Janet Davis Ward 31

 

Giorgio Mammoliti Ward 7

 

David Shiner Ward 24

 

Glenn De Baeremaeker Ward 38

 

Josh Matlow Ward 22

 

Karen Stintz Ward 16

 

Mike Del Grande Ward 39

 

Pam McConnell Ward 28

 

Michael Thompson Ward 37

 

Frank Di Giorgio Ward 12

 

Mary-Margaret McMahon Ward 32

 

Adam Vaughan Ward 20

 

Sarah Doucette Ward 13

 

Joe Mihevc Ward 21

 

Kristyn Wong-Tam Ward 27

 

John Filion Ward 23

 

Peter Milczyn Ward 5

 — helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr


Carcentrism Is Not The Natural State

April 25, 2012

The distant din of battle coming can be heard. A clash of cultures is in the offing. Weary warriors once more strap on their chest plates, pick up their shields and lances in preparation. The war on the car, nay, the crusade on the car again has begun.

Toronto’s chief of medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, has put forth a recommendation to lower speed limits in Toronto, 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h on the main streets, down from the 60-40 km/h range the city now allows. Them’s fighting words to car advocates, protectors of the status quo.

“Slow and Stupid,” the Toronto Sun front page kvetched. Underneath the headline, the photo suggested if such insanity came to pass, we’d be knocked back to 19th-century modes of transportation. Speed=modernity.

“As a general rule, especially on major arterial roadways, I think the speed limit is appropriate,” Public Works and Infrastructure Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong told the Sun’s Don Peat. “It seems the medical officer of health is spitballing 30 km/h, if we were to take him at his word, because it reduces accidents. Why don’t we reduce it to 20 km/h or 10 km/h? Why don’t we all walk? In which other major city do you have 30 km/h as the standard speed limit?”

A quick look on Wikipedia shows that on residential streets, many states in America utilize 15-40 mph speed limits (24-64 km/h range). So, in fact Dr. McKeown’s suggestions aren’t that out of line crazy. At least, not socializing hot dog crazy.

As for reducing speeds to 10, 20 km/h or, heaven forbid, walking even, yes councillor, why not? Where is it written cars, trucks and other private vehicles must, must, must be allowed to drive at a speed that makes them a grievous threat to anyone else using the roads in any other manner? I know the mayor, back in the days when he was a councillor, let it be known that roads were built for busses, cars and trucks. But such Fordian Urbanism is hardly universally accepted.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not that coincidentally) an Atlantic Cities article made the rounds yesterday, The Invention of Jaywalking. In it, author of the book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter Norton, asserts cars weren’t immediately granted primacy of the roads upon their appearance a century ago. In fact, many of the same fights that are being waged currently echo the ones fought back in the day.

“Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses” (Can you say ‘complete streets?) “When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s.”

An ‘intruder’ and a ‘menace’ and those behind the wheel were held responsible for any death and destruction their machine might cause. “Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver.”

“The perjury of a murderer,” a 1923 editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thundered about any driver trying to weasel out of responsibility for the carnage inflicted by their automobile. And this, nearly a century before there was any talk of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Where is such righteous indignation these days?

According to Norton, the turning point came in 1925 when the city of Cincinnati moved to bring in a law capping car speeds at 25 km/h. Seeing that as a threat to the marketability of the automobile, auto clubs and dealerships fought back, brining in car manufacturers from Detroit and eventually beating back the speed cap initiative and “…promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of ‘jaywalking’ — a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 — was enshrined in law.”

And we now bear witness to how that’s all played out. Unsustainable cities and communities built and designed for private vehicle use. Public transit relegated to 2nd-class citizenship. Almost no accountability demanded from drivers who destroy property, kill and maim other interlopers on the roads, sucking up vast public resources while they’re at it, freeloading teat-suckers to use the parlance of our times.

But ask drivers to slow the fuck down? Out of the question. An untenable imposition. A declaration of war.

“My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone’s got killed but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

The modern drivers’ creed. My space, my rules. Trespassers beware. There is a license to kill.

It didn’t used to be that way. The idea of complete streets, roads as a shared public space where all modes of traffic share equally, is not a new one, not some airy-fairy, kooky leftwing war on the car. It’s had a much longer history. Cars, in fact, are the intruders and interlopers. Their ascendancy was the result of politicking rather than “… some inevitable organic process.”

There is no natural right of the automobile and their owners and operators. Such a privileged status and pre-eminence on our roads gained through in the trenches PR campaigns and vigilant lobbying. What’s now been termed a war on the car actually began as war on people, public spaces, communities, cities. Car owners are not the victims in this. They are the perpetrators and should be dealt with accordingly.

retributively submitted by Cityslikr