A Blatant Disregard

April 18, 2016

The plan, before taking down the ‘Goes Hollywood’ banner, was to write up some sort of insightful synopsis of this past winter spent in Los Angeles and the U.S. southwest. Aspringdancelmost 3 months spent blithely paying little to no heed to the weather, aside from constantly thinking, It’s quite nice out today, isn’t it? Oh! Look! Flowers!

There was going to be more edge to it, of course. Hopefully, with some depth of perception and originality, touching upon something that no one had ever noticed or written about Los Angeles before. Warren Zevon would figure prominently in the post.

But, as happens, actual, real time events, in the here and now, put scupper to my intentions. Los Angeles and Warren Zevon would have to wait. There were more immediate, pressing matters to expound upon.

I will say this, though, about Los Angeles. Despite enormous strides in the last 20 years to get out from under the deadweight of automobile dependency, it is still a car town. Far and away, from almost anywhere in the city, if you have the means, it is easier and faster to get to where you’re going and back, driving. lafreeway2Regardless of all those photographs showing unremitting gridlock, freeways jammed as far as the eye can see, carmageddon, day in and day out, you’ll still arrive at your destination sooner in your car than any other form of transport.

While this is true also for many parts of Toronto and the GTA region, it felt, at least to this downtowner’s mind, that we weren’t as far gone down that path road of car-centricity as a place like L.A. The incline wasn’t going to be as steep a climb to pull our collective selves back up and out from under it. Despite the eruptions of exuberant transportation irrationality like we have witnessed recently, sanity on the file didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Enough smart people with enough decision-making clout knew what had to be done. The only question was how to best go about doing it.

And then came black freaky Friday, and frankly, all bets are off.

Ontario is widening the four-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Credit River in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes.

What in the holy hell?! Widening a fucking highway!? From 6 to 12 lanes?!?! In the GTA!?!?! Who’s authorized this??

From the Office of the Premier.

Of Ontario, I presume. Not the premier of Fuckity Fuck Fuck Stan. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s gobsmacked babble.)

Unbelievable.

You don’t increase road space to relieve congestion. hahahanoYou increase road space to give the impression you’re relieving congestion. That’s just basic transportation planning 101. Unless you’re Wendell Cox or Randal O’Toole. Or, unless it’s 1954. (Or the governor of Illinois, it seems.)

This is so wrong-headed and standing in defiance of every smart growth, green belt measure that this government is purported to support, it defies comprehension. Think that’s just me, some anti-car zealot railing? Listen to the mayor of Houston, something of a sprawl town itself, give a speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.

 If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.

This example [Katy freeway, Interstate 10] , and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

The Katy freeway (as explained here in Streetsblog), “A Monument To Texas Transportation Futility”, was expanded from 8 lanes to a staggering 23 – 23 lanes! – with a result, seemingly, to be increased car travel times along it. katyAlmost immediately. Let me italicise that for you. Increased car travel times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Provide more road space, more people will use it to drive. Rinse and repeat.

Last Thursday, I attended the Students Retrofit the Suburbs event where planning students from Ryerson’s City Building Institute presented, well, plans for 3 spots in the suburban areas in and around Toronto that had been ravaged by the single-use built form design footprint used to accommodate car use, and car use only. One of the panelists asked them how they would deal with the community pushback and resistance that inevitably crops up when fundamental change is proposed in their neighbourhoods. Good question.

An even bigger one, however, is how to deal with political intransigence in the face of necessary change. A knowing, willful disregard for hard truths and expert advice from our elected officials who should be showing leadership, and making decisions about the future rather than simply trying to maintain the past. notlisteningDon’t think that’s the case? Then why did the premier’s office try and slip this news by everyone with a Friday morning announcement?

They knew. They know. They just don’t care about anything except for the long term health of their party.

When the press release surfaced, our friend John McGrath tweeted, “24 lane-kilometres of highway and the government just pays for it, no muss no fuss. 26 lane-klilometres of LRT along Sheppard East? haha no.” We are all familiar with the torturous pace and process of building transit in the GTA. The drawing and redrawing and drawing again of lines on maps, accompanied, of course, by the game of pass the buck when it comes to who pays for it. But when it comes to building roads? Everybody can’t open the public purse quick enough to throw money around without so much as a second thought. $81 million on this particular project.

The kicker is, the Liberal government is the urban party at Queen’s Park right now. That’s how they patched together another majority in 2014. The city vote. They’ll get no fight from the opposition on this. yougetacarJust like they got no fight from them on the Subway Champions banner the Liberals waved during the by and general elections in Scarborough. As long as highways are widened, road capacity is added, infrastructure money thrown around in their neck of the woods, everyone will agree that widening highways is a proper and wise use of scarce public dollars.

Facts be damned. Reality get stuffed.

That’s not governance. It’s pure and utter negligence.

unhappy returningly submitted by Cityslikr


The Fault, Dear Brutus

March 9, 2015

Look, I’m not going to shrug off some $400 million cost overruns in a $2.5 billion project. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money. moneymoneymoneyMoney, in tight budgetary times like ours, that could be put to better use. Another $400 million and those repairs on the Gardiner Expressway would be done in no time.

Nor am I going to defend the TTC’s oversight. Maybe as an organization they aren’t up to the task of managing major infrastructure builds like a subway. Hell, there are days the TTC doesn’t seem capable of simple route management, so yeah. Questions need to be asked about the role the TTC played.

But I’m not going to sit here and listen to easy solutions offered up about how all this could’ve been avoided, the budget blow throughs, the delayed completion time lines. “An entrenched culture of nonaccountability at city hall,” according to Mayor John Tory. You should’ve used an Alternative Financing and Procurement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said. Ahhh, P3s. Is there no problem they can’t solve?

Perhaps both are right. Each has an element that may’ve factored into the mess. Not only are the cost overruns and delays problematic but timely reporting on them seems to be lacking. Who knew what and when? fingerpointingDid the mayor and TTC chair Josh Colle only find out about them when the public did last week?

And as was pointed out by Trevor Heywood at Metroscapes, there is currently another transit project being done here in the city, the Union-Pearson rail link, using an AFP model with no talk of overruns or delays. Was an AFP contemplated for the Spadina subway extension? If so, why wasn’t it implemented? If not, why not?

Still, I don’t think either of these ideas fully explains what’s happened with the TTC and the Spadina subway extension. Both offer up easy explanations for what is clearly a complicated situation. Digging and building underground always will be fraught with unknowns and unexpected problems. You can work in contingencies (as contingencies are in budgeting big public work projects) but, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and then there are unknown unknowns.

In other words, shit happens, yo.

No, I think there are bigger questions and concerns to address with this, especially as we go forward to build more public transit.wantwhatnow

That this happened should really come as no surprise to anyone. The Spadina subway extension was a political transit decision from the outset. The province wanted it, the city less so. As lore has it, the subway was the price the city had to pay to get Queen’s Park to play ball with other transit projects it deemed more pressing. Without the Spadina subway extension, would there ever have been Transit City?

Certainly Toronto couldn’t have been all that happy about the extension of the extension, up 2 stops past York Univeristy into Vaughan. No question that York was in need of some form of rapid transit (whether or not it should be a subway is a good point of conjecture) but the decision to carry on, north past there wasn’t really in the city’s best interests. Yet, here we are.

If the city was so reluctant for this subway, forget the construction costs, concerns about the operational costs of it were present from the outset, how it was going to have to be subsidized like the Sheppard line, taking money from the rest the system to its detriment, why did it agree to build it? Was the option on the table for the city to step back and say to the province, Have at it? You want it? thanksnothanksYou use your precious AFPs to build it.

So was this miscalculation on the TTC’s part or coercion from the province? Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the political (rather than a transit) oriented nature of the Spadina subway extension created the opportunity for unpleasantly unexpected turn of events. A scenario we should acknowledge as we proceed down the profoundly political path of the Scarborough subway extension.

The larger concern, however, goes to what the mayor called ‘an entrenched culture of nonacountability at city hall.’ While we know who the target was in the mayor’s mind — city staff — I think we should try to cut a wider swath in this. Let’s call it, the nonaccountability of unrealistic expectations. You want a subway? I can get you subway. You want to pay how much for that subway? … Sure, I can get you a subway for that much money. No problem. Sure.

We elect politicians who tell us we can have the infrastructure of our dreams for no money down, no interest ever. The private sector will build it for us. lessonslearnedHave you ever heard of something called Tax Increment Financing? Seriously. It won’t cost you a dime.

The notion we could build a subway, first for $1.5, then $2.5 billion for what became 6 stops, 8.6 kilometres was never going to be a slam dunk. Even if it comes in at $2.9 billion, about $337+ million per kilometre, it wouldn’t be some grotesque outlier in terms of international costs for building subways. For every Barcelona, Helsinki and Sao Paulo, there’s New York’s 2nd Avenue subway or London or Amersterdam.

The Spadina subway extension is not out of whack in an international comparison. While we most certainly should examine ways it could have been completed less expensively, this indignant outburst at the news of cost overruns stems more from our entitled belief that cheaper is better and somebody else should pay for the things we want than it does any systemic failure on the part our public sector to be able to build infrastructure. cheapSure, let’s point out all the examples of cost overruns on projects throughout the city in addition to the Spadina subway extension. Nathan Phillipps Square. Union Station.

But in an environment where the bottom line often means the bottom dollar, the lowest bid, city staff must find themselves in the uncomfortable position of speaking forthright versus being painted as naysayers and no-can-doers. An extreme case would be former TTC CEO, Gary Webster, delivering an opinion on the LRT-subway debate that ran contrary to the administration and finding himself quickly relieved of duty. A politician gets elected telling voters this won’t hurt a bit and then expects city staff to conform to that way of doing things. It’s called a mandate.subwaystop

Maybe the problems start with voters who demand the impossible from politicians and the bureaucracy. If you want a great city, a former mayor once said, you have to pay for it. Seems we’ve chosen to go another route, insisting more on a OK-is-good-enough and can’t-somebody-else-foot-the-bill-for-us trajectory. When reality rears its ugly head, somebody’s got to pay. Again, not us. Somebody else.

money-for-nothingly submitted by Cityslikr


All So Depressingly Familiar

June 2, 2014

Sadly, none of it comes as much of a surprise. For anyone following along with the disaster of a transit debate since about 2010, screaminginfrustrationsince the then newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead, little of John Lorinc’s Spacing series seems at all revelatory or shockingly improbable. But seeing more of the gory details, right there in black and white bytes, makes for some seriously disheartening and infuriating reading.

The sheer arrogance of the principals involved in the Scarborough subway/LRT debate is nothing short of monstrous. From Premier Kathleen Wynne, her Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murrary, to councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker, all seemed to operate under the presumption that their own personal political survival or advancement trumped good transit planning. Expert advice was ignored or buried. Numbers, in terms of projected costs and ridership, were massaged. shellgameSound arguments and reasoned decision making replaced by stoking the fires of regional resentment.

“It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit,” Glen Murray said last summer. Subways, folks. People want subways, subways, subways.

While transit activists and government appointed commissions did their upmost to promote a rational discussion about transit building in this city, elected officials at both Queen’s Park and at Toronto City Hall undercut all that work and goodwill by quietly scheming behind the scenes to push a Scarborough subway plan that made absolutely no sense except for trying to ensure some electoral advantage. friendlyfireIt’s one thing to fight a fight against a known enemy. It’s an entirely different matter when you’re knee-capped from behind by supposedly friendly-fire.

This is the root of political apathy. When good governance is sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency. It’s not leadership. It’s not public service. It’s the very reason so many people are fed up with politics.

Perhaps what’s most appalling about this entire clusterfuck is how those many of us hoped would stand opposed to the popular fiction that arose around this post-Transit City debate — that the only worthwhile form of transit to build is the underground kind of transit which is nothing more than a car driver’s fantasy – not only cowered in the face of it but did their best to help propagate it. For a by-election seat here, a mayoral run there, in reaction to robo-calls from a spent political force, a city’s desperate and long overdue need for an infusion of public transit has been jeopardized. whackamoleBecause if Scarborough deserves a subway, what about residents along Finch Avenue West or Sheppard Avenue East? Why should they suffer under the ignominy of 2nd-class transit?

Once you pull that thread, you wind up now having to contend with the likes of the Sheppard Subway Action Coalition (h/t CodeRedTO), another campaign spreading false and misleading information about transit choices many of us had thought already decided on. It’s policy whack-a-mole. A game played not just by hack politicians like Rob Ford but every politician prioritizing their career over judicious, fact-based governance.

Back in 2009, the provincial government restructured the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, fictionalicejpgbooting elected officials from the board in order to rid regional transit planning of any whiff of politics. It was a laudable goal in intention made laughable in implementation. Over the past 4 years, transit planning in Toronto has been about nothing but politics. Bad, craven, self-serving politics, at that.

If that old maxim is true, that we get the politicians we deserve, unfortunately what seems to follow, is we also get the transit we deserve. Remember that, the next time you’re waiting for what seems like forever for the next bus or crammed tightly into that subway car. There’s nobody else to blame for that than ourselves.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Committed To Talking About Transit

March 17, 2014

What can we do in the face of an overwhelming lack of leadership?powervacuum1

I was thinking that, listening to Premier Kathleen Wynne explain to Matt Galloway on Metro Morning today why she’d announced pulling some possible revenue tools last week to help fund transit building. You could actually hear the political calculus at work. Or maybe it was the sound of transit planning coming to a grinding halt.

No one doubts the premier is in something of a bind here. You could make the argument she’s looking down the wrong end of history’s barrel, with twenty years of anti-tax and small government sensibilities having taken solid root in the political soil, dating back to the rise of the Reform Party in the early 90s. The Chretien/Martin deficit cutting and downloading frenzy. Mike Harris. Mel Lastman. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford.

Taxation not even seen as a necessary evil but simply evil.

Of course, her own party’s recklessness with public funds doesn’t help her cause any. taxesareevilWe all know the names by heart. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. It’s a bit tough at this point for Premier Wynne to step up and ask for more money from Ontario’s residents. Trust us. We’ll spend it all very, very wisely.

And the politicking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park have constructed their own anti-reality bubbles in terms of revenue sources to dedicate to transit. Everybody’s got some magic beans they’re shilling, ways to get the transit needed at a cost that will come from almost nobody’s pockets. Don’t worry, folks. This won’t hurt a bit.

My guess is, as we head into the provincial budget process, the government has just handed concessions over to the NDP by vowing not to increase the gas tax, the HST or income tax on middle-class families in order to fund the Big Move. Your move now, Andrew Horwath. What does your party suggest? Using exact figures, if you don’t mind.

Who’s going to step forward first and sign their name to a tax increase or new user fee?

Because everybody knows this can’t continue. Public transit in the GTHA has to be built. That fact, at least, cuts across political lines. checkersOnly the supremely delusional Tim Hudak-led Tories are insisting it can be done without raising more revenue.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked.

The Liberal government has been provided with plenty of cover to take the important next step in this debate. From the non-politically realigned Metrolinx and the premier’s very own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, to organization as disparate as the Toronto Region Board of Trade, CivicAction Alliance, the Pembina Institute, right down to grassroots groups like Code Red TO, all have talked up revenue tools. The pump has been primed, the ground broken.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked. Still.

The ugly truth about this, unfortunately, is that the well being of the party takes precedence over the strength of the idea. We’ve all been told that if party X runs with this and takes a beating in the election because of it, well, we’re right back to square one or so. partyloyaltyThe fate of transit in the GTHA hinges on the party that best touts the least amount of pain necessary to voters in order to build it.

No one’s gutsy or astute enough (both integral components of actual leadership) to step forward and challenge the conventional wisdom that voters summarily oppose taxation and are unwilling to pay more for improved service. Instead it’s just more nibbling around the edges, reframing the debate in the exact same dimensions we’ve heard for the past 20 years. Empty, empty pledges of new stuff free of charge. Promises to deliver the undeliverable.

All of which serves only to make us more cynical, more apathetic and less likely to take anything any of our politicians say seriously. Who wants to go to bat for somebody ducking from the first inside pitch they face? Why waste your time and effort?

At this point, there can be little doubt that the 3 parties representing us at Queen’s Park have failed miserably at displaying anything close to resembling leadership on the transit file. Each have wilfully disregarded the hard work and dedication put in by groups and individuals, goitalonefighting to ensure that we have a robust debate and positive outcome in dealing with an issue that threatens nothing short of our well-being and way of life in this region. We’ve been abandoned by our elected leaders.

If our provincial politicians are unwilling to provide the appropriate leadership for us, we really should start talking about why we continue to finance them and subject ourselves to their inaction and indecisiveness.

dim viewly submitted by Cityslikr