Bike Lanes On Bloor

April 28, 2016

I imagine you’ve heard about the proposed pilot project to put bike lanes along a 2.5 kilometres stretch of Bloor Street west. If you haven’t, what the hell’s a matter with you? PAY ATTENTION!

hardofhearing1

If you have, you’re probably surprised we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke haven’t said anything about it in these virtual “pages” so far. We haven’t written anything about it, have we? I’m pretty sure, no.

Actually, we did write something after Monday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting where the item was debated. Only not here but over there, at Torontoist. Yeah, we had some things to say. Man, did we have some things to say. You really need to click on the link and read it. Seriously. Do it. Now. What are you waiting for? Click on the link already!

gothatway

torontoistly submitted by Cityslikr


A Higher Bar

April 20, 2016

Here’s what bugs me about Mayor Tory’s reaction to the proposed Bloor Street bike lane pilot project that’s heading to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee for debate next week? The wet blanket act. getsmygoatYou know, well, if we have to…

The mayor’s not ‘averse to a pilot project’. He’s not excited about it either. He couldn’t be less enthusiastic, if the CityNews video is anything to go by. Instead, he’s using his bully pulpit to dampen any sort of expectations about it.

And suspicious of the whole enterprise? Let’s make sure this “pilot project” isn’t such in name only. Mayor Toy demands that “an honest effort to objectively find out, after you’ve done it, the impact” on all “stakeholders”. These are the words of someone who thinks cycling advocates are trying to pull a fast one on him. Get those plastic bollards go up, they can never be brought down again. It’s a done deal. Game over.

“Big decisions we end up making”, the mayor intones, and we “cannot make them in a cavalier manner or politically correct manner.”

Really?

Says the guy who full-throatedly pushed to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, ignoring and even mocking staff opinion that it would be best (suspiciousand least expensive) to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard. Cavalier, much? Hundreds of millions of dollars, unnecessarily spent to maintain a burdensome piece of legacy infrastructure that will be with us for decades to come. And his eyes narrow at a summertime bike lane pilot project?

Is it any wonder then, one of the bike lane proponents, Councillor Joe Cressy goes on Metro Morning, sounding as if he’s a coach guiding his team into a do-or-die, sudden-death championship game? “If we fail, then we fail with cycling infrastructure throughout the city.” Holy crap! What? The very future of cycling in Toronto, it seems, hinges on the outcome of this bike lane pilot project.

During the interview, Councillor Cressy expressed confidence that, in the end, the Bloor bike lanes would confirm what most every other example of de-emphasizing automobile use around the world has shown. It’s better for business. More people come. More people linger. More people shop. suspiciousIt’s pretty much been the case for 50 years now.

“But we’re not going to trust those studies that have been done,” Councillor Cressy said.

Of course we’re not. Because we’re Toronto, after all. The exception to every and all rules and studies of urbanism. Terra incognita. Unless it’s for cars, the wheel must be re-invented again and again here.

I get, grudgingly, the status quo has home court advantage in these matters. Change is always scary. Can could be for the worse.

But it’s not like this strip of Bloor Street couldn’t do with a little nudge, a little boost of freshness. I’ve lived in the area for years now and I wouldn’t call it vibrant. With a few exceptions, there’s a regular turnover of retail. Walking isn’t terrible but it isn’t particularly pleasant either. You bike through it not to it.

Mayor Tory should be cheerleading for the possibility of a positive transformation of a major piece of public space instead of working the refs to secure the outcome he wants to see. clearthebarIf a reconfigured street works here, why not extend it westward, out towards High Park and beyond, east out along the Danforth? With the exception of the newly spruced up Yorkville segment, from Avenue to Yonge Street (and I’d suggest that ain’t perfect either), most of this run of road could do with a 21st-century makeover.

Unfortunately, given his lukewarm… what’s the opposite of embrace?… of this tiny pilot project, the concept runs contrary to the mayor’s preconceived notions of how a city operates. Mess with cars and drivers, you’re messing with a — if not successful — an established formula. A formula he’s comfortable with, accustomed to.

And as he’s exhibiting over and over again, Mayor Tory is not one who seems at all comfortable operating outside of his comfort zone.

dampeningly submitted by Cityslikr


Car2Go To Hell

November 17, 2015

“While you may be ready for the city, I’m not sure the city’s ready for you.”notlistening

This is why Toronto can’t have nice things.

A car-driving councillor like Stephen Holyday couldn’t possibly imagine a near future where other car owners willingly give up their auto-dependence if the opportunity arose. Oh sure, people living in other places might give such a change a whirl. But not Torontonians, no way, uh uh. We are a static people, we Torontonians.

At last week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee the car-sharing company, Car2Go, made a request for more parking spots on city streets, to allow people to park the cars closer to home, freeing them up from finding the nearest Green P lot where Car2Go vehicles are currently relegated. car2goGiven an easier option, it was argued, people might sign on to the program and use their own cars less. Less car use might mean less demand for private parking space on public streets.

Unfortunately, the PWI committee members couldn’t get their collective heads around such a concept. People driving their own cars less? People giving up their own cars? Preposterous! Maybe in other places. Not here in Toronto.

Now look, far be it from me to extrapolate my experience to that of the wider city but I think it is slightly more representative of the street parking question than that of Councillor Holyday who lives in Etobicoke Centre where the houses are largely detached, the roadways wide and the driveways are plenty. Curbsides there are used to collect leaves, awaiting vacuum-like collection. Private vehicles don’t vie for precious road space. In fact, in parts of suburban Toronto, overnight parking isn’t even allowed!car2go2

Down in the core where I dwell, it should be first pointed out that public transit is readily, if not always reliably, available. So not using a car is a viable option. Driveways here aren’t the norm. There is a smattering of garages and parking spaces, usually tucked away off back alleys. Many of the older homes are used as multi-residences, so parking spots don’t evenly match up to residents. Throw in in some parts of the older city commercial and retail pressure, with a regular flow of drivers looking for places to throw out the anchors for a quick stopover.

Street parking in these parts of the city represent prime real estate.

You would never know it, however, by the prices we charge for it. On the street I live, for example, if you have one car and “no access to on-site parking” it costs you just under $15 (plus HST) a month for an on-street parking permit. $15 a month. car2go1That’s 50 cents a day. It’s a bit pricier if you have access to on-site parking but want to park out on the street anyway. That’ll set you back just over $50 a month. A month. Roughly two bucks a day. And don’t get me started on residents with more than one vehicle.

Street parking permits for visitors are even more ridiculous. Nine bucks for 24 hours. About $15 for two days. And a whole $20.60 (plus HST) for a week of on street parking. While it may be different in different parts of the city, of the handful of times I’ve wanted a visitor parking permit, it’s never been a problem, never encountered a no availability turn down.

Toronto encourages on street parking. We contribute to the affordability of owning and operating a car in this city. We do little to dissuade visitors from bringing their car to the city. inconceivableParking is treated as a right, one that should not be onerous on the wallet.

The notion of freeing up some of that space for something other than private vehicle use, for something that might even subvert our traditional belief in the primacy of car ownership? Inconceivable. The city, or rather, too many of those we’ve elected to represent the city, simply aren’t ready to entertain such a radical concept.

inconceivably submitted by Cityslikr


How Not To Be A City Councillor

October 13, 2015

Recently, a Scarborough community of about 12 households took their fight to City Hall over plans to install sidewalks along their street. Yes, you read that correctly. protestagainstResidents have been fighting the city over plans to install sidewalks.

This item, let us call it, first came to my notice when the local city councillor, Gary Crawford, tried to ix-nay hetay idewalksay at September’s Public Works and Infrastructure meeting. Rebuffed, it came back this month before finally being subdued and, hopefully, deep sixed for good last week after much commiserative mumbling from a few of the committee members. “I’m not a big fan of pavement myself,” said PWIC chair, Jaye Robinson.

How so very Joni Mitchell of her.

That the pushback even got this far along in the process is truly an abject lesson in pandering and How Not To Be A City Councillor. Listen to Councillor Crawford speaking up for his aggrieved dozen of households.

I fully support the construction of sidewalks, especially in my ward. I really do support sidewalks. But what I support is sidewalks that make sense. When you look at this particular little section, the community looked at the foot traffic and how busy that road is. They’ve indicated there’s very little foot traffic.

‘Sidewalks that make sense’.

Looking at this photo of Ramona Drive from the Scarborough Mirror, it’s hard not to conclude that, of course, there’s very little foot traffic. Who the hell would want to travel by foot along here? It basically screams, Stay Off My Lawn and Get In Your Car! RamonaDriveAfter the committee vote, the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore asked Councillor Crawford why he thought the sidewalk issue was so ‘divisive’. “It’s partly because people have become accustomed to having/using the road allowance,” the councillor responded.

In other words, the residents of Ramona Drive don’t need sidewalks because they use the road to walk on. But it’s not really that pleasant walking on the road, so, unsurprisingly, there’s very little foot traffic. Therefore, we don’t need no stinkin’ sidewalks!

Never mind the fact that the sidewalks would be put in on city property, so it’s not really up to residents to say yes or no to them. The installation is being coordinated with the replacement of watermains in order to keep construction time to a minimum and, hopefully, save some money in the process. Like it or not, this is just something that comes with living in a city. You want untouched bucolic where you collect your water from a stream and shit in an outhouse? There are places you can move to for that even without building a time machine to travel back to. Toronto, even Scarborough, isn’t one of them.johndenver

Another complaint from the residents was that the city didn’t consult enough with them beforehand, to come up with some sort of compromise, a more sensible sidewalk, I guess. This is often a legitimate complaint from people in dealing with the city about city plans but I do get the sense that on this one that from staff’s position what was there to consult about? They’re putting in a sidewalk, for fuck’s sake. Who’s going to have a problem with that?

Apparently, residents of Ramona Drive, Scarborough, Toronto. That’s who.

Interceding with and navigating the often times antagonistic dynamic between City Hall and city residents is part of the job of being a city councillor. That doesn’t mean always siding with the public because it’s the politically expedient thing to do. An angry constituent means a hostile voter. If people living on Ramona Drive weren’t notified in a timely fashion, the blame ultimately should lie with their councillor, and this whole ridiculous business feels like a councillor scrambling to the defense of his residents in order to keep up appearances. Councillor Crawford wants people to know he isn’t against sidewalks, in theory. gotyourbackHe’s just against this sidewalk, in practice, because these 12 households are against it.

Hedges have been built, Councillor Crawford points out. We can’t just bulldoze over front yards because people have been operating under the misconception that their property was their property even when it isn’t. People must be indulged, in other words, not enlightened or guided in the right direction. By doing just that, Councillor Crawford helps to exacerbate the animosity and feeling of alienation residents can feel toward City Hall rather than do his best to try and smooth over the relationship.

That wasn’t what he was elected to do.

submitted by Cityslikr


Are You Experienced?

September 24, 2015

Ron Moeser has been a Toronto and pre-amalgamated Scarborough city councillor for 24 of the past almost 27 years. A seasoned veteran, you might call him. sageA wise sage possessing deep, institutional knowledge. An old pro.

Or, watching his performance Tuesday as a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, you could also conclude he’s just a crank.

The extent of his questions and concerns amounted to little more than slight variations on ‘What are we agreeing to here?’ and ‘How much is this going to cost us?’ He seemed overwhelmed, complaining to the committee chair, Councillor Jaye Robinson, about having too much to do in too little time. There were moments when fellow committee members expressed a degree of impatience with Councillor Moeser’s, I can only describe it as, a certain obtuse stick-in-the-mudness.

Is this just the product of being too long in office, unable or uninterested any longer to grapple with the complexities of governing what is a sprawling, complex, 21st-century metropolitan city? Is Councillor Moeser simply burnt out, past his best before date, the poster child for term limits? Or… or… was Ron Moeser always a terrible city councillor?

It’s difficult to believe that such a radical transformation, from Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Grandpa Simpson, is the explanation. mrsmithI’ve watched Councillor Moeser for 5 years now (some of which, to be fair, early last term, he was ill) and never witnessed any spark of policy proficiency or a city building initiative he picked up and ran with. An absent presence, I’d offer, a bump on the municipal log.

Lord knows, he’s hardly alone in the bad councillor category. His utter lack of contribution in any sort of sense probably disqualifies him as the worst city councillor currently occupying space at City Hall. Certainly not while the names Ford, Mammoliti, Karygiannis are tossed around. Councillor Moeser is benignly counter-productive rather than actively so.

But there’s something about the likes of that terrible trio that’s understandable in a perverse way. They’ve each found their calling in the low-expectation perception arena of municipal politics. Political bush leagues and backwaters, even here in the country’s largest city. The clown show, replete with clown princes’ like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti and Jim Karygiannis. Look at us! Look at us!!

Ron Moeser can’t even claim that status, though. He’s just a non-entity asking questions that have already been asked and answered, demanding to know little more than what we’re agreeing to and how much it’s going to cost us. manyellsatcloudsThis is too much work. We need to slow down and catch our breath. We need to do less and take more time doing it.

What does this say about voters in Ward 44 Scarborough East who’ve sent Moeser to City Hall in 5 of the 6 post-amalgamated elections, albeit usually with very slim margins? Is incumbency so heavy a stone to set aside at the municipal level that the deadest of dead weights becomes impossible to move? Avoid contentious issues, keep taxes low, basements from flooding, the garbage picked up, and you’ll do alright. Maintain as low a profile as possible for an elected official and maybe, just maybe, residents will continue voting for you because… they can’t think of any reason why not.

A non-angry electorate is not a change-y electorate. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, or content. Just a whole lot of m’eh. Things could be worse, I guess. Put the X next to the recognizable name.

Does that sound mean or patronizing? Probably. But I’m at a loss to explain how it is Ron Moeser remains a city councillor. Maybe he’s dynamite at the constituency level. Maybe. That’s a little hard to believe, difficult to bridge the gap between that possibility and his abysmal performance in the legislative aspect of his job.toomuch

What’s even harder to understand at this point is why Ron Moeser sits on what may be the second most important standing committee at City Hall after the Budget Committee. Public Works and Infrastructure is largely responsible for the physical operations of the city, the roads, sewers, waste collection. The nuts-and-bolts of city life, pretty much. It oversees billions of dollars in capital spending.

Just this past week, among the nearly 25 items the committee considered, were a couple doozies. Yet more options on the Gardiner expressway east. Contracting out waste collection on the east side of the city. The interim poverty reduction plan.

And Ron Moeser sits as 1 of 6 votes on the committee, struggling to stay on top of the work, the reports, the decisions. What are we agreeing to and how much is it going to cost is the extent of his contribution to the discussions and debates. We have to get through all of this? By 6 o’clock?!

You have to wonder as to the motivation of the administration that elevated him to such a key position. In the waning days of the Ford era, Moeser occupied a seat at the table of the Budget Committee under the then chief stickinthemud(and another mystifyingly out of his depth long serving councillor, Frank Di Giorgio). But by then, the Fords had burned through all their options, their allies scattered and in hiding.

Mayor Tory tapped Ron Moeser right from the outset of his time in office, with plenty of other, better choices at his disposal if his main concern was having the best and the brightest in the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee room. He went in another direction, however. A direction that suggests the mayor, just like the last mayor, is more about politics than he is good governance.

dimly submitted by Cityslikr


Dear Councillor Crawford

September 23, 2015

Cityslikr
All Fired Up in the Big Smoke
The Internets
September 23, 2015

 

Councillor Gary Crawford
City Councillor, Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest
City of Toronto
100 Queen Street West, Suite A11
Toronto, Ontario   M5H 2N2

 

Dear Councillor Crawford:

As an avid city council watcher, I couldn’t help but notice your appearance at yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I barely noticed your appearance, coming as it did just after the lunch break when you attempted to get some quick item passed by the committee. Turns out it wasn’t that quick and got shuffled off to the next meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in a flurry of what seemed to me at the time to be much baseless and niggling procedural wrangling.

Frankly, I’d forgotten the entire incident until a few hours later when the Torontoist posted this piece, Scarborough Sidewalk Skirmishes March On. It fleshes out your item PW 7.15, Midland Avenue Sidewalk Construction in more interesting detail. Allow me to quote the staff summary of the item as I’m sure it’s just one of many you have to deal with during the course of a day in the life of a busy city councilor.

In late July, my office was contacted by a number of residents on Midland Avenue who were disheartened to learn that, in accordance with City policy, a sidewalk would be constructed on their street in conjunction with area watermain replacements. In this case, while the watermain replacement stretches as far north as Kingston Road, the construction of sidewalks is limited to the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive.

I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.

“A number of residents…were disheartened to learn that…a sidewalk would be constructed on their street.” What? “I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue…are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.” Surely, this must be some sort of joke. Opposed to a sidewalk?

In the letter, you go on to state that the source of this complaint is that the city’s sidewalk construction policy is not being applied fairly. If I understand your thinking correctly, other parts of the area in question are not getting sidewalks, so in the fairness, residents of these “thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue” believe they too should not receive such fancy civic amenities as a sidewalk either. Perhaps, I am not properly reading between the lines.

Interestingly, in her Torontoist article, Sarah Niedoba points out a previous Scarborough sidewalk kerfuffle not far from this one. In that, Ms. Niedoba writes the opposition to sidewalk construction wasn’t so much a question of fairness as it was about the negative impact a sidewalk would have on the “rural” feel of the area. Rural? Scarborough? I had to check my calendar. Yes. Indeed, it was 2015 not 1815.

I don’t know how much of the ensuing social media chatter you followed but one point made which I think bears repeating, especially if you missed it. “So we’re building subways to a place too rural for sidewalks,” Mr. Alex Colangelo asked. We want our mod-cons to whisk us back and forth from our country homes.

In other words, Councillor Crawford, you cannot demand Manhattan while wearing a John Denver vest.

In other other words (and I believe this requires an ALL CAPS emphasis), YOU CANNOT ADVOCATE FOR A SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH AND STAND OPPOSED TO BUILDING SIDEWALKS THERE. I mean, obviously, you can and you are but that would be pandering at its worst. It is a refusal to accept the realities of living in a big, big city in the 21st-century at the same time demanding all the advantages of doing so.

Records indicate that you won re-election in Ward 36 last year by more than 4000 votes. Surely you don’t feel so insecure in your position that you’re compelled to rush to the defense of 13 misguided residents. Is anti-sidewalk sentiment so strong in Scarborough Southwest that it could make any electoral difference to you in the future?

Even if it did, this is a question of leadership, Councillor Crawford. Leadership means not putting your own self-interest, or that of a precious few, ahead of the best interests of the city. Leadership means championing good public policy not kneejerk, reactionary nimbyism.

All the best.

 

Yours civic-mindedly,

 

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