Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


SDS

December 17, 2015

The holiday season is now fully upon us. With it, comes the spirit of giving. salvationarmyIn a world seemingly gone mad, descended into a cesspool of despair, sadness and disorder, it is difficult, if not near impossible at times, to decide upon where to deliver your dedicated bounty of benevolent compassion.

This year, might I suggest, you bestow your gift of kindness close to home, here in Toronto, to a newly diagnosed local malady. SDS. Or, Subway Derangement Syndrome.

A relatively new ailment of the heart and mind, little is known about SDS, its causes, its pathogenic qualities. Initially, medical professionals thought it to be hypochondriacal in nature, affecting mainly the political class of this city. A mental affliction seeing personal and professional advancement entwined with the building of subways where none were necessary. diagnosisThis belief evolved into something of a persecution complex. Subways weren’t essential. Subways were ‘deserved’. Denying subways to those suffering from SDS was seen as tantamount to denying them civic citizenship.

Manifestations of SDS varied. For some it led to incessant chanting, like football hooligans, of a single word, the single word. Subways, Subways, Subways! (Chant along with us, won’t you?) The people want Subways! Others simply made up words or phrases like Surface Subways. Some even went so far as to see their political future in a sunflower.

Psychological projection is also a symptom of SDS. You see your glaring weaknesses in others, and accuse them of actions which you yourself have partaken in. Your self-serving motivations, say, become their self-serving motivations. sunflowerYour ambitions are laudable. Theirs, dishonest and deceitful, driven only for personal gain.

Darkly and menacingly, SDS has lately been seen seeping into the professional ranks of the city. Those whose work would largely benefit from politically-motivated subways not being built are now exhibiting the same irrational behavioural outbursts as their similarly troubled political counterparts. Numbers are fuzzy to them. New, untested ways of managing reality are sought. Once outspoken, SDS induced professionals withdraw behind an impenetrable bureaucratic wall, never to be seen or heard from in any meaningful way again.

Unchecked, Subway Derangement Syndrome can grow in proportion to a point where an individual embraced in its destructive grip can become unrecognizable to their former self. Only SDS can explain such confusion, such mental to-and-froing in one individual over the course of barely a year!

At such an advanced stage of SDS, these particular victims also begin to display troubling signs of delusions of grandeur, wrapping themselves in flags of local pride and disenfranchisement. Modern day William Wallaces, if you will, defenders of their people, the disaffected, the subway-less. “They can take our lives but they will never take our subways! …. Which we don’t have in the first place … except for two or three stops … But we want more! We deserve more.”

Local Man Searches For Lost Dignity And Ethics

Local Man Searches For Lost Dignity And Ethics

So far gone are such individuals that they no longer even bother to try making rational arguments in favour of their beloved subways. Ridership numbers are totally irrelevant to them. Chosen routes are neither here nor there. Just so long as there is a subway somewhere near them. A subway they can call their own. A subway to make them feel whole again.

Now, where would your generous donation to SDS go? Certainly not to the billions of dollars being asked to deliver that subway. That would be like giving candy to cavity-ravaged children in order to keep them quiet. As soon as it’s gone, they’ll demand more and more and more.

No. Your money and time would go to those prepared to make an intervention in an attempt to stop the downward spiral of budgets and reputations. Organizations holding firm to the fact that there are better options on the table, that an SDS subway would represent a step backward not forward. helpIndividuals standing at the ready to unseat politicians undermined by a disease of their own making, who are no longer making a positive contribution to the public good.

While Subway Derangement Syndrome is an individual ailment, it has proven to be highly contagious, resistant to reason and what was once called common sense before the term became corrupted by misuse. We can no longer idly wish it away, hope it burns out in its own virulent malignancy. Only you, we together, can defeat this threat to our future well-being. By giving generously this holiday season to others, you will be giving yourself a gift. The gift of transit sanity.

pledgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Metrolinx

June 14, 2015

garyowens

Today we talk transit with insidetoronto.com’s Rahul Gupta. And it’s not all about the Scarborough subway!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


A Vision Of Toronto From The 50s

June 2, 2015

As the Gardiner east debate makes its way to city council chambers next week, I find myself increasingly obsessed with this video. From 2013, let’s call it CivicAction John Tory.

Thoughtful, reasonable, sensible John Tory. The John Tory progressive-leaning voters, scared shitless at the prospect of another Ford mayoralty, were assured was their only real alternative to stop that from happening. See? Lookit CivicAction John Tory. He’s progressive. Enough.

The CivicAction John Tory former mayor David Crombie endorsed late in the campaign last year.

“I am here just to underline one really strong reason why we need John Tory and that is that this city, city council need to be brought together,” Crombie told the press on the last weekend before election day.

Whatever happened to that CivicAction John Tory, many are now wondering just 6 months into his first term in office.polishedturd

Non-CivicAction John Tory was against removing the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway before CivicAction John Tory was in favour of it. Now again, non-CivicAction Mayor John Tory is against it.

A person should be allowed to change their mind. Even multiple times, as evidence and details emerge or adjust. Most reasonable people would do so, you’d hope. Previous opinions or stances were held based on the best accessible information.

Non-CivicAction Mayor Tory misses no opportunity to assure us he is reasonable and sensible. He reads all the reports, all of them, some going back even a decade. It’s all about evidence-based decision-making, he informs us.

Yet, here he is, “tragically wrong,” according to Crombie, poised to push city council into making a terrible mistake with the so-called “hybrid” option on the Gardiner east. Why? How has he arrived at such a position?wolfinsheepsclothing

My safest bet is that CivicAction John Tory was never an actual thing. It was all a put-on, a PR exercise to give the man a coating of progressiveness. John Tory was always and continues to be a.m. talk radio show host John Tory. A Bill Davis-touting, Mike Harris-doing Tory.

In the face of overwhelming and increasing expert support for removing the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street, Mayor Tory stands defiant. They’ve got their opinion and I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree. He is the mayor of Toronto in 2015, making decisions about the future based on numbers and thinking firmly entrenched in the past.

CivicAction John Tory fooled just enough voters in Toronto into thinking he was something he wasn’t to enable Mayor John Tory to be who he always planned on being. The real John Tory. The John Tory David Crombie endorsed. The John Tory David Crombie is left scratching his head at, hoping against hope, isn’t the real John Tory. All evidence to the contrary.

ruefully submitted by Cityslikr


Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Worse Wreck

November 22, 2013

Here’s what happens when we take our eyes off the ball, distracted by loud, braying, bullying baubles.

distraction

The [TTC} commission’s board of directors had to call a special meeting just to approve next year’s TTC and Wheel-Trans operating budgets plus a $9.7 billion, 10-year capital commitment, after failing to hold the vote as planned during Monday’s board meeting at city hall so seven city councillors sitting on the board could leave to attend the special council session on Ford’s mayoral future.

When the TTC board finally got to debating the matter Wednesday afternoon – inside a cramped boardroom at the TTC’s Davisville offices – it was also going to have to approve a fare hike to address a shortfall in the 2014 operating budget coming in at $1.6 billion.

Rahul Gupta, InsideToronto.com

Another year, another operating budget shortfall for the TTC. Increased, record ridership further crammed into vehicles as service levels continue to flat line. packedsubwayThis should be front page news especially since our mayor continues to claim how he’s turned everything around in this city. However…

Let’s be honest with ourselves here.

We’re not really that concerned about fixing the public transit system in Toronto with this kind of continued approach to funding it. More and more reliance on the farebox to support its operations, per rider subsidy not only falling woefully behind other places more intent on providing better transit alternatives to its residents but even behind its own already woeful standards.

78 cents per rider next year with the proposed fare increases. Compare that to Boston, $1.93. New York City, $1.03. Montreal, $1.16. Philadelphia, $1.95. Chicago, $1.68.

I’m really trying to figure out how Karen Stintz is going to spin this out in a way to help her mayoral bid in 2014. miserlyAs Mayor Ford’s chair of the TTC, she has overseen changes in service standards that resulted in cuts to actual service, especially along routes with lower ridership levels. No more WheelTrans for dialysis patients. In late 2010 when she took over as chair, the city funded the TTC to the tune of $430 million. This year the TTC is asking for $434 million (the city’s offering $428 million). At best, under her leadership the city’s funding for the TTC will have increased by a measly $4 million over 4 years. At worst? She will have presided over an actual cut in funding from the city. (A serious shout-out to Steve Munro for walking me ever so slowly through the facts and figures.)

And all the while, the fare increases. Oh, the fare increases.

Hey. At least during my time as TTC chair, no crazy person took a bus hostage and threatened to blow it up if it drove less than 80 kilometres an hour! speedStintz4Mayor2014. Hard to fit on a t-shirt.

For all her talk about the transit building boom we’re currently experiencing – the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension, the Eglinton Crosstown – if we can’t figure out how to fund the operational side of them properly, it’s just going to be more lines in a system packed with unhappy riders.

Of course, TTC Chair Stintz can hardly be singled out for blame on the deplorable state of the transit file.

The provincial government probably could’ve gone a lot further in garnering votes from the city if, instead of helping to push along the idiocy of a Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line, givingwithonehandit simply announced that it was back in the game of contributing 50% to the annual operating costs of the TTC. Like it used to be, pre-1995. Imagine the ease on the city’s coffers to only have to come up with some $200 million or so this year for the TTC while the province chipped in the other half. And imagine it the year before that. And the one before that. And so on and so on for nearly the past 2 decades.

Somehow the province manages to find $84 million to give to GO Transit but the cupboard remains bare for the TTC. Until Queen’s Park sees fit to address that situation, it really can’t be considered serious about transit or the congestion that is plaguing this region. You simply cannot expect people to get out of their cars and into transit if the transit is expensive and not particularly pleasant or efficient to take.

As for the participation of our federal government in encouraging and funding public transit? trainwreck*sigh*

There’s plenty of blame to go around, obviously, but we can’t lose sight of one important fact. Despite the enormity of all the scandals swirling around him, Mayor Ford has proven to be an even bigger disaster when it comes to public transit in Toronto. Less money, reduced service and higher fares. That’s a veritable trifecta of mismanagement and something we shouldn’t lose sight of amid the mangled wreckage of his time in office.

remindingly submitted by Cityslikr


Thoughts On P.D. Smith’s City

March 18, 2013

“ … the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization,” Rem Koolhaas wrote in citypdsmithDelirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, talking about the early 19th-century Commissioners’ Plan to develop Manhattan, “the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”

I want to focus on the word ‘courageous’.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of that around these parts lately.

It’s been all about limitations. What we can’t afford. Who we can’t help. Why we can’t have nice things.

Aspiration’s in short supply. Expectations lowered. Let’s just aim to get by.

That’s no way to build a city, at least not a city many people actually want to live in.

We need to start seeing the possibilities and ignoring the restraints, most of which are arbitrarily self-imposed in the first place. aimlowToronto is not broke. Torontonians are not over-taxed. What we are is lacking in a little civic nerve. We’ve got challenges but not the constitution to face up to them.

Transit is the big file in the cabinet, obviously. Hardly the only one but the one most concrete, tangible, doable. All it’s going to take is money and a boat load of moxie. We have plenty of the former despite what all the naysayers tell you. The latter? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it.

And while we tangle and tussle over the details, what taxes and tolls and charges to implement, there’s plenty of little things we could be doing. For years we’ve fussed and farted half-heartedly over possible innovations in parking and car flow along the heaviest used parts of King Street. We know there are simple solutions we could try. putourheadstogetherWe’ve just balked at trying them.

One of an infinite number of ideas we could employ in order to get the city moving more smoothly.

In his keynote talk at a transit forum a couple weeks ago, former city planner Larry Beasley laid out the new approach cities need to adopt in order to increase both mobility and liveability in terms of transit planning. A hierarchy of priority that is pretty much diametrically opposed to how we do things currently. 1) Pedestrian. 2) Cycling. 3) Public transit. 4) Movement of goods. 5) Private vehicles.

That’s a sea change in urban thought, folks. Our urban thought, any rate. Doing things drastically different than we’ve done before. It’s not easy. It goes against our inclination to sink deeply into the status quo. notgoodenoughIt’s outside our comfort zone.

But that’s where brave people go to do great things. ‘Courageous acts of prediction’.

This is what we must start demanding of our elected officials. Demanding and encouraging. When we ask what we’re going to get in return for our vote, and the answer goes something like: Lower taxes and Efficiencies, it is not a bold or dynamic politician we are talking to. They are fearful, backward looking and not up to the task of representing us.

They embrace casinos as a solution to our fiscal situation.

They thrive on division and resentment.

They sloganeer instead of lead.

manhattanmap

In 1811, then Mayor of New York, De Witt Clinton, looked up at the largely uninhabited northern 75% of Manhattan and imagined what it might become one day. He decided they needed a plan. A plan he would not share in except as part of history.

Let’s start asking our politicians what their plan is for our future. Insist on being inspired not mollified.

inspirationally submitted by Cityslikr