A Sad Symmetry

June 1, 2016

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

similarly submitted by Cityslikr


An Unfortunate Interlude

March 14, 2016

Look.interlude

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about politics in Toronto while living down here in Los Angeles in my self-imposed exile. And I know what I’m about to write has already been written about by others, more than just a few others, so I’m just echoing in the echo chamber. But I feel this is something that needs to be said, said often and said by many.

SmartTrack and John Tory.

SmartTrack was always bullshit, right from the very start. It was never a transit plan. It was an election strategy, to elect a candidate who was unprepared to stand up to the ridiculous politicization of transit planning that had overcome the city during the Ford years. SmartTrack was simply just another sharpie line drawn on a magic marker map of vote-getting transit… no, not ideas, that gives them far too much credibility. Schemes. Plots. crayondrawingFlights of pure political calculation.

One penny spent on studying the feasibility of SmartTrack was a penny too many, and Toronto has spent hundreds of millions of pennies already studying SmartTrack. Each new report reveals it to be the sham that it is, shrivelling its desiccated frame even further, to mere whiffs of its former self, fragments, shards. The once vaunted heavy rail Western spur, gone. The 22 new stations now down to 9, then 5, maybe 4.

SmartTrack as a figment of a campaign team’s lack of imagination. We need to do the exact same thing as the other guy except different. Be Bold. Assail your critics. We can fix it later, patch it together in editing.

Now as mayor, with his signature transit platform being picked clean, John Tory wants us to credit him for listening to the experts, gleaning the facts and figures and being willing to change plans, adapt and accommodate, reach a consensus. (Something his immediate predecessor was never able to bring himself to do, Mayor Tory reminds us.) I say, fuck that. cuttothebone1None of these ‘new’ facts or figures now emerging from staff reports are in any way new or unforeseen. SmartTrack’s non-workable components were obvious from the get-go, the timeline dubious, the scope and cost highly suspect. As a candidate, John Tory swatted away these criticisms as little more than a symptom of our culture of ‘No’, a timidity, a lack of Vision.

So, give him no credit for changing his tune. It is nothing more than a cynical ploy, another cynical ploy to add to the mountains of cynical ploys that have plagued transit planning in Toronto for decades now. This is not an example of being reasonable or adaptable. The mayor continues to blow smoke up our asses and wants us to thank him for some sort of colonic treatment.

Besides, SmartTrack is far from being dead and buried, a painful relic. Professor Eric Miller, a SmartTrack champion from the outset, grading it an A+ during the 2014 mayoral campaign and, as director of the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute, hired by the city to assess its feasibility, isn’t backing down on his bold claims. wishfulthinking“The Stouffville (GO) line [the eastern leg on the SmartTrack map] has the potential to become the Yonge St. [subway line] of Scarborough — a strong, north-south spine upon which one can then hang effective east-west lines,” Professor Miller told Tess Kalinowski of the Toronto Star.

That statement comes with plenty of qualifiers. “If it’s operating in a competitive way…”, Miller believes SmartTrack can be as important a component to redefining public transit in Toronto as the long vaunted relief line. If it’s run at subway-like frequency. If there’s rail capacity to do so and capacity at Union Station to handle such an increase. If there’s proper integration with GO fares and SmartTrack service is delivered at a TTC price.

That’s a lot of ifs that have plagued SmartTrack from the very beginning, and have yet, nearly two years on, to be satisfactorily answered. fingerscrossedAs Stefan Novakovic pointed out in Urban Toronto, the continued studying of SmartTrack’s viability may well be negatively affecting actual, honest to god, necessary transit plans like the relief line. Instead of running that line down along the King Street corridor where ridership numbers warrant, plans are brewing to put it under Queen Street instead, in order to avoid overlap with the possible southern swing of SmartTrack if that were to happen which remains in the highly doubtful category. Is SmartTrack stunting the relief line even further, as Steve Munro suggests, by threatening an over-build of rapid transit in Scarborough, with its eastern leg competing with the proposed Scarborough subway extension, combining to squeeze out a more sensible northeast passage of the relief line?

Just more questions to add to the many existing questions that continue to point to SmartTrack as an obstacle to Toronto’s public transit future rather than contributing any sort of positive solution.

So yeah, unless Mayor Tory steps up and admits that his SmartTrack is a terrible idea, was always a terrible idea, and the only reason for its existence was to get him elected mayor of Toronto, he deserves zero credit for his willingness to change course now. californiasunshine3Any iteration of SmartTrack will be a setback for transit building in this city, and if the Toronto Star’s Royson James is right, and what we have on the table now is as good as it’s going to get, then John Tory will have succeeded only in cementing the politicization of transit planning for decades to come, generations even. The mayor deserves no reward for that.

And now, back to our regular scheduled, southern California programming.

re-calmly submitted by Cityslikr


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


Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

smarttrack1It’s hard to believe that during last year’s municipal campaign someone from Team Tory didn’t take the time to drive the length of Eglinton Avenue, west from Mount Dennis to Pearson airport, the western spur of what became the concoction known as SmartTrack, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. More incredible still, how anyone claiming to be a transit planner looked at the plan and gave it their imprimatur, shrugging off the bit about running heavy rail, “surface subway” along that route without tunneling. “Criticisms [of SmartTrack] have, instead, focused on the line’s ‘constructability’ where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme,” wrote Eric J. Miller, director at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute. “As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot.”

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

I drove that stretch of the SmartTrack western spur and back last week. The notion you could run any sort of heavy rail (electrified or not) along it without tunneling is immediately laughable. As for tunneling? The rumblings we’ve been hearing about the forthcoming staff reports, and the price for going underground, suggests that SmartTrack’s “$8 billion price tag and seven-year timeline are based on considerable analysis,” as Miller wrote in the October 2014 Toronto Star article, weren’t, in fact, ever subject to ‘considerable analysis’. Or much of any sort of analysis, it turns out.

No, what should happen, what those really concerned with connecting people to places in this city should be concentrating on now, is building that western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Black Creek (its current western terminus) out to the airport. Fuck SmartTrack. changecourseOr, at least, stop pretending it’s anything more than some enhanced regional rail that might contribute some to alleviating this city’s congestion and commuter woes but isn’t the silver bullet solution supporters are hyping it as.

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that penny to drop, however. In making SmartTrack a priority signature item of his mayoralty, John Tory will have a tough time walking this one back. He painted himself into a corner, his campaign too clever by half, in attempting to be seen as a subway proponent, promising to deliver up ‘subway like service’ with SmartTrack. Now leading the charge to push ‘fancy streetcars’ directly through the heart of Ford country? Hard to imagine.

Even if he were so inclined, the mayor shouldn’t expect to get any help from local councillors on re-establishing the LRT idea on Eglinton West. “People do not want to see an LRT,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell stated. “If you’re going to put a subway or rail, it’s far better for the neighbourhood if it’s buried. But is it feasible to bury it?”

He thinks a busway might be more appropriate to cut congestion. But the population density doesn’t justify laying tracks, said Campbell.

It’s difficult to see how the councillor arrived at that conclusion. A 2010 ridership projection for the entire proposed Eglinton Crosstown from Kennedy station to the airport pegged the numbers at 170,000 daily, 5000-5400 at peak hours by 2031 (h/t Matt Elliott and Ev Delen). eraseWhile the section of Eglinton West running through his ward may not justify laying tracks, Councillor Campbell is missing the bigger network picture. Never mind the major transit node that is the airport but the rest of Eglinton is peppered with high and mid-rise buildings and growing communities with schools and shopping centres. Places not everybody can or wants to drive to.

In addition to which, how exactly will a busway preserve the green spaces the councillor says he wants to protect from the scourge of an LRT? Never mind the added transfer riders would have to take moving from the busway to the Crosstown at Black Creek. A busway just makes absolutely no sense in this situation. It is parochial and short-sighted.

Which pretty much sums up transit planning in Toronto. Anti-LRT nimbyism begat subways everywhere begat SmartTrack. Transit solutions gave way to political calculations. pointofnoreturnPolitical calculations gave way to transit slogans, leaving consequences for others to deal with.

There was a viable transit plan in place for this city. Bit by bit, we’ve chipped away at it for no other reason than short term political gain. Travelling west along Eglinton, it becomes apparent that if SmartTrack somehow comes into being (or Councillor Campbell’s ridiculous busway gains any traction outside of his own mind), the final nail will be put in the coffin of that transit plan. The damage that will inflict will be near impossible to repair.

dismally submitted by Cityslikr


Railroaded

November 13, 2015

The good news just keeps rolling in for SmartTrack.

And by good news, I mean bad news. And by rolling in, I mean like pulling teeth.notagain

Delayed reports, ridership modelling problems, notices of being ‘unaffordable and unworkable’. That’s not a stroke you’re having. It’s the acrid smell of desperation.

Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Jennifer Pagliaro reported that there’s a number floating around City Hall that represents the price tag for the so-called western spur of the SmartTrack plan. The part of the plan that very likely calls for the dreaded ‘tunneling’ word, digging up stretches of Eglinton Avenue. An aspect of the plan that, as a candidate for mayor, John Tory first said wouldn’t be necessary but as time went on, and he transformed from candidate to frontrunner, admitted to, yeah, probably, they’d have to dig but that had been accounted for in the $8 billion cost.

Well now, apparently, there’s an actual number but those in the know at City Hall are either pretending there isn’t or that we’ll be told what that number is when the time comes for us to be told.

It’s hard not to read this as just another setback in the making for the mayor and his signature transit plan. Ismarttrack1f the number being held back was favourable to SmartTrack’s cause, you’d think the mayor and his supporters would be shouting it loud and proud. He certainly needs some positive spin on this that isn’t just his. Unless, of course, he’s going all Henry the IVth on us, piling on the disappointment and dim expectations in order to amplify the success when it all turns out to be exactly like he said it would. “…he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”

Maybe.

But maybe not.

The question is, just how far down dug in is Mayor Tory on pursuing SmartTrack if it does indeed turn out to be the lemon every indication is suggesting it is right now? Does he ride it, Slim Pickens-like, right into a fiery explosion, taking a whole lot of shit with it? drstrangeloveIn typical fashion, he’s left himself with very little wiggle room to step back. Just like he did on police carding. Just like he did on the Gardiner East.

How badly off the mark do the reports and whatever numbers they contain have to be before Mayor Tory is willing to about-face, admit it was a bad idea, his intentions were good and noble but… let’s move on, shall we? He’s said almost from the start that they hadn’t done any engineering studies or the like when the pitched the plan on the campaign trail. There were bound to be some mistakes in calculation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn’t love 53 kilometres and 22 stations of surface subway all up and ready to go in just 7 years? Just 7 years!

Even if the mayor remains undeterred in the face of mounting evidence that SmartTrack isn’t all that, plus a bag of 3 day old, stale donuts, are there really 22 councillors willing to follow his transit folly? hidenumberI know, I know. Much of this is the same council who wound up dancing the Scarborough subway jig that Rob Ford beat out time to. Let’s not rule out any dire possibility because these people, a majority of them at any rate, are clearly capable of doing anything, absolutely anything.

But it just seems to me SmartTrack doesn’t carry the same visceral, emotional baggage a subway in Scarborough did/does. Nobody’s picked up the mantle of deserving SmartTrack. This is John Tory’s baby, fully, completely. Bully pulpit or not, he’s got to sell it to his council colleagues and if there’s a stink attached, how much political capital does the mayor still have to use?

If you want to get a sense of just how tough a sell SmartTrack is shaping up to be, re-read Pagliaro’s article and remember, it isn’t an editorial, an opinion piece. It’s a news report and I don’t recall reading such a pointed newspaper article, at least not since the frenzied crack period of the Ford administration. The article oozes testiness and impatience.

Pagliaro refers to SmartTrack as something ‘dreamed up by Mayor John Tory’s campaign team’. keepawayShe points out that a staffer in the city manager’s office stopped communicating with her. The mayor seems to be obfuscating, saying the report isn’t finished, there are no numbers or he hasn’t seen any numbers or document.

Pagliaro sums up what we do know so far about the SmartTrack reports city staff have delivered.

What’s noticeably absent are the costs.

But it’s not because they’re not available.

I spoke to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat this week, who confirmed the actual HDR report submitted to the city contains “high-level” costs for the western spur options.

So, what are they?

Keesmaat won’t tell.

She told me to take it up with the city manager’s office.

Colour Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star SmartTrack skeptical. It’s feeling more and more like we’re being dicked around here. It was a plan that from the very beginning was full of holes (not the good kind you could drive a subway train through), and nothing that’s happened over the course of the past 18 months has done anything to begin filling them. skepticalIn fact, Mayor Tory continues to dig more holes, creating an even bigger hill he has to push this thing up.

After the Scarborough subway debacle, there are very few bridges left for this mayor to burn on the transit file. Unrealistic cost estimates, questionable alignments, dubious ridership numbers. We’ve heard it all before, just recently, in fact. It’s hard to imagine there’s enough political will to suck another one up, not now, not again.

So, just how persuasive does Mayor Tory believe he is? Just how gullible does he think we are? Just how gullible are we?

still smartingly submitted by Cityslikr


I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

October 21, 2015

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr