Street Carnag–Oh! I Get It!

July 23, 2014

You know what I love about people who offer up easy solutions to not-so-easy problems? brightidea1Their firm belief that no one else has ever come up with that easy solution. If it were so easy, asshole, don’t you think it would already be in place?

So it goes with the National Post’s recent War on the Streetcar series, where they tap noted transit and municipal affairs expert, Terence Corcoran, and some dude from Vancouver to give us the lowdown on the congestion woes that ail us here in Toronto. Their inevitable conclusion? Replace our streetcars with buses and Bob’s yer uncle. Done, and done. Next problem you want solved?

Geez. Thanks, guys. That’s such a solid idea even Rob Ford has floated it before.

(Note to those handing out transit advice: if Rob Ford agrees with you, it has to be the dumbest idea ever. imwithstupid2He gets his views on public transit from reports he reads behind the wheel of his SUV while driving on the Gardiner.)

For all of those deciding to give voice to your opinions on this city’s congestion, the one constant in the discussion, among all the other variables, the one factor that never, ever changes is the overwhelming presence of private vehicles in the equation. If streetcars were the root of the problem, there wouldn’t be congestion on Dufferin Street, on Finch Avenue, on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, all of which run buses. What about the expressways that intersect the city? The 401, the DVP, the 427, Gardiner/QEW? No streetcars there, either. Some buses. But mostly cars and trucks.

If you want to chime in with your transit/congestion problems, start and end with how to deal with private automobile use. Anything else is simply white noise. You’re not helping. You’re hindering.

Look at the photo accompanying Mr. Hopper’s empty screed. lonestreetcarThe 501 to Long Branch, trapped on all sides by a sea of cars. What problem does he see? The one, the lone streetcar. There’s a joke in there somewhere about not seeing the forest for all the cars.

Of all the laughably contemptible points made by Mr. Corcoran in his anti-transit blathering, perhaps the most laughably contemptible is his final one. “Now there is talk of clearing all automobile movement on King Street and other streetcar-strangled streets,” huffs Corcoran, “all to facilitate the trundling vestige of the horsecar along tracks that lock Toronto into the 19th century.”

Actually no, Terry. It’s not all about facilitating ‘the trundling vestige of the… blah, blah, blah.” It’s about facilitating the movement of as many people through our streets as efficiently and economically as possible. buscongestionWithout introducing lane, turning and parking restrictions on ‘automobile movement’, replacing the 19th-century horsecars with your beloved trolleybuses (which, by the way, would take 3 times as many to move the same number of passengers) won’t make a lick of difference. Bus or streetcar will still be stuck in traffic, battling for scarce road space with cars.

To give the National Post some credit, this peculiar ‘Street carnage’ series of theirs did include Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article ‘Streetcars are not the problem, too much automobile traffic is’ which, essentially, stated what I’ve just been stating for the past 500 hundred words or so. But the paper then spent the better part of the week trying its best to refute that article. youdontsay1Worse, refute it by ignoring the main thrust of his argument. Too much automobile traffic.

How exactly to deal with the congestion problem of too much automobile traffic. Now, there’s a poser, a real conundrum. Until you’re prepared to tackle that, everything else is just re-arranging the furniture, and chances are, somebody else has come up with the idea before you did.

 

yeahyeahyeahly submitted by Cityslikr


The Calculus Of Crazy

June 20, 2013

So this morning TTC CEO Andy Byford lit the always short fuse of car-loving Ford Nation. uttermadnessIn an interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, he floated the idea of closing King Street to car traffic during the morning rush hour. Reaction from the auto-huggers was swift and sadly predictable.

“Where are the cars supposed to go?” tweets radio talk show guy, Jerry Agar.

WHERE ARE THE CARS SUPPOSED TO GO?!

WAR ON THE CAR!!

Nothing Mr. Byford suggested was new or novel or particularly bold. In fact, King Street has been a problem for the city’s transportation department for over 20 years now. I wrote about this very thing in February. Back in the early-90s, city staff tried banning cars along the route during peak times in the day, using overhead signs and markings on the road.

upyoursGuess what happened?

“… this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work,” according to a staff report, “motorists did, and continue to, ignore it.”

Motorists ignored the rules of the road. Just said, fuck it. I need to turn left here, I’m turning left here.

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city.

I attended a seminar last night given by Jarrett Walker, author of the book and blog site, Human Transit. He talked about ‘symbolic transit’ and symbolic decisions made about transit based on incomplete information.

For at least two generations now, the Car has been presented as a symbol of freedom. That which will get you wherever you want to go whenever you want to go there. There are car advertisements attesting to it. carcommercialSleek machines blowing down the open roads, never another car in sight.

I remember that happening with me behind the wheel once. Driving in Montana. When was the last time you experienced that commercial sensation making your way through Toronto or the GTA?

The fact is, the primary source of congestion on our streets now is the over-abundance of private vehicles, and the position where they sit at the top of our transit policy decision making. Streetcars aren’t the problem. Not even the St. Clair disaster. Not bike lanes. Not scrambled pedestrian intersections.

Cars, and our continued catering to those who drive them.

Of course, you can say this until you’re blue in the face, trot out studies to back up the case but those fixated with their cars will simply tighten their grip on the wheel and demand the removal of anything they perceive that impedes their forward motion. redqueen1The Deputy Mayor’s response to the TTC CEO’s thinking? Replace the King streetcars with buses. How would that be better? Who the fuck knows other than they can get out of the way of cars when they pull to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers.

But a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

Who else demands a space to stop their car right in front of the place they’re stopping? I live on a street that neither buses nor streetcars run down. I have to walk to where they are. And then, when I arrive where I’m going, I have to exit at the nearest stop to my destination and walk to it.

Why do drivers expect preferential treatment?

And why do people look around and see congestion on King Street, or Bathurst Street or Dufferin Street, Bloor Street and Finch Avenue, all roads with different modes of public transit, snarled in traffic, and come away saying, get rid of the streetcars/buses/build us a subway? When the one common element is cars and the excess of them on our roads?

60people

It’s car madness, frankly. A steadfast refusal to admit the obvious and be open to real solutions in alleviating the problem. Problem, what problem? I don’t have a problem.

The first step to dealing with it is to admit you have a problem.

Unfortunately, we still seem not to have hit bottom quite yet.

sanely submitted by Cityslikr


Childish Behaviour

February 24, 2012

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr


Sneering Smitherman

February 22, 2010

OK. So when can we expect to start hearing some positive tones coming from the George Smitherman campaign? Almost from the get-go there’s been nothing but invective spewed forth, denigrating anything and everything to do with City Hall. Yeah, we got it, George. The place is a nest of under-worked and over-paid politicians and bureaucrats alike, and you’re the tough guy who’s going to knock heads and make things fly right. City Hall is Jack Palance. George Smitherman is Shane.

Not that he’s alone wallowing in the bile. Rocco Rossi is no slouch himself when it comes to matching Smitherman in heaping sneering superciliousness upon Toronto’s public servants. Together they are proving to be the Beavis and Butthead of the 2K10©®™ campaign trail, sitting around watching the proceedings and yelling: Fire! Fire!! Burn! Burn!!

As we have said in these pages relatively regularly, criticism’s the easy part. Solutions aren’t so simple. Unless of course you are George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi who have both displayed an easy affinity for right-wing, neoconservative/liberal platitudes and claptrap.

Rossi thinks that if we just sell everything, it’ll be clear sailing ahead. Along with squeezing out ‘efficiencies’, that’s the heart of his multi-year plan to restore fiscal health to the city. It’s like listening to a panicked investment advisor when he hits a rough patch. Sell! Sell! Sell!! And the next thing you know, you’re looking at a Great Depression.

Smitherman, having learned firsthand from his former boss at Queen’s Park, is pitching himself just slightly less fiscally conservative than his opponent. It’s not that he is against selling public assets per se (he couldn’t be, what with Ralph Lean as his chief fundraiser). He just thinks it should be done in a more orderly fashion than Rossi’s willy-nilly, fire sale approach. Aside from that, the two candidates are pretty well marching in campaign lockstep.

Smitherman’s response to the city’s proposed budget is all dismissive snarl, manly chest beating and empty campaign rhetoric. Cuts, slashes, freezes and a general shaking up of the sense of indolent entitlement George perceives City Hall to be full of. No more ‘hobby horses’ under the responsible leadership of a Mayor Smitherman. It’s all about long term thinking replacing stop-gap measures with a dollop of ‘innovative models’ and ‘new approaches’. It’s a campaign strategy of can’t and cant.

To Rossi and Smitherman, it’s as if the last 12, 13 years never happened. For both, Toronto’s fiscal problems are all its own doing. Never mind that structural deficits really started in earnest when the provincial government massively downloaded social services on municipalities in the late-90s without the corresponding money to run them. Never mind that the same government pulled out of the traditional 50-50 funding of operational costs for the TTC at the same time. Never mind that all those annual savings from amalgamation never materialized. I mean, come on. That’s so last century.

Of course this heavy tilt to the right is made possible in the absence of any credible progressive candidate in the race since Adam Giambrone’s flameout. Oh wait. Who’s that over there? Right, right. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and his 30 years of municipal experience. But come on. He’s not really plausible for mayor. I mean, look how short he is and he’s got that funny accent.

Pantlone is either proving to be an ineffective candidate or he’s just being bulldozed past in what, according to the cold, logical analysis of the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, is Toronto’s “… momentous shift to the right”. Either way, until someone is able to step up and be heard above the shrill din of hard conservative blather, Smitherman and Rossi (sounds like the name of an appertif) are going to continue battling it out to prove who can be the meanest, nastiest, slashiest-and-burniest neo-con on the block. Or until Rob Ford enters the race and assumes control of the hardcore spectrum of the right wing, making the other two seem almost reasonable by comparison.

This anti stance by the likes of Smitherman and Rossi with some similar haymakers thrown by Giorgio Mammoliti may sound good to receptive ears but it really amounts to little more than a cancer on the body politic of Toronto. It’s self-immolation and makes it impossible to see how any candidate who gets elected on such a platform could govern properly. Who wants to work with or for someone espousing dismissive, malicious attitudes towards you and what you do? While George Smitherman may think such hard-nosed tough talk exemplifies leadership, it’s nothing but cold calculation and mean-spirited posturing which will repel more voters than it attracts.

City building it’s not and shouldn’t that be the one thing we demand from our mayor?

testily submitted by Cityslikr