One City

June 27, 2012

So, if this is what’s possible when a city doesn’t have a mayor, I move a motion to abolish the office entirely.

Imagine if you will (and I normally hate doing this but bear with me), former Mayor David Miller at the height of his popularity, early on in his second term, back before there was even a thought about a garbage strike, in the halcyon days of Transit City wishful thinking, where it all seemed possible. Imagine his initial transit expansion proposal containing the kind of funding strategy now being put forth for what’s being called One City.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it.

Replace the snarling photo of the current TTC Chair with a snarling pic of David Miller and Bob’s yer uncle. David Miller never had the political support to put forward a transit plan with a hike in property taxes at its heart. Ironically, at least in part, due to councillors like Karen Stintz and other members of the Responsible Government Group who viewed their role as primarily defenders of the mythical taxpayers’ wallets rather than any sort of city builders.

That’s not a knock against our current TTC Chair. Politicians should be allowed to evolve. Never trust one who doesn’t.

Which is exactly how we have found ourselves where we are today. A transit plan born from intransigence. (Thank you. Thank you very much. Next show at 10pm.)

In the crater left behind from the spectacular crash-and-burn of Mayor Ford’s woefully ill-thought out Subways! Subways! Subways! The People Want Subways plan, One City springs forth. Not a replacement for the reinstatement of parts of the Miller era Transit City plan that council salvaged from under the mayor’s fist earlier this year; a supplement and an addition. On paper anyway, a huge fucking addition.

Is it at all feasible? Too early to tell. Yes, there are holes in the plan as critics more thoughtful than those from the Toronto Sun are already pointing out. Matt Elliott gives a good opening summation today at the Urban Compass. Politically motivated placement of some subway lines. A sole reliance on property taxes for funding. Some hopeful finger-crossing for involvement from our senior levels of government.

But the important aspect of One City at this juncture should not be sniffily dismissed. An actual funding mechanism put on the table for discussion. You know, how we think we might pay for expanding our transit system.

After two years or so of absolute make believe, that somehow we could build subways for nothing and get our chicks for free, the children have been told to run along and play outside so the adults can have a grown-up chat. We’re done indulging Mayor Ford’s ‘The city doesn’t have a revenue problem’ schtick and are ready now to take up his predecessor’s challenge. You want a liveable city? You gotta pay the price.

Boom! Right there gets tossed a grenade into the ideological bunker that’s long hampered this city’s attempts to upgrade absolutely necessary infrastructure. Fiscal conservative Karen Stintz, coupled with traditional tax-and-spender Glenn De Baeremaeker step forward together and lay out a vision – yes, that vision thingie. Here’s what we could do. Here’s how we could pay for it. Any questions?

Only ideologues are going to reject One City based purely on the fact it involves a tax increase. Oh hello. What’s that you’re saying, Mayor Ford?

“I will not and cannot support the plan. The taxpayers can’t afford it.”

Councillor Ford?

“It’s a tax city plan, it’s not a One City plan.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong?

 A “massive, backdoor tax increase.”

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti

Blargh, blargh, blargh. Cat food.

What the mayor and his dwindling minions might not yet realize is that the agenda for the remainder of his term has now been established. Campaign 2014 officially kicked off. And it’s not going to swing on the right-left axis they so hope it does.

This will be about city building. What we’re prepared to pay for the services we need. Team Ford has already shown they are willing to pay for nothing and are content to get nothing. Shrug. Hey. We kept your taxes low and packed your buses past capacity. 4 More Years! 4 More Years!

Today, with One City, councillors of varying political stripes brushed aside such vapid sloganeering and laid out a plan that asks the city’s residents to reach into their pockets in order to bring our transit system up to speed for the 21st-century. It’s got nothing to do with political ‘sides’. It’s about responsible governance and responsible citizenship.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Bike Lane Crazy

June 25, 2012

This isn’t just about bike lanes although it might seem that way.

If you’re going to build bike lanes, you don’t simply build bike lanes. You build a bike lane network. Off-road doesn’t mean out of sight. It’s all well and good to dedicate hydro corridors to a safe and leisurely Sunday meander but if it leads only in circles, going nowhere in particular, it won’t serve as a needed form of transit.

And that’s why we build bike lanes. We’re not merely slapping in a lane here and another there, wherever we can find space that least inconveniences the non-bike riders amongst us, to score empty political points. As responsible city builders rather than hell bent ideologues, we’re all looking for ways to help alleviate traffic congestion.

At least, that’s what cities that take alleviating traffic congestion seriously do. (No, not just in Europe. Look what’s happening in New York City.)

Rather than view cyclists as irritants, determined only to inflict the maximum amount of aggravation on already put upon vehicle drivers out of nothing more than smug, self-righteous spite, there are places that accommodate bikes as viable transit alternatives. Modes that help ease traffic flow not impede it. Infrastructure gets built enthusiastically with the expectation of removing cars from the roads. Yes, there’s an ecological element to it — fewer cars mean less pollution — but each additional commuter on a bike, well, you do the math.

Over the course of 3 days last week in the Netherlands, I rode some 160 kilometres from small seaside towns through country sides, across protected dunes and into cities. In my best estimation maybe 10 but probably closer to 5 kilometres of that distance was on shared roads without some sort of designated lane, and truthfully, some of that happened due to errors in my navigation. There were segments entirely segregated from everything but other bikes. Some shared with only pedestrians. Protected on road lanes and those demarcated only by painted lines.

No one size fits all solution. Just an accepted notion that cycling was an integral part of any rational transit system and should be accorded appropriate space and value. Biking as more than some left wing conspiracy seeking to bring about the downfall of capitalism. People wanting to go about their business on 2 wheels.

It really is that easy. There just has to be the will. The will comes from understanding this isn’t a zero sum equation. Cars and bicycles can exist together in something resembling harmony. Places as cold and wet as ours is sometimes; places as seemingly inhospitable to a culture of cycling as ours can be in, say, mid-February. Places that weren’t always the bike friendly havens they appear to be today.

Failure to accept this possibility is nothing more than a failure of imagination and nerve. A basic inability to move past the status quo.

That’s why this is more than just bike lanes.

cyclingly submitted by Cityslikr


Fighting Entropy

June 11, 2012

It’s not as if city council voted to secede from Ontario and go it alone as a province. Or to institute sharia law. Or legalize pot. Or rid Yonge Street of all cars for all time.

Last Thursday, city council voted to ban plastic bags beginning January 2013. Political implications about our mayor’s relationship with council aside, it was no big deal. Get in line and join the club. Toronto is not the first municipality in Canada seeking to enact such a ban. Not even close.

Yet some who aren’t necessarily against the idea of banning plastic bags found the process with which council went about it detrimental, let’s call it. “Irresponsible,” Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman suggested. “There’s a real chance this move could prove to be a disaster,” Matt Elliott wrote for Metro’s Urban Compass.

Really, guys? Really?

I get that how the vote came to be was out of the ordinary. Oh yeah, I’ll admit that it was impulsive even. Items are traditionally studied before coming to council. Staff delivers reports. They are put through the committee wringer.

All for very good reasons. Councillors should have all the facts there are to have before them ahead of making decisions. To be as informed as possible in order to facilitate easy implementation.

I get it.

But strange times call for strange measures. There’s a gaping agenda hole that needs be filled. Mayor Ford seems intent on whiling away the next couple years campaigning and repealing much of what council achieved over the course of the Miller years. It’s legislative entropy. Without some pushback from the rest of council, the entire apparatus might collapse into itself.

It wasn’t as if it all came right out of the blue, out of left field. They weren’t talking bike lanes or economic development and – boom! – suddenly there’s two plastic bag ban motions. The mayor brought plastic bags to the table. He wanted to rescind the 5¢ fee retailers were supposed to charge for them. As the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale pointed out in his calm, even-handed article, “…once a proposal is brought to a meeting of the whole council, any councillor can propose an amendment to the policy in question — and have the amendment decided upon once and for all on that same day.”

Shit happens in other words. Mayor Ford came to council unprepared for any sort of possible curve in the road. Caught flat-footed by an audible called at the line of scrimmage, he had no back up game plan. It was a rear-guard fight he didn’t have the forces at his disposal to fend off.

This should come as no surprise. Since the bruising transit battle in the spring, the mayor has cast himself in the role of opposition. He’s reactive not proactive; rejecting not building. All with an eye toward finding that one thing that’ll get him in good with ‘taxpayers’ again, that one issue to re-ignite the ire of Ford Nation.

It’s a game of counter-punching now. Unless or until council seizes control of some of the key committees at midterm this fall, we should get used to legislation being made in an extemporaneous manner. As John McGrath wrote back in March, “Every. Single. Decision. From here on out everything the city does is going to be decided on an absurd, ad hoc basis…Toronto’s going to lurch from one battle to another as the two sides at council try to poach votes from the centre.”

But I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing or an institutional crisis. (Do I think our municipal governance needs some tweaking? Absolutely). This is simply a crisis of… no, let’s not use such catastrophic language… a failure of leadership. Up until the mayoralty of Rob Ford, the amalgamated city of Toronto admirably muddled through for 13 years. Our current cris—predicament is about one guy and the strictest of his ideological adherents.

And as Mr. Dale points out in his article, we’re not in uncharted waters with the plastic bag ban. “Unlike the federal and provincial legislatures, which take months to turn an idea into law,” Dale writes, “council regularly makes policy changes on the fly.” City staff will still write up a full report. If council’s smart, they’ll make time for public deputations. “Since the actual bylaw has not yet been approved, only a council motion,” Dale goes on to say, “the city could still hold public meetings or otherwise allow for corporate feedback. But spokesperson Wynna Brown said ‘it’s premature to speculate on next steps at this point.’”

Leave the speculation to Mayor Ford. That’s really all he’s got. For the rest of us, as the t-shirts and fridge magnets recommend, Stay Calm and Carry On. The wheels of municipal government must keep turning even if it’s unclear who’s at the wheel.

improvisationally submitted by Cityslikr