A Blatant Disregard

April 18, 2016

The plan, before taking down the ‘Goes Hollywood’ banner, was to write up some sort of insightful synopsis of this past winter spent in Los Angeles and the U.S. southwest. Aspringdancelmost 3 months spent blithely paying little to no heed to the weather, aside from constantly thinking, It’s quite nice out today, isn’t it? Oh! Look! Flowers!

There was going to be more edge to it, of course. Hopefully, with some depth of perception and originality, touching upon something that no one had ever noticed or written about Los Angeles before. Warren Zevon would figure prominently in the post.

But, as happens, actual, real time events, in the here and now, put scupper to my intentions. Los Angeles and Warren Zevon would have to wait. There were more immediate, pressing matters to expound upon.

I will say this, though, about Los Angeles. Despite enormous strides in the last 20 years to get out from under the deadweight of automobile dependency, it is still a car town. Far and away, from almost anywhere in the city, if you have the means, it is easier and faster to get to where you’re going and back, driving. lafreeway2Regardless of all those photographs showing unremitting gridlock, freeways jammed as far as the eye can see, carmageddon, day in and day out, you’ll still arrive at your destination sooner in your car than any other form of transport.

While this is true also for many parts of Toronto and the GTA region, it felt, at least to this downtowner’s mind, that we weren’t as far gone down that path road of car-centricity as a place like L.A. The incline wasn’t going to be as steep a climb to pull our collective selves back up and out from under it. Despite the eruptions of exuberant transportation irrationality like we have witnessed recently, sanity on the file didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Enough smart people with enough decision-making clout knew what had to be done. The only question was how to best go about doing it.

And then came black freaky Friday, and frankly, all bets are off.

Ontario is widening the four-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Credit River in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes.

What in the holy hell?! Widening a fucking highway!? From 6 to 12 lanes?!?! In the GTA!?!?! Who’s authorized this??

From the Office of the Premier.

Of Ontario, I presume. Not the premier of Fuckity Fuck Fuck Stan. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s gobsmacked babble.)

Unbelievable.

You don’t increase road space to relieve congestion. hahahanoYou increase road space to give the impression you’re relieving congestion. That’s just basic transportation planning 101. Unless you’re Wendell Cox or Randal O’Toole. Or, unless it’s 1954. (Or the governor of Illinois, it seems.)

This is so wrong-headed and standing in defiance of every smart growth, green belt measure that this government is purported to support, it defies comprehension. Think that’s just me, some anti-car zealot railing? Listen to the mayor of Houston, something of a sprawl town itself, give a speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.

 If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.

This example [Katy freeway, Interstate 10] , and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

The Katy freeway (as explained here in Streetsblog), “A Monument To Texas Transportation Futility”, was expanded from 8 lanes to a staggering 23 – 23 lanes! – with a result, seemingly, to be increased car travel times along it. katyAlmost immediately. Let me italicise that for you. Increased car travel times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Provide more road space, more people will use it to drive. Rinse and repeat.

Last Thursday, I attended the Students Retrofit the Suburbs event where planning students from Ryerson’s City Building Institute presented, well, plans for 3 spots in the suburban areas in and around Toronto that had been ravaged by the single-use built form design footprint used to accommodate car use, and car use only. One of the panelists asked them how they would deal with the community pushback and resistance that inevitably crops up when fundamental change is proposed in their neighbourhoods. Good question.

An even bigger one, however, is how to deal with political intransigence in the face of necessary change. A knowing, willful disregard for hard truths and expert advice from our elected officials who should be showing leadership, and making decisions about the future rather than simply trying to maintain the past. notlisteningDon’t think that’s the case? Then why did the premier’s office try and slip this news by everyone with a Friday morning announcement?

They knew. They know. They just don’t care about anything except for the long term health of their party.

When the press release surfaced, our friend John McGrath tweeted, “24 lane-kilometres of highway and the government just pays for it, no muss no fuss. 26 lane-klilometres of LRT along Sheppard East? haha no.” We are all familiar with the torturous pace and process of building transit in the GTA. The drawing and redrawing and drawing again of lines on maps, accompanied, of course, by the game of pass the buck when it comes to who pays for it. But when it comes to building roads? Everybody can’t open the public purse quick enough to throw money around without so much as a second thought. $81 million on this particular project.

The kicker is, the Liberal government is the urban party at Queen’s Park right now. That’s how they patched together another majority in 2014. The city vote. They’ll get no fight from the opposition on this. yougetacarJust like they got no fight from them on the Subway Champions banner the Liberals waved during the by and general elections in Scarborough. As long as highways are widened, road capacity is added, infrastructure money thrown around in their neck of the woods, everyone will agree that widening highways is a proper and wise use of scarce public dollars.

Facts be damned. Reality get stuffed.

That’s not governance. It’s pure and utter negligence.

unhappy returningly 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


Mayor Tory Is A Lawyer, Right?

May 25, 2015

3C

The new development, with a working title of 3C Waterfront, will transform a major portion of the land where the Don River meets Toronto Harbour. 3C Lakeshore Inc., a joint venture by partners Cityzen Development Group, Castlepoint Realty Partners, both of Toronto, and Continental Ventures Realty of New York, will develop the site. The 3C site, positioned between Cherry Street and Lake Shore Boulevard East, is the largest contiguous tract of land on Toronto’s East Bayfront. The project is designed to be a mixed-use urban development adding 2.4 million square feet of residential, commercial, office, retail, and parking space to the waterfront. The overall vision of the project is to expand Toronto’s waterfront to the east by creating a vibrant community space, a gateway to the revitalized Port Lands, and integrating nearby communities into continuous urbanity.

This was written more than 2 years ago, all of which has been thrown into disarray by the sudden appearance of the updated “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east expressway being pushed by Mayor Tory. “We’re this far from settling 3 years of an appeal,” Jane Pepino, a lawyer representing the 3C development group, told the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee a couple weeks ago when she was asked what stage the development application process was at. With zero consultation “and, seemingly, no overlap between those at the city who were working with us and those at the city developing this scheme,” Pepino said, they only found out about the new “hybrid” option at a public meeting just over a month previously.

Hastily drawn up lines on a map, erasing years of careful planning. Sound familiar?

[via @_JohnTory]

Mayor Tory will tell anyone who will listen that this was the “hybrid” option he supported during last year’s campaign. The “hybrid” option both his major opponents supported. That’s not the truth. As Ms. Pepino tells Councillor Ron Moeser during her deputation, the original “hybrid” option had “no detrimental impact on the 3C lands” and they “took no position on it”.

This “hybrid” option – let’s call it “hybrid reboot” – “came out of the blue” because of city engineers’ concerns about the original “hybrid” option.

So again we have hastily drawn up lines on a map, erasing years of careful planning.

What do you think is going to happen if city council pushes ahead with the “hybrid reboot” option for the Gardiner east, scuttling years of development planning in the process, on what is perhaps the most valuable land in Toronto? Can you say ‘litigation’? No? How about ‘massive lawsuit’?

When Councillor Joe Mihevc asked Ms. Pepino for a ‘rough ballpark, back of the envelope value’ of the 3C lands, she had a one word answer for him. ‘Huge’.

Where’s the common sense Mayor Tory keeps talking about in unnecessarily risking that?

advocatingly submitted by Cityslikr