You Can Have Your Subway, Sir. But It’ll Cost You.

Pssst. Residents of Scarborough. You’re not falling for it, are you? He’s the Little Engine That Could. Mayor Ford (Secretly) Loves Transit City.

This story is so fucking messy and convoluted, 2 parts farce and 1 part tragedy, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s all stop, start. A good idea followed by a dud but then upon reflection, hey, that’s not too bad either. To paraphrase Gordon Chong, I have to confess that over the last few moments I have gone from optimism to deflation about this post but now I’m back on track.

Unlike transit planning in Toronto. Ba-dum-tsssh! I got a million of them, folks.

Watching Mayor Ford’s Scarborough press conference yesterday where he basically announced he would be no longer listening to his handpicked TTC chair, I couldn’t help wonder just how much gullibility remained in the pool of support Scarborough residents had toward the mayor. The former east side municipality showed a lot of love for candidate Ford in the 2010 municipal election, voting overwhelmingly for him. While such heady numbers have slipped in recent opinion polls, the mayor is still more popular in Scarborough than anywhere else in the city.

Despite reneging on at least one of his major campaign platforms (“No Service Cuts. Guaranteed.”) that has hit Scarborough particularly hard, Mayor Ford was there with his Grey Cup, just one of you folks’ football jacket to express solidarity with his peeps and let them know that he would not fail them on the matter of subways. He said he would rid their streets of the scourge of streetcars, and that’s what he was going to do. Subways were the only way to go, the only form of rapid transit according to the mayor. So burying all the Eglinton LRT was the only sensible, reasonable thing to do.

And with all the savings that wouldn’t be seen doing that, he would build the fine taxpayers of Scarborough a real, honest to god subway by extending the Sheppard subway east to the Scarborough Town Centre. I love you, Scarborough! Thank you and g’night!

Before all the sceptics out there could finish their first eye roll and mumble something about pixie dust, Mayor Ford had the hard facts to prove that his transportation plan was ‘doable’. Excerpts from the long awaited report from former councillor and both TTC and GO Transit vice-chair, Gordon Chong, began leaking out. Hells yeah, we can build the Sheppard subway extension. The private sector was chomping at the bit to get the party started. They might even pony up as much as 50, 60% of the cost in return for three to decades of air rights and such. Come on. What are you waiting for?

That only leaves, what, 40-50% left over for the city to pick up since the province has washed its hands off any involvement in a Sheppard subway. No problem, right? We’ll just start levying tolls, congestion fees, hiking parking rates, maybe get us some municipal sales taxing powers.

Wait, what? Where the hell did all that come from? Isn’t that kind of talk a little, I don’t know, war-y on the car? I thought that had been declared over and done with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would love to have that conversation but if we’re going down that road (or tunnelling under it to reduce the traffic), it changes everything. LRTs versus subways, where and how many. It’s, what do they call it? A game-changer.

If the mayor really wants to open that discussion, I’m all ears. But until he does, until he comes right out and says, yeah, I’m willing to talk about road tolls, then Gordon Chong’s report is an absolute non-starter, meaningless, not worth the paper it’s written on and certainly not worth the money paid to Mr. Chong to write it.

And how exactly does Mayor Ford approach that subject? Remember when he told us the city didn’t have a revenue problem, it had a spending problem? Remember how he championed the removal of the vehicle registration tax? Remember?

Now he’s going to turn around and try to persuade all those he’d convinced on the campaign trail that they were over-taxed and under-serviced that if they really wanted that subway he promised wouldn’t cost them an extra cent, well, they were going to have to chip in a little more to help out. And oh how they will look back on those wistful, innocent days of paying the VRT, and laugh and laugh at how they’d been fooled into believing the city didn’t have a revenue problem. Your basic case of lying to Peter to pay Paul.

But what’s the alternative for the mayor? Rejecting the notion of any additional revenue generation from private vehicle use leaves him with no ability to pay for a Sheppard subway extension into his beloved Scarborough. That means all he’s accomplished is unnecessarily burying the eastern portion of the Eglinton LRT while depriving many of the neighbourhoods of additional new transit lines.

At which point, many transit users in Scarborough would be right in asking, so why bury the Eglinton LRT? It won’t be the first time the question’s been asked. Certainly it’s one Councillor Karen Stintz, the TTC chair, wondered out loud. By any measure, Mayor Ford’s transportation plan without at least the eastward Sheppard subway extension amounts to less new public transit for Scarborough. No road tolls, congestion fees etc. means no Sheppard subway. There’s no getting around that fact.

And if the mayor can’t guarantee Scarborough anything other than a buried Eglinton LRT isn’t resurrecting Transit City from the dead the next logical step? Hey. It ain’t subways but it’s a whole shit load better than what’s there now, folks.

This is what you might refer to as being between a rock and a hard place for the mayor. By building a subway, he’s going to have to find a way to re-define the so-called war on cars. Failing that, he faces becoming the poster boy for a transit plan he unilaterally tried to kill, doing what its supporters failed to do properly way back when. Promoting and championing it as a doable, more affordable way to get better transit to those lacking it.

Barbarinoily submitted by Cityslikr

Truly A Ford Nation

As a non-car guy, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, talking and writing about cars. I’m bored to death with it, frankly. Perhaps you too are bored with my constant car chatter.

And here I go again writing about cars.

The most recent cause for my car thoughts comes from an article written earlier this week by David Akin. In it he cited a paper given by Zach Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate, at the Canadian Political Science Association Conference last month that suggested car ownership and use may have been a key factor for those who cast their ballots for Rob Ford in last October’s municipal election. “The propensity to commute by automobile is a strong predictor of Ford support,” writes Mr. Taylor, “while property-oriented variables (the home ownership rate and percentage of housing in detached form) are shown to have a negligible influence on candidate support.”

Ah yes, the War on Cars. Great bumper sticker sloganeering that, not coincidentally, fits perfectly on the back of cars that Ford voters drive. Simple, very effective three word politics.

I will stop myself on theorizing about what I believe to be sociopathy in people’s attachment to their automobiles since it would be a gross generalization. Many folks, having either bought into the lure of a nice house in the suburbs or simply living where they can afford to live, depend on their cars. To get to work and home again, shop, take the kids to school or extracurricular activities, to simply get to where they need to go.

Even if they wanted to rid themselves of their auto reliance, many people couldn’t at this point. There’s no other reliable way to move around their parts of the city in a timely fashion. Ironically, by voting for their auto-centric way of life, they helped elect a mayor who seems determined to make it even less likely they could live car-free if they wanted with his orchestrated attack on Transit City.

No, I think the problem is much more fundamental than that. A continued attachment to cars as our primary mode of transport is a refusal to accept that the world has changed. Automobiles are the kings of the 20th-century. We designed our cities around them. They represented freedom and status. Dodge. Grab Life by the Horns. Buick: Dream Up. SAAB:Welcome to the State of Independence. Jaguar: Don’t dream it. Drive it! Honda: The Power of Dreams. Subaru. Think. Feel. Drive. Ford: Built for life in Canada.

Inundated like that, how could you not want a car? How could you not need a car?

Problem is, it’s 2011, a decade plus into the the 21st-century. The true cost of our car culture has fully manifested itself in our blighted streetscapes, loss of productive time stuck in traffic, environmental degradation and a dependence on dwindling energy resources. For many, driving is the worst way to get from point A to point B anymore.

So we split into two camps: those wanting to make driving easier and those wanting to reduce the primacy of cars in our transport system. Although there would be significant overlap between these seemingly opposing views, this is where the battle lines are drawn. Don’t touch my car versus Get out of your car. Status quo versus embracing the future.

The War on Cars should actually be referred to as the War on Modernity. Having held sway for, let’s call it 60 or 70 years, car ownership is the entrenched interest, a fact of life that was simply a given, the norm, but is now under siege. A perceived assault on the ability to drive anywhere anytime is seen as an assault on a way of life. First, they came for my car, and I said nothing. Then they came for my parking pad. You will have to pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel.So it’s not really about cars. It’s about change. Change will always be resisted until it becomes inevitable but the transition seldom is smooth or without – ahem, ahem – the occasional bump in the road. History, though, can only be delayed not indefinitely deferred. We, us car unenthusiasts and embracers of the future, are in a temporary holding pattern, waiting for the last dying gasp of an era.

autodidactically submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Vision Quest IV

The Thanksgiving edition.

Up this week: Rocco Rossi For Mayor!

Honestly, I thought this post was going to be more of an obituary than an actual write up of a candidate who had any bearing left on the campaign. As recently as earlier this week, rumours were swirling about major Rossi staffers jumping ship and swimming over to the Rob Ford compound. Polling in the double digits was a distant memory. A sense of inevitable disappointment hung over the whole enterprise, manifesting itself by the forced buoyancy of Rossi supporters throughout the various levels of social media.

But he gathered positive notices upon the release of his policy platform book, Together We Can. (No, Barack Obama’s stump line, Yes We Can, did not immediately spring to mind.) Then, he turned in a solid performance at the CBC mayoral debate on Tuesday night. By Wednesday, there seemed to be a little bounce back in the Rossi campaign step.

If it turns into anything resembling even a modicum of momentum, it might change the dynamics of the race. For the past couple weeks or so, we’ve been told that it’s basically down to two candidates and we better start thinking strategically in terms of voting. A Rossi uptick, however, would probably come at the expense mostly of Rob Ford which would open things up a little wider, possibly making it a very unpredictable, four man campaign for the final three-and-a-half weeks.

Here’s hoping!

Otherwise frankly, I could give a shit about Rocco Rossi. No candidate shoulders more of the blame for the negative tone of this campaign than he does. Lacking a track record since he wasn’t a “career politician” (the openly elected kind at any rate), Rossi came out of the gate determined to smear everyone and anyone who was. How? Start screaming about the mess the city found itself in. Fiscal insolvency! Beholden to unions! Constant road construction! (Every announcement/pronouncement emanating from Rossi camp needs to exclamatized©™®!!! owing to the shrillness of tone.)

And, oh yes, the War on Cars! Thank you very much for that divisive addition to the campaign, Mr. Rossi. Create a rift where none existed, all to give a shine to your uptown appeal.

I guess it made sense in the early days of the campaign, to stake out the right of centre spot on the spectrum, and box George Smitherman in toward the… centre.. ? I guess. Really? Actually no. It makes no sense. Which is why I’ve never been able to fully grasp what the Rocco Rossi campaign’s been all about.

Neither had it, evidently. Having trail blazed the anti-City Hall/anti-incumbent path, Rossi got caught off guard when Rob Ford tore out ahead of him (and who amongst wasn’t), rightfully claiming the issue as his own. Why wouldn’t he? It’s been Ford’s schtick for the past 10 years.

But instead of righting the ship that had been swamped by the Rob Ford rogue wave, and ceding the far right, libertarian ground to it with a sensible move slightly toward the centre, Rossi tried keeping pace in the reactionary race. Who advising him thought he could win that one? Why not take the opportunity to point out what everyone except his most ardent supporters knew – that Ford was little more than a blustery blowhole and most everything he stood for was based on faulty premises, logic and out right lies – and gain some traction as the reasonable right wing candidate?

Nope. What we got was Spadina Expressway II: The Tunnel. (Remember, there’s a War on Cars going on, people.) The Goodfellas ads. The Rocco Rossi-Sue-Ann Levy danse macabre pas de deux.By all rights, the Rocco Rossi campaign deserves to be dead and buried. His performance has been erratic enough that it should scare off Liberal Party organizers sizing him up for a federal run, if that’s what this whole sad farce has been about. And it must’ve been about something other than actually winning the mayoralty of Toronto, right? Because if that was the intent, well, Rocco Rossi certainly had us fooled.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr