Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rob Ford loses on transit. Again.

It's been a tumultuous few weeks in my own life, such that I haven't been posting as much as I'd like.

Some important events in the larger world have occurred in the meantime.

First, the month-long transit strike here in Hali ended:

As a sort of bonus, bus and ferry service will be free until the end of March. I made use of the ol' No. 7 today to go up to the Hydrostones. Of course, since my Dal bus pass lasts until the end of April, free service is somewhat redundant. Happily, Dal has provided all of us impoverished students with a $33.04 rebate on our transit passes. Yay.

But the big news is that Toronto City Council voted 24-19 to build the Sheppard East LRT, thus rejecting Rob Ford's unfunded and unfounded subway plan (at this point, all he was proposing was a useless extension to stops east to Victoria Park instead of building an LRT all the way to the edge of the zoo).

To quote Steve Munro:
This is an important day for Toronto. We are on track for an LRT-based plan and for a more detailed evaluation of our transit future than we have seen for decades. Talking about one line at once, about fundraising for one project at once, is no longer an accepted way of building the city. Leaving the debate to a secretive Provincial agency is no longer acceptable, and the City is clearly setting out on its own review. Co-operation is essential given the funding arrangements, but Queen’s Park must stop hiding from the transit planning and financing files.
Of course, as Hamutal Dotan noted in the Torontoist, Rob Ford's reaction was predictably obstinate and incoherently combative:
“The election starts now.”

That was Rob Ford’s response this afternoon, when asked by reporters how he felt about today’s transit vote—a vote in which council overruled Ford’s wishes and opted for light rail rather than a subway for Sheppard. A vote that, by any realistic measure, was devastating for the mayor.

The mayor, in short, has not, will not be persuaded. What happened at council, he remains convinced, is overreaching by an unruly group of councillors who are actively subverting the will of Torontonians by ramming light rail down residents’ unwilling throats.


As a councillor, Rob Ford was always the lone wolf in City Hall—often quite literally a minority of one when it came to votes. As a mayor, he seems to be reverting to that position, with even his supporters and allies working around rather than with him. It isn’t because they haven’t tried. The mayor is increasingly isolated at City Hall, and it’s an isolation of his own making. Never one for policy details, he is trying to govern in platitudes, and increasingly, he is doing it alone.
Anyway, I cannot imagine how Ford expects to be able to continue a "campaign" for his unfunded unwarranted subways without proposing new revenue tools. Spreading half-truths and outright lies and a naked disdain for those damned streetcars is really not something that can be sustained for 2-and-a-half years.

Is that all Ford's mayoralty is about? Listening to the "People" who say they "want subways"? Does he have any vision or any ideas for bringing the city together?

(These are rhetorical questions as the answers are Yes, Yes, and No, definitely not.)

Of course, said campaign may all be moot if Ford is removed from office due to his clear violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. That would unfortunately remove the spectacle of his flailing about until 2014, but then we can't always get everything we want.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Flame in the Dark

It's been ages since I've posted, but I've had some thoughts about what I'd like to write about on this blog. I'll get to that in a moment.

On Tuesday at 1pm I will learn what I'm fated to do for the next five years. The Canadian Resident Matching Services ("CaRMS") website will then reopen and I will learn where I have matched among the six programs I ranked. In general, I have at least a 95% chance of matching in the first round, so I shouldn't worry too much. Not that that means I will be completely at ease until I know one way or the other.

But that's not really what I want to talk about here. For the past several weeks at least I've been absorbed by the ongoing battle over transit in Toronto and the direction of the city more generally. Rob Ford is - without question - the worst mayor of Toronto in history, and quite possibly one of the worst most ineffectual politicians in the country. He is, at present, still pushing for "subways" and/or exclusively underground transit expansion in the city, namely for a Sheppard subway extension east to Scarborough Town Centre and west to Downsview and for a wholly-underground Eglinton LRT. The latter was to be funded with $8.4 billion in provincial money originally intended for the Transit City plan developed before Ford was elected and which he declared "cancelled" on his first day in office.

I haven't mentioned how the Sheppard subway extension was to paid for because no such funding plan exists. Ford has variously claimed that it could be done with (possible) money leftover from the Eglinton line, along with considerable private money (air-rights, "expected" development charges, and other measures which do not actually exist or provide sufficient funds). This week he appeared to be open to parking taxes and some other revenue instruments that would be absolutely necessary, but later backtracked. In any case, it really doesn't matter because Ford has no plan to fund any subway expansion anywhere, and he has now once again ruled out additional taxes to finance not only the construction but the considerable operational and maintenance capital costs such an extension would impose. And that's really not a debatable point. While Rob Ford's idea of transit planning is drawing lines on a map and claiming the private sector will pay for it, we cannot have new subways without new taxes. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying, stupid, or - most likely - both.

Otherwise, I should mention that despite Ford's unilateral and never-ratified "cancellation" of Transit City, on Feb 8th City Council voted to restore most of the original Transit City plan was restored: an Eglinton LRT underground through the centre of the city only, a Finch West LRT, and (probably) a Sheppard LRT, though this is still to be decided by Council on March 15 following an "expert panel" review of subway vs. LRT options. In the meantime, TTC Chair and (former) Ford ally Karen Stintz has moved to reconstitute the TTC board and - one hopes - purge it of Ford's sycophantic cronies.

In any case, I think the strength of Ford's argument is best shown by the video below:

Yes, he did say subways get people "out of their cards" around 1:45. His argument amounts to this:

1. Surface transit does not help gridlock and makes it worse.
2. Gridlock/traffic congestion is bad.
3. Only underground transit is fast.
4. People want transit that is fast.

Therefore, since subways (or "LRT-style" underground trains) are underground, they are fast and don't make gridlock worse. As a consequence, people want subways.

That's about as far as Ford's thinking goes, and one wonders why we don't extend this logic to buses. Subways for everyone! On your doorstop!! I suppose he also opposes the fact that substantial portion of the existing TTC Subway travels above ground:

Anyway, I suppose we'll see what happens. I quite like surface LRTs as are planned for Finch West and much of Eglinton. I wish we could have something similar in Halifax (though I'd settle for the resumption of bus service from our month-long strike... topic for another post!). Comments like these from Rob Ford suggesting that streetcars (his usual term for LRT) would "ruin" the city angers me to no end, not least because areas of downtown with said streetcar lines are among the most attractive and liveable neighbourhoods in the country much less the city.

So if you haven't guessed yet, I'm planning to reorient this blog toward urban affairs and transit which, it seems, are my main interests lately. I'd like to talk about development in Halifax (primarily on the peninsula) especially, but I'll be keeping a close eye on goings-on in Toronto, the city of my birth.

For more information on the transit debate, check out these links:

Transit Timeline
Christopher Hume
- Toronto Star columnist on urban affairs
Royson James
- Toronto Star columnist on city hall politics
Steve Munro
- Prominent blogger and Toronto transit activist - excellent resource for all things TTC-related