Nov 11

The unlikely (and welcome) return of the Fort York bridge

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Though it wasn’t originally on the agenda for today’s meeting, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will be considering whether to revive plans for the once-planned Fort York bridge—plans that were killed without notice earlier this year. The proposals being examined today are for some cheaper alternatives, ones that would bring the cost of the bridge down, say staff estimates, by anywhere from six to eight million, depending on which design the committee opts for.

via The Return of the Fort York Pedestrian-Cycling Bridge? | Torontoist.

Soon after Dotan’s article was published, the Public Works Committee approved a new design with a projected cost of $19.7 million.

Back in May of this year, I published a series of posts on this topic, concluding that Council’s decision to kill the original design for this bridge meant that we’d probably never see the project completed. (At least not under this administration.) “If we don’t build this thing on the planned schedule,” I wrote, all wide-eyed and sure of myself,  “it’s essentially never going to happen.”

So, for the record, let me say a couple of things. First: I was wrong. And second: this is good news.

There are still a bunch of questions to ask about this whole process. Given that $1.7 million had been spent on the original design — see page 13 of this staff presentation — are we to assume that that money was, essentially, wasted on nothing? And then there’s the new timeline for construction: is a capital savings of (potentially) $8 million — presumably less the $2 million in sunk costs on the previous design — worth a delay of three years?

And most importantly: was there any reason, aside from spite, that the motion to kill the original design was introduced at the last minute, without informing the local councillor?

I guess these questions are mostly irrelevant at this point. Water under the bridge.

It’s about selling city-owned land, stupid

Last May, Councillor David Shiner — seemingly the guy behind both the surprising death and unlikely rebirth of this project — told us rather plainly why the original bridge design was killed:

Building the bridge eliminates two future sources of cash, Shiner said.

He estimated 10 Ordnance St. — the property where the bridge’s centre columns would be placed — could fetch more than $50 million if sold, while the Wellington St. city-owned property where the bridge would start is worth around $20 million to $25 million.

via Pedestrian bridge to Fort York latest casualty of war on waste | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Lo and behold, the new design allows for redevelopment opportunities that weren’t possible with the original plan. More public land can now get sold into private hands, with the proceeds used either to pay down capital debt — thus freeing up some of the operating budget that currently goes to debt servicing — or, in a pinch, to cover an operating budget gap directly.

Aug 11

Parallel Port Land Plans: No reason to abandon Waterfront Toronto

As part of this week’s Posted Toronto Political Panel, Chris Selley does that thing where he tries to get everyone to just calm down a little bit and consider the other side:

Look, the Fords’ hair trigger on big ideas is obvious. But the major impact of these staff recommendations would concern yet-to-be-begun projects that are contingent upon a $634-million flood-protection plan. There’s no money for it. “It appears,” say City staff, “that Waterfront Toronto is not in a position to co-ordinate a comprehensive revitalization program … that would allow for significant development within the next 10 years, at a minimum.” If developers are willing to foot some of that bill — which is, at least, far more realistic a prospect than the Sheppard plan — in exchange for building something that actually exists outside the Waterfront Toronto Holodeck, then I think it’s entirely worth exploring. Why not judge any ensuing development plans on their own merits? Also: What the hell is wrong with Ferris wheels?

via Political Panel: Exploring the port lands through the power of imagination | Posted Toronto | National Post.

In answer to his last question: nothing, but why ferris wheels? That seems to be little more than a me-too gesture from a city that is already too often criticized for trying, with various gimmicks, to look “world class.” We might as well throw up an Eiffel Tower replica, too. Maybe  a little Statue of Liberty holding a Tim Hortons coffee cup.

On Selley’s larger point, there is some merit to what he’s saying. Port Lands development is slow with a capital SLOW, and there’s a large unfunded liability for flood protection. But as guest panelist and noted luminary Steve Murray says, wouldn’t the prudent move be for the city to work with Waterfront Toronto to push forward timelines and find investors? Why not make an effort to work within the established framework — that is producing results in the East Bayfront and the West Don Lands — before you decide to go out on your own with a whole new plan?

Is it still true now, as it was a few months ago, that Rob Ford has never attended a Waterfront Toronto board meeting? And what about the question of motive: is this about building an amazing waterfront neighbourhood or making a quick buck through a fire sale of land that’s currently only suitable for ramshackle tourist attractions, big box stores and parking lots?

The Fords very much seem like the types who are prone to overturn the board and all the pieces the minute they find themselves looking at a stage of the game they don’t like. They did it with Transit City, and they’re doing it now with the waterfront.

More waterfront tidbits:

  • One of the fun undercurrents to the story as it develops is that it’s becoming difficult to determine which parts of the waterfront Doug Ford is actually talking about. Is it the Port Lands, the Lower Don Lands, the East Bayfront or all of the above? As the Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle notes, “This ‘wishy-washy’ language that is typical with the Ford administration has left no one sure what’s being proposed, said one individual involved with waterfront redevelopment.”
  • Ford has tried to present his plan as something that could work in concert with the other work being done by Waterfront Toronto, but his proposed monorail — which would require a clear right-of-way, plus stations, plus vehicle storage and probably a maintenance yard — would likely require changes to any and all current plans for everything east of the Corus Building.
  • Doug Ford isn’t the first politician to present an out-of-the-blue, comprehensive and unworkable plan for Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. In 2004, Liberal MP Dennis Mills ran an election campaign at least partially centred on such a plan. You can still view most of his ideas on the plan’s website; they include things like an aquarium and a campus for the United Nations University for Peace. There was also talk he was looking at casinos, backed by companies who would step it and contribute funds to the project. Mills was defeated in his riding, Toronto-Danforth, in the 2004 Federal Election by a former Toronto City Councillor by the name of Jack Layton.

Aug 11

Listening to Toronto: On bikes, roads & sidewalks

In part two of my look at the raw data from the City’s Core Service Review survey — since dismissed as irrelevant by members of Rob Ford’s executive committee — I take a look at issues relating to the city’s thoroughfares, which includes bikes, roads and sidewalks. Before you read this, you may want to go back and read the previous instalment on transit.

Respondent 2-505 is a 65-year-old cycling advocate who “who couldn’t ride a bike to save my life.” Responding to the City of Toronto survey which served as the opening salvo in the still-continuing Core Service Review process, the senior writes, “from what I can see out my window every day, bikes make sense and cars don’t.”

“Cyclists know the routes and the neighbourhoods they traverse,” the response continues. “But people in cars just can’t WAIT to get somewhere.The more encouragement Toronto gives to cycling — the better.”

“Bike Lanes — this will make everything better.”

Our 65-year-old cycling-advocate-who-does-not-cycle serves as a good indication of the overwhelming message behind the raw data report, which was put together using a crude keyword search by City staff: the people who responded to this survey are passionate about the need for better cycling infrastructure in this city. Of the 154 pages included in this specific report — which primarily deals with “roads, sidewalks & traffic services” and not specifically cycling –, a call for more bike lanes appears on approximately 108 of them.

Most responses are short. 1-520 writes that the “City is too car-centric and doesn’t have enough bike lanes or pedestrian areas.” 1-28 says we “need to add bike lanes on major roads.” 2-47 writes, “Mr. Ford may hate cycling for some bizarre reason, but the fact is that gas prices are rising, more people are poor, and they still need to get around.”

2-314 is even more blunt. “Bike lanes,” they say. “This will make everything better.” Some are willing to shout about the issue, like 4-181, who tells us what we need: “BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES!!!!! BIKE LANES! – you must implement them.”

“License bikes, or get rid of bike lanes.”

There is, of course, a minority voice that seems strongly opposed to cycling infrastructure. Respondent 2-450 implores the city to “please ban bicycle rides during rush hours, they are putting everyone in danger.” 2-405 believes that our problem is that we have “too many unused bike lanes, especially in winter — bike lanes should be seasonal.” 2-319 calls cyclists “psychotic” where 2-8 is a bit more reasonable, rationalizing that “we don’t need any more bike lanes in Etobicoke or Scarborough, just as much as we don’t need big box stores in the downtown core.”

There’s a small contingent voices in the responses beating the drum for a bicycle licensing system. 4-196 suggests that we “Have all cyclists pay registration fee and have a license so traffic violations can be enforced.”

On traffic: “This city is choking on itself.”

I’ll make two observations on the overarching attitude toward traffic — and by that I mostly mean automobile — congestion in this city. The first is that damn near everyone feels like it is a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that some are very reluctant to embrace the obvious solutions to the problem, which would include things like road pricing and infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation.

Respondent 1-47 calls for “more efficient roads.” 2-37 points out that “Our geography and climate demand the use of automobiles,” and so “we should be more tolerant and prepared for the increasing number of vehicles on the roads.” Some respondents are overly fixated on the traffic conditions on one specific roadway, with people naming congestion on the Don Valley Expressway, the Gardiner Expressway, Kingston Road and the Allen Expressway as their top priorities facing this city.

2-434 is a blunt as can be: “Keep traffic flowing — WITHOUT TOLLS.”

Making Jane Jacobs roll over a few times, more highways are actually proposed: 2-84 says there are a “lack of highways” in Toronto. 2-323 calls for a “second expressway” like the DVP on the west side of the city, connecting Highway 400 with downtown. 4-145 says extending the Allen Expressway to the Gardiner — that is, reviving the Spadina Expressway project — would “rejuvenate traffic movement.” 2-378 wants the City to explore either making all lanes flow in one direction on the DVP during rush hour. Either that, or “building UP, and having a two tiered roadway.”

“Driving is a privilege, not a right — treat it as such.”

By my estimation, there is a strong support for road pricing throughout the responses. 4-65 says it’s time for “Toll Roads! Toll Roads! Toll Roads!” 1-1218 suggests that “to help alleviate the problems … consider bringing in tolls on DVP and other major roads.” 1-441 also links the solution to traffic congestion with toll roads, asking if it’s “time for some sort of user pays fee?”

If there’s a strong ideological divide within the document, it’s not presented as a battle between those who support road pricing and those who absolutely oppose it. The latter is a fringe minority. What would seem to divide people instead is whether we should institute road pricing for all users or just for drivers who don’t live and pay taxes in Toronto.

2-418 sums up that view: “905 citizens are not contributing to the city even though they use our roads, GO, etc. They should be paying road tolls to help the city maintain good quality roads.”

“A parking ticket should not be $30 – this is too high.”

Issues relating to parking — and the lack of it, and how expensive it is — were the only thing to give me pause when I first reviewed this report. People are passionate about their parking. While some advocate rising parking fees, putting a tax on all parking spots, or selling the Toronto Parking Authority, many are convinced the city has a major parking problem.

Respondent 1-1375 names “expensive parking costs” as one of the most important issues facing our city. 1-1447 says we need “more publicly funding parking spaces” and “less privately owned ones.” 1-1506 says we must “decrease fees for public parking!” Respondent 2-304 calls the city’s current parking enforcement nothing but “legalized theft”, saying that the, “parking authority is out of control. This has nothing to do with parking and everything to do with legally looting people.”

“You talk of roads. What about the pedestrians?”

Pedestrians are the often overlooked and underrepresented user of Toronto’s roadways, but they do chime in here. 3-90 says we must “be friendly to pedestrians, make their lives better!”

In addition, there is widespread agreement that the city must get its act together when it comes to the coordination of road work. 1-237 says that one of the biggest challenges the city is facing is a “shabby public realm with no coordination of utility work and sidewalk/street repair.” Hundreds of other responses echo that sentiment.

But some, of course, have more specific concerns. States 1-520: “There is way too much dog shit on Toronto sidewalks.”

I think we can all agree with that sentiment too.

Jul 11

Searching for Council’s conservatives

Yesterday, Toronto City Council endorsed spending approximately $400,000 removing cycling infrastructure downtown and in Scarborough, despite staff reports that indicated the bike lanes had no substantive impact on traffic flow. They followed this up hours later by voting to uphold an earlier decision by the Executive Committee that, due to concerns that maybe someday the funding might be removed, Council not accept provincial money that would add two new public health nurse positions to the City’s payroll.

Let’s phrase that another way: over the course of one summer afternoon, councillors decided both to recklessly spend $400,000 for no clear reason and to play it safe, eschewing needed resources at public health because they might, one day — but probably not –, get stuck with a $200,000 per year bill for their trouble.

The same Council then had the relative gall to pass a motion calling for the province to step in and fund a greater percentage of the operating and capital budgets for the TTC. And so Council both rejected provincial money and asked for more of it on the same day.

Meanwhile, outside Council chambers, consulting group KPMG has spent the week releasing delightfully concise Core Service Review reports that all follow a similar template. First, they point out that the department they’ve examined has very little waste. Then, they drop a bundle of ‘considerations’ — not recommendations — that range from things like eliminating water fluoridation to selling the city’s stable of barnyard animals.

The consultants — who already have a checkered history with this kind of thing, having once produced a report arguing amalgamation would save the Toronto municipalities a significant amount of money — are clear that they aren’t even really looking at efficiencies as much as they’re laying out a list of things that could legally be cut from the city’s portfolio of public services. That this stands contrary to an election promise made by the mayor seems to have been tossed to the curb.

Also on that curb? The results of the city’s exhaustive consultation sessions regarding the Core Service Review. A full 60% of people who attended indicated they would accept increased taxes to pay for existing service levels. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who’s had a fun week, said Monday that that group was irrelevant. “Self-selecting,” he said. Okay.

For the record, Toronto — you know, the city that we continue to hear is suffering from near-fatal fiscal wounds that can only be treated by deep government cuts — has some of the lowest property taxes in the GTA and recently voluntarily reduced its annual revenues by $60 million.

I’m not sure what you call the ideology that drives these decisions, but it can’t be conservatism, can it? Certainly not principled conservatism. A conservative would demand to see a business case before spending public money modifying infrastructure. In the case of Jarvis, Birchmount and Pharmacy, there wasn’t one. A conservative wouldn’t turn away provincial money — which the city has said it needs –, especially if there was a guarantee in place that the new positions could be eliminated should the funding ever be removed. (Which was the case.)  A conservative wouldn’t call on the provincial government for funding only months removed from electing to decrease the city’s own revenues, and hours removed from opting out of committed, ongoing provincial money for public health.

Our Conservative Mayor

Early in the day on Tuesday — before Council had really started rolling with the big items of the week — Mayor Rob Ford rose and asked to be recorded in the negative on four items relating to grant funding for community groups, including Etobicoke Services for Seniors, the Crime Prevention Association of Toronto and Variety Village. (The latter is interesting, as it comes only a couple of months after Ford made a rare media appearance announcing a new bus stop implemented to serve visitors to the organization, which supports disabled children.) The Mayor also stated his intention to vote against grants for heritage buildings. Late in the day on Wednesday, the Mayor added to this bizarre tally, lodging a vote against the 2011 AIDs Prevention Community Investment Program. This vote marked a milestone for the councillor-turned-mayor: he’s now voted against AIDS funding five years in a row.

The bottom line: If the Mayor of Toronto could have his way, it would appear that the city would cease most community grants, end some of its heritage protection programs and drastically cut back on public health funding.

My kingdom for a conservative

I don’t lean even slightly to the right politically, but I would like to think I understand the merits of conservative thinking. It’s about mitigating government risk, off-loading ambition to the private sector and, in times of economic hardship, turning to austerity as opposed to reinvestment. That’s fine. As much as I disagree with that line of thinking on an ideological level, I respect it. I can hold it in my hands and argue against it. It feels firm.

But what we’re seeing at Council these days isn’t that. It’s a weird mishmash of spite-based decision making and conservatism-when-convenient, held up by the enthusiastic wishes of a “silent majority” that only communicate through the cellphones of the mayor and his brother. It’s all glazed over with a slapdash of pseudo-libertarianism, the kind that exists in the minds of high school students who are like halfway through reading Atlas Shrugged.

Rob Ford is Rob Ford. I can’t fault him for that. He’s maddeningly consistent in his anti-government views and has been for years. What disappoints me — and continuously surprises me — is that he has commanded the support of a cabal of once-sensible Liberals and conservatives on Council, and has driven them to this point where Toronto is now governed by a Council with no consistent guiding ideology, principles, or direction.

Jul 11

The Jarvis vote: What the hell happened?

After a long and contentious debate that spanned across two days, Council voted today to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis Street and return the  street to its original five-lane configuration. The move will cost the city at least $200,000. The debate was marked by a series of (mostly) cogent arguments by councillors opposing the elimination of infrastructure that has, by all accounts, had no significant impact on traffic flow and increased the number of cyclists in the city. Those who supported the elimination responded by generally just wandering around the council chamber and not listening.  The hundreds of taxpayers who came to City Hall to support maintaining the lanes were dismissed by some councillors — notably Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday — as “bike people.”

The media narrative spinning out of today’s vote will be that the cyclists won a “concession” after Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee and architect of the 2011 Bike Plan, supported an amendment that will see the Jarvis lanes removed sometime in 2012, simultaneously with the installation of new, repaved, separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street. This is a too-simplistic interpretation that ignores the damage Council has now done to ongoing neighbourhood revitalization efforts across the downtown east-side.

What Council really did today was move to reclassify Jarvis Street — a place where people live and work and go to school — as a kind of downtown highway with a reversible fifth lane. In doing so they’ve thrown out a 2009 Environmental Assessment, a series of exhaustive community consultations and the objections of the local ward councillor, who was in the midst of ongoing neighbourhood beautification efforts in concert with local residents and business.

The vote on Jarvis came down with 18 in favour of keeping the lanes and 27 opposed. Or maybe it was 26-19. Or 28-9. No one is really sure.

Political Gamesmanship

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam — the local councillor for Jarvis Street — moved three individual-but-connected motions. Together they worked to protect her efforts to continue to improve Jarvis Street, a recognized “cultural corridor” in the City of Toronto. You can read the motions in full in the Decision Document, but here’s a quick summary:

  1. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes
  2. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes before the proposed separated bike lanes on Sherbourne are implemented
  3. Council not eliminate the Jarvis bike lanes before extensive community consultation

Her third item, calling for the involvement of a variety of community groups in an extensive consultation, showed signs of support from a few right-leaning councillors. And why wouldn’t it? Most would acknowledge that it seems cold-hearted to make significant changes to a street over the objections of a local councillor without so much as a public meeting.

Minnan-Wong, as the last speaker on the item, had an ace up his sleeve, however, as he moved an amendment to Wong-Tam’s second motion, explicitly calling for a return of Jarvis to its “pre-existing operation.” This stood as the first significant reference to Jarvis’ former five-lane configuration, and came after several of Minnan-Wong’s right-leaning colleagues had made arguments seemingly in support of a 2009 Environmental Assessment that called for wider sidewalks — instead of bike lanes — and the elimination of the fifth lane. His amendment also employed softer language, calling for more limited coordination between the removal of the Jarvis lanes and the installation of the Sherbourne lanes, as opposed to the original implication that one not happen without the other.

Wong-Tam challenged the amendment, which was ruled to be in order by Chair Frances Nunziata. A vote on whether to uphold Nunziata’s decision saw councillors support their Chair 27-18.

From here, things quickly broke down into procedural chaos. After the vote to retain the Jarvis lanes failed 18-27, the vote on Minnan-Wong’s amendment passed 26-19. Wong-Tam’s amended motion then passed 31-14 in the confusion, which had the probably unintentional effect of making her third motion — the one that would have allowed for public consultation — redundant. Minnan-Wong’s efforts thus had the dual impact of explicitly calling for the return of the fifth lane on Jarvis Street and ensuring that no consultations would ever be held on this issue.

The rest was noise. Some councillors lobbied Nunziata with the sensible suggestion that council vote on the individual items contained in the 2011 Bike Plan one at a time, as this would allow them to express support for elements of the plan while opposing others. Nunziata, as is her way, was obstinate and opted to instead hold only one vote. That prompted nearly all left-leaning councillors to leave the chamber before the results of the vote were read, with eight of them opting not to register a vote at all.

Not About Bikes

The most disappointing thing about today’s outcome is that it cements Jarvis as little more than a strategic battleground in a spite-driven war between cars and bikes. Bike lanes on Jarvis were never the entire issue. A reasonable compromise would have been to see a return to the original staff recommendations made as part of the 2009 EA: removal of the bike lanes in favour of wider pedestrian thoroughfares, and perhaps the installation of a few key left-turn lanes for automobile traffic. Instead, some councillors were disingenuous enough to pretend that this was their favoured option while ultimately placing their support behind a reversible fifth lane.

Today’s decision does little except increase the speed of automobile traffic, foster a substandard pedestrian realm and prop up Jarvis Street’s mid-century-to-now legacy as the tragic story of a once-great street in perpetual decline.


Jul 11

On bike lanes, put up or shut up

At the Toronto Standard, Matthew Kupfer — who is doing some very good work on the City Hall beat — takes a look at the brief alliance between activist Dave Meslin and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, which ended so spectacularly when Minnan-Wong endorsed a decision to remove the Jarvis bike lanes as part of his new bike plan.

Well worth reading. I wanted to note this part specifically, as it’s a line Minnan-Wong has been pushing to reporters repeatedly:

Minnan-Wong stands by the bike plan that is going to be voted on this week. He said it represents an investment in cycling infrastructure of nearly $43 million in five years—nearly double what Mayor Miller invested in his final term. As for the so-called war on the bike, he said those charges are trumped up.

via Tandem Troubles | Toronto Standard | News, Media, Art, Business, Technology, Fashion, Events.

I don’t think any cyclist in this city thinks the previous council did a great job installing bike lanes, but it should be noted the the previously adopted city-wide bike plan, written way back in 2001, actually called for $68.3 million in spending. Minnan-Wong should remember that. He voted for it.

I say this not because I’m happy about how the previous bike plan was — or, more accurately, wasn’t — implemented, but instead to point out that there’s a gigantic difference between money that’s been committed as part of a plan and money that’s actually been spent. In other words: put up or shut up.

Jul 11

First Core Service Review report: cut snow-clearing, street-sweeping, fluoridation and recycling programs

Cast your mind back to when Rob Ford, then a candidate for mayor, ran on a platform of austerity and service cuts, highlighting a need for Toronto residents to sacrifice things like regular street cleaning, water fluoridation and snow-removal in order to maintain Toronto’s lowest-in-the-GTA property tax rates? Remember that?

You might not, because it never happened. Instead, Ford ran on a platform that called for an end to “gravy train” waste. He told voters he would be able to save them $230 million on the 2011 operating budget, and ultimately produce a $1.7 billion surplus over his first four years in office, all without cutting services. The city doesn’t have a revenue problem, he was fond of saying, but a spending problem. And he could fix that.

Today, the campaign-era theatrics and slogans all came crashing down, as the Rob Ford administration revealed the first phase of their Core Services Review report. The initial release relates to programs that fall under the purview of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee. It concludes that a  full 96% of the services provided by these city departments are absolutely essential. Nearly all the potential avenues for savings are listed as “small.” They include things like cutting down on the frequency of street sweeping, changing our standards for snow-removal, setting less ambitious targets for recycling and green bin programs and discontinuing the practice of fluoridation for the city’s water supply.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Chair of the Public Works & Infrastructure committee, seemed to agree with media reports that claimed very few — basically none — of the report’s areas for consideration are actually plausible cuts, telling the Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney that PWIC was not “a sweet spot” for easy savings. Which is decent enough logic, but if that was so obviously the case, why lead the multi-stage announcement of the Core Service Review reports with this document? Why not come out swinging with a report that highlights real areas for savings?

It might be because there is no such a report. This PWIC document identifies only $10 to $15 million worth of savings, which means the remaining seven reports — relating to committees like Economic Development, Parks & Environment, and Executive — need to contain considerations that average out to approximately $100 million in savings each to even begin to approach this year’s budget shortfall of $775 million.

As Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan points out, the most glaring failure of this report is that it doesn’t even address the fiscal efficiency of how services are delivered, but instead jumps right to listing things that could be cut:

Which is to say, the administration directed its consultants to look for which programs it was allowed to cut, and by how much, without ever asking it to look at how it could maintain service levels by delivering them more efficiently. The underlying message of today’s report: if we want to cut the size of the budget, it will be, in the first place and not as a last resort, by cutting the scope of government.

via Waste Diversion, Fluoridation, and Cycling Infrastructure in First Round of Potential City Hall Cuts | Torontoist.

In other words: they’re skipping the gravy, and going right to the meat.

Jul 11

FAQ for Councillors considering the removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes

Update: A version of this post is now available at OpenFile Toronto.

Confidential to Toronto city councillors still considering their vote on the elimination of the Jarvis Street Bike Lanes: So, hey, you’re one of those uncommitted councillors, probably hanging somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum.  I understand that it’s a challenging position to be in. Even if you are a tad uncomfortable with the Rob Ford brand of conservatism, you can’t deny the mayor’s popularity coming out of his crushing victory in the October 2010 election. And if he won big in your ward, doesn’t that mean that your constituents expect you to follow the mayor’s lead and support his team on key matters? Isn’t that the definition of democracy?

Spoiler Alert: The answer to that question is no. I’d suggest that you were elected by your constituents with the promise that you would use your best judgment and work to do what’s best for your ward and for your city. Sometimes that will involve going against what’s perceived as popular. Sometimes that will involve going against the mayor.

So, all that said, you’re considering an upcoming item relating to the potential removal of the bike lanes on Jarvis, and I thought it might be helpful to know the ins and outs of the issue before the motion comes to a vote next week. That way, you won’t have to worry yourself with what direction that famous thumb is pointing. You can just vote based on what you feel is right.

And that’s all we could ever ask of you.

Weren’t the Jarvis bike lanes implemented by the previous council, over the objections of many of those who currently hold the balance of power?

No. The previous council voted to implement Item 2009.PW24.15 “Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvements – Class Environmental Assessment Study by a margin of 28-16. Four members of the current Executive Committee voted to implement the lanes.

But I heard the bike lanes were added at the last minute when the cycling community hijacked the debate?

Not really true. Though it is factual that the original plan for streetscape improvements on Jarvis Street did not include the provision for dedicated cycling lanes, the preferred option from that plan did include wider curb lanes that would have allowed for ‘sharrows’ to allow safer travel for cyclists.

A quick history lesson: Jarvis was, for much of its existence, a tree-lined residential street, home to many of the city’s wealthiest families. Its decline roughly coincides with a decision to better facilitate automobile traffic with the installation of a reversible centre lane on the stretch of roadway north of Queen Street to Mount Pleasant. This middle lane caused an increase to the speed of traffic and made for a hostile pedestrian environment. A 2005 traffic study concluded that, on Jarvis Street, “the pedestrian exposure to conflict is undesirable.” (pg. iii) The study recommended the removal of the reversible middle lane, which led to a staff report calling for streetscape improvements. Following advocacy efforts from the city’s cycling community, the recommended plan was altered to include the provision for cycling lanes, which were installed following the removal of the middle lane in 2010.

But don’t the results of the 2010 mayoral election mean that people want the lanes gone?

No. During his campaign, Mayor Ford told the Toronto Star that he would not remove the lanes: “It would be a waste of money to remove it if it’s already there, that is unless there was a huge public outcry in the area.” As far as “public outcry in the area” is concerned, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who supports the bike lanes, prevailed over opponents who vowed to remove the lanes in the municipal race last fall.

But Rob Ford says he’s gotten a lot of calls from people asking him to remove the lanes, shouldn’t we listen to them?

Absolutely. Consultation with the public is always important. Unfortunately, the item as amended by Councillor John Parker does not allow for further consultations regarding the future of Jarvis Street. In fact, a motion by Councillor Mike Layton that would have required proper community consultations before any changes are made to Jarvis Street was defeated at the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 4-2.

Wasn’t the original plan for Jarvis Street, which didn’t call for bike lanes, a better one?

It very well could have been. Jarvis Street suffered because the 2009 debate became entirely about bikes-versus-cars, when it rightly should have been about what’s best for Jarvis Street. But either way, that plan also called for the removal of the reversible middle lane, so impacts on traffic flow would have been similar.

As far as I know, there is still roughly $6-million allocated for beautification efforts on Jarvis Street, though I don’t think there’s a timeline attached to the work. Before removal of the lanes was put back on the table, Councillor Wong-Tam was also planning to spend $1-million of Section 37 funds to improve the street. Some of that money would have gone to synchronizing traffic lights to further improve traffic flow. All of this work is currently on hold, pending City Council’s decision.

Haven’t the bike lanes on Jarvis Street have resulted in significant traffic delays?

Not really. The bike lanes on Jarvis Street haven’t caused any significant delays. The removal of the reversible middle lane — which, you’ll remember, was going to happen anyway, bike lanes or no bike lanes — did result in a small increase in travel time at peak periods. Average travel times increased by approximately two minutes northbound and southbound in the a.m. rush, and by approximately three-to-five minutes in the p.m. rush.

Much of the increase in the p.m. rush is due to long queues as vehicles wait to turn left onto Gerrard Street. Traffic Services was set to install an advanced green phase this summer, which would alleviate much of the delay. At the very least, Council would be wise to wait for the results of a future traffic study, which should detail the effectiveness of the intersection tweak, before they take any further action on Jarvis Street.

Again, any delays are primarily due to the removal of the reversible lane. Removing the bike lanes could allow for the installation of dedicated left-turn lanes at major intersections, but that alone seems unlikely to substantially improve travel times. If council wants to explore that option further, I’d recommend commissioning a report.

What if I choose not to believe staff’s reported numbers?

You should panic. If that’s the case, I would suggest council has far bigger problems that they need to deal with immediately, and that those problems should take precedence over this issue. If you’re concerned that staff are being negligent or improper with the data they’re reporting to council, steps must be taken to improve that situation.

Of note: A recent news story relating to inaccurate cycling counts on John Street was due to a city-hired consultant using staff-reported numbers incorrectly.

Is it even feasible to re-add the fifth lane to Jarvis Street?

I don’t think so, no. Removing the bike lanes and installing some dedicated left-turn lanes is set to cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $80,000. Reinstalling the reversible middle lane, on the other hand, would cost approximately $570,000. That’s a substantial financial outlay for the city, given current budgetary challenges.

Further, there are some relatively serious safety and design concerns relating to the previous configuration of Jarvis Street. Typically, the city recommends a minimum width of 3.3 metres for mid-block traffic lanes. Jarvis, in its five lane layout, had lane widths of only 3.1 metres. The 2005 Jarvis traffic study described the lane widths as ‘substandard.’ (pg 25)

Isn’t Jarvis kind of useless as a bike lane? It doesn’t even connect to anything.

It does, in fact, connect to existing bike lanes at Shuter Street. It will also connect to new separated bike lanes on Wellesley Street, should the new Downtown Bike Plan as proposed by Denzil Minnan-Wong be approved and built by this council.

Also, it’s important to remember that cyclists do not burst into flames should they come to the end of a bike lane. Jarvis also connects to numerous bicycle-friendly side streets, as well as popular destinations like St. Lawrence Market and Allan Gardens. The lanes are also directly adjacent to three BIXI bike rental stations.

But the plan for separated bike lanes on Sherbourne — only a block away — means Jarvis is no longer necessary for cyclists, right?

No. Just as Sherbourne and Jarvis are both useful for drivers and pedestrians depending on where one wants to go, cyclists use both routes. You would never argue that sidewalks are unnecessary on Jarvis Street because pedestrians can just use Sherbourne Street.

In addition, the Sherbourne Street bike lanes are currently in a shabby state of despair and require resurfacing. Given that council has not yet approved any aspect of the proposed plan for separated bike lanes downtown, removing Jarvis because of the existence of improved lanes on Sherbourne seems premature.

Finally, the installation of bike lanes on Jarvis have more than tripled the number of cyclists who use the route on a daily basis, which would indicate that there is significant demand for a safe bike route on the stretch.

Jarvis was one of the only working traffic arterials left downtown — how could making it slower be considered a good thing?

Jarvis is not simply a traffic arterial. It’s a street that has historically been residential, with a rich character all its own. In 2001, Jarvis was identified of one of seven “cultural corridors” in the City of Toronto. Thousands of people live and work on Jarvis Street, and more are coming as condo construction works it way east of Yonge Street. Jarvis Street is also home to schools — both a regular one, and Canada’s National Ballet School — and the aforementioned Allan Gardens, one of the city’s largest downtown parks.

As noted in remarks made by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, which came just before he voted to install the bike lanes, Jarvis is worth far more to the city as a vibrant place to live and work than it is as a simple traffic pipe. And given that the number of vehicle trips has not decreased even after the removal of the reversible fifth lane, it’s difficult to argue that Jarvis has lost utility as an arterial. It’s still doing the work it used to do, just in a slightly more civilized way.

What’s the big deal? Let’s just remove these things and move on with our lives.

Removing infrastructure should always be a big deal. Whether or not you agreed with the process that led to their installation in the first place, the Jarvis bike lanes are here. The city spent approximately $60,000 putting them in, and they are used by approximately 1,000 cyclists every day.

To justify their removal, councillors need to prove that the removal of this infrastructure is cost-effective. You’ll need to show that the money the city will spend removing these lanes will be recouped through increased economic activity. To do any less would be fiscally irresponsible.

Jun 11

Mammoliti on Jarvis Lanes: “Everybody has the right to use the road”

During the 2009 debate over the removal of the reversible fifth lane on Jarvis Street — which, of course, led to the Jarvis Street Bike Lanes — Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti stood on the floor of City Council and gave an impassioned — if slightly confusing at times — speech supporting the narrowing of Jarvis Street. Specifically, he said that lower speeds will be good for businesses along the stretch. He praised Councillor Kyle Rae for his work bringing the project forward, and scolded councillors who were critical of the plan. “Get off your rear ends,” he told opposition councillors. “When someone goes down to party on [a narrowed and revitalized] Jarvis Street, they’re going to say what a wonderful street Jarvis is.”

He calls for the end of the oft-fiery debate between “the rights of drivers and cyclists,” telling council that “he doesn’t like that argument because I think everybody has the right to use the road.”

YouTube user HOOFandCYCLE was kind enough to post video of Mammoliti’s remarks. I’ve also transcribed the speech below. Any errors are my own.

Madame Speaker, I want to give some examples of what I would consider human nature, I guess. And that is… — when many of us go to restaurants we tend to look into the restaurant and tend to wonder how busy it might be and how popular it might be. And we tend to go into the restaurants — if we don’t know them quite well — that are loaded with people. The ones that seem to be busy. The ones that seem to be a little crazy.

The ones that are empty we usually say, “Well, the food might not be very good here. And I don’t think I’m going to take the chance.”

When we go to shows and concerts, we usually go to concerts that are the busiest with the most people — blah blah blah blah blah

Night clubs? Lineups out the door? Those are the ones we choose to go in because there must be something special with respect to this nightclub and the amount of people that must be going through.

(Another Councillor asks “What’s the point?”)

My point is — that I’m trying to make — is, that for some reason, the busier the street, the more popular it becomes. The slower a street, with respect with how people move through, the more popular it becomes.

In fact, I believe that if traffic is at a standstill, then businesses actually thrive on those streets. A prime example of that — you remember Yonge Street? Years ago? How congested it was? How you could not move on Yonge Street? The store owners on Yonge Street absolutely loved it. They didn’t want the traffic to go through quickly. They felt that that contributed to their success.

And around the world, that is the case. That, in fact, if you attempt to slow down traffic — in whatever manner — it becomes more popular for the pedestrian who does a lot of shopping. And it becomes a lot more popular for cyclists — yes, it does.

And why don’t we want to take a page from some of the successful cities that have learned from their experiences? That’s all that some of us are saying here. I’m saying it because I believe in that model. I think it actually does create business.

Jarvis, if you drive down, is very fast. Somebody has mentioned — I think it was Councillor McConnell who mentioned it in her speech — that traffic is actually very fast, at times, on Jarvis. And it’s time to slow it down.

So you slow it down by proposing to remove a lane, and, yes, you slow it down as well for people to pay attention to others that are using that street and sidewalks. Whether it’s pedestrians or the cyclists that now will be using Jarvis.

When we all go for our license, and the privilege of having a vehicle license — whether that’s car, or a bicycle license — one of the first things you’re taught about is cyclists. Use your rearview mirrors, watch our for cyclists, be careful. You’re at fault even if the cyclist does something wrong. You’re at fault.

And so, now the debate becomes the debate between the difference in rights between someone who is driving a vehicle and the cyclists. That’s what I’ve been hearing. And I don’t like that argument because I think everybody has the right to use the road.

And I said it it earlier when I stood that cyclists don’t have any other options. They can only use the road. They can’t use the sidewalks. So what is the debate about today — seriously? Some have pointed out that it costs money, and saying that perhaps we should be fixing other roads before this one. Is that the argument today?

Or is the argument about a fundamental logic that you don’t like cyclists on the road? Why don’t we be honest about that if it is?

Now Councillor Rae has worked this into his equation and he must be patted on the back for doing that. And it takes work to put this into any equation. To try and get lanes — cycle lanes — in your communities is a hard task. So might it be that some other councillors don’t want to work as hard, and when they find somebody doing [something] they want to hide behind policy and say, “It’s because of the policy. We shouldn’t be straying from it. How dare we do that?”

Get up off your rear ends and do the same thing.

And if it isn’t about bike lanes, do something else. Take on your own pet project. And don’t just sit at City Hall and try to change people’s minds and create scenarios in the back rooms. Spend some time in your communities and change the flavour of your communities. Councillor Rae is suggesting to change the flavour on Jarvis — and it will.

And then when everyone wants to go down to party on Jarvis, they’re going to say what a wonderful street Jarvis is. It’s so wonderful. At that point, who’s going to be around to remind everyone that perhaps it was the local councillor that changed the way things are done. Perhaps it’s someone who actually stood up and actually cared for his community and cared for the voices — yes, the voices — that I hear everyday.

So when Councillor Holyday stands up and says he’s in Etobicoke and he never sees any cyclists, well — I do. And I think most of us do who are in the West district. And I don’t know where [Holday is] coming from.

Perhaps the cyclists that aren’t there get the feeling that the politicians don’t want them there. And that’s probably why they’re not using our streets. I say something different — I say let’s make sure that we try to get them out there as well.

It’s not just about the Humber River [trail], as someone pointed out, it’s also about encouraging people to use the roads. Encouraging them and wanting them to do it, and not saying they’re excluded because [other councillors] believe some policy needs to be changed or [that] maybe we should be fixing another road somewhere in Scarborough before we do something like this.


Less than a year after making these remarks and voting to approve installation of the bike lanes, Mammoliti reversed course. As part of his abortive campaign for mayor, he told The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle “When I’m the mayor of the City of Toronto, if they succeed with these bike lanes, I will take them down — and that will be the first thing that I do.”

Mammoliti, now one of the most loyal Ford supporters on Council, will undoubtedly vote to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes when the item comes before council at next month’s meeting.

He has yet to offer a credible explanation for why he changed his mind.

Jun 11

What we talk about when we talk about Jarvis

At yesterday’s meeting of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, while discussing Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s new bike plan, Councillor John Parker moved an amendment to kill the bike lanes on Jarvis Street.

Here’s the text of Parker’s amendment:

City Council rescind its decision related to the bicycle lanes on Jarvis Street.

via Agenda Item History – 2011.PW5.1.

Council will debate the item at the July council meeting. If approved by a majority of council, the lanes will be removed.

No Justifiable Reason

I’m going to have lots to say about this over the coming weeks, but let’s get some stuff out of the way. First, the big one: as far as city planning, traffic engineering and economics go, there is seemingly no justifiable reason for removing the bike lanes on Jarvis.

The city’s own numbers tell the story. Since the lanes were installed, traffic levels for cars has remained at the same level as previous. Travel times increased by about two minutes in the morning, and three to five minutes in the afternoon. If that latter figure seems a tad high, staff agree, and are taking steps to correct it:

Much of the increased travel time could be attributed to the delays and queues experienced at the Jarvis Street/Gerrard Street East intersection, particularly in the northbound direction during the p.m. peak period.

The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays at this intersection and the overall travel times between Queen Street East and Charles Street East.

via Bikeway network — 2011 Update. (pg 17)

Most notable, however, is that the total number of vehicles (cars + bikes) using the road in both directions during daily peak eight hour periods increased from approximately 13,290 to 14,180 after the installation of the lanes. 100% of this increase comes from bikes.

In other words: a $63,000 one-time investment in infrastructure increased the daily utility of a Toronto roadway by about 7%. That’s an incredible value-to-dollar ratio.

This isn’t some hippie pinko gut-based opinion. This is black-and-white fact. The Jarvis Street bike lanes aren’t preventing people from moving through the city. They’re enabling people to move through the city.

Let’s ignore cyclists in this debate

But, on this issue, we might be best to ignore cyclists. I have a very real concern that if we let this debate spiral into the same tired car-versus-bike war we’ve seen a dozen times before, bikes will lose. And lose bad.

Rob Ford car-friendliness isn’t just a part of his character. It turns out it’s also what drives some of his most bedrock support. In a post at OpenFile yesterday, John Michael McGrath took a look at an academic paper by doctoral candidate Zack Taylor at UofT, which laid out the strong correlation between people who commute by automobile to work and those that supported the mayor:

The other strong predictor in Taylor’s paper was car ownership and use. No surprise, the man who ran against “the war on the car” picked up the support of Toronto’s most car-dependent areas. “Toronto isn’t the only place you’re seeing this happen. Once you own a car, once you experience the street as a car—a car driver—you experience anything that impedes you as an annoyance,” says Taylor.

via Why suburban motorists voted for Ford, and why this is news | OpenFile.

If the Jarvis lanes are simply held up as a key battleground in the ever-ongoing war between cars and bikes in the city, Rob Ford likely still has enough clout on council and enough popular support to kill the lanes. It’s as simple as that.

You bike guys had your way with the previous council, they’ll say, but things are different now. We have to give the people what they want.

What Jarvis Street means

Jarvis Street was, for much of Toronto’s history, a place for Toronto’s well-off. One of the richest thoroughfares in the city, it was lined with trees and huge mansion homes setback from the roadway. To illustrate, BlogTO’s Derek Flack compiled a beautiful-then-sad series of images that sets the scene.

Spacing’s Shawn Micallef described the old Jarvis in an Eye Weekly column as “once the most beautiful street in Toronto” that “has been reverse-gentrified and turned into a fat arterial traffic pipe between North Toronto and downtown.”

The widening of Jarvis street and the installation of a reversible centre lane — one that flowed south in the morning and north in the evening — immediately changed the character of the roadway.

During the first debate over what to do with Jarvis, a local resident told the National Post’s Allison Haines that “many consider Jarvis Street to be a freeway and it’s not – it’s a downtown city street.”

Yes, Jarvis is a downtown city street. It’s a street with numerous homes — and more coming, with a recent condo proposal for the once-thought-uninhabitale Dundas intersection — businesses and institutions. The National Ballet School calls the northern part of Jarvis Street home, as does a public high school and a large downtown Toronto park and conservatory.

The Jarvis bike lanes were not part of the original plan to revitalize Jarvis Street. The thought was to instead improve the pedestrian realm with wide sidewalks and landscaping. The idea was that the street would look like this:


via Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvements Class Environmental Assessment Study (2009) pg 13

That may have been a better option in the long-term than what we got — further improvements to the streetscape on Jarvis seem to have stalled out after the bike lanes were installed — but the two approaches carry one thing in common: both called for the removal of the reversible fifth lane.

Removing that lane under any context was a huge win for Jarvis Street.

It’s unclear at this point whether Parker’s motion means that the fifth lane will be reinstalled if council approves his amendment, but it is important that councillors understand that Jarvis Street about far more than just travel times. It is a downtown city street with all that entails: a place for people to live, learn and work.

Any further discussion about what to do with Jarvis must take that into account. It is not and should never be again thought of as a mere urban arterial, where speed is king, and nothing else matters. Not only does that sort of argument shortchange the growing number of people who call the area home, it also ignores the huge economic impact a revitalized Jarvis could have.