Posts Tagged: kristyn wong-tam

Mar 12

Shocker: budget cuts can negatively impact services

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, member of Rob Ford’s executive committee and the city budget committee, in her December 2011 newsletter to constituents:

Taxpayers want City Hall to reduce expenses and for the first time ever, we will spend less next year than we did this year. It is a balanced budget that will help rebuild our fiscal foundation. There is a rate of inflation property- tax increase of 2.5% which will be approximately $5 a month for the aver- age tax payer. There are inflationary increases which the city cannot avoid addressing, and we have kept the property tax increase down to the level of inflation.

Through the Core Service Review, service efficiencies and modest service level adjustments we found $355 million in savings. Some of the services being cut were identified as outside of the city’s function.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – December 2011.

The centrepiece of that budget, of course, was a 10% cut across all city departments — including the TTC. Ford’s move to cut the transit subsidy despite record and ever-growing ridership forced the TTC to make several cuts to bus service, most of which took effect in February.

Which brings us back to Berardinetti’s newsletter. From the March 2012 edition:

I have written a letter to TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, to voice my opposition to the impacts of all bus route schedule adjustments. Residents in my ward have reported to me that signs have been posted at the Warden subway station with respect to a reduction in service specifically affecting the Warden 69 bus route. A large number of people rely upon this route for travel to work and school and the proposed reduction in the frequency of service will significantly and negatively impact their commuting time.

In the context of the considerable 2012 Budget surplus allocations of $139 million made to the T.T.C. for the purpose of purchasing new surface vehicles and the significant nature of the impact reductions on this route will have on the constituents of Ward 35, I am requesting that this decision be reviewed and that the service reduction be cancelled.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – March 2012.

During the budget debate, Councillor Josh Colle moved a motion that sought to reverse many of the route cuts on the table. Berardinetti opposed it.

This looks like a sign of things to come. Many councillors supported the 10% reduction target as an abstract budget-busting measure, but now that the impacts to services are starting to emerge, how many of them are going to change their tune?

Another example: 311 announced recently that, in order to meet their reduced budget, they would eliminate email service at their support centres. They’re going to force anyone with a question about city services to call in and listen to their hold music. This prompted Mike Layton to ask “What decade are we in? I wonder if they’ll accept faxes.”

Layton, backing a motion by Kristyn Wong-Tam, will attempt to reverse this cut to customer service at council next week. They should have the support of at least one Ford ally — and enthusiastic supporter of the mayor’s 10% cut — in Paul Ainslie, who told the Toronto Star that he was “certainly going to push for putting [email service] back in.”

It’s easy to support budget cuts. It’s hard to support service cuts. Councillors may want to consider that there’s a link between the two.

Jul 11

Minnan-Wong planning “significant” downtown transportation study; believes more roads can solve traffic problems

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while. Amidst a bunch of news cycles dominated by that thing where other councillors forced the removal of existing infrastructure in her ward — despite her objections, and those of local residents and business –, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam revealed a major plan for the renewal of the section of Yonge Street between Dundas and Gerrard. It calls for wider sidewalks, an improved public realm, “sharrows” for cyclists and, oh yeah, the removal of two car lanes. Pedestrians vastly outnumber vehicles on this stretch so this doesn’t seem like an overly crazy suggestion.

You can download the entire report here. I’ve compressed it from its original downtown-elite file size of nearly 140 megabytes, so the images are a bit grainy.

Response to the report was swift, of course. Councillor and Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong essentially smacked it down, citing the need to first do a “very significant transportation study” of the downtown before making any moves to revitalize streets.

The Sun’s Chris Reynolds:

While Public Works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong said he had yet to see the report, he cautioned any rush to rip up Yonge St. traffic lanes.

“The city is planning a very significant transportation study of the downtown, all the major roads and thoroughfares,” Minnan-Wong said. “It is going to be proposed by staff, it is coming forward in September and we are going to be looking at gridlock and congestion in the downtown.

via Study says Yonge stretch should be narrowed | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Oh good. We’re going to look at gridlock and congestion in the downtown.

Much of Toronto’s downtown ‘gridlock’ can be attributed to simple physics: there are too many cars coming into a relatively small space. You might be able to nominally increase some traffic metrics by improving signal timing and filling in some missing roadway links (as seen with the Dufferin underpass last year), but you’re not going to drastically increase overall capacity unless you start knocking down buildings to allow for wider streets.

Even then, adding roadway capacity only leads to the “induced demand” phenomenon, which says, basically, that new roads create new traffic. There isn’t a magical point at which roadspace is bountiful enough that congestion and gridlock stop happening. (The inverse is also true: contrary to logic, some traffic will simply disappear if road capacity is reduced.)

The principles behind induced demand are pretty widely accepted by planners and politicians these days. A notable exception would be the Councillor backing this downtown transportation study. He seemingly does not buy it, as he told Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan last week that he thinks, “if you have more roads you will have traffic run better.”

And so, in an attempt to deal with downtown traffic, it looks like we’re going to try and dig our way out of this hole. Meanwhile, Yonge Street will probably be waiting a long time for its much-needed revitalization.

Somewhat Related: I wanted to throw a link out for Edward Keenan’s ambitious five-part series at The Grid, which stands as a remarkably thorough examination of the idea of road pricing in Toronto and the GTA. Recommended reading.

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.


May 11

Setting policy by imagined consensus

Speaking of Doug Ford, I thought his contribution to an article regarding the Jarvis Street bike lanes by Marcia Chen and Ashleigh Smollet of was kind of interesting:

Not even a year after they were installed, the fate of the contentious Jarvis Street bike lanes is in question.

“We would like to eliminate them,” said councillor Doug Ford. “We have had more complaints about the bike lanes on Jarvis than any other road in Toronto. Hundreds and hundreds of people.”

But ward councillor Karyn Wong-Tam disagreed, noting the revitalization of the downtown’s east side depends on the lanes and other projects on Jarvis.

“Hundreds? No, definitely we haven’t received hundreds,” Wong-Tam said. “I don’t think we’ve had even one hundred.”

via Rob Ford may consider removing Jarvis bike lanes – CityNews.

It’s a neat encapsulation of Ford-brand politics. Both Doug and Rob consistently back up their pet issues with claims that they’ve received hundreds — sometimes thousands — of phone calls supporting them. It’s a tired, easily-mockable refrain. There’s no way to confirm the reality of their claims, nor is there a way to quantify, track and analyze this data. In real terms, their claims are worse than useless.

Even if Doug Ford were accurate, and they — leaving aside for now the issue of who they is, because people really shouldn’t be complaining to the councillor in Ward 2 about an issue with infrastructure in Ward 27 — had received hundreds of calls, is that enough reason to eliminate lanes that are, by the city’s own estimates, used by hundreds of cyclists every day?