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.

Aug 11

Listening to Toronto: On Transit

One Toronto taxpayer has a bold idea to pay for transit in Toronto

Respondent 2-625 has ideas for public transit in Toronto. Big ideas. “We could hold the first North American Electric Motorcycle Race,” writes the Toronto taxpayer. “These bikes are fast.”

Pushing for a world class racetrack up at Downsview Park, the respondent indicates that a private sector partner — like “Apple or RIM” — would sponsor a subway station connected to the race track that would host “world events in our backyard” with fast bikes and cars and so on. This, it’s said, is a “potential goldmine.”

“I can see it now,” he or she concludes,  “no more boring expensive walkways to the train, I see a walkway that brings your senses alive before you watch million dollar cars race for the day.”

Out with the boring, bland walkways in our transit system — in with the racetrack-adjacent walkways that bring your senses alive.

Let’s hear from Toronto

Earlier this year, the City of Toronto embarked on an extensive public consultation process as a precursor to a planned Core Service Review. Over 13,000 people filled out an online survey while hundreds attended public meetings held across the city. Unfortunately, soon after the data gleaned from this process was released, high-ranking members of Mayor Rob Ford’s Executive Committee dismissed it as irrelevant. The sample was “self-selected,” said one councillor.

And, sure, okay, maybe it would be a stretch to call this data statistically sound, but it still represents the collective opinions of thousands of Torontonians. Isn’t that, by its very nature, something worth considering? Something worth exploring?

I think so, and that’s why I’m doing this: over the next few weeks, I will write brief summaries of all eleven of the Core Service Review qualitative reports. These reports contain thousands of comments written by the citizens of Toronto on a variety of topics. Today, we start with transit. (The numbers refer to the survey question, followed by the response number. All data is anonymous.)

Duh, Transit is important

Seems obvious, but let’s start here: Of the 13,000+ responses, 4,569 reported public transit (or something related to it) as one of the most important issues facing our city in 2011. Many were colourful with their description of the problem. Respondent 1-9’s major issue is listed as “Public transit sucking hard.” 1-306 writes “We need more public transit now!”  2-64 just writes “TRANSIT!!!!!!!” Respondent 1-509 despairs over “the rising price of TTC and the terrible service they provide,” while 1-621 is rather forceful with the belief that “the TTC is the worst transit system of any major metropolitan area in North America.”

The prevailing trend is that people are tremendously protective of the TTC and the role it plays in our urban lives, but, also, simultaneously, they despise it with the fire of a thousand suns. Customer service is noted as a major issue. Respondent 1-2404 lists, as a top issue facing the city, “seemingly deliberate, rude, ornery, poor service among TTC [and other] employees.” 3-20 points out “when you’re paying ever increasing fares on the TTC and dealing with service disruptions, filthy stations and (some) rude staff, the combination is really unappealing.”

Cost comes up a lot, with many decrying the service as already unaffordable.”The TTC relies too heavily on service fees,” says 3-79. “[It’s] to the point where the fares are completely unaffordable to those on a limited income.” 3-19 makes the case for young people in the city, writing that “$120 is a lot for a Metropass right out of university when you work part time at Indigo and have to pay $700 for a basement apartment.” 2-863 makes a strong point, and is one of many who links the cost of transit to the cost of car ownership, writing “I pay 80% of my bus trip, how much of a car trip is paid for by the user?” (The actual TTC fare box recovery ratio is closer to 70% than it is to 80%, but let’s not split hairs.)

Expansion? Yes! How? That’s up for debate!

The word “expansion” appears hundreds of times in the document, with most agreeing that more service to more places is a good idea. Less universal are opinions on where that expansion should occur, and what form it should take.

There are a ton of voices opposing the mayor’s transit ideas and calling for a return to a more David Miller-esque vision. “MORE TTC SERVICE – MORE LIGHT RAIL (EFFICIENT)…LESS SUBWAYS (COSTLY)” writes 1-355. 1-490 concurs, saying that the city shouldn’t be “building subways when LRT is much cheaper.” 1-591 worries about “borrowing 4 billion to build a useless subway” while 1-640 asks that we be “promoting realistic public transit – not the destruction of it as outlined by Ford.”

On the other side of the fence, there’s 1-469, calling for “Building subways, not high speed railways or light rapid transit.” 1-79 asks for “Decongestion of traffic, ie. via delivering promised TTC Subway extending past Morningside Ave. on Sheppard.”

All in all, responses tilt away from the Sheppard plan, with only a few mild supporters in the bunch. The fabled Downtown Relief Line gets a number of mentions, with 2-1172 calling for “Subway expansion, specifically the Downtown Relief Line NOT Sheppard!” Respondent 2-807 points out that “Downtown subway expansion such as the downtown relief line is essential prior to any extension of the Yonge line into York Region.” Otherwise, the response continues, “Torontonians will be waiting on platforms watching trains full of York Region residents pass them by.”

An overlooked piece of the transit expansion debate also emerges, as many call for better TTC service to Pearson airport. 2-509 sums it up best: “What kind of major city doesn’t have subway or above-ground train to its airport in the year 2011?”

The Ford Nation appears? Killing streetcars and privatizing transit

Response 1-509 lists their top issue facing the city in 2011 as “streetcars-replace with buses.” Similar calls are echoed throughout the report, though they are ultimately a minority voice. Response 2-3762 calls for a “move from streetcars to electric buses in downtown core.” Many indicate a belief that streetcars only make traffic worse (2-319). “Streetcars suck,” writes 2-1135, “I’m happy Ford is removing this stupid Light Rail idea and adding more subways…more! More!”

Another vocal minority calls for the contracting out of bus routes or the complete privatization of the TTC. 3-571 says “if you can find somewhere to contract out TTC services, somewhere that does not use a a bloated union and employees are earning outrages salaries for regular jobs, I say do it.” Much of this desire stems from a belief that TTC workers are overpaid. Respondent 3-96 believes the “salaries of TTC workers should be cut…all TTC workers have inflated salaries.”

Fighting traffic congestion with transit

The big takeaway, expressed by hundreds of people in this document, is the common belief that traffic congestion can be solved with more public transit. Response 4-505 proclaims that “Toronto is choking on traffic,” but adds that the “solution cannot be more roads.” 3-237 says that “we need to set up our city as a walkable, and transit-able city. We can’t support the traffic we have now and as the city grows it is only going to get worse.”

There is significant support amongst respondents for new revenue tools for transit, primarily road tolls and congestion charges, though many ask that they only apply to 905 residents who come into the city. Respondent 4-401 echoes a common sentiment: “Our services are used by thousands of 905ers every day who don’t necessarily contribute to paying for them.”

We’ll let 4-327 have the last word: “Congestion is ridiculous and the answer is not widening roads and providing more capacity. The answer is is providing higher order transit and alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle. Rethink your priorities please, Mayor Ford.”

Which is a fair enough point — especially considering at least one member of Ford’s Executive have gone on record with their belief that more roads will solve congestion issues –, but still, I’m thinking we should just circle back to the beginning and really work out a strategy for funding transit with electric motorcycle racing. Those bikes are fast.