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Dear Urban Diplomat: what should I do about an annoying e-biker?

Dear Urban Diplomat: what should I do about an annoying e-biker?

(Image: Carlos Felipe Pardo/Flickr)

Dear Urban Diplomat,

Every day on my commute along Eastern Avenue, this guy on an electric bike zooms past my car, sometimes in the bike lane, sometimes weaving between cars, sometimes popping up onto the sidewalk for a few metres before plonking back onto the street. It’s maddening. Short of gently nudging him with my bumper, what should I do?

—Driven to Despair, Cliffside

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The Informer

Transit

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Could the Scarborough RT really become a High Line–style elevated park?

THE IDEA

Last Friday at city hall, TTC CEO Andy Byford surprised city councillors by reminding them that his staff are still looking into the possibility of transforming the Scarborough RT into an elevated linear park, in the vein of Manhattan’s High Line. (Council voted in favour of studying the seemingly far-fetched proposal back in October 2013.) The details still have to be worked out, but the idea is to wait until 2023, when the RT is supposed to be replaced by a subway, then cover the disused elevated tracks with biking paths, benches and greenery.

idea-evaluator-yellow-small

WOULD IT WORK?

Some variation of the idea already has worked, albeit in a much different context. Since its creation, New York City’s High Line, a reclaimed elevated railway on the west side of Manhattan, has attracted millions of tourists, stimulated economic activity and inspired imitators in scads of cities, from San Francisco to Seoul. But can the Big Apple’s winning formula be applied somewhere like suburban Scarborough and produce the same result?

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The Informer

Streeters

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“We got our LCBO, so we’re good”: Liberty Villagers on their neighbourhood’s bad rap

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

Liberty Village takes a lot of flack, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a heavily developed condo community that’s cut off from the rest of the city by railroad tracks, leaving only two major routes in and out. Liberty Village Park, the only green space of note, includes just a single small play area, even though, elsewhere in the neighbourhood, plenty of space is devoted to unsightly swaths of surface parking. The 504 King streetcar, the area’s main TTC connection to downtown, is almost unridable during rush hour. There are even battles over dog shit. But how do the people who live and work in Liberty Village feel about it? We asked some of them whether the neighbourhood deserves the put-downs.

The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a bad person for leaving my newspaper on the subway?

Dear Urban Diplomat: Am I littering if I leave my used copy on the subway or doing some other bored commuter a favour?

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I’m new to the city, and I read Metro during my morning commute. Am I littering if I leave my used copy on the subway or doing some other bored commuter a favour?

—Paper Trail, Cedarvale

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The Informer

Columns

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Smoother traffic is only the beginning: John Tory’s parking crackdown will change the way Toronto works

(Images: left: Daniel Neuhaus; right: courtesy of TPS Traffic Services)

(Images: left and upper right: Daniel Neuhaus; lower right: courtesy of TPS Traffic Services)

Attention Toronto drivers: your heaping helping of schadenfreude is ready. For all the times you’ve ever been stuck behind an illegally parked vehicle, asking aloud why doesn’t someone fine that jerk and tow him away?, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for: the moment when misfortune befalls them all, all at once, for the benefit of your drive home.

Mayor John Tory’s tag-and-tow offensive against illegally parked cars in the downtown core is now into its second week, ticketing and impounding any vehicle that parks illegally and blocks traffic during peak hours. The first week was a social media delight, as dozens of people, notably including Toronto Police Constable Clint Stibbe, snapped and posted photos of the towaways, many of them delivery trucks. Stibbe’s Twitter feed in particular—@TrafficServices—was a rousing perp parade of company logos winched to the boom, including FedEx, Coca-Cola, Canada Post, Canadian Linen and Uniform Service, and every shredding service under the sun: Iron Mountain, Recall Document Solutions, and AMJ Shredding. The traffic sting has ensnared a surprisingly broad variety of businesses, including Joe Warmington favourite Drain City, whose work consists of sucking up and hauling away used deep-fryer grease from downtown restaurants.

Some media outlets have been calling the mayor’s initiative a “blitz,” but Tory doesn’t want anyone to think this is a temporary measure that will disappear as quickly as it arrived. “The new normal” is how the mayor’s staff likes to describe the situation, and it’s about more than traffic. It’s a long overdue shift in the city’s metabolism, and so far Tory and his staff seem to be the only ones who’ve grasped just how far-reaching it will prove to be.

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The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a jerk for skipping the TTC farebox line?

Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a jerk for skipping the TTC farebox line?

(Image: Bryson Gilbert/Toronto Life Flickr Pool)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I was in the Queen subway station recently and encountered a long lineup, so I did that move where you sneak past people mumbling “Sorry” and dump your fare into the can. One guy yelled, “Oh, only you have places to go?” and I got the stink eye from someone else. What am I supposed to do—wait interminably as trains pass by?

—Line Dancer, North York

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The Informer

Stat

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Suicide continues to be a problem on Toronto’s subway lines

26

—The number of suicide attempts, including nine deaths, that have occurred on TTC subway lines so far in 2014. At a meeting on Monday, Toronto’s board of health voted to urge city council to fund platform-edge barriers at TTC stations, in part to prevent people from jumping in front of trains.

The Informer

World-Class Watch

Comments

Museum Station makes the Guardian’s list of the world’s most beautiful metro stations, somehow

(Image: Alex T./Flickr)

(Image: Alex T./Flickr)

Museum Station may not even be the most beautiful station on the Yonge-University-Spadina line (ever seen Dupont Station, guys?), let alone the planet, and yet it seems to have impressed someone at the Guardian. There, on a list of the most beautiful metro stations in the world, is our very own sculpture-bedecked subway stop. None of this is to say that Museum Station’s interior, completed in 2008, isn’t very nice. It is, and it would have been great if the Toronto Community Foundation, which helped fund the renovation, had been able to follow through with its plans to help remake other stations in similar style. Still, Museum is no Stockholm rainbow cave.

The Informer

Municipal Election 2014

3 Comments

If John Tory is elected, will he really be able to build SmartTrack?

THE IDEA

Since he unveiled it in late May, SmartTrack has been the centrepiece of John Tory’s One Toronto transit plan. Consisting of 22 stops (including five TTC interchanges) over 53 kilometres, the line would cut a loosely U-shaped curve through Toronto, starting near the airport in the west and dipping down through Union Station before heading northeast into Markham. Running largely on electrified GO Transit tracks, the new line would, Tory claims, serve 200,000 riders daily. He says the project will cost about $8-billion and will be operational by 2021, with the city’s one-third share of the funding coming from tax increment financing (also known as TIF)—which is basically a way of borrowing against future property-tax growth. Tory has also promised to start construction on the Scarborough subway immediately and provide express bus service along a few select routes.

election-idea-evaluator-middle-smallIF TORY IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?

Because SmartTrack relies so heavily on existing GO Transit infrastructure, Tory will first have to get Metrolinx on his side. That might be harder than it sounds, according to transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. There are legitimate questions to be asked about whether SmartTrack’s extra trains could coexist with Metrolinx’s own plans for regional express rail. There’s also reason to be concerned about whether the extra stations are actually desired or even physically possible (smaller trains wouldn’t hit Tory’s ridership promises, but larger trains would require larger stations). “There’s going to be a reckoning fairly soon,” Munro says. “If Tory is elected, some bright spark at the December 11 Metrolinx board meeting is going to ask how SmartTrack fits with their [regional express rail]. At that point, we can no longer pretend that Tory’s plan is simply a doodle on a piece of paper that we don’t have to worry about.”

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The Informer

Municipal Election 2014

1 Comment

If Olivia Chow is elected, will she really be able to make her transit plan a reality?

THE IDEA

Unlike the single-idea transit plans of the other leading mayoral candidates—John Tory’s SmartTrack and Doug Ford’s “subways, subways, subways”—Olivia Chow’s transit platform is a patchwork of different proposals. To address immediate issues, she has promised to devote $15 million to increasing bus service and another $184 million to an expanded fleet of buses and a new garage, to be paid for by adding a new bracket to the land transfer tax. She has also pledged to build provincially funded light rail along Finch Avenue West and Sheppard Avenue East, and also to turn the planned Scarborough subway extension back into a light-rail line, freeing up additional funds. Her long-term goal is to build the downtown relief line—or at least set it in motion with engineering studies—to take pressure off existing subway lines.

election-idea-evaluator-light-green-smallIF CHOW IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?

Each of Chow’s ideas comes with its own set of obstacles. Critics generally consider the $15 million she has pledged to improve bus service to be realistic. She could find the money; the problem is that it wouldn’t be enough. “The political challenge is to have the guts to give priority to transit on the streets and to convince people that everyone will be better off if we do that,” says Eric Miller, a transit expert and University of Toronto engineering professor. Miller and others contend that, if elected, Chow will have to be firm with the TTC if she intends to see more buses on city streets within a reasonable timeframe. She would probably have to fork over more money to lease a parking lot or facility until the TTC could finish building that new bus garage, otherwise the extra vehicles would have nowhere to go.

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The Informer

Municipal Election 2014

8 Comments

If Doug Ford is elected, will he actually be able to build all those subways?

THE IDEA

If Doug Ford’s transit plan has one thing going for it, it’s simplicity. He wants to do one thing, and one thing only: build subways. In the first phase of his Toronto Subway Expansion Plan, a scheme originally advanced by his brother, he proposes not only following through with the Scarborough subway, but also building a Sheppard extension connecting Don Mills to McCowan, a downtown relief line from Queen to Pape, and a Finch West line, to Humber College. He also wants to bury the rest of the Eglinton Crosstown (or however you spell it). Then, in the second phase of the plan, he says he’ll extend the Sheppard line west to Downsview, lengthen the relief line on both ends, burrow the Eglinton line farther west of Mount Dennis and connect Kipling to Humber College with a north-south line. Altogether, the plan would create 32 new kilometres of subway. Ford claims the price tag for the first phase would be $9 billion—an amount he says he’ll raise using a series of measures that would include reallocating existing LRT funding (and, in the process, cancelling approved LRT lines), forging public-private partnerships, instituting development charges, using tax increment financing and selling air rights above stations.

election-idea-evaluator-red-smallIF FORD IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?

As a map, Ford’s plan is far superior to any other transit platform. “From a point of view of coverage, he’s got a big network that covers the whole city,” says transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. “The problem is there’s no way we can afford to build the damn thing.”

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The Informer

Stat

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Olivia Chow’s campaign says John Tory’s transit-funding proposal falls short

$929,000,000

—The maximum amount of revenue that could be generated through tax increment financing (also known as TIF) for John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, according to an analysis prepared on behalf of the Olivia Chow campaign by economist and electricity-sector consultant Mitchell Rothman. While that number sounds high, it’s significantly lower than the $2.5 billion that Tory’s campaign has claimed the financing scheme—which is essentially a way of borrowing against future tax revenues—could be used to raise. The feasibility of Tory’s whole funding model hangs on the difference between those two numbers.

The Informer

Municipal Election 2014

9 Comments

Could Doug Ford really sell city real estate to fund his subway plan?

THE IDEA

Doug Ford, like his brother Rob before him, is busy promoting a $9-billion, 32-kilometre subway plan that, according to him, would come at no extra cost to taxpayers—even though experts agree that the scheme is, for a huge number of reasons, completely unrealistic. Late last month, Doug offered the public a glimpse into how he hopes to finance the ambitious transit platform. Among other revenue measures, he intends to earmark $540 million of expected revenue from Build Toronto, the organization that sells city-owned real estate, for the sole purpose of building subways. “We want to take the underutilized property in Toronto, sell it at a premium, and make sure that it goes directly to subways,” said Ford, “not the general coffers, where the councillors can get their hands on it and spend it.”

election-idea-evaluator-red-smallWOULD IT WORK?

Though we wouldn’t put it past him to be, er, “disingenuous” with his numbers, it’s probably fair to assume that, as vice-chair of Build Toronto, Ford is in a position to communicate how much revenue the agency can expect to pull in from its current collection of properties. The first question, then, is whether Build can sell its land and generate $540 million within Ford’s promised timeline: five years.

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The Informer

Stat

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John Tory’s SmartTrack will probably cost a lot more to build than he’s willing to admit

$2,550,000,000

—The amount John Tory would need to spend on tunnelling alone in order to deliver his promised SmartTrack transit plan, according to an unusually meticulous Globe analysis. Tory has said that the whole scheme will cost $8 billion, but with more than a quarter of that amount going toward putting tracks underground, it’s likely that the total would end up being much higher. How much higher? Nobody knows.

The Informer

Municipal Election 2014

2 Comments

Doug Ford makes yet another subway promise he can’t possibly keep

doug-ford-now-whatAt a press conference this afternoon, according to the Star, Doug Ford made a major adjustment to the transit plan he inherited when Rob Ford dropped out of the mayoral race last month. Rob had promised to prioritize subway lines on Sheppard and Finch avenues—a crowd-pleasing pledge, but one he had no workable way of paying for. Doug is now saying that he will instead prioritize the downtown relief line—a possibly even-more-crowd-pleasing pledge that he still has no workable way of paying for. Both Fords have said that they can get all these subway lines built for the bargain price of $9 billion, and at no additional cost to taxpayers, but experts have long agreed that some form of taxation would be needed to jump-start the tunnelling.