As soon as Karen Stintz opened the Pandora’s Box of taxes to fund transit—a discussion Ford had fought to put off—last week’s council meeting turned sideways. Ford waltzed in and out of the chamber, councillors began proposing new subway routes, Giorgio Mammoliti accused 80 per cent of Finch Avenue riders of not paying their fares and Scarborough councillor Chin Lee told recalcitrant colleagues to “shut up and go home.” After more than two hours of voting, council didn’t endorse any specific taxes or fees, rejecting roughly a dozen options, and left a sales tax, development charges and a corporate tax cut rollback on the table. Ford and Stintz each tried to claim victory, while several other councillors deemed the outcome a total disaster. Below, the city’s columnists try to make sense of it all.
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Rob Ford and Dalton McGuinty had trouble playing nice sometimes, and Kathleen Wynne’s arrival seemed like an opportunity to improve relations between Queen’s Park and city hall. Then Wynne embarked on an ambitious campaign to find new revenue sources (like taxes and tolls) to pay for transit expansion, a notion Ford has made very clear he doesn’t support. Things quickly devolved from there. Here, a timeline chronicling Ford and Wynne’s steadily souring relationship.
You left a rather prosperous job as a partner at a private firm six months ago to become Toronto’s chief planner, and you took a pay cut of more than 40 per cent in the process. Who does that?
I don’t know! Look: my friend died of cancer last year, at age 39. Gone. I know this sounds heavy, but I want every day to matter. I didn’t hate what I did, but I love what I’m doing now.
For a professional planner, you’ve got a surprisingly haphazard office. I count four paintings on the floor waiting to be hung. What’s the deal?
Oh no! I’m mortified, because I am actually extremely particular. I’ve got big dreams for this office, but I’m busy planning a city. The walls used to be yellow and there was bad art everywhere, so I painted everything white and ordered new furniture, and I don’t want to hang anything until it arrives.
You’re a big fan of bike lanes and walkable neighbourhoods, which can sometimes put you at odds with the mayor. Your husband played football against Ford in high school. Did that connection help break the ice?
It did. When I told him who I was married to, he said, “Oh, Tommy Freeman! He was big and fast!” My husband’s team won the Metro Bowl, and he was a starting rookie fullback at the University of Guelph. He was hard to miss if you were following football at the time.
Where did you two meet?
At Muskoka Woods summer camp. I was a basketball instructor; he was a waterski instructor. We got married 18 years ago. Today, he runs a company that sells products to five-star hotels—everything from lighting to art.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak sounded eerily like his good buddy Rob Ford yesterday in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Hudak outlined his three-point plan for expanding Toronto’s transit system: (1) root out waste (one of Ford’s favourite pastimes); (2) subways, subways, subways, especially in Scarborough; and (3) no new taxes or tolls to pay for transit (Ford has been criticized—and mocked—for his staunch opposition to new revenue sources). Hudak even said Toronto is a city where “something has gone off the rails”—like, say, a gravy train? [Toronto Star]
I’m glad that Councillor Vaughan is taking a page out of my playbook that I’ve been preaching for the last two years…maybe he got hit over the head over the weekend.
—Private-sector investment buff Doug Ford, on why Adam Vaughan, one of the Ford camp’s most vociferous adversaries, has raised the idea of selling or leasing the Gardiner Expressway and using tolls to pay for much-needed repairs. Ford went on to joke that “maybe a coconut fell on his head and he realized, ‘Hey, the only way I can get things going…’ ” before a quick-thinking assistant cut off questioning. Vaughan, for his part, made a fruitless effort to distance his version of public-private partnerships from that of the Ford administration, saying he plans to help fund a transit system, while the Fords were focused only on a single subway line. [Globe and Mail]
While city hall spent a decade debating what to do with the Gardiner—Demolish it? Bury it? Raise it?—the expressway fell into ruin. The perils of chronic indecision
Torontonians spent most of the last decade studying, researching and letting their imaginations run wild with plans and proposals to boldly transform the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway corridor. There was never any money to devote to the project, but never mind. Everyone weighed in. Let’s bury it! No, let’s turn it into a grand avenue! Design guru and public optimist Bruce Mau, in a fit of contrarian exuberance, proposed raising it even higher. Others suggested a cable-stayed double-decker version. Well, here endeth the lesson: while we were rapt in our salon-style discussion of the Gardiner’s bold future, it fell into ruin. So did our civic dreams. From now on, decisions will be made on the basis of affordability, expediency and convenience, not great design or
A report from the engineering firm IBI Group, commissioned by the city and made public in late October, called the Gardiner “a significant hazard to public safety.” It found that the regularly scheduled visual inspections conducted by city staff—in essence, little more than standing beneath the Gardiner and looking up—had greatly underestimated the extent of its deterioration. In areas where the spot checks turned up nothing, the report found hundreds of metres of cracks as well as signs of delamination—the process by which the steel rebar embedded in the concrete begins to rust, causing it to expand and break the roadbed apart from the inside.
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I recently offered my streetcar seat to a woman I was convinced was a mom-to-be, then smiled cherubically at her tummy. She politely declined and then, realizing my motivation, hissed, “I’m not [bleeping] pregnant!” and moved to the back. I was mortified. I’d rather be a gentleman than a coward, but I may never offer my seat again. Any advice?
—Recovering Samaritan, St. Clair West
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Driving without a seat belt is considered absurdly reckless. Why isn’t cycling without a helmet?
Any cyclist who’s ever been in an accident knows the feeling of being thrown upon the mercy of the grid. There is no way of predicting how the vectors will play out, nor any providence that can harness them, even for the most trifling mishap. All you can do is gird yourself.
Back in August, 47-year-old Joseph Mavec was cycling along quiet west end Wychwood Avenue when his bike’s front wheel got snagged in an old, unused streetcar track. My wife did the same thing eight years ago in the very same location and walked away with a scrape. Mavec struck his head on the pavement and quickly died. He was not wearing a helmet.
Fate was both crueler and kinder to Wendy Trusler. On July 19, 2000, Trusler was cycling north on Spadina toward College Street, back in the days when metal posts, not concrete curbs, separated the tracks from other traffic. She made a snap decision to cut across the tracks mid-block—and unwittingly into the path of a northbound 510 silently approaching at 50 kilometres an hour. “It was maybe 10 feet away from me when I saw it,” she says. “I only had time to turn my back to it.” The streetcar hit Trusler, and she bounced back and forth between it and the bollards for roughly five metres, the red rocket cracking the ribs on her left side, the posts snapping her right femur. By the time all moving bodies came to rest she had 17 broken bones, including her clavicle, shoulder blade, cheekbone and jaw. But she was wearing a helmet, and she suffered no cranial or brain trauma.
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More evidence of a new era at the TTC: cellphone service on subway platforms is in; maroon jackets are out
As soon as Andy Byford took the helm of the TTC in March, the changes began. He opted for a beefed up title—“CEO” rather than “general manager,” like those who held the position before him—to mark a symbolic change. He publicly chided staff for customer service embarrassments. He installed fancy hand dryers in station washrooms. Seven months into his tenure, the evolution continues. Here, three more signs that the TTC is moving into a new phase (we can only hope it’s a phase with less crowded streetcars).
Cellphone service is coming to subway stations
The old regime: Save for a few brief above-ground segments, subway riders operate in a digital blackhole.
The new regime: Officials estimate most stations will have service within two years. Some of the signals will likely bleed into the tunnels, making texting on the train a possibility, at least downtown where the stations are close together.
Is it a good thing? Though many will complain about feeling surrounded by loud talkers, it’ll be great to notify friends or colleagues in the event of (inevitable) subway-induced tardiness. Of course, the TTC could just try to keep the trains on schedule.
The Buyer: Stan Nevolovich, a 28-year-old tennis pro.
The Story: Nevolovich loved his 800-square-foot apartment near Yonge and Davisville. His commute to work at the Queen’s Club at Bathurst and Dupont was easy, and the neighbourhood had great restaurants and bars. But after renting for two years, he wanted to buy. “I don’t like renting,” he says. “I even hate leasing cars. I have to own things!” His brother had just sold his midtown condo and pocketed almost $80,000, a move that both inspired and worried Nevolovich. “I knew if I waited any longer, I’d never be able to afford it.” Two years ago, the banks thwarted his attempt to get into the housing market because of mortgage rules for the self-employed. At the time, he’d been on contract at the Queen’s Club for a year, but needed three to four years of steady, full-time employment to be approved. Once he got the go-ahead, he set a budget of $320,000 and started looking. His wish list was simple: a one-bedroom condo with good access to transit and a decent on-site gym.
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By 2014, Torontonians should be able to enjoy their commutes from the comfort of an extra-long articulated bus. The TTC just announced it has ordered 153 of these 112-passenger buses from Quebec-based Nova Bus Corporation to replace some of the 65-passenger models currently running on busy routes (priorities include the 29 Dufferin, 7 Bathurst, 116 Morningside, 25 Don Mills, 36 Finch West and 85A Sheppard lines). Larger vehicles mean the TTC can save money by reducing the number of buses it runs, while—we hope—giving riders more elbow room. The downside: fewer buses could mean killing more time at the bus stop. [NOW Magazine]
Jennifer Keesmaat, a principal at Toronto design firm Dialog, is the city’s new chief planner—and she says she wants to focus on the contentious transit issue (along with the waterfront and priority neighbourhoods). There’s already been plenty of speculation on potential friction between Keesmaat, who strongly champions walkable ’hoods, and Rob Ford, who really, really likes cars. However, we wouldn’t count on any big planning showdowns with the mayor’s office in the near future. The new planning chief seems very diplomatic—when asked about Ford, she said he was “interesting” and was glad to hear he always has his door open. [Globe and Mail]
When Uber, a smartphone app that allows users to hail black sedans and SUVs, arrived in Toronto, many locals, used to dysfunctional taxi regulations, wondered how it could be legal. It turns out it may not be. Toronto’s director of licensing Bruce Robertson told OpenFile that city staff are “leaning towards” ruling that the company is operating illegally because it has yet to apply for a limousine service licence. Uber, however, doesn’t see itself as a limo service; Andrew MacDonald, the company’s head man in Toronto, told us it partners with licensed companies and drivers and does not itself own cars or employ drivers. “We are a technology company that helps limousine companies connect with their customers through our app,” he said, comparing the distinction to that between Expedia.ca and Air Canada. Unfortunately for MacDonald, Toronto’s bylaw defines a limousine company as “any person or entity which accepts calls in any manner for booking, arranging or providing limousine transportation.” Tough to wiggle out of that. [OpenFile]
The TTC has introduced a daily online report card (the next phase in an information blitz that also includes this charmingly low-budget video explaining what the heck is going on at Queen and Spadina). In the scorecards, the agency breaks down the percentage of vehicles that were on schedule the day before and awards itself cheery green checkmarks for hitting its targets. “Since we had [the data], we thought we’d might as well put it up,” the agency’s chief customer service officer Chris Uphold told the Toronto Star. We like the move towards transparency, but this exercise has a whiff of PR about it—the type of calculated, hey-look-we’re-totally-accountable move that Andy Byford previously reached for with his CEO title, monthly reports and scathing letters to employees. Still, if it boosts the chances of buses and trains arriving on time, we’re all for it. [Toronto Star]