Monday, October 31, 2005

The sidewalk vanishes

On my home from a trip to a client site up in North York, and dinner at my sisters in the St. Clair West area, I came home to the Beaches via Yonge & St. Clair.

My understanding is that the construction on the streetcar right-of-way had already begun at that corner. From what I could see, the alignment will/would cause a severe cutback in the sidewalk. My bank is on the southwest corner of the intersection, so I'm familiar with the area. From a sideways look, the sidewalk was difficult to make out. I circled the block to have another look - again it looked very narrow - hardly appropriate for a major intersection that is the hub of an area that most consider an urban success.

The great urban cities I'm familiar with - Montreal and London - don't short change the pedestrian realm to make way for rail vehicles. In fact, they don't uses surface rail on thoroughfares.

PS - I've subsequently found a link with a picture - scroll to the end of this post:

Link to pictures showing what's left of sidewalk

(Be sure to skip the introductory drivel and whining!)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Assessment fun

I recently received the provincial assessment of my property value - i.e. the MPAC assessment. I'm one of the lucky ones whose property value has increased more that the city average. I guess I'd be luckier if MPAC had royally messed up and calculated a lower valuation - however, the number they came up with is pretty well spot on.

I'm not sure whether MPAC new I had a new shingle job, new deck/landscaping and a completely renovated bathroom. Like almost everyone else in the Beaches, I've been putting quite a bit of $$$ into the place - really a necessity if you want your neighbours to continue to think well of you.

I'm very happy with the place - and why shouldn't I be. This is a great neighbourhood. It's close to downtown. We have the beach, and more than our share of parks, plus the Leslie St. Spit. The city has spiffed up the library, and upgraded the cycling trail along the Boardwalk. Not only that, the waterfront revitalization effort will see the establishment of a big new park area.

However, there's a fly in the ointment - at least according to my local city councillor - a certain Ms. Sandra Bussin. I just received a long rant from Ms. Bussin complaining that the assessments were unfair. She doesn't like the fact that properties are assessed on their current values. However, she doesn't propose an alternative. Would it be fair to base taxes on value from 5, 10 or 15 years ago?

There's nothing unfair about having one's property increase in value and paying a proportionate increase in taxes. What isn't fair to anyone is the huge leaps in city spending that are causing tax increases for everyone.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tale of two cities - transit wise

This morning I picked up and read The Star's smaller brother - i.e the Metro, which is distributed free on the subway and at bus stops. On page 5, there are two TTC related articles:

On the left, is Ed Drass' column in transit. This edition's column discusses the 191 route - i.e. the highway 27 "Rocket". Apparently, this is a very crowded route. In addition, the pick-up/drop-off point for this route as Kipling Subway has some serious logistics problems. The TTC is promising to improve the frequency of the route and to rework the setup at Kipling - perhaps next year.

Ed Drass column - Metro - Oct 20 2005

What's the hold-up? Money of course. So where is the money going? It's going to keeping streetcars running - and to projects such as the St. Clair right-of-way currently being litigated. Coincidentally, the right-hand side of the page discusses the latest legal happenning on the St. Clair West front.

It seems that the TTC will spare no expense to fund its ineffecive streetcar system - while eschewing opportunities to grow ridership outside of the city's core. The problems at Kipling with the 191 are not isolated. The waiting area for the Finch W bus from Finch subway is atrocious. The TTC discussed plans to create a slip road so that buses could get out of the terminal more quickly. To my knowledge, nothing has been done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - City on `cusp' of creative rebirth

Actually, this isn't one of Honderich's guest columns,

Honderich on Toronto's creative rebirth

but rather a report on an address he made touting the importance of 'creativity' to the future of the city's economy. You can tell it isn't a Honderich column because it isn't full of short paragraphs consisting of solitary staccato sentences.

Nonetheless, from the reporting, the typical Honderich type nonsense 'shines' through:

The time has come for Toronto to throw off its shackles of self-doubt...

he says. Well - perhaps Toronto would have less self-doubt were the economic strategy being pursued by its leftist elite (of which Honderich is a charter member) not simply to spend like drunken sailors while hoping for Santa delivers large wads of cash in neat piles beneath the tree each year.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Honderich calls for - guess what - more spending:

In order to fuel it, however, the city needs to enrich its investment in public education and the arts; foster a creative spirit and insure governments are creatively organized; spend more on arts on a per capita basis; establish sustained funding from all levels of government; envisage a civic agency to foster the creative process and draw on other cities' creative successes.

Now what Honderich seems to have overlooked is that the cities where art as purely art has flourished have had other sources of cash to fund the artists. Leaders and patricians in Florence and Venice funded the Michaelangelo's and Da Vinci's using cash from industry and trade.

A better strategy for Toronto is to attempt to reinvigorate itself as the location in Canada in which to locate head offices. [Other growth areas could be medicine and higher education - although these are held-back due to tight state control. ] This will require real belt-tightening at City Hall - perhaps a 3 year wage freeze and a staffing reduction of 5% for starters. The city might also ask its unions to help fund some infrastructure projects. A 5% 'tithing' on TTC wages would give the commission about $400 million for capital projects each decade.

Sunday, October 16, 2005 - Transit ruling a victory for persistence

Go-o-olly, the way some supporters of the streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair W. are talking, you'd think Toronto will plain just come to an end if the project doesn't proceed:

Toronto Star - Oct 15 2005

From the article:

"This is a nightmare," says Gord Perks of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "The thing that's infuriating about all of this, if you look at the 50 biggest cities in North America, over 40 of them have in the last 10 years either put in exclusive rights-of-way for light rail or plan to. Toronto, which is theoretically the streetcar city, can't seem to do that."

Well, perhaps it's because Torontonians know more about streetcars than people in those other cities. I suspect not many other cities are installing 'streetcars' as non-rapid transit - they are in fact installing light-rail systems.

Of course, two of the most successful transit cities - Montreal and Ottawa - have been successful at building transit use in recent years by deploying busways and rapid-bus services. I guess we should phone up the STM and OCT and warn them that they will be incurring the transit gods wrath for not using light-rail systems!

Thursday, October 13, 2005 - City's next step for St. Clair project on hold

More often than not it seems that I find some surprising news on the political front awaits me when I return from a vacation. In 1991 or so - who can quite remember - I returned to find that the Peterson Liberals had been thrown out of power as Ontario voters had elected Bob Rae's socialist government. What followed was perhaps the darkest half decade in Ontario history. Rae's policies and spending precipitated a collapse of the province's economy.

This week I returned to find the McGuinty government down one Minister of Finance - as Mr. Sorbara has stepped down due to an ongoing RCMP investigation. This was a surprise - although the issue had on low simmer for a while.

In the very next blurb on 680 Radio, I learned that the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project had been stopped as a result of a court ruling. The project is now in limbo.

The Star - October 13 2005

A three judge panel has blocked the construction of the dedicated right of way (ROW) - however it has not yet published, or given any indication of its reasoning. The appelants - the Save our St. Clair (SOS) community group challenged the project using three arguments. The judges may have agreed with one, two or even all three of these as the basis for the injunction.

Some commentators - for example The Star's Royson James - have blamed the 'setback' on an over-exuberant but well-meaning haste on the part of the ROW proponents. I beg to differ. I blame it on hubris and dishonesty. The entire EA process was a sham. Proponents such as Howard Moscoe never had the slightest intention of listening to community concerns. I sat in the deputations at City Hall. I don't remember even seeing Moscoe. Mayor David Miller drifted in and out - and was clearly not engaged.

I was sure at that time that the issue would be headed to court. People do not like having something rammed down their throats. People expect a fair process, not a rigged one.

The City/TTC position on one of the questions before the court exemplifies the duplicity and dishonesty exhibited by proponents throughout the process. They actually argued that the ROW was not a 'rapid transit project - but simply 'surface transit improvements'! This is despite the fact that the term 'rapid transit' is all over the TTC and planning documents:

TTC memo - Dec 9 2002

The memo in entitled 'STREETCAR RAPID TRANSIT ON ST. CLAIR AVENUE' - and funds for the EA came from the budget for rapid transit studies!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My head is spinning... trying to keep up with the goings-on at City Hall. Last week Ms. Cosburn and Mr. Carnevale were suspended. On Monday, we learned they were having an affair. Now, this affair never involved sex - hmm - and we are learning about the possiblility of a whole web of wrong doing involving everyone and his brother. We are seeing eveidence of widespread nepotism.

One begins to question not where in City Hall there is corruption - but where there isn't.

I don't wish to slag the average, honest municipal worker - I'm sure most are not corrupt. The fact that is so much corruption and questionable ethics - in my view at least - stems from the overall culture in Toronto municipal politics. The characters we see getting what they can out of the system are taking their cues from the very top.

It's a culture of 'What can I get?' - which pushes aside real concern for the long-term health of the City and its taxpayers/tax base. This is how the budget process works. This is how union negotiations work.

Remember how the ATU almost walked out of contract talks with the TTC when they found out that the TTC was going to spend money on a service improvment study. This is because they wanted to get the money for themselves. They felt (at least they postured) that the TTC had been holding out on them - as if the TTC had no right to spend money on anyhing else!

Remember the St. Clair ROW debate. For many involved on the affirmative side, this was as much a way to get goodies for their neighbourhoods as about transit. This was their turn at the trough - and they weren't going to use it no matter how bad the idea was.

What is worse in the long run is the deep intellectual corruption at City Hall. Mayor Miller and minions continue to increase spending dramatically - yet cry poverty and whine for a 'new deal'. This dishonesty surely doesn't go unnoticed among bureaucrats. The message is clear: get what you can, don't worry about how.

Monday, October 03, 2005 - McGuinty, Miller to meet on new city powers `New deal' talks at critical stage

The Star's Ian Urquhart muses about planned discussions between Mayor Miller and the Premier McGuinty about a 'new deal' for Toronto:

Urquhart column - Oct 3 2005

Urquhart's money seems to be on the allowance of some GTA-wide tax provision to help "poor" old Toronto. [Yep - the Toronto that receives almost $200 million in transfers from the other parts of the GTA, the lion's share of the gas tax allocated to municipalities, supersized business taxes..]

Here's a new deal for you my suburban friends - you get to pay higher taxes to help bail out Toronto - a city that hasn't even tried to stop its runaway spending express train. And guess what, Mayor Miller and his tax and spend loving leftist council will get to raise this tax over and over again. Run for your lives or at least hide your women and children.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 - Garbage hurricane heading for Ontario

Today's editorial in The Toronto Star:

Garbage hurricane heading for Ontario

is quite correct: the Province will very likely need to find a solution to an impending garbage crisis. Toronto and a number of nearby regional municipalities rely on a large dump in Michigan to dispose of solid waste. The cross-border flow of trash is not new. However, until Toronto eschewed a plan to convert the abandoned Adam's open pit mine into a landfill for Toronto and other parts of the GTA, the issue flew under the radar.

So yes, the McGuinty Liberals may well end up having one very messy and hot potato. I don't have a great deal of empathy - as this is a government that decided to score some cheap political points by putting more nails in the Adams Mine plan's coffin.

Isn't it funny how The Star continually propagandizes that the City of Toronto should get the 'keys to the car' - i.e. should be allowed to take on more responsibilities. However, as soon as something at all difficult comes along, they cry for the Province to step in and take care of the mess.