Saturday, December 30, 2006

Order of Canada medal for sale

I've never heard of Gustave Lanctot - but apparently he was the recipient of one of the earliest Order of Canada medals. Now his medal is for sale on EBAY:

Rare Order of Canada medal awarded to Quebec historian up for grabs on eBay

Whatever the original intent of this medal, it's obviously been watered down - as it has been granted to the likes of former Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg. Maybe she was granted the hounour for her acheivements in the bitterness, divisiveness and ignorance.

I'm not sure what Landsberg is up to - perhaps still looking for the gas pipeline she claimed the US was going to build in Afghanistan. Regardless, The Toronto Star is so much better without her drivel.

Who knows how many other OCs have been similar misgranted. Caveat Emptor certainly applies .

Friday, December 29, 2006

Passing of Saddam

Shakespeare had it right - 'Cowards die many time before their death' - and this is true of Saddam Hussein: not able to command his forces to fight, caught cowering in a foxhole. A brutal coward.

A change of tune?

hmm - last year I put together a financial analysis of the option of replacing all of the TTC CLRVs (smaller streetcars) with new vehicles - in comparison with the standing plan to refurbish half (or more) of these vehicles. This was based on publicly available figures from news sources, the city library etc. The analysis showed that it was financially beneficial to replace rather than refurbish.

Although I'm not a proponent of continuing streetcar services in Toronto (period, full-stop), if these are to be retained, spending any more money on the existing fleet would be madness in its most complete form - both from a long term cost and service perspective.

As of this year, and up until the civic election, the decision still held firm to proceed with the reburbishment. Now apparently, this decision may be revisited. Per a Canadian Press story, the TTC may look to replace all 195 vehicles:

A streetcar refurbishing contract that Thunder Bay's Bombardier plant appeared to have won is being sent back to the budget table by the Toronto Transit Commission.

Last summer, the plant was the lone bidder on a $110-million contract to refurbish 96 older streetcars and then-TTC chairman Howard Moscoe predicted the contract would be awarded by the fall.

However, new TTC chairman Adam Giambrone said yesterday the commission is now looking at replacing the entire 195-streetcar fleet.

Refurbishing the fleet would carry an estimated cost of $245 million compared to more than double that to replace it, at the going rate of $3 million per car.

I wouldn't take any stock in the $3 million a car figure. The going rate is for reasonably standard equipment. To run on the existing track network, such equipment is going to need extensive (and expensive) customization. $4 million a car is a more likely figure. I believe I used the $4 million figure in my analysis.

A new car design will also require new maintenance/storage facility(ies). I'm not sure why that is, but this point at least is, not under dispute.

It's nice to see that one citizen's analysis (despite being poo-pooed by at least a streetcar booster) might well have made an impact.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christopher Hume on Toronto's parks

This recent column:

Ravine dumping is no way to treat a city - Christopher Hume - Dec 21 2006

has a somewhat misleading title. The column is mostly about the extra money Toronto is spending on maintaining parks. A good chunk of this is to compensate for the discontinuation of the use of herbicides to control weeds. Hume quotes a few bureaucrats:

"It's like a park renaissance," says the general manager of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Brenda Librecz. "We now have a strategy of reinvestment."

Well - with the state of the pesticide free parks at many times, this is more that a small exageration. Many parks are complete weed runs. After a few days without mowing, much of Woodbine Beach and Woodbine Park start to resemble The Leslie Street Spit - which is supposed to be a wild space!

Only at the end of the column is there any mention of the ravines. Yes - there is a good deal of trash dumped in those hidden spaces. However, dumping is becoming a porblem everywhere. This past September, someone left to five-gallon pails of cooking oil (or transmission fluid) in front of a tree at the front of my property. I bundled up the tubs and stored it in my waste biox for 6 weeks until the city could come around and pick them up.

If you make it too expensive for people to get rid of waste legally - this is what you get!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A stopped clock.. right twice a day. Perhaps that's the case with a recent column by the Globe and Mail's John Barber.

If only Jane Jacobs could see this - John Barber - Dec 2006

Well - perhaps now that the municipal elections are over, Barber is not constrained by his role as press agent for downtown NDP candidates.

In any event, Barber is right about one thing, Jane Jacobs' last book The Dark Age Ahead was terrible. I read a chapter or so in the book store one day. It was even worse than the pathetic The Ingenuity Gap - abook that I ingeniously used to raise the new flat screen monitor I'm looking at. (I turned a completely useless tome into a practical object - no ingenuity gap here.)

Alas, there are many people who take anything Jane Jacobs wrote as 'gospel'.

I think Jacobs had some good ideas about how a street could work. The trouble is that she didn't see the big picture. In the final years, she turned more and more into an enclavist rather than an urbanist. She become involved in a group opposing a new building at a local school.

In this end, Jacobs' mantra seemed to be that cities are for people, not for schools.

The rest of Barber's column discusses a new book Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery - (by a David Warsh) . From what Barber tells us, the ideas seem far from new. I guess it's too much to expect a hard-core letfie to have read George Gilder and the like.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The more this man pushes...

... the more I think he's a terrorist agent.

Arar urges probe of leaks

as reported in The Toronto Star today.

It seems that this man is trying to expose the nation's security apparatus. I don't think he'll be happy until all the critical and necessary surveillance mechanisms are exposed.

He isn't satisfied with have a multi-million $ inquiry bless his supposed good name, In my books, his name is sinking in my opinion as each such call is made before the sycophant press.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A last ride on the Moscoe train

As I write, we're hours away from seeing Howard Moscoe depart from the Toronto Transit Commission. If there's is one good thing to come from the recent municipal election, it's a chance to see some improvement in the governance of the TTC. This can't come too soon.

Consider my experiences this past Sunday night. I took the TTC over to the St. Clair West area for dinner. On the return journey - while waiting for the bus back to St. Clair West station - a man with a bag full of Christmas presents scampers over to the waiting area.

"Is it $2.75" he asks politely. Yes I say. We converse while waiting for the bus. He's from Thunder Bay - down to visit his daughter, and just returning to the Delta Chelsea.

He's confused as to the duration of the construction on St. Clair. "Wasn't this going on in July?"

The bus arrives and we board. After about one stop, I realize that I might need a transfer. With the interminable construction, I wasn't sure if the buses were stopping in the station - or on the street on the South side. I inquire of the driver. She is initially confused - but finally understands the question. I acquire a transfer and also one for the chap from Thunder Bay. (One of my better boy-scout deeds.)

We get to the station and descend. Lo-and-behold, the entrance is automated - for tokens and passes swipes only. There is no way we're getting in with our flimsy paper transfers. After a minute or too, I locate the help button. I inquire as to how to enter the station. The voice on the other end insists that it should be clear - but it indeed was not.

"Do I go to the left?" I inquire. When I don't get an equivocal "Yes" or "No" answer, I decide to try it. It does lead to an attended entrance.

The chap from Thunder Bay asks how the many Torontonians who don't speak English in ever manage. Now that was a excellent question - one I couldn't really answer. The truth of the matter is that they manage by suffering. With Howard Moscoe's TTC, they (and everyone else) has suffered through:

Rapidly escalating operating costs - causing the ever increasing fares.
A surly and snug workforce - one that went out on strike despite taking us to the cleaners in the most recent contract.
Needless and endless streetcar construction - The debacle on St. Clair West is a textbook example on how to bring neighbourhoods to the point of despair.
Embarrassment - Moscoe makes Attila the Hun look like a diplomat.

Yes - I have it in for Moscoe - but with good reason. The man flat out lied to me during the St. Clair debate. He refused to consider looking at transit options that are working well in other cities. Worst of all, he's alienated those who might have helped with capital funding. This is in part due to his incredible mouth - saying dumb and plain rude things at the most inopportune moments - and in part because he and the TTC have planned poorly.

Moscoe and his TTC have lost the credibility they need to make the case for capital projects. Moscoe and a small cadre of light-rail lobbyists have been trying to push the city in that direction. However, they haven't presented a coherent plan. The TTC is years late even putting together a specification of new light-rail equipment.

The latest price-tag floating about for LRT equipment is $800 million - or about $6 million a car. There's no plan in place as to how these expensive vehicles would provide substantively better service than regular buses. Moscoe's TTC is undertaking studies for a light rail line somewhere in the West end. The objectives of these studies is without any measure of coherence - appearing to be no more that projects to keep TTC engineers and analysts looking busy. Like running a streetcar line through the Ex grounds is going to solve Toronto's transportation problems! Then there's the plan to run the subway at night.

Oh and the plan to hire station masters. Would they be equally as surly and indifferent as 50% of the current staff? I'll take a pass thanks.

Well - we can only hope that the new TTC chair will do better. That's not asking much!