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Expanding urban revitalization across the GTA

In the last couple of years, Toronto has begun to transform the downtown core into a more liveable and walkable city. Beyond the King St. Pilot, which has increased transit use along the corridor, the city has also approved a bike lane pilot project, the revitalization of the Waterfront, the creation of a new skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, the proposal of a rail deck park, and the expansion of smart cities with Sidewalk Labs and (hopefully) Amazon.

And now, North York and Scarborough want in.

Residents and city councillors of North York have put together a plan called “REimagine Yonge” – now “Transform Yonge” – that would see the six-lane strip between Sheppard Ave. and Finch transform into a more walkable community. The original proposal approved by city staff suggests the removal of two lanes, the creation of a raised bike lane, and the widening of sidewalks for more public space and foliage, essentially copying the King Street vibe following the pilot study. The plan has the support of staff, local councillors, and residents who are looking forward to being able to safely walk in their neighbourhood; however, it does not have the support of the mayor.

Toronto mayor John Tory announced earlier this week an alternative plan that would include bike lanes on Beecroft Rd., which is parallel to Yonge. In this scenario, there would be no need to remove a lane of traffic on Yonge. According to reports, this “enhanced” plan will cost an extra $20 million. Tory told reporters he believes the area can be beautified without removing lanes in such a well-trafficked area.

“Transform Yonge” (City of Toronto)

North York isn’t the only neighbourhood that wants change. City councillor Paul Ainslie wants to expand the Bike Share program into Scarborough, as the 270 stations in Toronto are currently situated in the downtown core. With potential partners in GO Transit and the University of Toronto campus, Ainslie believes the program could thrive in that region.

It’s not surprising that these two areas want to change alongside downtown Toronto. Too often, the outskirt neighbourhoods are ignored when it comes to growth and development. Residents have indicated that they want connectivity. They want to live in a walkable city where commuters have the choice of walking or cycling safely, or where a sense of community exists beyond the household. They want the same level of investment as those who live in the downtown core.

No one wants to live in an area that doesn’t feel like a community — and if city hall is dedicated to this new transformation towards a sustainable and smart Toronto, it should be for all of it.

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”

Toronto mayor moves to create 400 new shelter spaces

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced over the weekend his desire to create 400 new spaces within existing shelters for the city’s homeless “as soon as possible.” This statement was made at the tip of Toronto’s homelessness crisis, in which one of four children live in poverty.

As of October 30, 2017, 70 homeless people have died on the streets. Over 5,400 people on average used a shelter night in the month of November.

“We’re already underway, talking to each of the shelters that exists in the city of Toronto, asking them to add capacity wherever they possibly can,” he said. These new spaces would include motels, shelters and drop-in centres.

It was previously suggested that Toronto open up armouries at Fort York and Moss Park to use as shelters, but that idea has been dismissed as they are under federal jurisdiction. The mayor also said he would not be declaring an official emergency. The plan would cost about $10 million from the city’s reserves.

Housing advocates have said this plan will put a strain on facilities already suffering from overcrowding. Most shelters are 96 to 100 per cent at capacity, especially during the winter months. Statistics also show that 95 per cent of motel beds in Toronto are used to house homeless people. Advocates say it would be easier and cheaper to open up the armouries.

This response caused a little bit of a stir at city council on Tuesday, with the mayor coming forward with facts from staff that say opening the armouries would be expensive and problematic.

“I will be bringing together private and non-profit housing providers to work with staff and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness to rapidly house as many people as possible,” he said in a statement. “Homelessness is a complex issue that we cannot ignore. While I know for some, our concrete solutions will never be enough – I know we can’t simply do nothing, we must take decisive action and I’m confident Council will join me in taking decisive action.”

Under the mayor’s plan, the city hopes to find space for 200 people by January.

This announcement is the first of a number of steps the City of Toronto is going to take to combat poverty. City council has also pledged to create more low-income and social housing, and hopes to get funding and support from the federal government under the new National Housing Strategy.

Would you donate to support Toronto’s roads?

Toronto’s roads needs your support!

Every day, these roads suffer. After decades of neglect and abuse, they deserve to be nurtured. There are too many car accidents and too many road deaths. But does anyone think of the roads themselves — they have gone through hell each time. They need your help! Without your support, they will continue to live in these terrible conditions.

Donate now!

Imagine you read this on a pamphlet or saw an advertisement on television asking you to donate funds to the city to help develop safety infrastructure for your neighbourhood. It sounds ridiculous right? And yet, not ridiculous enough to avoid becoming a recommendation to city council.

At this week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, a report on the city’s Vision Zero Road Plan actually recommended accepting donations from residents for local projects. It reads: “In addition, this report considers the feasibility of accepting donations from the public to provide funding support for local projects and recommends commencing the detailed planning and implementation process for an automated speed enforcement program to operate in school zones and community safety zones.”

City staff said that an additional $6.303 million in capital funding will be needed between 2019 and 2021. These funds can help “further accelerate” the Road Safety Plan. The cost of Vision Zero is already $80.3 million.

This report will be heading to city council on Dec. 5.

Now, I know funds are tight. There are very few outside revenue sources available to city staff, so it kind of makes sense they would resort to these type of suggestions.

HOWEVER, there is a serious socio-economic problem with this recommendation.

First of all, the report indicates the funding will support “local projects”. This means that donations in Regent Park will be used in Regent Park and donations in Forest Hill will be used in Forest Hill. The wealthier neighbourhoods — whose residents may be more inclined and able to make those donations to the city — will reap the benefits. The other neighbourhoods will be left behind.

This is unacceptable.

The whole idea of Vision Zero is to reduce fatalities and injuries on roads, aiming for zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. This will never happen if some neighbourhoods are safe and others are not. Instead, it will just reinforce the economic divisions within this city.

The truly disappointing part about this recommendation is that there was no amendment proposed by any committee member that would change this section of the report. No one said – well why don’t we look at increasing taxes or looking at outside revenue sources for this $6 million instead of asking people to donate funds to a government they already pay for.

We can only hope that council sees past this and is able to have an actual conversation about what crowd-funding for road safety really means. Because at the end of the day – safety is about the people, not the roads.

Andy Byford resigns to become CEO of New York City Transit

Andy Byford announced Tuesday morning that he was resigning from his role as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). He will be leaving in mid-December, following the opening of the Yonge-Spadina Subway Extension, to take on the role of President and CEO of New York City Transit.

“My last task in Toronto will be to deliver the opening of the long-awaited, spectacular, Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan in York Region, with its 8.6-kilometres of new track and six beautiful, Wi-Fi-, cell-, PRESTO-equipped stations,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “I will look back on my time at the TTC as the absolute highlight of my 28-year transit career to date.”

Byford joined the TTC in 2011 and has played an integral part in Toronto’s growth and development. He helped create and push forward a five-year modernization plan that transformed how this city designed and used public transportation. Toronto’s transit system was dirty, slow, and construction had come to a grinding stop. Byford had his work cut out for him — and he didn’t miss a beat.

His passion for customer service was what set him apart from other city staff. He had a deep desire to make Torontonians proud of their transit system. He wanted the best technology, the fastest bus routes, and the least amount of delays. At every board meeting, he would smile when presenting the CEO report, always underselling his achievements by saying staff needed to aim higher.

Byford didn’t shy away from speaking bluntly about the need to invest in transit. He used his knowledge and expertise to convince city council and private investors to spend much-needed dollars on building new subway lines and more sustainable busses. He championed the Relief Line, calling it a priority project that required investment. He pushed for the integration of the PRESTO card, the implementation of Wi-Fi at stations, the replacement of a 60-year-old signal system, the modernization of the fleet, and the creation of a new herd of streetcars, just to name a few.

Under his leadership, transit users have experienced 21 per cent fewer delays — a number he was fond of quoting. In June 2017, the TTC was named the best public transportation system in North America by the American Public Transportation Association.

And still, Byford had more ideas. At every board meeting and city council meeting he stood is ground when grilled by councillors who didn’t want to spend tax dollars on transit. He expressed the need to continue to modernize and merge new technologies into business practices. His ideas were radical for some of the more conservative city staff — a fully integrated system that was easy to use for daily commuters and tourists alike!

Byford also encouraged more diversity within the organization itself.

“I have deliberately changed the face of the TTC,” he said. “Five years ago – incredibly – there had never been a woman on the TTC Executive. Now, 50 per cent of my senior team are women, all on merit and both the Executive and the next two levels below are increasingly diverse. We have promoted talent from within and we have added bench strength where needed from outside.”

In his farewell press conference, Byford did what he always did — talked about transit, the successes of the TTC, and put the spotlight on his employees.

“But as I prepare to say goodbye in just four weeks, and before my wife, Alison, and I head to New York, I want to save my final thank you for the near 15,000 men and women of the TTC. The frontline staff of this company are the ones that really make the difference. They are the decent, loyal Canadians whose hard work has delivered the achievements of the past five years,” he said.

“So it is to TTC employees that I dedicate the final achievement of our Five-Year Plan.. That we achieved our objective of getting back to being number one by winning the 2017 APTA Outstanding Transit System of the Year, in spite of myriad challenges, is testament to the hard work, dedication to duty and passion of my colleagues and for that, they should hold their heads very high indeed.”

Byford will start his new job at the New York City Transit in mid-January of next year, and called it “arguably the toughest job in transit right now.” Sounds like it is just up Byford’s ally!

Deputy CEO Rick Leary will take over as acting CEO.

Featured Image courtesy of the TTC.

SmartTrack could be operational by 2024

Toronto’s Executive Committee will discuss and debate the concepts for the SmartTrack stations next week.

SmartTrack will use existing rail to shuttle residents from the further neighbourhoods and areas of the Greater Toronto Area into the downtown core for the cost of a TTC fare. There will be 14 stations built and trains will run every six to 10 minutes. The plan also includes an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport with an approximate additional 10 stations.

“The people of Toronto want choice and convenience when it comes to their commute. SmartTrack takes the concept of local rail travel to a whole new level,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “SmartTrack is an important part of the city’s transit network plan that also includes the relief line, the Eglinton East LRT and waterfront transit.”

The executive committee will review the concepts for stations at St. Clair-Old Weston, King-Liberty, East Harbour, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence-Kennedy, and Finch-Kennedy. Each station has been designed to serve the specific neighbourhood, with King-Liberty station including strong connections for pedestrians and cyclists, East Harbour station integrating with a high-employment area, and Gerrard-Carlaw optimizing connections with the planned Relief Line station.

City staff are also requesting that Metrolinx, a provincial transportation agency, consider pedestrian and cycling pathways when connecting GO corridors to Bloor St. and that they work in partnership with the city to push forward the Spadina-Front GO Regional Express Rail station and the Rail Deck Park proposal. The Rail Deck Park will also be discussed next Tuesday, with city staff recommending council move forward and that all rail projects should keep the park in mind during design.

“Rail Deck Park will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley,” the report reads. “The proposed decking structure will support a fully functional park that, at full build-out, will comprise a total area of approximately 8.3 hectares or 20 acres, excluding the Metrolinx property at the corner of Front Street and Spadina Avenue.”

The cost estimation is $1.665 billion.

If these reports are approved, they will be sent to city council in December. Metrolinx estimates that service along SmartTrack will be available in 2024.

Stick to your knitting Minnan-Wong, Keesmaat is out of your league

“Stick to your knitting.” Reaction to this phrase can be mixed — and it completely depends on the context in which it is used.

For example, using it in a business meeting to indicate that employees should play to their strengths while allowing others to do the same is a commonly acceptable use of the phrase. “Stick to the knitting” when used by a professional colleague to describe an incredibly accomplished woman who has her foot in all aspects of her craft can come across as derogatory, sexist, and downright rude.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong is being accused of sexism for using the phrase in relation to outgoing Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat in an interview with the Toronto Sun last week. Minnan Wong said this in response to Keesmaat’s use of Twitter and how she debates municipal affairs publicly on the platform.

The history of “stick to your knitting” is a bit obscure, but the phrase has been used widespread in the business community since the mid 1800s. Many business professionals use this phrase when giving advice to young entrepreneurs. Stick to what you know and let others stick to what they know. That way you have the benefit of different experience instead of pretending to be an expert in all fields.

And yet, many politicians get in trouble for using this common phrase — and it’s all because of the context. Especially considering most of the time it’s used to describe women.

Despite its history, the phrase in itself is slightly derogatory. The person who uses it is telling their co-worker they don’t value their opinions. As a woman, this is especially offensive because women fight hard to be heard in the first place. In the case of Keesmaat, she has expertise in city building and most of her tweeting revolves around different aspects of this field. To say she shouldn’t have an opinion on how the City of Toronto is run and/or built is a bit farfetched and, frankly, sexist.

There is also the democracy angle that makes the use of this phrase even more strange. Minnan-Wong decided that posting discussion on city affairs on Twitter was not appropriate, but isn’t public discussion a foundation of democracy? Keesmaat has previously told Women’s Post that defending her planning choices and discussing them with the public was a critical step for accountability. In that case, her activity on social media is an extension of her role as city planner and an active citizen.

“If you have planners gone wild you could end up in a totalitarian type of environment, so the due diligence that comes from the vigour of being questioned by councillors and by the public is an essential part of the planning process from my perspective,” she said.

Why shouldn’t Keesmaat, or any person for that matter, use social media as a platform for public discussion? If everyone on Twitter was told to stick to their knitting, then it would be a pretty boring place. The whole purpose of social media is to allow people to share information and opinions.

And then there is the final point — why would Minnan-Wong care about the social media habits of a city staff member who is leaving their position in a month’s time? The only reason to use this phrase is to remind them that once they leave city hall, their opinions shouldn’t matter. Well, what does that mean for the rest of us? I hope Minnan-Wong’s constituents don’t have any opinions they want to share or ideas they want to suggest, because it appears like he won’t be listening to them.

Ultimately, Minnan-Wong made the same mistake many politicians make — trying to create a sound bite using clichés, hyperbole, and commonly used phrases in order to capture the attention of the media and the public.

Looks like he did — just not in the way he expected.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Jennifer Keesmaat leaving position as Toronto Chief Planner

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has announced she will be leaving her position with the city as of Sept. 29th “to pursue other interests.”

“It’s been an honour to work with Mayor Tory, Council, City staff and my remarkable team in the City Planning division over the last five years,” said Keesmaat in a statement. “I promised myself that after five years in public service I would review my future options. I look forward to new challenges in the important business of city building now enriched by invaluable lessons, new friends and colleagues acquired while serving the people of our great city, Toronto.”

Keesmaat has been a strong leader for the City of Toronto. She was never afraid to confront her colleagues in council or on committees, answering their questions with poise. When asked about how she deals with the politics of city building, Keesmaat always answered with respect for the democratic process and government accountability. With her aide, Toronto has begun its transformation into a more liveable and walkable city. One example is the council-approved Transit Network Plan, which will connect all regions of the GTA together under the “motherlode” of transit plans. And then there is the King Street Pilot, something that may revolutionize how Torontonians view the downtown core.

During her tenure, she also started a podcast called Invisible Cities, which touches on numerous aspects of city building. Through this podcast, listeners are able to hear her passion and the joy she gets from discussing things like density, green spaces, and automated cars.

In July, Women’s Post presented Keesmaat with the City Builder Glass Slipper Award for her dedication and leadership. It was an absolute pleasure to have her as a partner and Women’s Post wishes her the best of luck in her future endeavours.

King St. Pilot Study approved by city council

Thursday evening, Toronto city council approved the one-year King St. Pilot Study, with an amendment to allow an exemption for taxis during the hours of 10 p.m. and 5  a.m.

There was quite a bit of debate from councillors surrounding this exemption, as well as the $1.5 million price tag of the project. But, after four hours of debate, the plan was approved 35 to 4.

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

The plan allows local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

courtesy of the city of toronto

Now, with this added amendment, taxis will be able to pass through intersections during the designated time slots. This exemption only applies to licensed cabs and not ride-sharing services like Uber.

City staff argued against the exemption, saying it has the potential to confuse drivers and that traffic is still heavy on King St. in the early hours of the morning. In fact, they said it could undermine the transit-first mentality of the study.

Regardless of the warnings, council choose to adopt the exemption anyway (although they limited the hours to the evening/early morning) to help relieve the nightlife crowding along the corridor.

The pilot will be implemented in the fall.

Council unanimously approves TransformTO to reduce emissions

Toronto city council has unanimously approved a plan that would see the city reduce green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. If adopted, this would affectively transform Toronto into a low-carbon city.

The motion itself was for city staff to go forward and create a business-case analysis of the various recommendations presented that day. The idea is to determine a carbon reduction per dollar ratio, decide which projects would be funded municipality or cost-shared with other levels of government, and to examine whether the recommendations would align with federal plans to reduce greenhouse has emissions.

“TransformTO provides a path forward that will allow our city to make decisions that lead to a low-carbon city that is healthy, prosperous, strong, and equitable,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “Together, we are going to build more transit including the Relief Line, make sure our social housing is viable for the long-term and that our buildings are energy efficient.”

This ambitious plan, entitled TranformTO: 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, includes 23 different strategies and acceleration campaigns that will help reduce carbon emissions drastically over the next 30 years.

Some of TransformTO’s highlights include:

  • Having all new buildings produce near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Having 100 per cent existing buildings retrofitted to achieve on average 40 per cent energy use
  • Having 100 per cent of all transportation using low-carbon energy sources
  • Having people walk or cycle for 75 per cent of trips less than five kilometres

The report also stresses the importance of engaging communities and neighbourhoods. Education campaigns and local support will be critical to the success of TransformTO.

This biggest point of discussion was the price tag of this plan, $6.7 million for 2018. City staff estimated an annual cost of $8 million following 2018. While this doesn’t seem like much considering the other projects council has approved, the number is bound to increase as projects are added. However, as certain councillors said during the debate, there are times where going cheap will hurt the city. This is one of them.

TransformTO is led by a collaborative team made of the city’s Environment and Energy Division and the Atmospheric Fund, an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“We applaud today’s decision by Mayor Tory and City Council to unanimously approve TransformTO and renew Toronto’s climate leadership role,” said Mary Pickering, TAF’s VP for Programs and Partnerships and project co-chair for TransformTO. “Implementing TransformTO will not only cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but also boost public health, local jobs, and social equity in our city.”

It is rare that city council votes on anything involving a high price tag unanimously, but hopefully this is a trend that will continue — especially when it comes to the King St. Pilot Study, a transit plan that will ultimately help spearhead a low-carbon corridor.

The King St. Pilot Study will be discussed Thursday morning at city council.