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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.

Are Smart Cities the future of congestion relief?

The last time Mayor John Tory spoke about roads at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, he announced his intention to propose tolling of the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, Tory again talked about the state of Toronto’s streets and the need to tackle congestion in the city.

“Am I satisfied with the traffic and congestion we still see? NO, I am not. Is this good for our residents and our economy? No, it is now. We have to do more for our economy, for our residents, for our businesses and productivity and competitiveness,” Tory said at the Board of Trade.

In this speech, Tory announced a new “Smart Streets Plan”. This plan will center around the collection of data. Toronto has completed its first real-time and historical data agreement, which will provide real-time traffic flow data. This data will be used to help manage traffic better.

The city also announced a partnership with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app. This app will be able to provide alerts about collisions and lane closures so that the city can push updates out to commuters.

Other parts of the Smart Streets Plan include the implementation of smart traffic signals, steps to manage curb space, and more parking blitzs in September.

Tory also praised the city’s King St. Pilot Study, saying it is a necessary project to help move the 65,000 people who use transit to navigate that corridor.

None of these announcements are as daring as that to toll the DVP and Gardiner, but considering the province has refused to allow Toronto to toll its own roadways, they are necessary steps towards trying to relieve congestion. Changing urban or street design to try and increase the flow of traffic will make Toronto a smart-city, but only if the rest of city council approves these innovative projects and studies.

 

What do you think of the Smart Streets Plan and the King St. Pilot Study?

Why not use tolls and fees to fund green projects?

Over the last few months, the City of Toronto and the Ontario government have made some amazing announcement focused on green energy, infrastructure, and public transportation. The most recent announcement was made Tuesday: the Ontario government released $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which would be dedicated to transit in the GTHA.

These investments are a good thing. A great thing, even. This city and this province must invest in infrastructure and transit. But, where is this money coming from?

A green bond is a great tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits, but eventually the bond holders need to be paid back. Investors provide funds for these projects and the government guarantees a return for each investor. When asked by Women’s Post if there was a plan to pay back these investors, this was the response given:

“Ontario’s Green Bonds rank equally with Ontario’s other bonds,” a spokesperson for the Ontario Minister of Finance said in a written statement. “Payments of principal and interest will be a charge on and payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Ontario and not tied to the revenues of any particular projects.”

Luckily, the maturity date for the green bond is in 2023, which means that the government has time to educate the public on the need to come up with the revenue for these investments. And it will be interesting to see what forms of repayment they create.

Tolling — while under both the provincial and municipal responsibility depending on the road — would be an ideal form of revenue. Ontario is starting a pilot project in the summer that will allow single-occupancy vehicles to use the High-Occupancy Vehicle lane meant for carpooling. Vehicle owners will be able to purchase a permit and pay a toll for its usage. This is the first time a responsible government has risked their positions to do the right thing.  Toronto is a long way off, with only a handful of councillors willing to stand up for the revenue tools Toronto needs to pay for the capital projects the city has committed to.

The money collected from these tolls can be used to fund the  the relief subway line which will provide an alternate east-west route to the Gardiner. Council has to make the bold move to call for other user fees – tolls, carbon tax, parking increase – so that property owners won’t carry the full burden of our capital deficit.

Both the city and the province are trying to find money in the budget — which amounts to shuffling through the same insufficient funds that caused our infrastructure deficit.   Toronto councillors will need to show the bravery their province counterparts have demonstrated in committing to high occupancy toll lanes.  The obvious solution is to use existing green projects such as tolling, congestion fees, or even a carbon-tax , to fund infrastructure investments.

The biggest problem facing all levels of government is that most Canadians want the infrastructure but they don’t want to pay for it.   The province is doing an amazing job ensuring that transit and green infrastructure is built, but Canadians have to start doing our part.

Let’s support the use of tolls, congestion fees, carbon taxes – whatever our council might bravely suggest — and start investing in Toronto’s long-term future.