Sunday, February 19, 2012

CodeRedTO: Saving Gary Webster

After City Council's dramatic moves two weeks ago to rescue Toronto's LRT plans from the clutches of Rob Ford's underground-only transit "vision" (which, amazingly, I did not post about), the mayor is about to strike back by terminating Gary Webster, the highly respected manager of the TTC. See CodeRedTO for the whole sorry story.

There are five members of the TTC Board doing the mayor's bidding, instead of looking out for Toronto's interests: Vincent Crisanti, Frank Di Giorgio, Norm Kelly, Denzil Minnan-Wong, and Cesar Palacio. They really need to hear from the public. So too do the four members expected to support Mr. Webster: Chair Karen Stintz, Co-chair Peter Milczyn, Maria Augimeri, and John Parker. I just sent the following e-mail to all members of the Board.

Dear Councillors:

I am writing to express my support for TTC Manager Gary Webster. Mr. Webster has done an admirable job steering the TTC through some very challenging times, growing ridership in spite of budget pressures, improving customer service, and providing much-needed expert, fact-based opinions to Council as it plans the expansion of the system.

The move to axe Mr. Webster is transparently political, and I have no doubt that it originated in the mayor's office. If successful, it would send a terrible message to this city's senior civil servants, who should feel empowered to offer the best professional advice possible to our representatives. Moreover, it would represent a significant loss to the TTC and incredible disrespect for taxpayers, certainly costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance and possibly exposing the city to further legal liabilities. It pains me to think about how many service cuts are being foisted on the public to make up for this kind of truly wasteful spending.

The TTC Board needs to display professionalism and rise above these ugly politics. I strongly urge you to vote against Mr. Webster's removal.

I sent a separate message to Karen Stintz, with this extra bit urging her to bring to bear the full weight of Council:

Moreover, I believe it is Council's responsibility to ensure that the TTC Board is acting appropriately. If it fails to do so, its membership should be changed. To that end, I encourage you to seek support once again for a Special Meeting of Council at the earliest possible opportunity. All indications are that five members of the Board are ready to act against the city's best interests; however, I think they would be less inclined to do so if they knew their actions were about to be reviewed and acted upon by Council.

Thank you very much for all of your dedication to the TTC, and I hope you will continue to demonstrate inspiring leadership on this file.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

CodeBlueTO: Stintz's Position

I received one particularly interesting response to my e-mail yesterday about the Port Lands. It comes from Councillor Stintz, and it lays out her position on the issue. This is of interest because Stintz is one of Mayor Ford's close allies, and up until now, she had not voiced a position publicly. Last night we learned that there is at least one member of the mayor's inner circle prepared to vote against him, and it now appears there is another.

In her e-mail, Councillor Stintz expresses support for Waterfront Toronto and its plan, and my read is that if forced to choose, she would vote against transferring control to the Toronto Port Lands Company. However, her preference is clearly to reach some kind of face-saving compromise for the mayor.

Here is Stintz's text:

Dear Neighbours and Fellow Residents,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about how the lower Port Lands will be developed.

There is a proposal coming to City Council next week that will ask for the Toronto Portlands Corporation to be the lead development agency for the Portlands. The assumption is that the Portlands Corporation can develop the land more quickly and economically than Waterfront Toronto. Over the last few weeks, I have met with the Toronto Portlands Corporation and Waterfront Toronto.

I am convinced that Waterfront Toronto has done a complete and comprehensive plan for the Portlands and has done so consistent with the City's vision and the requirements of Ministry of Environment.

I believe that the current proposal put forward by the Toronto Portlands Corporation should be studied but the proposal departs significantly from the City's current vision that the Portlands would be developed as a neighbourhood community with mixed uses.

I will be working with my colleagues on amendments that will continue to advance the work of Waterfront Toronto while also attempting to achieve of some under lying goals of the proposal by the Toronto Portlands Corporation, such as realizing the vision for this land more quickly.

Thank you for your concerns and interest in this important city issue.

Yours truly,
Karen Stintz
City Councillor,
Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence
City of Toronto
Chair, Toronto Transit Commission

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CodeBlueTO: Saving the Port Lands

Toronto lurches toward its next crisis, as our charming and tireless mayors, Doug and Rob Ford, are plotting to upend waterfront development plans for the Port Lands. CodeBlueTO has all the information you need to help protect the people's plans for the waterfront. Ford for Toronto's Matt Elliot has again compiled a list of undecided or potential swing votes on Council. However, in light of mounting opposition, I have decided to write to all members of Council not named Ford. Here is my letter:

Dear Councillors,

I am writing to express my opposition to Mayor Ford's move to transfer control over the development of the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto to the Toronto Port Lands Company. I urge you to vote against the Executive Committee's recommendation when the issue comes before Council on September 21.

I am strongly supportive of the existing, approved plan for the Toronto Port Lands and of the process of extensive public consultation by which it was created. Waterfront Toronto is doing excellent work, mixing development with unique and engaging public spaces, like Sherbourne Common and Canada's Sugar Beach. The plan to renaturalize the mouth of the Don River and provide expansive green space and public access to the waterfront, along with high-value mixed-use development, is affordable and would meet Toronto's wants and needs perfectly.

By contrast, the mayor's "vision" is stunning and almost comical in its extravagance. We have no need for a monorail, a giant Ferris wheel, or a mega-mall, and the obvious question is, how could we ever pay for them? The mayor would have us believe that the private sector will happily foot the bill, but that is the stuff of pure fantasy. Taxpayers deserve to see concrete plans and a full and proper accounting for this "vision" before any steps are taken that would put the current waterfront plans at risk.

That Mayor Ford and Councillor Ford developed their fanciful "vision" in the back rooms of City Hall, with lobbying from unregistered foreign developers, is a slap in the face to all of the Torontonians who participated in Waterfront Toronto's open process. The mayor's actions demonstrate not only disrespect for citizens, but alarming disrespect for Council as well: Council unanimously approved the current plans just one year ago.

If the mayor is concerned about the pace of Waterfront Toronto's development plans, as he claims, he should engage with the organization and work towards a solution that would accelerate them. The very idea that we can speed things up by throwing away five years of planning and starting from scratch is absurd.

The citizens and taxpayers of Toronto are relying on you to do your job and protect us from the mayor's reckless gamble. We have a secure investment in Waterfront Toronto, and the mayor has no mandate to put that at risk. Please vote to safeguard it by rejecting EX9.6.
Special thanks to Jaime Woo for suggesting the wording that I used (approximately) in my concluding paragraph.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Biggest Ball of Fail

For some reason (or, more likely, no reason), The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota popped into my head this morning. Naturally, I tried singing it to see if I'd remember all the words. The first 5 verses went really well (including all the decals from all the places where we've already been), but I couldn't remember what happened after the kids were so happy they started singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for the 27th time that day. And then, it all just kind of fell apart. I was positively crestfallen.

So, this is to refresh your memory and mine. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Glee 3D Highlights

Just got back from seeing Glee: The 3D Concert Movie. Since it's only going to be in theatres for two weeks, I'm sure some unfortunate souls will miss it. For those people, I now present the top three highlights:

3. Heather Morris's in-character backstage Brittany quips.
2. The girl with the "Jew Fro" Born This Way T-shirt.
1. Absolutely zero Matthew Morrison!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Early Thoughts on Google+

I've been on Google+ for almost two weeks now, but it's just starting to get interesting. Two large influxes of new users (I suppose we should still be calling them testers, actually) over the last few days have brought many of my friends to the service. It's still a lot quieter than those other services, but it doesn't feel too soon to give a few early thoughts on Plus.

It seems to me that Google is trying to position Plus in between Facebook and Twitter, and then expand out from there. With its asymmetric relationships, Plus is more like Twitter in providing the opportunity to find interesting new people for purely online interactions. But, with circles, some of those relationships can be privileged, making it more comfortable to do the kind of oversharing common on Facebook. I think the model is meant to provide the best of both worlds, which just makes sense competitively.

Facebook is so firmly entrenched in people's real lives, which is a major challenge to a would-be competitor. Think about it: When was the last time you used a service other than Facebook to invite people to an event? So, I think the Google+ strategy includes providing Twitter-style relationships and interactions while building up the user base to the point where competition with Facebook is possible. I won't even try to predict whether it will work, but here are a few promising observations.

First, circles are cool. Some have argued that they offer little-to-nothing more than friend lists on Facebook, but I disagree. I think their presence from the start and their prominence in the sharing UI, combined with the asymmetric relationships in Plus, makes circles much more useful and powerful. Even with lists, I've never felt comfortable adding acquaintances or coworkers as Facebook friends. But I really do believe that I could use Plus as a single online home for these different types of relationships, without worrying about sharing the wrong kind of information with the wrong people.

Second, the implementation is great, and already beats Facebook in many respects. The Web UI is top-notch, and I love the integration with Picasa Web Albums (a service I haven't used in the past, but plan to now). And on mobile? From day one, Google+ for Android wipes the floor with Facebook's app. Even the mobile Web version on iPhone (the native app is apparently awaiting approval) is better than the Facebook app there.

Third, I'm hearing a lot of people expressing excitement about the opportunity to dump Facebook. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising, and it's a sentiment I definitely agree with. We hand over all kinds of personal data to this company that holds it captive and gives us reason after reason not to trust them with it. Why? Because there doesn't seem to be a viable alternative. What's interesting, though, is that I'm now hearing these anti-Facebook sentiments from people I wouldn't expect to be concerned about issues of privacy or lock-in.

A final couple of thoughts on glaring omissions from Plus. Huddles and Hangouts are interesting new features, but I really don't think they make up for what's missing. Notably, that's some facility for company/organization/brand presence (i.e. Pages on Facebook) and events. Apparently, the former is already a work in progress, but I'd argue that the latter is just as important, if not more so. As I alluded to above, I think Facebook Events connects with people's real lives more than any other feature, so it's vital for any would-be Facebook replacement. Google has the opportunity for another integration, with Google Calendar, which could be very interesting.

Even at this point, well in advance of its official launch, Google+ is an impressive offering. I'm looking forward to seeing where Google takes it next. Happy +ing!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jarvis Bike Lanes

As you probably heard, the Jarvis Bike Lanes are on the chopping block. The War on the Car is over, long live the War on the Bike.

City Council is set to vote on the issue on July 12 or 13. If you support the bike lanes, please write your councillor (you can find your councillor and his or her e-mail address here). You might consider cc'ing all of the "mushy middle" councillors and the hard-line Ford supporters who previously voted for the installation of the bike lanes in 2009.1 Their votes will decide this.

Also, give the mayor a call at 416-397-FORD. He claims to be hearing only from people who want the lanes gone, but I doubt that's entirely accurate.

In any case, here is the e-mail I sent to my councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, and the others mentioned above:

Dear Councillors,

I am writing to express my concern about the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee's recommendation to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, and to you urge to oppose that measure when it comes before Council. As a driver, a cyclist, a resident of the neighbourhood, and a taxpayer, I strongly believe that such a move would be a big mistake.

I live on Jarvis, so I have seen first-hand the dramatic improvement resulting from the addition of the bike lanes. The reality is that cars and bikes are coexisting much better than they ever had before.

I drive on Jarvis daily, and my observation is that traffic has not become noticeably worse since the centre lane was removed. The recent staff report supports this view, demonstrating that average travel times have increased only slightly. It also makes recommendations for advance left turn signals that could address what congestion does exist.

The same report shows that, while vehicle traffic has not been reduced at all, bike volume has tripled since the lanes were installed, increasing Jarvis's total capacity by almost 5%. This is great news for everyone: The gridlock problem we face in Toronto will only be ameliorated by using our limited infrastructure more efficiently.

Moreover, I'm very worried that removing the bike lanes will just add that new bike traffic back into the vehicle lanes, slowing them down as a result. Separating bike and vehicle traffic allows both to travel better, keeping bicyclists safe and drivers moving.

What concerns me most is the apparent rush to push through a decision on removing the bike lanes, without due consideration or any kind of consultation with the public. Even my local councillor was cut out of any discussion before the Committee's decision.

Does the proposal to remove the bike lanes even include a plan for what to do with the road space that would be recovered? If it does, the public hasn't been told, and we certainly don't know what it would cost. The indications are that it could be very expensive, indeed. The disrespect for taxpayers, and for citizens of the area in particular, is galling.

Once again, I urge you to please vote against the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes.
[1] Thanks to Ford for Toronto for the full list:,,,,,,,,,,,,

Monday, February 07, 2011

Yet Another CRTC Fail

In January, the CRTC  proposed a change to rules prohibiting false or misleading news broadcasts on radio and television.  Naturally, those changes would weaken the rules, paving the way for more public disinformation. Great, just what we need.

The changes are currently open for public comment, but only for two more days. Here is my brief submission.

1. I am writing to express my strong opposition to the proposed amendments to the Radio Regulations, 1986; Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987; Pay Television Regulations, 1990; Specialty Services Regulations, 1990; and the Broadcasting Information Regulations, 1993, that would relax the existing prohibition on broadcasting false or misleading news.
2. I am a citizen who is greatly concerned about the quality of news and information in the public sphere, and I fear that the proposed changes would constitute a giant step backward on that front.
3. The new requirement that false or misleading news "endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public" is unduly narrow, failing to account for other important societal harm that such reporting can cause. The existing prohibition without qualification is certainly more appropriate. If there are particular exceptions that require special consideration, such as satire, those should be enumerated specifically.
4. I am appalled that these changes have been proposed without any apparent justification and without a significant public consultation. They have the potential to damage Canadian society and our democratic institutions, and as such warrant significantly more attention and input than they have received.
***End of document***
I'd encourage you to submit your comments using the online form. Note that you must number your paragraphs and end your submission with the line ***End of document*** (to indicate that the document has not been truncated).

Check out posts from Michael Geist's and the Green Party for more information.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Not Dead, Resting

It's no secret that this blog, like so many others, doesn't get the attention from its scribe that it once did. However, let me reassure you -- and it -- that it's not dead.

And on that note, I've done a bit of updating. Most notably, I've enabled a mobile view, which the good folks at Blogger finally got around to implementing a couple of weeks ago.1 I also updated to a matching "new" template2 and tweaked it to my taste. Finally, I couldn't help but notice that all my links were ancient and most are now defunct. So they're gone, and replaced by an index of my posts by label. I may, when I have a few spare minutes, post some new ones. Or not.

Oh, and I have now, almost four years later, made good on my expressed will to start using footnotes.

Happy New Year!

[1] Blogger users can enable it via Blogger in Draft.
[2] "New" in quotes because these were actually introduced back in June.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Transit City II

I just accepted an invite for the the Facebook "event" Support Transit City, send a quick email. If you care about public transit in Toronto, you should, too.

I'm not really one to send a form letter, so here's what I ended up sending to Rob Ford and the new TTC Chair, Karen Stintz.

Dear Mayor Ford,

I am writing to express my support for Transit City and my concern about your plans to scrap it. In particular, your statement Wednesday that "Transit City is over" seems premature, ill-considered, and entirely disrespectful of council's authority.

You have frequently claimed that people want subways, and I have no doubt that is true. However, there is no denying that subways are extremely expensive. The TTC estimates that your proposed Sheppard subway extension would cost 3-4x as much as the planned LRT line, despite being only two-thirds its length. Wanting something doesn't mean you can afford it.

As a citizen of Toronto and a taxpayer, I believe we cannot afford to see the tax dollars already been spent on Transit City go to waste. Contracts have been signed, work has begun, LRT vehicles have been ordered, and the city of Toronto will be on the hook for costly fines and penalties if we change course now. Scrapping this plan would also represent the loss of billions of dollars of federal and provincial infrastructure money for Toronto.

I am both a driver and a public transit user, and I do not believe that Transit City represents "a war on the car." Only by rapidly improving public transit options can we begin to reduce congestion on the roads and make things better for everyone. Throwing out almost a decade's work on an affordable city-wide rapid transit plan would be the height of irresponsibility.

Mr. Mayor, you promised respect for the taxpayer. Abandoning Transit City would demonstrate exactly the opposite.