I know about half of you don’t really care, if the voter turnout numbers are any indication, but bear with me. There just might be a nugget or two in here that’s worth your time.
Let’s start with Toronto. As entertaining as the Juno-worthy Ford family saga may have been, it’s time for the folks at 100 Queen St. W. to sit down and get to work with their new mayor, John Tory. Perhaps now they can focus on the real problems, such as traffic gridlock, that are holding Toronto’s economy back.
According to a report last year by the C.D. Howe Institute, gridlock costs the GTA’s economy about $6 billion a year, if you take into account metrics such as lost time, lost wages and wasted fuel. If you also add in the social cost of families deciding to forgo social activities, C.D. Howe puts the tally at almost $11 billion.
According to Statistics Canada, the average commute time in Toronto is the highest in the country, at almost 33 minutes, versus the national average of 25.4 minutes. I think it’s safe to assume that average climbs fast for commuters coming in by car, or who use public transit from outside the city core.
It doesn’t take much to turn a frustrating experience into a nightmare on Toronto’s overtaxed transportation infrastructure. Just ask the folks who were marooned last week by the shutdown of the Don Valley Parkway because of an accident during rush hour.
That boring old transit project in the nation’s capital
And then we have Ottawa, which set a whole new standard for voter apathy.
Turnout at the polls was only 39.7 per cent. Our incumbent mayor, Jim Watson, was the odds-on favourite, and he did win by a country mile, with more than 76 per cent of the vote. I can only assume that most of our good residents who elected not to vote knew a sure thing when they saw it and were content with that.
Watson didn’t rest on his laurels. He campaigned heavily against contenders who wanted to push the reset button yet again on Ottawa’s light rail transit plan. Now that the election is out of the way, it’s full steam ahead with Phase II of the project; once the funding required from the other two levels of government is nailed down, that is.
This is a good thing, if only because Phase I, which features a tunnel through the city core, will be an incomplete project without the subsequent phases that will extend light rail service out to the distant suburbs on the far side of Ottawa’s Greenbelt. For the good of the National Capital Region, our city hall should be looking past the logistics of Phase II to the plan and design phases III and IV.
Infill and redevelopment projects in established neighbourhoods continue to be a hot button issue in parts of Ottawa. My ward again has a new face at the city council table, and pushback by residents against one infill project or another is a recurring theme.
But infill is inevitable, as many people chose to shift their lifestyles closer to the city centre, not just in Ottawa, but also in cities across the country. The challenge, as always, is how to deal with the “Not In My Back Yard!” (NIMBY) crowd, which bristles at the idea of any kind of change to their neighbourhoods.
Part of that solution, as I have stressed before, is clear land use and development policies from city hall that are consistently enforced in a fair and open manner.
Too often, architects and designers go hog wild, and propose buildings that are clearly incompatible with the architectural character of older neighbourhoods. The eyesores that make me wince most often arise from trying to incorporate parking. But improvements and expansions to public transit, such as light rail, should mean fewer cars and fewer parking spaces in the city core.
It’s this lack of design foresight and creativity that only serves to fuel the fires of NIMBYism. City hall has to show leadership in this regard to ensure redevelopment takes a form that best serves the interests of the community in question, and levers the investment in new transportation infrastructure to change our car culture for the better.
Here’s hoping the combination of experienced old guard and fresh faces at council tables across Ontario will mean good things for our cities over the next four years. If not, we have only our lacklustre interest in municipal politics to blame.
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