Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto wrap: Ombudsman's report, shiny new streetcars, and the war for bike lanes

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Sep 28 2012

A quick look at the rest of the news from City Hall this week.

Ombudsman report points to more trouble for Mayor Rob Ford

I wrote yesterday that the Ford administration has hit Peak Scandal, and that any further gaffes or controversies aren't going to make much of a dent in the mayor's support.

Soon after that piece was published, of course, another set of damaging allegations regarding Ford and his office emerged. Via City Ombudsman Fiona Crean, we now know that the most recent round of public appointments—the process that sees citizens appointed to various city boards and agencies—was a bit of a mess, thanks to reported interference by Ford's office, an unreasonably tight timeline, and what looks to be rather flagrant disregard for some of the established rules and conventions.

The most damning piece of evidence in Crean's report comes via an email sent by a staff member to City Manager Joe Pennachetti. The staffer wrote, “It will look to cynics as if the fix is already in for appointments and the process is just for show…We now have a governance process that is no longer based on any recognizable principles.”

“No recognizable principles” doesn't make for a catchy campaign slogan.

New streetcar trundles into Toronto

These streetcars—which will enter service in 2014—have been the subject of much political jousting, especially lately as Ford allies have cited the Bombardier contract as something that unnecessarily added to the city's debt. But even opponents have to admit that the new vehicles look good.

Assuming all goes well with testing, these new LRVs will immediately address some of the most annoying aspects of the current streetcar system. They're significantly bigger than even the largest articulated streetcars running on the city's downtown streets. They'll use all-door boarding and proof-of-payment so riders aren't all filing in through the front doors and fumbling for change to pay the driver. And they'll be accessible, with low floors so riders with wheelchairs, carts or giant strollers won't have to struggle up steps to board.

The arrival of the new vehicles also confirms that Toronto will be a city with streetcars for at least another generation. Considering how close this city once came to scrapping the whole system, that's a big deal.

Bike lane shuffle

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city's public works committee, staged a photo-op on Sherbourne Street this week, simultaneously crowing about the new—and expensive—separated bike lanes on that corridor while doubling down on his opinion that the bike lanes on Jarvis Street must be removed and that corridor reverted to its five-lane configuration.

Minnan-Wong's not making much sense when he talks about Jarvis these days. There has never been any community support for restoring that street's reversible fifth lane. It was removed as part of a long, consultative planning process. Spending more than $250,000 out of the city's budget for bike infrastructure to revert the street— something the neighbourhood hasn't asked for—is the exact opposite of what councillors should be doing.

Council has a couple of opportunities to save the Jarvis bike lanes when they meet in October. Based on what I've heard, I'm cautiously optimistic.

This post was originally published at on 2012-09-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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