Is City council democratic?

Two troubling things to ponder. First, the city asked a bunch of experts to go look at the number of people in each ward to try and balance population and representation. Sounds easy except the arrangement has to work over a number of elections while the City continues to grow… and it doesn’t grow equally in all areas.

Downtown needs more representation. Growth is exploding with some wards adding the equivalent of a town over the next 20 years. Just look at the plans for the the LCBO lands near the waterfront.

So the experts do their job and come back with a bunch of options. They recommend more councillors. Mayor and exec team decide they don’t want more councillors. Instead following their decision and choosing to move forward with the option that they experts developed that proposes the same amount of councillors, they push things off for a while, long enough that the proposal doesn’t affect the next election. In other words you’ll have to wait another 4 years for better representation downtown.

Meanwhile the second issue, who sits on the powerful committees that decide things before they get to the overall council? The voting happens in a smaller group which may or may not represent the city at all.

Have a read here on how the City’s bike lane proposal was decided and who sits on the PWIC committee.

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Waze and traffic on local streets.

Your local street is just a way of getting somewhere according the way finding app called Waze. Traffic slow at Broadview/Danforth? Using Waze drivers are directed onto local streets to get around it. It all happens in real-time with app combining mapping data with each user automatically providing speed, location and route data. If Ellerbeck or Cambridge is faster than Broadview then traffic is directed to go off the arterial streets into the local streets.

Expect more of this in the future. Apps and data don’t pay attention much to how the planner sees the traffic grid. It’s simply what is the fastest way from A to B and if that is through your neighbourhood past your school, too bad for you. Apps are guiding more and more routes as users go beyond simple route finding to route management – which is the best route today according to traffic conditions.

Waze vigilantes fed up with their local street becoming the short cut have tried to post misleading data to fool the app however once one car gets though the speed and route data lets the app know that the short cut is live and they are back to where they started.

The only method for local residents to fight back are street closures, one ways and turning restrictions. These guide the mapping app to not use local streets to avoid tickets or dead ends.

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6 Ways to Improve Toronto’s Avenue Plan

The Broadview Avenues Plan is written up and heading to city council June 7th.

As a community, knowing what we know now, what would we say to improve the process and the plan? Here’s my thoughts, add comments to build this out. Willing to add more or revise.

So, 6 ways to improve Toronto’s Avenue plan and mid-rise guidelines:

  1. Clearly pay attention to, clarify and maintain the scope and roles of the various City departments involved with the Avenues Plan.
  2. Align Municipal plans/actions with Federal and Provincial goals on climate change and sustainable development
  3. Be clear that there is no budget attached to any Avenues plan.
  4. Implement tactical “Quick Wins” that have zero cost
  5. Focus on unique placemaking.
  6. Brief Stakeholder Advisory Committee on Toronto’s philosophy that is the foundation of the Avenues plan incl relations with the OMB

A little more detail on each:

1.Scope and Roles: 
Transportation. The scope that was presented on the website was different than the scope that council gave to transportation. “Develop transportation planning principles/vision that will improve current conditions and support future development.” is a lot different than “plan for the transportation impacts of new development”. It would have been far clearer to say upfront that Transportation’s role in the Avenues plan is strictly limited to the changes in density. Further restricting the scope it should be made clear that Transportation means cars, not cycling nor pedestrians. Cycling is to be covered under the City’s 10 yr plan which may or may not include the Avenue you are looking at. Pedestrians get consideration in that the City does an inventory of how the sidewalks are on the Avenue. Changes to that will only occur where new developments require a new sidewalk.

The Toronto Parking Authority is a wild card in the Avenues plan. At first they weren’t attending any meetings and working at cross purposes versus Heritage. The TPA will get their “Parking supports local business” mantra in the final report despite the complete lack of any evidence even if you ask for it. The TPA seems to watch Avenues plans very closely for property acquisition opportunities. With re-zoning, the property values increase and therefore the TPA stands to make some money by getting in on the action and re-selling air rights to developers. The long-term result will be underground parking garages up and down the avenue as developers put in mid-rise buildings. Is that a good thing? Depends, parking = traffic driving to and from parking, do you want more cars on your Avenue?

Toronto Heritage does an awesome job.

Be clear up front about the Mid-Rise part of the scope. Is it the foundation of the Avenues plan or is it an aspect of the plan?  If it is an aspect there will be areas where tall buildings are considered as part of the densification. If Mid-rise is the foundation of the plan then it should be very clear that no meetings or staff time should be spent considering tall buildings – it’s out of scope and a waste of everyone’s time.

2. Alignment of objectives Municipally, Provincially and Federally.
The Feds have signed up for Paris Climate Change, The Province is pushing for better planning and land use but Cities are the place where actions will yield results so it’s up to municipalities to realize these objectives. Avenue plans could be powerful tools to help achieve these things but they aren’t.

The guide for development of Avenues could be much stronger pushing for sustainable development. Efficiency comes from buildings consuming less energy and from transportation using less gas. Buildings need to be more energy efficient, they need to have incentives to create energy through solar and wind, perhaps even push energy back to the grid. Avenues plans could be incubators and testing grounds for new technologies that generate electricity from see-through solar panels or from micro-powerplants that allow the building to be off-grid (ice storm?).

Transportation in the Avenues plan has to have a comprehensive scope to improve walkability, cycling and have quantifiable objectives for vehicle reduction. Uber, Car2Go, Honk and other new transportation capabilities offer residents the ability to avoid tying up  personal capital in a owned vehicle that remains immobile 95% of its life.

3. There is no budget.
Pay attention to the line “The recommendations in this report have no financial impact.”

That means there are no actions that will happen aside from guidelines and recommendations. Residents who participate in the plan should expect to see items be pushed into other, different committees of they are already being worked on somewhere else (like the Cycling Plan).

This part can be very frustrating for residents as they see the Avenue’s problems everyday and have ideas how to fix them. Each Avenue plan that is initiated could come with a small budget that is guided by residents for Fixes, a park bench here or there, some road paint, a stop sign. Often there are little things that need addressing and quickly, the Avenues planning sessions with residents and stakeholders is the opportunity to be on top of them. Which leads us to…

4. Tactical Quick Wins
The Broadview Avenue plan started late 2013. Re-construction of Broadview’s water mains began in 2015, Broadview is currently getting new curbs, re-surfaced and painted in 2016. However because planning doesn’t connect with implementation there was no way to fit in quick wins identified by residents in the Avenues discussion into the implementation.

When major reconstruction is required on an Avenue which is in the middle of an Avenue Plan Study, a tactical action plan must be developed immediately to evaluate any potential quick win revisions to the Avenue that could be accommodated within the reconstruction. To miss this opportunity is a  waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

5. Unique placemaking.
Not every Avenue has a unique feature with the potential to make the Avenue a destination but some do. When they do then there should be a lot of time and effort placed on ensuring that unique feature is preserved, amplified and leveraged across the whole area.

On Broadview, its the old Chesterhill school house from the late 1890’s and the proximity to the Don Valley & Todmorden Mills. Although these things are identified in the plan, its not clear how far the Avenues plan will go in making use of them. There is too much time in the meetings spent on generic items like parking, and consideration of tall buildings to get focused on the unique characteristics of the Avenue.

6. The OMB
Hanging over the whole process is the role of the Ontario Municipal Board. Its not clear how powerful the Avenues plans are when dealing with a specific proposal. Also given the efforts from City and residents why does the OMB even have any decision making powers? This lack of clarity vis a vis the City’s Avenue plan and what might be possible at the OMB creates a lot of unnecessary worry throughout the meetings. Then at the last minute when the Avenues plan is at the local council, the developers drop a bunch of letters on the council stating their positions. Hardly fair to not participate in the process at all. It means that any debate will be between the developers lawyers and the city’s lawyers instead of within the community.

During the Avenues planning process the city could make it clear what the role of the OMB is, how things play out between the City and the OMB and let residents know that if they are unhappy with an appointed Provincial Board overiding the City and residents then talk to your MPP. Make the lack of clarity an issue for the MPP to deal with.

other thoughts? send them along.

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Don Dialogues @ Brickworks

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Balacing Use and Ecology in the Lower Don

May 25, 7–9pm

The incredible natural environment of the Lower Don Valley is highly urbanized yet supports magnificent native plant communities, which require careful management and protection.

How can naturalists, advocates, the City and communities come together to enhance and safeguard the Valley’s ecological health while maintaining access for recreational, educational and other uses?

Speakers:

•  Julia Murnaghan, Natural Environment Specialist, Natural Environment and Community Programs, Urban Forestry, City of Toronto

•  Cheryl Post, Natural Environment Specialist, Natural Environment and Community Programs, Urban Forestry, City of Toronto

•  Jason Ramsay-Brown, Toronto Field Naturalists and Author of Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests

•  John Wilson, Co-Chair, West Don Lands Committee, Former Chair, Task Force to Bring Back the Don

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The future of Toronto’s parking.

Every community thinks they are unique until you sit through a session at City Hall waiting for your item to come up. Over and over again the refrain sounds the same. Too much traffic, parking is a problem, the building is too tall, where will they pick up the garbage, the loading dock will ruin the sidewalk, I admire the patience of councillors listening to the concerns.

Problems are opportunities. Hence I read with interest this story in the Globe and Mail about Honk. There you go, the Uber of parking, and since it’s a platform for the sharing economy it’s messing with old formulas turning city planning into a big question mark. The Toronto Parking Authority is being challenged because the app unlocks a huge inventory of parking that previously was unseen but worse, the app enables a new convenience, reserve a spot.

How much more likely are people to drive downtown if they knew there was a parking spot waiting for them? How much parking is actually available at any given time?

Although people talk about the effects of driverless cars having a massive impact, which they will, their impact is still years away, Honk is happening now, along with Turo and Uber.

Cities are really having a tough time with these platforms but that does need to be the case. The first step is to realize that the structures and capabilities currently in place must stop. Then new regulations/licences re-issued and the playing field love set for all players. For cabbies, the city needs to buy back all the plates, then new regulations come in place along with Uber or Lyft being licensed as the dispatch system for all drivers under city rules. For parking, it means selling off the TPA, and licensing Honk (or one of its competitors) as the only parking authority across all lots.

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Broadview Ave plan passes at TEYCC

Today the Toronto and East York Community Council passed the Broadview Avenue planning study. The study will head to City Council on June 2, 2016.

A handful of people made it down to observe, while three of us got up to speak. The community’s position is supportive of the plan and aims to re-inforce the terms in it to ensure that development sticks to the mid-rise principles.

There are a number of submissions made, 16 emails, 2 letters that are not made available and the following letters that have:

M. McKeen letter
MMcKeen Doc.

Sobey’s
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communicationfile-60491-5

Gordian Foods
communicationfile-60496

Salvation Army
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Helliwell Place Association
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Estonian House
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Player Area Residents Association (PARA)
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So what now?
There are going to be minor changes, typos will be fixed, the terms will standardized with other Avenues plans. For the June 7th meeting, only written submissions are allowed.

Questions, Councillor Fragedakis asked the planning staff why the 20m height not used as a strict limit. What changed is the use of wood as a construction material up to a limit of 6 stories. Due to differences in construction this adds a meter or so for the same 6 story building hence planning staff focus on the number of stories.

If anyone would like to share their written email submission, please send.

 

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Why & How People are on the Danforth

Check out this Spacing article on Bloor West & Annex, Danforth business in light of proposals around bicycle lanes
Here is the most important info.

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Broadview avenue plan – draft.

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You can download the BroadviewUDguidelines Draft. The Broadview Avenue Planning Study is on the agenda of the May 10th meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council. The document is full 90 pages long and well worth the reading especially for the Heritage sections.

Posted in Chester hill Schoolhouse - Estonian House, Developments, Historical, Parking news, Trails, Transit | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Beaver Pics

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You don’t expect to see a beaver in the middle of the pond at the Brickworks but then again there are plenty of signs of them all over the Don River Valley. This pic below is from the west side of the river directly below the Prince Edward Viaduct.

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Streetfight video

 

Well you see Toronto is not like New York. Here we don’t follow some loopy left wing bike loving mayor like Bloomberg. Nor do we just do little things like close Times Square to traffic, this is Toronto; we take a portion of Bloor street far enough away from downtown and then we make a plan and then we debate and vote on it at different committees. Plan and vote, vote and plan, defer defer defer but don’t implement. Meanwhile data is good for New Yorkers because they don’t have opinions, Toronto has opinions and that’s better than data especially if you are debating; data gets in the way of opinions.

This video gives you the overview of what you can read in her book. And if she can make it there, she can make it anywhere.

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