Friday, May 22, 2009


What We Need Is Car Lanes
It is wonderful news that Toronto council will consider bike lanes from Etobicoke to Scarborough along the central arteries of Bloor St. and Danforth Ave.
After all, it is bound to generate so many traffic jams and bursts of anger that councillors may be forced to do a needed re-examination of the entire city bike lane policy.
I thought the height of absurdity was reached when engineers egged on by anti-car politicians and activists proposed bike lanes for the ramp feeding to and from the Gardiner from the proposed Front St. extension. You see, bikes are banned on the Gardiner.
But it was all sham anyway because they loaded so many silly ideas into that extension that eventually it died because of cost....which was the general idea.
The city actually has a manager in charge of biking and he is quoted as saying the east-west bike lanes are an obvious need but past proposals by cycling activists have run into parking and traffic problems "that complicate the issue."
You're not kidding!
Remember that not all councillors buy into the strange gimmicks by Mayor David Miller and his majority clutch of Miller Lite supporters. So let's not blast the sane minority who still subscribe to the novel idea that the basic concept behind Toronto streets is to move people by vehicle, whether transit or private. The city actually has a hidden official policy to handicap private cars at every opportunity.
Putting bike lanes on main roads is insane. In fact, where we presently have them, they should be signed that cyclists can't use them during rushhours.
Cycling activists love to point to all the cars with just one person in them on city streets. Yes, but just look at all the bicycle carrying just one person, and all you need to do to take one lane out of service every rushhour is to have several cyclists careening along in each block.
If the purpose of a major street in rushhour is to move people, any impartial census will show that one lane will move far more people by vehicle each minute than it can by bike.
But why bring up logic! Bike lanes are a political statement, a revenge on the car, and any pretense that they make any economic or transportation sense is just ludicrous.
If council approves this latest madness in principle, there will be detailed studies and elaborate public consultations where cycling activists will berate any one who doesn't appreciate their guerilla approach to commuting.
The majority will not be there because we have been beaten down by the Miller Lites because they rarely do anything sensible in the stewardship of this great city.
It would be even greater and more liveable if it wasn't for the dumb shenanigans at City Hall that have replaced any basic concerns about just making the damn city work by caring about old services and decaying infrastructure more than the latest socialist gimmick.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Breaking Down The Doors

I love Toronto Symphony concerts. I hate the hassles of getting there.
My son Mark has been a symphony subscriber for years and since he now lives most of the year in China, it's up to Dad to keep up the subscription so we don't lose those two seats in the front row just to the left of the conductor.
(And that's important because that's where the soloists perform, and since our seats are the closest to that magic spot, it's like they're performing just for us.)
It's been a great season. My wife Mary is hardly a classlcal fan but the night called Rachmaninoff & Bernstein was wonderful. I came home and called up Mark in far-off Dalien (via Skype) and raved about what he had missed. With a talented Russian pianist, Natasha Peremski, pounding away at the huge grand piano just over our heads, and the Chinese conductor, Xian Zhang, practically dancing on the podium, it was like we were awash with music.
And the symphony players kept smiling at each other. It's easy to see they liked it too. But the pianist seem to enjoy it most.
Then a week later it was that corny but delightful confection called Last Night of the Proms. It's stolen, of course, from Royal Victoria Hall in London, England, where the decades of waving flags and teddy bears and egos is a grand tradition as the symphonic season ends.
And so it was here, with volunteers selling flags for $5 each in the lobby, and the concert goers bringing giant flags of their own, or even wearing flag T-shirts. And they waved them enthusiastically as they sang Land of Hope and Glory (from Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1,) Rule Britannia and Jerusalem. It was enough to make everyone an Anglophile for the night.
This was presided over by Bramwell Tovey who seems to have been born just for this concert. I've seen him before, and listened and watched the English version many times, but Tovey the other night was just right, in everything from his corny puns, his topical digs and his repartee with the audience.
Then there was a clever mugging performance from Richard Stuart in some of the great Gilbert & Sullivan skits from The Mikado and Pirates, with backup from the Toronto treasure known as the Mendelssohn Choir, complete with sight gags of swooning maidens, giant sun glasses, even a pizza box (don't ask).
Mary and I have never enjoyed ourselves more in a lifetime of going to concerts. It made me forget all the dog yelpings and dirges and gawdawful modern compositions that I've endured.
But then it ends and you have all the hassles of funneling hundreds of people through a dozen heavy exit doors, some of which generally aren't open, and then through another pinch point, two heavy doors to the underground parking and the passage to the subway station. Then there are several more heavy sets of doors (in the PATH system) and then you line up at the TTC wicket because many of the concert goers use senior TTC tickets. And then you ride to St. George where it's standing room only on the train home to Etobicoke even though it's 10.30 at night.
Now all this could be a lot simpler if only the symphony and hall directors did more than just check the program to make sure their name is still there. And it would also help if Mayor David Miller and his henchmen like Howard Moscoe spent more time ensuring the present transit system worked better and less time blaming other governments for their funding problems.
There are problems due to the shape of Roy Thomson Hall. But getting in and out, and using the underground passages to get there, is made difficult by the heaviest doors in a public facility. Why don't they sell them to a prison and buy lighter ones? It would also be nice if the escalator wasn't under repair so often and that the elevator the disabled have to use wasn't the slowest one in the world. (I challenge the bureaucrats to find me a slower elevator and offer a one-way ticket there to test it.
If the TTC knows that a downtown performance is going to end around a specific time, why can't they open a second ticket window at the nearest station for an hour? Surely that isn't rocket science.
But oh no, when it comes to improving the circulation of Thomson Hall, the underground lanes and the TTC, we get performances from our politicians and officials that make me wish we still had that character around from The Mikado. You know, the Lord High Commissioner.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Police Serve Us Not Demonstrators

So demonstrators charged up the ramp and closed one of the busiest highways on the continent. Natives plan to block an international bridge, just the latest in harassment in favour of their latest dubious cause.
And the police sleepwalk their way to peaceful arrangements because they care more about the feelings of demonstrators than the screwed public. After all, that's easier. And then there are all those forms to fill out if they actually arrested a few dozen and didn't just let them go after a lecture.
What we need is a new clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - the foundation of our legal system - that gives ordinary Joes and Janes the right to passage without even a second of interference from the latest yahoos who want to scream in our faces from their side of the barricades.
Everyone knows the basic rights and freedoms of the Charter. Included is the right to assembly and freedom of association. The mouthy jerks who brandish those rights in our face would like us to forget that the Charter says the right is to "peaceful assembly."
That doesn't include closing the main ceremonial avenue in downtown Toronto for days because Canadians of Tamil heritage don't like what's happening in the country that they left because they like Canada more. Is this really the way to thank us for our hospitality?
The police arranged on University Ave. a deal to let emergency vehicles through the screaming demonstrators because of all the hospitals north of where they were storming the U.S. Consulate. When I complained about all this to a senior Toronto cop at a reception, he was surprised at my angry comments because our police are now so used to going along with demonstrators and picketers and people just wanting to vent their spleen about something that they forget that most of the people that they are sworn to serve and protect just want to drive and walk on public property without being blocked.
A very senior OPP cop argued with me a year ago that Commisioner Julian Fantino had to moderate his tone in talking about native demonstrators because it didn't help in ending seige situations. Hell, I said, just throw them all in jail, and have the army as back-up if you want.
Ironically, the Charter does get into mobility rights, but that allows Canadians the right to move to other provinces or countries. When the politicians and bureaucrats were drafting its language, they obviously never thought it was necessary to include language saying we had the right to drive down a highway without being blocked by native bonfires.
Strikers have been getting away with malicious nonsense for years even though the Canadian courts have ruled that picketers have no right to stop anyone for even a second if they want to cross a picket line. Union thugs argue that they have the right "for the purpose of communication." Nope, a senior judge threw out that argument. Yet police routinely make deals at strikes that picketers can stop people for 15 minutes or even 30 minutes. And they defend that as the best way to keep the peace.
Even the so-called "civil" servants know what to do with those deals. At Queen's Park they kept even pregnant women standing for 45 minutes without the cops doing a damn thing.
A disgrace for the cops as well as the civil servants. If they can't get their way with arguments, they try to do it by intimidation.
The irony is that Ontario's shrinking union movement and ethnic protesters don't realize as they bask in the media attention that all this publicity is just hurting their alleged causes. The 24-hour news cycle likes to fill with pictures and stories of the latest demonstrations but it doesn't mean the media think it is that important or that there is general acceptance of the noise.
Sit-ins in corporate headquarters and university presidential offices used to be the way to go. Saul Alinsky, one veteran organizer in the U.S., mourned just before he died that he knew the days of sit-ins were over when one university president showed off his new official digs which included two lobbies, special washrooms complete with change tables, and escape staircases. Alinsky was famous for such stunts as having people line up at every teller's window with transactions of only $1, bringing banks to a standstill, and then there was his protest at O'Hare airport where he threatened to have blacks stand before every urinal and sit on every toilet for entire days. The airport administration settled, and it should have, because integration of that giant airport went to the core of the rights of workers of every colour.
If only the demonstrations here had such lofty goals. The U.S. Consulate in Toronto is the favourite site to let off steam, often on issues that have little to do with the States and nothing to do with Canada, and the building and its surroundings have been hardened so that protesters haven't a hope in making a dent. But then all they want is to make the news, for someone to pay attention, which often backfires.
It's time for all levels of government and policing to end this nonsense. Each year it gets worse, and the protesters and the cops may have got used to it but the public hasn't. Nor should we! When you block me, you make me mad. Because you have no right to do so. It's certainly not the best way to win friends and influence people.

Monday, May 11, 2009


We've just had the annual meeting of the Ontario Safety League and things were booming. The room was crowded in the new facilities, Transport Minister Jim Bradley praised us, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino dropped in to press some flesh, and we were awash with smiles.
I thought back only a few years ago when four of us huddled in the winter gloom and wondered just how we were going to keep the doors open. And now the OSL is back from the wake. Most days there's some incident that calls on the expertise of the OSL. And now the United Nations has asked it to advise internationally.It's all due to the leadership of Brian Patterson, now familiar to everyone through his media pronouncements, and Steve Pengelly, who was head of the premier's office and is now running the Ontario Bar Association.
And of course John Legge as the faithful lawyer. The Legge family have been central to safety advocacy in Canada, with Bruce Legge, famous in military circles, and Laura Legge, first female head of the Law Society of Upper Canada, giving decades of service and lots of blunt advice.
The OSL has always been blessed with directors of wide-ranging experience, from deputy Toronto fire chief to hospital chaplain to Insurance Bureau of Canada head to newspaper editor.But it really had sunk to evil prospects, until a stout handful led by Patterson and Pengelly soldiered away. And so a venerable association that had been around for 90 years was saved for the vital work of reminding, goading and showing all Ontarians how to live longer without maiming themselves, whether in vehicles, homes or boats.
I've had a ringside seat as a director, which some times was a bit onerous because my instincts as a newspaper man encouraged me to rush to the keyboard with an exclusive story. But I held off because solving the problems, for example ending the under-the-counter sale of drivers' licences and air brake shenanigans, was more important than a one-day news wonder. The OSL has done some quiet but tough advocacy to the provincial government on such vital matters as driving school competency and the real threat that it would be easier for a terrorist to steal a 18-wheel tanker and crash it under a skyscraper than to steal an airliner and cause another awful Sept. 11.For a comparative outsider, I did play a safety role with two Canadian institutions, Elmer the Safety Elephant and the RIDE program. Both began with the Metro Citizens Safety Council. I helped bury that organization when the big Metro council withdrew its funding, a stupid thing to do when our members included a judge and police commission chairman and Ontario's chief coroner. Our accomplishments were considerable despite the low budget.
In 1957, the promotion genius of the Toronto Telegram, Bas Mason, brought a Walt Disney artist to Toronto for a weekend and he drew the first Elmer the Safety Elephant. The Tely found its Elmer program to be so wildly successful that it couldn't afford to keep running it, since so many schools wanted the Elmer flag to fly if they had a perfect accident record or to have an Elmer show up to lecture the kids about his rules.
So the citizens safety council took it over, and later its ownership passed to the OSL with other council programs. But Elmer has proven such an icon that various outfits, from other safety groups and even insurance companies wanted to use Elmer for commercial purposes.
I was enlisted by the OSL in the fight to keep Elmer pure because I brought unique history credentials as a former Tely editor who had also been a safety council member. And the OSL won.
The old safety council also produced a world first with the RIDE program. Few know that its original name came from Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke. Two dedicated Toronto cops came to the council with the idea of trying this RIDE program as an experiment in the western suburb with just two cruisers. In order to demonstrate public support for the radical idea of stopping a car for no other reason than to ask if the driver had been drinking, the police wanted the council to buy two roof signs for, I think, $280. (Not much money, you might think, but this was the 1960s.)
I worried about the police using the stop as an excuse to fish through the vehicles. The police promised that wouldn't happen. So I moved the motion for the council to pay for the roof signs.
It proved so popular, and the expected public resistance never did flame into furious rebellion, so the project was expanded to all of Toronto. And we thought and thought and the E in "Etobicoke" became the E for "Everywhere," so we could still use the original signs, name and publicity.
But all this is in the distant past. Along with the controversy over other safety measures. Bradley has served as an MPP for 32 years, which ties him with Bob Runciman as dean of the Legislature, and he recalled in his speech the other night when many people opposed mandatory seat belts (including one of the transport ministers.) Now it is such a given that Bradley told of hopping into a van back in his St. Catharines constituency and the two kids told their mother who was driving that she shouldn't move because "that man" isn't wearing his seat belt.
The kids' safety seats also began with considerable controversy. I won a couple of safety awards for championing the idea in my column when many complained about even needing one to bring the new baby home from the hospital.
Now there is a new OSL board chair, Brian Lawrie, who also has left his mark on Toronto history as founder of POINTTs where you can hire a civilian advocate to represent you on traffic charges. This was also controversial when Lawrie began. If he hadn't been a veteran cop, he never would have won.
Lawrie had been on the Toronto force but he began in London, England, walking a beat in that famous uniform. He's a cop to the core, and recalls his first day when he was strolling the street trying to get it just right, like the veterans. There was a crowd clustered on the sidewalk and he pushed through officiously, not trying to let it show he was a rookie. There was a woman passed out, with another leaning solicitously over her. She told Lawrie she thought it was a heat stroke. So he leaned over to inspect and that big Bobby helmet fell off and smacked the woman right in the face. He was mortified. Then he saw to his horror a big purple bruise forming. As he leaned over again, his helmet slipped again and he grabbed it at the last moment. And the voice of an old gent drifted out of the crowd, suggestingd Lawrie had better watch it before he killed the woman.
Ah yes, Lawrie has a lifetime of experience in saving people from themselves, And so the OSL has another good leader. It needs them as it takes on this advisory role for UNESCO and to help keep the record intact of Ontario having the safest roads in all of North America.
That's something to boast about, and it's all due to the provincial transportation ministry and the advisory OSL stewardship.
There's more to be done, of course, but not everyone on the OSL agrees with my ideas. I would like to see the speed limit on the super 400 series of highways set at 120 instead of the 100 that just encourages scofflawism. And I think we must be tougher on tractor trailers.
It will be interesting in a couple of decades (I doubt I'll be around) to see what safety innovations of the next few years will last as long as Elmer, RIDE and mandatory seat belts have. Just think of all our neighbours who are still around because of them.