Thursday, November 15, 2018

THANK HEAVENS WE LOST AMAZON


STOP BRIBING BUSINESS AND SPORTS

My wallet starts whimpering every time politicians start throwing blandishments and billions at big business and filthy rich entrepreneurs to come to our town or please, please, please, don't move out.
It generally turns out bad for the taxpayers - whether it's the Olympics or Amazon or car makers or the big leagues....
If fabulously rich Amazon had come to the Greater Toronto Area rather than to two now-victimized cities in the U.S., it would have been wonderful for tech people aching to start making $150,000 a year (at least), the real estate market and the service industry.
It was supposed to be so wonderful that "lucky" American cities pay fortunes for the privilege of housing the commercial behemoth that is threatening to devour most of its competition in North America? And then there were hundreds of communities whose politicians just ached to land the commercial behemoth.
Those who think it would be great are the ones who daydream about the economic benefits for them.
They talk of the great economic ripple effect. FOR THEM! But for those of us who wouldn't benefit directly, the ripple becomes a tsunami of problems.
For example, if you thought it was tough to buy or rent a home in Toronto now at a reasonable cost, it would have become so bad if Amazon had set up shop here that commuters would have hungered for just two hour commutes.
The brutal reality of our urban life is that this city (and the region of the Greater Toronto Area)  is already bursting at the seams and has enormous problems in transit, transportation and infrastructure. We can't even fix potholes,  and weeds grow in our parks.
It sounds like heresy but municipal growth is not high on my agenda of wants. Civic boosterism sounds great during a City Hall debate but I would just as soon live in a city that doesn't have construction on every corner. Improving what we have should be the goal, not bribing growth.
So paying a corporate giant to come to town because of all its benefits -  and minimizing all the extra costs - is not an obvious win for a good urban life, an enormous fact not lost on critics ranging from the New York Times editorial board and insightful editorial cartoonists and TV commentators to anyone trying to live near the Amazon headquarters now.
Why is it that our governments insist on throwing our taxes at fatcat promoters, industrialists and entrepreneurs because they promise seductively it will  stimulate the economy and create jobs?
The immediate impact is to drive up our taxes while the company fattens its bottom line.
Just look at all the horror stories that just keep happening in Canada decade after decade after decade.
They range from the billions that Bombardier has sucked out of English Canada to keep Quebec happy  (and then Bombardier gave away the technology) to the simpler recent boondoggle that even a stupid bureaucrat should know is wrong - buying hundreds of expensive cars just so that the leaders of a few countries can meet here for a few scripted days.
But I have wandered off topic when there are so many easy targets over the years.  Such as:
....Taxpayers paid $628 million for SkyDome before it was sold for a pittance of $25 million to a cable company
.... Consider the waste of billions on Olympics and Expos
...  Why we couldn't even build BMO Field at the Ex without being hosed because the user, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, turned a profit on the deal and taxpayers were on the hook for $63 million.
... Must be something about politicians and the Ex because neighbouring Ontario Place cost $30 million, which was six times the original estimate, and then declined into closure after annual losses of millions.
.... I really don't want to waste our time dealing with all the grants to companies like Chrysler just to keep some plants open.
No wonder there is hatred, stirred well with rebellion, in many voters for most of their politicians, the desire that "none of the above" be printed at the end of every ballot to show the disdain that so many feel for what passes for democracy today.
No wonder what passes for modern populism flourishes in North America because of waste by bureaucrats and politicians who spend billions as if they were nickels.
I am surprised that the revolt against the sports establishment pushing for another winter Olympics in Calgary was not even larger. Is there actually a thinking adult anywhere who truly believes that such sport spectaculars break even?
What we really need is not more political promises but fewer candidates in our election campaigns giving us the latest version of the "bread and circuses" approach that kept the mob from storming the Forum in ancient Rome.
We need a tough approach when the CEO comes cap in hand to beg for just a few hundred million and in exchange says he or she will provide a few hundred jobs for maybe a decade.
Let's just stop the corporate welfare!
Let the billionaires build their own playpens for sport!
Tell the Amazons of the world, with treasuries swollen from our billions, that if they really want to come to our town, they can pay their way fully like we have to do.
And if they want to come on the cheap, then find another sucker city. Thank heavens this time they did!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

TORONTO'S MENACING PEDESTRIANS


THEY CAN'T WALK AND TALK

Just an easy drive down a street near my home but then a yuppie couple tried to lope through the stop sign and gave me an haughty glare when I didn't brake.
They wore the latest gear, which showed off her slim long legs, of course. She was towing a dog on a leash and he was pushing a baby carriage streamlined for 10 km/h. They were a postcard couple celebrating the idiocy of suburban life when you ignore who has the right-of-way when galloping along by foot or bike.
Earlier, I was driving east of Stephen Dr. on The Queensway where a traffic light delays all the traffic from the important Humber River crossing and the giant Food Terminal just so motorists can access the plaza jammed between the road and the transportation corridors.
(Plaza owners have more clout at City Hall than motorists on major roads, so we have to wait so they can accommodate shoppers.)
A flashing and screeching ambulance was zigzagging through the normal jam when it had to brake so quickly I visualized the patient shooting off the gurney. Why? Because some guy with a parka hood wrapped around his numbskull decided to run across against the red in front of the ambulance.
Unfortunately, all my anecdotes here are just from one week and aren't that unusual.
I was asking a cousin who is a retired Toronto fire captain about all the louts who interfere with the passage of emergency vehicles like fire engines, ignoring the lights and sirens, and he agreed it was far too common. He blamed air conditioning and stereos for all the drivers who just don't hear the sirens. (But then there are some jerks on foot who must ignore the sirens. And those who skulk down side streets at night dressed like robbers as if they want to be hit for the law suit money.)
I had crossed College at University on the way to TGH when a young woman yakking on her cell  walked into me. Her wingman was also on her phone. She kept talking and trying to push through me, ignoring my cane. When I bellowed into the one free ear, she looked up, grunted an apology and walked around me, continuing to talk as she then crossed eight lanes. Of  course the light changed long before she made it.
This column is not triggered by the unfortunate peak of pedestrian accidents on that recent cold and rainy day. Toronto is blessed by not having more such days because I find that a routine car trip around most side streets in this city is like playing dice with the Devil because of pedestrians who just don't seem to give a damn.
It certainly culminated this Halloween when there were so many hunting packs of kids in my neighbours, with parents and flashlights riding herd as if they were on a cattle drive, that I wished I had hibernated. There were a lot of lighted cell phones I threaded down the street.
What's the sense of worrying about proper X-walk use and blatant jaywalking if too many other  pedestrians concentrate only on their cells as they cross the busiest intersections. You can be monitoring  the other traffic when you want to make a simple turn only to find some pedestrian on a phone jumps off the curb without looking and starts striding across as if they were ambling down a beach.
Believe me, when it comes to this topic, the shoe really has been on the other foot. After all my experiences, no wonder I became a godfather of the RIDE program and a director of the Ontario Safety League, Ontario's oldest safety organization.
As a pedestrian, I was hit and thrown up on the hood of a car by a man making a right turn just blocks from my home. He still hasn't seen me.
 I was either the first, or one of the first, X-walk accidents in Toronto. On the first morning they were legal, I braked hard on the Danforth when a woman ran into the X-walk and I was rammed from behind in my beloved collectors' Austin Healey.
I have been hit twice by cyclists when leaving downtown Toronto restaurants and then as a cyclist crashed into a ditch by a dump truck.
There are municipalities who are considering or have banned cell phone use by pedestrians at intersections. Toronto should too. Surely extreme cases are as dangerous as jay walking or X-walk breaches.
There is agreement that the war against distracted driving is a great safety idea.
Why not a legal war against distracted walking? It doesn't matter that the result is not as dangerous as a car crashing into you. It's more than just an annoyance, as I can assure you when considering the bruise on my leg from my latest encounter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

SCREWING UP ROAD REPAIRS


TIME TO FIRE TRAFFIC ENGINEERS

I think it's time for the election survivors of an inept city council to come clean on an unfunny practical joke.
 Or was it just a plot to so massacre the replacement for the east-bound York/Bay/Yonge ramps from the Gardiner that the voters would seek revenge on the anti-car councillors to whom the Gardiner is the Great Evil?
Now the Gardiner, one of the great work horse roads of North America, has always been hated by those politicians and planners who believe we should just walk or TTC or bike to move around this urban behemoth.
For years they cheated on the incredible amount of  traffic it carried, trying to lower the stats even as they ignored that the waterfront had grown around the Gardiner like coral around a sunken ship and prying the super road  out of the skyscraper woods would be as difficult and costly as it would be silly.
Yet the Gardiner has outlasted most enemies because it is one of the vital arteries of the city and blasting it out of downtown would cause cardiac arrest to thousands if not a congealed core.
Which brings me to the current mess which you and I have plenty of time to contemplate as we try to manoeuvre to make simple turns into the core of a city that is vital enough, fortunately, to survive even this looney bin of a City Hall.
I don't feel like repeating at length the obvious reality which was true even when I was enduring urban geography lectures at U of T  in the age of the dinosaurs.
Most people and all goods move around this city by vehicles and will continue to do so even if the transit is vastly improved and ridiculous bike lanes don't strangle major streets.
I live near the Royal York subway station, the renovation of which is another municipal embarrassment, and try to TTC as much as possible to avoid $20 parking and the molasses movement of traffic. But Mary uses a walker and like many older people with medical appointments finds the car superior to the complications of Wheel Trans or the gauntlet of regular transit.
So I have had to negotiate through this stupid replacement for the downtown ramps. According to what I can decipher out of the Y B Y internet site for this project, the contractor will be back. We just got the first stage in January, which is like saying we just got the first act of a horror movie.
My son Mark, who spends half his time in China where he has worked for almost a decade, returns to sit in the car as I curse my way through any drive which lasts more than five minutes. He is used to road and transit construction in most modern Chinese cities taking a fraction of a time. They built a new subway line in Dalien, his lovely home city, in the time it takes for one council debate on new routes.
Of course, I apologize to him as we muddle through traffic, it is easier there in a dictatorship with tens of millions of workers. But, he replies, it looks suspicious to him when we try to drive around Etobicoke or to the Kawarthas when the same roads and bridges are under construction year after year after year.
I admit that the lackadaisical timing is suspect. It certainly drives up the cost for taxpayers along with our tempers. Unfortunately, not that new! When I was a kid reporter covering politics, some construction contracts came with a whiff of scandal about the cost, the politics of the company owners, and indeed, the necessity.
And then we often come to another stalling point in our drive where the road has been under repair for years and we both heartily agree that something stinks to high heaven about how we build in Ontario.
Repairs to our infrastructure have boils deeper than our potholes!
So I look forward to the mayoral media conference where John Tory says that it is rather obvious now that what is being done to the Gardiner downtown is a terrible mistake and it's back to the drawing board for our traffic engineers after a few have been fired and planners told to start acting like they live in a real city and not one just in their dreams.
And while Tory's at it, he should chat with his colleagues who sit on the board supposedly supervising the police force (stop this semantic nonsense it should be called a service) to order that either the chief and his deputies improve the dire quality of traffic policing in this city or face review.
Present policing procedure in this city favours paid-duty work for every cop even as every year it sticks more and more organizations like the CNE with higher policing costs.
When you consider the taxes we pay for municipal services. TTC and policing, it is obvious that either our councillors can't manage a doghouse or we are being played for suckers.
 The quality goes down as quickly as the costs go up, thanks to union and gutless management. No wonder there was a foul mood during the last municipal and provincial elections, oceans of unhappiness with what we've been getting.
If you know anyone who really is satisfied, she or he is bound to be making more than $100,000 annually that is paid in one form or another by you and me. And they don't even feed us before they screw us.
Something to ponder as you contemplate your next attempt to drive around T.O. without dreaming of just getting to hell out of town, and staying there, that is if the light ever changes.