Archive for September, 2006

The creeps at Porter Airlines

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

The creeps at Porter Airlines are at it again.

Yeah, them. The same dopes and thugs we warned you about last year:

Some have questioned how $22 million could have been touted as the cost of building the bridge, when a few months later $35 million is being paid to not build it. But it’s likely the money won’t be wasted, because the original schemers are still around, and now they have money greasing their pocketbooks. It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of their lot.

Or should we be fuming at the Toronto Star. Cancel our subscription!

Oh, wait. We already did that.

Today the Star (which editorialized several days ago on the subject of why the new airline is a “good thing” for Toronto and goes hand-in-hand with the “clean, green waterfront” they’ve always paid lipservice to) presented on the front page a story about the new airline’s expansion plans.

It wasn’t their story that bugged us though, but the pretty little diagram they included with it: a map of North America with Toronto in the centre and a dashed line encircling most of the continent from St. John’s in the east to Regina in the west, and from Havana in the south to Iqaluit in the north.

“Garsh,” we heard people muttering on the subway from Donlands clear over to Christie, “That dashed line makes it clear we here in Toronto will soon be really connected to the world, thanks to those generous urban visionaries at Porter Air.”

This isn’t to say the airline company’s sworn enemies, the folks at CommunityAIR, will be taking this lying down. Oh, no. They’re going to be at the front line with their petitions and their noise complaints and their demands for an extension of the park that comprises most of the Toronto Islands. We expect there will be letters to the editor in all the major papers.

The radicals.

And the people of Toronto are going to yawn and turn away. Some of them are going to actually applaud the new airline. Some of them are going to be happy not to have to weather the turbulence getting to Pearson Airport for their jaunt. Some of them don’t care about the noise concerns of those whom they perceive as “elites” in the 362 houses on the Toronto Islands. Even among the condominium crowd, there is no consensus. For every tenant who worries about noise from the airport, there’s another one hiding behind hermetically sealed windows who thinks it’s cool to have airplanes buzzing past.

The two main contenders for mayor in November’s election were in the thick of it today.
Miller, the incumbent, made a pun about the “endless flight–I mean fight” with the island airport. Pitfield, the challenger, is happy to rub the belly of the new airline. No surprise there. Her strategy so far has been to oppose everything the mayor supports, and vice-versa. Neither of them seems to be thinking for themself, in any case. Neither of them has taken a stand on the fact that three cyclists this year were killed by large trucks. Neither of them has made a call to mandate European-style sideguards on large trucks.

But we digress.

Fact is, if the choice with the island airport is between a new and expanded airport, with connections from downtown Toronto to St John’s and Havana and Regina and Iqaluit, and a new and expanded island park system, with picnic areas and sand dunes and a ball diamond, we actually feel ambivalent.

Toronto has a lot of parkland. It also has a pretty good airport. We almost don’t care which one prevails.

And we don’t think we’re alone in this.

Most people are bored with the debate.
Most don’t see how it affects them, out in their bungalow north of the 401 highway. Neither Miller nor Pitfield is going to get traction in this argument. Neither is going to win votes either way.

It’s too bad there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of expressing a third way: neither an expansion of the airport, nor an expansion of the stale parkland that’s already over there on the iislands.

A third way: an expansion of the non-driving zones of the city.
A place to live. A new urban settlement.

We have appeased the non-smokers. What about the non-drivers? Andy Singer CARtoon

What we have in mind is a residential development modeled on the existing Toronto Island Land Trust, where residents would lease, not buy the land under their dwellings. Who would own the land? We don’t care. Hell, it could be the Toronto Port Authority, for all we care. But the Land Trust would control sales, eliminating speculation and land grabs.

A scheme that leaves the super-hardened runways in place as a palimpsest for future main street development, ala Queen Street West or the Danforth: shops at street level, walk-up apartments over top. One that drops the time-tested patterns of Ward’s or Algonquin islands into the interstitial areas, with small houses on small lots, bordered by narrow, car-free streets.

A non-driving zone, with a tram system in place on the former runways, with shops and storefronts beneath apartments on the car-free “main streets,” with multiple ferry-links to the mainland of Toronto and to the rest of the islands, and with the tiny houses that anyone who ever visits Ward’s Island comes away marveling at. Bicycles everywhere. People walking hand-in-hand. People singing and skipping and playing in the streets. A non-driving zone: a living zone.

The island airport site could easily provide several thousand dwelling units of a variety of forms, plus the amenities to support the new inhabitants, all in a car-free setting that would put Toronto in the forefront of the sustainable urban design movement.

Where is the Mayoral contender with the vision to voice such a proposal.

We’re just asking.

After all, as another mayor, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago famously said, “You can’t have cars, cars, cars 24 hours a day.”

Airplanes? Parks? That’s another matter. Apparently for Swiller and Pigfield, either one will do just fine.

Expand the non-driving zones of the city!

It’s the climate, stupid.

When a cyclist is killed in Jane Pitfield’s ward, does it make a sound?

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

The Toronto Star had this dry little note the other day:

Cyclist killed by collision with cement truck

Sep. 12, 2006. 02:04 AM

A 47-year-old male cyclist is dead after being hit by a cement truck in the city’s north-end Monday afternoon.

The man, whose identity is not being released, was riding his bicycle west in the curb lane of Eglinton Ave. E. near Leslie St. when he was hit by the cement truck going in the same direction around 4:30 p.m., Toronto police said.

The man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries where he later died, police said.

Toronto Traffic Services is investigating the scene and no other details have been released at this time.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1900 or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-TIPS

We find ourselves wondering, what is it to “collide” with a cement mixer? It must be a little like colliding with the earth itself, after a long fall. We can only hope that for the cyclist, who for the time being remains nameless except to the investigating officers and to his family, it was as brief a moment of pain as possible. The story says he “succumbed to his injuries” in the hospital; it is to be hoped that in the meantime he never regained consciousness, or if he did, the shock of his experience prevented his feeling any pain.

Sadly, the pain of those who remain behind is not so easy to erase, much as it is to be wished away. We are reminded of the driver of the garbage truck who, carrying about his appointed rounds in the west end of the city a little over a year ago, drove westward into the sun and into the path of a child riding home after visiting a friend’s house.

They say he had to be literally dragged from the site at 11 pm the next night by his family. They say he was in the hospital on a suicide watch. The plot thickens with the fact that he’s a new father, with an infant son.

It cannot be easy to forget when one’s actions are directly responsible for the death of another human being. It is not for no reason we have a crime called “manslaughter.”

We hope the driver on Eglinton Ave. has resources for the help he or she will need.

We hope the family of the cyclist has resources for the help they will need.

But we know one thing. We know that cyclists have resources for the help they need. If we work together we can see to it that the dangerous conditions we experience every single time we take to the streets are ameliorated. We know that, as surely as we know the location of this crash, on Eglinton at Leslie, is within the boundaries of Toronto City Councillor Jane Pitfield‘s ward. We know this as surely as we know that Pitfield is the lone aspirant for the office of mayor in this fall’s election given any hope of victory against incumbent Mayor David Miller.

We have seen and heard both these two candidates pay lipservice to the needs of bicycle safety. We have seen them on their own steeds, participating in the annual “ride for pancakes” that that converges at city hall at the start of bikeweek.

Now is the chance for them to show they can bike the bike, not just talk the talk.

For this death, like the two cyclist deaths that happened on the same day earlier this year, ought not to have happened. It was, in the words of our man Blobby, “Eminently preventable.”

We gather from the information available that the collision happened when the cement mixer engulfed the cyclist in its undercarriage, from the side. We gather that once again (this is the third cyclist killed in Toronto this year, the third by large truck, the third in which a side swipe and swallowing by the void under the truck’s wheels was death’s delivery method), once again the cyclist in question would be alive still if the trucking industry had been brought into line by legislation mandating “sideguards on large trucks,” as “recommended” so many god damned years ago by the Toronto regional coroner, Dr W.J. Lucas.

Our friends in the cycling community will gather to mourn the loss of a fellow cyclist for the third time this year. Please turn to the webpage of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists for specific information, but the memorial is to take place at the place the cyclist was killed, seven days after the crash that took his life.

Bring flowers. Bring anger. Bring resolve.

Building Seven, Sept. 10 2001: Live Long and Prosper!

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Building Seven.” How those words trill from the lips. “Building Seven, Building Seven, Building Seven.” Ah…

Yes, it’s the World Trade Center Building Seven (wtc -7) to which we turn today, as we hover around the fifth anniversary of the death of “The Old Normal.”

Building Seven, how noble she stands: 47 storeys reaching for the sky, somewhat shy of the Woolworth building at 60 stories, and less than half the height of its proud cousins the World Trade Center Towers One and Two, but tall enough. Okay, she actually kind of blends into the background of lower Manhattan a bit. Actually, you’d miss her in a blink of an eye.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Look over there, at the tenant list by the elevator:

the United States Secret Service,
the Department of Defense,
the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),
the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management,
the Internal Revenue Service Regional Council (IRS),
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Ooh, kind of spooky, ne-c’est pas? All those secret organizations, all of them, just waiting to be collapsed into a pit tomorrow afternoon. Hope there’s nothing too important stored there.

Talk about yer “blink of an eye.”

Oh, there are other tenants, but these are the notables. Actually, the famous U.S. coin, the 1933 Double Eagle, was here, in the U.S. Secret Service vaults: a symbol of the republic, and the world’s most valuable coin (sold at auction for $U.S. 7.59 million). On Sept. 10 2001 though, it’s been gone for a few weeks, transfered to Fort Knox back in July.

Wouldn’t want that lying around when the boom drops, now would we?

The boom. The big boom. The boom-diddy-boom.

Building Seven, your days are numbered.

See, Building Seven is to drop into the earth on Sept. 11, 2001. Oh, no one will die from the collapse. The building is dropped in what most experts say is a controlled demolition. It’s acknowledged that it will fall, and the building has been cleared of inhabitants well ahead of time. It’s not until 5:00 p.m. that building owner Silverstein tells the fire dept. it’s time to “pull it.”

About 20 minutes later, squibs of smoke are seen puffing from the upper stories and within seconds the entire steel building drops straight downwards into its own foundation pit.

Steel pulled from the wreckage days later glows red: it is molten from the heat of the explosions that leveled Building Seven.

Most experts? Okay, that’s an overstatement. Actually, the 9/ll Commission makes no mention of the building, one of three to collapse that day (the other two being, of course, the Twin Towers, which, after all, were struck by jet planes whose fuel burns at a temperature of 1700°F. That’s hot. Oh, yes, that’s hot all right. Water, in fact, boils at 212°F, so that’s lots hotter than water boiling. Steel? Well, yes, steel melts too. Everything has a point at which it burns or melts. Steel melts at 2800°F. Hmm, yes, that’s right: 1,100 degrees greater than the temperature of burning aviation fuel. You got a problem with that? What are you, some kind of conspiracy nut?).

Actually, a feature in New York magazine a few months back described the varying degrees of acceptance most people have of the “Official story” of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The fact is, most folks have some spidey sense tingling at the back of their neck about the likelihood that something is wrong with the picture. And while it’s true, we all saw the plane hit the building, no plane hit Building Seven. Building seven had fires on the 12th floor. If Building Seven came down the way it did (in a replica of the famous demolition of St Louis’s Pruitt Igoe housing project) from just the heat of flames here and there, it would be the first time, ever, for a steel-framed tower of that type. It would sure make it easier to demolish buildings, when the time comes. Just set a fire on the 12th floor and let it burn for seven hours or so. Then–stand back!

Cheaper than explosives.

Oh and here’s a coincidence, for those of you who like a conspiracy. Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Centre’s twin towers, also designed Pruitt Igoe.

Why’s it worth asking, though? So what if Building Seven was demolished on purpose, by explosive charges laid ahead of time? What does that have to do with anything? What on earth does it have to do with car advertising?

The answer is the usual: “everything, and nothing.” First of all, obviously, if you start to doubt the official version of the collapse of Building Seven, you have to give creedence to the doubters of the official version of the collapse of the twin towers. Maybe you’ll look again at the videos of the collapsing WTC towers and see, with the conspiracy nuts, the “squibs” of smoke that indicate explosive charges, shooting out from the building walls on the floors just below the leading edge of the dropping building.

And if you can doubt that now-central myth at the heart of the New Normal, you can doubt anything. You can even begin to wonder, with the Allderblob, about the gospel of the car ad.

And when you get there, America, you’re in real trouble.

Councillor Case Ootes, fiend or friend foe?

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

It’s come to our attention that some in the cycling community are taking a long second look at the political spectrum of Toronto. In particular, they are asking: who is a friend to the city’s efforts to make a more bicycle-friendly, pedestrian-friendly city? We touched on this a couple entries ago (note corrected webpage link), and we know of others who are curious enough to speak of a “questionaire” directed at our politicians.

In this lob we dive into the heart of the matter.

With a municipal election on the horizon (we vote for councillors, school board representatives and mayor November 13), an election where a pitifully low percentage of eligible voters bother to turn out and one where incumbents are overwhelmingly likely to retake their council seats (complete with an 8% salary increase) for four more years (news flash: in their last council session councillors voted themselves an additional year each to “work their magic,” giving new meaning to the phrase “life councillor”), one question takes on great importance: which among the many politicians who delegate how our tax dollars should be spent really work to initiate and move forward changes that must be made if our city is to become more friendly to people who walk and ride bicycles? Which among our councillors “gets it” that non-driving areas are the life-blood of the city: places where motorists are restricted or eliminated, in favour of people who would choose to “live” instead?

We have appeased the non-smokers. What about the non-drivers? Andy Singer CARtoon

In particular, looking at the four city councillors who represent Toronto’s “Danforth Peninsula,” wards 29, 30, 31 and 32, which among councillors Paula Fletcher, Case Ootes, Janet Davis and Sandra Bussin is really working in the area of transportation choice to reduce greenhouse gases and ameliorate climate change? Which is making the bold moves that will be required to increase the non-driving areas of the city through better sidewalk and cycling infrastructure?

We were encouraged to examine the situation after receiving the following weird message, delivered on the back of a Rogers’ cable envelope, pasted in the cut-out letters stereotypicaly found in B-movie ransom notes:

Lenin, Marx, Trotsky, Mao,
We need Odious, Odious now!

Who or what is “Odious?” What is the significance of the link to those four bloodthirsty revolutionaries, Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and Mao?

Is Sandra Bussin “Odious?”

She’s a deputy mayor, and represents the Beaches area of the city, which includes important cycling infrastructure. She votes in favour of most of the bikeplan road improvements that have come her way, it’s true, but what has she done to initiate improvements for non-motorized road users? What benefit has the man, woman and child in the street, whether on foot or bike, gained from her tenure at city hall? Has Bussin worked to bring a bikelane to Leslie street south of Queen, where one Isaac Morkel was killed while riding his bicycle last winter? No. But she did initiate changes to that street to make a “right turn lane” from Leslie to Queen East, making car and truck traffic smoother while leaving cyclists, including children who might be returning to the city from an outing on the carfree Leslie street spit, in a more dangerous spot than ever. And what about the eastern terminus of the Dundas St E. bikelane, where activists have been calling for a realignment of the road to normalize the intersection with Kingston Road? A new condominium development is under construction there as we speak. Was the development approval process undertaken with an eye to improving the intersection? Did Bussin work for those improvements? Not to our knowledge. Has she initiated the changes necessary to allow a contraflow bikelane east of Kingston Rd, to allow cyclists to (legally) cycle through the one-block residential one-way street to ride their bikes on into the Beaches?

Um, no.

In fact, Sandra Bussin has initiated nothing herself to improve the lot of cyclists. She famously polled every resident along Jones Ave. when that bikelane was proposed, but did she poll every resident along Leslie street when the right turn lane was proposed? We don’t think so. Has she scolded the cops who routinely squat their squad cars in the bikelane that passes the 55 Division fortress at Dundas and Coxwell? Not that we’ve heard about.

Despite her lipservice to bicycle and pedestrian issues, Scratch Sandra Bussin from your list of friends. As far as we’re concerned, this deputy mayor is only as useful to cyclists and to the goal of a more liveable city as her boss, mayor Miller, tells her to be.

Who’s next on the list? Let’s look at Paula Fletcher.

Fletcher, councillor for ward 30, guards the interest of Toronto residents living south of Danforth, west of Bussin’s ward and east to the Don Valley. As former chair of the communist party of Manitoba (yes, it’s really true!) maybe she is the one who would be the mysterious “Odious,” successor to Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and Mao.

More specifically, as current point woman between folks we know who worked on the famous Dundas East bikelanes (notably Paul Young, Bill Brown and our own Jacob Allderdice among them) and the city, and local councillor for the Portlands development site, she is as powerful a force as any “deputy mayor” on council.

Did she come out to Isaac Morkel’s memorial last winter, when he died on his bike and the prow of an 18-wheeler at the intersection of Leslie and Eastern? No she did not. Did she work to follow through on the call for bike lanes up Leslie, linking the carfree weekend cycling destinations of the Leslie street Spit and Tommy Thompson Park with the residential communities in her ward to the north? No she did not.

It’s true she called for a meeting with community representatives concerned about skateboarders on the painted median of Pape south of Queen, and it’s true she asked Toronto’s bicycle transportation planner Daniel Egan to look into a bikelane on Eastern Avenue, but on meeting night she neglected to show up! And while she is aware of the concerns some of us have for the state of cycling and pedestrian safety in her ward, has she worked toward extending bicycle lanes across the Don River on Dundas St? No she has not. Has she worked on “greening” Dundas street with boulevard plantings and elimination of the speedup lanes that would start to make the bikelanes there feel more permanent? No she has not.

Is Paula Fletcher the cyclist’s friend? Is she a galvanizing force in the struggle to make Toronto less dependent on automobiles and less of a contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming? Uh, probably no more or less than any of the would-be politicians who are vying for her post at city hall this November. Is she calling for significant carfree areas in the new Portlands development, “non-driving” residential areas that could be modeled on the delightful communities on Toronto Island? We sure haven’t heard her doing so.

Then there’s Janet Davis, councillor for ward 31. This ward is north of the Danforth, east of Coxwell.

Is Davis the infamous “Odious,” the cyclists’ friend? Is it she who would inherit the mantle of “Lenin, Marx, Trotsky, Mao?”

Davis worked hard to see that a new bikelane was implemented in her ward in her first term on council. This bikelane is the controversial Cosburn Ave, which stretches from Oak Park ave in the east all the way to Broadview in the West. Its eastern terminus is the location of a cyclist death some years ago, when an elderly man was struck by a car being chased at high speeds by the police. The battle for Cosburn was a significant one, not least because of its length. Largely residential in nature, with larger apartment buildings on the portion in ward 29 and many schools along it, the street is ideal for a bikelane and in fact since the road improvements the number of cyclists using it regularely have more than doubled.

Along the way it crosses Coxwell and Donlands, two north-south streets that are both on the map for the creation of new bikelanes. Coxwell divides Davis’s ward from ward 29, while Donlands is fully in ward 29. It would be hard slogging to see Davis work toward bikelanes on those two streets without the cooperation of her neighbouring councillor, but has she made the effort? Not to our knowledge. Not even on Coxwell, where in theory she could bring pressure to bear, has there been any movement toward the improvement of cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. Coxwell would be ideal for bikelanes: it sweeps north past a hospital, past the East York Civic Centre (former city hall and headquarters of the city’s bicycle transportation department); while there are commerical districts at its northern terminus and near Gerrard st. to the south, it is mostly residential in nature. South of Danforth is the aforementioned Bussin’s territory: in theory, she and Davis could work together to create cycle lanes from the lakefront clear to the top of the Danforth Peninsula. In theory, the bikelanes could sweep across on a magnificent new carfree bridge that would link Coxwell with Don Mills Road, creating a new, much-needed link for non-drivers off the Danforth Peninsula.

Nothing, however, has been done in this department. Why not?

We can only surmise it is not important to councillor Davis. Is she a cyclists’ friend? Yes, we say, for her work on Cosburn. But she is not, in our books, “Odious.”

Who is left?

Or rather, who is Right?

Councillor Case Ootes [rhymes with “odious”–coincidence? –ed.] governs ward 29. It is he who kicked up a stink over Cosburn Ave’s bikelanes, delaying their implementation. In the end bikelanes were approved in an unusual vote of city councillors that went against the wish of the sitting councillor. Why did this happen? It could be a case of “payback time” for Ootes’s work to “rip out” the bikelanes on Dundas East, bikelanes which (we gather) disturbed his daily commute to city hall (and past the Mercedes dealership at Dundas and River Street).

[Legal disclaimer: we cannot say if Councillor Ootes receives any re-election donations from this or any other Mercedes dealership. What we can say is the last time we looked, Councillor Ootes was at the wheel of a gold-coloured Mercedes Benz with vanity plate saying “Case.” –ed.]

We are reminded of a recent pong. You will remember it, we know:

You drive a Mercedes Benz
Because you haven’t any friends
Who will tell you who you are
Based on your make and type of car.

Is Ootes “Odious?”

Allow us to rephrase the question: Do bears shit in the woods?

It’s Case Ootes, with his Wile E. persistence, and persistent failure, who deserves the mantle of “Lenin, Marx, Trotsky, Mao.” It’s Case Ootes, with his resume including stints as Imperial Oil of Canada accounts executive; his out-of-ward-29 home on a quiet cul-de-sac backing onto the car-free Taylor Creek Ravine, from where he drives each day to and from city hall; his loony fringe calls for the ripping out of bicycle infrastructure all over the city; his work to push for a better deal for his son, the motorcycle driver who once got a parking ticket at one of those “pay and display” meters (the boy claimed the receipt was removed from the windscreen of his motorbike; the result is that moroncyclists all across this fair city no longer need pay for parking); his near-death experience running city hall as deputy to former joke mayor Mel Lastman.

Yes, in Case Ootes we have uncovered our “Odious.”

The sick irony is in Case Ootes we have also uncovered this city’s best hope for the completion of necessary cyclist infrastructure.
It is he, not cycling committee chair Adam Giambrone who has galvanized folks all across the region to work toward the expansion of non-driving areas, places in the city where pedestrians and cyclists can feel safer on the streets, and where regular folks can start to breathe free of the yoke of smog that besmirches this fair city.

So the question comes up: is this to say that we would advocate a vote for Councillor Ootes in November?

Um, no. Not at all. A lump of shit would make a better city councillor.

But we will miss his toothsome smirk nonetheless. We will miss that faint shadow of a mustache on his upper lip.

letter to the \"ad\" itor?

We will miss him when we no longer have him to kick around. And we will welcome Diane Alexopolous [that’s Alexopoulos, by the way –ed.] boring as that may seem, in his place.