Archive for November, 2006

Recounting the Odious struggle to date

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Joe Cooper, “Watchdog” columnist at the Riverdale/East York Mirror and Car Advertiser, has joined our call for a recount in Ward 29.

In addition, the lead editorial in that paper today claims “Recounts should be automatic in close election races.”

From all across the globe in fact, cries are being heard: “Enough Ootes already!”

Well, all across the Danforth Peninsula, anyway. The rest of the city hasn’t exactly noticed.

In fact from most of our readers, it’s not a cry of folks fed up with that “embarassment of Ward 29,” Case Ootes [phonetic pronunciation: “Odious” –ed.], but of folks fed up with the ALLDERBLOB’s fascination with a foregone conclusion.

For most of our readers, it’s a call triggered by people who long for the glory days of the ALLDERBLOB, the days of Jessica Rabbit and Margaret Wente, of Jacob Richler and Gord Perks: the days, in other words, when our straying from the call to “ban car ads” led to (self) flagelation, (righteous) indignation and (character) assassination, not (Case) Ootesination.

“Enough,” people are saying.

And we are listening.

We hear the fact that the city’s national “media and car advertisers” have yet to pick up the ALLDERBLOB holler for “Justice in Ward 29:” no calls from Royson James of the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser, or Jeff Simpson of the Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser; the CBC’s Metro Morning with Anti Bikey did not break stride to present our well-founded suspicions of dirt-cheap dirty deeds north of Danforth.

We get it. You’re fed up and want us to turn our gaze elsewhere.

You want to know how car advertising plays a part in the double bruising Toronto received recently when the Federal government both declined to back our bid for the 2015 World’s Fair and agreed that the Toronto Port Authority does not comprise the “creeps and rascals” everyone knows them to be.

You want to know our take on the State of California’s bid to sue its six biggest car manufacturers for knowingly and deliberately contributing to global warming.

You want to hear what we think about the latest attack on big tobacco–their having to stop calling some cigarettes “mild” or “light” because it suggests some smokes don’t cause cancer–when the car companies can go on pretending that some cars are “less bad” for the environment than others, as usual.

You’re fed up with us lobbing at the shadows thrown by Toronto city clerk Ulli S. Watkiss and councillor Case Ootes, dancing their mysterious tango.

You get it: we’re implying that to call a margin of 0.17% (i.e. 20 votes out of a total of 11,560 cast for either Ootes or Alexopoulos) a victory, not a “tie,” (where a tie vote would have merited a recount) means “someone” owes “someone” a favour.

You were there when we turned up the fact that it was Ootes himself who announced Wad-kiss’s hiring in 2001. But you also note that Ootes was deputy mayor at the time (and therefore would have been the point-man on announcing such hirings). Might this not explain his name and glowing words on the press release? Are Wad-kiss and Ootes drinking buddies? We have no way of knowing, and you don’t seem to care. Does Wadkiss have allegience to Odious that predates the current term of Mayor David Miller? We can’t say, and you want us to move on.

Okay, you say. Her call, that “no request for a recount would be granted,” was unfathomable. Okay. Enough.

We hear you. We’d be saying “enough,” too. We would.

Only, now we’ve unearthed another obvious tidbit on the Ward 29 drama.

It is a question of how Alexopoulos snuck up on everyone to come so close to the prize. Nobody expected it. Mayor Miller’s handler, Chris Phibbs, famously told our ace the struggle against Ootes was a waste of time. Adam Vaughan, who cleaned up in Ward 20 against the entire NDP machine, declined to run against Ootes out of fear of being “buried.Look at the margin of victory Case Ootes enjoyed over his competitors in the last election, in 2003:


Papadakis was ‘buried.” Folks who worked for him “wasted their time.”

But look again at those numbers: Ootes earned 9,352 votes in 2003. This time, he won 5,790. The fact is, Alexopoulos, who won 5,770 votes the other day, picked up just 563 votes over what Papadakis got three years ago. If Ootes had been his old self, he would have creamed her by a margin of 3,582 votes.

In other words, the election was Ootes’s to lose, not Alexopoulos’s to win. For all the stumping Ootes claims NDP leader Jack Layton and MPP Peter Tabuns did on Alexopoulos’s behalf, for all the post-election fretting about a “demon-dialler” he says Alexopoulos employed on election day, the resulting 563 votes that went to Alexopoulos would not have meant squat if Ootes himself had bothered to show up this time around.

Instead, his regal indifference to the rigours of an election campaign almost sent him to the employment line. It has made him the laughing-stock of city council. It may yet prove his undoing, if and when a recount is ordered in the new term that starts in January.

But we hear you. We do. Enough on Case Ootes and Diane Alexopoulos and Ulli S. Watkiss. Enough.

Instead, let us catch up on breaking news from all over:

Our colleague at Afterbirth of the Cool has raised the lid on the World Toilet Organization (WTO), noting that World Toilet day was celebrated at a variety of dumpsites this past week.

At the Culture Change headquarters, the latest screed addresses the Ivan Illich quandary about speed, urging readers to reconsider how fast they go in a car when they factor in the time spent earning the money for all that car culture incurs.

David Rees, whose drawings grace the monthly pages of Rolling Stone magazine and, more potently, his own website, has made hay with the latest travails of the fascists who propel politics in our neighbour to the south.

And not Rees but Reis, this one Martin, has daily Bikelane diary entries to savour. We loved the YouTube movie “history of Oil” (complete with bicycle-powered klieg-lamps).

And finally, always remember:

driving vs non-driving?

Forget Mayor David Miller, it’s the challenge to Councillor Case Ootes that Toronto will be talking about.

Friday, November 17th, 2006

Reading between the lines of the stories in the major Toronto “news and car advertisers” this past week it becomes evident that Toronto Councillor Case Ootes [phonetic spelling: “Odious” –ed.] has some friends in low places.

We refer in particular to this front page story from Wednesday’s Global Male and Car Advertiser, in which intrepid reporters Jeff Gray and Jennifer Lewington dig into the muck to find: “Under election rules, the city does an automatic recount with a tie vote. In other cases, a challenger must ask the city clerk for a recount. [City spokesman Brad] Ross said clerk Ulli Watkiss has ruled out granting any such requests this year.”

Which is to say, while Diane Alexopoulos may be “considering” asking for a recount, her potential request has already been denied by this clerk person, Ulli Wadkiss [sorry–could you check that spelling please? –ed.].

Any chance Watkiss and Odious are drinking buddies? We wonder. Regardless, it’s true that Odious, as Toronto deputy mayor in 2001, conferred upon Ms Wadkiss her chainmail of orifice. Quoth Odious: [She’s a] “practical, big-picture, problem solver and strategic thinker”

Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the twenty vote margin translates to a 46.3 to 46.1 percent victory for M. Odious, a victory so shlim that any reashonable pershon [hic! –ed.] would call it a tie and automatically “recount.”

But maybe we are missing the “big picture.”

Maybe we aren’t “problem solvers.”

Maybe we’re not “strategic thinkers.”

But we don’t think it’s us, we think it’s Wadkiss. We think she knows which side of the bread her butter is on. We rather suspect she’s just being “practical.”

The other major story on the Odious embarrassment was in the Toronto Rats and Car Advertiser: its reporters, Donovan Vincent and John Spears, parked themselves in M. Odious’s out-of-ward ravine-lot cul-de-sac driveway [metaphorically of course –ed.] for this tidbit:

Ootes said both NDP federal leader Jack Layton and NDP MPP Peter Tabuns canvassed for Alexopoulos in an all-out blitz aimed at toppling one of the few conservative-minded politicians in the area.

“They apparently had a demon dialler encourage people to vote for her,’’ Ootes said.

“I am still here … and they don’t like it,” he added.

Now, we at the Allderblob know gloating when we hear it, and we sure hear it in that Odious comment. We asked our resident scribe and Urban Designer, Jacob Allderdice, to examine the transcript and report back. His comment, as is his wont, took the form of a letter to the Rats and Car Advertiser “ad-itor.”

Unfortunately, the letter was not selected for publication (note: the paper endorsed M. Odious for re-election) [Note: we fixed the link –ed.].

Fortunately, we retained a copy.

To the Editor:

re: `It’s not over’ in Ward 29

Case Ootes told your reporter how Jack Layton and Peter Tabuns stumped for his Diane Alexopoulos, his main opponent and runner-up for Ward 29 councillor. It was to no avail: Ootes won anyway.

“I am still here … and they don’t like it,” he is quoted as saying.

Someone should tell him it’s ugly to gloat.

Someone should remind him that out of 12,512 votes cast in ward 29, for six candidates, he defeated Alexopoulos by just 20 votes, a margin of just 0.2 percent.

Someone should point out that as the 9-year incumbent, this is an embarrassing margin of victory. It’s not just Tabuns, Layton and Alexopoulos who don’t like it. There’s a 932-person majority in his ward who voted ABC—Anyone But Case. You can bet they don’t like it either.

Someone should make a new rule. If an incumbent wins by 0.2 percent of the vote, over his closest competitor, in a race with five opponents, the incumbent should have to spend the following term wearing a chicken suit to all council meetings.

Or someone should counsel the councillor to concede defeat.

Yours truly, (etc.)

And therein lies the rub: the Challenge to Case Ootes. We will accept your slim “victory” as a mandate to govern ward 29, if you will consent to wear a chicken suit during your four-year [choke! –ed.] term of office.

We await your response.

Twenty votes give Ootes his seat back

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Dateline: Ward 29, November 13, 11:44 pm.

And the votes are in. All polls reporting.

Ootes, Case* 5,790 (Elected) 46.3%
Alexopoulos, Diane 5,770 46.1%
James, Andrew 518 4.1%
Wilson, Hamish 183 1.5%
Richardson, John 137 1.1%
Smith, Darryl 114 0.9%

It looks like the last laughs are on us.

Please, Diane Alexopoulos, tell us you are going to demand a recount.

Please, Case Ootes: recognize that the ABC vote has spoken: 6,772 votes for their camp, 5,790 for yours. You lost by some twenty less than a thousand votes. Concede to the runner-up. Let Alexopoulos rule ward 29.

Give it up old man. Imperial Oil has moved to Calgary. Isn’t it time you headed west with them?

The dark secret of Toronto Mayor David Miller

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

Readers of this blob (Hi, mom!) will know that we do not take fright easily. Not even the Harris era pitbull Guy Giorno [where are they now dept. –ed.] was able to sway us from our unappointed rounds.

But recent events have us contemplating barring our windows and bolting our doors, if not our lunch.

We refer, of course, to Monday Night at Shaw Street, where we overheard a conversation between Spacing Wire’s election blogger John Lorinc, Eye magazine’s Dale Duncan, Eye’s Ed Keenen, and the two front-runners in the mayoral election, Jane “inane” Pitfield and David “thriller” Miller.

Yes, Misha Glouberman was there too, but really, not part of the conversation at all. We envied him. We coveted his wireless microphone, if not his necktie.

In fact, Keenen’s and Glouberman’s neckties were carrying on their own side-chatter (but who are we to criticize fashion trends?).

The occasion was a sort of mayoral debate, but without the distraction of the contenders appearing on stage together. The hall was stacked along one side with hard liquor bottles, and along the other with Jane Pitfield supporters in yellowing ballcaps and severe suits, wearing scowls.

Moments of entertainment were to be had: surely a highlight was Jane Pitfield, who confused a bicycle bell with the recording of a subway chime that was used to signal the end of her alotted speaking time. We imagine neither sound is especially familiar to her, but we are willing to cut her slack for nervousness. The fact is, cyclists were in the room in some number, and a campaign had been spawned by partisans of the Tooker Gomberg Memorial Bikelane project to encourage the ringing of bicycle bells whenever a “green” or pro-cycling position was aluded to.

The bells were therefore relatively passive during Pitfield’s portion of the event although we heard a ringing in our ears during her discourse on “negative-option tree-plantings” on front yards in Leaside.

They were especially quiet during her discourse on the safety of waste incineration, although someone quite near us was heard to yell “incinerate yer ballots!

Not a position we at the ALLDERBLOB are prepared to support.

We were interested, however, when Pitfield spoke of the “144 distinct neighbourhoods” in the city of Toronto, and the importance of preserving their distinct identities and characteristics. Perhaps this explains why the Wal-Mart Power Centre that recently opened in her ward is decorated in pastel hues of mauve and fuscha stucco, with a de Chirico-inspired arcade and a parking lot for a thousand cars. In response to a heckler at this point Pitfield did indeed confirm that for her, “more cars in the suburbs” is a way of preserving that part of Toronto’s “distinctness.”

Eventually David Miller appeared, his beard glistening with sweat
under the hot lights, his jowls looking particularly heavy. We note that for him Pecan Pie is a “guilty pleasure,” and we suggest he try cycling or other active transportation, whether for exercise or as a way to commune with the family. Perhaps when he has more time, after the 13th November.

Miller was not let off easily by the feisty Spacing/Eye team. While it is true that the crowd was in Miller’s clammy little hand, the panel demonstrated nothing but professional distance, nothing but objective nonpartisan frankness. No stone was left unturned [you’re turning my stomach though. get to the point, please. –ed.].

It was Ed Keenen who delivered the knockout punch to Mayor Miller
(as reported in the Toronto Rats and Car Advertiser today):

[Keenen] said Miller told [eye] magazine three years ago cycling would be a high priority. Yet only 26 kilometres of bike paths have been built since he was elected three years ago; woefully short of the planned 1,000 kilometres.

“That’s half as much as under (former Mayor) Mel Lastman,” Miller was told.

“I’ve been campaigning since May and nobody had compared anything I’ve done to my predecessor,” the mayor replied.

Miller said the city has added about $1 million a year for biking. But he said it didn’t work, partly because some councillors fight to keep bike lanes off streets in their ward despite the fact they increase safety for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

Miller said the city has tried a piecemeal plan but that it’s “time to be more aggressive” and that cyclists have to push harder in neighbourhoods that resist bike lanes.

Not reported in the newspaper was the follow-up question: who are the councillors who are to blame for holding up the bikeplan?

Miller was frank, and he was specific. No mincing words here. “Case Ootes,” he replied.

A hush fell. No bicycle bells sounded. It is likely some of the older women and possibly the gentlemen too, near the bar, fainted dead away. At any rate we were aware of two or three thudding noises from that side of the room. But otherwise, a hush: only the breathless murmer: “A-B-C” could be heard, we like to think. But perhaps it was just the rustle of of a dry, balding scalp as the Jane Pitfield supporter standing near us twisted his yellow ball cap on his head.

No, we are sure we heard it: “A-B-C,” a whisper that ran like a shiver up the spine of the crowd.

If Miller heard it too, he did not let on its meaning: “Anyone But Case,” the ward 29 rallying cry of late. Miller did not say out loud the thoughts in the hearts of right-thinking ward 29 denizens: “D-VO,” or “Don’t Vote Ootes.”

No, Miller went right on talking, right up to the sound of the subway chime.

He is one politician who knows the sound of a subway chime.

But we wondered, as the evening wore on, what is up with Miller and Ootes?
We listened hard for the mayor’s take on other councillors who have similarly disappointed or confused him, but we heard nothing. In fact, in over an hour of talk, the mayor mentioned just one councillor. That was the esteemed Odious. He didn’t even mention by name his opponent, the councillor from Leaside.

Miller must really have a thing for “the embarrassment from ward 29.”

So it was with interest that we approached the mayor at the event’s end. He had stepped from the stage and was surrounded by eager reporters and bloggers with cameras and notepads held afore them. Close by the mayor were his handlers, Don Wanagas and Chris Phibbs. We hovered at the edge of this adoring clutch. It became apparent that we would not be able to get anywhere near his Warship on this occasion, and we put the question the best available alternative, Ms. Phibbs.

As an aside [please! –ed.] we must speak of our previous encounters with Chris Phibbs. In fact, we know her as the also-ran contender in the ward 30 councillor race of 2003. In that race, which our current councillor, Paula Fletcher finaly won (as a strong supporter of David Miller’s), Chris Phibbs fought a ruthless, nay, a dirty fight. The darkest moment, surely, was when, on the eve of the election she distributed flyers throughout the ward that quoted the Global Male and Car Advertiser’s columniast John Barber. Barber had inexplicably cast his hooded gaze eastward, past the Don River, onto the Danforth Peninsula, and espied the ward 30 battle. His contribution, five days before the election, was to note that Paula Fletcher had a sordid past: she was at one time the leader of the Manitoba Communist Party. From this fact, like any true-blooded amerikan would, Barber foretold dark days ahead for ward 30, and advocated a vote for Phibbs. Needless to say, the strategy backfired. If anything, support for Fletcher surged: most of ward 30 residents, after all, are fellow-travellers.

But Phibbs landed on her feet, and here she is, in the thick of the Miller war room.

On this night we asked Phibbs if, since Miller was so concerned about Case Ootes, he would be “pulling out the stops” (yes it’s true, we used this very phrase) in support of Ootes’s main opposition, Diane Alexopoulos.

And here is the beginning of the scary part.

For here is the grist of Mayor Miller’s dirty little secret.

Ms Phibbs looked us in the eye. She is a rather tall woman, with close-cropped hair and a swimmer’s build. You can see how John Barber would have fallen for her.

“Jake,” she said, “the answer is no. It’s not worth it.”

Our mouth fell open. Our eyes bugged out. It wasn’t just that Phibbs knew us by name, which is indeed a mystery.

But to say it’s “Not worth it” to campaign against the only councillor who gets under Miller’s skin enough to merit mention in the debate? We reached past Phibbs and tugged the tweed-covered shoulder of Don Wanagas. “Say it ain’t so, Don,” we pleaded. “Say Miller’s going to get out to ward 29 and do battle together with Alexopoulos.”

Wanagas is gruff. His coat is rough. His stance was tough. He huffed: “In fact, Miller was out there today, canvassing.”

But the damage was done. We went home and ordered window bars. And we pondered the meaning of this lack of enthusiasm on Miller’s part.

Because it’s not just Phibbs, and by extension Miller, who says the battle in ward 29 is a foregone conclusion. The most recent issue of Toronto Life magazine [note to our international readers: Toronto Life is like The New Yorker, except it’s about Toronto, and has fewer Canadian writers. –ed.] presented the case in similar language, in an article about Adam Vaughan’s campaign for councillor in ward 20. That’s the ward vacated by NDP powerhouse, Member of Parliament and wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, Olivia Chow. There, Vaughan has incurred the NDP’s wrath because he’s insisted on running against Chow’s chosen successor, the uninspiring Helen Kennedy. If only Helen Kennedy could boast a dark past as leader of some distant province’s communist party: but alas, she doesn’t. So in the Toronto Life story we read how Layton tried to convince Vaughan to take on Ootes instead, in which case the NDP would back him with all its might. The quote in question is:

His candidacy has been a thorn in the side of both Mayor David Miller and the local NDP machine. In their eyes, Trinity-Spadina is reserved for Olivia Chow’s former assistant, Helen Kennedy. Last winter, federal NDP leader Jack Layton offered him the party’s support and his personal endorsement—provided Vaughan ran in East York against nine-year incumbent Case Ootes. If he refused, Vaughan claims, Layton said the NDP would “bury” him. (Layton doesn’t recall using the word “bury.”)

Lose with me as your enemy, or lose with me as your friend. It was an offer he had to refuse.

Miller’s secret is out, and it’s a scary one. The man slings blame like the Allderblob vitriol. He’d rather have Case Ootes on hand, we think, in order to have someone to blame when the city’s bicycle infrastructure projects fall short the years to come.

Bar your windows, folks.

Danforth Peninsula Redux

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

The shallow troughs of knowledge at the ALLDERBLOB were taxed the other day by Joe Cooper of the “Riverdale/East York Mirror and Car Advertiser.” In his weekly “watchdog” column of October 12, 2006, Cooper declaimed about the condition of Danforth Avenue here in Toronto: in particular the “east” section of the street (unfortunately the link to Cooper’s original column has been removed by the newspaper).

Now, to our 13 1/4 loyal readers, we must apologize. This will seem like an extremely arcane subject to you. First of all, there is the problem of the Danforth. It is, by definition, in the east end of Toronto. But just think: it gets worse. It turns out there is a further distinction to be made: a west end and an east end to the Danforth itself.

The horror, the horror.

As we have described it elsewhere, the mysterious Danforth Peninsula is bisected
on a north-south line at Coxwell Avenue. However it will not surprise you to hear that long before one reaches Coxwell, traveling east, the “Rougher end of the Danforth” has been found.

For naturally, if there is to be a pleasant part of Danforth at all, it would be the western section.
The eastern section, as Joe Cooper makes clear, is a train wreck. West of Pape Avenue, all is nice. You would be forgiven for confusing your experience there with any of a number of busy, people-filled ‘hoods of the west end of Toronto. Bloor West Village. Little Italy. Queen St. West. The Junction. It has tons of little boutiques and restaurants, it has people crossing midblock and with abandon, it has grocery stores, a bookstore and three subway stops to choose from. You can walk there from Yonge Street in less than a half-hour, and you’ll be treated to a literary experience crossing the Prince Edward Viaduct as you go.

Wow. No wonder they can pack ’em in at the “Taste of the Danforth.”

Although he does not say so, it seems likely Cooper is responding to a similar argument put forth by Bert Archer in the local paper “The Global Male and Car Advertiser” [shurely you mean “Canada’s National Newspaper” –ed.] a few Saturdays previous.

Oh, it wasn’t always thus. At some point in the dim and distant past, when Joe was a lad and his granddad ran a butcher shop at Woodbine and Danforth, before the subway, before the duchess-faced horse [yes, yes, you’re a poet: get to the point –ed.], there was a real community on Danforth East: a vital place, a centre. Not a place completely removed from Toronto proper (Cooper takes pains to remind his readers that the owner of the movie palace located at Woodbine and Danforth was briefly mayor of Toronto).

Now, readers of Joe Cooper know that, as surely as the car ad will be decried in the ALLDERBLOB, the amanglemation of Toronto will be despised in the Watchdog, and Cooper was true to form in his discussion of Danforth East. In fact, he takes the curious position that it was the advent of the subway that killed his beloved corner at Woodbine. He describes how, with the Bloor/Danforth line’s extension to Woodbine came first the death of the movie palace (people took the subway downtown) and soon after the immolation of the small butcher’s (the movie palace was replaced by a supermarket–a supermarket with–gasp–an entrance directly from the subway!).

But as you can imagine, our resident urban designer had something to say about the matter, and a furious letter-writing campaign commenced.

Yesterday, two weeks later, the letter found print, if not web-space at the RimRom. Lucky for our readers, we retained a copy:

To the Editor:

Joe Cooper writes (“Danforth Avenue has 40 years of bad planning to overcome,” Oct. 12 2006) that Danforth Avenue east of Pape has a lot of problems: “the area is struggling, with many businesses having to cope with declining sales, crime and a poorly maintained streetscape.”

He doesn’t mention it, but it’s said that Toronto cabbies have a nickname for this stretch of Danforth: “the miracle mile,” so-named because they say if you hit the right speed, it’s possible to cruise the entire stretch without braking or slowing down for any red lights.

The fact is, this road has been designed for speed. The Metro Toronto planners, with their 1950s car-oriented mentality, got their meathooks into it a long time ago, and turned it into a “traffic corridor.” It’s the road design that’s led to the downfall of community along Danforth

Notice that Cooper addresses the Danforth “east of Pape.” What makes the difference to the west of Pape?

The storefronts are similar in size. The residential neighbourhoods to the north and south are similar in density. The road is the same width. The subway’s there east and west. But there is one significant difference: it’s the way the road is striped.

Danforth west of Pape has been “calmed” for 22 hours of the day. The road markings allow for left turn lanes and two through lanes of traffic during rush hours, but for most of the day the road is a lazy two-lane affair. It has what urban designers like me call “thickening:” a deliberate slowing of traffic, with ample parking on both sides, ample room for cyclists, and a centre painted median that allows pedestrians to safely cross the street almost anywhere (a
feature that is enhanced by the slowing of traffic during non-peak hours).

Contrast this with the street layout east of Pape. There, the same width of road encourages a squeeze zone of dangerously speeding cars in the right lane, while cars back up behind traffic making left turns. The street is unpleasant for pedestrians and dangerous for cyclists.

[but at least you can park there, thank God –ed.]

Children and the elderly visit this stretch of road at their peril.

It’s no wonder small stores have so much trouble staying in business. All any sane person would want to do in the eastern section of Danforth is race through, to get back home as fast as possible.

Until the business owners east of Pape understand this simple difference, and demand the city restripe their end of the street, there is no chance “Danforth East” will ever become a place that
people will want to linger or savour an experience.

Wow. Such forceful expression. Surely the car advertisers [newspapers, you mean? ed.] are lining up with offers of employment. Surely a book deal is in the offing. May we say we are as impressed with Mr. Allderdice’s writing as you are?

Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation launched to great fanfare: Margaret Wente a no-show

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

The following press release came our way today:

For immediate release
Nov 1 2006

Toronto ON, October 31: Glen Murray, chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Dr. Alan Abelsohn of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and Gil Penalosa of Walk and Bike for Life will be joining the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) today at a press conference to demand that the next City Council make Toronto a truly enjoyable and safe place for cycling and walking.

Etcetera, etcetera.

The press release was distributed to an elite body of journalists, typists, and massagers of keyboards of all stripes all across the august city of To-ron-to. Naturally, the ALLDERBLOB was not among that number, however we have friends in high places and so we “found out” about the TCAT launch—among other things.

The simple fact is, Margaret Wente did not answer her invitation, so it was left to the ALLDERBLOB to ask the difficult questions on her behalf.

And you heard it here first that the typist gathering, which landed with a subtle “plop” in the two-storey atrium at MEC (that’s “mountain equipment co-op” for those of you out of the loop) could be counted on the fungus of one hand: there was Jeff Gray, Toronto Global Male and Car Advertiser’s self-titled “Traffic Guru;” there were Steve Wickens and David Bruser, competing for column inches from the same paper (the Toronto Rats and Car Advertiser); there was a woman from Novae Res Urbis (yes that’s its real name, but you need a million bucks to read the damn thing), a paper which my handy translation tool gives as “If it’s in Latin, it must be important.”

There were others present, but we are not at liberty to divulge their names. Suffice it to say that Sally McKay, Steve Brearton, Rick Conroy, Paul Young, all familiar to the elite cycling set that sets the agenda within today’s city hall, along with Ron Fletcher of Toronto Bicycling Network, J.P. Warren of the Conservation Development Alliance, and someone hovering at the back, eyeballing our reporter (who had absconded with the pen provided for signing in), completed the gathering.

At the head of the room, at a longish table our pals Marty Collier, Martin Koob, and Nancy Smith-Lea bookended the three distinguished complainants mentioned above: Dr. Abelsohn, Mr. Penalosa and Mr. Murray. Marty Collier did the introductions.

We snoozed.

However, our rest was to prove fitful, and our dreams lively.

Martin Koob interrupted our revery with his presentation of the work of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation. We have talked about them elsewhere and will not bore you again, however it bears mentioning that TCAT has done a yeoman’s job of creating a questionaire about attitudes toward cycling and walking for the current crop of wanna-be municipal councillors, and an even better job of getting the questionnaires into the faces of the polititicians.

After Koob, first to speak was Dr. Abelsohn, who co-authored a study called “Public Health and Urban Sprawl” in 2004. The findings of that study made the startling conclusion that folks who live in sprawl are car dependent. Being car dependent makes them tend to be overweight. Being overweight leads to a host of problems including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and the need for large trucks to accommodate their large behinds. It’s a vicious circle, one which Dr. Abelsohn abbreviated by saying his prescription for the large body of patients he sees who present these characteristics is “physical exercise.” When the inevitable answer comes back that there is not enough time to get to the gym, he responds, “incorporate exercise into your daily life by walking and cycling.”

The Margaret Wente in us put up her hand at this point: “Sirrah,” she screeched, not even waiting to be recognized. “First of all, I have seen plenny fat persons on bikes. Second, why you targeting fat people? Isn’t it time to re-evaluate “fat” anyway? If, as you say, to be obese is defined as being 30 pounds over one’s ideal weight, why not get together with your physician friends and redefine the ideal weight. Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper than building all these trails and bikelanes everywhere, things society doesn’t really need and things that drain money away from roadbuilding?”

However, the discussion went on over these clear-thinking objections.

Next up was Mr. Penalosa, who you will know as the brother of Enrique although it did not come up in discussion (we are sure they are on the best of terms). Gil Penalosa was commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation during his brother’s mayoralty in Bogotá Colombia in the late 1990s. It’s Enrique who usually gets the credit for the construction of over 170 parks, the closure of 91 km of roads each Sunday, and the development of bus transit ways to rival anything in the developed world, but it’s Gil to whom credit is apparently due.

Today Gil lives in nearby Mississauga, the sprawling city that’s seventh largest in Canada (and yet forever in the shadow of Toronto), where he’s a planner “building the city for the 21st century.” He also directs the non-profit “Walk and Bike for Life,” under whose umbrella he has served as keynote speaker at the recent Madison Wisconsin Pro-walk/pro-bike international conference, and the American Trails Symposium in Davenport, Iowa. He left the press conference today enroute to Krakow Poland, where he is to speak at the “Great Places, Great Cities” conference next week [note the project for public spaces, the organizer of this conference, is also among brother Enrique’s biggest fans–ed.].

Mr. Penalosa had barely begun speaking when our inner Wente burst out in bitter complaint about his fumbling PowerPoint dependency: “Who are you to tell me not to take cellophane calls in my SUV,” she said out loud, “when you cannot even operate a computer safely in a clean, well-lit room.” But Mr. Penalosa plodded on, heedless.

It seems he is a believer in the notion that creating walking trails, and treating cyclists as valued members of the transportation family, will truly enhance the quality of life in a city. It seems he truly believes that a city like Portland Oregon, Chicago Illinois, or Vancouver B.C.: cities that make traveling by bike and on foot safer and more pleasant; these cities will prosper even as other cities, ones that ignore the safety and comfort of the active transportation sector, will fail.

Margaret Wente slammed her foot to the ground at this point, and the whole room turned to see the source of the noise. “I want you to know,” she said, “when I puts my foot on the gas I burns calories. I want you to know I get exercise when I climb up into my truck. I want you to know I am just as active as you cyclo-fascists when I reach across to shut off the damn CBC on the radio. Look at me. Look at my butt. Tell me I’m not gorgeous. I’m in just as good shape as any of you.”

The dead silence that followed was taken by Ms. Wente as assent. You will shurely read about it in her Global Male column tomorrow.

The final speaker was Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg who today charts his own course as partner in “Navigator Ltd.” There he is leader of AuthentiCity, the cleverly named [Bricoleurbanism, Sit Down! –ed.] “full-service urban management consulting practice.”

Now, we like Mr. Murray. We were impressed with the way he spoke without notes and without fancy gadgets. We could feel his sincerity as he told us “Active Transportation is central to any solution to climate change. Cyclists and pedestrians emit no Greenhouse Gases.” We feel sure he went on to say other things that were logical, well-thought-out, and heartfelt. However, Margaret Wente at this point stood up and interrupted:

“Cyclists and pedestrians emit no Greenhouse Gases? Who you kidding? Excuse me, but since when was your exhalation pure oxygen? No, I’m sorry, I won’t shut up. Are you not an animal? Do you not breathe in air and expel carbon dioxide? Are you not aware that trees and cows are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that the loony left believes can be eliminated by—ptui!—cycling and walking? Well excuse me for exhaling, but my carbon dioxide needs a place to go, and as far as I am concerned that’s what the atmosphere is for. As far as I am concerned you can take your Alternative Transportation and put it where the sun don’t shine. I’m outa here.”

The applause that followed, led by Wente’s colleague Jeff Gray, was taken by Margaret as approval, but it was soon drowned out by the engine roar of her silver-gray Escarole. The scent of her perfume was lost in the burnt rubber she left on the sidewalk where she’d mounted the curb in her haste to arrive on time. The yellow leaves that scattered in her wake were no more riotous than the yellow of the parking ticket she let fly in the breeze behind her.

Inside M.E.C. meanwhile, the press conference went on apace. Jeff Gray was asking questions about the cost of the proposed bike routes and walking paths called for by TCAT. Martin Koob answered with a series of roundish numbers: “Six million in 2007. Six point two million in 2008.”

Rick Conroy had a question. He asked Gil Penalosa what the difference was between Bogotá and Toronto: how was it that so much could have been accomplished in Bogotá in just three years, with substantially less money than Toronto has when it farts, when in Toronto we can’t build more than one km of bikelane a year.

We winced at the prospect of another fumbling diatribe from Penalosa, but were pleasantly surprised at his passionate response. Turns out in some people’s hands, PowerPoint is truly evil. “In a word, Leadership,” he answered. “In Bogotá we elected people who had vision, political will, and the management capability to get things done. It doesn’t have to cost millions and millions of dollars.”

The woman from Nova Res Urbis had a question, but was interrupted by Jeff Gray: “What’s it going to cost,” he said. He really wanted to know.

But then Gray had his shining moment. Not for nothing is he known as the “Traffic Guru.” He asked about the questionnaire TCAT created and presented to all candidates in the current Toronto Municipal election. He was interested in the fact that Mayor Miller’s answers, a progressive voice in city hall, were indistinguishable from Councillor Rob Ford’s answers: Ford, who never saw a Ford he didn’t want to drive. Gray asked Martin Koob: “It would be more interesting to know the thoughts of those who didn’t respond to the questionnaire: the Case Ootes’s of this city.”

A rumble of “boos” and “Anybody But Case” washed over the room like an evening breeze. And it was only noonish.

Martin Koob, who had already claimed the high ground in responding to a previous question about which candidates TCAT thought should be elected, said only “the questionnaire will show voters they have an option. There are others in Ootes’s ward who did answer the questions.” [case in point: Hamish Wilson, anyone? –ed.]

But Glen Murray was unafraid of the potential controversy. He fielded Gray’s question with panache [now hold on, there –ed.]. “The question is always the same,” he said. “How do you hold politicians accountable? Leadership isn’t just for politicians. We’ve forgotten how to be citizens. We have become consumers. But you can’t “buy” transportation choices, so voters have to make themselves heard.” He gave the example of the “twenty-two” lawn bowling aficionados who regularly sat in on city council meetings when he was mayor of Winnipeg, and ensured that nothing was done to disturb their green and pleasant lawns. “The two hundred twenty-two cyclist advocates in Toronto have to do the same in this city,” said Murray. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Or something like that, anyway.

Fact is, the press conference carried on around us, but we were fretful and suspicious by now. We really had to use the toilet, and the MEC clerk was still eyeing us, eager to retrieve his pen. Fact is, we needed a cup of good strong coffee and a tasty chocolate chip cookie. Fact is, we weren’t really there anymore, in the strict sense of the word. We heard the occasional mumble and chirp, and we think Penalosa told a funny story about how the folks in Oakville Ontario consistently supported cycling and walking in every survey, but the city translated that to new hockey arenas when budget came to crunch: organized sports have organizations making phone calls to councilors; anarchic transportation choices do not.

We aren’t sure, but we think there’s a moral here. We think TCAT is a necessary and useful “organization” to ensure that the squeaky bike wheel, and the squeak of shoe leather, are what gets the grease in Toronto in the new city administration after November 13.