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?
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?
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.
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.