Gil Penalosa: “Ready, Shoot, Aim!”

Readers of the ALLDERBLOB will remember Guillermo Penalosa from our description of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation launch in the weeks before the recent municipal election.

Gil (as he is known to his friends) stumbled through a doughy Powerpoint presentation on that day, but in his response to questions that followed showed himself to be equal to his more famous brother in the “shoot from the hip” rhetoric department. We were impressed.

We were also impressed with Gil’s response this past fall to a Sept. 30 editorial in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser. This editorial, itself a response to a study analyzing the elevated highway that moves motorized vehicles past the downtown lakefront, panned the option that would call for tearing down the Gardiner: “Keep the Gardiner until transit better,” it opined.

Now, the Star and Car Advertiser has never been one for subtlety. Its editorial position is always in line with the urgings of its main advertisers, the automobile industry. Bikelanes are bad, Case Ootes is good. That about sums up the “ad”itorial stance of the nation’s largest newspaper and car advertiser.

Not for nothing does the newspaper offer its readers two whole sections devoted to “Wheels” every week [by which it means “motors,” because you’ll never see an ad for anything without one in those pages –ed.]. If the ALLDERBLOB paid for two whole sections every weekend, you can be sure the editorial stance of the paper would fall in line pretty durn quick. You can be sure the current foolishness, the “ASK WHY” exhortations that replace actual thought in the newspaper, would be ditched in a hurry too (not just that the whole campaign was lifted from a crooked U.S. corporation, although that’s bad enough; what’s worse is the hypocrisy of it: the lipservice paid to “the importance of asking questions” against the cynical fact of “same-old, same-old” that replaces real thought at the newspaper) [but we digress –ed.].

Nonetheless, progressive thinking and reporting occasionally slips through the cracks at the Star and Car Advertiser and at the other big “news and car advertisers” that keep us informed.

Such was the case with Gil Penalosa’s letter to the editor that followed the Sept. 30 editorial. He wrote:

A way to create a better city
Oct. 2, 2006. 01:00 AM

“Keep the Gardiner until transit better” Editorial, Sept. 30.

What is “better?” How much “better” does it have to get? Taking down the Gardiner is not just about traffic, it is about developing a great waterfront. It is about eliminating man-made barriers to link the city and, most importantly, it is about making a bold statement that the government and the people of Toronto are willing to take the necessary steps to create a world-class city. It is about the Toronto that we want to have in 50 or 100 years.

As for the traffic, well, congestion is transit’s best friend. The more congestion there is, the more pressure that will be put on governments to invest substantially more resources in improving transit systems. Congestion is also the best “driving force” to get people out of their cars and use other modes of transportation. As an example, in the last 30 years, Vancouver has not allowed any highway to be built through its city and is recognized for having the best
quality of life amongst big Canadian cities. It all goes together.

If we were to wait “until transit is better,” a one-dimensional approach to the issue, nothing will ever happen. It will never be “better enough.” Actually, taking down the Gardiner might be the best pretext to unite forces around the common goal to develop the best possible transit system along with proper facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

It’s not about the Gardiner; it is about a healthier and happier way of life. It’s not about better transit; it’s about creating a better city.

Gil Penalosa, President,
Walk & Bike for Life, Oakville

As we said, we like Gil Penalosa. What we don’t get is how he manages to reconcile his day job, working in the “Planning the City of the 21st Century” department in the city of Mississauga, with his clear and forceful ideals about cities designed with the happiness of children in mind.

Because from what we can see, Mississauga is designed for the “happiness” of a crotchety old woman first and foremost: Mayor-for-life Hazel McCallion. You say you want bikelanes, Gil? You think taking down a highway is the first step in forcing change in our transportation habits? We wonder what file the boss is going to reserve for your brilliant ideas.

Hazel McCallion, who was just re-elected to mayor in Mississauga by a plurality the envy of any Soviet totalitarian, has made as her first public statement a proclamation against bikelanes: ”When the roads were established in Mississauga, they were not established on the basis of bicycle lanes. The roads were built for cars and trucks,” she is quoted as saying in a National Post and Car Advertiser article.

Cars and trucks, that is, and also dinosaurs like McCallion.

The Mississauga mayor was responding to a 400-name petition asking for new bikelanes on existing streets in the city. According to the article, “Ms. McCallion said the petition to add bicycle lanes will be given its due consideration, but no traffic lanes will be lost to include cycling commuters.

”It’s a pretty expensive thing to do just to find out if it works or not,” she said.

Gil, any thoughts?

Wednesday’s Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser had an article about Penalosa. By Anthony Reinhart, it examines Gil’s background as commissioner of parks, sports and recreation for Bogota Colombia (pop. 7 million) and describes his modus operandi as “Ready, shoot, aim!”

Let’s revisit McCallion’s comment above: describing the replacement of a lane of motorized traffic with two bikelanes on either side of a main road, she says ‘It’s a pretty expensive thing to do just to find out if it works or not.”

Reinhart’s Globe and Car Advertiser story on Penalosa hints at the conflicts faced by anyone not prepared to toe the McCallion line.

It also hints at a threat to the “tiny totalitarian mayor:”

For now, all he can do is advise, but Mr. Penalosa knows what he would do if he were in charge.

“It has to be ready, shoot, aim,” he says. “Too many keep aiming and they never take shots, and you have to be willing to take the shots.”

We expect to hear more of Gil Penalosa. We just don’t expect it to be in the context of a planning job in Mississauga.

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