Waiting 20 minutes for the Queen car on a warm winter morning, I realize how important it is that we start flapping harder.
Sure, new transit vehicles are on their way, but they'll only just keep up with growth. I know the capital budget I'm going to see anointed today (March 7), will overwhelmingly go toward state of good repair. Public infrastructure is just barely staying airborne.
Through cracks in the cramped parade of single-occupant autos, I stare at newly planted saplings in Trinity Bellwoods. I'm glad to see them, but it saddens me that I'll not be around to see them in their glory.
Maybe if I start flapping, they'll start growing.
The ride is sufficiently crowded that the sight upon arriving at City Hall of half a graph labelled "TTC" is nearly orgasmic. But council's mood is mixed. Mike Del Grande finishes a salvo, reminding us that roads are falling apart and parks underfunded while the mayor's staff get office renovations, punctuating each point with "Don't worry, be happy." Behind him, budget committee member Gord Perks stews.
Perks points out that renovations mean more space for community groups, that the budget means more waste will be diverted, more shelter beds created, and with fully 50 per cent of capital money going toward TTC this year, council is making transit a real priority. "That's something I've pushed for for 20 years as an activist," he says. "And that makes me happy."
He doesn't look happy. He looks tired and pissed off. The budget is certainly a victory for transit advocates it's up just over a quarter from last year. It's still not enough, yet it's still under attack. Many opponents would prefer to put the transit dollars (and the bike lane pittance) toward roads.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong hops up to the press gallery for one of his usual visits, sporting the "Road repairs now" button that's supposed to counter Miller's "One cent of the GST" buttons, though he's more concerned today with community centres. "The city is crumbling," he says, "and there's no plan."
I thought the GST campaign potentially worth over $400 million for Toronto was the plan. He dismisses that as begging, saying that until we find "efficiencies" and "innovations," parks, roads and pools will suffer.
"How can the province build things so much more cheaply?" he asks me. Economies of scale? He shakes his head, pointing to so-called P3, or public-private partnerships, saying we should look at the building of hospitals in Ontario as an example.
Perks will later quip, "There are six Ps: public partner pays, private partner profits." Private participation is a huge experiment, much like the carbon-based economy in which transit-based budgets hope to make a dent.
Not that Minnan-Wong is wrong to focus on stagnating neighbourhood-based services as an indicator of civic health (though none are being cut), or to consider "alternative service delivery."
But is there only one alternative? If parks are suffering, why not empower community initiatives? Why make a case study of Carillion Healthcare Inc. but not Dufferin Grove Park?
In fact, if community centres and parks policies were directed by residents, Minnan-Wong's motion to take the $3 million for office renovations and put it toward parks and playgrounds may have gone even further. We won't know any time soon; the motion was defeated.
What's baffling, though, is opposition to a transit-centred budget. No point in parks if you can't get to them.
But it was a bit harder for the executive to paint the budget as a pure paean to transit when rookie councillor Adam Vaughan made a surprise motion to kill the Front Street Extension and the $50 million put aside for it till 2011. Some activists might be able to stomach this carway if the Gardiner were dismantled. But the Gardiner discussion is somewhere down the road if it happens at all while the FSE, still officially just a proposal, can already be seen through its effects.
"You look at any project south of Queen in my ward, you can't do anything, because Front Street's coming," says Vaughan. "You want to widen sidewalks, staff say you can't because Front Street's coming. You want to put in a park, you can't because Front Street's coming."
Instead, he says, free up the cash, get the province and the feds to reallocate their matching commitment, and build transit and green spaces.
Front Street is deputy mayor Joe Pantalone's pet, and he narrowly manages to refer the motion to the city manager. But the seed of scrutiny is planted: Is the $12 million going toward eliminating the Dufferin Street jog this year to benefit the FSE? Does the FSE's ghost figure in changes to Exhibition Place transit, the lack of vision in Gardiner remediation proposals or the narrow scope of western waterfront LRT plans? Why is there still no sidewalk beside 401 Richmond West?
I can't help but notice that a rookie councillor with no allegiance to left or right is the one to point out the maddening logic in the otherwise illogical resistance to ending car-based planning along the lake. It's easy to think this is the sort of thing planning scholar Steve Pile meant when he wrote in an an essay on London, "It is not the forgotten past that concerns me; it is the lost futures that can no longer be articulated."
Or, as Vaughan puts it to me, "Everywhere there's a bend in the road, something interesting is happening. And everywhere a thoroughfare is built, something interesting dies."
I can almost breathe easier just knowing new buses are indeed on the way. But I still wonder if we're flapping hard enough.
Budget loonie tunes
TTC $717 M - 50%
$325.73 million on 320 new buses and 234 new subway cars
Transportation $246 M - 17%
$3 million for "streetscape improvement" - tree planting, widened sidewalks
$3 million on bike lanes and traffic calming
OTHER PROGRAMS $185 M - 13%
$3.215 million on a new 60-bed shelter $8.371 million on replaced beds/relocated shelter
PARKS, FORESTRY & RECREATION $61 M - 4%
TORONTO POLICE SERVICES $51 M - 4%
$25 million on a new police training facility
FLEET SERVICES $49 M - 4%
WATERFRONT REVITALIZATION $44 M - 3%
FACILITIES & REAL ESTATE $33 M - 2%
$1.55 million toward redesign of Nathan Phillips Square
$8 million on cutting emissions (conversion of City Hall to DeepLake Water Cooling)
$2.9 million on renovations at City Hall
SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT $26 M - 2%
GO TRANSIT $20 M - 1%