You’ve spent several few hours of your time attending public meetings hosted by your municipality on the development of a new plan. You had to rearrange your child care and leave work early to attend. Wouldn’t you love to know how your comments on the proposed plan were used?

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A page from the 2013-2014 Implementation Update

You may have heard about the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Launched in 2010, the Action Plan planning process included a public engagement campaign that allowed residents to crowdsource ideas in an online forum. The Plan has ten goal areas, each with a specific 2020 target. The question asked in the forum was “How can we achieve reach our 2020 targets?” Guided by City staff, who moderated the forum, answered questions, and clarified levels of responsibility in implementation, participants suggested ways in which to meet the targets. Ideas were then reviewed and consolidated by staff, and participants were then able to vote on the ideas. As the status of an idea changed (under consideration, planned, started, completed, or declined), every person who voted on, commented on, or submitted the idea was notified by email. Since 2011, the City has published its progress on meeting the targets. The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan won the 2012 Sustainable communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Five years after participating in the online forum, I still receive Greenest City Newsletters. They contain information about events in the city (e.g. Bike to Work Week, the BC Commuter Challenge, the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline) and ways that residents can help meet the goals, such as using a rain barrel for collecting water to be used for lawns and plans. At the bottom of each section, they site the relevant Greenest City goal: Green Transportation, Climate Leadership, Clean Water. And each newsletter has dozens of links to City initiatives and programs.

Just last week I received an update that the City was already meeting its Greenest City 2020 goal for transportation mode share: 50% of all trips in the City are now made by walking, cycling, or public transit. This is a major increase from 40% in 2008. There are almost 100,000 bike trips per day in the City. Vancouver has done a lot to mainstream cycling, including designated cycling routes with signals at bike height and installing protected bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, Hornby Street, and Union. Many of these changes have been introduced through pilot projects, which were carefully evaluated before becoming permanent.

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A screen shot of the May 2015 newsletter

In the past few years I have visited many universities in Canada, the US and Europe, and I often get to speak to local planners and scholars in urban planning. Every one of them has been amazed at the Greenest City newsletters. Not only was the planning process itself innovative, but the way in which the City has kept in touch with participants on how the plan is being implemented is very unusual. Many municipal planning websites are difficult to navigate–it can take major sleuthing to find the official plan, by-law, or meeting information that you need. All of the information for the Greenest City is in one place, so it’s easy to see the progress that’s been made, like the establishment of the Greenest City Fund to implement the ideas in the Plan, a strategies on climate change and new program on recycling food scraps, and improvements to walking and cycling routes. The newsletters make it easy to understand all of the policies, programs, and initiatives that directly relate to the plan, and they’re written in non-specialist language and designed with compelling graphics.

Obviously, Vancouver is a large city and its planning department has more resources than a small or mid-sized planning department might have. However, partnerships with universities and colleges might make it easier to reach out to residents and keep them up to date on planning initiatives, particularly on the social media front. City councillors might also be willing partners in communicating progress on implementation, since many of them send regular newsletters to their constituents. Most cities haven’t caught up to online participation methods, and don’t have well-organized websites or regular email updates for their residents. Practicing planners regularly check out plans, policies, and programs in other municipalities to inspire their own work, so providing clear online information and regular updates might inspire policy transfer and innovation in other places.

gardinerexpressway.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxToday, Toronto City Councillors received a staff report that could have major implications on a longstanding issue: what to do about the Gardiner Expressway. Built during the heyday of highway infrastructure, the Gardiner has become an expensive and dangerous piece for the City to maintain, costing millions each year. Chunks of the concrete have fallen onto roadways below the expressway in recent years, and the Gardiner has become emblematic of North America’s lagging postwar faith in technological solutions to urban problems.

Removing the Gardiner Expressway completely has never been on the agenda, at least not in realistic terms, even though cities around the world are struggling through similar decisions. The City is at the end of an extensive environmental assessment process that looked at options for repairing, replacing, or maintaining the section of the Gardiner that runs from Jarvis to the Don Valley Parkway. This 1.7km stretch of the expressway handles only 3% of peak hour trips to downtown. During the morning rush, about 5000 trucks and 500 cars use this stretch every hour. The EA process has spanned six years and consulted over 3,500 stakeholders, but did a thorough job of investigating each option using cost estimates over a 100-year life cycle. The transportation projections used in the evaluation of the options included the assumption that transit alternatives to the expressway will be in place by 2031, including the waterfront LRT, the downtown relief line, and improvements to GO Transit; this would negatively impact demand for the expressway.

The three options currently being discussed are:

  • Remove and replace. An eight-lane boulevard from Jarvis to the DVP would replace the Gardiner This is the cheapest option but you can imagine how long and disruptive the construction would be–it’s estimated at six years but this is Toronto, so figure on a decade–and there would be detours for at least four years. It’s estimated that 75% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $326 million in capital costs and $135 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($461 million). This was the City’s preferred option back in 2013–and it’s still the cheapest.
  • Maintain. The City spends millions on maintaining the Gardiner each year because it’s near the end of its lifespan–and because like many cities, maintaining existing infrastructure isn’t exactly a sexy budget expenditure. The cost would be $342 million in capital costs and $522 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year cycle ($864 million).
  • Replace with a hybrid. This would involve building a new connection to the DVP. Construction is estimated at six years–but would likely be much longer and involve traffic rerouting as well. An estimated 90% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $414 million in capital and $505 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($919 million).

City staff is now conducting what is likely the final round of public consultation on the options (never say never) and will present a final report to Council on June 21st. If the selected option is approved by the Province, construction could begin in 2018.

 

If Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre have their way, Montreal’s fragmented public transit system is in for a major overhaul. Their proposal is similar to governance models seen in other metropolitan regions, but will it work in Greater Montreal?

Like many regions in the world, Montreal has a fragmented governance system made up of a regional authority and municipal governments. Municipal transit agencies or transportation departments run their own systems and oversee their own funding while the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) is responsible for parking lots, commuter trains, reserved lanes and metropolitan terminuses. The AMT is under the governance of the Québec government, and the region’s municipalities provide 40% of AMT’s budget. Every region outside Montreal, Laval, and Longeuil currently has its own Conseil intermunicipal de transport (CIT), the new plan calls for them to be merged into one authority along with the AMT. Montreal, Laval, and Longueil will retain their Sociétés de transport.

Responding to demands from elected officials in the Montreal region, the Quebec government’s new governance proposal is based on a new provincial-municipal partnership involving the member municipalities of Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal. The plan is to assign public transit planning to a regional transport authority (ART) with six members appointed by the CMM and seven by the Québec government, including an independent chair. A metropolitan transit system (RTM), headed by a board of elected officials designated by the CMM will run the commuter trains, suburban buses, reserved lanes, parking lots and terminuses.

With the adoption of the metropolitan land use and development plan (PMAD), CMM officials have decided that public transit and land use are now part and parcel of the same package.  –Denis Coderre, Montreal Mayor and president of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal

Coderre maintains that with the adoption of the PMAD, which the CMM laboured over for more than a decade and approved in 2012, the governance partnership will “facilitate the creation of a unified vision of Greater Montreal.” A regional approach to transportation and land use planning is rare, not just in Canada but around the world, as I learned in my meta-analysis of 11 international city-regions.

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However, some mayors are concerned that an AMT with greater planning discretion will reduce their autonomy and lengthen the process of approval for critical transportation decisions. Some of the municipalities use private companies to deliver public transit, so service changes can happen within days or weeks. In Montreal, this type of decision must be studied and ratified by board members, so changes can take months. Raphaël Fischler, Director of the McGill School of Urban Planning, goes even further in his criticism of the plan, saying that local mayors “have a poor track record of decision making on urban and regional transportation planning in the region.” He cites a critical reason that those in the planning profession have heard before: elected officials tend to prioritize long-term local concerns over long-term regional concerns.

These are not new concerns: it’s well known that Vancouver has also struggled with regional transportation governance and is currently going through a referendum on the issue. Until 2007, TransLink’s board was made up of elected officials from the Metro Vancouver municipalities, with a few provincial representatives. The board held public meetings and its decision-making was generally considered to be transparent, if not harmonious. Transport Minister Kevin Falcon ordered a change, retaining a Mayors’ Council (with all 21 mayors in the region, the Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, and a representative from Electoral Area A) but weakening the ability of the Council to make regional decisions. A governance review in 2013 revealed major issues with accountability. In response, the Province of BC introduced governance changes last year returning regional decision-making to local mayors: the Mayors’ Council shares responsibility with the board of directors (with nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and two by the province). The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision. Metro Vancouver provides input on long-term strategies and planning, and the province on long-term economic, environmental, and transportation objectives. The referendum that Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on concerns the long-term transportation strategy prepared by the Mayors’ Council.

If Vancouver’s experience is an illustrative example, it’s likely that the Montreal region will stumble a little if this new governance model is introduced. Planning operates in a fragmented governance framework that has always made longer term, regional initiatives difficult to develop and implement. Governance expert Andrew Sancton has written that regional governance initiatives are often seen as eroding the power of local councils. It will take municipal planning departments and elected officials a while to adjust to thinking in these terms, to thinking as one as they develop a regional vision that will guide their decisions. And as Sancton noted, restructuring is only part of the answer to successful governance within a region: partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors are critical to improving quality of life. Montreal’s struggle with regional transportation governance is one shared by most metropolitan regions in the world.

Mid-rise development on Kingston Road in Scarborough

Mid-rise development on Kingston Road in Scarborough, from the City of Toronto website

With the Eglington Crosstown LRT scheduled for completion by 2020, developers are eyeing sites along its 19km length. Eglington is designated as one of the City of Toronto’s Avenues, major streets with the potential for higher densities, redevelopment, and transit services, and is and slated for mid-rise development of six to eight stories. But developers want to capitalize on the established high-rise trend at Yonge and Eglington.

The City isn’t so sure. So far, as Toronto Star’s Maria Vanta reported, six requests for rezoning lots to mixed-use development near Don Mills Road have been denied because they don’t line up with the City’s planning objectives (“Crosstown LRT brings new development, and controversy, to Eglinton“, Friday Jan 9, 2015). A total of 40 similar rezoning requests have been made since construction of the LRT was announced–about half are in appeals at the Ontario Municipal Board. Although the height of many of these proposals may have been an issue, another argument against the rezonings is that protecting office space and other employment land uses will ensure the LRT’s success. The City’s Official Plan protects existing office space; Lorna Day, manager of the Eglington Connects Planning Study at the City, says that jobs make better use of transit than residences. The City doesn’t want to make the mistake of losing office space, something that is speculated to happen at high-demand areas such as Yonge and Eglington, because when employment is located far from transit, most people opt to drive. Yet Day expects new workplaces to eventually come along with the residential developments–just not quite yet.

The Avenues and Mid-Rise Guidelines, which were approved by the City of Toronto in 2010 and are now used to guide the development application process, represent an attempt to achieve higher densities while keeping to the scale and character of development that many residents want. Many don’t want to live in a high-rise condo, but would not mind a third storey apartment. Since 2010, the City has been monitoring the Performance Standards for Mid-Rise Buildings as the first step toward setting the Performance Standards in guidelines, policies, and as-of-right zoning. This may be the real reason that all those applications have been denied–the existing zoning does not yet reflect the City’s mid-rise ambitions, including mixed-use zoning on the Avenues. But it will soon–the City’s monitoring period was over at the end of 2014. The City’s Project Manager on the Mid-Rise Buildings Study was none other than Lorna Day.

An argument could be made for high density nodes within a 500m radius of the major road intersections offering transit service, with mid-rise in-between. This is the TTC’s established pattern for subway lines. The LRT will link to 54 bus routes, 3 subway stations and a number of regional GO Transit lines, so there are many opportunities for high-density nodes. Zoning mixed use development along the corridor would also seem critical to a future jobs-housing mix. Recent changes to the Ontario Building Code, in effect January 1st, 2015, permit wood-frame construction for buildings up to six feet in height, which has finally made mid-rise profitable for many developers. This may result in developers scaling back on height as they no longer need it to obtain profits–witness mid-rise construction in British Columbia since 2009. Perhaps a more livable, community-oriented density is more desirable than another canyon of high-rises.

Election maps are hot, but this one shows what happened in a lot more detail. Web developer and designer Pete Smaluck and policy analyst Tom Weatherburn have developed a map that disaggregates ward results in Toronto down to the neighbourhood level. The map allows the user to scan subdivisions based on three key characteristics at a time (from education, income, occupation, transportation to work, religion, immigration, and visible minorities) to see the percentage of votes John Tory, Doug Ford, and Olivia Chow got in last month’s election. The map shows a much more nuanced picture than the “divided Toronto” we’re always hearing about.

Here’s what the map and analytics look like if you choose mode of transportation taken to work, immigration, and visible minorities–hover over the riding to see the trends broken down by neighbourhood.

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imagesJohn Tory hasn’t been sworn in as mayor yet, but he’s already trying to undo some of the damage Rob Ford did to the transit system in the past four years. War on the car? Let’s talk about a war on transit.

Don Peat of the Toronto Sun and Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail reported today on the cuts Ford imposed to bus service in 2011 and 2012, which saved the TTC around $18 million but resulted in significant service reductions on 41 bus routes and a further reduction along 63 other routes. Loading standards were also rolled back to 2004 levels, which is no surprise to anyone taking transit in Toronto today–the level of overcrowding is almost unbearable on many routes. Today’s TTC service is bursting at the seams with increased ridership, yet they have boasted budget surpluses in recent years reflecting their decreased spending on services. Does this make sense?

Tory has already asked TTC CEO Andy Byford to look at ways to restore these services and source the necessary vehicles, in order to have an immediate impact on the city’s transit problems. Funny–I think I remember someone else campaigning on a promise of increasing bus service because it would have the most impact on users for the lowest cost. Oh right–it was Olivia Chow. Interesting how nobody took her seriously on this except the TTC, which proposed 10-minute service on a network of bus routes in its extensive service improvement report, quietly released just before the election. The TTC also proposed solutions like time-based transfers and all-door boarding, two user-oriented options that other cities have been using for years.

Tory has also asked Byford to investigate whether it’s possible to move more quickly on the new signalling system that will allow subway trains to run more frequently (every 90 seconds), now scheduled for completion in 2020. Improvements to the system, as well as track upgrades, currently cause frequent daily delays on the subway. Tory has asked for a cost breakdown of the TTC’s proposed service improvements, and advice on which ones could be implemented quickly.

Quick wins will be necessary for Tory to prove that he is serious about improving transit, his key election promise.

 

In what was surely the most-anticipated municipal mayoral race of my lifetime, October 27th marked the finish line: election day. With Rob Ford registering his intent to run again on January 2nd, the 10-month race was on. Ford’s two foes in this race, John Tory and Olivia Chow, were the only others in that mattered–although dozens of other candidates ran for mayor. The debates were focused on these three from the get-go–and when the Ford brothers’ shocking last-minute switch occurred on September 12th, Doug Ford merely stepped into his brother’s place as Rob ran instead for the Etobicoke North riding he had represented for a decade (2000-2010). Would Ford Nation embrace Doug as they had embraced Rob?

Tonight’s results were a resounding “No!” With a record-breaking 60% voter turnout, Toronto has chosen John Tory as mayor.

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city. Turnout was markedly higher in Toronto than its adjacent cities–just 38% in Mississauga, 36% in Brampton, and 26% in Oshawa.

How did Tory win? Or rather, how did the Fords lose? The public had gotten sick of the drama that was city hall, ironically from a mayor who was elected to reduce government waste and inefficiency. For many, the last-minute substitution of one Ford for another was simply too much to take. Suspicious voters turned out in droves to force the Fords out–but only in the mayoral race. Rob has been re-elected as city councillor in Ward 2 Etobicoke–cancer treatment and all. Olivia Chow entered the race strong, but many analysts and journalists say that she began to lose traction in the summer–for reasons nobody has been able to figure out. Tonight on CBC, journalists said she ran “too sensible” of a campaign, “always took the high road”, and noted that the twin spectres of racism and sexism had reared their ugly heads during the past few months; ironically a female journalist covering the results criticized Chow as “too nice”, a descriptor that would likely not be applied to a male candidate. Indeed, in the male-dominated arena of debates (or shouting matches), it was difficult for an intelligent and sensible woman to win over two candidates who alternately proposed pipe dreams and vague ideas with equal amounts of bluster–difficult, as well, to withstand members of the public who taunted her ethnocultural background or gender. By summer, the race had become about one issue: transit. Tory introduced his SmartTrack idea which, although vague and lacking a realistic funding strategy, gained remarkable traction with the public over Chow’s simpler, cheaper plan–by the time Doug Ford developed a plan for relieving congestion, late in September, the voters had already decided.

Those voters who may have liked Rob Ford’s fiscally prudent promises the first time around, but blanched at his drug and alcohol abuse issues, may have also been drawn to Tory as a fiscal conservative. In this area, leftist Chow stood no chance–even though in many cases her proposals were fiscally responsible (more so, in some cases, than her opponent Tory), the public knows her as an NDP Member of Parliament, which in their eyes means spending on socially relevant causes instead of balancing the budget. As Toronto Star columnist Royson James wrote, “They wanted Ford without the drama.”

Finally we have the polls, which beginning in August, have traced Tory’s rise to power. In many races in recent history (including the 2011 federal, 2012 Alberta provincial, and 2014 Ontario provincial elections) polls have been wildly inaccurate. It is worthwhile to note that polls did not correctly predict the winners of any of these major races–but they did tonight. Those who remained undecided until around Labour Day, which in Toronto circles seems to be when the race shifts into high gear, were subjected to a barrage of convincingly scientific-sounding polls that told them Tory was in the lead. Numerous articles urged Chow to give up the race in order to avoid splitting the vote, and many urged Torontonians to vote strategically against Ford.

Tory was the least controversial in comparison to Chow or Ford. Freelancer John Barber calls Tory “as boring as Nebraska” under the headline “Boredom replaces noise and strife at city hall.” Like others before him, Barber describes Tory’s program as “comfortingly vague, building on his natural strength as an inoffensive character.” As so often happens in politics, it was an election based on who the public didn’t want in office, rather than who they did want. As many have written, this race always had to be about getting rid of Rob and restoring Toronto’s internationally tarnished reputation–the highest voter turnout since Toronto’s 1998 amalgamation illustrates this. Neighbouring municipalities, with less spectacular, media-hogging candidates, had voter turnouts as low as 23% tonight. Tory inherits the difficult task of bridging a divided Toronto–less divided than in 2010, perhaps, but divided nonetheless–a task he promised to undertake as the Great Healer.

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory's support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory’s support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green. Ford largely swept the eastern and western suburbs with 34% of the vote, leaving Tory and Chow to pick up the urban votes (40% and 23% respectively).

Toronto map 2010

Four years ago, the urban-suburban divide was even greater than it was today, showing almost exactly the divide between the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto (in purple) and the suburbs that joined it in 1998 (East York, Scarborough, North York, York, and Etobicoke, in blue).

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines' Brock University

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines’ Brock University

In this era of public spending scrutiny, transit construction cost overruns, pilot projects have become an ideal way for municipalities and regions around the world to experiment with a desirable planning alternative. In 2009, the City of Vancouver experimented with installing bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, which became permanent a year later after one million cyclists had crossed the bridge. Toronto is currently experimenting with bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Streets.

Just over an hour south of Toronto in wine country, Niagara Region initiated an intermunicipal transit pilot project back in 2011, granting $3.7 million to the municipalities of Welland, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls to connect to each other with new buses. The Region also provided additional funding to the program annually. The pilot program has been successful–though it was due to end this fall, the Region has extended it until September 2015. Last week, Niagara’s public works committee approved guiding principles for intermunicipal transit developed in consultation with the Region’s 12 cities and towns, and agreed to remove the words “pilot project” from any reference to an intermunicipal transit system linking the cities. Regional councillors also approved route improvements of $1.34 million in 2015–pending approval of the 2015 budget to support a system linking Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Regional councillors say the project would also be key in convincing the province to extend daily GO Rail service to Niagara. A survey of 4,700 Niagara residents showed that 48% would be willing to support intermunicipal transit with higher taxes. Support was highest in St. Catharines at 60%.

Funding shortfalls are common among cities, as this year’s municipal elections have shown. While many governments are turning to public-private partnerships to fund expensive projects, they also work with community organizations, social enterprises, and non-profit groups to implement projects and run programs such as affordable housing for seniors and job placement services for youth. Crowdfunding could represent another aspect of cost-sharing that municipalities could use to help pay for services and projects that have strong support of municipal staff and the public. I’ve written before about participatory budgeting in Vancouver, Calgary, Guelph, and Toronto and posted last month about a crowdfunded bus proposal originating in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

RaiseanArm.org is a civic crowdfunding website created by Abdullah Mayo and the Hamilton Stewardship Council to give the public more of a say in public spending. Building on crowdsourced models common among start-ups and entrepreneurs which allow innovative ideas to find funding from many small donors online, the website aims to allow citizens to suggest ideas for the city. Spacehive in the UK, the world’s first civic crowdfunding site, currently has 359 projects such as recreation facilities, public art, and building restoration projects–50 are now fully funded. Citizeninvestor in the US features projects from $2,500 bike rack installations or tree planting all the way up to $200,000 public parks.

RaiseanArm has worked with the City of Hamilton to investigate the feasibility and legalities of crowdfunding in Ontario. RaiseanArm staff will bring ideas to the City to find out if the project is feasible or already being done in the Hamilton. If the idea were approved by the City, the project would be posted in the website and citizens would be able to pledge financial support or volunteer their services to get the project completed. While Mayo is excited to begin with local projects, he would like to gather support from across Canada and eventually expand to projects across the country.

For those of you confused by the plethora of candidates in Toronto’s upcoming election, Women in Toronto Politics has developed an easy to understand Position Primer. Simply type in your postal code and you’ll be able to instantly compare candidates’ positions in your ward on a number of key issues:

  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Employment
  • Affordable housing
  • Newcomers
  • Poverty
  • Public services
  • Taxation
  • Infrastructure
  • A key ward issue

 

The Position Primer is based on a survey that asked candidates for their positions on 10 issues in 350 characters or less. The unedited answers are yet another method for residents to learn about the key issues in their local areas before election day, October 27th.