February 10, 2023

RANT – Tory’s Weak Vision Zero Leadership

While Wednesday saw great news for Yonge4All and other road safety advocates in Toronto with the Midtown Yonge Complete Street Pilot being made permanent by a 22 to 4 vote, there is another disappointment which dampened the celebratory mood and deserves a rant. Despite the overwhelming positive staff report, an unanimous vote at IEC, and over 8500 signatures for the Yonge4All petition, Mayor John Tory threw all of that under the bus by supporting Councillor Jon Burnside’s motion to extend the pilot. A move which proves he is a coward when it comes to road safety, as well as contradicts his own earlier push to shorten the staff recommended extension from July 2023 to January 2023.

Mayor John Tory showing a printout of the so-called "landlocked streets" (via YouTube)

Some may claim he is trying to please everyone, but this unnecessary extension motion would have been a lose-lose situation for everyone had it passed. For City staff – whom I sincerely thank for diligently executing this pilot – an extension would take away resources from other much needed bikeway projects across the city when they had a goal to install 100 km from 2022 to 2024. For advocates, they have limited time to volunteer on campaigns and an extension would mean taking time away from other priorities – especially those outside of downtown – to continue the one for Midtown Yonge. Even for the opposition, an extension is a loss because the only way they would get a win is if the bike lanes were to have been removed.

During the City Council debate, Barbara Gray – Toronto’s General Manager of Transportation Services – highlighted how making the pilot permanent would not preclude the ability of making further improvements to the street, while there is also the issue of negotiations with developers. Developers needed clarification on whether the Midtown Yonge bikeway would become permanent so that they could plan their building frontages accordingly. By asking “What is the rush to make them permanent?” Mayor Tory insulted the rationale of city staff who mentioned they need urgent clarification.

Mayor Tory also dismissed Councillor Amber Morley’s point of there being over 8000 signatures in support of making the pilot permanent by claiming they were from “cycling enthusiasts”, as well as pointing towards the ridiculous “landlocked street” argument cited by opponents. That “cycling enthusiasts” bit is reminiscent of when he called those who wanted ActiveTO on Lake Shore West to stay as “intolerant” and claimed the police ticketing cyclists in High Park last summer “did not deserve to be criticized”. Last, but not least, extending the pilot put Mayor Tory at odds with his own Deputy Mayor and IEC chair Jennifer McKelvie! Seriously, what the fuck was he thinking?

As much as I flat out disagree with Councillor Stephen Holyday who called for the Midtown Yonge pilot to be removed, I had more respect for him than the Mayor that day because even he believed there is no need to drag this issue on any longer. He joined fifteen others who supported making the Midtown Yonge bikeway permanent in defeating Councillor Burnside’s motion to extend the pilot by a 16 to 10 vote. It was satisfying to see the Mayor get trapped on this front and be forced to support making the pilot permanent to avoid contradicting his earlier statements of supporting bike lanes. To those fifteen councillors who opposed the deferral (and supported making the pilot permanent), I thank you for showing real leadership on this matter when our Mayor refused to do so.

Midtown Yonge Extension Vote Result (via Matt Elliott)

Given the escalating crisis and the need to meet the TransformTO goal of having 75% of trips under five kilometres done without a car by 2030, Toronto needs a bold Mayor who will take safe streets seriously and do everything possible to ramp up progress. Given the Mayor suddenly resigned due to a relationship with a staffer after I had initially posted this article, it's critical we road safety advocates get involved with the upcoming mayoral by-election so that Tory's successor will be bolder with road safety and climate action.

It’s not just road safety advocates who should be angry at the Mayor. Those who are calling for City Council to declare a public health crisis over the need to provide 24/7 warming centres were disappointed when the Mayor and a majority of councillors defeated a motion to accomplish this; instead asking for help from other levels of government. For added insult, a person named Richard had his tent forcibly removed near Lake Shore and Jameson in Parkdale with nowhere to go when a recent court ruling in Kitchener found encampment evictions to be unconstitutional. And let’s not forget the Mayor’s support for strong mayor powers while being silent about them during the election or calling for a $48 million police budget hike given significant budget shortfalls.

Challenging the Mayor requires all of us and I encourage councillors to continue challenging his agenda at every possible opportunity.

NOTE: The article was updated to account for Mayor Tory's unexpected resignation.

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