City Hall Watcher #180: Your complete Council meeting recap for June 2022, featuring locked washrooms, ActiveTO, transit projects & more. Plus: What the TTC lost.
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In this week’s issue, I’ve got a recap of last week’s Council meeting, featuring debates on ActiveTO, park washrooms, the emergency shelter system and more.
I’ve also got a chart. I always have charts. It’s kind of my thing. The TTC has published new ridership data for 2019, 2020 and 2021. I’ve done some analysis to figure out which bus and streetcar routes saw the steepest pandemic declines.
Let’s not waste any more time. Here we go.
One last note: this issue runs a little long. Gmail web readers may find it clipped midway through. To avoid that, read it on the web.
— Matt Elliott
What Council Did: ActiveTO, park washrooms, emergency shelter audit & more
Toronto Council met last week. It was their penultimate regularly-scheduled meeting of the term. There will be a special meeting this Friday to pick a replacement for Michael Ford, and special meetings in August and September to address urgent heritage matters only. But the meeting in July will be the last opportunity to approve a full agenda of items.
But before we can get to that, we’ve got to look back on the decisions made last week. It was a tidy two-day affair, wrapping up just before 7:30 p.m. on the second day of proceedings. Councillors did seem a little disengaged with the process, however — there were several times when Councillor Frances Nunziata worried about losing quorum. (Quorum requires a majority of members to be present.)
But they held on and got the agenda done. Here were the big decisions.
ActiveTO → inActiveTO
IE30.19 - Mark Shapiro’s team may have come up short against the Yankees in their series over the weekend — Sunday’s game was good, at least! — but the Blue Jays President can claim a win over ActiveTO. After Shapiro wrote a letter urging the City not to extend the program as a regular weekend event on Lake Shore West, Council opted to stick with a staff plan to only schedule ActiveTO on the roadway as an occasional special event.
A supplementary report with some data on recent ActiveTO days showed that the program was still successful at attracting a lot of cyclists to the corridor — about four times more than a typical weekend day. But numbers were down from peaks seen last summer when ActiveTO numbers on Lake Shore West reached as high as 34,000.
Transportation GM Barbara Gray acknowledged the City had done a pretty lousy job of letting people know about ActiveTO in advance on the two days it has been in effect on Lake Shore West this year. They announced the event on Victoria Day just three days before it took place, for instance.
Gray attributed some of the challenges related to providing advance notice this year to a scramble to find paid duty police officers to provide security during ActiveTO. However, she also acknowledged paid duty cops weren’t actually a requirement, generally. The City could, conceivably, use traffic wardens to fill the security role. But — whoops — the city is facing a shortage of traffic wardens too.
In the end, the travel time delays to drivers during the two ActiveTO days this year — Victoria Day Monday and Sunday, May 29 — probably put the dagger in any hope of Mayor John Tory and Council endorsing the program return as a regular event.
From the City’s press release:
Eastbound travel times on the Gardiner Expressway from Highway 427 to York Street were an average of 21 minutes on weekend days with no closures in May and June 2022.
During ActiveTO on Monday, May 23, the travel time in the same area was 39 minutes, an increase of 18 minutes.
During ActiveTO on Sunday, May 29, the travel time was 48 minutes, a further increase due to a crash on the Gardiner Expressway. Travel times were observed to jump to almost 70 minutes as a result of the crash, demonstrating that any impacts to the network add significantly to travel times.
There were no motions to preserve the regular ActiveTO program on Lake Shore West, and so no vote measuring real support for the program. Frustrating for those of us who like to keep Council Scorecards. Ahem.
Councillor Gord Perks did successfully pass a motion asking Gray and her team to consider “quick start actions” to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists along the western waterfront as part of an update to the Western Waterfront Master Plan coming next year. The vote was 22-1, with only Councillor Stephen Holyday opposed.
Mayor leaves during debate on adding more places to go
MM45.26, MM45.10 - Mayor John Tory’s motion directing staff to “modernize service in city parks” carried unanimously. The motion, among other things, calls for “water assets” like washrooms and drinking fountains to be turned on earlier in the season. It also calls to increase the frequency of grass cutting and litter pick-up.
The motion came after some uproar over the fact that just 60% of water fountains were working at the end of May, a stat the mayor initially presented in a positive light, as if 60% was actually pretty good.
A fiscal impact statement was added to the mayor’s request shortly before the vote, indicating that, in fact, increasing services like this would come with a pretty significant budget impact. Shocker:
This is a significant increase in service level that will incur additional costs that cannot be accommodated within Parks, Forestry and Recreation's existing budgets. Financial impact associated with the additional support will be included in the 2023 budget submission.
Until that funding is identified, the mayor’s motion doesn’t accomplish much. Residents should not expect any changes to service levels in parks this summer.
The only other notable bit from this debate: the mayor wasn’t there for much of it. A roll call vote ordered by Councillor Frances Nunziata revealed that ten members, including the mayor, were absent from the debate — even though councillors can still attend these meetings virtually.
A related motion by Councillor Josh Matlow requesting data on service standards for park washrooms and water fountains was defeated 7-10 after much of the data Matlow had requested was provided during the meeting.
Agenda item grab bag
GL31.9 - After a 21-2 vote, expect to see pedal pubs hit Toronto’s downtown streets shortly. Councillor Shelley Carroll and Councillor Stephen Holyday were the only councillors in attendance not to jump on board. Because Toronto is, well, Toronto, the city’s pedal pubs won’t allow any booze. But don’t worry — we’re not entirely joyless as a city. Pedal Pub Toronto co-owner Lyle Jones told the Star’s Emma Teitel that passengers will be permitted to play their own music on the pedal pubs, provided there’s not too much swearing. Under a revised set of regulations, Transportation Services GM Barbara Gray will also get to approve all the operating pedal pub tour routes.
PH34.8 - Council gave the unanimous green light to 17 more affordable housing projects, representing 919 new affordable rental homes, under the Open Door program that waives taxes and development fees and provides capital grant funding. Councillor Paul Ainslie kicked in an amendment asking that information about these Open Door projects be posted to the City’s Open Data portal. Yes, please.
EX33.2 - While councillors and staff (especially Transport Expansion Office Executive Director Derrick Toigo) seemed really annoyed that Metrolinx changes to the Scarborough Subway tunnel design meant the Eglinton East LRT now has to be planned as a standalone service, Council had little choice but to adopt the staff report finalizing the change. On the Waterfront East LRT side of this transit report, Council adopted a motion from Councillor Joe Mihevc directing “potential undertakings to expedite the budgetary and design process.” Let’s hope those potential undertakings pan out. A long list of waterfront businesses and civic leaders have endorsed the urgent need for the line, and the Waterfront BIA has released a crowded map showing the number of businesses and organizations that have located along its route — many of them chose the waterfront under the reasonable assumption the LRT would be built sooner rather than later.
PH34.4 - In another transit item, Council approved a series of zoning by-law amendments necessary to build the Ontario Line, but not without some more grumbling about Metrolinx. Councillor Joe Mihevc passed a motion 19-0 asking Metrolinx to come up with an alternative to their plan for Osgoode Station — one that won’t require building on the front lawn of Osgoode Hall. Councillor Jaye Robinson, Councillor Paula Fletcher, Councillor James Pasternak and Councillor Josh Matlow also made a point of voting against the rezoning needed to build a train storage facility in Thorncliffe Park. It carried 18-4.
EX33.1 - The transit items kept coming. In response to a long list of road closures requested by Metrolinx to facilitate Ontario Line construction, Councillor Paula Fletcher passed a long list of mitigation measures to support businesses and to try to control the chaos. Mayor John Tory’s amendment at committee to hold Metrolinx to Toronto’s Fair Wage Policy also remained intact, though Metrolinx has said the policy doesn’t apply.
PH34.9 - Council voted 19-2 to permanently convert their Rent Bank program from a loan-based program to a grant-based program. The program, which provides funds for people in rental arrears who could face eviction, has seen a steady increase in use over the last several years. The loan-based program was never all that successful at actually seeing loans repaid, with repayment percentages hovering between 50% and 72% in recent years. The grant program, instituted on a pilot emergency basis during COVID, has proven to be simpler to administer and achieves the same outcome of ultimately saving the city money on shelter costs. Councillor Stephen Holyday was the program’s biggest skeptic. He moved to keep the city-funded portion of the program — it’s generally cost-shared with Queen’s Park — loan-based. That failed 3-18, with only Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Councillor Jaye Robinson joining him. A motion from Councillor Robin Buxton Potts calling for the City to pause repayments for old Rent Bank loans on the books until criteria for loan forgiveness are put in place also carried 20-1, with only Minnan-Wong in the negative. The conversion to a grant program was ultimately confirmed 19-2, with Holyday and Minnan-Wong opposed.
MM45.28 - Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion requesting design guidelines to improve the overall look of the CafeTO patios carried via a show of hands. Matlow added an amendment requesting that all patios be made accessible as well.
AU12.2 - Much of Council’s debate about the Auditor General’s discovery of more than $13 million in overcharges related to the emergency shelter program was conducted in private session, unfortunately.
When they did emerge from the shadowy in-camera abyss, Councillor Anthony Perruzza attempted to move to end shelter service in hotels, revoke delegated authority that allows staff to enter into agreements to establish new shelters, and refuse to perform repairs at hotels that have overcharged the city.
That motion was ruled out of order after Nunziata quickly decided Perruzza had overstepped the bounds of the AG report. Perruzza challenged the ruling, but Nunziata was upheld 15-5, with Councillor Mike Colle, Councillor Josh Matlow, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Councillor Jaye Robinson backing Perruzza.
No other motions were made. The Shelter, Support & Housing Administration will report to the July meeting of the Audit Committee on how their effort to recover the overcharged amounts from hotel operators is going.
➡️ If you want to read my full play-by-play on the Council meeting, I’ve collected my Twitter thread here.
T-T-C you later: TTC ridership losses by route, charted
Steve Munro noted last week that the TTC had updated their Transit Planning website with recent ridership data, including daily ridership by route for 2019, 2020 and 2021.
This isn’t an Open Data Challenge, because the data is only provided in PDF format — why? — but I was able to do a quick conversion to compare the numbers across the three years, which really shows where transit ridership dropped the most.
In raw terms, shown above, some of the biggest losses came on the downtown streetcar routes, with the 504 King route seeing a drop of nearly 50,000 daily riders in 2021 versus pre-pandemic in 2019. 501 Queen, 506 Carlton, 505 Dundas and 510 Dundas also saw steep declines.
The only routes that have seen increases between 2019 and 2021 are 99 ARROW ROAD (+7), 189 STOCKYARDS (+138), 41 KEELE (+295) and 960 STEELES WEST EXPRESS (+6013). (Though as Transit Toronto’s invaluable route history notes, the Steeles West route saw some significant changes with branches added in the fall of 2021.)
By percentage, the largest declines between 2019 and 2021 were: 913 PROGRESS EXPRESS (-88.36%), 10 VAN HORNE (-70.61%), 26 DUPONT (-67.18%), 6 BAY / 9 BAY (-66.73%) and the 939 FINCH EXPRESS (-64.49%)
I’ve posted all the combined data, with some adjustments made to factor out new routes and combine data from routes that changed numbers, at DataWrapper.
More from Matt: on council being a dirty job, and Metrolinx being a dirty word
📰 For the Toronto Star last week, I wrote about this year’s exodus from City Hall, and what it might say about the job of councillor in the new, smaller-council era. For those in growing wards, it can be a pretty terrible gig. For others, it can still be pretty cushy. That dynamic isn’t likely to make for great governance.
🗞 For the Star this week, I write about how often the word “Metrolinx” came up at last week’s Council meeting, and why each time it seemed to drip with a little more disdain.
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: 🩺 The Board of Health met this morning. They saw some COVID states that all look cautiously optimistic. But the stats on Toronto’s overdose crisis are dire. Make a point of watching Councillor Robin Buxton Potts’ moving speech detailing her personal story related to addiction. It’s powerful. Council would be better if it had more people with lived experience.
🏗 The CreateTO board is meeting this afternoon. They’ll get an update on the Mass Timber Pilot program. It could see buildings up to 18-storeys tall built with wood instead of concrete as the primary building material. Neat. Does anyone know if these timber-construction buildings end up smelling like a ski lodge?
📚 The Library Board meets tonight. They’re being asked to approve an extra $2 million on spending on security guards for library branches. Speaking of security issues, one unnamed library customer has apparently received a six-month ban from all library branches for reasons left unspecified. The person is appealing their ban to the board at this meeting.
TUESDAY: It’s National Indigenous Persons Day. No meetings scheduled.
🚔 The Toronto Police Services Board gets together. There’s a whole lot on this agenda worth your attention. It’s also absurdly long.
Both the report on the results of their race-based data collection and the Auditor General’s investigations of police response times demand some attention — I’ll be coming back to them in a future issue.
In the meantime, I am intrigued by a presentation to the board that’ll be given by Crimestoppers. They’re shifting from a model that offers cash rewards for reporting crime, to one that pools the reward money and uses it for community benefits like playground upgrades and funding for after-school programs.
In other police news, the board is being asked to receive three corporate donations for police horses. Developer Mizrahi, sports titan Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, and shadowy numbered company 2319251 Ontario Inc of Toronto are each buying the police a horse, at a cost of $15,000 per horse. Is that a good deal for a horse? Of course, I don’t know.
THURSDAY: The Investment Board gets together. Presentations from the City’s Investment Managers show the City’s investment funds are getting a rough ride in the markets these days, with both the $1.5 billion sinking fund and the $3.4 billion long-term fund taking a hit recently.
🚈 The TTC Board meets. They’ll review a report on their ten-year fare collection outlook, which still provides two potential paths forward. In one, they stick with Presto. In the other, they strike out on their own with a new fare vendor. Hmm.
FRIDAY: 🏟 Council meets for a very special meeting to appoint a temporary replacement for Michael Ford in Ward 1.
NEXT WEEK: The Community Councils for Etobicoke York, North York, Toronto & East York and Scarborough meet throughout the week.
City Hall Watcher #180
Geez. A long one! Sorry about that. Sometimes the news just piles up.
Hope you enjoyed! Hope you can stick around and join us each and every week. I’ve got lots planned for the weeks ahead, including a deeper look at some recent police reports, a new edition of Lobbyist Watch and a bunch of election-related surprises.
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