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FORUM: Bike lanes made permanent, more warming centres open (Feb. 2023)

March 27th, 2023 · No Comments

Budget process reveals Toronto’s financial house not in order

By Dianne Saxe

The first month of the new year has been an eventful one at city hall. I am pleased to report that two crucial issues have successfully moved forward.

Councillors on the infrastructure and environment committee unanimously supported my requests to make permanent the Yonge Street bike lanes from Bloor to Davisville, while doing everything practicable to increase safety for nearby residents. This includes preventing illegal and dangerous behaviour by reckless drivers, like driving on sidewalks. 

While community opinion about the bike lanes remains mixed, two-thirds of deputants passionately supported the bike lanes, as did extensive expert evidence. 

The medical officer of health explained the substantial health benefits of complete streets. 

Paramedic and fire services confirmed that the bike lanes do not interfere with their ability to provide emergency services. TTC confirmed that the bike lanes do not interfere with their shuttle buses. 

Bike lanes are good for local businesses while decreasing crashes and the cost of getting around. Other evidence showed that there has been no disproportionate increase in traffic in the area compared to the city as a whole.

Another key achievement was doubling the number of downtown warming centre spaces for the most vulnerable during cold weather alerts. 

In mere weeks, we pulled off Toronto’s fourth warming centre at the Cecil Street Community Centre, where I sit on the board. It opened for the first night on Jan. 30. 

Congratulations and deepest thanks to the staff and board members of Cecil Street, and to city staff at shelter, support & housing administration. 

This month was also dominated by the city budget, the first under the “strong mayor” powers imposed by Doug Ford. Thank you to everyone who has written in about this, or deputed to the budget committee. 

The city is in very deep financial trouble, and the consequences are becoming obvious. 

The provincial government has downloaded unmanageably expensive responsibilities onto the city, while hamstringing our ability to raise funds, and immiserating the most vulnerable with inadequate housing, mental health, and addiction support. 

Toronto hasn’t done enough either to keep its financial house in order. 

Keeping property tax increases below the rate of inflation for 13 years has starved the city of essential funds for daily operations and repairs, much less preparing for the future.

Bottom line: the city cannot operate effectively without more funds. We must loudly and consistently demand that the province give us significant revenue-generation tools, such as road tolls and a share of income taxes. I plan to keep this demand front and centre whenever council sits.

In the meantime, I am working with my colleagues to have the city adopt parking levies, which could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse TTC cuts and improve service, while helping with climate goals. 

This campaign has gained so much momentum that I hope to see parking levies introduced as early as next year. 

The first step, a thorough study by city staff, should begin shortly.

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Dianne Saxe is city councillor for Ward 11, University-Rosedale.


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