According to the Star, Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St Paul’s-Busybody) has come to the rescue of hockey-playing kids in the city. It’s currently against a city by-law to play hockey on the street. Scofflaw kids, however, flaunt the law and play willy-nilly on city streets everywhere. Matlow just wants to allow kids to play legally, so he proposes that their parents be able to apply for exceptions to the by-law. They’ll have to get the support of 80% of homeowners on the street. The city would send out staff and equipment to do a traffic study to ensure that the street is below the acceptable traffic threshold of 1,000 vehicles a day and has an average of at least one minute between cars. Staff will evaluate sightlines to ensure that there are no obstructions like trees, hedges, or blind corners that would prevent drivers from seeing children at play. The staff recommendation and full report taking into account all of the above factors would then go to community council and then on to the full city council for final approval.
This proposal, which Matlow seems proud of, is the worst kind of micro-managing. It would be out of place in Singapore, yet seems a strangely fitting policy in the Toronto that often conflates good public policy with slavish adherence to rules. Can you imagine an entire bureaucracy dedicated to deciding whether and where children can set up their nets or shoot a ball against the curb? Apparently, Josh Matlow can.
Okay, I understand the urge to fix a by-law that no one either enforces or obeys. To that end, I’d like to suggest a few more projects for Councillor Matlow to tackle over the balance of his term:
- Establish jaywalking zones where pedestrians can apply for permits to cross the street mid-block. They’ll need support of 80% of residents and business owners on the street, and city staff will conduct studies on each street to evaluate sightlines and traffic volumes to ensure that jaywalking is safe in any given location. Each approved jaywalking location will be equipped with traffic lights to stop traffic for jaywalkers. Any pedestrians continuing along the sidewalk will also have to stop and wait for the jaywalker signal to cycle.
- Grant “garbage picking” permits to get around the by-law that prevents people from taking items put out at the curb for collection. Homeowners would apply for permits to allow their garbage to be picked over by passers-by. City staff would do random inspections on at least three different garbage days to ensure that each homeowner’s garbage is indeed worth picking over. Homeowner will need separate permits to allow their garbage to be picked by neighbours, semi-professional scavengers with loaded bikes or carts (who will also be subject to yet another of Councillor Matlow’s special projects), and professionals (i.e., anyone with a pickup truck).
- Give cyclists licences to lock up their bikes to any handy fixed object on the sidewalk including hydro poles, guy wires, and railings. In any area that lacks enough official bike parking posts, cyclists could apply for an exemption from the by-law that prohibits locking up to anything but an official bike rack or post. Staff would do counts of both bikes and official parking spots on each block and determine by an ISO-approved standard whether bike parking supply is adequate to meet demand. Two different classes of permit will be available: one which grants a blanket exception to all cyclists locking up on one block, and one for individual cyclists that allows them to lock up to any object anywhere in the city.
- Fix highway traffic jams by establishing a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. Anyone not driving at least the minimum speed will be fined $50. Fines double during rush hour. Enforce through photo radar. Problem solved.
- Institute a “mandatory shirts” policy in public parks. Enforce with inspections at each entrance.
- Create a special traffic enforcement unit that targets only city vehicles that are parked illegally: police cars in bike lanes, works trucks on sidewalks, parking enforcement cars in front of fire hydrants, fire trucks double-parked in front of grocery stores, and so on. Fines will be levied against each offending vehicle’s owner, the City of Toronto. The program will be self-financing.
- Create the Common Sense Department, reporting to council, with a mandate to head off any councillor’s harebrained schemes before they reach the public. In the last year alone, the CSD would have shielded City Council and the public from wasting valuable taxpayer brain cells on waterfront ferris wheels, pixie dust subways, library closures, and plans to regulate children playing.
If Matlow is able to deliver even half of these proposals, he’ll have a record truly worth running on for his 2014 re-election campaign. Or, dare I say, mayoral campaign?