What's on Council's Agenda: May, 2013
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What’s on Council’s Agenda: May, 2013

Here's what city council will be focusing on this month.

In which we highlight key items from the month’s city council meeting. You can also watch it live.

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City council is meeting on May 7 and 8. Here are a few items from this month’s agenda that are in the news, or should be.

City council will weigh whether or not to:

Consider expanding the Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport.

Porter, the little airline that won over many Torontonians with cute raccoon logos and an endless supply of shortbread cookies, wants to grow. Specifically, they want to start flying to destinations that are further away (Las Vegas, Vancouver, Florida), which would require that they both be allowed to use jets—currently prohibited by law—and extend the island’s main runway into the lake in both directions. Council will decide today whether to conduct a study that would explore Porter’s proposal in detail, or instead to spike the whole idea right away.

Allow electronic ads on transit shelters.

Right now, only non-electronic advertisements (that is, printed posters) are allowed on the sides of transit shelters, but Astral Media, the company that pays for those shelters, in exchange for the right to profit off the ad space on them, wants to change that. Council will decide whether to allow Astral to install digital screens on transit shelters. These screens would display several different digital ads, one by one—sort of like a slideshow. Astral is also seeking permission to do something it already does from time to time: “creative advertising enhancements” (meaning, they want to be able to glue three-dimensional elements to shelters to make ads more eye-catching).

Adopt a new management plan for the City’s parks.

The City has, in the past, been reluctant to allow community groups to help run public parks. Dufferin Grove Park, in particular, has been a hotbed of friction between municipal officials and residents’ groups. Council will consider whether to adopt a new, five-year parks management plan that contains some hopeful-sounding language about increasing public engagement.

Build an underground bike station at Nathan Phillips Square.

Council will decide whether to resume its plan to convert a handful of parking spaces in Nathan Phillips Square’s underground garage into a full-service bike station, complete with lockups and showering facilities. Mayor Rob Ford has spent the past few weeks airing his opposition to this in the media. Despite (or because of) that, it will probably pass by a healthy margin. Also, because half the budget for this project has already been spent: the design work was completed after council first approved the project several years ago. City staff quietly stopped work on the project in 2011, for reasons that aren’t quite clear.

Ask the province to improve healthcare for people without OHIP.

Not everyone living in Toronto has access to OHIP. Some of these uninsured people are legal immigrants, who haven’t met the conditions necessary for their coverage to take effect, and others are immigrants without documentation, who simply don’t qualify. Council will decide whether to ask the province to enact some changes that would make it easier for members of these vulnerable groups to see doctors and get hospital treatment.

Develop complete streets guidelines.

A “complete street” is a bit of urban planning jargon that just means that a street has been designed with all users in mind: pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, transit users, people with mobility issues, and so on. The idea isn’t necessarily that every mode of transportation gets dedicated infrastructure—so not that every street should have a bike lane, say—but that a street is designed so that everyone who uses it can do so safely. On quiet streets, it can be as simple as a wider curb lane for cyclists; on busy roads, ii can be medians, where pedestrians can stop halfway through their crossing. A set of complete streets guidelines would provide direction for the City’s planners, so that when they redevelop streets from now on, it would be in keeping with these principles.

Ask the province to institute a three-metre passing rule for overtaking cyclists.

If this member motion by Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) gets the two-thirds vote it needs in order to make the floor, council will decide whether to ask the province to add a few words to the Highway Traffic Act, so that cars are legally required to give cyclists one metre of space on the road. Whether this actually becomes law will be up to Queen’s Park—council can only make the request.

Not on the agenda, but may get added anyway—

New revenue tools for transit.
The big issue lurking offstage of the this council meeting is an item that the mayor’s executive committee discussed a couple of weeks ago, and then decided to defer: making recommendations to the province about which new taxes and levies we should consider to pay for transit. Rob Ford is adamantly opposed to any and all new measures, and so at his urging, the executive committee voted to delay their debate until May 28—exactly one day after Metrolinx (the regional agency in charge of transit planning) will issue its own report. In short, the mayor is declining to participate in the process, and rejecting Metrolinx’s request for input. The premier has said new revenue tools are coming whether or not the mayor likes them, and many councillors want to have a say, despite Ford. If two-thirds of them sign on, they can seize the item from the executive committee and add it directly to council’s agenda, in which case, they’d hold the debate immediately—in time to pass their thoughts along to Metrolinx.

A rescue mission for Bixi.

Bixi is having trouble meeting its operating costs, and since the City of Toronto guaranteed the bike-sharing program’s loan, council is in the midst of exploring whether they should restructure their relationship with the company. A staff report is expected in July, but some councillors want to completely rethink how the whole program works. Kristyn Wong-Tam wants to work with developers to create incentives for installing new bike stations, and has said she’ll move a motion to that effect at the council meeting. TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) wants to investigate making Bixi part of the TTC, though that’s more likely to come up at the next TTC meeting rather than at city council this week.