Councillor Adam Vaughan in his City Hall office, with a painting by Mike Parsons called OMB Squared: one million bodies, one massive building; and a Don Cherry doll wearing a pink blazer and "pinko" button from Spacing.
story by Tammy Thorne
photo by Rebecca Baran
First published, Spring 2011, dandyhorse volume 4, issue 1.
Adam Vaughan includes "bike-riding pinkos" among his friends and family.
So when outspoken hockey commentator Don Cherry made belligerent comments about "bike-riding pinkos" and "left wing kooks" during the inauguration of the new mayor, Adam Vaughan turned away.
"I don't really care about Don Cherry that much," says the City Councillor for Trinity-Spadina. "He's a character. He is what he is. But there is a time and place for taking shots at people. Even Cherry would tell you –- you don't punch someone in an all-star game. And you don't sucker punch. I'm not afraid of Don Cherry. I'll debate him any time any place. He's just another guy with an opinion," says Vaughan.
"It's not for him to do that," says Vaughan of Cherry's targeted verbal missives. "He's allowed to add his voice, but can't disqualify other people's perspectives. And when he starts identifying journalists and bike riders as pinkos and as being the enemy -– he's talking about family and friends and perhaps more importantly, constituents and voters and, at the end of the day, taxpayers."
"And, even the mayor said we should respect taxpayers," says Vaughan. "Cyclists are taxpayers -– respect them. Downtown left wing pinkos are taxpayers -– respect them. And, well, politicians are taxpayers –- respect them."
Vaughan says it wouldn't have been appropriate to interrupt him either. "I'm not going to stand up and debate, that wasn't on the table because he's not a member of council. So I just turned my back on him and said, 'I'm not listening.'"
Cyclists are now listening for any word on the Bike Plan from City Hall. Desperate for a champion as infrastructure and committees start to crumble this spring –- the cycling community has an ally in Vaughan. A lifelong city cyclist who unabashedly puts pedestrians first, Vaughan says cyclists have to stop picking fights with everybody.
"The most important alliance that must be struck is between pedestrians and cyclists. When you look at the high-water mark of strong cycling infrastructure it is always partnered with pedestrians and pedestrian-friendly streets. Always. So, the question is: How do you create a stronger pedestrian environment?"
"When you start building streets that are better for pedestrians, you start building bike lanes with them -– they're part and parcel together I think, and this is part of that complete streets process," Vaughan says, adding that bike trails in suburban ravines largely don't serve a commuter function. "While I understand the simplicity of the approach in the suburbs, I have yet to see a sophisticated conversation on anybody's front as to how things will roll out in the downtown core. Downtown, the streets are built for people. Bicycles predated cars -- arriving more or less at the same time as the streetcar -- so it's really a question of how we rebalance the equation."
Vaughan says when people accuse him of perpetuating the so-called 'war on the car' his retort is often: "Stop the war on people."
A big proponent of pedestrianization -– his ward is host to popular Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, which had a brief offshoot in Mirvish Village in 2007 and 2008 – Vaughan is pushing for the pedestrianization of John street and wouldn't rule out parts of Bloor Street either. He cited the Clean Air Partnership's recent study on the economic benefits of bicyclists on local business as key in "turning the neighbourhood" regarding making space for bikes in the already crowded Annex streetscape. He says almost 70% of the ward walks to work.
"It's when you start looking at bike lanes simply as bike lanes and nothing else that you have problems. That is the same way some people look at highways as highways and nothing else. If you do that, you create conflict and you create enemies," he says.
Vaughan says the cycling community should find its strength in numbers.
"The most important thing that you need politically is an overwhelming majority that buys into the plan. You can't keep pitting everybody against everybody and making enemies with everyone because you don’t get any consensus, you just get a big loud debate. And you don't get any resolution." He adds, "This is one of the reasons the Bike Plan has been stalled for so many years."
Vaughan says he is looking for consensus on certain streets in his ward. What about Richmond and Adelaide?
"I'm ready to have a mature conversation about Richmond and Adelaide, but simply as a car right-of-away, as it is now, it's not working for the neighbourhood, socially, culturally or otherwise," he says, adding that Denzil Minnan-Wong's "plan" for a buffered bike lane came out of nowhere without any consensus or consultation with area citizens. (See our interview with Councillor Minnan-Wong on p.40 of volume 4, issue 1)
"Top-down decisions don't work in this situation. I told him that we have people working on this and we will work with you, but he said, 'No, I'm in charge of the works department and it's my city, not your city." Vaughan says there is a political dynamic at play where members of Team Ford have been "causing trouble" in other councillor's wards, making sure they are too busy putting out fires to focus on big ticket items like the budget. "The downtown 'pinkos' are being taught a lesson," he says.
Vaughan says that lesson is counterproductive when it comes to saving taxpayers' dollars. "I'm not so concerned with how much we tax and spend. I'm concerned with generating a really great neighborhood that pays for itself and is functional. When you build a neighbourhood properly, people feel their needs are being met and they have a sense of belonging. When a neighbourhood is a destination, it generates the wealth you need to put the curbed lane in, for example. If you build a good destination the land values go up and you get that money back through development for those great streetscape improvements."
Or, he says, you can keep having debates and piss everyone off and you'll end up with no bike lanes.
This interview originally appeared in dandyhorse issue #6 (volume 4, issue 1). Order back issues here.