Q&A with Ward 20 Candidate Albert Koehl

Koehl is second from left with some members of his campaign 'bike brigade' above.

Q&A with Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina candidate - and champion for cyclists and pedestrians - Albert Koehl

Toronto municipal election is on Oct. 27

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, cycling advocate, and adjunct professor. He is currently running to be City Councillor for Ward 20 in downtown Toronto, which was vacated when long-time councillor Adam Vaughan moved to federal politics. Koehl is a contributor to dandyhorse so we decided to turn the mic on him and ask him why he's running for council and what he would do for the people of Ward 20 if he is elected to office.

Why are you running? What would you do to make Ward 20 better for residents?

We have a historic opportunity to build a new transport system based on clean transit, supplemented by cycling and walking. We know the status quo doesn’t work – and it’s not just because of traffic congestion. How people and goods get from A to B isn't complex, but it has become a major burden given our reliance on the most inefficient vehicles. The question our traffic planners always ask is how will we move cars and trucks. It’s the wrong question.

We have to get them to ask: “How do we best move people and goods?”

By asking this question we have the opportunity to re-imagine and then to re-shape our city in ways that allow us not only to create a more efficient transport system, but also to open up room for green and beautiful spaces while addressing urgent problems of safety, climate change, poor air quality, lack of physical fitness, and accessibility.

Why have you been promoting a transit mall - or transit priority and pedestrian mall - on King and Queen streets? What benefits would this provide for people? [Please see the backgrounder on King Street transit right-of-way and pedestrian mall pilot project below.]

King and Queen Streets have a lot of potential to become more efficient as transport corridors, more attractive as shopping and entertainment areas, and more pleasant as residential neighbourhoods. Streetcars move far more people (over 60,000 on King St each weekday) than cars so it makes perfect sense to give streetcars (and their many passengers) priority. At the same time far more people are walking and cycling to work. Inefficient single-occupant vehicles are an obstacle to improving these streets – so the solution is simple. By opening up King and Queen Streets to streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians we not only make the street more efficient, we make it safer and more beautiful. A transit mall would almost certainly bring more shoppers into this area, and more commuters through the area. Once we have more, and more efficiently moving, streetcars -- we will see that more people will chose to use the transit instead of driving. See more about Koehl's proposal for a transit mall on King here.

Is John street a good example of a pedestrian mall?

Only in Toronto would a pedestrian mall have two lanes of motor traffic while squeezing out cyclists. Proposals for public squares, pedestrian areas, transit malls, and bike lanes are often doomed in Toronto because we ask, “what will we do with the cars?” We should ask what will we do with the people and goods? On John St. I support a real pedestrian mall – one where cars and trucks would only be allowed limited access to make deliveries or to get to the parking garage. This arrangement would leave plenty of room for bikes as well as lots of room for pedestrians to hang out and truly enjoy a beautiful streetscape.

Why is it important to champion the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and transit users in Toronto now more than ever?

Because we know that transit, complemented by walking and cycling is the only serious way forward if we want to deal with urgent problems like climate change, adverse health impacts, congestion, resource depletion, and the financial burden on our city, and society, of private cars.

What else would be a top priority for you as a new councillor?

The irony of Toronto is that we have (perhaps too) affordable parking (as little as 48 cents per day for an annual parking permit on a residential road) but not affordable housing. One of my first priorities would be to sit down with our provincial and federal partners and hammer out a funding arrangement for affordable housing both to maintain the existing stock of housing and to build new affordable housing. I am particularly attracted to co-op housing given the positive and successful model it presents.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

The controversy over the proposal of the TDSB to lease its front playing field at Central Technical High School to private interests for the purpose of installing astroturf and a dome demonstrates how we ignore creative options because of our devotion to car parking at the expense of other priorities. The parking lot behind Central Tech is easily worth millions of dollars, yet it serves a rather mundane, low-functioning purpose – free car parking. On weekends it is underused. If the TDSB made even ten dollars per day on each of the 140 parking spots it would generate over $500,000 in annual revenues. And yet, there is no discussion about using this valuable resource to address other pressing school board needs. See more about Koehl's proposal to fund the Central Tech playing field clean-up by charging for parking here.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Bike Spotting on King: Would you support a transit mall here?

For the love of parking

Bike lanes on Bloor: an update

Bikestock in photos

There is no war on the car

Backgrounder – King Transit Mall

Streetcars have operated on some part of King St since 1861. The line was electrified in 1892.

Service on the King streetcar line is provided by the 504 and 508 routes. Together, they carry 57,300 passengers each weekday (2012). This makes  it the busiest streetcar route on the TTC system. In fact, King has higher traffic volumes than any surface transit route in North America.

By comparison 20,000 cars move through the area. Car traffic however often slows streetcars, causing them to bunch up. This is frustrating for transit users, who often must endure long waits (sometimes at stops with little protection from inclement weather).

Beginning in the 1980s, an influx of residents, including young professionals, into the downtown and the west end has further increased demand for the King and Queen streetcars

Giving streetcars priority over cars on the busy King and Queen streetcar routes has been discussed for many years in Toronto.

In 1993, the TTC proposed streetcar-only lanes on King St. during rush hour between Dufferin and Parliament, but this was never enforced. (Transit Toronto; online at: http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4103.shtml )

In March 2001, the TTC proposed banning cars on King St. between Dufferin and Parliament in order to increase the efficiency of the King streetcar. (See Route 504 – The King Streetcar, http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4103.shtml) The proposal involved leaving a small area of King for delivery vehicles but extending the sidewalk out in other areas in order to improve the pedestrian realm.

James Bow, in an editorial in Transit Toronto wrote:

The proposal to create a King Street transit mall is one of the most ingeneous (sic) suggestions the Toronto Transit Commission has made in a long time, and it is one that I think should be put into place as soon as possible.

Another proposal in 2007 for a pilot closure of some blocks of King in the Financial District scheduled for the summer of 2008 did not get implemented. (See: National Post, March 2007.)

In the late 1980s Councillor Jack Layton proposed turning Queen into a transit mall between Spadina and Sherbourne, but this was opposed by some merchants.

In 2013, TTC CEO Andy Byford suggested making the King and Queen Streets car-free during rush hour in order to allow streetcars to reach their full potential given the problem of “bunching of streetcars”.

In the fall of 2014, a crowdfunded bus started operation after mounting frustration from Liberty Village residents about crowded conditions on the King streetcar.

More info on Albert Koehl here: http://www.votealbertkoehl.com/


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