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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Toronto drivers are loud, cyclists and pedestrians should be too: Matt Elliott

Mayor John Tory's record on active transportation and transit isn't terrible, but there's no mistaking what his top priority is.

Drivers rule the roost when it comes to getting around Toronto, and plenty of griping from them helps keep it that way.

Torstar News Service

Drivers rule the roost when it comes to getting around Toronto, and plenty of griping from them helps keep it that way.

I’ve learned a couple of things over the last few years about motorists and their gripes.

First, drivers complain. A lot. About anything that might slow their cars down. They complain about bike lanes, about streetcars, about construction projects and about pedestrians in dark clothing who have the utter gall to want to cross the street.

Second, the mayor listens to them.

That’s not to say that Mayor John Tory buys into the specifics of these complaints. His track record on supporting bike lanes and transit isn’t bad, and he has taken action on the city’s new Vision Zero initiative to improve road safety.

But there’s little doubt the mayor is sympathetic to the angry drivers of the city, and has done plenty to placate those who mostly get around by car.

Fears of subjecting those behind the wheel to a two- or three-minute delay prompted Tory to support spending more than a billion dollars to maintain the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway, despite perfectly logical plans to remove and replace it.

He also successfully pushed to spend millions to speed up construction on the western Gardiner.

And lately the mayor has been holding press conferences to announce the acceleration of roadwork. Last week, he visited Lake Shore Boulevard East to announce that roadwork there and at the Dundas and Parliament Street intersection would finish ahead of schedule — thanks again to a bit of extra spending.

And sure, hooray, that’s great. I’m in favour of the city getting things done quickly. But all this attention on drivers has left me wondering: what about the rest of us?

Where are the announcements about investing more money to speed up projects that primarily benefit those of us who walk, cycle or take transit to get around?

Because, honestly, we could use a few of them. Toronto is awash in signage demanding pedestrians “use other sidewalk” or advising cyclists to dismount. The popular Don Valley trail is closed, and has seen a series of delays. And an entire crosstown transit route – the 501 Queen streetcar – is currently shut down, and is set to remain shut down all summer, with replacement buses running.

There are a lot of projects that could use the same kind of attention drivers are getting.

It’s wrong to just blame Tory for this. The fundamental nature of local politics is that residents who complain the most tend to get the most attention. Squeaky wheels get greased – and in this city, the squeakiest wheels are attached to cars.

Changing that starts with our voices. When you encounter a barrier of frustration when walking, biking or taking transit in this city, don’t just sigh and soldier on. Instead, make like one of those angry drivers and register a complaint with the mayor or your city councillor.

Take it a step further and get involved with advocacy groups like Cycle Toronto and Walk Toronto. Show up to community meetings. Send angry tweets and emails.

The griping strategy may seem uncouth, but it has paid dividends for Toronto drivers. There’s no reason it can’t work for the rest of us. They’re loud. We can be louder.

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