Toronto Votes 2022: Road safety, property taxes among issues discussed at Beaches-East York candidates’ meeting

Council candidates for Beaches-East York (from left) Brad Bradford, Donna Braniff, Frank Marra, Adam Smith, Steve Thompson and Jennie Worden discussed the issues at a meeting on the night of Sunday, Oct. 16, at Kingston Road United Church. Unable to attend was candidate Sebastien Auger who had tested positive for COVID-19. The meeting was moderated by Alan Carter of Global News, at table on far right. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

By ALAN SHACKLETON

Six of the seven candidates seeking the Toronto Council seat in Ward 19 Beaches-East York discussed the issues in this month’s municipal election at a meeting held at Kingston Road United Church on the night of Sunday, Oct. 16.

At the meeting were candidates Brad Bradford, Donna Braniff, Frank Marra, Adam Smith, Steven Thompson and Jennie Worden. Unable to attend was candidate Sebastien Auger who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The meeting was presented by the Balmy Beach Residents Association, Beach Metro Community News and Community Centre 55. Moderator of the meeting was Alan Carter from Global News.

The meeting saw each candidate outline their reasons for seeking election in short speeches, followed by Carter posing them questions that had been sent in advance by Beach Metro Community News readers.

Key issues that were discussed at the meeting included safe streets, city services, property taxes, development, and affordability.

ROAD SAFETY

The issue of road safety was one of the more passionate discussions of the evening as candidates expressed their opposition to or support of bike lanes and who should have priority on city streets.

Bradford was the first speaker to respond to the road safety question, and he said it has been his top priority since he was first elected councillor in 2018.

“My prioritization is safety. The way we’re moving in our neighbourhoods has changed…We see a lot more hyper local trips – people are choosing to walk, people are choosing to bike, people are choosing to take transit, and they are also driving,” he said.

“A 21st century city here in Toronto reflects all the different ways people move and we prioritize safety.”

Bradford said he had delivered more road safety initiatives in Beaches-East York than anyone else on council over the past term.

“I’m going to continue to do that work because that’s what I hear from you (residents),” he said.

Braniff spoke next and was very critical of the bike lanes along Danforth, and especially in the Woodbine area.

“I don’t call it Destination Danforth, I call it Destination Chaos,” she said. “It’s very chaotic for seniors who try to make it across at the signal lights…they have to be very watchful.”

She said seniors are in danger of being hit by both cyclists, motorized scooters, e-bikes and cars in the area.

Braniff pointed specifically to instances where seniors exit their parked cars directly into the bike lanes on Danforth and are in danger of being hit or getting into a dispute with a cyclist.

“A lot of them have mobility issues. When they are yelled at for being in the bike lanes, I think that’s just wrong.”

She said the city needs to get people moving and a top priority would be having the subway system operate on a higher level.

Next to speak was Marra, and he said one the major challenges when it comes to road safety and moving people is that the city’s transportation department ideologically driven.

“They are not driven by common sense or even traffic engineering principles,” he said.

He was also critical of the differing designs of bike lanes in different parts of the city, and that they have been put on too many arterial (main) roads. “Arterial roads were not designed for cyclists en masse,” said Marra. He added that cutting traffic capacity on arterial roads was a losing proposition.

He was also critical of the bike lanes along Danforth Avenue and Woodbine Avenue. “This bike lane design is a death-trap for cyclists,” said Marra.

He also expressed concern over the number of e-scooters and e-bikes in the bike lanes which also contribute to unsafe conditions. “We need enforcement and education,” to deal with that issue, said Marra.

Speaking next, Smith said local streets have become more unsafe over the past four years.

He was very critical of the reconfiguration of Woodbine and Gerrard, pointing to the shrinking of the width of the bike lanes and traffic lanes as an example of that.

“That stretch of road is not any safer,” said Smith “We can’t expect people to take up cycling unless we are providing them with a safe network with which to do so.”

The city does not think of its road and transportation plans as networks, but rather looks at them one intersection at time and in isolation of each other.

“It needs to be thought of as one long piece,” said Smith.

Smith also pointed out that e-scooters are illegal and dangerous, especially if they hit potholes or bumps on city streets, bike lanes or sidewalks. He said the real transit debate is not gas versus electric vehicles but the use of mass transportation versus personal vehicles.

Thompson spoke next and said the way bike lanes were forced on Woodbine and Danforth avenues in the ward has “created a rift between drivers and cyclists” and everybody is “angry”.

The bike lane on Danforth is out of the drivers’ sightlines due to the parked cars, he said.

The lanes do not keep cyclists safe, added Thompson. “These are things that have been overlooked.”

Thompson was especially critical of Bradford’s work on road safety.

“Brad very much has an ideology and a lean towards cyclists, and that’s great and that’s fantastic, but then you automatically rule out the amount of drivers who are in there.”

Thompson said keeping all road users safe is a priority and that’s not what is happening currently in the ward.

Worden spoke last on the issue and said that as a cyclist she is a big supporter of bike lanes.

“I’m going to declare my bias. I’m a cyclist and I need those bike lanes and I need that road safety.”

She said the city needs more investment in bike lanes and efficient transit to make the ways people travel around and through the city safer.

“Our roads exist to move people around…we have set up this false tension between cyclists and motorists when really all of us want to get from A to B safely.”

Worden said safety for all road users needs to be the first priority in the way bike lanes in the city are designed and built

“I want to see good road designs and engineered solutions.”

When it comes to proper and safe behaviour on the roads, she said you “can’t scold people into compliance. We engineer the outcomes we want to see.”

“I want us to see complete streets through an inclusive lens…and I want us to invest in our transit so it doesn’t break down more than it moves…That is unacceptable and it’s because we don’t take care of our investment,” said Worden.

PROPERTY TAXES

The short period of time that public washrooms are open in local parks, served as the focal point of questions about deteriorating city services and facilities. Carter tied those concerns into asking the candidates if they would support a rise in property taxes above the rate of inflation to pay for improved city services.

Marra spoke first to the question and said the cause of the problems was a “structural” one with the city as opposed to a lack of funds coming in from property taxes.

He said city departments do not focus on delivering services to residents but rather “the focus is on delivering services to each other.”

“The washrooms aren’t open, garbage bins don’t get delivered. We need to restructure these old (city) departments…reorganize with the focus on residents first…We have to change the mindset that this is our infrastructure and that it can be neglected for years on years,” he said.

Marra said more money should be put into services and facilities, but he believes the money exists in the city’s budget already to do so and property taxes don’t actually need to be increased.

“It’s a misdirected focus. We’ve got to get back to some the basics, the nuts and bolts,” of how the city spends the money it brings in.

Smith spoke next and said there are better ways to raise money for the city than an across-the-board tax increase. He cited a luxury home tax as one way to do so.

The notion of just increasing property taxes needs to be considered much more carefully given the severe impacts inflation is having on many city residents at the moment.

“We have to look at whose property taxes we are raising,” he said.

Smith said savings can be found in doing things more efficiently at the city. He stressed that he did not mean service or job cuts, but simply doing things in a more cost-effective and reasonable manner.

“City staff don’t have the ability to be expert in the local details of an area, they use these cookie-cutter solutions that are wasting money and wasting resources.”

Thompson then spoke and said he would not support a property tax increase above inflation.

“The short answer is no to a general increase in property taxes,” he said. “It’s a bad idea and it will trickle down to the people who are suffering most.”

He also supported the idea of a luxury home tax.

Washrooms must be kept open and winterized and that could be done by reallocating city budgets to make them a priority

The next speaker was Worden, and she said she would support a property tax increase.

“If we want nice things, we have to pay for them,” she said.

“We can afford to do a little bit more to take care of each other better, and yes I would support a moderate increase…so we can afford to nice things and meet our most basic needs in our public spaces.”

Bradford spoke next and said Toronto has a challenge “collecting the right revenue with the right tools” and the city must go to the province for permission on the ways it can generate revenue.

He suggested road tolls as an option. “We should be able to institute road tolls for people on the DVP and the Gardiner who are not in the Toronto tax base.”

He said that “taxes will go up and they have continued to go up,” and noted the impacts of inflation and other costs on Toronto residents.

“We have to manage that thoughtfully. People are being priced out of the city. I don’t want to stand here and contribute to that.”

Braniff spoke last on the question, and immediately let it be known that extra road tolls would have had a significant impact on her costs.

“I think what we can do is look at the budget, and we could also tap into Section 37 money (developer money) for winterized washrooms.”

Specifically to the issue of those washrooms being closed, she said that like many others she and her husband have to plan their walks in city parks based on washroom availability and keeping them open is an important issue.

For a full video of the candidates’ meeting on Oct. 16, please visit the Beach Metro Community News Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BeachMetroNews

Remember, Election Day in Toronto is on Monday, Oct. 24 and the polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.


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