October’s Toronto City Council Election is Important for the Future of Ontario’s Environment
Barring a dramatic u-turn by the provincial government, for the next four years, much of the burden of diverting new homes away farmland and natural spaces, slashing carbon emissions, and ending car-dependency will fall on Toronto – southern Ontario’s largest city.
That means that a great deal depends on this October’s municipal elections. Whether it’s demanding clear public commitments on contentious environmental issues, voting and campaigning for candidates who make those commitments, or running yourself to replace councilors who refuse to support the rapid change Toronto needs, it’s vital that you do what’s necessary to elect a pro-environment mayor and council.
Here’s how to distinguish environmental champions from environmental villains.
Photo of the Danforth Bike Lane by Nicholas Jones, courtesy of Cycle Toronto
A strong environment platform for Toronto will:
- Stop sprawl and protect farmland & nature across southern Ontario by planning and approving enough new compact, land-efficient homes within Toronto to maintain our City’s current share of GTHA population up to 2051.
- Stop the spread of monster homes and create transit-supporting, complete communities by replacing “exclusionary zoning” with rules that instead incentivize landowners to add a lot of lower-cost new semi-detached homes, townhomes, low-rise walk-ups – plus compatible corner stores, home offices & amenities – when they rebuild houses in low-rise neighborhoods.
- Prioritize public transit on Toronto’s roads and reduce the number of car trips by completing RapidTO bus and streetcar priority lanes on 10 more major streets within the next four years, and to 20 more within the next 10 years, and by expanding the CafeTO program and making it permanent.
- Prioritize pedestrians and users of mobility aids, with new Traffic Control Warrants that require pedestrian markings and accessible crosswalks or traffic signals be added to far more intersections, including all intersections near schools, community centres, parks, and commercial streets, and by curtailing the creation of new curb cuts.
- Make cycling the preferred mode of transportation for more Torontonians by making all bicycle lane pilots permanent, by approving and completing all planned and under study bike lanes, by adding protective barriers to all unprotected bike lanes, and by expanding the network of separated bike lanes by at least 200km by October 2026 (these to be beyond those that are in-progress or under construction).
- Reduce tailpipe emissions from those motor vehicle trips that we can’t eliminate, by rapidly adding electric vehicle chargers to all parking lots and sidewalk chargers to all curbside parking spaces (including those on residential streets), and by prohibiting the inclusion of non-EV parking spaces in new developments or in replacements of existing off-street parking.
- Reduce reliance on fossil fuels for heating and electricity by opposing the construction, expansion or increased use of gas plants, by supporting a provincial phase-out of gas plants, by requiring that furnaces, water heaters, stoves and ovens in new homes operate using electricity instead of fossil fuels, and by helping fund energy efficiency & electric retrofits, solar energy systems and battery storage units in homes of all types.
- Reduce environmental racism, classism, and encourage the construction of non-profit, deeply affordable and supportive housing by setting much more generous as-of-right permissions (eg., height, setback) for “social housing” than would be available to market-rate developments.
- Implement the other, more fine-grained “2022-2026 Council Actions” set out in Toronto Environmental Alliance’s 2022 Toronto Municipal Election Greener City for All Platform”
Beware of an Environment Platform that:
- Plans to maintain, or only moderately reduce, the current number of private automobile trips, based on the false assumption that the necessary transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles will be sufficient to deliver the emissions reductions we need.
- Leaves in place rules that make it hard to add lots of new low-rise walk-up apartments, multiplexes, & multi-tenant homes to Toronto’s existing “single detached” residential neighborhoods, based on the false assumption that highrise and midrise buildings downtown, on avenues and around TTC & GO stations will be sufficient by themselves to meet housing demand and prevent sprawl.
- Foregoes less-expensive, quicker-to-implement public transit solutions like bus rapid transit lanes and surface Light Rapid Transit (LRT) in favour of costly, resource-intensive, slow-to-implement projects, in order to avoid reallocating road space away from private automobiles.
- Obstructs the achievement of public transit-supporting densities and the prevention of sprawl by misrepresenting aesthetic preferences or status signifiers – such as absence of building shadows, physical separation between houses, low building heights, or empty sidewalks and playgrounds – as “environmental” priorities.
- Uses uncertainties about whether, and to what extent, new units will be genuinely affordable as an excuse to approve fewer new homes in Toronto than there are households who want to live here, rather than as the reason to fund and build new non-profit, rent-geared-to-income and other deeply affordable and supportive housing.
- Mislead voters by claiming to support the overhaul of land use planning, the rapid expansion of transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and the other environmental policies Toronto needs, while refusing to commit support for whatever increased taxes and other revenue are required to staff and build those changes.
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