18 March, 2018

Toronto’s Killing Fields

Brought to you by cars cars cars and the politicians who support them over people and places.

By no means do I wish to make light of the killing fields of Cambodia. The situation and the millions killed by the Kilmer Rouge are in no way comparable to the seniors and children being killed on our speeding streets. But deaths are deaths - tragic, gut-wrenching and in the case of Toronto pedestrians and cyclists almost always avoidable. So yes, I believe our streets are “killing fields”.

When I started getting interested in city building I heard about Vision Zero (VZ). I learned that the concept was conceived in Sweden and approved by their parliament in 1997. I learned that it was a road safety project “that aims to achieve a road system with no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic”. Importantly a core principle of the vision is that “life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society” (faster drive times?). By 2014 deaths in Sweden had dropped from 440 in 1997 to 270 (-39%) despite an increase in car traffic. Their target for 2020 is 220, but recently their progress has stalled (distracted driving due to mobile phones?), which has caused them to make further improvements to their plan. I was so impressed with what I had read about Sweden’s plan that I visited with two of the plan’s architects in Malmö Sweden last August. I came away very impressed with their lessons learned and their commitment to the life and health of their citizens.

In 2013 NYC Mayor de Blasio launched a very ambitious Vision Zero plan. In 2017 deaths dropped from 184 at the start of their program to 101 (-45%) - the lowest number since the city started recording deaths in 1910. On June 13, 2016 Toronto mayor Tory announced a plan to reduce the number of people killed by road traffic by 20%. In the face of immediate public outcry, he recanted and agreed to the Vision Zero objective. Two weeks ago, I attended a Vision Zero symposium in Toronto and listened to councillor Jaye Robinson declare that Toronto’s road deaths are “trending in the right direction”. Definitely not so! In 2016, there were 44 pedestrian and cyclist deaths on our roads. In 2017, there were 46; and already this year we are at 11 deaths which means we are trending for over 50 deaths on our roads in 2018.

Based on all that I have learned about Vision Zero I originally thought I would write a very in-depth post about the subject. However, I learned that there are a lot of people that know a lot more about the subject than I. So instead of a lengthy treatise on the subject, here are my “Top Ten Thoughts on Vision Zero and Related Subjects”:

1. Speed kills. The human tolerance for a pedestrian hit by a car is approximately 30 km/h. Anything over that and they usually die. 90% of our cycling and pedestrian fatalities occurred on streets with speed limits over 50 km/h. The VZ people I met in Malmö said that lower speed limits were one of the most important things they implemented.

2. Toronto needs a multimodal approach to solve our transit problems. Yes, cars will always play a role, but transit, cycling and walking need to very much be in the mix. More space for active mobility is more SAFE space for all.

3. A full cycling grid of protected lanes will take “tons” of cars off the road. In Copenhagen, almost 50% of its citizens travel by bike. Imagine how much safer our streets would be with more bikes and less cars.

4. In addition to a very tepid Vision Zero plan we have an even more tepid climate action plan. Cars contribute 30% of all our carbon emissions. So, if cars don’t kill you when you are walking or cycling then their significant contribution to climate change ultimately will.

5. Traffic tickets for safety related charges (speeding, running red lights, disregarding signs) have steadily declined since 2013. They are now about one half the level they were in 2011. Better enforcement is key to safe streets. The province will soon be approving red light cameras and other forms of automatic enforcement measures. I hope Toronto deploys them aggressively.

6. Travel time for drivers has to stop being the most important metric for decision making. Another minute in a car shouldn’t trump pedestrian and cyclist safety.

7. Walking and cycling are great for your health. A recent British study determined that cyclists have a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. Walking delivers similar health benefits including strengthening muscles, weight loss and regulating blood pressure. If there was a drug that delivered these benefits we would all take it.

8. School zones are particularly dangerous for children. The 2018 city budget earmarks monies for improving traffic around only 20 schools, but we have over 500 schools in Toronto. At this pace and assuming at least 200 of those schools have dangerous traffic situations it will take 10 years before the problems are reduced.

9. We won’t make real progress on VZ targets until we invest in safe street designs. There are lots of proven initiatives that can help make our streets safer: car free zones, ban right turns on red, widen sidewalks, introduce medians, reduce traffic lanes, add bump outs, narrow traffic lanes, and yes plant trees. But please, out with the ridiculous and unsafe sharrows.

10. So as Yoda says: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Council constantly hedges and makes tradeoffs to keep car drivers happy. If council approves a water-downed version of Transform Yonge then they clearly don’t support VZ.

Unfortunately, there will continue to be loud, status quo, debates about safe streets until Toronto elects a city council that gets it, or Mayor Tory gets “woke” to the importance of making safe streets a signature platform during his time in office. My hope is that safe streets become one of the major issues in our October election. And that in Wards across Toronto citizens challenge candidates regarding their position on road safety. Then they vote according to what they hear from those candidates.

So again - Vision Zero: “life and death can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society” Mr. Mayor? Council? Toronto?

For a better and much much safer Toronto.

Richard A passionate city builder

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7 March, 2018

Values are the “HOW”

Back on October 28th I wrote a post about why the 2018 civic election should focus on an inspiring Vision (the WHAT) for Toronto. In this post, I am writing about four Values (the HOW) that I believe can bring about that Vision. My four Toronto values are in the header of this website — “let’s make Toronto the most sustainable, healthy, inspiring and inclusive city for everyone”. I strongly believe that for Toronto to be the most livable city in the world it has to be guided by strong values like these. However, for those values to be meaningful they have to be the way everyone (mayor, council, city staff) thinks, talks, in every way, everyday. An organization can’t just follow their values when it is convenient and more profitable to do so. Actually, values can often become more powerful when it is inconvenient and more expensive to follow them.

Here are my four values. What are they? What do they impact?

Sustainable: able to maintain at a certain rate or level; meets human development goals while sustaining the ability of the city to continue to provide the resources and systems upon which its economy and society depend. Interestingly if you read the analysis of Toronto’s 2018 budget city hall is clearly not doing that when per capita spending is not keeping up with inflation or the city’s population growth. Sustainability definitely does mean city financial soundness. Here again the city is falling down because of their resistance to increasing revenues. Other necessary sustainability examples are investments in transit, affordable housing, local employment at living wages, and many city services.

Healthy: an environment that helps maintain or improve overall health (body, mind, spirit) of all its citizens. Cost of neglecting health can translate into higher cost of city services, lower productivity, lack of confidence, and can even restrict future city growth. The city’s growing economic divide between haves and have nots will threaten the health of large portions of our population. Taken to higher levels it could even cause acts of rebellion and violence. Healthy city investments include accessible affordable transit, libraries, cycling, parks, open streets, meal programs, safe streets, recreation, day care.

Inspiring: having an animating or exalting effect. Encourage people to want to do something, learn more, create, motivate, stimulate, and even inspire others. Inspiring investments would include libraries, arts, parks, education, festivals, athletic events.

Inclusive: broad, extensive, welcoming to all. Inclusive of others, all together, diverse, tolerant, including or covering all city services. Examples include age, sexual orientation, race, the poor, religion, people with disabilities, immigrants and public space.

If the mayor and council honestly practiced value-based leadership they would view all their decisions through these four value-lenses. And Toronto’s livability would be far better for it.

A few guiding quotes:

Jon Stewart

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, then they’re not values: they’re hobbies.

Bill Bernbach

If you stand for something you will always find some people for you, and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you find nobody against you, and nobody for you.


A value (principle) isn’t a value (principle) until costs you something.

Roy Disney

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.

Dwight Eisenhower

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.


There can be no time outs. Every day, in every way.

So, let’s have leadership with strong core Values for a better Toronto.


A passionate city builder

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3 March, 2018

Best Practices For a Better Toronto (Part 4)

Fourth in a Series.

When I write about international best practices I also like to identify ones that are present in Toronto. This time I would like to give a shoutout to the East Scarborough Storefront for their “Sports for Change” Initiative. In its fourth season their program gets Kingston, Galloway, Orton Park 9-13 year olds playing indoor and outdoor soccer. Their program was adapted from a Kenya model that uses play to build a community. A program that has twice been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Storefront’s Calvin Kangara, now the coordinator of the Residence Leadership, was actually instrumental in developing the model in Kenya. Storefront founding director Anne Gloger told me this about Calvin “he is the most humble and unassuming guy ... but a force to be reckoned with” (future city councillor?). For more about the Storefront read my November 9th post entitled “Scarberia”.

Here are three interesting international best practices:

International Business District (IBD) Songdo South Korea While many in Toronto are fighting to maintain streets full of cars, cars, cars, South Korean is building a $35B smart city where nobody needs a car. Currently a work in progress, about the size of downtown Boston, it will prioritize mass transit, and bikes instead of road traffic. Some details:15 miles of bike lanes, 40% green space, eco-friendly mixed use, pneumatic tube trash system; and very much walkable. Best practice model for our West Don Lands?

Barcelona Super Blocks Another “win the streets back” idea that could possibly work in our Don Lands area. Barcelona plans to give back its streets to residents via a radical new strategy where it will restrict traffic to only a number of big roads, drastically reducing pollution and turning secondary streets into citizen places for culture, leisure, and the community. Right now, private vehicles account for just 20% of total movements in the city, but occupy 60% of roads (sound familiar Toronto?). Their new mobility plan will free up nearly 60% of city streets used by cars and reduce car traffic by 21%. Their plan is to dramatically increase mobility by foot, bike and public transport. They already have 100 km of cycle lanes and plan to add 200 km more. Interesting that when the city’s mobility councillor talked about their plans she remembered the spirit of Jane Jacobs and her activism for taking back the city for the neighbours. Barcelona has a very impressive dream to create a city where streets actively become second houses or extensions of their residences.

Baana Helsinki Toronto is (too) slowly building protected cycle lanes in the downtown and this is resulting in far more cycling traffic. But how do we get more people from the suburbs out of their cars and on to bikes - - bike super highways! Already London has 6 with two more in planning. Berlin has 13 under construction. Holland has their excellent 11 mile RijWadpal. And since 2012 Helsinki has had its Baana (“rail” in colloquial Finnish), a cyclist and pedestrian highway that was formerly a rail track. Today their Baana is one of Europe’s premier modes of “active transport”. So, enthusiastic has it been received by the many different kinds of users they are now considering widening the cycle tracks and building a network of similar tracks throughout the city. All of these cities are large and congested, but each of them found a way to get their bicycle super highways done. Toronto?

How do these four best practices stack up to my four Toronto values

  • East Scarborough Storefront: healthy, inspiring, inclusive
  • IBD South Korea: sustainable, healthy, inclusive
  • Barcelona Super Blocks: sustainable, healthy, inclusive
  • Baana, Helsinki: sustainable, healthy, inspiring, inclusive

Best practices for a better Toronto.


A passionate city builder

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25 February, 2018

I’m Woke!

The word “woke” is a slang term, a byword for social awareness. Admittedly it refers more to issues concerning social and racial justice, but I believe that it can stand for other things that intersect with those two issues. For instance, housing, safe streets, climate change, parks, transit, civic leadership - things that make or break the sustainability, healthiness and inclusiveness of our communities.

Today I believe I am woke.

Now how can that be? How can an older white male who spent most of his career being a corporate president possibly be woke? Well he takes a journey that involves curiosity, learning, and exploration. For instance, when I lead Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment we believed in being a leader in the community and invested accordingly. Reading “Fixing the Game’ by Roger Martin got me thinking more about the civil foundation and how one might fix it. Specifically, he introduced me to the concept that leaders and corporations can choose to have a negative, neutral or positive impact on society. I came away wanting to “add bricks to the civil foundation”.

Whetted by these two experiences and wanting to enjoy an “active” retirement I went on that journey. I met with urbanists, authors, activists, politicians, environmentalist and journalists. Of all the new people, I met former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the earliest one to encourage me to follow a new city builder direction. I also read and continue to read voraciously books from Florida, Jacobs, Speck, Greenberg, Sadik-Khan; and follow C40Cities, Next City, Ryerson CBI, Climate Reality, and Strong Towns on social media. In my retirement, I now have the time to travel and I am often prioritizing the locales that I can learn from - - Copenhagen, Malmö, London, NYC, Washington, and even Detroit. All of this has opened my mind to the issues and importantly the opportunities that exist for Toronto, my old home town Windsor, and even little historic Amherstburg where we have our cottage.

Last October I launched this website. Writing posts for the Ideas’ section on everything from banning plastic bags to Climate change to compassion has made me do research and figure out where I exactly stand on variety of subjects. Identifying interesting happenings for my Events section and donation-ready charities for my Philanthropy section increased my awareness of the great things constantly going on in Toronto. Web traffic has been growing since launch - - thank you. And the feedback on the site’s excellence design has been nice to hear - - thank you Bensimon Byrne and OneMethod for your great work.

The site is also causing more and more people and groups to ask me to lend my voice and ideas on the various issues around not only Toronto, but Windsor too. I knew that my pivot from CEO to city builder was starting to take hold when I read an article about the important REimagining Yonge project which is being championed by Councilor John Filion. A North York initiative that prioritizes people and place over cars and traffic. The article on Urban Toronto read “... in addition to being repeatedly pushed by city planning staff, the Transform option has been endorsed by some big names in the world of urban planning, including city building experts Ken Greenberg and Richard Peddie ...”. Nice.

So, if you are concerned about the city’s high level of poverty, insignificant funds budgeted to fight climate change or to create safe streets; the long wait lists for affordable housing or recreational programs; most libraries not open on Sunday; and city council wasting $7B on three bad transit investments - - get WOKE! Don’t sit back and let the city evolve without your input. You can learn, get involved, volunteer. You too can be a city builder; and you can give a damn for a more livable Toronto for everyone.

Woodbine Beach’s Winter Stations 2018. “Revolution” art instillation by OCAD. It consists of 36 vertical modules of different heights and aims to capture the aspect of people coming together to use their voices. One of the artists explained: “we focused on voice, because voice is such an important aspect of social change”

GET WOKE for a better Toronto


A passionate city builder

Note: if you want to see how some companies are getting “woke” check out this fun ad from jean maker Levi’s that captures the spirit of diversity and inclusion: “Circles Commercial”.

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22 February, 2018

An interview with Dr. Dana Sinclair

This quote is from John Maxwell - - the author of best-selling leadership books like “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, “5 Levels of Leadership’ and many more. Over my career, I have leaned on leadership authors like Maxwell, Bennis, Davis, Tichy to learn leadership theory and best practices that I could put into practice as a business and community leader.

During my career, I came across good and not so good leaders that I either enjoyed working with or in some cases frustrated the hell out of me. I also met professionals who gave me deeper insights into the difficult world of being a great leader. One of those professionals is Dr. Dana Sinclair who heads up Human Performance International (HPI) with her partner Jim Sleeth. HPI is a consulting firm that specializes in HR Management and performance enhancement. They believe that the understanding of human behaviour is the key to identifying and developing successful leaders.

I first met Dana when Bryan Colangelo brought her in to be the sports psychologist for the Raptors. When Burkie took over the Maple Leafs he decided to use her services as well. Sinclair was really the first true sports psychologist that MLSE ever used. Today HPI consults for many pro teams (Calgary Flames, Portland Trail Blazers, Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Lions, Andretti AutoSport etc), Olympians and business leaders.

Dana actually tested me for my Leadership ability when I was writing “21 Leadership Lessons” - - apparently I tested pretty well. Today she doesn’t work for the Leafs or the Raptors, but we stay in close contact as I really value her thinking. So much so I thought I would share an interview I had with her on Leadership.


Great leaders - - nature or nurture?


I feel it is a 50/50 venture, from both a research and anecdotal perspective. Each can affect the other, but usually only a certain amount. If your natural behavioural style is not even close to that of a strong leader then you will only be able to make some gains. You can certainly improve but you won’t be able to change your style consistently.


What leadership traits do you see most often in great leaders?


The best are assertive, they take action consistently under pressure, they have discipline; and they connect with people quickly and credibly so they build rapport.


What leadership traits do you see most often in bad leaders?


The biggest problem I see across organizations is a lack of communication. Managers who do not talk to, share with, or inform their people end up with tense, anxious, defensive staffs who can be distracted from the main focus and goals of the organization. Other problematic traits are passivity and the lack of timely decision making (i.e. risk avoidance), as well as being too detail oriented so they are resistant to delegating tasks (i.e. they tend to feel that they would do a better job so it is hard for them to hand off a task to someone else).


What three things can a young leader do to become a better leader?


Understand your natural performance style, learn what situations and/or people distract and derail your performance, and learn how to control the resulting emotions under pressure. It is too stressful not to be who you are in a job so make sure you have some natural fit to the role you take.


Anything else you would like to add?


The drive for perfection and being the best seems to dominate leadership development and organizational goals today. I feel that this is an unrealistic and potentially damaging approach. Striving for perfection is a script for failure but striving for excellence works. We all want to be great, we all want to do be better. People don’t need to try to fit into some ideal leader profile, but they do need to focus on one or two characteristics that derail them, and preplan a more effective approach for the next time. After all, incremental improvements can make a big difference to performance.

Thanks Dana.

In conclusion one thing I have learned is that not all people can develop into great leaders. But I also know is that if you invest in your leadership journey and become a student of leadership you can definitely become a much better leader.

Much better civic leadership for a better Toronto


Passionate city builder

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