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5 things Toronto could learn from New York

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 25, 2014

Toronto New YorkThere are countless reasons to love Toronto: it's clean, safe, and (despite an outdated reputation for the opposite) full of friendly, outgoing people. It's also home to a first class library, an excellent culinary scene, and neighbourhoods people travel across the world to visit, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. By looking at other cities around the world, Toronto could find ways to make itself more pleasant, creative, and economically successful.

As the biggest city in the United States and one of the world's great metropolises, New York, with its expansive transit system, rich culture, and international tourist appeal, is often looked up to by aspiring cities around the world.

Here are 5 ideas Toronto could borrow from New York City.

Get real when it comes to transit funding
New York has several transit funding tools at its disposal. Among them, the petroleum business tax, a levy on companies that produce, refine, or import gas in the state of New York, a payroll tax for businesses in the wider New York City area of between 0.1 and 0.34 percent, and a sales tax of 0.375 percent. In 2012, $7.7 billion dollars went toward New York City transit, $3.2 billion of it invested in the system (the rest was spent keeping fares low.) The TTC capital budget--the money it spends on infrastructure--is $1.1 billion for 2014. Metrolinx's is $2.76 billion.

As writer Rohit T. Aggarwala writes at CityLab, "every $2.50 swipe of [a] Metrocard [New York's fare card] gets matched by $3.31 in tax dollars." The TTC on the other hand relies heavily on the fare box to cover its costs. New York is currently building two major subway extensions, the 7 Subway Extension, a one stop extension of the IRT Flushing Line, and the massive Second Avenue Subway, an entirely new line along the east side of Manhattan.

Bigger, better Open Streets festivals
"Summer Streets," New York's version of the Open Streets concept (which debuted in Toronto on Yonge and Bloor streets last weekend,) drew 300,000 participants in 2013. This year's event, which ran over several weekends earlier this month, opened Lafayette Street and Park Avenue from downtown to Central Park. There were food markets, art installations, zip lines, and free bike rentals. With major sponsors, Toronto's Open Streets event could grow in size and scope.

Foster creative urban technology
As one of the largest urban centres in the United States, New York is a natural hub for innovative urban technology. Earlier this year, the city announced 7,500 disused phone booths would become hubs for a massive free Wi-Fi network (the phones will remain, offering free 311 and, of course, 911 calls.) Soft Walks, a company that makes sidewalk scaffolding sheds with benches, seats, and planters, is creating tiny pop up parks and social spaces. In the subway, there are plans to install touch screen, interactive maps capable of providing detailed turn-by-turn directions.

Find ways to expand the bike share network
Citi Bike, New York's version of Toronto's Bike Share system (formerly Bixi,) is turning into a transit system in its own right. Last week, the company's 249 workers won the right to unionize and seek wages closer to those of other transit workers in the city, and it appears many users are riding the blue bikes as part of a commute. In its first year, New Yorkers took 8 million Citi Bike trips. For comparison, Torontonians have taken 285,384 trips so far in 2014, and according to data inspected by Metro, many of the trips were work-related, too.

Citi Bike's planned next phase of expansion would bring the total number of bikes to 10,000. Toronto has about a tenth of that figure, though there are plans to add new stations outside the downtown core using money from the Pan Am legacy fund. Doing so could make Bixi a viable alternative to the TTC.

Extend last call beyond 2 a.m.
Many European cities have completely abolished last call, but New York is still friendlier to its late night drinkers than Toronto. In Gotham, bars are allowed to serve until 4 a.m. and corner stores can sell beer 24 hours a day--even on a Sunday. Such liberal liquor laws are unheard of in Ontario, but Montreal allowed bars on two downtown streets to serve until 5:30 a.m. on a trial basis this summer (at the announcement, Mayor Denis Coderre took a swipe at Toronto's nightlife.) So far, an ongoing petition to extend Toronto's last call has had little effect.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photo by Terry Ratcliff

Discussion

35 Comments

TJ / August 25, 2014 at 02:23 pm
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Transit funding is interesting but should not be on this list. "Toronto" can't learn anything from New York; the Canadian Federal government should be learning from the US Federal government. The Federal government in the US provides significant funding to major public transit but our Federal government does not. Simple as that.
Ian / August 25, 2014 at 02:38 pm
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6th thing: stop closing stores at 6:00PM and coffee shops at 10:00PM, especially downtown.
jd83 / August 25, 2014 at 02:40 pm
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Anyone who is interested in this subject should watch Janette Sadik-Khan (transportation commissioner of New York City) TED Talk.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LujWrkYsl64
Bob / August 25, 2014 at 02:57 pm
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Those subway rats in NYC be keeping it real.
Aaron / August 25, 2014 at 02:58 pm
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Ian - I agree with you. With the sheer volume of people moving downtown, it's time stores & coffee shops stay open much later. They would create a few more jobs and maximize income for their rent.

Yes - more subways! Toronto and the GTA are expanding like crazy.

New York doesn't have streetcars stiffling traffic in their downtown.
hatehateangeranger / August 25, 2014 at 04:10 pm
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STOP COMPARING TORONTO AND NYC. ARGH!!!!!!!!!

Can we establish a "compare Toronto and NY bucket" where any time someone compares the two, they have to put $10 in it? Seriously, that would fund subways (or light rails, if that's your thing) for everyone.
jd83 / August 25, 2014 at 04:18 pm
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Comparing? The topic is about looking to NYC for possible ideas of successful things the city has done.
Mike / August 25, 2014 at 04:29 pm
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Totally agree with all of these. Toronto would be a much more livable city if we implemented these. Chris, if you want to run for mayor, you have my vote. Sadly it appears that none of our mayoral candidates have the vision or ambition to implement any of these.

TJ - If Toronto city council wanted more funding options for the TTC from the province, there's no question Wynne would be open to it. It's true it would require the provincial legislature, but the city has the ability to advocate for it. And they haven't so far. Even Olivia Chow hasn't campaigned on new funding sources, which is really unfortunate.
TheLWord / August 25, 2014 at 04:45 pm
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As a native New Yorker residing in Toronto, the city is catching up in terms of becoming more cosmopolitan like the Big Apple. Some areas where the city can improve on is extending subway lines (great cities such as NYC, Paris, London are well known for their practical and vast subway network); eliminate subway tokens and introduce a MetroCard just like NYC; keep subways running 24 hours, 7 days a week; Encourage stores, especially chains, to operate 24 hours, 7 days a week, especially in the core downtown area (also they should keep stores in other parts of the city open 24-7, but space them apart so that you can get to one in less than 10 minutes if using the TTC).
Chester replying to a comment from Mike / August 25, 2014 at 05:09 pm
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I love how people say the province will fund transit when they havent balanced a budget in a decade. Anybody can say "hey lets fund transit" but where will the money come from?
kam replying to a comment from Rick / August 25, 2014 at 05:20 pm
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SPOT ON!
Kirsten replying to a comment from Aaron / August 25, 2014 at 05:59 pm
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Good suggestions.
j-rock / August 25, 2014 at 06:33 pm
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Invoking "NYC" was bound to bring all of the insecure, and self-loathing Torontonians out of the woodwork. This piece could have used any number of cities as a comparison, or even a variety of different cities. Toronto should never aim to be New York. That's as impossible as it is undesirable, but there are a lot of things we can learn from them, and apply here. And the same is true of lots of other cities. And I think there a lot of things that Toronto could teach other cities as well. But the NYC comparison is lazy, and inevitably elicits boring, predictable, and very negative reactions.
SteveM / August 25, 2014 at 08:18 pm
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"Many European cities have completely abolished last call"

And London's last call for bars/pubs is midnight. I would like last call extended, but I don't think that's the big issue.
SteveM / August 25, 2014 at 08:20 pm
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Also the only reason people consider Montreal to have a better nightlife than Toronto is 1. because people still hang on to outdated stereotypes and 2. because Montreal is the haven for underagers from the US and Ontario.
Chris? Really? What were you thinking of? / August 25, 2014 at 09:20 pm
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Yes. We know. Toronto is not New York.

Can we move on now, and stop flagellating ourselves for that obvious fact?

Oh, and it should be pointed out that Montreal has turned into Le-Snooze-Ville over the past 20 years. Sidewalks deserted at night. Bars half to 3/4 empty. Like walking through a graveyard on any night except Saturdays. Girls who look like they were rejected from a low end stripper audition.
Not more..... / August 25, 2014 at 09:30 pm
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One thing that would make Toronto better is if every professional whiner who moved here from Podunk Corners (apparently against his/her will) to be forced to live in a city that he/she hates would pack up and move back to whatever hole they crawled out of. It would be a smaller but better city. Also throw in every imbecile who visited Europe once, and thinks it is like living in a postcard because they have zero idea of what "Europe" is all about. They simply imagine everything to be better because it is "European". These are generally the people who insist Montreal is just like Ewrp. The City of Lite.


iSkyscraper / August 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm
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First of all, it used to be the other way around:

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/05/nyregion/toronto-s-order-awes-city-delegation.html

How the tables have turned. My list would include:

1) Bike lanes - Seriously. NYC was once considered a death sentence for cycling while Toronto was the progressive bike-friendly city. How times have changed.

2) Bike laws - NYC has laws requiring bike parking in parking garages and requiring landlords to accommodate people bringing bikes to their offices.

3) Affordable housing - 80/20 and other programs seem to have worked pretty well. Sometimes there are debates about "poor doors" (google it) but at least the units got built. I'm very pro-condo and grateful for their presence in Toronto, but it's a shame some affordable units were not baked into the recipe.

4) Waterfront development - Compare Toronto and New York waterfronts in the late 70s -- Toronto had Ontario Place, some waterfront trails, the beginnings of Harbourfront. New York had highways and ruined piers and sketchiness and nothing. Now, Toronto has.... Ontario Place (shuttered), some waterfront trails and a decent but small Harbourfront. New York has mile upon mile of gleaming bikeways and walkways and playgrounds and parks all along Manhattan and Brooklyn, complete with waterfront development that funded some of it. (Big lessons to be learned and in fact now being applied with the Donlands and the new OP).

5) Quality streetscape materials - Toronto is addicted to concrete and asphalt and yellow traffic lights and wood telephone poles. Ugly as shit. In recent years the city has gotten a little better with pavers and street trees but still a joke compared to most Manhattan streets. Cities need to decorate their showcase areas as if they are showcase areas, and that means better signage, better street furniture, less concrete, more stone, etc. Study the details -- Toronto is more Gravenhurst in terms of streetscape than NYC.

6) Graffiti Removal - There was a time when Toronto would laugh at learning lessons from NYC on graffiti but not now. In New York, a 311 call (or app) puts in a graffiti clean-up request to the property owner, and if they do not respond or choose not to the city pays for the removal and does it with their own crews. Rob Ford meant well with his crusade but pinned it all on the property owner, which often is not fair.

7) Community Govt - NYC has boroughs, like the old boros of Toronto. Each has a president who has some money to spend on their own initiatives. There are also community councils for each ward which have lots of citizen participation and get to offer non-binding input on most land use and traffic and licensing issues. It's not a bad system and could be of use in Toronto.

8) Data Data Data - Ever since Bloomberg NYC has run on data. Everything is logged, everything is tracked, from crime to noise complaints to traffic speed (ingeniously logged through GPS devices in taxis). Graduate students will be crunching the numbers for years making sense of it all but it's super valuable info when you want to debate whether a bike lane has slowed traffic or what hotspots need more police resources. Perfect example is snowplowing -- in NYC you can track each plow on a map via GPS to see when your block was last serviced. In Toronto you are literally supposed to call Rob Ford if you have a snowplow question. Which city is the global centre and which is run by the village idiot?

9) Bridge/Tunnel Tolls - de facto congestion charges. Enough said. Make' em pay to come downtown.

10) Better BIDs - Business Improvement Districts actually started in Toronto and were exported to places like New York, but they have done a much better job with them. Great signage, programming, garbage collection, data tracking, etc. by groups like 34th St Partnership put Toronto BIA's to shame.


Transit funding is a valid point but transit itself would not make my list. The TTC has many commendable aspects that NYC could learn a thing or two about -- seamless transfers (including in-station bus-to-subway), frequent service intervals, excellent bus coverage, child fares, etc.

Oh, and Aaron, please spare me your Rob Ford swill. NYC once had extensive streetcars and would like many of them back. Plans like this come up every once in a while: www.vision42.org
iSkyscraper / August 25, 2014 at 10:16 pm
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I forgot two:

11) Inexpensive air-rail link. You can go to EWR on a comfortable train in 25 min that only makes one intermediate stop before connecting to the airport monorail. Cost something like $12.50. The same service in Toronto is going to cost double. You can go to JFK on the subway and pay only $5 more for the airport connection. Toronto cancelled the Eglinton LRT extension to the airport. And while LGA may not have a rail link it has a Red Rocket-like express bus so that one's a tie.

12) Uniform taxi color. A city with mutii-colored taxis is like a workplace where everyone dresses casually. It's not professional. Toronto taxis need not be yellow (which, if you are old enough, is what police cars used to look like) but they should be some standard color with a standard logo. NYC has this down.
Fact Check / August 26, 2014 at 03:18 am
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That Montreal experiment was cancelled last minute. Get your facts right.
Brian / August 26, 2014 at 10:49 am
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The biggest thing Toronto can learn from New York is the massive network of large one way streets and true 24 hour public transit.
Glenn D. / August 26, 2014 at 11:02 am
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Both Open Streets and Bikeshare were funded by private organizations who made donations when Bloomberg asked. Who is our Bloomberg?
Mike replying to a comment from Chester / August 26, 2014 at 11:30 am
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Chester - Not sure if you read the article or not, or my comment, but it would come from new sources, not out of current ones. So like NY, it could be a gas tax or payroll tax.
TorontoIsPrettyGood / August 26, 2014 at 11:47 am
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Less narrative, more facts.....

Cycling Deaths
2012 2013 2014(YTD)
NYC 18 12 12
Toronto 3 4 1
5:30 am bars in Montreal?? Since when? / August 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm
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Chris, when did any bars in Montreal stay open until 5:30am? A week after 4am closings were being proposed here, Montreal's mayor Denis Coderre panicked and immediately proposed a late night bar experiment for Montreal. The liquor control commission soon squashed his little wet dream.
During special events bars in Toronto can apply for a 4am closing license. This has NEVER happened in Montreal, a city which hasn't deserved its nightlife reputation since 1983 when things started to slide downhill. Curent nightlife in Montreal is an embarrassing shadow of its former self.
MM replying to a comment from TorontoIsPrettyGood / August 26, 2014 at 01:58 pm
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"Less narrative, more facts.....
Cycling Deaths
2012 2013 2014(YTD)
NYC 18 12 12
Toronto 3 4 1"

Your facts seem to neglect to mention the rate of cycling in both cities. Given that New York's population is several times that of Toronto, it might stand to reason that there are a whole lot more cyclists there than here. Rates are useful here, not the raw data itself.
Ashley / August 26, 2014 at 02:36 pm
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Priorities!! You sound like a whiny privileged idiot who has never had think about anything more important than what you're going to wear for the day. "I want bars to let me binge drinker longer, better parties in the streets, more lanes so I can cycle my life away (in the spring and summer only, duh) and wifi zones so I can mooch a signal rather than waste my precious data." Get real.
Peter / August 26, 2014 at 04:17 pm
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Toronto: 6+ million people
NYC: 8+ million people

"Don't compare NYC to Toronto!"

Lol. Okay... What about Chicago then? Similar climate, similar population. More subways, more highways into the core, better lakefront. The only thing Toronto has going for it is the nicer people eh
McRib / August 26, 2014 at 04:47 pm
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Toronto has nowhere near 6 million people. Halve that, then take a bit more off and you'll be closer to the mark.
I Hate New York! / August 26, 2014 at 07:42 pm
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Now Paris, San Fran, Vancouver...but New York sucks! Don't copy a thing!
McFib / August 27, 2014 at 01:12 am
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The GTA has 6 million people, McFib. Discussions of cities are always in terms of metropolitan populations. Get with the program, bud.

@I Hate New York!
Don't copy ANY other city, and in particular Vancouver. We are our own city.
Pat replying to a comment from McFib / August 27, 2014 at 07:22 am
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That's the GTA, too broad and bloated. The 905 region is their own and notice that they also have their own regions in them like Peel, York, etc. Separate them from the equation. Talk only in terms of the original (and what should be) Metro Toronto.
rapi / August 27, 2014 at 08:06 am
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things Toronto could learn from Barcelona
1. power wash streets and sidewalks once a week
2. clean streets and sidewalks every day
3. pick up garbage every day
4. have a st. Lawrence market in every neighbourhood
5. storefront maintenance and pride of ownership
6. impeccable public transit
7. cute little food shops and cafes at every corner
8. etc, etc, etc
the lemur / August 27, 2014 at 11:18 am
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Something else NYC has that we could borrow: really simple street food carts/stalls. Like ones that sell coffee or pretzels or whatever. Because apparently setting that sort of thing up here is incredibly difficult.
Fuggedaboutit replying to a comment from McFib / September 3, 2014 at 03:46 pm
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In that case you should be referring to Metro New York, which is 20 million. (NYC alone is 8 million within its borders.) Kind of dwarfs the little GTA. Duh.

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