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Monday, August 25, 2014

5 things Toronto could learn from New York

Toronto New YorkThere are countless reasons to love Toronto: it's clean, safe, and (despite an outdated reputation for the opposite) full of friendly, outgoing people.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

by Chris Bateman via blogTO

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