Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 28: The MIDP Volume 2, The Innovations, Chapter 1: Mobility, Parts 5-6

In which the MIDP finally pushes me over the edge and I unexpectedly reach the point where I’d read enough to render a verdict on the entire report.

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries and relevant documents available here

I really didn’t think it would be the mobility section that finally sent me over the edge.

Part 5: Improving Mobility Management (pp. 84-91)

Goal 1: Establish a new entity to coordinate the entire mobility system (pp. 86-88)

New bureaucracy alert: The Waterfront Transportation Management Association (WTMA) would be responsible for coordinating “the transportation system in the IDEA district by deploying a mobility management system.” (pp. 84-85) It would not have much of an effect at the Quayside level. (p. 85)

Its roles:

  • Creating a mobility subscription package
  • Deploying a holistic mobility management system
  • Managing and setting prices for the curbside and parking systems
  • Procuring and operating new technologies, such as adaptive traffic signals, dynamic pavement, freight and deliveries, or other third-party systems and apps
  • Integrating systems with third-party navigation apps
  • Allocating space across the needs of mobility, access, safety, and the public realm
  • Reporting on performance targets related to congestion, mode share, and customer service (p. 86)

Financing:

  • Financing: should be self-sustaining.
  • Suggested financing sources: many, many types of fees for using mobility services in the District, and “charges for mobility services to residents and employees.”

This listing of responsibilities and some vague thoughts on financing, again, is not a plan; it’s an idea, a notion. These proposed funding suggestions are just kind of thrown out there, the report version of spitballing. Whether they would end up being sufficient is left unexamined, in what seems to be a particularly half-baked proposal (How many people would be required to run this entity? Are they unionized? How much would this all cost? How much money would be required for it to be “self-sustaining”?).

Also, why is the Eastern Waterfront a sufficient scale for this administrative agency, which is being asked to do a whole lot of specialized work? That the Eastern Waterfront just happens to be the right scale for a WTMA seems awfully convenient, especially since Sidewalk Labs would effectively be creating a new agency for what is – let’s not forget – a pretty small piece of land in the context of Toronto itself.

Moving on (ha), what would this vague notion of an agency do?

Develop specific guidelines (p. 87);

  • “Oversee planning, operations and maintenance” of all roads, hardware and software for parking, curb and traffic management
  • Set and enforce parking, curbside and road usage fees
  • Set speed limits
  • Manage street closures for construction or events
  • Handle data properly
  • Create that trip-planning interface/app Sidewalk Labs is all keen for
  • Snow and debris clearing “beyond heated pavement”
  • Constructing and financing roads or parking facilities.
  • Run the “advanced mobility management system”

Those are a hell of a lot of responsibilities. It will involve workers that had to do both physical labour and maintain complex IT systems, systems that are much, much more complex than anything Toronto has today, in part because everything is interconnected.

And yet Sidewalk Labs throws all this out there without any attempt to cost it out, or to explain exactly who (in terms of actual people) is going to do this work.

If you look closely, you can actually pinpoint the exact moment where my brain breaks

I’ve been trying to keep my writing breezy and loose, in part to keep my interest up in what has become a very long slog, but I’ve also been trying to keep my objectivity about what Sidewalk Labs is proposing. When I began reading the MIDP, I had a lot of reasons to doubt the quality of this project, many of which I’ve detailed over several posts, but I really did try to keep in mind that I could be wrong. Change isn’t necessarily bad.

But this section finally broke me. To cavalierly propose what would almost certainly end up being a multi-million-dollar agency to govern a couple hundred acres, without even trying to cost out the proposal, or to think through how it would be staffed… it’s a joke.

Sidewalk Labs was supposed to present a plan. A plan implies an idea about what you will do, and how you will do it. It implies details. And we get … this?

The WTMA is not a serious proposal. It is a repository for all the things that need to happen for their Rube Goldberg-esque plan to work.

The MIDP is not a serious document. It’s a sales job put out by company that will say anything to get this project across the finish line. It scatters information about its various components throughout the document. Sidewalk Labs sees the WTMA as a subsidiary part of an overarching administrative body, which may or may not be Waterfront Toronto, but whose capacities in any case do not currently exist.

And we get this information stated clearly only in Volume 3 (page 70), 1,320 pages into the MIDP and 456 pages beyond this section, which should have been the comprehensive discussion of this organization.

And that list above, of what the WTMA would do? Notice how it includes “Manage street closures for construction or events”? Well, here’s what Sidewalk Labs writes on page 11 of “Mobility Technical Appendix F: Mobility Management” – that’s right, Sidewalk Labs, someone is reading your appendices, even though they’re not included with the main report:

The WTMA is not envisioned to do the following things … Manage street closures —to be done by Transportation Services… . (emphasis added because, just, wow)

So, like, whatever. Part of me – the professional part that’s offended by the half-assedness of a report that could win the company that produced it company billions of dollars and some of the most valuable undeveloped real estate in North America – cannot believe how incompetent Sidewalk Labs is at what should be its specialties: keeping their story straight and putting their best foot forward.

The researcher part of me, however, is not surprised. This type of clumsiness and lack of attention to detail has characterized Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto adventure from the very beginning, from the early insistence that a YMCA day camp counts as consultation to the fast-and-loose way they’ve played with data governance.

Welcome to gridlock, population Sidewalk Labs

Oh! And just to show that Sidewalk Labs is truly not serious about this proposal, the WTMA – not the overarching authority, but the agency responsible for plowing the roads, maintaining the software, closing off roads for block parties and collecting fees “would include a steering committee with representatives from all three orders of government” (Volume 3, p. 70).

WHY???? Why saddle such an entity with this type of governance? As the Auditor General’s report makes clear, it’s this tripartite decision-making capability that has hampered Waterfront Toronto’s mission to develop the waterfront. And Sidewalk Labs wants to duplicate this dysfunction AT THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL?

It makes no sense whatsoever. If you’re going to continue to have tripartite responsibility for this area, you keep it at the policy level, with line agencies disposing of the policy-level’s proposals. Stupid dumb.

What makes this proposal even worse, is this silly nod toward a tripartite steering committee represents the extent of Sidewalk Labs’ discussion of this multi-million-dollar entity. That’s it.

It’s irresponsible. It’s ridiculous.

This idiotic WTMA proposal has all the hallmarks of a proposal made by an organization that is making this stuff up as they go along, that is willing to say anything to get their project across the finish line, hoping that nobody reads their convoluted, overlong and repetitive, index-free proposal too closely.

Rendering a verdict

This WTMA proposal exposes the MIDP for what it is: a cynical scheme that disrespects the many Torontonians who take the development of their waterfront seriously and only want the best for their city.

Very Serious Torontonians can pretend that this proposal is anything other than a poorly conceived land and power grab by Sidewalk Labs and Google, but the rest of us are under no obligation to take this charade seriously.

This project may very well come to pass, via a process that has been marred by irregularities from the very beginning. But that won’t change the fact that this is a poorly thought out proposal not worthy of serious consideration. If implemented, Toronto will rue the day Will Fleissig and Waterfront Toronto invited Google to town.

I’m out. At this point, 871 pages into this repetitive monstrosity, there’s very little left to learn. I’m going to continue to analyze the MIDP, and I may do another post on Waterfront Toronto’s Note to Reader, and a final summary post, but I’ve read more than enough to come to a conclusion about whether the MIDP is a sound proposal.

It’s not.

I began writing this series in order to understand Sidewalk Labs Master Innovation and Development Plan, and now I do: There is no plan; there is only a sales pitch.

The Emperor has no clothes. There is no need to pretend otherwise.

Goal 2: Deploy a real- time mobility management system (pp. 89-91)

Part 6: Designing People-First Streets (pp. 92-107)

Goal 1: Create four new types of streets to move people and make places (pp. 96-107)

Public Engagement (pp. 108-115)

Discusses feedback from the public. As with the other mentions of public engagement in this Volume, we can’t see whether the selected views are representative. At least one Reference Panel member suggests that this feedback is not representative and the product of a tightly managed process.

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