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Activist mom running for mayor to improve streetscape
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, May 1, 2018 6:09PM EDT
Toronto mom Sarah Climenhaga says she’s tired of the slow pace of progress in the city.
“I feel Toronto has so much potential, but we’re just taking such baby steps. We could be a truly world-class city,” Climenhaga told CP24.com. “Our whole approach to public life I feel could be much more vibrant.
That’s why the 46-year-old mother of three and self-described activist is throwing her hat in the ring to become mayor of the city.
Top priority for Climenhaga? Creating safer streets that work better for everyone.
“When I talk about public space, I’m talking about our streets, that’s public space,” Climenhaga says. “Right now we devote our streets to thoroughfare, primarily to car-oriented traffic flow. That approach isn’t working for cars, which is what it’s designed for. We need to change the design so it’s working for everyone.”
She credits incumbent mayor John Tory with improving the congestion situation on King Street with the current streetcar pilot project, but says that is just a “tiny stretch” of the city and things aren’t moving fast enough.
She points out that he fought against the recently debated Re-imagining Yonge plan that would have added bike lanes to a stretch of Yonge Street in North York (Tory argued the plan would have stifled traffic by removing two lanes for vehicles).
“That was an opportunity for council to really take a step and show the world what Toronto is doing and instead Mayor Tory did not support that motion and it ended up being deferred. More delay and we don’t need more delay,” Climenhaga says.
She traces her belief in a diversified streetscape – streets that encourage walking and cycling alongside other modes of transportation – to a course she took years ago as a student at McGill University.
“I did do a course on urban transport geography which completely reshaped the way I thought about our cities,” she says. “In that course I learned the most basic law, which is ‘if you add more traffic lanes, you get more congestion.’ If you focus on moving cars, all you get is more congestion.”
She also brings a global perspective to her thinking about cities, having spent two years travelling the world over two separate trips with her family. She points to cities like New York, Paris and Montreal as places that are implementing progressive city-building ideas more quickly.
She’d like to see better infrastructure for cyclists and a street that’s built to be safer for pedestrians (“signs don’t work,” she says).
When it comes to specific ideas for building better streets, she says Toronto needs “a whole team of people working on it.”
So why not start by running for a seat on council rather than jumping into the mayoral race?
“For myself I’m not as interested in a career in politics, I’m interested in change on the ground as soon as we can get it,” she says, adding that it would take too long to run for council first.
She says that better, safer streets and transit are needed now, especially for people who live in areas of the city that aren’t as well-served.
“I’ve become aware of how lucky I am in Midtown. I think people in downtown Toronto often can’t relate to problems in Scarborough, in Etobicoke, in North York, because many of our streets are safer; we don’t have to wait as long for a bus; and it’s not as crowded when it comes,” Climenhaga says. “Those areas are really disconnected and for people in those areas to come downtown to city hall to make their voice heard, it’s extremely difficult.
“I think that in Toronto, our biggest challenge is to get together as a whole city and to stop concentrating on this downtown versus the suburbs. It’s the wrong way to go forward with our city.”
Toronto heads to the ballot box on Oct. 22. Aside from Tory and Climenhaga, there are currently four other people registered to run.