Weekend Newsbrief: Mar. 24, 2018
What happened at Toronto City Hall this week
Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was at City Hall on Friday and reminisced about taking the GO train into Toronto. The leader and mayor made themselves available to reporters after their meeting and spoke about federal gun control and transit funding, which Scheer parlayed into an anecdote about his own experiences taking public transit. “I grew up my entire life, until I moved to Saskatchewan, taking the bus everywhere. My family didn’t have a car. I had to – if I wanted to get to work or to school, or to meet a girl for a date, I had to convince her to meet me at the bus stop. So, I’m a big believer in public transit. As I mentioned, my family lived in Mississauga. The way I got into Toronto to go to the CNE or the Blue Jays games was to take the GO train in. I understand it’s a big part of making Toronto the world class city that it is, to make sure that it has the public transit needs for the 21st century.”
Google’s Sidewalk Toronto announces location of new headquarters. This week at a public roundtable Rohit Aggarwala, chief policy advisor at Sidewalk Labs, announced Sidewalk Toronto’s new 15,000-square-foot headquarters will be at 307 Lake Shore Blvd. E., near Parliament St. and the Gardiner Expressway, calling it the “physical embodiment of Sidewalk Toronto’s presence at a location.” MP Adam Vaughan attended. Asked about whether he is concerned about what is publicly know about the deal between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, the former city councillor said, “This is about how you build cities and use technology to adapt to a century where change is going to be the norm.” The public details in the agreement between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs involve a joint planning process and a commitment of up to $50 million (U.S.) from Sidewalk, that will result in a proposal to be released in 2019. In the meantime, the old Toronto Maple Leafs Network Ltd. sign on the front door of Sidewalk Toronto’s new headquarters isn’t the only vintage that comes with the project. An interactive archival photo website by Sidewalk Labs called OldTO was also launched this week. It pins photos taken between 1850 and now to locations on a map, reminders of how the city has changed over time. (Read the story and see a photo of the old production facility)
As city delays bringing forward plan to implement new accessibility symbol on its buildings, advocates find private places for change. A decision this week at the mayor’s Executive Committee meeting reveals that the plan for how the City of Toronto will implement the Dynamic Symbol of Access on city-owned buildings will not be discussed until 2019. The report that the decision was based on says city staff are hindered by the authority of the Ontario Building Code and the Highway Traffic Act and they require additional stakeholder engagement. When asked on Wednesday about the news that an implementation plan will not be available until 2019, Dylan Itzikowitz, co-founder of The Forward Movement, wants to see the City of Toronto more active in the role of change. “We would want [the city] to start using the dynamic symbol where they can, in order to make the comprehensive change happen. Because the more people and organizations and cities that start using the symbol where they can, the faster the provincial government will make the change. We’re a grassroots movement,” Itzikowitz says, explaining The Forward Movement wants to show people’s support for change across the province. “The legislation is behind what people want and it needs to catch up.” Itzikowitz says as the city figures out how to implement a plan for city-owned buildings and parks, his organization will continue to work with the private sector, including one obvious choice. (Read the story)
Sign Variance Committee rejects application for massive advertisement on Yonge Street. An application for a massive wall sign that would hang on the south-facing wall of a building on Yonge, north of Gerrard, was turned down at the Sign Variance Committee on Tuesday morning. James Kahara, the founder and CEO of Kahara Media, presented on behalf of the applicant, showing a rendition of the proposed wall sign and arguing it would look more like art than a third-party advertisement. “It doesn’t look like an ad. It’s just basically a portrait. It’s kind of like hanging a picture in your house. You know, it adds character to the area and brings more vibrancy to it.” Robert Bader, supervisor in the sign by-law unit, does not agree. “The building was designed and constructed under the auspices of a professional architect,” Bader told Signal Toronto after the committee meeting. “There is a balance that’s being expressed in that southerly facade. There’s positive and negative voids, that the glazing and the cast-in-place in the pre-cast concrete establish, and to just plop up a gigantic sign there, willy nilly, really has an impact on that architectural statement.” (Read the story and see the proposed size of the advertisement)
Mammoliti moves away from run for Toronto mayor… for now. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti announced this week he hopes to leave City Hall for Queen’s Park as the Progressive Conservative candidate for Brampton Centre, one of the new ridings in the 2018 election. Mammoliti made the announcement on AM640’s John Oakley’s radio show. In response to a question about Doug Ford’s suggestion that there is a movement among voters right now, Mammoliti said, “Oh, it’s more than a movement. This is almost a religion. I mean, Ford Nation is almost a religion. People want to join.” Mammoliti told reporters he would return to council if unsuccessful, but would not confirm in what capacity. (Read the story)
Weekend brunch and dinner party talking points about bike lanes and beautification on Yonge
Next week, Toronto City Council will be asked to choose between two plans for the northern stretch of Yonge, from above Finch Avenue to south of Sheppard Avenue.
The two plans:
Transform Yonge: The first plan focuses on Yonge Street and adds bike lanes on Yonge Street, reducing the number of car lanes in the process.
Enhance Yonge and Transform Beecroft: The second plan focuses on the streets adjacent to Yonge, and puts bike lanes on Doris Avenue and/or Beecroft Road, and doesn’t limit car-lane capacity on Yonge.
The city’s top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, has said she does not favour one design option over the other for the stretch of Yonge Street from south of Sheppard Avenue to north of Finch Avenue.
(From last week’s newsbrief) At the centre of the debate is the question of whether bike lanes and fast traffic can coexist along a commercial strip like Yonge, or whether the inclusion of cycle tracks will slow down traffic flow. How to design streets so residents can get around safely in whatever way they choose – by foot, transit, bicycle, or car – is the political puzzle that challenges urban leaders who have the tricky job of making room for everyone, while not appearing to slow the city down in the process. In the spirit of a good old-fashioned online deep dive, we’ve tried to capture all the facets of the issue – in photos. Starting near Sheppard Avenue and going up to the Hydro corridor, we’ll take you along the streets and sidewalks, where new surfaces and bike lanes will one day exist. Here are five selected photos from the series. (Read the story and see the 34 pictures)
The advocacy and politics:
In late February, Local Councillor John Filion and activists spoke to reporters at City Hall after sending a letter to Mayor John Tory, titled “Why Transform Yonge is the only way forward for safe streets,” showing their support for a city-planning option that includes separated bike lanes. Signatory organizations to the letter include: 8 80 Cities, the David Suzuki Foundation, Vision Zero Canada, Cycle Toronto, Youth Unlimited (Toronto YFC), Friends and Families for Safe Streets, and Walk Toronto.
Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities, said at the event, “It speaks to the importance of opening minds, and throwing out outdated ways of thinking. A failure to support [the planning option called] ‘Transforming Yonge’ is a failure of imagination for what’s possible for our streets, and what’s possible for our city.” Later that same day, Mayor Tory said he would be championing the second planning option for the area. “I believe [the alternative option] that gives you bike lanes, public realm improvements, a reconstructed road, and keeps traffic moving is something that is a preferable solution given that this is actually one of the worst areas in Toronto for congested traffic… I just don’t happen to believe that [bike lanes on Yonge] is the best answer if we’re going to achieve all of the different objectives, which we can with [another] solution.”
Then in March, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee also rejected a bike lane plan for the north stretch of Yonge Street and recommended bike lanes on Beecroft Road and/or Doris Avenue, both north-south streets that run parallel to Yonge.
The most recent advocacy on the issue is found in an open letter from David Crombie, Richard Florida, Jennifer Keesmaat, Jack Diamond, Ken Greenberg, Anne Golden, Gil Penalosa, Joe Berridge, Richard Joy, Paul Bedford, Richard Peddie, Matthew Blackett, and Cherise Burda to the mayor and council urging them to choose the option that puts bike lanes and beautification on Yonge Street. “Reducing one lane of traffic in each direction allows for expanded sidewalks, greenery, and more space for patios and public life. Bike lanes are part of the package, but they aren’t the impetus.”
This Newsbrief is by Arianne Robinson
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