Josh Matlow jumps the shark

According to the Star, Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St Paul’s-Busybody) has come to the rescue of hockey-playing kids in the city. It’s currently against a city by-law to play hockey on the street. Scofflaw kids, however, flaunt the law and play willy-nilly on city streets everywhere. Matlow just wants to allow kids to play legally, so he proposes that their parents be able to apply for exceptions to the by-law. They’ll have to get the support of 80% of homeowners on the street. The city would send out staff and equipment to do a traffic study to ensure that the street is below the acceptable traffic threshold of 1,000 vehicles a day and has an average of at least one minute between cars. Staff will evaluate sightlines to ensure that there are no obstructions like trees, hedges, or blind corners that would prevent drivers from seeing children at play. The staff recommendation and full report taking into account all of the above factors would then go to community council and then on to the full city council for final approval.

This proposal, which Matlow seems proud of, is the worst kind of micro-managing. It would be out of place in Singapore, yet seems a strangely fitting policy in the Toronto that often conflates good public policy with slavish adherence to rules. Can you imagine an entire bureaucracy dedicated to deciding whether and where children can set up their nets or shoot a ball against the curb? Apparently, Josh Matlow can.

Okay, I understand the urge to fix a by-law that no one either enforces or obeys. To that end, I’d like to suggest a few more projects for Councillor Matlow to tackle over the balance of his term:

  • Establish jaywalking zones where pedestrians can apply for permits to cross the street mid-block. They’ll need support of 80% of residents and business owners on the street, and city staff will conduct studies on each street to evaluate sightlines and traffic volumes to ensure that jaywalking is safe in any given location. Each approved jaywalking location will be equipped with traffic lights to stop traffic for jaywalkers. Any pedestrians continuing along the sidewalk will also have to stop and wait for the jaywalker signal to cycle.
  • Grant “garbage picking” permits to get around the by-law that prevents people from taking items put out at the curb for collection. Homeowners would apply for permits to allow their garbage to be picked over by passers-by. City staff would do random inspections on at least three different garbage days to ensure that each homeowner’s garbage is indeed worth picking over. Homeowner will need separate permits to allow their garbage to be picked by neighbours, semi-professional scavengers with loaded bikes or carts (who will also be subject to yet another of Councillor Matlow’s special projects), and professionals (i.e., anyone with a pickup truck).
  • Give cyclists licences to lock up their bikes to any handy fixed object on the sidewalk including hydro poles, guy wires, and railings. In any area that lacks enough official bike parking posts, cyclists could apply for an exemption from the by-law that prohibits locking up to anything but an official bike rack or post. Staff would do counts of both bikes and official parking spots on each block and determine by an ISO-approved standard whether bike parking supply is adequate to meet demand. Two different classes of permit will be available: one which grants a blanket exception to all cyclists locking up on one block, and one for individual cyclists that allows them to lock up to any object anywhere in the city.
  • Fix highway traffic jams by establishing a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. Anyone not driving at least the minimum speed will be fined $50. Fines double during rush hour. Enforce through photo radar. Problem solved.
  • Institute a “mandatory shirts” policy in public parks. Enforce with inspections at each entrance.
  • Create a special traffic enforcement unit that targets only city vehicles that are parked illegally: police cars in bike lanes, works trucks on sidewalks, parking enforcement cars in front of fire hydrants, fire trucks double-parked in front of grocery stores, and so on. Fines will be levied against each offending vehicle’s owner, the City of Toronto. The program will be self-financing.
  • Create the Common Sense Department, reporting to council, with a mandate to head off any councillor’s harebrained schemes before they reach the public. In the last year alone, the CSD would have shielded City Council and the public from wasting valuable taxpayer brain cells on waterfront ferris wheels, pixie dust subways, library closures, and plans to regulate children playing.

If Matlow is able to deliver even half of these proposals, he’ll have a record truly worth running on for his 2014 re-election campaign. Or, dare I say, mayoral campaign?

Muscovy duck

Muscovy duck

Here’s something you don’t see on your southern Ontario lawn every day: a muscovy duck. Wild muscovies are normally found in Central and South America but they’re domesticated throughout North America. The muscovy is bigger than the Canada geese that normally hang around East Dodgeville at this time of year. It appeared to be a solitary male with no mate in sight so my money is on it being an escapee from a nearby farm. The muscovy wandered around the lawn for a few minutes, coming up to within 20 feet of the house before waddling back down to the lake and paddling over to a couple of Canada goose families who were swimming nearby. They didn’t much appreciate his efforts to socialize and chased him away.

East Barracks uncovered

Archeological dig, East Barracks of New Fort York (Stanley Barracks)

An archaeological dig across from the National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place is uncovering the foundations of the East Barracks, part of the New Fort that replaced Old Fort York in the 1840s. The only one of the original buildings that survives intact is the officers’ quarters, commonly referred to as Stanley Barracks (which was actually the name of the whole facility). The site supervisor told me that they dug exploratory trenches about four years ago and discovered that the old foundation was still mostly intact, stretching a couple of hundred feet under the parking lot. The dig is in front of the site of the new hotel that has exclusive rights inside Exhibition Place. The developer is planning to cover the majority of the remaining foundation with glass and use it as a feature in the entrance.

A short image gallery is after the jump.

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An “integrated resort” at Exhibition Place

So some councillors and lobbyists are talking casino again, with Exhibition Place as the preferred site. Except that they’ve adopted the grand euphemism of “integrated resort“:

Alan Feldman, senior vice-president of public affairs with MGM, said it could potentially invest $3- to $5-billion on an “integrated resort” in Toronto, which could include about 200,000-square-feet of casino space, 1,000 to 2,000 hotel rooms, 100,000-square-feet of restaurant space, plus entertainment venues.

[emphasis mine]

Sounds grand, but you can scratch Exhibition Place off the list of possible sites; politicians should check on their existing obligations before they go around trying to make new ones. Did you know that there’s already a hotel starting construction soon at Exhibition Place? It was approved in 2009. You may remember the mini-scandal about the contract.

According to my reading of the Letter Agreement between the City and HKHotels back in 2009, HKHotels gets a 49-year lease (plus two 25-year extensions) that gives them:

[…]the exclusive right to operate a hotel:
(i)
during the period commencing from the execution of the Lease and ending on the date which is fifteen (15) years after the Rent Commencement Date, within the whole of Exhibition Place; and
(ii)
during the remainder of the Initial Term, within the portion of Exhibition Place which is located to the east of Ontario Drive.

[“Exclusivity,” page 9 of the PDF]

So no additional hotels (AKA “integrated resorts”) anywhere at Exhibition Place for 15 years, and no additional hotels east of Ontario Drive (between the Better Living Centre and BMO Field) for 34 years after that. An “integrated resort” built 15 years from now would have to destroy buildings or greenspace on the western half of Exhibition Place, and that would probably be even less popular than just tearing up a parking lot.

Ned Hanlan on the move

Ned Hanlan on the move

The Ned Hanlan, the tugboat beside Stanley Barracks at Exhibition Place, has been pulled out of its dry berth and will soon be moved, appropriately enough, to a new display at Hanlan’s Point. The middle of a parking lot at Exhibition Place may seem like an odd place for a tugboat, but it actually used to make sense: Stanley Barracks was home to Toronto’s Marine Museum until it was moved to Harbourfront in 2000 and then promply shut down as a cost-saving measure.

Ned Hanlan on the move

No, I will not obey my signal

Dumb pedestrian signal

Dumb pedestrian signal

It’s hard to believe that in 2012, the City of Toronto persists in installing new pedestrian signals on sidewalks across the top of T-intersections. This one, installed as part of the signalization earlier this year of the intersection of Laird and Esandar Drives in Leaside, has also been noted by the Fixer for its perplexing lights that face the two quiet driveways at the top of the T.

It’s not the waste of money or phony “war on” anything that bothers me here, it’s the fact that such a useless signal represents the current standard for pedestrian infrastructure in 2012. City planners and traffic engineers hear me now: a pedestrian on a sidewalk always has the right of way over any kind of traffic that crosses that sidewalk. Period. A vehicle coming out of a driveway should never have the right of way over a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

As for the “pedestrians obey your signals” sign, here’s a hint for the City: any time you feel obligated to put up a sign or signal, and then another sign instructing people to obey the first one, you’re doing it wrong.

(A similar signal installation was noted by Vic Gedris back in 2007.)

Park mail

In an article in Spacing a few years ago (“Letters to a park,” Spacing, Winter/Spring 2007), Jessica Johnston lamented not being able to send mail to her favourite park. Although many parks have street addresses, Canada Post told her that “Parks aren’t customers … We can’t deliver to the third oak tree.” Well, she might have more luck getting that letter to the third oak tree now that there’s an actual mailbox tacked onto a signpost in Sunnybrook Park:

Mailbox in Sunnybrook Park

Despite riding by here quite regularly, I’d never noticed this mailbox until I saw a Canada Post truck pull up and deliver a load of mail to it this morning. A city employee who happened to be passing by while I was taking pictures said that it’s a shared mailbox for Sunnybrook Stables and the city works yard tucked in at the north end of the park below the sports fields. Canada Post won’t deliver mail all the way up the road and it’s too dangerous to stop at a mailbox placed at high-speed Leslie Street, so they reached a compromise with this mailbox located almost 200 metres inside the park where there’s room to safely stop and turn the mail truck around without having to reverse up the roadway. He also said that this particular box is new, having replaced the original wooden one that was installed in the same location last September. And I do remember seeing the old wooden one on this post, but never twigged to the possibility that it was for mail delivery.