By-law roulette #4

Section 844-23 (PDF) of the Toronto Municipal Code states that:

No person shall:


C. Pick over, interfere with, disturb, remove or scatter any waste set out for collection unless authorized to do so by the General Manager

That’s right garbage pickers, you’re breaking the law: according to the city, one man’s garbage is not only not another man’s treasure, but it’s also a $10,000 fine for a first offence. And you thought you were doing something for the environment by keeping that old desk out of the landfill. Hrmph.

Doublespeak deluxe

“ISPs are the underlying telecommunications facility that customers use to access the Internet and that content providers, including broadcasters, use to transmit their content. ISPs do not buy, package or sell programming or any other Internet content.” [Emphasis mine.]

Rogers VP for Regulatory Affairs Ken Engelhart giving a presentation to the CRTC, quoted in the Star.

Oh, really? Selective memory is just so convenient, isn’t it?

I think what Rogers really wants to say to the CRTC is, “How dare you fleece our customers! That’s our job!”

"How do I know you're not some kind of…weirdo?"

Warped perceptionI stood on a North Toronto street earlier this week pondering the question that you had just tossed in my direction. If only I hadn’t left my “Non-Weirdos of Canada Club” membership card in my other pants.

This was the second time in about three years  that someone has challenged me for taking pictures on the street. The previous occasion involved a business owner on the Danforth who became quite belligerent after I took a picture of a ghost sign directly above his establishment. By the time he said he was going to call the police on me, I said that I was feeling threatened enough to call them myself, and pulled out my phone to do so. Unsurprisingly, he skulked away when I started dialling. Also unsurprisingly, the business—new at the time—lasted less than two months.

That experience came flooding back into my mind as you continued, “I’m going to go inside now and call the police…” If you’re serious, I’ll wait right here for them. You’ve essentially handcuffed me anyway; if I use this as my opportunity to walk away from your accusations,  it’ll just heighten your suspicions.

Why is it exactly that having a camera and taking pictures in public places marks someone as a weirdo? Or, more commonly these days, a terrorist? Good thing I didn’t have a “professional camera” with me. And even if I am some kind of weirdo, what exactly do you think I’m going to do when I get home with my illicit booty consisting of a picture of a quiet residential street?

“You can’t just go around taking pictures of people…” Actually, yes I can. If I’m standing on the sidewalk, I can take a picture of anyone or anything I can see. I may or may not be able to publish it, but there’s no law preventing me from taking it. That said, there are almost never people in the on-the-street pictures I take, simply because some people don’t like it and I really don’t want to deal with the hassle. Cars and rocks don’t usually get offended when they find themselves in front of my lens. I frequently go out of my way to keep people out of my pictures, and there certainly weren’t any in the two pictures you just watched me take.

“It’s an invasion of privacy…” Cars and grass have no privacy rights. Sorry.

“I can’t just let you come around here, taking pictures of kids…” Excuse me? Do you see any kids anywhere around here? I certainly don’t. I understand that you’re concerned for your children, but don’t accuse me of endangering them by taking a picture of something else entirely while they’re inside a school at least two blocks away.

“Our house was robbed a couple of months ago…” I’m sorry to hear that. Mine was broken into a few years ago and I know how terrible it feels. But I don’t see what that has to do with me unless the guy who broke into your place was armed with a point-and-shoot camera.

“If I see you in the neighbourhood again, acting all weird…” Can you define weird for me? I work just a couple of blocks away and this is on one of my regular commuting routes, so you’re pretty likely to see me again. Carrying my camera and stopping every once in a while to take pictures, is that weird? You might as well just call the police now and get it over with.

“How’d you like it if I took a picture of you?” How do I know you’re not some kind of weirdo? But seriously, go ahead. I’ll even pose for you. You’re welcome. We really should have turned around so that the sun was in front of me; you won’t get any detail in my face with that shot. Oh well.

“Where do you live? How’d you like it if I came to your house and harassed you?” Five minutes ago, I would have been happy to introduce myself and tell you all about what I do with the pictures I take in residential neighbourhoods. I even would have pointed you to this blog. But now that you’ve announced your intention to harass me, no thanks.

“Next time, you should just take your pictures and then leave.” Hmm, that’s exactly what I was doing when you drove your car in front of me and started treating me like a criminal for having a camera. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s of attempting to respond to your questions even though it’s clear you’re not interested in the answers.

But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, let me get back to your original question. Simply put, you don’t know that I’m not a weirdo. And you never will. But I can assure you that carrying a camera, or walking in a residential neighbourhood, or riding a bike, or wearing a purple t-shirt, or even not shaving for a week (guilty!) doesn’t make me any more or less of a weirdo than if I didn’t do any of those things. It’s a sad statement on the state of our society when the mere act of taking pictures is enough to make me a suspect in some imagined crime. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see you around the neighbourhood again, but it won’t be by my choice.

Pedestrian infrastructure, suburban style

 Boldly going where no pedestrian has gone before

I’ve long thought that there must be some provincial regulation requiring municipalities to install pedestrian signals whenever they reconstruct a signalized intersection. I’m all for the idea, but implementations sometimes trend toward the bizarre.

Take, for example, the intersection of Highway 7 and Westney Road in rural Pickering. It’s near the hamlet of Greenwood, with Valley View Public School just down the street and the Pickering Museum a country block away, but I highly doubt that more than a couple of pedestrians grace the intersection on the busiest of days. There are no sidewalks anywhere around here. Yet pedestrian signals and their activation buttons stand guard over each corner of the intersection, just waiting to be pressed by the hapless soul who finds himself lost here. So far so good. But when you look closer, you realize that with no sidewalks and corrugated beam barriers sheltering the buttons at three corners, the only way to activate them is to stand on the road. On the fourth corner, pedestrians have to climb a small weedy hill to press the button:

An inconvenient button

But even better than the activation buttons are the curb cuts, dutifully guiding people in wheelchairs and with baby strollers into the guardrails and onto non-existent sidewalks:

Curb cut to nowhere

Curb cut to nowhere

The whole thing smacks of some bureaucrat following the letter, but not the spirit, of the law.

Signs of velleity

No access to LCBO

An old article in Slate declared that the Random House Dictionary contains the best definition of velleity:

1. volition in its weakest form
2. a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.

That is precisely the word (and definition) that came to mind when I first saw this sign guarding a driveway leading to the LCBO store on Yonge Street north of Davisville Avenue. The driveway joins two small parking lots, one that serves the LCBO store to the north and another that serves a smattering of other stores to the south. At some point, someone must have decided that they no longer wanted LCBO customers using the southern lot and the connecting drive. But in the place of an actual barrier to block access, this sign was erected to declare what is quite demonstrably untrue, as both cars and pedestrians regularly cross the unbridgeable (yet smoothly paved) chasm to access the LCBO store’s main entrance.

The bilingual nature of the sign indicates that it was almost certainly erected by the LCBO. Bad attempt at traffic control, or psychological experiment? You be the judge.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Silly cycling restrictions: How slow can you go?

How slow can you go?

If you look closely at the advisory signs when you enter Mount Pleasant Cemetery, you may notice something peculiar: a reasonable speed limit of 30 km/h for cars and just 10 km/h for bicycles. Not only that, but while drivers are helpfully advised to lock their unattended cars, cyclists are warned—twice!—that their speed limit is “strictly enforced,” and that it is to “ensure the safety and respect of those visiting the cemetery.” Apparently, a bike at 15 km/h is more disturbing and dangerous than a car travelling twice that speed.

What makes this a silly restriction is not so much the different speed limits or the extra warnings for cyclists, but the ludicrously slow speed cyclists are supposed to maintain. I did try riding at 10km/h through the cemetery one day; it’s a very difficult speed to maintain. I was passed by several non-Roger-Bannister-like joggers who were bouncing along at, by rough estimate, about 12 km/h. My more typical leisurely pace through these paths is around 20 km/h.

As for being strictly enforced, none of the cemetery employees I encounter (including security) on my daily commutes ever do more than wave and smile as I fly recklessly past them at twice the limit. Either no one knows how slow 10 km/h really is or they think it’s as silly as I do.

Still, cyclists have it better than inline skaters; they’re not allowed in the cemetery at all.

Do not taunt happy fun bin

Informative instructions on the new blue bin

We got our new supersized blue bin today. I’ve always been amused by the instructions and warnings on everyday objects, but this one takes the cake. Apparently, someone thought it necessary to explain to the unwashed masses the physics of moving the bin from place to place.

To move bin

  1. Grasp handle
  2. Tilt
  3. Push or pull

Gee, thanks Mr. Science. I never would have figured that out on my own. Now if only they had room enough on the lid to explain the difference between pulling, which is encouraged, and dragging, which is explicitly forbidden. Oh, City of Toronto, I’m so confused. Do I put my recycling in the bin, or on the bin? Your instructions are woefully incomplete.

By-law roulette #3

Chapter 400-14 of the Municipal Code of the former City of Toronto (which is still in effect, as far as I can tell) states:

C. No person shall throw any stone or ball of snow or ice, parcel, bundle or other dangerous missile or use any bow and arrow or catapult in any highway.

No bows and arrows or catapults on the streets? There go those meddlesome bureaucrats again, interfering with innocent medieval childhood fun. Next thing you know, they’ll be regulating flails and quarterstaffs.

Highway Traffic Act Roulette #3

Section 148-7 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act offers up this requirement:

Where one vehicle is met or overtaken by another, if by reason of the weight of the load on either of the vehicles so meeting or on the vehicle so overtaken the driver finds it impracticable to turn out, he or she shall immediately stop, and, if necessary for the safety of the other vehicle and if required so to do, he or she shall assist the person in charge thereof to pass without damage.

I cite this as proof that drivers people (and the law) used to be civilized. I’m sure this clause had application at some point in our distant past, but it seems quaint and head-pattingly naive to suggest that someone today would get out of his car and help another driver to pass him. Unless flipping the bird and shouting out the window could be considered “assistance” in this context.