Trashing the bike lane

55 Cosburn Ave. puts its garbage in the bike lane

This is what the bike lane in front of 55 Cosburn Ave. looks like every Wednesday morning. All of the other buildings on the street put their bins on the sidewalk (which is also not allowed, according to section 844-14 of the Toronto Municipal Code), their front lawns, or paved garbage pads beside the sidewalk, but whoever puts the bins out for this apartment building apparently thinks that the solid white line on the road is to keep traffic away from his garbage.

I only started riding this way to work three weeks ago. The first week, I was a little surprised and was willing to give the culprit the benefit of the doubt. Last week, I took pictures. This week, I took action: calls to the City’s right-of-way management and by-law enforcement. I also called the building superintendent from the lobby phone and asked for the bins to be removed from the bike lane. The woman who answered said that she’d tell the super about it, but I suspect that nothing happened.

We’ll see if this scene looks different next Wednesday.

Is the Taste of the Danforth in decline?

I wrote an article on Monday for Torontoist about this past weekend’s Taste of the Danforth street festival. The main thrust of the story was that the Taste seems to have lost its focus, becoming just another corporate branding orgy like every other. Some of the comments following my post (and also after BlogTO‘s Taste wrap-up) are illuminating, with the vast majority expressing disappointment with the event. While hardly a scientific poll, it’s the kind of thing that should worry the organizers.

Even the people who half-heartedly defended the festival couldn’t come up with much more than that the event was “pretty meh” and probably “less corpo than the Beer Festival.” These ringing endorsements would look wonderful on next year’s promotional posters. “Taste of the Danforth: We’re slightly less corpo than the other branding orgy in town this weekend.” Or “Taste of the Danforth: Toronto’s meh-est street festival.”

So how does a festival which lives primarily by word of mouth deal with such near-universal bad reviews? If the people moved to comment online at Torontoist, BlogTO, and Chowhound are any indication, returning visitors will be fewer and farther between in future years.

I walked the festival twice this weekend and noticed two things: the crowds, while still huge, were noticeably thinner than last year and the year before; and many more people were expressing their disappointment at the supposed bargain prices ($5 for lemonade?), the crowds, and the general atmosphere. The task of navigating the huge event has become an ordeal to be endured, rather than an experience to be relished.

I was especially taken aback by the fact that the best gyros restaurant on the strip was serving up noticeably inferior product at their booth, presumably because it was outsourced for the event. Their normal delicious gyros was available in the virtually empty restaurant a few steps away. Even the merchants seem to be turning their back on the Taste.

All of the anecdotal evidence above suggests that the Taste of the Danforth is already in decline. There are basically two options for the future: the festival can continue down the current path for a few more years, milking its reputation for every last dollar until the whole thing inevitably implodes (can it be long before they start asking for financial support from the City?); or they can attempt to re-invent the Taste as something that people will actually enjoy once again.

My first suggestion would be to dump some of the high-priced corporate tents and beer gardens in the middle of the street and put in some chairs. People need to sit.

Chernobylesque

Chernobylesque

Chernobylesque. For some reason, that’s the word that’s been stuck in my mind since I took this picture of the stacks rising at the beautiful Portlands Energy Centre last month. It’s not even that it looks particularly like a disaster zone. It’s just a sensation that the visual evokes. How lucky we are to have it on our waterfront.

Unlike many who are not exactly in love with the PEC, I’m glad that they didn’t use the empty Hearn Generating Station to house a new power plant. When the port lands eventually become a community, Hearn will make one kick-ass community centre, market, museum, shopping gallery, or some combination thereof.

If The Powers That Be absolutely must have a new power plant on the waterfront, I’d rather have it in some anonymous steel box that we’ll be ecstatic to tear down when the time comes. And honestly, better a new power plant than a new power centre.

No particular place to go

The intersection of Fleet & Bathurst Streets is a tad confusing at the best of times. This was the view heading east on Fleet a couple of days ago:

Fleet Street & Bathurst

So you’re in a left-turn lane with a green arrow on a traffic light directing you to make a left turn. Unfortunately, you’re also looking at a “no left turns” sign directly in front of you. A little further down the street, right at the intersection, is a “no right turns” (streetcars excepted) sign. And you can’t go straight ahead because the road ends. Quite the conundrum.

I’m pretty sure that the left turn prohibition is actually directed at preventing eastbound traffic on Lake Shore Blvd from turning north up Bathurst. If you look closely, you can see another sign hanging beside the traffic light in the background at the very right of the picture. The placement of the sign in the foreground makes absolutely no sense: it’s both on the wrong side of Lake Shore for eastbound drivers to notice and slightly canted to face drivers on Fleet.

Note to Transportation Services: Toronto drivers really don’t need to be any more confused than they already are, especially at this intersection. With cars making left turns from the right lane, streetcars making right turns from the left lane, and no turning signs slapped up willy-nilly, it’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents here.

Promise versus practice: Canadian Tire

Promise

A new Canadian Tire store opened at Danforth Avenue & Main Street a few years ago, replacing an existing store that had been at the same location since the mid-70s. City staff reported in 2000 that the new store, about 15% larger than the old and consolidating several properties, would require some zoning variances but that it would be “compatible” with the existing retail strip on Danforth. According to the staff report, Canadian Tire’s plan included, among other pledges:

  • bringing the storefront out to the street and including a main pedestrian entrance from Danforth Avenue in a typical urban retail configuration
  • concealing the parking and open garden supply compound with a structure that is intended to appear as a continuation of the building fa├žade to the street

The staff report added some background on those points:

Building orientation and design are important considerations when attempting to integrate a large format retail form into a mainstreet setting in proximity to low density residential areas. In an initial proposal, the building was set back from the street and surrounded by parking. The plan was subsequently revised to show the building in its present location adjacent to the sidewalk. Orienting the building to the street establishes a more urban condition on Danforth Avenue.

With respect to the building design, the store frontage consists of 6 sections plus the main entrance area, the greatest proportion of which consists of windows. Of the 6 sections, 4 are primarily view-through windows or display windows. The impression from the street will be one of smaller retail bays which will provide a more interesting retail streetscape than would a continuous wall of precast concrete. In addition, the garden compound which extends westwards from the main building is behind a colonnade with decorative fencing and landscape treatment all of which screen the stored garden materials and the parking lot to the south from direct view from Danforth Avenue.

The report also recommended that the store maintain eight bicycle parking spots on the lot, a requirement written into the zoning bylaw that granted the variances in April 2000.

Practice

So how did they do? Seven years later, this is what the store looks like:

ct-main-elevation-2959.JPG

Of the six sections of the facade, four are supposed to be view-through or display windows. Of those four, one is completely obscured with white plastic film and two more are partially covered. The one remaining section that remains a true view-through window offers an uninspiring view of the backs of some chairs:

ct-main-display-window-2969.jpg

Overall, I definitely don’t get the impression of “smaller retail bays” from this storefront. In fact, I pretty much see a “continuous wall of precast concrete” that this was supposed to be an improvement on.

ct-main-new-front-entrance-2983.jpg

The street entrance was closed for several months starting last autumn, forcing pedestrians to enter through the parking lot entrance near the very back of the building. The sidewalk entrance was only re-opened earlier this month, though the chain and sign remain on standby, ready to close off the entrance on a moment’s notice. The handwritten correction on this sign is close to the truth: when this sidewalk entrance was closed, the only way into the store was to walk about 50 feet west, and then an additional 250 feet south to the parking lot entrance at the back of the store. “New front entrance” indeed. Just to pile on the insult, you have to walk past yet another perfectly functional door to get to the “front entrance.” I guess it’s more important to use your doorway as a shovel showcase than for, say, letting people into the store.

ct-main-front-entrance-thattaway-2990.jpg

I was unable to find any bike parking on-site when I visited last week. This week, the bike rack emerged from the pile of snow by the store entrance in the parking lot. Not only is this rack in pretty poor shape, but it’s the kind designed simply to hold a bike upright, not really to lock up to securely.

ct-main-bike-rack-2972.jpg

I thought these things went out with the 80s. There’s a second identical rack beside it, but in much better shape. I suppose that together, these two racks meet the requirement for bike parking. There are two lonely post and ring stands on the sidewalk in front of the store, along with this forlorn three-bike rack on the sidewalk, probably installed illegally:

ct-main-sidewalk-bike-rack-2971.jpg

What about the garden centre?

ct-main-garden-centre-2979.jpg

I suppose that could be called “decorative fencing,” in a “medium security chic” kind of way. There’s not much of the promised landscaping to be seen. Yes, there are scraggly trees in big concrete boxes, but I don’t really think of that as landscaping. Note the large vinyl “sidewalk entrance” sign. That’s the thing about entrances on the sidewalk — they’re so hard to find that you have to point the way to them.

ct-main-display-bay-2975.jpg

This display area connected to the garden centre faces Danforth and is probably the most visible part of the store to both pedestrians and drivers. It was kept up for for a couple of years before being relegated to storage duties. Even during the gardening season, this is mostly used for storage, not retail display.

Despite the prominent streetfront location, the entire side of the building facing Danforth is very obviously the back of the store as far as Canadian Tire is concerned.

The sad thing is that all of this is really not much worse than the old store. The most prominent feature of the old storefront was a big garage door for vehicles to enter the service bays. Pedestrian access from the street was up a flight of stairs hidden behind a massive, mostly unused concrete deck. The display windows at the sidewalk were about six feet off the ground, requiring you to crane your neck to look up at the fishing rods and tools on display that week.