The Star reports today that after months of “shak[ing] the bushes and look[ing] under rocks,” councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker claims that the city has been unable to come up with a mere $80,000 to fund BikeShare so that it could continue to operate this year.

BikeShare is one of those community services that not only deserves to be funded, but that should be grown to ubiquity so that it becomes truly useful. Since our esteemed city council can’t find the money, allow me to offer up some bushes and rocks that De Baeremaeker may not have considered:

  • Claw back Rob Ford’s unused $53,100 office budget, Mayor Miller’s $12,000 raise for 2007, and the $8000 raises for Case Ootes and Doug Holyday. ($81,100)
  • Add four cents per person to the city’s tax bills. ($100,000)
  • Eliminate the free parking for councillors at City Hall and dedicate the new revenue to BikeShare. (At a guess – $20,000)
  • Since most concillors don’t use them, get rid of their free Metropasses. ($50,000)
  • Eliminate catered dinners at council meetings. ($20,000)

There you go, Glenn. Three minutes and I’ve shaken up over $250,000. You can not only fund BikeShare, but a few other worthy causes too. What’s your excuse now?

This issue is indicative of the malaise that infects Toronto council. Councillors sees nothing wrong with voting themselves raises because they make less than Mississauga councillors, catering themselves dinner because they have to work late, giving themselves free parking because they have to drive to work, handing themselves free Metropasses to encourage them not to drive to work, and on it goes.

While I don’t deny that councillors on the whole have a pretty thankless job that requires long hours, I don’t think they quite understand that many people are in the same situation, but don’t have the ability to simply award themselves perks. I can’t just give myself a raise because my next-door neighbour is making more money than me. If I’m working late, I run out to a restaurant and buy my own meal. If I have to drive to work, I feed the parking meter with my own coin. If I choose to take the TTC instead, I buy my own pass. And on it goes.

Toronto councillors preside over an $8 billion budget, yet can’t find a mere $80,000 in spare change. That’s the equivalent of someone who makes $80,000 a year not being able to find a loonie. It’s one thing to say that you don’t want to part with that dollar, and quite another to say that you don’t have that dollar. Geez pal, suck it up. Drink a coffee at home just one day a year instead of buying it at Tim Hortons, and there’s your buck right there. It’s not rocket science.

If this city is in such dire straits that accidentally dropping a loonie on the street will cause financial ruin, then councillors have no right to give themselves any perks or raises.

BikeShare is exactly the kind of program that Toronto must pay for if Mayor Miller is serious about making Toronto North America’s greenest city. If it’s to be taken seriously at all, Toronto council must find that loonie and fund BikeShare. And that’s just a start.

Doors Open Ontario

Although Toronto’s Doors Open gets the most attention around here (being the centre of the universe and all), it’s worth noting that communities of all sizes around Ontario have their own Doors Open weekends throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

In April and May alone, we have Doors Open Guelph, Brockville, Chatham-Kent, Hamilton, The Hills of Headwaters, North Bay, Orillia, and Toronto. It would be quite impossible for anyone to take in all of the Doors Open events around the province, it’s worth considering timing a road trip, camping weekend, or cottage escape with a local Doors Open near your destination. See the Doors Open Ontario web site for event details and calendars for each participating municipality.

Preliminary Doors Open 2007 sites online

The city has released the preliminary list of buildings taking part in Doors Open Toronto this year. Here are the locations I’m going to try to visit this year:

  • The Distillery District has a number of normally off-limits sites open, including the Malt Kilns and the Scale Tank Loft.
  • The Lambton House is on one of my regular cycling routes, but I’ve never been inside.
  • The Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse on Fleet Street first joined Doors Open last year, but I was unable to make the trek that weekend. I won’t miss it this year.
  • Canada Post’s South Central processing plant must be one of the more fascinating operating industrial sites to take part in Doors Open.
  • Although Todmorden Mills is just down the street from my house and I’ve been there more times than I can count, they sometimes open up the old Don train station for Doors Open.
  • The Toronto Police Marine Unit has a wonderful old wooden patrol boat in the boathouse that I’d love to admire from aclose.
  • The TTC has two intriguing sites open: Lower Bay and the Harvey Shops on Bathurst.

Two more posts will follow in a few days: one recommending sites I’ve visited on previous Doors Open weekends, and another lamenting buildings that are not taking part this year.

Walk your bike

I swore to myself when I started this blog that I’d never just post links to other people’s photos or YouTube videos. After all, if I found it on another blog, you could find it just as easily too. But this one is intriguing enough for me to temporarily break my vow.

I really wish that I had the metalworking skills to pull something like that off. I’m a pretty decent woodworker, but with only a handful of hours of welding under my belt, I’m still a few years away from being able to construct such a fantasy bike. It’s the perfect answer to all those signs throughout the city admonishing cyclists to walk our bikes across the road, the bridge, the driveway, and every other obstacle that could possibly lie between points A and B.

Link to YouTube via Neatorama.

The original monster house

Back in the mid-70s, there was big controversy on Brooke Avenue in North York. The owners of 196 Brooke, just east of Avenue Road, wanted to add a second storey to the house to create room for their growing family. It was quite the scandal in this suburban neighbourhood dominated by bungalows.

Petitions circulated in protest and several residents declared that it would mark the end of the neighbourhood as they knew it.

The proposal didn’t even include a full second storey addition: the roof peak was only moving up by about six inches. In fact, it was closer to a shed dormer than a second storey, effectively a protrusion from the side of the attic that changed the shape of the roofline but had virtually no impact otherwise.

The original monster house

Granted, it’s not the prettiest addition ever to grace a house, but it’s hard to see what the uproar was about, especially considering that the street already hosted a handful of modest two-storey homes.

My great-grandparents lived a few doors up the street and were virtually alone in their non-opposition to the planned abomination. I remember listening from the kitchen one day when my great-grandmother told one of the petition-toting neighbours that it was none of her business if the family wanted to add to their house. It didn’t affect her one way or another and she didn’t understand why any of the other neighbours were so pig-headed. Even though the entire neighbourhood seemed to be against the development, North York council allowed the construction anyway.

Thirty years later, Brooke is one of those streets overrun by monster houses. In the block between Avenue Road and Elm Road, only 4 bungalows remain on the north side, surrounded by monster homes built within the last 20 years. A few more bungalows survive on the south side. The original monster house (on the left in the picture below) that caused the uproar 30 years ago now looks tiny compared to the true monsters that line the street.

The original monster house and its new neighbour

But wait, there’s a bonus to this tale: one of the few bungalows left on the block is the one where my great-grandparents lived. The house of the only people who didn’t oppose development is among the small handful that haven’t since been developed. You can’t buy irony that good.

West Toronto Railpath

There seems to be a lot of angst and disappointment in the cycling community regarding the West Toronto Railpath. In particular, some cyclists are upset that this new multi-use trail isn’t a dedicated bicycle highway heading downtown. The disappointment is especially evident in a post titled This is not a bike path at the Spacing Wire and the comments that follow it.

Some cyclists seem to have built this route up in their mind so much that anything less than a DVP for bikes leading straight into the train sheds at Union Station would have disappointed.

The main issues with the Railpath seem to be:

  • it’s too short, running only about a third of the distance along the railway corridor from Dupont to Union,
  • it’s not a bicycle expressway downtown,
  • it’s not dedicated to cyclists, or doesn’t have a separate path for cyclists beside the pedestrian path,
  • the pathway is too narrow to be of any value as a mixed-use path for pedestrians and cyclists,
  • it lacks links to surrounding streets and nearby bike lanes, and
  • the city probably won’t plough the route in winter.

Let’s look at these issues one at a time:

It’s too short. Well, yes. All parks and paths are. I wish the Don Valley trail system ran uninterrupted all the way up to the headwaters on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

The complaint here is that the northern section of the trail, the only part being built right now, doesn’t really “go” anywhere and thus isn’t usable as a commuting route. And that’s fair. But as the first phase in what we all hope is a 2- or 3-phase project that eventually lengthens the park when the city gains control of the southern sections, it’s a good start. No one would be happy if we simply sat on the barren corridor until the entire thing could be built, either. We have to start somewhere. The “all or nothing” approach advocated by some is unreasonable here.

It’s not a bicycle expressway. Again true, and this ties into the previous issue. But I think a lot of cyclists have been taking this expression a little too literally. There is no dedicated bike expressway in Toronto. There never has been. And there never will be, unless the city is taken over by rabid cyclists who implement Velo-city. Yet there are plenty of routes that offer speedy and/or scenic commutes.

The Railpath is, first and foremost, a park that serves its community. Expressways, whether for car or bike, divide neighbourhoods. They discourage visits to a neighbourhood and instead encourage speedy travel through them. While this may be desirable to the commuters, it is undesirable to the neighbourhood. I would certainly agree that a highway for bikes is less invasive than one for cars, but it still wouldn’t properly serve the neighbourhood that it slices through.

It’s not dedicated to cyclists. It simply doesn’t make any sense to build infrastructure solely for cyclists at the expense of other non-motor-vehicle users. The best you’ll ever get is a multi-use path. Even in parks where parallel trails exist, one is signed pedestrian-only and the other is signed multi-use for pedestrians, cyclists, bladers, and whoever else wants to use it. Cyclists will always have to share the trails with other users, and that’s the way it should be. Cyclists and pedestrians shouldn’t be adversaries. If your sole goal is to ride as fast as possible from A to B, stay on the road. And lobby your politicians for more on-road bike lanes.

The pathway is too narrow. Actually, it seems to follow the same specifications as other mixed-use paths in Toronto, including ones that are used as de facto “bike expressways” like the Lower Don and Martin Goodman Trails. I cycle the narrow Lower Don pathway frequently and rate it as far worse than the Railpath ever could be. The main problem along most of the Don south of Riverdale Park is that the park is not much wider than the pathway. If you’re not on the path, you’re in the river or scraping your face along a chain link fence.

Much of the Martin Goodman Trail and virtually the entire Don park system feature similarly narrow trails, although the parks themselves are usually wider. Yet the kind of conflicts between users that cyclists are imagining will take place on the Railpath are virtually non-existent, particularly during typical commuting hours. Yes, it would be nice to have wider or parallel pathways, but what impact would that have on the park as a whole? At just 10-15 metres wide, there isn’t a lot of room in the corridor.

It lacks links to surrounding streets. This is a valid point. The worst thing about riding the Lower Don is trying to get out anywhere other than at the very bottom or top of the trail. Leaving the trail at Riverdale Park or Queen Street means having to haul your bike up a long flight of stairs. Those bike gutters beside the steps don’t help much and most people can’t quite figure them out. I find it faster and easier to just put my bike over my shoulder and sprint up the stairs, but I’m not an occasional cyclist out for a leisurely Sunday ride.

Unfortunately, they’re proposing this same kind of stairs + gutter configuration for access to the Railpath from Bloor and Dupont. It’ll probably discourage use of the Railpath by some cyclists.

As for connections to other cycling routes, the Belt Line is similarly isolated, directly connecting only to a scary-to-the-novice pathway in the Moore Park Ravine to the south. In the north, it’s a few blocks away from the Cedarvale Ravine system. It crosses a smattering of signed routes along its length, but no streets with dedicated bike lanes. Yet the lack of direct connections to the Belt Line doesn’t prevent it from being an immensely popular and beautiful ride.

The city probably won’t plough the route. Yes, welcome to the reality of off-road routes in Toronto. I’m not aware of any mixed-use path that receives city attention in the winter. There’s no reason that the Railpath would receive winter maintenance that no other trail in Toronto does.

That said, I think the Railpath should be ploughed in the winter. As should all of the other paved mixed use paths commonly used for bicycle commuting. But the city can’t afford it, you say? Nonsense. Since it’s already the responsibility of landowners to clear the walks in front of their homes and businesses, I’d like to see the city stop its sidewalk clearing service and instead dedicate its sidewalk ploughs to clearing park pathways instead. It would even end up saving money, as there aren’t nearly as many park pathways to clear as there are sidewalks. The city could continue to shovel for seniors and the disabled.

Although some parks are used in the winter by cross-country skiers and snowshoers (of which I’m one), they should still be able to ski or shoe beside the cleared paths. Dog walkers, cyclists, and nature lovers would rejoice.

I’d lobby my out-of-touch city councillor in this direction, but I highly doubt that he would take any cycling issue seriously.


No, I’m not talking about the kind of inspiration you get from Successories.

A post on the Spacing Wire last week pointed to a short film called Drum 13 (requires QuickTime 7) by Tony Round. The description read, “a banjo and a massive abandoned Cherry Beach oil drum really do belong together.” Drum 13 was filmed in February 2005. It turns out that in April 2006, I had visited the same location and taken these pictures, among many others, of that oil tank:

Industrial Blossom


While I was there, I was struck by how this big old boring piece of industrial detritus could be so compelling a subject and offer so many interesting studies in light and form. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of industrial ruins, but this place was special. I couldn’t believe that I’d ridden my bike past it for so many years without once venturing onto the site and vowed to come back as the seasons changed throughout the year.

But by June 2006, the site had been leveled, and you never would have known that the empty field had ever held anything more substantial. It is currently being developed into the transitional sports fields in the port lands. The experience underscored the importance of timing: if you have a chance to take a picture, take it — the scene may not exist an hour from now, never mind next week or next month.

I lamented the loss of the picturesque location, but didn’t know that anyone else had appreciated its interesting features before I saw Drum 13 posted online last week. I wondered if anyone else had been artistically inspired by this storage tank. Some quick Googling found that at least a few other photographers and some musical experimenters have documented the location over the years. It’s good to know that I wasn’t the only fan of this abandoned piece of the city.


There seems to be a rather ambitious beaver at work in the Don Valley.

Large tree trunk under attack

He still has some work to do before toppling this 30-footer at the forks of the Don, but he’s getting there.

An ambitious beaver is working on his latest conquest

I’m reminded of the fossilized giant beaver tooth found at the Brickworks. Whether this modern beaver eventually succeeds or not, I’m pretty sure this tree has seen its last leaf. I wonder if Parks and the TRCA would allow a beaver to dam up the West Don at the forks. Probably not, but it would be something to see.

(The tree is visible from the park bridge that runs under Don Mills Road near the entrance to Taylor Creek Park. From anywhere on the bridge, look across the river toward the forks. You could also approach the tree directly from the eastern end of the Crothers’ Woods trail in the Flats.)