Walk Toronto calls on the City of Toronto to extend snow clearing to every sidewalk in the city

Walk Toronto is calling on the City of Toronto to commit to clearing the snow from every sidewalk in the City.

While the City ploughs sidewalks in suburban areas, 1,100 km of sidewalk in the parts of Toronto most heavily used by pedestrians are not cleared of snow by the City. Instead, in this “No-plough zone” residents are required to do so, with inconsistent results. As a consequence, ice and snow makes sidewalks throughout a large part of the City dangerous during the winter, especially for seniors and the disabled. Some may be unable to leave their house, and others may suffer life-threatening injuries. Meanwhile, the City pays out millions of dollars in insurance claims and struggles to enforce its own sidewalk clearance bylaws. The current policy simply does not meet the basic standards for creating a fully accessible city.

The full consequences of this City policy are laid out in a comprehensive report by Walk Toronto, “Keeping Sidewalks Safe in Winter” (PDF).

A new report from City of Toronto Transportation Services (PDF) claims that it is impossible for the City to clear narrow sidewalks in the “No-plough zone.” However, the Walk Toronto report demonstrates that in fact many cities already clear narrow sidewalks, and shows the kind of equipment that the city could purchase or contract to do so. Doing so is affordable as well – while Ottawa and Montreal’s budget for snow clearing comes to $0.44 per capita for every centimetre of snowfall they receive, Toronto only spends $0.27 per centimetre of snowfall per capita. Even the most expensive option would only bring that up to $0.30, and the cost should be much less.

The Transportation Services report will be discussed by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday April 9. Walk Toronto is calling on the committee to direct Transportation Services staff to come up with a plan and a realistic budget to clear every sidewalk in the city. It is important for the City to act now, as the contracts for snow clearing will be coming up for renewal in 2015.


Bay Street: a win for pedestrians

Cross-posted from Spacing Toronto

There’s some good news to share about Walk Toronto’s first campaign!

In March, I wrote in Spacing about the planned reconstruction of Bay Street between Bloor St. and Davenport Rd., which amongst other things, would widen Bay Street’s busy sidewalks, a project championed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Two city-owned lay-bys, where the roadway cuts into the sidewalk, were planned to removed on the west side of Bay – a TTC bus bay at Cumberland, in front of the entrance to Bay subway station, and at the southwest corner of Bay and Yorkville Avenue.

Pusateri’s, a local high-end grocery store, took exception to these plans, even though local consultations had already concluded and construction scheduled to start this month. The store claims that the lay-by is vital to their business; it currently treats it as its exclusive domain for its valet and detailing service.

Pusateri’s went as far as hiring prominent lobbyists Sussex Strategy Group and transportation engineers at LEA Consulting in a bid to maintain the lay-by in front of their store, rather than move the valet service to a nearby laneway as suggested by proponents such as Councillor Wong-Tam. The item was to be brought to council for the April session of City Council, but was delayed to allow LEA and Transportation Services to develop possible alternative solutions to the lay-by removal or the status quo.

Walk Toronto joined Councillor Wong-Tam, the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area, and local residents’ associations to remove the lay-by and complete the Bay Street project in its entirety.

In the back-and-forth discussion since March, LEA, on behalf of Pusateri’s, recommended the retention of the lay-by. However, it would be built with the new granite sidewalk surface and removable bollards to separate the three-car layby from the narrow pedestrian area – an alternative in which, in the consultant’s words, “the full boulevard/sidewalk can be used by pedestrians when vehicles are not present and when Pusateri’s is closed.” For their part, Transportation Services staff recommended a shorter, two-car lay-by – a “compromise” – that would have mitigated the effect of the pinch-point between Pusateri’s seasonal patio and the lay-by curb. This was added to the agenda of last week’s Council meeting as an urgent item as the city in the process of tendering the construction contract.

Last week’s four-day council meeting was most notable for its frustrating and irresponsible ‘debate’ on funding transit expansion, but by late Friday afternoon, and with nearly half the councillors gone home, the Bay Street item was finally up for debate. In the end, the staff report was received, and councillors voted 19-8 in favour of Councillor Wong-Tam’s amended motion that will eliminate the lay-by in favour of the original plans.

A small, but significant, win for pedestrians. A big thank you to Councillor Wong-Tam for standing firm and supporting this important pedestrian issue.

Support the Bay & Davenport Reconstruction Project

The City of Toronto will be reconstructing Bay Street between Bloor St. and Davenport Rd. this year. One of the key benefits to pedestrians will be widening Bay Street’s busy sidewalks. The City of Toronto has consulted with the community and local stakeholders including residents’ associations and the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area. One of the top priorities identified by the community was an improved pedestrian realm, particularly wider, safer and more pleasant sidewalks. Two city-owned lay-bys, where the roadway cuts into the sidewalk, will be removed on the west side of Bay – a TTC bus bay at Cumberland, in front of the west side entrance to Bay subway station, and at the southwest corner of Bay and Yorkville Avenue.

Since the consultations concluded, only one local interest has spoken out against the planned improvements. Pusateri’s uses the Bay/Yorkville lay-by for valet parking service for its customers. The Bay Street improvement project proposes to remove the lay-by because it cuts into sidewalk space. The constriction of pedestrian access is a critical concern: the lay-by is located just north of a busy entrance to the Bay subway station and the ‘scramble’ intersection at Bloor St. A patio installed by Pusateri’s during the warmer months further constricts pedestrian flow.

Pusateri’s uses this city-owned lay-by, which was installed ten years ago at the store’s request, for its exclusive use. At the time, Pusateri’s paid $75,000 to cover the costs of the lay-by’s installation, with the support of then-councillor Kyle Rae. Signage installed by the store declares this public space as for the sole use of its valet and detailing service, to the exclusion of all other users. Valet staff stationed in front of the store have shooed away other lay-by users. This sets a troubling precedent for the privatization of public space.

Pusateri's lay-by on Bay Street, with Forest Hill Detailing and Valet sign in foreground

Pusateri’s lay-by on Bay Street, with Forest Hill Detailing and Valet sign in foreground

Pusateri’s hired prominent city hall lobbyists, Sussex Strategy Group, to pressure city council to maintain their lay-by, even though it had not been involved in the local consultations when the street reconstruction project was planned last year. Public Works chair and Ford loyalist Denzil Minnan-Wong supports Pusateri’s in calling for the retention of the lay-by.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam notes that during the consultations the local BIA and local resident’s associations supported the plan.

It is Pusateri’s claim that a Bay Street lay-by is indispensable for a gourmet food store’s survival. There are alternatives that would continue to accommodate Pusateri’s customers without disrupting pedestrian traffic, which Councillor Wong-Tam has been advocating. These include the relocation of the valet service to the building’s own driveway off Yorkville Avenue; or directing motorist customers to the Green P parking facility, located just across the street from Pusatieri’s on Yorkville Ave.

Yorkville Avenue looking east. Green P parking lot on the left. Pusateri's Yorkville Ave. storefront is circled, with driveway leading to the right

Yorkville Avenue looking east. Green P parking lot on the left. Pusateri’s Yorkville Ave. storefront is circled, with driveway leading to the right

The vote on the removal of the Bay Street lay-by takes place at the next council meeting this Thursday, March 21. Councillor Wong-Tam’s office notes that Pusateri’s, or their representatives, has not yet submitted any proposals for review to Transportation Services in advance of this vote. Given the aggressive lobbying on this local matter and Councillor Minnan-Wong’s support, this item may be quite contentious.

Here is a link to the agenda item. At the top is a Submit Comments button. If you click on it, you can easily send your written submission about the agenda item to the city clerk, who will then enter it into the public record.

Walk Toronto has joined the local residents’ association (ABC) in support of the planned road improvements. In addition to a petition, we urge you to contact your local councillor (and copy Councillor Wong-Tam: – councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca) to express your support for an improved pedestrian realm. Last but not least, you can sign Walk Toronto’s petition here.


This notice has been cross-posted at Spacing Toronto