Comstock: Sidewalk sidelines

By Michael Comstock –

The snowplough that is driven down King St. E. this winter has to skip sections of the walk where the transit shelters take up so much of the sidewalk that it can’t fit between the pole and the advertising. Of course this is not directly the result of poor city planning. The rules clearly state that the sidewalks cannot be obstructed. I think sidewalks are to be clear two metres or seven feet in width, as written in a bylaw. So, there is a city plan about sidewalks, there is however, a problem in implementation. This is why Downtown looks so messy. It isn’t becoming more pedestrian friendly, and I don’t mean a problem with the cars. There are there too many other players out there on the narrow sidewalks of Downtown Toronto.

There are the merchant signs, multiple newspapers’ boxes, the bicycle racks and the Green-P solar machines, the fire service, the TTC, the Toronto Hydro poles and street lighting and crosswalk things that go chirp into the night. And yes, of course, the transit shelters. For most of the streets the shelters should have their sign(s) on the back and leave the intersections in clear view. But the advertisers want that sign right in your face.

So the plan to not obstruct the sidewalk has a “yes, but…” clause. This is not a written, but a given. In Toronto-the-politically-correct-bureaucratically-overdeveloped we leave implementation to yet another department. Yes, but that pole is Toronto Hydro’s pole and they are planning to move it in next year’s cycle, yes but, that is Astral Media’s shelter sign and they are implementing a new shelter roll out over the next 19 years, yes but, that is a TTC pole and track repairs are coming to the area near you in the spring, yes, but we are having a study done of the area and we can’t change anything in the area, until that study is completed. Maybe the new grouped newspaper boxes will one day be installed, but there isn’t any concern.

The gas company and the phone company and the cable company can cut and dig anytime they want without permits. Years ago there was only one gas, one electric and one phone company so the city said, just agree to do a proper job and you can go ahead without permits. Over the years we have seen the phone company wiring grow into fibre optics and cell towers, cable lines and up to three different sidewalk diggers digging without permits.

The gas company, inspired by the threat of legal liability, decided to move the pressure reduction valves to the outside of each building. Technically, a good idea, but done without the city’s consultation or public involvement. The gas “pretzel with knob” has been installed in front of storefronts whether it’s a heritage building or pizza joint, upscale or even residential. Now think about this in the context of the snowplough I mentioned not getting by the transit shelter. Reports have come in from at least one area on Shuter St where a block of homes had to be evacuated while the gas company repaired the snowplough’s predicted collision. I am sure there are many other occurrences of snowploughs and cars gone wild, opening up these ugly little warts of the utility company.

In some cases those who complained placing gas piping outside storefronts was ugly and posed a danger from cars and snowploughs received a payment from the gas company (to be quiet) for the disruption to business. The payments varied by neighbourhood from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on how steamed up that neighbourhood became over the pretzels. In some BIAs that complained to their councillor or the Works Department the pretzel was installed under a grate, flush with the sidewalk. This is the most expensive Yorkville method but it is out of sight and out of danger of rupturing.

The gas company must admit that this cheap, ugly response to changing the pressure valve locations was done because they can do as they please. The gas company needs to rethink these absurd pretzels and make them safer by burying them below the sidewalk surface.