What does a good neighbourhood look like?

From City of Toronto.

Developers have returned to Weston and Mount Dennis for two reasons:

  1. There is an opportunity to make money.
  2. See reason #1

The opportunity has arrived thanks mainly to government infrastructure spending, mainly in the form of improved transit. Developers are not benevolent entities so that’s why we have planning departments and civic government to protect us from their excesses.

Why have developers come here? The city is expanding and transit links have improved. The UP Express makes a trip to the airport or downtown quick and easy. The much awaited Eglinton Crosstown line will be opening in 2021 2022 and with good transit comes increased property prices and investment opportunities. The city will gain from the increased property tax assessments that new buildings and increased density will provide.

Win Win.

Unless…

We have all witnessed first hand the results of bad development. In fact Weston could be called the poster child for corrupt and shoddy development imposed on the community in the 70s and 80s. In addition, community housing has been allowed to deteriorate through bad management and constrained budgets. When Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris dumped responsibility for social housing onto the city in 1998 he promised that the transfer would be revenue neutral. Last year Ottawa announced funding to help ease the $1.6 billion repair backlog.

Anne Hidalgo has been the Mayor of Paris since 2014. The city isn’t perfect and they are looking at an idea that is gaining traction. The idea is that nobody in Paris should be more than a fifteen-minute walk or bike ride to everything they need in order to live well.

Adapted from: Le Paris du ¼ heure. From Paris en commun. Click to enlarge.

Clearly, if people could live close to everything they needed, life would be a lot better. People would be healthier thanks to exercise and reduced fumes from vehicles. Is this a possibility for Weston and Mount Dennis? We certainly have the parks, outdoor exercise opportunities and fresh air (given the constraints of local highway pollution). Access to a doctor / health care is probably reasonable (readers may wish to comment). The things our community seems to lack are cultural opportunities, good produce stores, a decent bakery (mmm baguettes) and a bigger variety of workplaces.

Charlottesville Virginia has become a walkable city. From c-ville.com.

It doesn’t help that in the past 20 years the bike network in York South Weston seems to have grown at the same rate as a sloth’s fingernail. Toronto routinely fails to spend its annual budgeted allocation on bike trails and lanes. In 2016, the City’s 10-year cycling plan was supposed to create 560 km of bike lanes and cycle paths. Two years later, 33 km had been built. The City claims it’s because of the environmental and other assessments that need to be done beforehand. I think it’s a lack of will. On this side of the pond, Charlottesville has made their city walkable. So it is possible if the will is there.

Rio de Janeiro’s version of Lakeshore Boulevard (oh the irony) is closed to traffic every Sunday. File.

We need to impress on politicians that traffic-clogged streets and car-dependent neighbourhoods are harmful to our health. Developers and city planners should be working towards the day when everything is within walking or cycling distance. This is why we as a community should be vigilant and not allow poor design, rampant greed or both to be the deciding factors in what gets built here. We need to be vigilant for the people who will make Weston and Mount Dennis home over the next 50 years.

Toronto Loop Trail – Weston’s missing link visible.

Newly emerged from years of austerity, Mayor John Tory has announced ‘The Loop Trail’; a pedestrian / bike path that will make a roughly round shape as it passes through many Toronto neighbourhoods and along the lakeshore. Much of the trail already exists. Sadly, since becoming mayor, Tory has overseen the creation of a tiny fraction of the promised and budgeted trails in Toronto so we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

The Loop Trail map is hard to decipher as its creators have neglected to label any streets. Luckily for us, our neck of the woods is easy to find thanks to a prominent gap in the trail between Cruickshank Park and Fairglen Crescent.

Our missing link continues to frustrate Humber Trail / Pan Am Path users.

Now that Mayor Tory has provided some impetus, perhaps Councillor Nunziata can do something to speed up negotiations with landowners along the missing part of the trail. We’ve been waiting a long time.

It won’t be a true loop until that happens.

The year in review.

As the year comes to a close, it’s probably a good moment to look back at some of the events and topics that we dealt with in 2019.

TORONTO POLICE:
Toronto Police have had a lot to be embarrassed about this year. It emerged that traffic enforcement has been virtually non-existent since 2013. This could explain why traffic deaths have spiked upwards in recent years. Many people have died unnecessarily since that time. If you ever wonder why there are more entitled idiots on the road, the lack of police presence and enforcement is the reason.

From Toronto Star.

The public is often puzzled by the actions of police. Police have told us that they’re understaffed and sometimes there’s only a handful of cops available for the whole of 12 Division. After a recent and tragic murder at 1765 Weston, 15 cruisers were reported to have appeared but cops are seemingly unavailable for anything less serious. Was every attending officer at that crime scene really doing something useful?

The police also need to stop the knee-jerk reactions when pressure to act is applied. When undesired behaviour reaches intolerant levels, policing needs to change. Chief Saunders seems to think a temporary fix with a fancy title will solve the problem. The Chief needs to understand that shootings and car deaths aren’t going to disappear once temporary programs are disbanded. We need permanent solutions that continue to work. A few extra officers on overtime won’t cut it.

Toronto’s ‘Year Of The Gun’ in 2005 had 262 shootings and 367 victims. So far in 2019, Toronto has experienced 484 shootings involving 764 victims. In 12 Division we had 45 shootings and 77 victims.

Shootings by year 2004-2018. From Toronto Police.

On an even less cheerful note, this year in Toronto, you are almost as likely to be killed by a car as by a gun although not so in 12 Division with one pedestrian death.

MAYOR TORY
It took until 2019 for the Mayor to understand that low taxes and service reductions result in a shabby and crime-ridden city. This is widely known so  why the Mayor thought Toronto would be different is anyone’s guess. Since becoming Mayor in 2014, he has followed many of the policies and ideas of his predecessor Rob Ford. During the 2018 election he ridiculed candidates whose platform suggested inflation-busting property tax increases. Now, after promising tax increases at or below the level of inflation he has gained approval from Council for a property tax ‘levy’ that will add to the City’s building fund.

Naturally, the mayor sets the tone for Council and the tone has shifted to the left.

COUNCILLOR NUNZIATA
The councillor has made some efforts to modify her stances on some issues and has moved in tandem with the Mayor’s come to Jesus moment. She pushed for and got bike lanes on Scarlett Road. She still seems unable to tell developers to tone down excessive heights of apartments and presided over continued flooding in Ward 5 along with not seeming to care about a developer putting a slaughterhouse on flood-plain land.

WESTON BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA
Question: How do you bring a flea market to Weston?
Answer: Start with a farmers market and work your way down from there.

Late in the season, the BIA abruptly booted Joe Gaeta from the Weston Farmers Market (2nd oldest in Toronto) a week before City inspectors found that it didn’t have enough produce sellers to qualify as a true FM. It is now officially a flea market. On  the plus side, the inadequate space at the new Hub location will no longer be such a big deal.

In more positive news, Weston’s Buskerfest and the Weston Santa Claus Parade are popular and continue to strengthen.

People overestimate what can be achieved when a group of retailers get together and try to attract customers to an area. On the other hand, in spite of being partially funded by property taxes, they don’t allow the public to attend their meetings. They also seem to be overly-influenced by Councillor Nunziata who tends to dominate proceedings.

VISION ZERO 2.0
This Toronto Council initiative to prevent traffic deaths has been derisively known as Zero Vision since it produced no results in its first year. Politicians are now beginning to understand that ineptitude in this area costs lives and dozens of people have died unnecessarily in recent years. Despite the urgency to improve safety for pedestrians, Council is moving with glacial speed having only recently made the connection between traffic speed and safety. Speed limits are being lowered in some places, however, the city is supplying only two speed cameras per ward (fines won’t start until they’ve been in place for 3 months – warnings will be issued until then).

Ward 5’s cameras will be at Bicknell Ave. between Juliet Cres. and Avon Dr.; Brookhaven Dr. between Fox Point and Nordale Cres.

Read more here.

DEVELOPERS
Developers continue to propose to put the tallest, ugliest, and cheapest built  structures in the most prominent areas in spite of heritage or building guidelines. This year we lost Greenland Farms whose land may be part of a huge development.

From The Guardian.

In exchange for devastating a neighbourhood, pitiful amounts of Section 37 money are given to local councillors to spend locally. Sadly the money isn’t always spent locally or appropriately and is instead used as a pseudo re-election fund.

Other huge projects are being planned for Weston. More on that in upcoming articles.

What do we want?

Last week, I made a case that we should have a commercial relationship with all the new builders in Weston. They want to break the planning guidelines. I think they should pay to do so.

I also asked how you thought the (as-yet-imaginary) money should be spent. 59 people responded. Thank you! Here are the results. (They don’t add up to 59 because people could vote for more than one option.)

Many people noted that the new-new Farmers’ Market isn’t looking good and asked for a new-new-new one. That wasn’t the most popular option though: the most people voted for a YMCA-style space. I too think that would be just fantastic. Tied for third were a recreation space for young people and a scholarship fund. Damned fine ideas, if I do say so myself.

Peering into the data, I think we could safely say that a YMCA-style space would be just super, because it could provide all of the top options, as well as a few of the less popular ones:

  • Programming for youth
  • A stuff-bank for tools, food, clothing, and computers
  • Another, closer, and perhaps less popular gym
  • Perhaps even a community daycare, which we have been missing for six years

 

 

More thoughts on distracted pedestrians

Screengrab from toronto.ctvnews.ca

I’ve often said that the most dangerous thing anyone can do in Weston is walk across the street. It’s true; 40 pedestrians in Toronto were killed last year in the second full year of Zero Vision Vision Zero. Many more suffered life altering injuries. This is the initiative designed to bring Toronto’s annual traffic-related carnage to zero fatalities by 2021.

So far, Vision Zero has been an abject failure – pedestrian fatalities rose from 37 to 40 between 2017 and 2018.

Vision Zero faces an uphill battle in our city with its woefully inadequate public transit and streets designed to favour cars. Many suburban car owners opt to drive downtown rather than suffer a longer and less comfortable time on Toronto’s poorly planned and overcrowded transit system. These drivers want clearer streets, higher speed limits and no pesky buses, cyclists or pedestrians getting in the way.

Many motor-minded folks put the blame for traffic collisions squarely on inattentive pedestrians and cyclists. They also blame them for not wearing appropriately coloured clothing. This is the school of thought that says pedestrians and cyclists should wear glow-in-the-dark fluorescent clothing while cyclists should be licensed and insured, wear bright orange and pay road tax. As Adam says, they blame the victims.

When pedestrians and cyclists are inattentive, they largely put themselves at risk. Inattentive motorists pose a risk to all road users. 1600 kilos of metal travelling at 60 km/h is far more dangerous than 100 kilos of flesh and bone walking at 6 km/h or even 26 km/h on a bike. Mathematically, the onus for care and attention should be at hundreds of times greater on the motorist than the pedestrian but somehow drivers feel the obligation is an equal one. (Mathematical purists – I understand the speed thing makes the multiple even higher but I’m on a roll here. Please feel free to calculate a better answer.)

From Toronto.com

What about pedestrians crossing the road away from a designated crossing? This is perfectly legal 30 metres or more from a crossing or intersection. Motorists should expect to see pedestrians crossing the road between intersections and drive accordingly.

What about the people being killed? The vast majority are in Scarborough where speed limits are generally higher. They are also predominantly older – not nimble enough to make it across in time. As the old saying goes; speed kills. A reduction in the speed of traffic is a big answer to traffic injuries and fatalities.

From Pressreader.com. Click to enlarge.

Finally:

  • This is clearly an equity issue (not just for seniors) and one that should have top priority.
  • Toronto Council has failed for years to build the bike lanes that it has approved. The current pace has averaged a dismal 20 km annually. There’s a fresh set of such promises for 2019 and beyond (they claim this time they mean it).
  • North America’s safest city is Montréal. We should study what they do there. For example, Montréal’s bike network exceeds 350 km compared to Toronto’s pitiful and disjointed <150 km.
  • The disturbing uptick in fatalities may be caused by drivers attending to their phones. There needs to be a solution to this problem. Perhaps technology is the answer.
  • Councillor Nunziata was responsible for establishing a committee which came up with an awesome action plan to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists (in old Ward 11). Many of the recommendations are excellent and hopefully they will be updated to include old Ward 12 and implemented asap. Ms. Nunziata is taking predictable flak for supporting bike lanes on Scarlett Road south of Eglinton. She should be applauded for this initiative.

Nunziata blames distracted pedestrians for getting killed

City Council voted unanimously this week to adopt the Vision Zero 2.0 program, which aims to end pedestrian deaths in Toronto. Version 1.0 was, at best, only partially successful: 47 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in Toronto in 2018, two more than in 2017.

The 2.0 plan will “reduce speed limits on dozens of arterial roads across Toronto, install more sidewalks and implement more pedestrian head-start signals, among other measures”.

Frances Nunziata acknowledged the challenges councillors face: “it’s just constantly people wanting traffic calming, speed humps, they want stop signs, they want lights, because it’s really an issue throughout this city.” And Nunziata has been very good about getting speed humps and slowing traffic. Her office has also been working on a cycling plan for the ward.

However, in discussion, she blamed distracted cyclists and pedestrians for their own deaths.

I think it’s important that pedestrians are educated as well, when they’re crossing the street and cyclists as well. You see so many pedestrians crossing the street at an intersection, texting on their phone, talking on their phone, with their earphones, and they’re walking across the street, red light, or they’re not even crossing at an intersection, and that’s very dangerous  as well. And you know, continues to happen, and you know, I know a few years ago, I put a motion through that they should be fined. The province did not support that at that time, but if you… a lot more of them are not paying attention to the roads, the pedestrians, and I think there’s a lot of fatalities as well because there’s no education and they’re not paying attention and the cyclists as well, when they’ve got the earphones, and they’re not hearing, and  they’re not paying attention the road safety. So I think it’s not just for the motorists, it’s for the pedestrians, the cyclists, all of us have to share in making our streets safer.


In 2016, Nunziata asked the province to ticket distracted pedestrians, an idea that was quickly shot down.  She has also called for cyclists to be licensed, an idea proven to be terrible.

Good news for Pan Am Trail cyclists.

The Pan Am Path passes through Weston, albeit grudgingly. Cyclists wishing to take the trail north of Cruickshank Park are forced to take a steep climb up the steps to the intersection of Weston and St. Phillips roads. In order to re-join the trail, a dangerous stretch of Weston Road must be traversed safely – from personal experience, this is no easy picnic.

The good news is that the multi use trail will have some new intersections as it crosses the Humber heading towards Dundas. Scarlett Road will be getting bike lanes along that stretch.

Looking south from Scarlett Rd and St Clair Ave W
The proposed new and improved intersection at Scarlett and Dundas.

The driving force for this comes from surveys and a public meeting held in late 2017 to discuss issues around the upgrading of the intersection at Scarlett and Dundas. Plans are to widen the space under the tracks and lower Scarlett to end the traffic bottleneck and height restrictions at that location. At the public meeting, among other things, the need for separated bike lanes was expressed. Plans were modified over the past year to include these as seen in the map and cross-section below.

Map of bike lane (cycle track) along Scarlett Road from the Humber River to just north St. Clair Avenue at Bernice Crescent. Options for cycling connections to Scarlett Road being considered for the future include Eileen Avenue to Pritchard Avenue or Eileen Avenue to Corbett Avenue.

A meeting to discuss the latest plans will be held early next week.

Date: Monday, April 29, 2019
Time: Drop in 6:30 to 9 p.m.. Presentation at 7 p.m.
Location: Lambton Park Community School, 50 Bernice Cres., Wheelchair accessible.

This meeting was requested by local Councillor Frances Nunziata who will be in attendance alongside Councillor Gord Perks.

For more details, click here.