MacDonald Avenue to get 19th Century upgrade.

A tree on MacDonald Avenue weakened by utility pruning. (Google.ca July 2017)

Here is a notice from Toronto Hydro:

MacDonald Avenue

  • Project ID: W18159
  • Activity: Overhead Civil and Electrical
  • Timeline: October 2017 – December 2018
  • Status: Current

Toronto Hydro is planning to rebuild the aging overhead electrical system in the community to help improve service reliability. The rebuild includes upgrading overhead electrical cables and replacing hydro poles within the City of Toronto’s public property allowance in front of or adjacent to the lot. Throughout this project, planned outages may be necessary to switch from the old to the new electrical system and we intend to provide advance notice. Toronto Hydro crews and contractors will take extra care and precautions around the property. Please be advised that as a result of the project, our contractor may be trimming a number of the overgrown trees on the public road allowance in order to accommodate new hydro infrastructure. Upon project completion, affected areas will be restored.

So, instead of replacing MacDonald Avenue’s overhead wiring with underground cables, Toronto Hydro will continue to use a 19th Century method of bringing power to homes and businesses. This will ensure a continuing vulnerability of the power supply to ice storms, lightning strikes, vehicle collisions and falling trees. Speaking of trees; pruning them to make room for wiring is harmful and our trees would last far longer if they weren’t weakened by being trimmed.

The average life of a hydro pole is about 35 years so the MacDonald Avenue installation should last until 2053. Oh, and don’t hold your breath expecting that all of the old poles will be completely removed.

It seems that Toronto Hydro would rather spend its money on executive remuneration than on upgrading infrastructure, preserving trees and improving our streetscape. Yes, it would be initially more expensive to bury power lines but it would be an investment in the future and save money (repairs from the 2013 ice storm cost over $170 million) and inconvenience in the long run.

Crosstown posts drone footage

This video was posted at the end of January but shows the work going on at the old Kodak site very clearly including the new Crosstown Line Mount Dennis Station, the Kodak building, the new vehicle maintenance building and the train storage facility.

The size of the project is quite astonishing.

Thanks to Henry Rientsma for posting the video to facebook.

Crosstown update and open house tomorrow

Metrolinx is holding an open house to showcase its Eglinton Crosstown project tomorrow, Tuesday, between 6:30 and 8:00pm. The project is set to open in 2021 and provide rapid transit and connections along and (mainly) under Eglinton between Mount Dennis and Kennedy Road. On display will be images of construction progress, construction timelines and details of likely impacts that future construction will bring in terms of noise and inconvenience.

Location: York Recreation Centre at 115 Black Creek Drive.

Mount Dennis Station Update

Today, Crosstown published to Twitter this photo of Mount Dennis Station under construction.

The Twitter caption reads: “It doesn’t have a roof yet, but Mount Dennis Station is certainly shaping up! The elevated concrete centre piece will be the passenger platform”.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

5. Planning and Development

Adapted from MasterMaq.ca

Council needs to listen to the experts.

Toronto Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor, each of whom has a single vote when making decisions. There is a huge staff at City Hall which gathers information and makes recommendations to council on topics to be discussed. Smaller committees of councillors, generally appointed by the Mayor, study the issues, receive input from staff and the public and then make a recommendation which is forwarded to a general council meeting. Unfortunately many councillors have varying axes to grind; sadly for the people, the biggest priority of many councillors is getting re-elected every four years. As a result, fact-based decisions often happen by accident rather than by design. For example, the unnecessary Scarborough Subway, panned by experts both here and around the world, will be a costly blunder that Mayor Tory and many suburban councillors (including our own) fully support.

We need to make plans and act on them with support from the city and in conformity with the Toronto Official Plan.

Weston is still only in Phase 1 of its Heritage Conservation District status granted in 2004. Phase 2 was to be studied that same year. ‘Study’, in the language of Toronto politics means delay, in the hope that the issue will go away quietly (which it did). Apparently getting to phase 2 requires time, money and a huge volunteer effort. Rich areas have no problem raising money and help but a district like Weston / Mount Dennis naturally struggles.

There was an official set of plans drawn up around 2005 for some of the more historic Toronto communities. In Weston, developers were supposed to keep future building heights to around 8 stories in our area out of consideration of the historical context and the river’s proximity. Outside of special areas, the Tall Building Design Guidelines should apply but often don’t.

In 2009, plans for rehabilitating the Kodak lands were discussed. Former Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford held a planning exercise with his University of Toronto students to explore Weston’s potential and reported on his findings in 2010. That led to a Weston planning ‘charrette‘ back in 2011. The Mount Dennis Mobility Hub Study in 2012 was another planning session.

Some of the ideas that came out of these planning sessions were excellent but somehow the execution has been lacking; for example:

  • create a pedestrian walkway along South Station Street that would connect Weston Village with the GO / UPX station.
  • create generous and clearly defined pedestrian and cycling routes to the station
  • create more accessible access points to the parks along the Humber
  • Fix the uninviting streetscape along Weston Road

BTW, the Charrette didn’t get everything right. One of their key messages was that “Public investment will need to be provided by the private sector.”

It seems that many development deals are worked out in the back rooms before they reach the public. Public commentary then serves to make only minor adjustments. When the 30-storey Weston Hub was in the public commentary stage, people were told that the height was non-negotiable.

in 2016, more planning studies for Weston and Mount Dennis were announced that should have seen the light of day in 2017 but nothing seems to have transpired.

Weston and Mount Dennis are not less worthy of support than more affluent areas of the city but that’s not what happens. The Artscape project at Wychwood Barns received millions in funding from three levels of government. Our own Artscape development at the soon to be opened Weston Hub received a much smaller investment.

As mentioned previously, Europe has car free zones, attractive streetscapes and limits on building height. Our planning in Toronto seems to be centred around strictly regulating development and then accepting relatively small amounts of money to break the rules.

Finally, we have a mayor and his team who deliberately keep city coffers empty because they cannot see beyond keeping taxes at or below inflation. The mayor worries about millionaire homeowners becoming homeless because of property tax hikes:

“a lot of older and younger people counting on us to be disciplined will be forced from their homes, or find it unaffordable to live in the city, if we start taking 5-per-cent-a-year” tax hikes. – Toronto Star December 27, 2017

He’s conveniently ignoring the fact that older and disabled residents can apply for property tax relief. But that’s our current political environment. Facts mean nothing, there’s no money for the public good and it’s all about protecting the rich.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis: Part 3.

3. The Public Domain.

Yesterday’s article covered the state of retail in Weston / Mount Dennis.

One of the factors that makes a big difference to an area is the public domain. Anyone who has been to Europe will know how well the public domain is looked after.

A car free street in Cartagena Spain. Note the lack of high-rise buildings and overhead wiring.

Far less public domain money is spent here in Toronto and especially in Weston / Mount Dennis where spending is further suppressed as our BIAs have smaller budgets, our Section 37 money is scarce and our politicians have an unfortunate obsession with keeping property taxes (the lowest in the GTA) at or below the rate of inflation. Spending initiatives that could improve public facilities are often voted down.

From Jennifer Pagliaro via Twitter. Click to enlarge.

As a result, the things that can help iron out differences between rich and poor are suppressed. The homeless are treated with contempt. Public housing is in disrepair; cycling and walking are dangerous, our library, recreation and and parks system are underfunded and garbage and leaf litter, is allowed to accumulate. Cars dominate our streets while the TTC receives the lowest subsidy of any major city in North America. Climbing the social ladder is harder than ever because politicians worry that they’ll be voted out of office if they support tax increases. A recent study by the World Bank has discovered that when inequality goes up, there is a corresponding increase in the murder rate.

What has to change? Our political system is a shambles – more on that tomorrow. We need leaders at all levels of government who understand the connection between adequate public domain funding and helping people move out of poverty. Gentrification is often seen as a solution to our problems in WMD. It’s not. It simply forces poor people to relocate instead of helping them climb the ladder out of poverty.

The answer is more money spent on helping the poor help themselves. More money, for example,  to fix the appalling repair backlog at Toronto Public Housing, more money to properly fund our public institutions and spaces. We also need to beautify our streets here in WMD and reduce the enormous amounts of real estate given over to the car. Will it be Weston or Mount Dennis that gets the first traffic free street in Toronto? (Toronto is one of the few cities in the world without a public pedestrian / bike only street.) We also need to find ways to improve access to the beautiful Humber River that meanders through WMD.

In summary, we need to tell our elected representatives that our priority is improving the public domain and not keeping taxes low. Poverty sucks and feeds on itself. It won’t go away without heroic efforts.

From Twitter.

The constant, artificial shortage of tax dollars puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable among us; people who traditionally don’t apply political pressure and can’t make generous campaign contributions. Even more insidiously, the constant trimming of budgets is designed to make public institutions fail and the private sector look good by comparison.

Make no mistake, underfunding the public domain impoverishes us all and lowers our quality of life.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis: Part 1

As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back in Weston / Mount Dennis. This is a five part series, the first of which begins today.

As always, your comments are welcome.

 1. Our Road System

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths in Toronto are not taken seriously enough and by extension here in Weston / Mount Dennis. Last year in Toronto, 43 pedestrians were killed by people driving cars while 40 of us were killed by people with a gun. Locally, compare the reaction to the man killed in the Shoppers Parking lot last month with the response to the woman killed on Monday 285 metres west of Weston and Eglinton; a particularly dangerous intersection because of its diagonal angle. Traffic engineers deplore diagonal intersections because they are more prone to driver error, yet Weston Road slices diagonally through Ward 11 at several major points without modification.

Weston Road’s dangerous diagonal intersections. Click to enlarge. Adapted from Google Maps.

Weston and Lawrence was the 7th worst Toronto intersection for collisions between 2009 and 2013. Diaginal intersections can be straightened by traffic engineers, often without much disruption.

From waze.com

Pedestrian light timing is too short – especially at the busy transit hub at Weston and Lawrence. There is a seniors’ building at the intersection yet priority is given to traffic rather than pedestrians. In addition, as already mentioned, intersections that are not at right angles are inherently dangerous.

We need red light cameras to stop people from endangering lives in their haste to shave a few minutes from their journey. Red light cameras more than pay for themselves through the fines that they collect. Is it too much to ask for cameras that can make such a difference at dangerous intersections? Although there are 77 red light cameras in Toronto, there is only one in our area, oddly at Jane and Bala / Emmet.

Cycle lanes – according to Councillor Nunziata, her Cycling Committee has met and will be releasing a report soon. Kudos to the councillor for this initiative and let’s hope for some good recommendations. Apart from dangerous sharrows, there is precious little resembling cycling infrastructure in our area. Paint isn’t infrastructure.

Tomorrow: The retail experience in Weston / Mount Dennis.