Today in Weston

A baby skunk in distress attracts attention on the bike path near the Lawrence bridge in Lions Park. Bystanders stayed with it to protect it from cycle traffic while 311 was called. It seemed to like the cat food and liver treats supplied by helpful onlookers. Click to enlarge.

What does a good apartment building look like?

If you’re in the market for a condo apartment or just deciding whether a proposed condo will be good for the neighbourhood, here’s a look at the features a good apartment should have in the 2020s.

Weston and Mount Dennis are seeing a flurry of building proposals, most of which involve apartment towers. Weston is in the unenviable position of already having some great examples of what not to build. Hopefully we can learn from these examples and do better.

Apartment interiors:
A one-bedroom apartment should provide a minimum of 500 square feet of year-round living space, a two-bedroom apartment 750 square feet and a three-bedroom above 1200 square feet. A good open-plan layout with ample space and a fully-featured kitchen is the preferred design these days. Bedrooms used to be placed in their own section with a corridor. Nowadays, thanks to space constraints, corridors have gone and bedrooms are often scattered around the living room rather than in one area. Bedrooms should be designed to accommodate student study spaces.
There should be in-apartment storage space for things like a stroller or mobility scooter.
An in-unit washer and dryer is a major convenience.
Balconies can be a great feature of an apartment, allowing access to sunshine, fresh air and perhaps some vegetables in the summer.
Apartments should allow for flexibility so that they can adapt as a family’s needs change.

Noise and odour proofing:
Noise is a big issue in many buildings. Back in the last century I lived in an apartment building where my upstairs neighbour could often be heard using the bathroom – right down to the last squirt. Not great when you’re having dinner with friends. Hardwood / vinyl / laminate floors are preferred to carpeting these days – they’re better from a cleanliness and allergy standpoint. Carpets were once part of the soundproofing system for apartments and now that they’re passé, builders have to put more thought (and money) into keeping noises from escaping. This costs money. Sealing off apartments so that air is contained also helps with odour control. Unfortunately it’s hard to know how good a job builders have done until moving in.

Generous common / amenity space:
Amenity spaces help create a community inside a building by providing areas where people can meet and interact.

  • Lobbies that promote interaction
  • A play area for children
  • Day care facilities
  • Fitness centre / Yoga studio / Library / meeting room
  • Swimming pool / sauna
  • Storage
  • Ample parking for deliveries
  • Lockers where delivery people can leave packages for residents.
  • Large item storage lockers.
  • Secure / gated access
  • Pet friendly with accommodation for dog toilet needs to ease the burden on local parks.
  • Outdoor common space with wifi.
Click to enlarge. From https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-103920.pdf

Parking:
Secure, covered and adequate vehicle / bicycle parking is a big deal. Parking is expensive for developers as the only way to provide it to dig. The more parking the more digging. Developers like to skimp on parking claiming there is less demand for it.  Weston is a long way from being a car-free community. Unlike downtown Toronto, we can’t walk and cycle everywhere for our needs. We don’t even have any decent bike lanes inn Weston. There should be one parking space per apartment otherwise the parking problem just spills out into the neighbourhood. Parking spaces can always be adapted for other uses once transit becomes adequate and the neighbourhood provides a better variety of retail and cultural experiences. Charging stations for e-vehicles should be provided.

Security.
Security costs money and having someone monitor residents and visitors is expensive but necessary for peace of mind.

Energy efficiency:
The cost of energy is likely to rise in the future. Keeping costs down is important along with eliminating the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Electrically powered heat pumps are one of the best and most energy-efficient ways to heat and cool an apartment. More costly to install, they keep resident’s fuel expenses low and use less energy.  A 4-pipe heat pump system can respond quickly to daily and seasonal changes and will allow heating and cooling simultaneously in the various parts of the building (some buildings can have only air-conditioning or heating at any one time and the switch-over date is a contentious one).

Bottom line:
We can build bare-bones and quick profit dwellings that don’t adapt well to future needs or we can build communities where people can thrive.

It’s up to us and city planners to hold developers to account so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Toronto has written a set of draft urban design guidelines that considers the needs of children and families growing up in an apartment community. They are well worth a read.

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.

New signals on Eglinton at Pearen Park

At the Jan 8 Community Council Meeting, another item of note was the decision to install a pedestrian traffic signal across Eglinton at Pearen Park. Residents have long complained about the danger of crossing between the signals at Jane or Weston Rd (a distance of 800 metres). Roads and Traffic have in the past refused to permit a safe crossing, citing concern that it would slow traffic on Eglinton.
However, a death in 2017 caused the councillor to ask again, and this time they agreed. However, their recommendation is that it wait until 2021, and only if ‘competing priorities’ don’t get the money first ($120,000).
As reported by Simon Chamberlain, former chair of the Mount Dennis Community Association, the city advised that they are hamstrung by new rules imposed by the province that seriously limits the number of contractors the city can use to do such work. Apparently there is, as a result, a huge backlog of signal installation.
One would think that the safety of pedestrians would trump any provincial meddling. Vison Zero cannot be successful if intersections such as this one cannot be made safe. And what ‘competing priority’ is more important than the death of a pedestrian? The councillor can be reached at 416-392-4091, should you wish to urge her to order the installation sooner.

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.

John Street changes

Speaking of sidewalks, changes are likely coming to John Street. The Etobicoke York Community Council will consider making the intersection of John and Weston roads narrower.

The city wants to widen the sidewalks, remove a lane on John Street, shorten the turn radius, and add pro-pedestrian signals.

Map of John and Weston

I’m a pretty pro-pedestrian, pro-bike kind of guy, but this seems like a mistake to me. John Street is a disaster. Cars park on both sides of the street, making turning difficult already. Pedestrians cross from the parking lot and alley halfway up, and the auto repair shop is less than fully compliant and quite busy. It’s virtually impossible to drive on John without stopping as it is. Narrowing it—especially without vigilant enforcement of parking and stopping bylaws—is going to make that much worse.

If I had my druthers, I’d ruther the city tackle the left turn from South Station Street onto John. It’s wide, fast, and really needs a stop sign to allow pedestrians safe passage to the pedestrian bridge. I’ve seen many cars turning from South Station Street going too fast onto John, going from a wide, amenable street onto a narrow, crowded one.

I think the city is tackling the wrong end of the problem.

Sidewalks are coming. Slowly.

You heard it here first: an increasingly rare urban design that is prevalent in Weston will soon be lost to history.

It’s a change you’re not likely to regret, however.

Several of the roads north of Church Street have no sidewalks, or have sidewalks on only one side of the street. The city now plans to remedy that and add sidewalks to every street in Toronto, as part of its Vision Zero plan to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

The story I’ve heard is that in the 1950s, when people expected to drive everywhere, streets in suburbs were built without sidewalks. Now that the the mania for auto-eroticism has passed, we’re regretting that decision.

The city says that sidewalks will be installed, bit by bit, when road reconstruction happens, or as a standalone project, subject to budget availability.