Sunday, December 18, 2011

Toronto Needs More Bike Parking in Parks

Recently, the City revamped Sally Bird Park, this little parkette on Brunswick near Harbord. They landscaped the park, added bench, and also three strange work-out machines. But what they forgot, and what the City frequently seems to forget in parks, is a place to lock your bike.

There are clear spots for four ring-and-posts in the space where the park's fence is set back from the sidewalk. As usual, when there is no infrastructure provided, people make-do; this time by locking their bikes to the fence. I've seen as many as six bikes locked up here before.

While there is a decent amount of ring-and-posts on commercial streets in Toronto, there is a dearth of bicycle parking along the residential streets in small parks like this one. This means that when people are at a park, or visiting friends on a residential street, they either have to walk awhile to find actual bike parking, or lock up to a fence or pole, which doesn't provide the same amount of security and, I'm sure, is annoying to residents and the City.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book: The Vancouver Achievement by John Punter

Ah, Vancouver. That gleaming, sparkling, oasis of a planners wet dream. At least, that's what, at first glance, this book appears to say.

But if you look past the cringe-inducing boosterish title of John Punter's book you'll find a great documentation of Vancouver planning history and policies since the 1970s, up until about 2001, when the book was published. Punter, a professor of urban design in the UK at Cardiff University, has exhaustively catalogued the development of the city. While the title may give away just how Punter feels about Vancouver, he doesn't shy away from criticisms of affordability, architectural monotony, and exclusivity.

Particularly interesting was the chapter on Vancouver's single-family neighbourhoods and the infiltration of discretionary zoning and development controls sought by neighbourhood associations (usually wealthy ones) to preserve the "character" of their area. Punter describes how City Council and planners bent to the demands of these neighbourhoods, instituting zoning that restricted intensification and secondary suites. This obviously has had a severe impact on the affordability of Vancouver as a whole, confirming the power of these neighbourhoods in the political and planning process. It's hard not to see that the rhetoric of preserving a neighbourhood's character is often a guise for social exclusion.

There were a few things the book left out. There was no real mention of Metro Vancouver, or regional planning, which I think is a mistake. Many things are decided at the regional level and it would have been interesting to see how these interacted at the city level in Vancouver. Similarly, there was no real discussion of transit planning, except for a few paragraphs near the end. This, too, is an oversight. While SkyTrain is mentioned a few times, I would have liked a discussion of the planning and development around the stations and how it changed the city. Finally, Vancouver's elected Park Board only got a few brief mentions, even though there was much discussion of the provision of park space.

It's difficult to talk about planning in Vancouver without talking about affordability. The obvious question that runs through the book, and one that Punter does address (though not nearly enough, I think) is that, sure, Vancouver is shiny and mostly well-designed, but who gets to enjoy in this when the city is so utterly unaffordable? What does "livability" really mean if you find it hard to live there?

Friday, December 16, 2011

LEAF Brings Gardens to TTC Stations

Just outside of the Walmer St entrance to the Spadina Subway there is a sparse, wood-chip strewn space where a median of muddy grass used to be. This is part of a LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) driven project in association with the City of Toronto, among others, that sees volunteers take care of what is called an Urban Forest Demonstration Garden. The volunteer gardeners are from LEAF's volunteer Tree Tending Trainer Program, and they oversee a total of five different gardens outside TTC stations, including the Walmer one. 

It looks a bit sad right now, but I'm sure come spring this will prove to be a nice addition to the streetscape. Someone has even gotten a little festive and planted a small evergreen tree with a red Christmas bow on it. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adam Vaughan Puts Forward Motion On Info Pillars

Recommendations from Adam Vaughan's motion to be debated at City Council this week
A few weeks ago, after the installation the hideous Astral Media info pillar on Bloor and Spadina (and various other locations around the city), I wrote a post about how they impeded pedestrian flow by taking up sometimes more than 1/3 of the sidewalk. I also wrote an email to Adam Vaughan, the councillor in my ward, expressing my concern.

It seems I wasn't the only one worried about the placement of these ad pillars. Vaughan has put forth a motion for debate at City Council this week, seconded by Janet Davis, that aims to look at the placement of the pillars, asking for relocation of pillars that take up more than 1/3 of the sidewalk. The motion also asks for pillars to be removed where they obstruct site lines, and that Astral Media be required to restore decorative paving where the installation of the pillar has left a giant concrete block in the middle of the street.

Vaughan included several photographs that showed where pillars blocked too much sidewalk space, obstructed site lines, and ruined decorative street paving.

What surprised me most, however, was the recommendation that "City Council direct the appropriate City staff to create a system that notifies local Councillors and local BIAs of placement before installation so that conflicts with existing sidewalk uses are avoided."

I find it incredible that councillors were not aware of the location of the pillars before they were installed. This leads to the obvious question of who got to decide where these info pillars were placed? Astral Media? City staff? Regardless of whether it was the company or the City, councillors should definitely get a heads-up before these things are rooted into the ground and cause problems.

You can read up on some of the other motions being put forward at City Council this week, including naming rights, backyard chickens, and side guards on trucks, on Torontoist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Map Breaks Down Vancouver Voting Patterns

The glorious map of voting patterns by divsion
Frances Bula, journalist for the Globe and Mail, pointed out this amazing interactive Google map that breaks down Vancouver voter patterns by division, giving you the numbers for mayor and party. Knock yourselves out. Bula has some interesting number crunching on her own blog from these stats. What's most interesting about this breakdown is what this reveals about the city if Vancouver were ever to approve a ward-based system, where councillors run in specific ridings or wards, instead of the current at-large, where councillors are elected city-wide.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dear Voter: It Doesn't Stop After the Election

Vancouver City Hall. Photo by Foxtongue from Flickr
Elections have always given me a rush. I remember the first time I got to vote, standing in a long line outside of an elementary school, waiting to mark an X on a piece of paper that somehow, amazingly, was going to contribute to determining the future of my community. It's like doing a giant puzzle with a whole bunch of strangers, except you don't know what the final image will be.

City politics may not always consist of grand, fiery debates over health care reform or foreign policy or that ever-elusive beast the economy. But each decision at council, be it a rezoning, a development approval, a new by-law, a decision to spend money on this instead of that, affects your day-to-day life as an urbanite greatly. That sidewalk you walk on, that road you drive on, that bus you take, that water you drink, that poop you flush--all of it belongs to the realm of your city government. And you should pay attention to what they do in between elections.

You can attend meetings and council sessions. You can even watch online in your own home with no pants on if that's your thing (it's often my thing). Some of it may be mind-numbingly boring. I won't lie. You may not understand everything at first. And no one will fault you for zoning out for a minute to play Angry Birds on your phone.

You can write emails to your councillors. You can even tweet at some of them or be their friend on Facebook. Sometimes they even write back. The good ones, anyway. You're their boss, after all. Why give them a performance evaluation only once every few years? Tell them what you think of what they're doing. Give them suggestions. Help them do a better job.

Only 34% of people in Vancouver managed to get out and vote in the November 19th election. And that pitiful number is actual an increase over the 2008 election when it was 31%. That means that 66% of people in Vancouver decided they didn't really care about who ran their city for the next three years.

You may not think you care, but you do. If you care about your roads, transit, water, sewage, electricity, arts, libraries, parks, recreation, police, bikes, street festivals, affordable housing, and homelessness, then you care what your councillors are doing in between those election dates. If we didn't have a city government we would all be floating in a void, like in The Matrix before they program stuff in.

If you want to keep up to date on Vancouver City Council, watch meetings online and read agendas, click here.

If you're in Toronto (or like me and have a toe in both cities) and want to do the same for Toronto City Council then check out the calendar which has links to meetings and agendas. You can also watch council sessions online at RogersTV.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Twitter Guide to the *New* City of Vancouver

"Tweet tweet, rezoning, tweet tweet" photo by Porfirio on Flickr (cc)
Twitter's not all about what you ate for breakfast or how cute your cat can be (although mine is frequently about the latter). It's also a good place to follow your local politicians and get the scoop about what's going on in the city. Here's a list of the Twitter accounts for the new City Council, Park Board, and School Board in Vancouver. I've also included a few candidates that weren't elected that are good to follow. Please add freely in the comments section.

Vision Vancouver - @visionvancouver
NPA - @npavancouver
COPE - @copevancouver

Greenest City - @greenestcity
Vancouver Park Board - @parkboard
Vancouver Archives - @vanarchives
City of Vancouver - @cityofvancouver


Vision Vancouver 
Gregor Robertson - @mayorgregor
Heather Deal - @vanrealdeal
Geoff Meggs - @geoffmeggs
Andrea Reimer - @andreareimer
Tim Stevenson - None
Tony Tang - None
Kerry Jang - None
Raymond Louie - None

George Affleck - @george_affleck
Elizabeth Ball - @elizabeth_ball

Adriane Carr - @adrianecarr

School Board

Vision Vancouver
Patti Bacchus - @pattibacchus
Mike Lombardi - @lombardimike
Ken Clement - None
Cherie Payne - @cheriepayne
Rob Wynen - @robwynen

Ken Denike - @ubcken
Sophia Woo - @woo_sophia
Fraser Ballantyne - @frasergb

Allan Wong - None

Park Board

Vision Vancouver
Constance Barnes - @constancebarnes
Sarah Blyth - @sarahblyth
Aaron Jasper - @aaron_jasper
Niki Sharma - @nikisharma2
Trevor Loke - @trevorloke

Melissa De Genova - @melissadegenova (hasn't tweet yet)
John Coupar - @johnccoupar


Sandy Garossino (Independent) - @garossino 
RJ Aquino (COPE) - @ayoslang
Ellen Woodsworth (COPE) - @ellenwoodsworth
Mike Klassan (NPA) - @mikeklassen
Brent Granby (COPE) - @brentgranby
Sean Bickerton (NPA) - @seanbickerton

[edit: I've just been alerted by Andrea Reimer (via Twitter! See? It works!) that you can find the full list of City agencies and their respective Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts up on the City's website, so be sure to check it out]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vancouver Election a Lesson in Every Vote Counts

Election results by division from
Last night I had some friends over for dinner, but as 11pm rolled around my thoughts were elsewhere. That's because all the way over on the other side of the country in my former city of Vancouver, where the time was just 8pm, the polls had just closed on what had become a pretty heated municipal election.

It was hard to gauge what the real feeling was like in Vancouver from my perch over here in Toronto where all I had to go on was Twitter, blogs, and newspapers. As polls rolled in that showed Suzanne Anton's NPA closing in on Gregor Robertson's Vision Vancouver--a trend attributed by the media mostly to the Occupy Vancouver protests--I started to wonder if Robertson could really lose a campaign that seemed like such a sure shot only a few weeks ago.

Well, wonder did not turn to reality. Vision has swept back in with a majority on council, taking the top seven spots, with the NPA taking spots eight and nine and, amazingly, Adriane Carr of the Greens squeaking into spot number ten. Sadly, COPE saw themselves shut out, which is a disappointment.

But as the night went on, it was the bottom spot on council where the action really was. As each wave of polls were reported (I think I almost broke the refresh button on my browser), the results for the bottom seat changed. It was the NPA's Bill Yuen, then it was the NPA's Mike Klassen, then COPE's Ellen Woodsworth began bubbling upwards, then it was Green's Adriane Carr, then Yuen again.

With all the polls reporting except one in the West End, even with Yuen still sitting in spot number ten, it was pretty clear that Carr was going to get that last council seat. The West End is her territory after all. I remember in past Provincial elections when I used to live in the West End, seeing Carr standing on street corners with BC Green Party volunteers back when she was the leader of that party.

At the end of the night, Carr won the seat over COPE's Ellen Woodsworth by a mere 91 votes. Let me say that again. 91 votes. You could squish that many people onto a bus if you really wanted to. If there was ever a lesson in every vote counts, that was it.

I'm sad to see Woodsworth lose the spot as I think she is a great, capable and down-to-earth councillor. I remember her showing up briefly to the magazine launch of OCW Magazine with bicycle helmet under arm to say hello, back when I was Managing Editor there. Out of all the councillors we invited, she was the only one who showed up.

The next time you hear someone say their vote doesn't count, you can point to that result. 91 people. That's all it took.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Photo: Concrete Annex planter boxes get festive

These festive Martha Stewartesque arrangements of evergreen, coloured sticks, and pinecones have appeared in the hideously ugly concrete planter boxes outside of my apartment on Bloor Street. I am happy for them, one, because I love all things wintry and Christmasy, and, two, because perhaps they will thwart those heathens who decide that planter boxes are a good place to stash spent cigarettes and beer cans. Last year, when the snow finally melted, it revealed a gag-inducing pile of soggy, yellow butts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Toronto's new info pillars block sidewalk with ads

Newly installed InfoToGo pillar at Bloor and Spadina
Yesterday, I mentioned AstralMedia's street furniture contract with the City of Toronto in relation to community message boards, but they also are responsible for installing what are called InfoToGo pillars around the city. These pillars are supposed to help with wayfinding, allowing tourists to orient themselves.  The new design, however, contains very little info. And by little info, I mean it has no info. Nada. Unless of course you count learning about FibeTV from Bell information.

The two largest sides of the pillar contain spots for advertising, while the skinny spine on the side is the part that is going to eventually contain some sort of map (right now it just says: Welcome to Toronto).

The advertisements encroaching into public space is one thing, but the awful and inconsiderate placement of these new pillars is another thing entirely. I first noticed this after a pillar was installed on Bloor and Spadina just outside of Fresh restaurant. The pillar takes up about one third of the sidewalk for no other purpose than to advertise. This is in a busy intersection that sees a lot of pedestrian traffic in the city, which could potentially create problems for people using assistive-mobility devices or those with strollers.

Street furniture placed in the public right of way, like benches, bus shelters, and bike racks, at least have a purpose. About 80% of the purpose of the info pillar is to display advertising, which makes this a poor use of the public right of way. If we have to have these things in Toronto, more thought and care needs to go into their placement and orientation on sidewalks to make sure they don't impede on pedestrian flow.

Compare this to Vancouver's info pillars, which the city began installing before the 2010 Olympics and continued afterward. As I wrote a few months ago, the vast majority of the pillars contain no advertising (ads are placed on one side of larger info pillars on some downtown commercial streets). The pillars are also skinny and oriented in such a way so they don't take up a lot of sidewalk space. Score one for Vancouver.

You can read more about these in this article by Steve Kupferman over at Torontoist.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Annex BIA installs anti-poster sleeves on light posts

Posters scraped off light pole on Bloor and Walmer
I noticed a few days ago that all of the posters had been scraped off the light poles on Bloor Street and thought it was just routine cleaning. That is until the next morning I stumbled upon workers who were wrapping the light poles with a tape-repellent sleeve that is supposed to keep posters off of them.

I first wrote about this back in February of 2011 for Torontoist, so it has taken the BIA quite some time to get things going. These sleeves are already in use just a few blocks west on Bloor in Koreatown. And, if you've ever walked down there, you'll notice that there are still lots of posters up on the light poles. All it takes is wrapping the tape securely all the way around the pole to keep your poster up.

Indeed, shortly after the sleeves were installed, I came across blank pieces of paper that had been taped to the poles in exactly that manner. In the bottom of each read: Annex Public Space.

Same light pole, but with new anti-poster sleeve and fresh Annex Public Space poster
As I wrote in that initial article, posters are an integral part of community expression. Many of the posters found on lamp poles are for lost cats, garage sales, and community services like guitar lessons. AstralMedia, through a 20 year street furniture contract with the City of Toronto, is supposed to be installing community message boards where people are allowed to put up posters. These official poster boards, while more are being installed, are few and far between.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Vancouver's Capital Plan 2012-2014: A Love Story

photo by GoodnCrazy from Flickr (cc)
Ok, so it's not really a love story, but I figured no one would read this if I didn't grab their interest somehow. A Vancouver civic election looms, which also means that, yeehaw!, it's capital budget time! Over the summer Vancouver City Council consulted with Vancouverites on the upcoming capital budget plan, which coincides with civic elections so you can vote on whether to approve borrowing for the stated projects.

As boring as something called the Capital Plan might sound, it's mighty important in setting the agenda for the next three years of, well, building stuff. Important stuff. Like water mains and sewers and community centres.

So, here's the skinny on the final plan (the whole of which you can find here). This is the stuff you'll be voting on when you head to the polls on November 19th to elect a new city government.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bloor Street Gets New Benches

Sitting down is kind of awesome. So it is with great happiness that I noticed new benches popping up on the stretch of Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst a few weeks ago. These new benches replace the previous benches on the street, which, to put it nicely, were showing their age.

The new benches are love-seat size, with wooden slats joined up with a curving metal armrests that look almost floral, like out-turned petals. It's not the most beautiful of designs, but it is functional and, I'm glad to see, doesn't contain the middle armrest that is used to discourage those who would want to lie down on a bench (although the short length means lying down would be a bit uncomfortable).

The benches are also backless, which usually I don't like, but makes sense here on a busy street where people are unlikely to sit and read for hours and more likely to sit and wait for their friend to get out of Book City. It also means you can choose to face traffic or the street. Benches with backs make that decision for you.

It's great to see these included on a stretch of street that sees lots of people milling around outside of various establishments and using the incredibly bulky planters as impromptu seating.

[edit: Further investigation reveals that these benches are part of Astral Media's street furniture contract with the City of Toronto. Think Toronto's hideously ugly and functionally terrible garbage cans. At least there is no advertising on these benches.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Photo: Layers

A heavily postered wall on Harbord Street in Toronto reveals a layered history.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Four Days in Montreal

I got back last night from four days (well, three and a half if you subtract bus travel time) in Montreal. This was not the first time I had been to the city, but I noticed a lot of new stuff since I was last there for two weeks in the summer of 2007. Namely, more and better public spaces, changes to the street system, and perhaps most drastically, the addition of the Bixi bike share program and a slew of amazing separated bike lanes.


The above picture is Rue St. Catherine, which is one of the main drags in downtown Montreal, spanning the gay village, the Place des Arts, and the major shopping street. The city is undertaking a massive change in tone to the streetscape along certain stretches by taking out the curbs that separated cars from pedestrians and laying the whole road in the same material. Although only parts were open, it's already obvious that this changes how the street feels entirely. Given that when I was there in 2007 for the jazz festival this street was the one closed off for the largest outdoor stage, it only makes sense to be able to create a space that converts easily between road and pedestrian plaza.

This is another section of Rue St. Catherine in the gay village. For multiple blocks beginning at Rue Berri the street has been shut to car traffic from May until September in order to create a pedestrian street where the many bars and restaurants in the area are able to extend their patios. The result is an amazingly vibrant area filled with all sorts of people. We drank many a beer and people-watched along this strip, as it was busy even late into weekday nights.

Montrealers seem to love their patios (who doesn't, actually?) and examples abound all over the downtown. Sometimes it's just a few tables and chairs out on the street and sometimes it's more formal, like in the above picture. While it makes walking the crowded streets sometimes difficult, it definitely adds to the atmosphere and makes for a more interesting walking experience. Plus, you get to see what everyone is eating.

Public Space

Montreal's waterfront, while still littered with industrial remnants, has some really great spots with wide walking and biking promenades and plenty of green space to sit. However, it didn't really feel all that coherent to me, meaning that as I walked along the waterfront there wasn't a sense of unity between all the different pieces. There were a few gems, though, like the small pond/canal featured above.

The area around Place des Arts, where much of the jazz festival takes place, has really bloomed with public spaces since I was there last. There are a lot of plazas, including the one above with some cool water spurts that glow different colours at night. The area consists of a bunch of medium to large-sized public spaces, some with grass, but most with hard surfaces, that all connect up to each other. My other favourite, which I didn't manage to get a picture of, was a grassy field with a strip of sidewalk down the middle that oozed water vapour that was lit up different colours at night. Biking through the fog was a good way to cool down on a hot day.

Here's a strange piece of public art on Rue St. Catherine. The letters looked randomly placed until you stood in the right spot and they coalesced into a sentence. If only I knew French.

And of course there is the square at the Berri-UQAM subway station that turns up in many a tourist photo of Montreal. This square has a sloping grassy hill complete with water features and a hard surface plaza on which you can play oversized chess. At night they moved in a giant movie screen and played Persepolis while a truck nearby handed out free food to those who needed it.


I only took the (bouncy--it has tires!) subway system once in Montreal. The rest of the time I was on a Bixi bike or walking. Twelve dollars bought a three-day subscription to the system, and, with the amazing and connected separated lane network, I could get virtually anywhere I wanted in the city without feeling squeezed by traffic. There was a Bixi station on almost every block, so we didn't have to worry when we went somewhere about where to park. It seemed like every third bike that road by (and a lot of people ride bikes in Montreal) was a Bixi bike.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's All in the Details for Vancouver's Sea Wall

(This article originally appeared on OpenCity on August 17, 2011)

Vancouver has always been good at paying attention to the smaller design details that work to make up the larger picture. A walk along the lengthy, winding and continuous seawall that envelopes the downtown core and parts of False Creek is a lesson in details, with well-designed street furniture, beautifully landscaped parks, scatterings of public art, and a thoughtfully integrated system for both pedestrians and cyclists. It’s often said that Vancouver is a city that lives on its edges, and the seawall definitely helps propagate that.

On this particular trip, I was interested in checking out the new portion of the seawall at the site of the Olympic Village neighbourhood (now just called The Village). The area had been under construction for several years and then cordoned off during the Olympics, so I hadn’t gotten much of a chance to wander around the completed site. The stretch of the seawall along the neighbourhood is some of the best in the city, and, with the proximity to the mid-rise buildings that make up the Village, one that exudes the most urban feeling.

The thing that makes this portion of the seawall so charming is the attention to different details and how they all creatively fit together. Several different materials are used from wooden planks to grass to interlocking brick to sand to granite. The combinations create an interesting and ever-changing texture as you move from one portion to another, allowing also for different levels and separations between uses (lounging, cycling, walking).

The street furniture is comfortable and also ingeniously playful. For example, the metal chairs positioned on the board walk itself are rooted to a pole that allows the chair to spin in circles, so you can face whichever direction you want (or, if you’re me, spin around so fast you make yourself sick). And the street furniture ranges from single chairs, to benches with backs, to benches without backs, to stone blocks. The true accomplishment is how much variety is found without the space feeling disorganized or cluttered.

My favourite example of creativity is found in the long, wooden wave decks about one metre across that dipped every so often to create the perfect spot to fit a reclining body. We’re so accustomed these days to seeing street furniture that seems like it was designed so that no one would want to sit or lie down on it for very long, so it’s refreshing to come across something obviously made for people to be comfortable and enjoy themselves. Imagine that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Streets Gets New York Moving

(This article originally appeared on Spacing Toronto, August 15, 2011)

On my recent trip to New York I found myself walking Broadway on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, negotiating the sidewalk amidst hordes of people and attempting to stay out of the way of what I have come to think fondly of as the dance between New York’s homicidal drivers and its suicidal pedestrians and cyclists.

So it was with much relief that my travelling partner and I stumbled upon the fourth annual Summer Streets, a Saturday shut down of Park Avenue and connecting streets between Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park (roughly the equivalent distance of shutting down Yonge St from Front St all the way to Eglinton Ave). As a Streetsblog NYC video shows, shutting cars from the street allows for cyclists, pedestrians, joggers, rollerbladers, and parents with children from all over the city and the surrounding area to flood out into the normally hectic street and enjoy themselves.

We rented—if you can call a free rental a rental—bikes and suddenly the open road was ours for the next hour (if we didn’t bring back the bikes in an hour they charged our credit card one dollar per minute. Ouch).

There are five rest stops along the route where, if you are so inclined, you can partake in activities like the “Belly, Butt, and Thigh Workout” or “Barefoot Running” or “Salsa Lessons”. Since we only had an hour before we began to lose our lunch money with each late minute, we zoomed past these rest stops, which were packed with people and music.

Many cross streets were also shut down, but since the stretch of closed roadway cut through so much of lower Manhatten, a few remained open to allow traffic through. There were volunteers at each of these crossings holding Stop/Go signs as well as traffic police posted to make sure cyclists and pedestrian didn’t accidentally coast through. It might have been the only time in New York that I saw cyclists stop for red lights. Or drivers and pedestrians, actually. The only thing crazier than New York cyclists are New York drivers and New York pedestrians.

After the experience of New York’s famously clogged streets, it was amazing to fly down this wide road with thousands of other cyclists. This was a great way to see a large swath of New York and experience the city in a way that is impossible on a regular basis. As we made our way through the elevated roadway around Grand Central Station, we were treated to a view of the normally busy New York streets.

Could we do this in Toronto? When I moved to Toronto, I was immediately impressed with the amount of street shut downs in the summer for street festivals, but would the city be so keen on shutting down multiple kilometres of central roadway so people could ride their bikes and walk?

Spurred on by Bogotá's Ciclovía, these car-free events have been popping up all over the world. Vancouver is attempting their version of this with LiveStreets, which sees eight kilometres of roadway shut down to cars from Kitsilano to Commercial Drive through the downtown core. Not only does this encourage people who may be too timid to get on their bike and ride, but it shows a different kind of possible city, one that gives space back to people.

I went back to Park Avenue a few days later. It was filled with cars, the pedestrians all crammed onto the sidewalks. I saw few cyclists. The air was filled with the sounds of honking.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Walking New York's High Line Park

I know, I know. The High Line, right? So sick of hearing about it. Or, maybe you're not. Maybe you're like that one person I met on my recent trip to New York that had never heard of it. A New Yorker that hadn't heard of the High Line. Kind of like a Torontonian that hadn't heard of the CN Tower. I kind of wanted to slap him.

However, I'm going to assume you've heard of it and don't want to read something else that talks about its innovative reuse of old infrastructure and blah blah blah. I'm just going to show you some pretty pictures.

I walked the High Line twice on my trip, and, if it were legal, I would live there. I wanted to fold it all up, accordion-style, and bring it back to Toronto with me. But then I realized that once unfolded here in Toronto, Rob Ford would probably pave over all the grass and turn it into an elevated highway. Best it stays in New York for now.

As 30 Rock's Liz Lemon so aptly puts it: "I want to go to there."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Photo: TTC Completion Date Accountability Tagger

Just a friendly reminder from an apparently disgruntled Spadina Station TTC rider.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sherbourne Common, Nightclub Edition

It's official. I love Sherbourne Common.

While the park is sure a beaut' of a public space during the day--with its whimsical play equipment, water canals, splash pad, and groundhog sitings--it turns into a whole other beast at night when coloured lights play off the falling water of Jill Anholt's sculptures. Some of the lights even change from blue to green when you walk past them. For a full review of the new waterfront park, check out my article on Torontoist.

Here's a few pictures I took when I was there last night to wet your whistle.