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37 Comments

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Reining in the Info-less Info Pillars

Small steps in the fight against the too-large, too-bright additions to our streets.

Side view of the information pillars; this one is near the southwest corner of King and Jarvis.

Joining the ranks of rejected garbage bins with huge ad panels, transit shelters that don’t shelter, and push-pedal garbage bins that have been falling apart at an alarming rate, lately Torontonians have been confronted with a new form of failure in our street furniture: giant “InfoToGo” pillars.

Today though, there were a couple of very small signs of progress for those who are fighting the proliferation of these large, largely information-less pillars. The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, recognizing that these pillars are, well, giant monstrosities (they were more polite about it) which also create real impediments for pedestrians and blindspots for cyclists and drivers, passed two measures aimed at taming the pillars at least a tiny bit.

  • They instituted a requirement that City staff must review and approve installation plans before new pillars are put on the streets, so that they can check for obstructions and otherwise ensure the pillars meet location requirements.
  • They have asked City staff to look into whether the contract with Astral Media, who is responsible for these pillars, permits them to request design changes to the pillars; staff will report back this spring on any options council might have.

Councillors seemed by and large surprised when the pillar installations began—the design snuck through during a busy council meeting last year without much debate, and some have admitted to having second thoughts about their votes once presented with the big, bright signs in person.

The pillars are part of an overall contract the City has with Astral regarding street furniture, the goal of which is to generate ad revenue for both parties while providing some key pieces of infrastructure. Astral is required to provide 120 information pillars in total, and the City is expected to net approximately $1.2 million from them this year.

Comments

  • care

    What is Astral expected to net from from the 120 information pillars?

    • Anonymous

      The City gets 32% of gross revenues; Astral gets the remainder.

    • Anonymous

      Animosity.

  • TOian

    Other than the obstructions, it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same damn bell ad every time. Plenty of cities plaster themselves with billboards, but in Paris or London or NYC I see different ones every where I go. Not Bell, Apple, Bell, Apple, Bell, Bell, Bell, Bell, Apple.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks again, Mayor Miller. You were the greatest!

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    Astral’s street furniture is one example of the type of arrangement usually labelled a “public-private partnership”, or P3.

    As instruments for getting infrastructure from highways (the 407) to street furniture built, P3s could marshal more resources than government could on its own. But it’s telling that the city’s authority to order design changes is only considered now, after the contract is awarded and, perhaps, immutable. I feel like this sort of omission regarding oversight is not uncommon.

    Without due diligence by the awarding government to preserve public control of public objects, P3s are not truly partnerships but instead wholesale privatization, only reversible at great cost.

    • Anonymous

      We paid off the 407 all by ourselves. The privatization was only to make Harris’ books look better. We didn’t get anything we couldn’t have gained by ourselves, and now we have the government acting as a bill collector for a foreign corporation and expropriating private property for the same corporation.

      I have never seen an example of a P3 scheme that wasn’t about privatization, and the theft of public assets, or a way of getting the government to take the risk while the company takes all the profit. It’s a scam, and always has been. Maybe I’m wrong, I’d love to hear some examples where the public truly was better off.

      • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

        In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m also a skeptic of P3 arrangements, for exactly the reason you say—the people most often seen to be involved in them are looking to make a quick buck. ORNGE is another horrible example.

        But I have to admit that from engineering, economic or project management perspectives, there is no reason it should not be possible to develop a working P3 that achieves better results with lower total cost to the public. That is is why I said they “could” work. The flaw is in the politics, not the concept.

        Maybe it requires a government that’s as skeptical as you or I and refuses to be scammed. Certainly the Fords, with their privatize-anything-not-nailed-down approach, are not going to apply due diligence; and even Miller & co. didn’t manage to include proper oversight in the Astral contract.

        • Anonymous

          Lot’s of things are great in theory. It’s just when you get human beings involved that things get messed up. This concept has been around long enough to know that it doesn’t work. Communism is a great idea until you actually apply it. Free trade agreements were supposed to make us better off, but in reality, we lost a lot of good paying jobs, our governments are all in debt, but the GDP did rise! Yeah! I think its time for P3 schemes to be put in the same file as cold fusion. Let us know when you’ve got something concrete to show.

  • Anonymous

    hopefully next time Torontoist posts about these eyesores it will be in the Vandalist section

  • http://www.facebook.com/PositiveNRG Christopher King

    Yeah, this was most definitely a stupid maneuver by Astral & the City of Toronto
    I’m more surprised that Astral thought they’d get away with it.

    • Canadianskeezix

      “I’m more surprised that Astral thought they’d get away with it.”

      Huh?

      What, pray tell, did Astral “get away with”? They are an ad company that competed for a public tender, won the bid, and entered into a contract with the City to supply street furniture. One of the terms of the contract was that Astral could install info pillars on the streets. When Astral redesigned the pillars, it sought, and obtained, City Council approval. I’m not aware of Astral having broken any laws or violated any terms of the contract.

      If you are unhappy with the pillars, blame the last round of City Councillors who approved the contract. Or blame the current round of City Councillors who approved the redesign. Or blame the voters in Toronto for not demanding better.

      But to suggest that Astral got away with something suggests that you have misunderstood the issue.

      • Anonymous

        I disagree entirely. Obviously the point of having these signs perpendicular to the street is that they are unavoidable to your eye. You have to walk around them, or pay extra attention when driving. There is a reason why these kinds of billboards have never been used. They’re unwieldy and unsafe and unpleasant.

        When I read the comments “get away with”, I read them as “putting something in place that most citizens would say no to if they had a chance to have a say”. In that sense, so far they’ve gotten away with it, but there will be a backlash.

        If our councilors did not bet the best deal, did not exercise proper oversight, or whatever else you want to blame on them, then, absolutely Astral “got away with” something. Your insistence on misunderstanding what someone is trying to say suggests that you have something to gain by defending the actions of Astral Media and trying to place all the blame on the elected government. Astral Media is responsible for the actions it takes. If people don’t like what they’re doing to our public spaces, then they deserve to hear about it, and hopefully lose their contract.

        • Anonymous

          Without city council approval in every step of the process this couldn’t have happened. City council voted for this, city council approved the designs (both). Why are you hellbent on giving council a free pass on this?

          • Anonymous

            I’m not hellbent on giving council a free pass on this. I am hellbent on not giving AM a free pass on this. Just because someone gives you permission to do something ugly, unsafe and greedy doesn’t make it not ugly, unsafe and greedy. I don’t trust our representatives to do the right thing every time, and this is a very good example of that. However the post I was responding to was of the variety that says that governments are incompetent and everything bad that happens is because of our elected officials and corporations bear no responsibility because they are morally neutral, therefore we should have less government and let the morally neutral money maker/job creators make all the decisions, and if they do something wrong, well, then it was governments fault for letting them do it and further proves how incompetent democratic governments are and how we should just keep trusting the will of the market.

          • Anonymous

            I see. I agree with almost everything you say, except in this case I do believe the gov’t is at fault. By the nature of (especially) the advertising business, this is the default — Not right I know.

            I think in this case more gov’t prudence could have avoided this, but Astral’s just being like every other corporate entity out there.

    • Guest

      I’m with torontothegreat and Skeezix here that Astral is not in the wrong – they are working within approvals granted by council. Ford has 1/45 or 2.22% of the council vote so you can’t solely blame him.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s recall that when the bidding for this contract happened, Astral was picked almost solely because they made the best financial offer. The other, more experienced, companies bidding were shocked at Astral’s bid when it became public. Comments were along the lines of “Astral has never done this sort of project before, they obviously have no idea what the costs and returns will be. The city is foolish for picking them.” As I can’t think of a single stage of this change that has gone smoothly for either party, those comments look pretty prescient. Maybe next time the city will look at something other than raw numbers… oh wait, they already did those terrible surveys last year with an inexperienced company because it was so much cheaper.

    • Anonymous

      “Astral has never done this sort of project before”

      Not true. Montreal.

      • jessy

        They only have ad pillars in Montreal. No litter bins. No Transit shelters or any transit relates projects. This was a first for them and a very large gamble. They are in a very deep hole now…

        • Anonymous

          Sorry I took the OP’s comment that they have not done anything remotely like this. As in first time doing any sort of street furniture, regardless of the details (info pillar vs. park bench). They obviously have done things that require warehouses, furniture stock and operations/logistics.

          “they obviously have no idea what the costs and returns will be”

          lol, yea right. Astral isn’t looking at this as ROI, this is a marketing investment to prop up their street furniture product. They WILL lose a tonne of money, but that’s irrelevant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paullloydjohnson Paul Lloyd Johnson

    I think there needs to be a very public Facebook campaign where people threaten to boycott companies that advertise on these pillars

    • Anonymous

      I wonder how many people would go along with that. I gotta say, I really don’t care one way or the other about the pillars, and I can’t relate to the visceral reactions about them. If push comes to shove I guess I find them mildly annoying. But, meh. They are neither uniquely ugly nor the only thing on the street to look at.

    • Anonymous

      Too late, I already boycott Bell.

    • Anonymous

      I’d prefer a secret meatspace campaign where people paint over or replace the ads…

    • http://www.facebook.com/cassandra.damiris Cassandra Damiris

      “Be the change you want to see in the world” or something to that effect : ) I have my own personal boycott list of companies that offend me with their advertising.

      • Anonymous

        Hope that you’re able to afford your phone bill if one of those companies on the list is Bell, Cassie.

  • Anonymous

    These “pillars” of “info” are a blight that is causing bottlenecks to pedestrian traffic.

  • http://www.yasmary.com/ yaz

    They’re ugly. But they might be useful if they had a map at the very least. Also, if they had been installed parallel to the sidewalk, instead of that awful angle.

    • Jacob

      They probably were designed by a marketing droid, to “maximize exposure”, and probably without any input from a civil engineer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cassandra.damiris Cassandra Damiris

      Yes, I agree…parallel to the sidewalk so we can’t see them at all!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bryan-Cook/507835870 Bryan Cook

    I am really getting sick of the “Broken” or “Not working” comment about the garbage cans. I am truly the only person smart enough to operate these devices? You step on the peddle, it opens you stick garbage in. So far they have never failed me.

    Also the bulk of the shelters are fine with some notable mistake like King and Jarvis (Which is only a wall) or Yonge and Dundas which shelters you from the streetcar you are waiting for.