On Monday morning, Astral Media unveiled prototypes of its new line of “street furniture” at City Hall. On Wednesday, we took a look at the garbage bins. On Thursday, we looked at the advertising pillars. This morning, the transit shelters. (Be sure also to read Christopher Hume’s review, which makes our less-than-kind assessments look like raves.)
The “Basic” shelter. (The blue “Toronto” ribbon was present for ceremonial cutting purposes only and is not part of the shelter’s design.)
As of November 1, 2006, Toronto had 1803 transit shelters with ads and 2257 transit shelters without ads. According to the street furniture Request for Proposals (RFP) [PDF], these included “about 1,000 of the new [Jeremy Kramer] design installed over the past five years and about 3,000 others of varying age, style and condition.” The idea is that the 1000 new-style ones will be kept, the 3000 older ones will be replaced, and 2000 new locations will be added, for a total of 6000 shelters.
The thing is, according to Ed Drass in Metro, the TTC currently serves 9288 stops within the city (and will surely add many more over the next twenty years), but only 10% of the 700 shelters installed in the next two years will be in new locations. The other 630 will replace current shelters. The official reason for this is that many of the older shelters have “structural problems,” which is probably true but also probably only part of the reason; there are very many older shelters throughout the city that are in solid condition but will be, in short time, replaced, for the dual sins of 1) not being designed by Jeremy Kramer, and 2) being in a high-visibility location but not showcasing advertisements. Under Astral’s plan, about 4000 of the 6000 shelters will have ads. So although the total number of shelters is going up 50%, the number with ads is going up more than 100%.
So why are ads a bad thing?
Let us quote liberally from a deputation given by the Safety Program Director of METRAC (the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) to the City’s Works Committee two years ago:
Clear sightlines allow a woman to be seen and to see. Anyone who can clearly see what is ahead and/or behind has a better chance of anticipating problems and taking evasive action. Having this information increases control and can reduce fear of the unexpected. However, sightlines are often obstructed unnecessarily, obscured by things like pillars, walls, shrubs, sharp corners, fences, and landscaped hills. This increases the fear of the unexpected and the unknown. Obstructed sightlines play a part in creating an environment of opportunity by decreasing casual surveillance and increasing the potential for surprise.
Consequently, METRAC recommended that “Sightlines of pedestrians should be ensured when the new street furniture is installed, including advertisements, garbage bins, full transparency of bus shelters” and that there should only be “Transparent glass bus shelters on all 4 sides with no advertisements obstructing sightlines.” This would, of course, be impossible under the mayor’s chosen funding model and so these concerns were two-thirds dismissed (two thirds being the proportion of shelters that will have an opaque wall of advertising).
Another mostly-ignored METRAC recommendation was that “Bus shelters should have 2 exits/entrances” in order to reduce “peoples’ feelings of isolation and areas of entrapment”:
Isolated areas induce an acute sense of fear. Not knowing who may be hiding and not knowing if anyone will see or hear you if you are threatened or assaulted contribute to this fear. Isolation can provide opportunity for a woman to be assaulted with little risk of being seen or heard.
The RFP asked that “shelters should be fully enclosed on all four sides from the roof to within no more than 40 mm of the ground, except for one doorway approximately 1.20 m wide located at the front or back of the shelter and a second exit if viable.”
The “Residential” shelter.
Astral designed five types of shelters: “Basic,” “Narrow,” “Canopy,” “Residential,” and “Streetcar Platform.” Renderings of the initially proposed versions of the first four were placed online in the spring of 2007; the only glimpse of the “Streetcar Platform Shelter,” however, is in this Windows Media video. The versions on display at City Hall appeared to be the “Basic” and “Residential.”
So how do they stack up?
The Basic manages to be sufficiently enclosed as to potentially become an “area of entrapment” and yet is open enough that the degree to which it would provide shelter is questionable, mostly due to the City’s stipulation that shelter walls hover at least 4 cm above the ground; this makes them easier to install and to clean but allows cold wind to come rushing through. The roof of the shelter is transparent, effectively rendering the structure a greenhouse on the hottest days. The original design incorporated a metal panel into the roof that would have provided a strip of shade over top the seating. For some reason, this did not make it into the prototype.
The presence of the next-vehicle display, without a contextual explanation, was misleading. Although the TTC does intend to introduce these sorts of apparatuses in the fall, Astral’s responsibilities, as per their contract, are limited to having “to cooperate with the TTC or other agencies, as required, to ensure that the Shelters are available for (and in the case of New Shelters, compatible with) the installation and maintenance of wiring and equipment required” for the devices. Astral “shall not be responsible for the acquisition, installation, or maintenance of such equipment or for the associated costs of these activities.”
The Residential is a major improvement from a safety perspective in that not only is it fully transparent, but its opening is also wide enough that it would be very difficult to become trapped inside. It also bears the same overhead panel the other shelters did in the original renderings, allowing for a little bit of shade, meaning that in the summer, these shelters will be more pleasant than the others. But in the winter (or in heavy rain) they will be brutal; you will only be sheltered from snow so long as the snow is falling straight down.
The TPSC‘s Jonathan Goldsbie will conclude his coverage with a round-up of the remaining items. All photos by Goldsbie.