Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.
There’s a speed bump on Crawford Street, not long before the one-way road cuts through the northernmost edge of Trinity Bellwoods Park. After drivers lurch over the bump, explains Martin Reis, they often pick up speed fast, accelerating towards Dundas, through and past a small crossing that joins the isolated north-west tip of Trinity Bellwoods with the park as a whole, a crossing frequented by slow-moving seniors headed for nearby residences.
Or, at least, that might be how it used to be. Now, about ten metres after the bump, there’s a big white “WHOA!” on the road warning drivers to slow down for the crossing ahead, with the dot of the exclamation point bearing the initials URS—Urban Repair Squad, the same mysterious pack who changed the TTC’s bike philosophy and the city’s garden welcome. The crossing that follows another ten metres after the “WHOA!” is even more dramatic: what was once an empty road is now a small painted-on river connecting the divided parts of the park, a flourish of white and blue and a clever nod to the creek that’s buried underneath it.
The whole thing, explained Reis, is a “traffic-calming measure.” Reis is the most—really, the only—visible face of the Urban Repair Squad, but he says he maintains distance from the work that the group does. Rather than being a participant, Reis says he’s “someone who documents their work”; “if something happens,” he told Torontoist yesterday, “I happen to be there.” This time, he says, about a half-dozen people worked on putting it all together. While they were partially inspired by the work of Montreal’s Roadsworth, the (literal) street artist who got his name turning the road and its markings into art, the Urban Repair Squad’s piece is as much about utility as it is message or aesthetics. “It has to be useful and welcomed,” Reis explains, and while its usefulness at calming traffic might take a while to prove, it’s already being welcomed by at least a few residents: Reis saw kids playing as they crossed it yesterday. (“Look mom, I’m in the river!”)
Crawford Street might not be the last road to gain a new river, either. Reis says that the piece is a “celebration of the [city’s] river system,” part of a project called “A River Runs Through” that “celebrate[s] the history of Toronto’s indigenous rivers” and that may soon trickle throughout the city. Or so Reis hears.