It’s clear that Toronto is changing; it’s not so clear that our political leaders have noticed. The debate about the revitalization of Yonge St. in North York Centre, where the cityscape is now dominated by residential towers, highlights the problem.
‘RE-imagining Yonge’, a city initiative covering the area between Sheppard and Finch Avenues, goes to City Council for a final vote on March 26. The initiative would improve Yonge St. by widening sidewalks, adding safe road crossings, installing a bike lane, and providing benches and green space.
A key to the proposed changes is the narrowing of Yonge from six to four motor traffic lanes. This change is opposed by Mayor John Tory even though the project is consistent with Toronto’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan and a fitting response to the high number of pedestrian deaths that Tory himself has called a crisis.
Another Glass Box is a weekly roundup of urban design news in Toronto (and occasionally beyond), in bite-size pieces. It’s curated by Dan Seljak, who’s done marketing and communications work for architecture and construction companies for the last seven years—and who still loves this city enough to line up for brunch.
9:10 a.m., February 10, 1977. Chaos reigned on the platforms of Dundas station, which was jammed beyond capacity with people eager to attend the opening of the Eaton Centre. “Passengers got close to hysteria as they were dumped out into dense crowds that couldn’t get through the single open exit fast enough,” the Globe and Mail reported.
Up above, by the entrance to Trinity Square, around 4,500 gathered for the official opening ceremony. A group of trumpeters descended from a balcony, along with 16 costumed representatives of the city’s ethnic communities. Pipers from the Toronto Scottish Regiment led in the official party, then the 48th Highlanders escorted Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon, who received the loudest cheers from the crowd. McGibbon, Mayor David Crombie, and other dignitaries cut a red ribbon with scissors presented on blue velvet cushions by Girl Guides. A planned salute to the new mall by the Fort York Guard was scratched when, following a rehearsal, it was felt musket fire would frighten elderly patrons.
Something innovative is happening behind the scenes of Chicago’s restaurants, but it’s not the latest food trend. It’s the city of Chicago’s current project: they can predict which restaurant you will get food poisoning at next. Think of it like the Minority Report of food sickness—but instead of relying on “precogs” to flag the next health code violators, city staff are tapping into the power of data. The project was launched to help optimize the work of Chicago’s 36 food inspectors who are tasked with scrutinizing more than 16,000 eating establishments. Using open data, Chicago’s department of innovation and technology developed an algorithm that predicts restaurants that are most likely to violate health codes. It has been so effective that Chicago’s inspectors have been able to address critical violations an average of seven days before they occur, and diners are much less likely to contract food-borne illnesses.
This is an example of city staff tapping into the power of data to deliver better public services. Data-driven governing—using data and evidence to improve how policy decisions are made and services are delivered—is increasing in popularity as cities are pressured to do more with tighter budgets. Data-driven decision-making can help local governments develop programs that yield efficiencies, and the savings can be funnelled back into building better communities.
Toronto City Hall doesn’t rank very high when it comes to installing bike lanes, but you can’t help but be impressed by the ingenuity of excuses for inaction. Instead of bike lanes we often get statements such as “roads were built for cars” (false), “motorists are key to the success of local merchants” (false), or, more recently, “bike lanes cause climate change” (funny). One of the more difficult arguments for cyclists to counter is the necessity of bike lanes given the drop in cycling numbers during the winter. Now, even this excuse is being challenged by routine observation and data—especially where bike lanes have been installed. Based on our counts over the last two weeks (January 16–27, 2017), the Bloor bike lane was used for an average of 1,700 bike trips per day, rivalling even the summertime ridership for some bike lanes in the city.
The gist of the no-one-cycles-in-the-winter argument is that bike lanes are an inefficient use of public space. Since the argument is typically made by the auto lobby, the rationale should be dismissed with a hearty chuckle. After all, the car is a space monster virtually without equal, gobbling up massive amounts of land even when it sits idle. There are, for example, at least four parking spaces (measuring up to 330 square feet or 12.1 square metres) for every car—three of the spots are obviously empty at any given time. But as every cyclist knows, the prerequisites for auto infrastructure are far less stringent than those for cycling, which is why we were motivated to do our wintertime bike count. Our counts took place during rush hour (8–9 a.m.) on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each of the past two weeks. As with our count this past summer, even we were impressed by the results.