Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An open letter to Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University

Dear President Levy,

Often, a sad day in the city is a day in which the potential for greatness presents itself. With the news of the closing of Sam The Record Man's flagship store at Yonge and Gould Streets, an opportunity has presented itself to enact key portions of the Ryerson University Master Plan, while preserving the history of the fabled landmark.

It is no secret that Ryerson officials have been negotiating with the Sniderman family to purchase this property, and with the news of the closing, I hope a deal can be reached to bring the building into the Ryerson family. However, the building itself is not the subject of this letter. I am writing to urge you ensure that the iconic neon signs are included in these negotiation. The sign that adorns the facade of the building has been featured in commercials, music videos, and is deeply woven in the fabric of Toronto lore. It is a bittersweet that Sam's is no more, but to allow the sign to fall into disrepair in a storage shed or to be banished to a landfill would be criminal.

From an Eyeopener article dated October 14, 2006, you were quoted as saying "I think we have a responsibility to face our community and help them, not to turn our back." Sam The Record Man will always be a part of our community, and I sincerely believe that there can be no better tribute to the Sniderman family and their contributions to the area than to keep the signs and memories of this landmark visible for all to see.

Sincerely yours,

Andrae Griffith

Ryerson School of Urban & Regional Planning


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Demolition shocks buyer - Toronto Star

Demolition shocks buyer
Inspection found unstable building had bricks with mortar gone
May 23, 2007
John Goddard
staff reporter

The recent buyers of Walnut Hall want to know why the city demolished their 1850s heritage building over the weekend, ruining their restoration plans in the process.

"We're shocked," said Domenic Santaguida of Trisan Reality Corp. in Etobicoke. "We're quite disturbed by the whole thing.

"We're just trying to figure out why it had to be taken down, because we had our own people there assessing it (in the past few weeks) ...

"Obviously, public safety is No. 1, that's paramount. I assume that was the rationale."

For more than 150 years, Walnut Hall stood downtown at Shuter and George Sts., a stately three-storey red brick structure of four row houses.

Late Saturday afternoon, bricks starting spewing from the back wall.

Toronto's deputy chief building official Jim Laughlin described what happened next.

"By 6p.m., the second bay (106 Shuter St.), had collapsed into the rear yard from the first and second storeys. Two hours later, the third storey collapsed as far into the building as halfway. By 11p.m., the roof of the second unit started to fall in."

Laughlin ordered units 104 and 106 torn down at midnight. Inspectors assessed the remaining half of the structure.

Wreckers tore down 108. Inspectors assessed the last quarter again and by 9a.m. it, too, was gone.

"I was just talking to the chief building official (Ann Borooah)," city Councillor Kyle Rae said yesterday.

"She said some of the bricks are clean.

"There is no mortar on them. They were completely eaten away. There was nothing keeping the building together."

The owners could not be located over the weekend.

Santaguida and Montreal partner, Carlo Bizzotto, bought the property in March, with plans to incorporate the heritage structure into a condominium development.

"We were hoping to get this restored very quickly," Santaguida said.

"We were in the process of doing that."

He would not discuss details of the proposal, but Rae said he talked to both owners in March and was "very excited" by their plans.

"They were going to keep the heritage building and build in behind," the councillor said. "There was an approval back around 2002 (for a seven-storey condo tower) behind the building.

"They were actually saying they were going to go even higher. That made me a little uncomfortable... but they were going to keep the building."

Bizzotto, with other partners, has converted a Montreal high school and heritage paper mill into condominiums.

Walnut Hall has been boarded up for 30 years. It belonged to the RCMP for two decades.

They sold it in 1997 to two developers, one of whom was Joe Jonatan, who became sole owner and in 2002 won zoning approval for a restoration plan that included the tower.

He died of cancer in February, after which Santaguida and Bizzotto bought the property for $1.8 million.
What an interesting turn of events. Here's my understanding of the recent history of Walnut Hall.

1967 - RCMP leave the building vacant when they move their area headquarters to London.
1967 - 1997 - Walnut Hall remains vacant and unheated.
1997 - Joe Jonatan and his associates purchase the building, and declare their intentions to tear it down.
1998 - Building is declared historic.
2002 - Jonatan's development plan is approved, which would restore the building and build a condo tower.
February 2007 - Jonatan dies of cancer.
March 2007 - Santaguida and Bizzotto purchase the building, intend to restore it and build a condo tower.
May 2007 - Building begins collapsing, is taken down in the name of public safety.

This was a sad comedy of errors, but unlike an episode of Three's Company, there was not last minute save for Walnut Hall.


Monday, May 21, 2007

The fallacy of roads

Adeel on the 401

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Historic building dies of neglect - Toronto Star

Historic building dies of neglect
City's last row of Georgian townhomes collapses
May 20, 2007
Nick Kyonka
Staff Reporter

A historic block of Georgian townhouses that has stood neglected for years on Shuter St. began collapsing yesterday, forcing police to close off adjacent streets.

Conservationists have been predicting the loss of Walnut Hall to "demolition by neglect" for years. As a result of the collapse, the city's last row of 19th century Georgian townhomes will be demolished.

It's the second time in a week that police have had to deal with falling debris from a building. On Tuesday, a marble tile fell from the 54th storey of First Canadian Place, leading police to close a block of King St. W. for more than two days.

Built in 1856, Walnut Hall underwent a series of alterations between the late 19th century and the mid-1900s when the southeast corner was altered to become a storefront. In the 1980s, it was designated as a federal heritage building despite the fact that the RCMP, which owned the property at the time, had abandoned it years earlier.

In 1996, the site was purchased by developer Joe Jonatan, who made clear his plans to tear the historic building down. But the city designated Walnut Hall under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1997, putting a freeze on the intended demolition.

In the years that would come, Walnut Hall was left to slowly crumble away.

In 1999, the city issued an order for Jonatan to have the building's condition evaluated after concerns over bricks falling from the upper floors. Engineers recommended that "immediate steps be taken to demolish this building," according to a 2002 city report.

Demolition crews were never called, however, and because of the building's historical significance a fence was placed around it instead to protect pedestrians from falling debris.

Ownership of the building had changed hands in recent months, a neighbourhood resident said yesterday, causing difficulties to city officials who had hoped to get in touch with the current owner. "Hopefully they're watching the news and say, `Hey maybe it's my building,' and come down," said Bill Stamatopoulous, the city's manager of inspections.

Christopher Hume, the Star's architecture critic who has written about the building in the past, said yesterday Walnut Hall could still have served a purpose despite its structural failings.

"These are the types of buildings that are reusable and therefore there's no excuse why these buildings shouldn't be saved and reused," Hume said. "It's not like Maple Leaf Gardens which is hard to adapt to some new use. These buildings could be used as residences, offices, retail. These buildings are instantly adaptable."

Hume said modern developers could learn a lesson from the way the hall – one of the city's few remaining examples of Georgian architecture – was built to the property line, taking advantage of all available space.

"How many buildings do we have left in the city from 1856? Almost none. ... These buildings are an important part of Toronto and they have to be saved. To let them fall down, to me, is a mark of shame for the city."

Police and fire officials were first called to the scene yesterday after a passerby noticed bricks falling from the second and third storey of the four-storey building around 4 p.m., said police Staff Sgt. Howie Page.

By the time officers arrived minutes later, a hole could be seen forming on one of the walls and it wasn't much longer until the entire building appeared to sway back and forth, seemingly buckling under the pressure.

By 7 p.m., a building inspector had examined the scene and recommended the demolition.
So you are a developer, and you have purchased a property that has been declared historical. You want to build a 50-storey condo tower, but you cannot demolish the building. What do you do? You neglect the building for 20 years, in hopes that it collapses on its own. Then, you can argue that the building is too dilapidated to save. You get your 50-storey tower, and the citizens of Toronto lose touch with the heritage of the city.

As a last spit in the face of the citizens of Toronto, the building was felled, with the development advertisement still hanging from its walls.

The loss of the Walnut Hall is a tragedy that all citizens of Toronto should be concerned with. We have lost many of our historical buildings, and with each one, we lose a piece of our history - our connection to our past. If we don't understand where Toronto has been, how can we possibly strive to make things better?

The City of Toronto has the power to legislate property standards on heritage buildings, and affect repairs to those properties at the owner's expense, should they neglect these buildings. I can only hope that they use these powers, and save the city from becoming one with no traces of life before the second world war.

For an excellent article on the subject, check out Torontoist.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Green streak

Introducing GO 601. She's a Motive Power Inc. MP40PH-3C, and hails from Boise, Idaho. She's spent a fair amount of time getting ready for her debut in Toronto, and when she arrives, you'll find her working hard on runs to Milton and along the Lakeshore. Word on the street is that she and her sisters will start arriving by summer.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Bus-only lane pitched for DVP - Toronto Star

Bus-only lane pitched for DVP
City looks at opening median lane to buses alone
May 11, 2007
Paul Moloney
City hall bureau

Bus rides up and down the Don Valley Parkway may get a lot easier – and faster.

It could take a few years, but Toronto is looking at making transit-friendly changes to one of Canada's busiest roads, including a bus-only lane to unplug the congested expressway.

There's no room to expand, but officials want to squeeze buses onto the centre median lane to let transit users zip ahead of car drivers in the regular lanes.

The concept, already used in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Ottawa, would help GO Transit buses draw more passengers out of their cars, said managing director Gary McNeil.

GO runs 133 buses daily from Union Station to GO stations on the Bradford, Richmond Hill and Stouffville lines, but they're often stuck in snarled traffic on the DVP, McNeil said.

Bus-only lanes running in the median from Highway 401 to Bloor St. would help, he said.

"For a passenger, it's very attractive," he said. "There's nothing better than sitting on a bus and going by stopped traffic. You're doing something good for the environment and it's smart for you because you're going to get to work quicker."

Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) said buses currently get stuck on streets funnelling into downtown, while car drivers use the parkway as a more direct route.

"It's too compelling an argument to get into your car," she said. "We have to modify the road to make public transit more attractive, and I think this plan makes sense."

Other ideas city transportation planners are exploring:

# Ramp meters, essentially stoplights at on-ramps, similar to those on the QEW in Mississauga. Cars would be held for five or six seconds each to smooth the process of merging.

# A bare-bones GO train station at Eglinton. Studies show many residents in the burgeoning Wynford Dr. area work downtown, and a train stop would provide an alternative to cars.

# Upgrade overhead signs to provide more information on traffic conditions.

The idea for bus-only lanes came up as early as 2000, in planning for the unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Olympics.

"We're into the seventh year now, to the point where finally they're analyzing soil conditions to confirm whether we can run a bus," said Rod McPhail, the city's director of transportation planning.

There's room in the median for a bus lane in each direction. McNeil said he's confident the threat of fines and demerit points will keep motorists out of the lane.

GO Transit will pay the full cost, estimated at $12 million and considered dirt cheap as infrastructure projects go. The only thing holding things up is the need for a full environmental assessment, McNeil said.

"The mayor of the city of Toronto, I can categorically say, is very supportive of this. No one has said they don't like it."
They don't call it the parking lot for nothing, and in lieu of all day train service on the Richmond Hill, Bradford and Stouffville lines, this plan will do wonders for improving travel times and service reliability on the midday and evening bus runs. The proposed station at Wynford drive on the Richmond Hill line, combined with the transit city Eglinton line, will not only improve access to downtown, but will also give people living in York Region and heading to midtown a new transit option.

The last line of the article says it best:

"No one has said they don't like it."


Monday, May 07, 2007

Student U-pass a tough sell - Toronto Star

Student U-pass a tough sell
Some schools embrace discounted TTC Metropass as part of tuition, but some resist because you can't opt out of plan
May 07, 2007
Tess Kalinowski Transportation Reporter

They're part of the greener generation, and even the rich ones are broke most of the time.

So university and college students are a natural target for transit authorities eager to grow ridership now and in the future.

But so-called U-passes are proving a tough sell on Toronto campuses, where the TTC has been trying to work out a joint, discounted-fare deal with eight student governments since 2005.

Typically, the cost of a U-pass is included in annual student fees – no opting out.

That means students who walk, bike or drive to classes resent the higher fees. And that makes student governments reluctant to call the referendum required to adopt the U-pass system.

To complicate matters, student governments, unlike municipal or provincial politicians, change annually.

Now, as the TTC begins talks with the latest slate of student politicians, it is ready to negotiate with individual schools, said Michael Anders, TTC market research director.

George Brown College could just be the first in the city to bite: It has indicated it may be willing to move ahead with a referendum on a $60-a-month U-pass, Anders said.

Among the GTA's 11 post-secondary schools, only two suburban campuses have forged U-pass arrangements with regional transit authorities – but at significantly less cost than the TTC is offering.

Oshawa-based Durham College introduced a U-pass in September.

And last week, Mississauga Transit got city council approval for a U-pass to be issued to about 10,000 full-time students at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus starting this fall.

At $89 for the entire eight-month school year, it's a bargain over the $720 it would cost to buy monthly passes – or to park on campus, at a cost of $600 to $1,000 a year.

In the referendum, about 80 per cent of students at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus voted in favour, but organizers admit there was vocal opposition.

"But every time there's a parking increase there's a huge outcry," said graduate student Sameer Al-Abdul-Wahid.

He and the university's sustainability co-ordinator, Aubrey Iwaniw, say they expect the U-pass will alleviate the pressure on campus parking lots, while being good for the air.

"We're hopeful that a group of drivers will find transit now accessible to them," said Al-Abdul-Wahid, a graduate student who has studied at the University of British Columbia, which has had a U-pass for years.

At $60 a month, the TTC's U-pass proposal wouldn't lose money for the transit system, but it wouldn't make any, either, Anders said.

That fee is less than the $87.85 students pay for a monthly TTC pass purchased through the student government at Ryerson University – which sells about 8,000 a month. But student union president Nora Loreto wants a better deal.

Sixty dollars "is just an amount that we think is a little too high to ask our students to vote on," she said, adding that students already face mounting tuition costs and debt.

"The TTC is underfunded and students have been working with the TTC to get more funding. That's where this campaign has to go," she said.

At York University, where about 500 of the 1,660 buses that come and go on campus each day are operated by the TTC, price also remains the issue.

"A U-pass is definitely quite high on our list of priorities as we are trying to create a campus that is affordable," said Ben Keen of the York Federation of Students.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must explain how I feel about Nora Loreto, the "president" of the "student union" at Ryerson. She and her entire party ran unopposed in the last election, requiring the ballot to ask "do you support the election of X to the position of Y." Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe has, in my opinion, ran less crooked elections. If you're not going to have more than one candidate to vote for, don't waste my time with elections - or someone at least nominate the ficus.

Anyway, I support the U-Pass, even the fact that one would not be able to opt out of the program, provided that the pass you receive is transferable. I might not use it, but I can think of a dozen people I know who could use it. For sixty dollars, a transferable pass would do wonders to improve transit ridership to and from universities, especially York University, where the parking lot space rivals to footprint of the buildings on campus. One just has to look out west to see the results. At Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, transit ridership increased 48%, one-third avoided having to buy a car, and over 60% used their cars less. At the University of British Columbia, the pie graph tells to whole story:

It's worthy to note that like York University, neither SFU nor UBC have a rapid transit station - all require a connecting bus.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Daily Travels Roundup

The TTC day-pass gives you a unlimited travel for a single person on weekdays, and for a family of two adults and up to four children, or a family of one adult and up to five children on weekends and holidays. It costs $8.50, so it saves money for anyone making more than four adult trips. Here's how I put it to good use:
  • Subway from York Mills to Dundas to get a text book from my locker.
  • Subway from Dundas to York Mills to put the text book in a safe place.
  • Subway & 124 SUNNYBROOK bus from York Mills to Glendon College to meet up with some close friends.
  • 124 SUNNYBROOK bus & subway from Glendon College to Osgoode to spend a night on the town.
  • Subway from Osgoode to Museum station to get a late-night snack.
    • A short walk from Bloor & Avenue to Yonge & Bloor, where I saw a short stretch of streetcar tracks coming to the surface under the worn pavement of the intersection with Bay Street. The mystery track was turning from westbound Bloor to northbound Bay, though streetcars haven't traveled along those streets since 1966 & 1963, respectively.
  • Subway from Bloor-Yonge to York Mills to end the evening.
A few weeks later, I met some friends downtown, went east to Scarborough Centre in rush hour, then took the 131E NUGGET bus back to the subway. It's not as fast as the RT, but it's ideal for people who don't want to deal with the crowds.

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Getting serious about Sprawl

The Brampton Project