Concrete Blues

By Brian Fawcett | April 14, 2005

People who live in Toronto keep hearing about budget shortfalls at City Hall, and most of us are painfully aware that the City can’t afford to clean the streets or maintain all those crumbling “traffic calming” bumps and obstructions the muffler companies talked them into installing everywhere. Personally, I don’t complain much that they’re raising my property taxes while they’re cutting services, because I understand that they’re being squeezed by the provincial and federal governments. But the current sidewalk improvement project down on College Street is going too far.

It’s bad enough that they rebuilt the sidewalks a few years ago and then dug them up the next because one City Hall line department didn’t co-ordinate programs with the next, or didn’t bother to contact the gas companies to see what improvements they’ve got planned. Last year they tore up the street to rebuild the streetcar tracks, and should have done this work at the same time. The disruptions have killed several businesses, and are seriously annoying residents.

And who benefits from these upgrades? Well, I’m sure those new concrete street-crossing runways they’re installing will be a big boon to those in motorized wheelchairs. They won’t have to slow down while they’re crossing from one sidewalk speedway to the next, and will now be able to transit the entire length between Ossington Avenue and Bathurst Street without dropping below 60 KPH, and won’t have to sully their tires with anything other than concrete and in-the-way human body parts. And I suppose the ever-popular bicycle lobby will be gratified at the reduced car parking and intersection obstruction that will result. They’ll probably like the designated bike lanes they’ll get, too, although there’s a movement afoot among the locals to put the bike lane between the streetcar tracks–not just for the entertainment value, either. But after watching the concrete trucks coming and going for a week or two, I’m pretty sure the real profit-takers from all this are going to be the concrete contractors.

The contractors also seem to be enjoying being in control of the street a little more than is seemly. They’ve been blocking off sidestreets two days before they start work on the intersections, presumably to let the pavement “settle”, or some such duped-up explanation, and they’re clearly intending to lay down the concrete road underpad along the whole stretch before they bring in the asphalt-laying equipment. That’s convenient for them, not so convenient for anyone living in the area.

What isn’t clear is if there’ll be any improvement in the way the street renovations will tend to the needs of the boulevard trees, which die off regularly along the stretch. One would have expected an irrigation system to go in, and slightly raised lips on the containment to keep salt out of the soil reservoirs, but I don’t see anything resembling those. And I’ll be interested to see if they brick the trees in again instead of installing protective grates that let some of the rain into the roots. The City of Toronto’s logistical planning being what it is, they’ll probably rip out all the sidewalks again next year to install the irrigation system.

What’s my point here? Maybe I’m just venting at a project that was never vetted within the neighbourhood before it was announced. And maybe I’m growing a little irritable with a government that continues to fund frilly infrastructure improvements while its ability to maintain them continues to wither. Where I come from, when you’re broke, you stop the capital projects and look for ways to simplify whatever you can. You stop supplying the French maids with silk uniforms and you stop installing automatic dishwashers in the kitchen. But you still call in the plumber when the pipes break, and you don’t fire the janitors. Mayor David Miller and local councillor Joe Pantalone can’t seem to get their heads around this piece of common sense.

649 words April 14, 2005


  • Brian Fawcett

    Brian Fawcett (1944-2022) is a founding co-editor of He's the author of many books, including "Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow" (1986), "Gender Wars" (1994), "Virtual Clearcut, or The Way Things Are in My Hometown" (2003), "Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and other Non-Globalized People, Places, and Ideas" (2003) and "Human Happiness" (2011).

Posted in:

More from Brian Fawcett: