This is getting ridiculous.
I walked down Queen Street West last week with a couple of colleagues from the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, to find that the city had just installed new garbage bins absurdly deep into the sidewalk, a long way from the curb, making the sidewalk seem unnecessarily crowded.
What’s ridiculous is that the coordinated street furniture program, under which these new bins are being installed, is supposed to follow the City’s new “Vibrant Streets” guidelines, which were designed specifically to develop consistent practices for street furniture placement that would create more clear space on the sidewalks for pedestrians. Yet the results seem to be quite the opposite.
Readers may recall that last fall I put up a post about how the new transit shelters being installed under the coordinated street furniture program were eating into sidewalk space. It was happening because a) the new design was too bulky, and b) the shelters were being installed further from the curb than they needed to be.
We asked the City staff in charge of the sidewalk furniture installation to come to the Pedestrian Committee’s January meeting to talk about this problem, where they assured us that they were aware of the problem and would provide as much clear space as possible going forward. And yet now we find that whoever is actually placing the pieces of furniture is placing them inconsistently, and often far deeper into the sidewalk than they need to go.
The Vibrant Streets guidelines specify that furniture has to be placed 0.6 meters from the curb, which is already kind of deep compared to the past. The rationale is that it gives enough space that vehicles turning into the curb lane won’t knock them by accident.
We measured the placement of the new garbage cans, though, and they were way more than 0.6 meters from the curb. The one at the S-W corner of Queen and Augusta, above, was almost a meter from the curb (0.93 m), trespassing into the middle section of the sidewalk, while the one at Queen and University at the top of this post was 0.82 meters (quite a lot deeper than the old silver garbage bin behind it). You can see that the extra distance makes quite a difference to the perception of space and how deeply the garbage can intrudes into the sidewalk. (The pregnant-looking design doesn’t help, either).
What’s absurd is that this variation is unnecessary. The bin at Queen and Portland is only 0.64 meters in, and it doesn’t seem that intrusive — you can see that it sits within the first panel of the sidewalk, which is where we normally expect street furniture to reside.
Meanwhile, the cheap blue bins that the City put in a couple of years ago are consistently almost exactly 0.6 meters from the curb. If they could do it right with cheap temporary bins, why can’t they do it right with expensive permanent bins?
Where there is a boulevard or where sidewalks are wide, the placement and design of the bins probably won’t be a big problem. But many of the sidewalks most heavily used by pedestrians in Toronto are fairly narrow, and in these cases it’s really important for the City to place the new furniture carefully to maximize the available sidewalk space. There is a whole unit at City Hall devoted specifically to placing street furniture, so they should be able to get it right consistently.
The new bin’s design also seems to mean that, if they are placed on the property side of the sidewalk, they also have to stick out because they open at the back, as in this example on the N-E corner of Queen West and University. Note how the post box is nicely tucked against the wall. It would have been useful to have some variations on the design to accommodate different situations.
All photographs by Sean Marshall. Thanks also to Roger Brook for his assistance with this post.