Coming Soon To A Neighbourhood Near You

It’s funny what escapes your notice when you’re looking at the bigger picture. With casinos, transit battles, a general mayoral malaise keeping my mind focussed on city wide issues, I completely missed this for months, right in my back yard. Well, OK. Not right in my backyard. My front yard, actually, and then across the street and into the nearby alley.

RioCan has descended on the west side of Bathurst Street, almost smack dab in the middle of the block between College and Dundas Streets. Nearly 100 metres of storefront, according to the National Post last October (Last October?! Where the hell was I?) and 13, 000 square metres and 3 tall stories of retail-ly goodness. Hanging over right there in my neighbours’ backyards.

Hoo-rah! My first development battle as a homeowner. You will build there over my cold, dead body!

Now, I don’t think anyone would deny that this particular strip could use some sort of facelift. It is a drab run of real estate, shabbily occupying space south of a beer store and incorporating some industrial looking buildings (including Kromer Radio, a local institution that’s been in its current location since 1974) and ending with a parking lot. Largely uninspiring, long in the tooth, somewhat decrepit even, yeah sure, let’s do something with it, gussy things up a little.

But seriously? A generic box store thingie? Really? That’s the best anyone could come up with? As the plan stands right now, RioCan has tossed a bone to local residents and businesses, giving the ground floor to small retail outlets – A Little Kensington Market Just Steps From The Heart Of Kensington Market! – while keeping the upper two floors for the type of franchise they usually favour. Loblaws? Walmart? Target?

Yes, there are probably areas of the city, neighbourhoods where such kind of stores would fit in even less. But not many. If it goes grocery, why? Kensington Market is 5 minutes away. There’s a Metro supermarket about a twenty minute walk west along College Street. For that matter, RioCan’s new development featuring a massive Loblaws is 15 minutes to the south-east by foot at Queen and Portland.

As for some sort of department store? Again, Queen Street West is a hop, skip and a jump away. If you can’t find what you need there, get on the Queen streetcar and arrive at the Eaton’s Centre in fifteen minutes or so.

This kind of development in this area of the city seems so unnecessary, redundant and not just a little intrusive.

The back of the building, ranging in proposed height anywhere from 21 to 24 metres will loom over an alley and, I imagine, similar to its front footing, nearly 100 metres or so of backyards. Aside from the usual issue of shadowing and blocking out of the morning light which the plans attempt to alleviate with the use of some setbacks, as it stands on paper right now, all the building’s mechanicals – heating, cooling etc. – impose themselves on the row of houses to the west, promising residents a motorized symphony of humming, belching and farting not just morning until evening but all through the night.

It also essentially cuts off the east-west pedestrian flow. Where you can now make your way through an alley off Markham Street through the parking lot on Nassau Street across Bathurst and into the middle of Kensington Market, those on foot or bike will have to head up either to almost College or down to Dundas in order to move make the trip. This isn’t simply about inconvenience. Essentially the building will act as a barrier between the eastern boundary of Little Portugal/Italy and the western edge of Kensington Market, serving as a division between the two neighbourhoods.

Now, I’m no Shawn Micallef but I’d say that’s just flat out bad planning. Shouldn’t the idea be to integrate development into its surrounding area? To fill in a missing piece of the puzzle in order to promote proper and sustainable neighbourhood growth? Instead, RioCan proposes to bulk down an edifice on its landing pad like a Death Star, sucking all life forms into itself.

And then there’s the vehicular traffic.

As anyone who’s ever travelled that portion of Bathurst Streets knows, whether by car, streetcar, bike or foot, it already can be a nightmare. Now RioCan wants to introduce some 300 or so underground parking spots into the mix at one entry point (for both customers and delivery trucks) at the south of the development. So picture this, a regular stream of northbound cars on Bathurst, further snarling up traffic, waiting to make a left turn into the parking lot. The southbound right lane bottles up traffic in that direction, waiting to make their way in.

Right now, cars exiting the street level parking lot on that spot are prohibited from turning left onto Bathurst or going straight onto Nassau. The proposal wants two lanes of exiting traffic, north and south but it’s not difficult to imagine drivers, seeing the mess on Bathurst will push straight forward into Kensington Market in an attempt to escape the madness. A radiating circle of traffic snarls in a location already burdened by them.

That the initial traffic impact study submitted was rejected by the city is telling. One of the reasons given, apparently, was that the study didn’t look at traffic patterns on Saturdays, a seemingly egregious oversight since, you know, we’re talking retail here. Saturdays are kind of their go-to time, aren’t they? It causes one to wonder if RioCan was trying to avoid a serious discussion about what could turn out to be a major, major sticking point.

“What I can tell is the result of broader retailers’ desire to locate in the core,” RioCan vice president Jordan Robins said last fall, “is that they had to adjust their prototypical format to suit an urban environment.” He talked of a ‘seismic shift in retail development’ in order to adapt what is typically a suburban approach to an urban setting. Yet there’s little evidence of any sort of shift in mindset with this particular development. It still caters to car dependency in an area surrounding on 3 sides by public transit. The proposed building imposes itself rather than blends in or compliments its surroundings. If one of the usual RioCan tenants sign on as the signature outlet, it’ll bring almost nothing new or original to the area.

Despite their bland assurances to the contrary, it seems like RioCan is attempting to adjust the urban environment to their prototypical format rather than the other way around. Hardly surprising then when they meet with the inevitable resistance from local residents and business. Being a bad neighbour will tend to elicit that response.

residently submitted by Cityslikr

Biking The Rossi Way

Last night I was thinking of Rocco Rossi.

Biking enthusiast, bike lane antagonist, earlier this year on the campaign hustings the mayoral candidate vowed to put an end to any further intrusions onto arterial roads by bike lanes. In fact, he suggested he might even tear up existing ones while he was at.

Now, don’t get Mr. Rossi wrong. It’s not that he hates bicycles or cyclists. He is an avid one himself, he assures us. They just shouldn’t be taking up space on our busy roads, making it difficult for the suburban drivers that Rossi’s desperately courting to zip into work in the morning and back home again at night. What he would take away with one hand, however, Rossi would give back with the other, vowing “to expedite building more bike lanes, but on quieter streets.”

Which is why he was on my mind in the early hours of this morning.

Hours after World Cup 2010 came to a merciful conclusion with a predictably dreary final game, I found myself zipping down an off road bike lane in a south south-east direction along the Bloor Go line, heading to Little Italy from Silverthorne. I’d only previously got a glimpse of the path a couple times when crossing over the tracks on Dundas Street West as it takes a northerly turn. Now I was on it, and loving it and thinking that, hey, if Rocco Rossi can build us a bunch of these, I will happily forgo street travel with all its inherent dangers and annoyances.

The bike lane is a particular slice of urban heaven. A smooth ride along an unpotholed path, it takes you past quiet little neighbourhood streets, converted factories, a couple derelict – or rather, transitional – sites, all wrapped up in wild, city appropriate landscaping (I know nothing of flora) and metal artwork placed throughout. It is well lit and as I rode, taking in the surroundings, I could just imagine doing this as the new electrified trains shoot past me on their way to destinations throughout the GTA. Oh wait, right. They’re not doing that.

That bummer thought aside, there’s little question that from a biking standpoint, this would be the way to get around town. I’m told the city’s ultimately going to take the lane along the tracks all the way down to Strachan Ave. not far from the lakefront trail. Again, you go, girl. I am right there with you. The more you can keep my interaction with cars to an absolute minimum, the more I’m on board.

This is exactly what I’m thinking as I pull up and off the trail and back onto the road for a left turn onto College Street. So how’s this all going to work under Rocco Rossi’s War on Arterial Bike Lanes®™© scheme? Clearly we can’t have off road bike lanes everywhere in the city. That would necessitate questions of expropriation and people apparently get a little touchy over that kind of talk. Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home? If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars? Because this is his biggest argument against bike lanes on arterial roads, isn’t it? The inconvenience it causes to those driving cars.

It certainly can’t be a safety issue as there would be no evidence to back such an argument up. In fact, while Rossi competes with Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson to see who can be the biggest urban planning Luddite, much of the rest of the civilized world is going in the completely opposite direction. Many places are experimenting with seriously mixed use roadways, de-curbed level surfaces devoid of much signage where motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians share streets equally. The onus is on the biggest, fastest, most lethal mode of transport to adjust its behaviour accordingly, operating under the premise of expecting the unexpected. From this, emerge more livable streetscapes.

Instead, candidate Rossi wants to relegate bikes to the periphery, making any necessary foray onto the main roads that much more dangerous. Drivers get used to not having to deal with bikes. Drivers become inattentive. Cyclists are in greater danger.

But the lack of Big Idea, forward thinking is simply a matter of fact during this election race. And the candidates wonder why they can’t light a fire under the electorate. Rather than attempt to bridge the car-bike (suburban-urban) divide, they endeavour to exploit it for political gain. So that we are offered only a fleeting look at how things could be (riding the briefest of stretches down a well designed bike lane) while having to make due with a steady diet of the grimmest, dullest, perfunctory realities.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat