Update – May 11th, 2012: Effective immediately, this is no longer an active TPSI project. This project has been handed off to our community partners. For more information, please contact Gord Brown (brownge ‘at’ sympatico.ca)
NOTE: Info Pillars will be discussed at the May 16th Public Works and Infrastructure Meeting, and public representatives and disability groups are expected to express concern with Staff proposals. For details on the upcoming Public Works and Infrastructure Meeting where the Info Pillars will be discussed, please see this link. For the HVRA submission please see this link.
In 2012 the city initiated the installation of 120 way-finding Info Pillars as part of its street furniture program. The way-finding pillars were meant to serve Toronontian’s and tourists by providing local transit, attraction, and business information on an easy to read map.
The pillars fell short of their promise by prioritizing advertising instead of providing residents a strong way-finding platform. In addition, the Info Pillars appeared to violate basic tenets of accessibility, traffic and pedestrian safety, and functionality, as well as public consultation standards, many of which are contained in the city’s own Vibrant Streets Guidelines. In addition, the city intended to install 120 ‘other pillars’ in addition to the Info Pillars, to do what the original pillars were meant to do; that is provide information and not advertising, raising concerns about cost efficiency and good planning.
TPSI and community partners advocated for the replacement of the Info Pillars with high quality information pillars that complied with the Vibrant Streets Guidelines while addressing serious safety, accessibility, aesthetic, and efficiency concerns.
The following links contain the official Toronto Public Space Initiative recommendations, a letter from the Harbord Village Resident’s Association, a letter from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Annex Resident’s Association, and the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation on this matter. In addition, Easter Seals Ontario and Toronto’s Design Review Panel also wrote letters to PWIC on the matter.
The TPSI Advocacy Division, along with community partners, successfully secured:
- an effective freeze in the installation of new InfoToGo Pillars on January 4th 2012 (ongoing)
- removal of Info Pillars that blocked sight-lines, threatening traffic and pedestrian safety
- having this item sent back to Staff for rework three times (so far)
In addition, TPSI worked with community partners to achieve the following actions-in-progress:
- mandating Staff to report on the feasibility of design changes, including contractual obligations, for the Info Pillar program to address concerns raised
- developing stricter Pillar placement guidelines, in accordance with the Vibrant Streets Guidelines and Accessibility Design Guidelines
- requiring Staff to report on a revised installation plan for the remaining Info Pillars
- stricter requirements for all safety and sightline matters (for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists) in new placement guidelines
In 2006, the city worked with the public to develop informed and principled Vibrant Streets Guidelines. These guidelines were meant to direct the design and placement of Toronto’s new street furniture program, awarded to Astral media in 2007, in a way that proactively addressed public realm concerns. This summer, however, council adopted a staff recommendation that led to the rushed installation of 120 significantly-redesigned Info Pillars by 2012 that violated basic principles of the publicly developed guidelines.
The new redesign contained far more advertising and less information than the Info Pillar design that was approved in the original contract, effectively making the new design a sidewalk billboard, as well as causing a host of other safety and accessibility problems. Showing great disregard for these concerns, Astral Media described the new pillar as an opportunity for advertisers to ‘Own the downtown Toronto core’ with the new pillars which ‘are positioned inches away from the street with best possible sight lines for motorists and pedestrians alike’ in the ‘busiest corridors’ of Toronto.
The ‘rushed’ installation of all 120 pillars was also noteworthy. The original installation schedule was set to have 70 by year-end 2011, with 25 more in each of 2012 and 2013. The change in plans was suggestive of an attempt to get permanent advertising on the street before the public can react.
Vibrant Street Guidelines vs. Sidewalk Billboard Fact Sheet
Select Media Coverage
Critics peeved over new sidewalk ‘information pillars’, Dec 28 2011, Globe and Mail.
Toronto’s new info pillars block sidewalk with ads, Nov 16 2011, Deconstructed City.
The Information Free Info Pillar, Nov 14 2011, Torontoist.
Is this really an ‘info’ pillar?, Nov 10 2011, Spacing Magazine.
Hume: new assault on public realm, Nov 28 2011, Toronto Star.