6 Ways to Improve Toronto’s Avenue Plan

The Broadview Avenues Plan is written up and heading to city council June 7th.

As a community, knowing what we know now, what would we say to improve the process and the plan? Here’s my thoughts, add comments to build this out. Willing to add more or revise.

So, 6 ways to improve Toronto’s Avenue plan and mid-rise guidelines:

  1. Clearly pay attention to, clarify and maintain the scope and roles of the various City departments involved with the Avenues Plan.
  2. Align Municipal plans/actions with Federal and Provincial goals on climate change and sustainable development
  3. Be clear that there is no budget attached to any Avenues plan.
  4. Implement tactical “Quick Wins” that have zero cost
  5. Focus on unique placemaking.
  6. Brief Stakeholder Advisory Committee on Toronto’s philosophy that is the foundation of the Avenues plan incl relations with the OMB

A little more detail on each:

1.Scope and Roles: 
Transportation. The scope that was presented on the website was different than the scope that council gave to transportation. “Develop transportation planning principles/vision that will improve current conditions and support future development.” is a lot different than “plan for the transportation impacts of new development”. It would have been far clearer to say upfront that Transportation’s role in the Avenues plan is strictly limited to the changes in density. Further restricting the scope it should be made clear that Transportation means cars, not cycling nor pedestrians. Cycling is to be covered under the City’s 10 yr plan which may or may not include the Avenue you are looking at. Pedestrians get consideration in that the City does an inventory of how the sidewalks are on the Avenue. Changes to that will only occur where new developments require a new sidewalk.

The Toronto Parking Authority is a wild card in the Avenues plan. At first they weren’t attending any meetings and working at cross purposes versus Heritage. The TPA will get their “Parking supports local business” mantra in the final report despite the complete lack of any evidence even if you ask for it. The TPA seems to watch Avenues plans very closely for property acquisition opportunities. With re-zoning, the property values increase and therefore the TPA stands to make some money by getting in on the action and re-selling air rights to developers. The long-term result will be underground parking garages up and down the avenue as developers put in mid-rise buildings. Is that a good thing? Depends, parking = traffic driving to and from parking, do you want more cars on your Avenue?

Toronto Heritage does an awesome job.

Be clear up front about the Mid-Rise part of the scope. Is it the foundation of the Avenues plan or is it an aspect of the plan?  If it is an aspect there will be areas where tall buildings are considered as part of the densification. If Mid-rise is the foundation of the plan then it should be very clear that no meetings or staff time should be spent considering tall buildings – it’s out of scope and a waste of everyone’s time.

2. Alignment of objectives Municipally, Provincially and Federally.
The Feds have signed up for Paris Climate Change, The Province is pushing for better planning and land use but Cities are the place where actions will yield results so it’s up to municipalities to realize these objectives. Avenue plans could be powerful tools to help achieve these things but they aren’t.

The guide for development of Avenues could be much stronger pushing for sustainable development. Efficiency comes from buildings consuming less energy and from transportation using less gas. Buildings need to be more energy efficient, they need to have incentives to create energy through solar and wind, perhaps even push energy back to the grid. Avenues plans could be incubators and testing grounds for new technologies that generate electricity from see-through solar panels or from micro-powerplants that allow the building to be off-grid (ice storm?).

Transportation in the Avenues plan has to have a comprehensive scope to improve walkability, cycling and have quantifiable objectives for vehicle reduction. Uber, Car2Go, Honk and other new transportation capabilities offer residents the ability to avoid tying up  personal capital in a owned vehicle that remains immobile 95% of its life.

3. There is no budget.
Pay attention to the line “The recommendations in this report have no financial impact.”

That means there are no actions that will happen aside from guidelines and recommendations. Residents who participate in the plan should expect to see items be pushed into other, different committees of they are already being worked on somewhere else (like the Cycling Plan).

This part can be very frustrating for residents as they see the Avenue’s problems everyday and have ideas how to fix them. Each Avenue plan that is initiated could come with a small budget that is guided by residents for Fixes, a park bench here or there, some road paint, a stop sign. Often there are little things that need addressing and quickly, the Avenues planning sessions with residents and stakeholders is the opportunity to be on top of them. Which leads us to…

4. Tactical Quick Wins
The Broadview Avenue plan started late 2013. Re-construction of Broadview’s water mains began in 2015, Broadview is currently getting new curbs, re-surfaced and painted in 2016. However because planning doesn’t connect with implementation there was no way to fit in quick wins identified by residents in the Avenues discussion into the implementation.

When major reconstruction is required on an Avenue which is in the middle of an Avenue Plan Study, a tactical action plan must be developed immediately to evaluate any potential quick win revisions to the Avenue that could be accommodated within the reconstruction. To miss this opportunity is a  waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

5. Unique placemaking.
Not every Avenue has a unique feature with the potential to make the Avenue a destination but some do. When they do then there should be a lot of time and effort placed on ensuring that unique feature is preserved, amplified and leveraged across the whole area.

On Broadview, its the old Chesterhill school house from the late 1890’s and the proximity to the Don Valley & Todmorden Mills. Although these things are identified in the plan, its not clear how far the Avenues plan will go in making use of them. There is too much time in the meetings spent on generic items like parking, and consideration of tall buildings to get focused on the unique characteristics of the Avenue.

6. The OMB
Hanging over the whole process is the role of the Ontario Municipal Board. Its not clear how powerful the Avenues plans are when dealing with a specific proposal. Also given the efforts from City and residents why does the OMB even have any decision making powers? This lack of clarity vis a vis the City’s Avenue plan and what might be possible at the OMB creates a lot of unnecessary worry throughout the meetings. Then at the last minute when the Avenues plan is at the local council, the developers drop a bunch of letters on the council stating their positions. Hardly fair to not participate in the process at all. It means that any debate will be between the developers lawyers and the city’s lawyers instead of within the community.

During the Avenues planning process the city could make it clear what the role of the OMB is, how things play out between the City and the OMB and let residents know that if they are unhappy with an appointed Provincial Board overiding the City and residents then talk to your MPP. Make the lack of clarity an issue for the MPP to deal with.

other thoughts? send them along.

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About Chris

Doing stuff online since 1994.
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One Response to 6 Ways to Improve Toronto’s Avenue Plan

  1. Dylan Fedy says:

    I am not as connected as I’d like to be with the community members who have ideas for improvements of our neighbourhood. Your point is a great one though and likely a serious frustration for those who have ideas that are not getting traction.

    “…However because planning doesn’t connect with implementation there was no way to fit in quick wins identified by residents in the Avenues discussion into the implementation.

    When major reconstruction is required on an Avenue which is in the middle of an Avenue Plan Study, a tactical action plan must be developed immediately to evaluate any potential quick win revisions to the Avenue that could be accommodated within the reconstruction. To miss this opportunity is a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.”

    Like

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