ABCRA efforts to remove intrusive utility installations

ABCRA’s long and frustrating efforts
to remove intrusive installations from our sidewalks

utilities in plain view - invasive infrastructure.JPG

In January 2017, a very large metal box was unveiled in Jay MacPherson Green.  This came much to the surprise of residents, as the construction work had been well hidden behind scaffolding.  

Enbridge installed the box as a replacement for a smaller underground installation.  Residents were indignant and contacted ABCRA for assistance.  We immediately began discussions with Councillor Wong-Tam to understand how this was permitted to happen and to determine what could be done to have it removed. 

ABCRA also learned that utility installations on city owned rights-of-way are governed by the provisions of the Municipal Consent Requirements (MC Requirements). We also learned that the staff at Transportation Services were drafting Universal Equipment Placement Guidelines (Guidelines) for the placement of above-ground utility equipment on public rights-of-way. 

The Guidelines are ostensibly intended to “eliminate poorly placed equipment within the streets and boulevards that detract from the enjoyment of the public realm”.  However, ABCRA’s research found a lack of adherence to the MC Requirements and the Guidelines, as evidenced by what we saw throughout our neighbourhood (see photos above).

ABCRA began a series of interactions with Councillor Wong-Tam and other city staff to rectify the unacceptable placement of the “Macpherson Bunker” and to investigate the increasing number of above-ground utility installations on sidewalks throughout Toronto. 

We reviewed the Guidelines and found them to be seriously deficient.  In particular, they were lacking appropriate notice provisions, and many of the provisions were simply not appropriate for areas of the city that had smaller lots and a denser population. There are also safety concerns regarding these gas installations on busy public sidewalks.

ABCRA sought, and received, support for our concerns from the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations (FoNTRA).  Together, FoNTRA and ABCRA made written and oral submissions about the deficiencies at the October 18, 2017 meeting of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC). You can read the submission HERE.

Thanks to our efforts, the approval of the Guidelines was deferred and PWIC asked Transportation Services to consult with ABCRA and FoNTRA, and to report directly to City Council on November 7, 2017 with this feedback.

Timeline of ABCRA’s actions advocating improvements in the placement of utility equipment in the public right-of-way:

November 3, 2017: ABCRA and FoNTRA met with Transportation Services staff, Councillor Wong-Tam and other city staff to discuss our recommended improvements of the above-ground utility equipment placement requirements.

Before November 7, 2017: ABCRA and FoNTRA made written submissions about its concerns to City Council in advance of its meeting on November 7, 2017.  The draft revisions were deferred to the December 2017 meeting of City Council.

November 26, 2017: ABCRA, FoNTRA, and the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area Association (BIA) made a joint submission to Mayor Tory and City Council asking that they should not approve the revisions and they should address the serious issues we raised. You can read the submission HERE.

The issues included: 
•      The impact of above-ground utility installations on the public realm
•      Public safety
•      The lack of advance notification to affected councillors, residents and BIAs, before above ground equipment is installed

December 5, 2017: At the city council meeting, as a result of joint efforts by ABCRA, FoNTRA, and Councillor Wong-Tam, City Council did not approve the staff-recommended revisions for the Guidelines. They sent them back to city staff for further consideration.

May 24, 2018: Without notice, the revised Guidelines appeared on the City Council agenda for approval. We were appalled to learn that Transportation Services staff had ignored virtually all the concerns previously raised by ABCRA, FoNTRA, the Yorkville BIA and Councillor Wong-Tam.  

ABCRA realized that it did not have the support of the City of Toronto Transportation Services staff to make the changes recommended by ABCRA and FoNTRA.  ABCRA decided instead to focus on requiring utility companies to give better public notification of their work as a condition of city consent to place their above-ground equipment on the public right-of-way.

ABCRA immediately wrote yet another submission to City Council about the deficiencies in the staff-recommended revisions being presented for City Council approval. You can read the submission HERE.

We also informed Councillor Wong-Tam of our continuing concerns.

ABCRA believes that providing residents with more advance information about these installations gives them the opportunity to influence these decisions on a case by case basis.  One would hope that this will result in better placement of the above-ground utility installations.

Councillor Wong-Tam raised these concerns at the May 24, 2018 City Council meeting and proposed important amendments to the Guidelines that were subsequently adopted by City Council.

The amendments include the following:
•     “When any equipment is placed in front of a park, Parks Supervisor, Councillor, Neighbourhood Association and Business Improvement Area if one is present must be notified.”  In addition, the notification provisions for above ground equipment were revised to include “any affected property owner”.
•     “The Ontario Energy Board and the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to review and update their safety standards, for above and below-grade utility infrastructure plants.  Such review to include Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requirements, age-friendly design, risks to public safety, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, and impacts to public realm and safety which may be specific to areas of high density”.

While ABCRA is not totally satisfied with the changes to the Guidelines that were ultimately adopted, we believe the requirement to notify residents’ associations, city councillors, BIAs and residents close to the proposed above ground installations will encourage discussion that will influence and improve the placements on a case by case basis.

It is now up to the public to pay attention to the notices.

It is our right to influence the decisions concerning placement of above-ground installations on the public right-of-way.  Private utility companies use this public property without cost to them.  Perhaps it is time they found better options than occupying public sidewalks.

Be aware of what is happening in your neighbourhood and let ABCRA know if you need help concerning these placements!

ABCRA is extremely grateful to Councillor Wong-Tam who continued to pursue the improvement of the Guidelines.  Thanks to her, FONTRA's and ABCRA ’s hard work some important improvements were made. We will continue to follow the progress of her requested review of important safety standards.