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March 11th, 2012 · 1 Comment

CRITICS SAY InfoToGo PILLARS ARE MERELY ADS

Many InfoToGoPillars are standing at spots around the downtown core. Perry King/Gleaner News

By Mike Shulman

The growing presence of pillars with reduced information and more advertising have drawn the ire of public space advocates, city councillors, and local residents and businesses.

Critics of the pillars, installed by Astral Media, say they give priority to advertising while neglecting safety, sidewalk access, and their ostensible purpose of providing a way-finding system to local area residents and tourists.

“They are basically advertising pillars. The information is on the spine of the pillars that supports the advertisement. People who have tried to use the maps are complaining that they’re basically confusing and completely ineffective,” said Jayme Turney, executive director of the Toronto Public Space Initiative (TPSI).

The majority of the issues surrounding the pillars have surfaced since a redesign was proposed by Astral and approved by city council last July.

The controversial redesign features a reduction in the information panel by 50 per cent and an increase of the size of the advertising panel by 60 per cent.

The previous design, titled InfoToGo Pillar, featured a 3×5 advertising panel and a large information component. Only five of these were built in total before the redesign was pursued.

According to public space activist Gord Brown, the InfoToGo design was meant to be installed in parks, outside major buildings, and tourist areas, but it was “never really intended that they were going to try and jam them onto narrow downtown sidewalks.”

The city’s public works and infrastructure committee (PWIC) asked that a report be developed on the viability of design changes, and contractual obligations in order to address the concerns raised by the public and create a better way-finding strategy. On Jan. 4, public works voted unanimously at their meeting prevent the installation of further pillars.  Council will vote on Feb. 6. on whether the pillars should have additional approval before being installed.

Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) is against the pillars and says this is what occurs when “the city has sold its sidewalks to an advertising conglomerate.”

Ron Hutchinson, senior vice president of real estate at Astral, concedes that “yes, the ad-panel is larger than it was in the original design,” but according to him, “it is the same size as the transit ad-panel and there is no increase in the amount of advertising in square footage that is on the street—that is governed by the contract as well.”

The city’s Vibrant Street Guidelines—established through public consultation and laid out to pre-emptivily deal with issues related to the Street Furniture Program—specify that “no furniture shall obstruct pedestrian, cyclist, or driver sightlines.”

According to the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA), pedestrians clearways have have been reduced to about half a metre less than the minimum guideline calls for. HVRA representatives said the pillars’ perpendicular placement to the curb design and its standardized construction does not account for the various widths of downtown sidewalks.

This reduced sidewalk space has the potential to increase congestion and issues for those with mobility or visual impairment. “If you create bottlenecks in the sidewalk, that’s a problem, but especially if you’re a new family with stroller or you’re in a wheelchair, or if you have a visual impairment—that creates all kinds of problems” said Turney.

Herb Van den Dool, a resident cyclist representing Ibiketo, noted the pillars’ effects on sightlines.  “While cycling on the street I have also noticed how imposing the info pillars are as the lighted ads draw attention away from the street and can be distracting.”

Vaughan argues that the current design “has made it harder to walk down the sidewalk, harder to ride a bicycle, and a bigger challenge even for people driving cars because they block sightlines.”

The pillars are the latest product of Astral’s 20-year Street Furniture Program, signed in 2007.  The contract provided the city with an upfront payment and the contract secured the greater of either an annual minimum guaranteed fee or a previously assigned percentage of gross advertising revenues from Astral.

The company plans to have 120 pillars up in the city by the end of the year.

Tags: Annex · News · General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher // Mar 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    If the Senior Vice-President concedes that the advertising sign size is larger than what Astral pitched to the City, then as far as I’m concerned they’re in breach of contract and should be held accountable.
    However, in other articles that have discussed these “information” posts, I am given the impression that Astral has no intentions of revisiting their design until 2017.