The Small Stuff
Toronto is a world class city, with second rate public washrooms. Japan seems to have set the standard in first class public washrooms. Why can't the City set its sights a little bit higher?
Toronto needs to update City by-laws to ensure high standards of cleanliness, requiring appropriately scheduled cleaning with regular inspections by bylaw officers and appropriate fines for violations.
I would require that major public buildings, such as hotels, have washrooms available to the public. I would consider requiring all restaurants to allow public use of their washrooms, if we can't otherwise improve washroom availability. In return, I would offer business tax concessions to those businesses.
Toronto used to have dedicated city washrooms. Those days are long gone, but there are lot of vacant stores in the City, the City could look at operating some of those as public washrooms. I would certainly run a pilot project.
I would also pilot outside urinals in selected areas such as downtown. They seem to work well in Europe.
The City also needs more convenient full-service washrooms for the homeless. There are some facilities, but not enough.
After a recent trip to the US, someone told me that Toronto has one of the worse graffiti problems in North America. I don't doubt it, the City is a scribbling mess!
Some cities have had success with programs to identify the graffiti 'artists' involved and have made efforts to re-channel their creative talents into more constructive projects. I would certainly pilot similar initiatives in Toronto.
However, that may or may not work here. To help that process along, I would explore banning/restricting the sale of spray paint in the City, particularly from dollar stores. Hardware stores may have to keep spray cans in restricted access areas and not sell to minors. I have a feeling that graffiti is more an act of opportunity and convenience than malice. We shall see.
I would make more of an effort to catch graffiti artists and require them to do community service to clean-up tagged properties.
I would require property owners to clean-up graffiti on their buildings or face appropriate fines, especially unused buildings. They shouldn't be too hard to spot.
I really don't like having to get pedantic about this, but this is a problem that shouldn't exist at all.
I believe Airbnbs continue to play a role in the unavailability of homes to rent or purchase in the City. City regulations regarding short-term rentals are too easily circumvented and are not sufficiently enforced. Given the severity of the housing affordability issue, Toronto should actively discourage the use of investment properties for short-term rentals of any kind.
I would prohibit the use of condos and apartments for short-term rentals, regardless whether the owners live at the property or not.
Short-term rentals continue to be a nuisance to other residents in a building as well. No one in the building can tell whether the unit listed is legitimate or not. Even if it were legitimate, the other residents are entitled to live in their buildings in peace and quiet.
Needless to say, there needs to be better enforcement of any such bylaws, including monitoring online listings.
The City does have a noise by-law in effect, updated in 2019, but you wouldn't know it. The City is as noisy as ever. The by-law needs to be made stricter and better enforced.
I would phase-out the use of leaf-blowers completely over one year, including prohibiting their sale. Even during the day they're still a nuisance because they are used for long durations of time. Yard cleaning was done just fine before leaf blowers came along.
How many vehicles have been pulled over and checked for noise violations? I'll bet it's very few, if any. Bylaw officers do not have the authority to pull vehicles over and the police presumably have more important duties to take care of. What good is having bylaws that we don't, or can't enforce?
The current bylaw only specifies the noise threshold when the vehicle is at idle. This is useless, since it's when vehicles accelerate that they are at their worst. I still hear vehicles street racing at night on the DVP and occasionally on local streets. Surely there must be ways of running campaigns to stop all this noise.
The City can also work with the province to ban loud vehicles or at least require them to have noise suppression technology installed.
The City should install more signage on major roadways outlining the vehicle noise by-laws.
I would include blaring music from vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians as by-law violations.
Sidewalks in some parts of Toronto are like navigating an obstacle course. They are filled with planters, fixed patio fences & decks, news boxes, store signs etc., that make it impossible to walk a straight line down the street, create pedestrian choke points, impede sidewalk & street snow clearance, create a safety hazard by reducing motorist/pedestrian visibility, and impede proper access to vehicles. The City needs to clean-up the sidewalks.
The nicest sidewalk in the City is on College around Ossington and Dovercourt. I think this sets the standard for what our sidewalks can look like. It has clean lines, attractive pavers, is free of clutter and is a pleasure to walk along.
The biggest issue is restaurants. I fully support cafes and restaurants having tables on the sidewalk between May-October however, I oppose installing permanent structures such as patio decks and fences on the sidewalks. They don't need these in Europe or in beautiful cities and Toronto doesn't need them either. I would prohibit them. In addition, I do not support using street lanes as dining areas. In exchange, I would allow permit approved restaurants to use their sidewalk space free of charge during the outdoor season.
The second issue is planters. Trees grow in forests, not concrete. The trees in sidewalk planters provide very little value to a streetscape, despite how great they look in artists' renditions. When planted in above ground planters, they take up a lot of space; many are spindly or dead; they provide no shade for 6 months of the year; trees on the south side of streets don't shade sidewalks at all; trees and planters require a lot of maintenance; they can be a visual obstruction between pedestrians and motorists; they impede access to the curbside and create pedestrian pinch points. I would remove and not replace dead and dying trees. I would not permit new planters next to the curb; planters should be set next to the buildings, if any where. In fact, I would require all new buildings to have a set-back from the sidewalk to provide adequate space for planters, trees or patios so they don't clog up the sidewalks.
Pigeons & racoons
The City recently passed a bylaw prohibiting the feeding of wildlife, except for home bird feeders. This is a reasonable bylaw, except that the City is not going to bother to enforce it; it's just too sporadic and I just can't see officers laying heavy fines on well meaning or poor residents. However, pigeons and racoons are a persistent nuisance in the City and need to be managed appropriately. While I do not believe they represent significant health threats, there is always the potential for them to carry avian flu or rabies.
I think it would be more productive to target bird roosting areas by fining property owners who do not put measures in place to prevent birds roosting and nesting on their street fronts or roofs. This is much easier to identify and correct. The City should also initiate population control programs in order to assist property owners in achieving this goal.
I think the racoon-proof green bins are one of the best solutions the City has ever implemented. Simple, low-cost and effective. However, racoons remain a persistent problem for home owners and are still being killed on our roads. The City should implement population control programs in order to manage population numbers.
There's no point in making bylaws if the City isn't going to bother enforcing them.
I would not pass any bylaws unless the City can dedicate the necessary resources to enforce them. It's just a waste of time and it's frustrating for residents when they see the rules not being enforced.
I would look at expanding the number of bylaw enforcement officers and prioritizing the bylaws that need to be enforced. Periodic campaigns on specific bylaws would be helpful, along with public education.
I would then look at removing bylaws that are never going to be enforced.
City financial reporting
As a professional accountant who has taken the time to review City financial reports and budgets, I can tell you that they are just brutal to read and to easily understand what is going on or what value we are getting for our tax dollar. I don't think the Councilors even read through them.
The budget reports are especially difficult; they are poorly organized, too long, too much repetition, way too much fluff in some areas and not enough useful information in other areas, not enough useful performance metrics, too much undefined jargon, and no explanation of certain unique municipal accounting practices.
As an example, it particularly bothers me that there is no clear and obvious place to find details on City debt and the cost of interest. It is also frustrating that the budget statements are compiled on a different basis than the actual financial statements, which can sometimes be misleading.
I also think the City makes too liberal use of expense capitalization rules that allow the City to borrow money to pay for expenditures that would otherwise have to be reported as operating expenses.
All this to say that there is a lot of room for improvement in how City financial information is presented to the public so that you can be properly informed as to how well the City is stewarding your money.
I agree with those who have issues with ride-hailing services. Toronto is one of the few places that is still relatively friendly to ride-hailing services.
Ride-hailing services present unfair competition to taxis, lower average driver incomes, add to traffic congestion, take riders away from the TTC, are less regulated and thus can present a greater risk to the public.
I would work with the taxi and ride hailing industry to harmonize the services so that they provide a quality service to residents that is also fair to the drivers and to the environment.