The Major Street Boulder
On September 18, Toronto Star columnist Jack “The Fixer” Lakey wrote about a boulder that was dug up during construction in the Annex. Bloor Street is currently being dug up between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue as the city replaces watermains and reconstructs the roadway. New parkettes at Major Street and Howland Street are also part of the work. As this is going on, bike lanes and parking spaces have been removed, and traffic is rerouted to one side of Bloor Street.
The billion-year old boulder (its age is unremarkable; the Canadian Shield is older than that) will be incorporated into a nearby parkette. For now, it sits on the side of Major Street immediately south of Bloor. When I visited Thursday evening, the boulder was moved slightly south by a construction crew that was working on the parkette.
Major Street, despite its grand name, is a minor residential road that leads one-way south from Bloor towards Sussex Street. It is part of a one-way maze of local streets intended to discourage through traffic and permit on-street parking (while frustrating cyclists looking to cut through quiet local streets instead of taking Bathurst or Spadina).
Lakey was informed about the Major Street boulder by a motorist complaining of turning right onto Major from Bloor and scraping the passenger side as she passed the boulder. She said she couldn’t see the rock because it was below the height of her windows, though there were pylons adjacent to the rock. Lakey visited the site and found two pylons next to the boulder. The city’s response was to ensure that pylons be secured to the rock with caution tape, and to block it off if necessary, as it can not easily be moved.
Bloor Street is a mess of construction and signage as construction continues through September
Though the city was right to improve the visibility of the boulder, placed in a spot where it wouldn’t be expected, I can’t say I have too much sympathy for drivers who miss it and scratch their cars. Bloor Street is a mess, but it is an active construction site. The bike lanes have been closed off, with cyclists expected to travel with traffic, single file with motor vehicles. The lane configuration has changed, and pedestrians must navigate the construction clutter, signs, and fencing on sidewalks and crosswalks. Such an environment calls for slow and considerate driving.
The motorist quoted in Lakey’s column said that she could not see the 80-centimetre tall boulder as it was below her line of sight. Other things that might be below a driver’s line of sight at close proximity include pylons, knock-down posts, mailboxes, garbage bins, dogs, cats, recumbent bicycles, strollers, small children, wheelchairs, and other mobility devices. As the average vehicle size has become larger (with Ford and General Motors phasing out sedans in favour of SUVs and light trucks), the line of sight has become higher as well.
But this gives me an idea that can balance the City of Toronto’s supposed commitment to Vision Zero with the mayor’s desire to keep property taxes too low to pay for the implementation of true Vision Zero across the city. Just add rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.
Boulders can take a pounding, unlike plastic knock-down poles that motorists can just drive over to get into a cycle track. They can be used to narrow wide residential streets at strategic points and discourage fast turns at intersections. Of course, they can be marked with metal reflective signs, but they’d be cheap to install and very effective.
Boulders are easy and cheap to source with of all the construction going on in Toronto, with foundations being dug for high rise offices and apartment buildings. But if we’re stuck, we can source rocks from Northern Ontario, where the Canadian Shield is blasted away for resource extraction and the twinning of Highway 69.
Vision Zero on a zero-vision budget.