– Mark E. Smith

As inveterate readers will know, the city of Toronto is attempting to sell what is generally described as every piece of street furniture to a single vendor for 20 years. (“Sell” is perhaps inaccurate and too strong a word, though the winner does take ownership of most pieces already in place.) Registered vendors were able to file written questions with the city until December 2006.

Just in time for Christmas, our esteemed colleagues at the city have filed their final set of answers (“addenda” to the request for proposals [RFP]). For research and criticism, those addenda are now available. I’ve also included the questions I filed myself (over a hundred, and you should be able to spot them in Addendum 7 even without a cheatsheet).

The city’s answers were published in password-protected, untagged PDFs for no really valid reason. In fact, I asked a question about that, which enabled city staff to demonstrate their ignorance of electronic-document accessibility and PDF in general.

  • A free plug-in for Microsoft Word (for Windows, inevitably) can export tagged PDFs automatically. It wouldn’t solve all their problems, particularly that of hundreds of pages of information on exact locations of bus shelters, but it’s a good start.
  • Users’ copying and pasting could have been permitted without jeopardizing anything, particularly the goal of distributing a single unchanging document to vendors. (City staff pretend that the only alternative is hardcopy.)
  • The password protection in place in these PDFs can be cracked in minutes; besides, public documents cannot be pirated.
  • These PDFs may be unintentionally or incidentally accessible to screen-reader users, for example, but they do not use even the minimal understood requirement for PDF accessibility, namely tagging.
  • It was of particular interest to read (Addendum 7, A37) that “[t]he City believes that it does, as a matter of law, have intellectual-property rights in the information provided. However, there is no intent to prohibit reasonable use of the document by persons wishing to prepare a proposal in response to the RFP.”
    • It’s true that, in Canada, governments can copyright their own documents (i.e., government documents are copyrighted on creation, just like nearly everybody else’s). This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s what we’ve got.
    • There is no such thing as copyright in “information” (that is, ideas), only in the fixed and tangible expression of them.
    • The city of Toronto does not have judge–jury–executioner power to determine the use to which these public documents may be put. Among many other user rights in the Copyright Act, research and criticism (like this posting) are explicitly permitted under fair dealing. In a large process like the street-furniture RFP, the only way to deal fairly with the Q&A documents is to read them as a whole. (And those are the only files I’ve posted. Other files that don’t include Q&A were excluded, in part to comply with the substantiality requirement.)

What odds do you give that the city will be stupid enough to send me a complaint letter about my research into and criticism of these documents?

On a few other topics:

  • City staff deny that the street-furniture program has been met mostly with ambivalence and hostility.
  • We are told that public washrooms can be made accessible to blind people by expecting them to try the door handle. If it’s locked, the washroom is in use. But these are to be coin- or token-operated washrooms. Won’t the door always be locked unless a user is entering or exiting? (And how do you find the coin slot, let alone the handle?)
  • Pattison’s edge-illuminated billboard posts would be banned. But there could be a lot of LED signage, and slow-motion slideshows – video at a low framerate – could be possible.
  • One vendor complained that the four model streetcorners the city had mentioned do not measure up to the city’s own drawings. But the city insists their measurements, taken from GIS, are accurate.
  • The city now claims that the “coordinated” street-furniture program was never represented as actually “coordinated,” given that it exempts those unwanted Info-to-Go pillars, streetsigns, and thousands of items of existing street furniture. Oh, and business-improvement areas may opt out at any time.
  • Again contrary to the statement in Ryan Bigge’s article, the city denies that there was ever any budget for street furniture that did not include revenue from advertising. They deny there was ever an advertising-free budget.

I am a registered vendor in these proceedings. To understate the case, I am not wild about the whole street-furniture program. But:

  1. I won’t be submitting a proposal per se. (I really couldn’t.)
  2. I have told most of the other registered vendors that I have expertise and experience in media accessibility and in functional typography and would be willing to subcontract on their designs in those two limited areas (and nowhere else, like architectural accessibility). I have no such contracts in place, though I got a few nibbles.
    1. It may seem hypocritical to be pitching for business in a process one is not wild about. Nonetheless, papa needs a new pair of pumps.
    2. And besides, the options are a street-furniture program with crappy type and low accessibility or one without those defects.
    3. I encourage ostensible opponents of the street-furniture program, like Spacing and the legally separate Toronto Public Space Committee, to embrace this same level of transparency.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.12.22 15:49. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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