A review of the proposals from three conglomerates for Toronto’s street furniture. I won’t bother reproducing photos here; look at my Flickr.

Really, for all these companies, every piece of street furniture that displays information or has any kind of controls is not really “accessible” at all, even if it follows the letter of Toronto’s requirements. A totally-blind person doesn’t even know these structures are sitting there on the road, then doesn’t know where the control panels are, and then cannot use them, because they are visual interfaces. And that’s just one group. Wait till I tell you about quads on ventilators out for a stroll one fine day.

All three submissions required serious copy-editing. I know designers aren’t expected to be writers, but that’s why you hire proofreaders. And kudos to CBS for making a completely inaccessible PDF, down to the detail of displaying all text as images – as compared to the other firms’ PDFs, which are merely predominantly inaccessible.

I’ve got plain-text output (no HTML markup), with barely any corrections, for two of the three proposals (CBS’s didn’t work):

Astral Media

Jerry “Wayfinding of the Apocalypse” Kramer has outdone himself, providing two different sets of designs. (He told the Star, “ ‘We have developed a complete line of products,’ [n]ot only those elements requested by the RFP, ‘but additional things we think Toronto should have,’ ” apparently including a covering for the entrance to Osgoode subway, which Jerry has taken upon himself to rename Osgoode-Opera. (Because opera is klassy.)

Astral 100 series

Bus shelters

  • “Roof overhang, both in the front and rear of the shelter, has been refined to provide better protection/deflection from rain and snow”: It is finally admitted that angling a glass roof downward onto the entranceway is user-hostile and a design failure.
  • “Surface material is engineered to ‘self-heal’ from staples, pins and tape”: What, like Sorbothane?
  • A claimed “Streetcar Platform Shelter Nº 101.5 [also 201.5], to address Toronto’s growing LRT network,” is not shown.
  • Kramer’s illustrations, curiously enough, seem to include Kramer-designed streetsigns, but only those using Akzidenz. Funny, I thought we solved that problem. Street names tend to be right downtown (University, handy the opera house) or in Rosedale (Cluny), which tells you something.

Garbage cans

(And can we start calling them that, please, instead of “litter/recycling receptacles”?)

It’s got a foot flap that can’t be used by most people in wheelchairs, but them’s the breaks, I suppose. Frankly, I like the super-futuristic design of pot-bellied plastic. I’m sorry. I do.


A pox on our parklands, the Info-Must-Go pillars are allegedly “improved” in this process.

Suddenly they’ve got video screens. Who authorized that, exactly? What watches the footage? Who watches the watchers? (Who pays for the power?)

There’s an unholy union with Rogers, which is something I don’t want in an information pillar. If I wanted corporate-controlled information, I’d turn on A-Channel or glance at an illegal billboard.

The video screens will not be remotely accessible to blind people, so please, Jerry, stop blowing smoke up our arses that they will.

Astral and Kramer really not too clear on what digital memory cards really are: “A digital memory card will identify/transmit information to our… central management system if the pillar is in need of service, the LCD has a communication issue, or if maps are running low.” So your SD memory card is a transmitter now? (Really? Does your digicam transmit to your computer?) What is this section not telling us? Here’s a hint: We’re gonna install a 5GB memory card in every pillar, which will continuously save the last 60 seconds of video. If you so much as fart in front of this pillar, we’ll use a Rogers GSM cellphone link, secretly included, to upload it to our rent-a-cops. Is that what’s really gonna happen?

Newspaper boxes

I think the design language is inconsistent here, and yes, you don’t have to be Jerry Kramer to understand what a design language is. Multi-Publication Structure A is an impressive brutalist slab of metal, with nothing short of a fusillade of matching metal handles for newspaper doors. It looks like something from a design-conscious Italian police state. And it doesn’t match the ovoid garbage cans at all.

Postering pillars

I don’t know what to think about specific and regimented poles or boards for public postering. Of course postering on mailboxes and other street furniture looks like shit. Of course looking like shit might just be the cost of free speech. But is it possible to retain free speech while avoiding that cost? We’re always told it’s the only way to advertise your lost cat (an example inevitably advanced) or your indie-rock band. (Well, for the latter, what of Craigslist?)

Why do we hear so little about large corporate sniping campaigns, where multiple copies of the same full-colour double-tabloid poster are wheatpasted up onto construction hoardings? Are those not the same hoardings that are held up by Spacer types as the natural home of lost-cat and indie-band flyers? Isn’t corporate sniping the problem, not messiness?

If you installed a large number of posts with enough space for lost-cat/indie-band posters but no space for corporate sniping, isn’t that a net gain? At no cost, in fact?

Anyway, Kramer’s pillars claim to use “a central vertical rib” to “prevent large-format posters from being posted over public messages.” That seems to be synonymous with what I just described. The design clearly will not actually prevent such postering (you just poster right over the rib), but if you’re honest, you have to admit this is the correct starting point. And Kramer’s proposal is “designed to be affixed to… transit shelters, automated public toilets and bike lockers… [and] building wall surfaces.”

But here’s the weirdest thing

The homey little sample posters shown in the illos are for a garage sale, a missing “kitty,” a missing cat, and a missing dog.

And Ayn Rand. (Actually, a Reg Hartt–style showing of an Ayn Rand movie.)

Gee, Jerry, you don’t look like an Objectivist! Or do you fancy yourself a kind of Howard Roark manqué?


Everybody wants to use Brazilian Ipê wood (Tabeuia impetiginosa), but nobody wants to spell it the same way. Kramer uses “Ipay,” suggesting a future Apple E-commerce product. (If only KDA could design as well as Jonathan Ive, some people say. “But we do!” Jerry cries, undersold yet again.)

Bike parking

“Door hardware and locking devices require key access that can be centrally controlled at the City for security reasons”: What? These things are going to be radio-controlled? (How? With a “smart memory card”? A video screen? By Rogers?)

I’ve looked at the illustrations over and over again, but I still can’t figure out how they work, or why they’re better than our current post-and-ring.

Astral 200 series

Kind of an afterthought, but Jerry really believes in gilding the lily, in this case by providing an entirely separate set of proposed structures.

  • Garbage cans: You have to touch the flap. “Recycling” (paper?) and “Cans + Bottles” are not differentiated enough by name.
  • Info-Must-Go pillars: Presumably Jerry expected we would not notice that the 200 series has three ad faces hiding a concave information face (up from two in the current and 100 series). This one’s got a crawling LED, too.
  • Newspaper boxes: “Backs and sides of the… multi-publication structures are clearly identified with the word ‘newspapers,’ street designation[,] and BIA/district branding to personalize neighbourhoods”: Not in the illustrations, they aren’t. (They do show “The Beach” as a legend.)
  • Public toilet 206: An impressive exterior design, engaging in a dialectic within itself. That one feature is fuckin’ amazing. Bravo, Jerry, in all seriousness. But on the right-hand side at the back, the gap between the corrugated wall and the wraparound flap is just the right size for arsehole frat boys in the Entertainment District to stuff beer cans into.
  • Bike parking: They look like ruins from a future civilization of reanimated Vikings. I don’t understand how these work, either.

CBS Outdoor

Bus shelters

They seem to include an additional form of advertising; a next-bus countdown for which the technology manifestly does not exist yet in this city; and streetsigns modelled after the blue-Clearview signs attached to traffic lights. (At least those streetsigns were tested, and are known to work.) The indicated neighbourhood is the Riverside District (Queen St. East), a nice touch that makes me think they were fishing for my approval. Maybe they were; CBS definitely knows I exist.

Garbage cans

Almost as bad as the current silverboxes. You still have to touch a flap.

Information pillars

A hundred times less offensive than the advertising conduits that are the Info-Must-Go pillars. The poster area jutting sideways from the centreline will not work when facing the direction of traffic; blind people will walk straight into it.

Postering structure

It appears to be called “WOW” (capitals sic), for unclear reasons. Posters shown in the illustration are too small to read, but definitely include a lost-cat poster, apparently some kind of Morrissey tribute band, and a cover of Spacing magazine. Yes, I think these people really are fishing for our approval. Or taking the mickey.

Public toilet

Poorly presented, with exterior graphics of a hockey goalie and dressing-room wall that confuse the intended purpose. As with Clear Channel (below), I am also not convinced people are going to want to sit on benches attached to a public toilet.

Bike parking

It’s a metal detector at the portal to a modernist amusement park, not a way to lock a bicycle.

Clear Channel

These people weren’t even trying.

Bus shelter

It’s an aquarium. The only regions that aren’t clear glass, including the roof, are the ads, the map, and the bench. You’ll fry to death in the summer, an issue completely unaddressed by shelters with see-through roofs. Again, it’s Toronto climate denial: We engage in the collective delusion that it never gets hot and we never need shade. (Quote Jane Jacobs back to me on this and you’ll be sorry.)

Garbage cans

Functionally indistinguishable from CBS’s, with one exception: They actually propose an additional panel that does nothing but hold advertising. Contemptuous.

Extra credit for showing the models in their opened state (and they open forward and backward), an important nod to actual function for city garbage collectors.


The armrests are pointed and rounded, like a scythe, and will hurt when you sit on or back into them.

Information pillar

“For the visually-impaired, a keyboard incorporating Braille also operates the audio system.” OK, but how am I supposed to find the keyboard? And don’t you mean keypad?

“All conveniences of the information kiosk are located at an accessible height that ensures every user will able to benefit from it.” Um. Really? It’s pretty obvious that the convex form below the keypad prevents a wheelchair user from wheeling right up to the pillar, or tucking under it; if you’re in a chair you’ll have to sit sideways and crane your neck.

Serious trademark problem for Clear Channel

One of its illustrations for its information pillar looks just like the Astral/Kramer Info-to-Go® pillar, all the way down to the same graphics and a title reading INFOTOGO. But that’s somebody’s protected industrial design and trademark, and that somebody isn’t Clear Channel.

Newspaper boxes

Unremarkable in any sense. Attachments on the ends falsely suggest the capability of a kind of rocking motion.

Clear Channel’s Multi-Publication Structure B proposes selling you Details (“for men”), [Lost?] Cat’s Life, and a publication that looks exactly like Billboard but has a different title. Where the hell am I supposed to buy the Tubby?

And in another case of Clear Channel’s not even trying, the type in their illustrations is set in Arial.

Bike parking

This one’s so bizarre it’s actually dangerous. Clear Channel adapts the post-and-ring and “improves” it by making it look like a mezzaluna. The point at the top of the “ring” is obviously dangerous and would lead to injuries or deaths. It would become a weapon during drunken downtown fights; you could bend a guy (I do mean a guy) backwards over the point and sever his spinal column. No joke. Something else that isn’t a joke is a gay-panic assault in which drunken downtown homophobes pick a guy up and impale him on the point.

Bike lockers

They’re too low and they aren’t shaped like a bicycle, which does not get shorter near the front wheel.

Public toilets

Well, the description is more turkey than Christmas. “The washroom is ADA compliant” – that’s the Americans with Disabilities Act, which doesn’t exist in Canada, this U.S. company fails to understand – “with accessibility for wheelchair users as well incorporating Braille icons for the visually impaired [sic]…. User instructions can be provided in several languages and Braille. An LCD panel provides user instructions in the languages to be determined by the City.” How about speech output?

However, I do like the fact that they’re trying to make these things a focal point, with an upswept wraparound glass awning and, again, that rather questionable concept of attached outside seating.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.04.14 17:54. 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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