Power-sucking advertising in downtown Toronto

Proposed Toronto information pillarThe Toronto Public Space Committee is maybe a little bit radical but extremely effective in drawing attention to abuses of that city’s sidewalks, streets and public squares. Every city should have a group that smart and dedicated about keeping publicly funded spaces in proper public use.

The committee is quoted at Spacing Wire today savaging (PDF) the City of Toronto’s choice of a new supplier of street furniture — benches and bus shelters and so on.

“Under this plan, every square foot of advertising currently on a garbage bin or bench would be transferred to a bus shelter or an ‘information pillar,’ more than doubling the amount of illuminated, eye-level advertising that is perpendicular to the sidewalk and making a mockery of Toronto’s environmental ambitions. Shelters need illumination, but regular shelter lights (such as those used in shelters that don’t have advertising) can be powered with solar energy; when ads need to be illuminated, however, the only option is to hook the shelters up to the grid. With ‘street furniture coordination’ Toronto had the opportunity to not only decrease advertising but also to conserve massive amounts of energy — but instead the City wants to double the power being used solely to light up ads. The new program proposes 4,652 more bus shelters ads’ worth of lighting!”

If true, this is appalling. I don’t object to advertising on public property, within reason, but downtown Toronto is practically a crisis zone for electricity, with the transmission grid jammed to the limit on hot summer days. Two years ago, Ontario’s government-sponsored Independent Electricity System Operator warned (PDF):

Under fault conditions, the present transmission facilities in Toronto would be barely adequate to supply the load on hot days. Completion of the John-to-Esplanade Link in Fall 2007 will provide some relief. However, it is vitally important that additional generation capacity be located within the downtown area within the next two to three years. In the absence of new generation, as well as demand-side initiatives, it is expected that rotational power outages will be required during peak load periods whenever equipment is unavailable.

In other words, the system can handle the load provided nothing whatsoever goes wrong, but there’s no spare capacity and with population growth, things are getting worse. The city government ought to be extremely careful about even risking aggravating the situation further.


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