Regal Heights Residents' Association

Neighbours take street safety into their own hands

Re-posted from the Toronto Star

Residents in the Regal Heights neighbourhood worried about street safety used chalk and dead leaves to paint a safer intersection — now they want the city to make it permanent

Regal Heights neighbours used sidewalk chalk to paint a safer intersection in their community - now they're asking city hall to make it permanent.
Regal Heights neighbours used sidewalk chalk to paint a safer intersection in their community – now they’re asking city hall to make it permanent.  (DAVE MESLIN FACEBOOK)  

A group of residents concerned about the safety of an intersection in their neighbourhood have decided to forgo the typical bureaucratic channels and take a more hands-on approach — by designing their own road.

Led by local resident and prominent civic advocate Dave Meslin, the sidewalk guerrillas living in the Regal Heights neighbourhood, near St. Clair Avenue and Oakwood Avenue, temporarily modified a confusing three-way intersection.

The intersection of three roads had no painted pavement markings and no sidewalk on the south side. There are stop signs, but residents said they are hard to spot.

“When you’re standing in the middle of it, there are cars coming at you from three directions without a sidewalk, and none of those cars know where to stop,” Meslin said Thursday.

The intersection of three roads had no painted pavement markings and no sidewalk on the south side. There are stop signs, but residents of the Regal Heights neighbourhood said they are hard to spot.
The intersection of three roads had no painted pavement markings and no sidewalk on the south side. There are stop signs, but residents of the Regal Heights neighbourhood said they are hard to spot.

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So residents took matters into their own hands.

Using chalk and a mixture of cornstarch and water, they drew bright lines on the road and filled the space with fallen leaves to create a faux island.

For three days, the corner of Springmount Avenue and Regal Road was safer, and families enjoyed the extra, pseudo green space, said Meslin, who has lived in the area with his partner for almost seven years.

“For the first time in years, I actually saw people stopping at that intersection,” he said.

Avi and Karen Markus, who live on the corner with their two young children and a puppy, were grateful for the temporary fix.

“I love it because we have two young kids,” Markus said.

“It’s not per se scary but it doesn’t seem natural. It’s not a natural flow, it’s a bit of a free-for-all in that respect,” her partner, Avi, added.

Now, residents are calling on their local councillor Cesar Palacio to make it permanent.

While the installation itself was not fully sanctioned by the Regal Heights Residents Association because of liability concerns, members have passed a motion requesting Palacio ask city staff to conduct a feasibility study.

“We’re not trying to permanently change our intersection on our own as non-engineers,” Meslin said. “But just for a few days, we were trying to show how it could look differently (and) to try and build community support, and then get the councillor to move a motion.”

Palacio is already planning to do just that.

He said he will put forward a notice of motion at community council asking staff “to study the vision that’s been brought forward and to create a conceptual design or designs in terms of moving forward.”

“There’s quite a bit of space that we can create additional green and maybe recreational space, and also sidewalk connectivity,” Palacio said. “That’s the vision that I support and I will do whatever I can to make sure that happens.”

Meslin’s experiment garnered plenty of buzz on social media this week — something he said is indicative of an “eagerness for a new kind of hands-on citizen engagement.”

“Who would have thought that people would get so excited about a pile of leaves?” he said. “In this digital age, people are more hungry than ever for genuine face-to-face collaboration and community building.”

In this Photoshop Image of the intersection at Springmount Avenue and Regal Road, a grass-covered extension with sidewalks has been added to show how the corner could look if it were made safer.
In this Photoshop Image of the intersection at Springmount Avenue and Regal Road, a grass-covered extension with sidewalks has been added to show how the corner could look if it were made safer.  (SYSTEM)  

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This isn’t the first time Meslin has sketched his vision for change on to the streets. He’s created do-it-yourself bike lanes — made of garbage — and was instrumental in helping launch the city’s street art murals pilot project. That, too, began with an illegal act in his neighbourhood — a road mural painted by local kids, which isn’t allowed in Toronto unless it’s made of chalk. It eventually won support at city hall, despite a staff report recommending otherwise.

Sometimes a community has to think outside the box so the powers-that-be realize what’s possible, Meslin said. He hopes his sidewalk takeover will inspire other communities to get experimental.

“There are so many other things in our city that we don’t realize could be better until it’s been pointed out visually,” he said.

He pointed to a makeshift abacus he installed up the street from the intersection, near a flight of concrete stairs that people can use to help keep track of their exercises.

The abacus — made from a couple of slabs of wood and concrete — was not sanctioned by the city either, but by the neighbourhood association, which bankrolled and approved the project. Meslin’s partner said she was worried that if the city found out about the abacus, it would remove it.

“We’re kind of creating a lower tier of democracy,” Meslin added.

“People tend to think you have to choose one or the other — you’re either some kind of reckless anarchist just breaking the rules and not caring, or you’re doing it all by the book — that’s just silly. The beautiful space is neither of those, it’s in between.”