From high-wire running shoes and disappearing phone booths to baffling weather beacons and concrete-covered trees, here's the lowdown on urban curiosities that mesmerize and confuse.
Basketball courts with no hoops
Why: We were hoping this attempt at killing fun had something to do with maintenance. But according to school board spokesperson Margaret Cannes, some schools remove the rims from courts during summer so as not to attract undesirable kids who, in her words, "make noise that may disturb close-knit communities." Read kids from the other side of the tracks.
Mounds of crap left by police horses
Why: Other police forces outfit their horses with poop baskets or diapers, but Bill Wardle of the force's mounted unit says that idea is controversial where its been tried because "people tend to grab the baskets or diapers." He goes on to say that officers are supposed to remove the fecal matter "immediately" if they notice that it's in the way of pedestrians or if there's a complaint. When's the last time you saw a copper stoop and scoop?
Disappearing phone booths
Why: Bell has been decommissioning phone booths and replacing them with open-air phone stands for years. Bell spokesperson Candice Best says concerns about vandalism in certain parts of the city (read high-crime neighbourhoods) prompted the move. But with Bell reviving a bid (foiled by the city in 98) to put advertising on them, the booths may be making a comeback. Funny what the prospect of making a little ad money can do.
Off-limit areas at City Hall
Why: I t's supposed to be a people place, but the deck and running track above the square proper have been off limits for almost a decade. Corporate communications' Brad Ross says interlocking brick that's come loose on the deck poses a "safety issue. People can trip on them or pick one up and throw it." The running track, meanwhile, was closed after a chunk came loose during a wind storm and hit someone who then sued the city. Ross says the city doesn't have the money to repair them either.
Abandoned bikes growing like weeds on city sidewalks
Why: The city used to collect the twisted hulks and deliver them to Community Bicycle Network, which recycled the parts to make usable bikes and then rented them out. It was a great way to promote cycling. But CBN no longer has the storage space, so the city has stopped collecting them. The Toronto Public Space Committee collected some this year as part of a public art project, a more imaginative solution than landfill.
The amazing shrinking speed bumps
Why: It wasn't just our imagination. Some speed bumps are bigger than others. Danny Badriamitvich of the city's transportation department explains that two years ago the city began reducing the height of speed bumps from their original 10 centimetres to accommodate fire trucks and ambulance services concerned about emergency response times. We share the concern, but the newer ones have no traffic-calming effect whatsoever.
The baffling blinking beacon atop the Canada Life building on University
Why: Most know the spire reports weather conditions, but what do the different patterns actually mean? Green = clear; red = cloudy; flashing red = rain; flashing white = snow. Lights running up = getting warmer; lights running down = getting colder. There. Now save this.
Why: The covers make it a little hard for water to get at tree roots, but city forester Richard Ubbens says the covers provide a walking surface where there's limited space on sidewalks. The city used to cut holes or slits into the concrete to allow water to seep through, but that actually drowned - and killed - trees. Now the city, whose watering budget has been increased by $200,000, has to use probes to allow deep root watering to keep them alive.
All that lingering road kill
Why: According to the city, some 5,000 critters - everything from household pets to the odd fox and coyote - are killed in traffic each year and are then incinerated at four crematoria run by animal services. The numbers don't include animals killed on the 400 series of highways, which are the province's responsibility. Retrieval takes place within three days, which means the carcasses may pose a health hazard if handled.
Mystery running shoes
(one with the word "fatso," the other "ouch") that keep turning up on electrical wires at Church and Dundas.
Why: We're not sure, but some say boys lob sneaks over phone lines as a rite of passage - after losing their virginity or making the basketball team. With research assistance by Candice Debi