The Eglinton Way’s blueprint for offsetting the effect of construction

Now, with support from the City of Toronto BIA Office Innovation Fund, Sirois and the Eglinton Way’s Sheliza Esmail are turning eight years worth of data into a toolkit for other BIAs staring down the beginnings of a potentially disruptive infrastructure project.


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Post by Andew Seale  Photos by Cameron Bartlett

Post by Andew Seale

Photos by Cameron Bartlett

Dozens of binders with tiny black print on their spines line the shelf at The Eglinton Way BIA’s headquarters. Aside from the volume of binders, they’re unremarkable and easy to miss. Yet in those binders, dating back to 2010, are meticulous records on the country’s largest ongoing transit infrastructure project: the Eglinton Crosstown.

Every construction notice received, a near decades worth of email exchanges, thousands of photos of the construction zone – all of it collected and organized by date, explains Maureen Sirois, chair of The Eglinton Way BIA which is right on top of the new transit line.

“This was an almost unheard of type of construction for the City of Toronto,” says Sirois. “I knew right from the beginning if we didn't actively document what had happened, it would be lost in the sands of time.”

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So that’s what she did. Over the course of eight years, she tirelessly researched construction mitigation projects – most of which were stateside and subject to rules or regulations that differed from Canada – and chronicled her experience and the experiences of the string of mom and pop shops that make up The Eglinton Way.

What started as a journal of sorts, slowly evolved into a massive independent research project on the effects of large-scale infrastructure construction on main street businesses. Even now, the project still ongoing, Sirois will occasionally take a binder home (“a little light reading,” she jokes) and refresh her memory. “Going back… (we) see lessons learned – what would we have done differently, what were the challenges?”

Now, with support from the City of Toronto BIA Office Innovation Fund, Sirois and the Eglinton Way’s Sheliza Esmail are turning eight years worth of data into a toolkit for other BIAs staring down the beginnings of a potentially disruptive infrastructure project.

“Our goal at the end of the day is to help the BIA community learn from our experiences,” says Esmail. Part of the funding has been put towards hiring a consultant while other portions have helped support BIA staff as they work through the project. “It's very thorough documentation,” adds Esmail. “Now it's (going) going through all that information and really weeding out what's going to be helpful to other people based off of what we've done.”

The project is time consuming.

“It's been a huge learning curve,” says Sirois. “This is not what BIAs do, BIAs do not do this level of research and work.”

Ultimately, the toolkit – which is still taking form – will offer up a framework for BIAs, while helping stakeholders like the construction and engineering companies and policymakers understand the impact they’re having and how to mitigate it.

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“We've often complained that people in that world don't really understand what they're doing… they know they’re hurting us in a big way but they don't really know what they could do to make it better,” she says. “Little stuff like don't have all your cement trucks backed up in a conga line ten deep on Eglinton – two at a time, leave the other guys over there and radio in when you need the next one – go a long way”

Then there are things like window washing, and making a plan for street furniture and how to protect it from damage – “All the things that a construction business could do to make things better for main street businesses.”

Looking back over the rows of binders, Sirois says it’s still baffling how far she is from the original day-to-day concerns of The Eglinton Way before the ground was broken, the flowers and benches upkeep, the events they focused on. “We've had to become really savvy advocates and really learn how stuff works,” she says. It’s been fascinating. “Now (we’re) taking that learning and passing the torch on to other BIAs who won't have to do as much background research… they can take our experience and learn from it – because there will be more infrastructure.”

Editors Note: The Eglinton Way’s toolkit will be used to inform a City of Toronto study on potential supports for businesses affected by construction to commence in the second quarter of 2019.

David Hessels