ABOVE: Mark Carcasole reports on illegal A-frame signs in Toronto.
TORONTO – They promote sales, list daily food specials and point the way to new businesses, but sandwich boards — technically known as A-frame signs — also turn sidewalks into obstacle courses for pedestrians.
The ubiquitous signs are even more of an irritant to people who are visually impaired or in wheelchairs.
And, according to the City of Toronto, almost all of the signs are illegal.
Mark Sraga, Director of Investigation Services at the Municipal Licensing & Standards department, said only 69 permits for A-frame signs were issued last year, up from an estimated 41 in 2012.
Although no one knows exactly how many A-frame signs are standing on Toronto sidewalks, estimates in the thousands do not seem unreasonable.
A number of big cities, including New York and Chicago, have bylaws prohibiting A-frame signs on sidewalks.
In Toronto, businesses are required to apply for a one-year permit at a cost of $95. Then, a single A-frame less than a metre high can be placed up against the building (or on private property) during business hours as long as there is at least 2.1 metres of unobstructed sidewalk space.
The signs are not allowed to be placed at the curb or chained to trees or sign posts.
Specifically, A-frame signs are not allowed on Yonge Street south of Davenport — although there are dozens there — or on Bloor Street between Avenue Road and Sherbourne Street.
But, in addition to being unsightly and largely illegal, A-frame signs are dangerous for people with mobility issues or vision loss.
According to Clearing Our Path, a publication of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), the “CNIB recommends sandwich boards and freestanding movable signs not be used because they are a tripping hazard for people with vision loss.”
CNIB spokesperson Debbie Gillespie told Global News the A-frame signs can also cause disorientation.
“If you’re using a cane, you’re taught to come in contact with objects to help you guide and orient yourself around them,” she explained. “Making it necessary to navigate yourself around the sign causes you to sometimes become disoriented as to where your original line of travel was.”
The biggest concern, Gillespie said, is never knowing exactly where to expect the signs.
“They can be moved or shifted depending on the marketing campaign, depending on the weather and depending on what store has them.”
The City of Toronto hoped amendments to the bylaw regulating A-frames — including a significant reduction in the annual fee and a new online application process — would encourage businesses to follow the rules.
Enforcement is on a complaint basis, though. Members of the public have to call 311 to report an offender and, even then, business owners are simply asked to remove the signs. Often the signs re-appear days later.
Under the bylaw, the city can confiscate illegal signs and charge business owners for removal, storage and return of the signs.
Sraga said the number of complaints about A-frame signs is low but the city is reviewing its policies and procedures.
– with files by Mark Carcasole, Global News
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