Why Everybody Loves the TORONTO Sign

Since its instalment in July 2015, the 3D TORONTO sign has become one of the hottest tourist attractions in downtown Toronto. Initially created for only the 2015 Pan Am Games, the $90,000 sign has remained a firm fixture of Nathan Phillips Square following popular demand.

In fact, it was so popular after it came out, that City Councillor Norm Kelly even suggested that different variations of the sign such as “The 6” and “T. Dot” be made and placed in other parts of the city to reinforce the “cool” Toronto brand. This was eventually deemed unsuitable, given that it would take away the special-ness of the original sign.

But despite its popularity, the TORONTO sign is not unique in its design. Other cities such as Lyon, Budapest, and Amsterdam have been spotted with their own downtown 3D signs. As an international city ready to prove its place on the world stage, it was only a matter of time before Toronto became part of this global trend. I mean, wasn’t that why we signed up for the Pan Am Games in the first place?

The "I amsterdam" sign in the Netherlands.
The “I amsterdam” sign in the Netherlands. Look familiar?
Another 3D sign in Lyon, France.
Another 3D sign in Lyon, France.

What does make it unique, however, is the fact that it is able to change colour and design. As a result, this sign is more than just a tourist attraction, it has also served as an art medium (Nuit Blanche), and as a way to show solidarity with Torontonians and our friends all over the world.  Just a few days ago, the sign was lit blue and yellow for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month, and before that green and white to remember the victims of the bombings in Lahore, Pakistan.

And while we have seen this display of support and empathy with more historic monuments around the globe, there is something more personal about the TORONTO sign that I can’t seem to explain. Perhaps it’s because of its location in front of city hall, it’s accessibility to everyone free of charge (I’m looking at you CN Tower), or the fact that I see it more frequently and have actually touched it?

Who knows, maybe it just looks great on Instagram.

Either way, it certainly has become a defining landmark of Toronto, and for the first time, I’m looking forward to sending some postcards with city hall in the background.
Fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square

So keep up the good work TORONTO sign! And don’t let any snarky lawsuits get in your way either…

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A Newcomer’s Guide to the TTC

If you’ve recently arrived in Toronto, chances are you’ve already come across our beloved transit system, the TTC. But before you embark on exploratory adventures around our great city, it might be worth your while to learn more about the “red and white menace” that is the Toronto Transit Commission:

Simple and Sweet?

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start using the TTC subway, is the relative simplicity and ease needed to navigate its route compared to other transit systems in large metropolitans (just take a look at London’s compared to ours).

This is both a blessing and a curse. While the simplicity makes it quite easy to navigate the subway line and it’s major connecting stations, it also means that access to certain areas is somewhat restricted. Anything beyond the subway line will require taking another vehicle, and not all subway stations offer accessibility services (this is what the TTC looks like if you’re in a wheelchair). Few connecting stations and no relief line also makes for a VERY crowded commute during rush hour, so it’s always best to avoid the TTC during those peak hours when possible.

Paying for Your Ride

TTC Streetcar

Currently, there are three main ways to pay for the TTC. You can pay per ride using cash, buy a set of tokens for a slightly lower fare, or buy a weekly/monthly metropass that will give you unlimited access for that time. Yes, the fares are high, so choosing which type really depends on your needs.

One thing to keep in mind: if you plan on taking a connecting vehicle (e.g. train to bus), don’t forget to take a transfer when you pay your fare! TTC staff are not lenient on this matter, and I’ve wasted many a token by simply forgetting to ask for a transfer when I got on the bus. Be sure to take a look at this simplified explanation on how to use transfers.

You’ll also see green Presto machines in front of the turnstiles at some subways stations and in the new streetcars. Don’t worry too much about these unless you plan on using the GO Transit to travel to other areas in the GTA. The city plans to phase out tokens in favour of Presto cards by the end of 2016, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Subway Etiquette

When I first started using the TTC, I was unaware of the unspoken “rules” that govern commuters—especially during rush hour periods when trains and buses are packed. It’s natural to not be instinctively aware of these rules, especially if you come from a country with a horrid transit system like mine.

Crowded train in Jakarta, Indonesia
“Train surfing” in Jakarta, Indonesia. One obvious difference between my hometown transit system and the TTC.

But don’t worry, you’ll figure it out soon enough. Some of the rules are obvious, like offering your seat to a pregnant woman or a senior, and some of them aren’t as clear cut, like not standing in front of the door when there is room elsewhere.

To help clear things up, here’s a comprehensive list of things you should avoid doing on the TTC.

Delays Are the Norm, Not the Exception

Another thing to keep in mind is that delays are part and parcel of the TTC experience. Sometimes your subway commute will be riddled with delays along the way. Sometimes you’ll be told to exit the train at a station and wait for another one. And sometimes you’ll wait an hour for a bus, only to have three arrive at the same time.

I can only say that time heals all wounds. These delays do get aggravating at first, especially when they close down the subway lines for repairs, but don’t take it to heart. Whether it’s because of a signal delay or because someone pulled the emergency assistance alarm, everybody goes through it, and over time you’ll get used to this TTC quirk.

Strange Things Happen in Those Tunnels…

Many strange (and sometimes dangerous things) have happened in the TTC since I started using it six years ago.

To name a few: raccoons have taken subway rides, Union station was closed due to flooding, a child fell through the subway gap, and a woman was dragged across the platform while trying to save her purse that was caught between the train doors.

So while it’s a great time to be travelling on the TTC, always be aware of your surroundings! You never know what you’ll come across if you’re not paying attention…

*This post is dedicated to the voice of the TTC, Danny Nicholson. Nicholson retired today after warning riders to be safe and courteous over the public address system for over 16 years. Read his story here.