This op-ed appeared on Toronto.com on July 27, 2018 as Street redesigns show what’s possible for Toronto.
Negative stories focused on Toronto’s streets are commonplace nowadays.
“Worst commute in North America.” Fatal collisions. Frustrated commuters taking to Twitter. Tracking close calls with #NearMissToronto.
With Toronto growing at a lightning pace and downtown set to double in population by 2041, we need creative solutions to ensure safety and mobility on our streets.
Changing the way our streets look, feel and function is a tough task. But five recent street revitalization projects in Toronto show us what’s possible when stakeholders come together with a vision to improve the safety, mobility, and shared use of our streets. And set the stage for thriving local businesses and neighbourhoods, to boot.
A new report from the Ryerson City Building Institute, Toronto’s Great Streets, looks at the data behind the redesigns of Harbord, Roncesvalles, St. Clair West, Queens Quay West and Market Street (near St. Lawrence Market). Now that the dust has settled on these projects, we can see their clear, tangible results.
An 888 per cent rise in cycling traffic along the Queens Quay. Collisions between pedestrians and cars down 48 per cent on St. Clair. Low to no retail vacancy on Harbord. Safer, easier, quicker movement of pedestrians, drivers, transit riders and cyclists. Active modes of transportation are up, and dedicated lanes for public transit ease congestion woes.
Plus, you’ve got widened sidewalks, additional patios, new planters and trees, and materials like custom pavers that add beauty to the view. These projects have all improved upon neighbourhood main streets, drawing people to these areas for shopping, strolling, dining and cultural activities.
Of course, there will always be detractors, and the changes have caused confusion at times. People may find the seamless design of Queens Quay West’s roadway baffling. Cars sometimes get wedged between streetcars. But the positive data is real, and continuing tweaks and upgrades are possible. What matters is that these street redesigns have capitalized on opportunities for dramatic change, leveraging the interests and energy of a range of stakeholders, producing results that support the broader transportation network.
In its next term, Toronto city council will face critical decisions when it comes to the future of our streets, with plans under consideration for King Street, Yonge Street North, and Downtown Yonge, to name a few.
Will the King Street Transit Pilot be made permanent? Will we extend protected bike lanes on Bloor and Danforth? Will we take a bold step and re-pedestrianize Downtown Yonge? (It was pedestrianized in the 1970s for three summers — little-known fact.) Will the rapidly developing Yonge Street North be transformed from a wide pseudo-highway into a vibrant, neighbourhood-friendly street?
In the context of dramatic growth, serious congestion, and continuing road injuries and fatalities, Toronto must take every opportunity to reimagine and redesign its streets as safe, accessible places that connect communities, get people to where they’re going, and support the economic vitality of neighbourhoods.
We are at a turning point where the decisions we make about our streets today will shape the future livability of our city. Bold street redesigns can support a broader cultural shift away from adversarial thinking and toward a new vision of streets as places for all people.
Claire Nelischer is project manager at the Ryerson City Building Institute and lead author of the new report, Toronto’s Great Streets.