Infrastructure Roads Urban Planning Walking

Rethinking Downtown Brampton’s streetscape

The City of Brampton is looking to improve Main and Queen Streets downtown.

IMG_8755-001Main Street looking north at Queen Street, Downtown Brampton

On Thursday, February 23, I went back to my hometown to check out plans for re-configuring Main and Queen Streets in Downtown Brampton. As the Region of Peel needs to replace water and wastewater infrastructure in the area, the timing is right for re-imagining what the streetscape should look like.

The same conversations are taking place in Downtown Toronto. There there are proposals for transforming King Street to prioritize transit and pedestrians; on Yonge Street, city planners, Ryerson University, and local businesses are looking to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as street furniture (such as benches and trees), patios, and special events. Of course, re-imagining downtown streets where cars are given priority will generate opposition, but it’s necessary in dense, urban cities were people, and not necessarily their cars, are given priority.

Downtown Brampton has great bones; it has numerous heritage buildings, several great public spaces, and GO Transit and VIA Rail trains stop right here. The Saturday Farmers’ Market is popular, as is ice skating at Gage Park. But despite some interesting new restaurants and bars, most retail has struggled here, and even new residential development in the area is sluggish. Improving the public realm, especially wider sidewalks and more attractive streetscaping, would be a relatively inexpensive, yet symbolically important, step to making downtown a more desirable place to be.

img_8159-001Sidewalks are narrow, and cyclists often take the sidewalks in Downtown Brampton. 

Narrow sidewalk next to a new sports bar on Main Street North. There is no room here for benches, planters, or sidewalk patios. 

Happily, the City of Brampton is looking to make important improvements to align with the vision for the downtown core. On Thursday, staff from the City of Brampton and the Region of Peel and representatives from MTE Consultants and GSP Group were on hand to discuss the project alternatives and construction impacts from the water infrastructure work and road reconstruction.

Work to build the Hurontario-Main light rail transit line would have piggybacked on Peel Region’s water infrastructure construction, minimizing disruption to downtown businesses. Unfortunately, Council narrowly voted against the downtown segment of the LRT corridor in 2015 and in 2016.

At Thursday’s open house

There were several design alternatives presented that could be implemented on Main Street, Queen Street, or both. These options, shown below, range from full road closure to implement a pedestrian mall to four lanes, with no parking permitted. There was also a “do nothing” alternative, which, in effect, maintains the status quo of parking on both sides of each street, without any sidewalk improvements. (Images below are from the City of Brampton presentation boards.)

Alternative 2, interestingly for a suburban city with poor cycling infrastructure, would provide for separated bike lanes, along with wider sidewalks. Alternative 3A and 3B would continue to allow for curbside parking, but on raised curbs that could allow for “flexible” uses, such as bulb-outs for street furniture and wider sidewalks and patios in specific locations. I was reminded of the recent improvements to King Street in Downtown Kitchener, which has a similar set-up as the Alternative 3 options (see photo below). Alternative 4 would eliminate street parking in favour of four through traffic lanes. Alternatives 3A/B and 4 include “sharrows” – lane markings indicating that cyclists can and should use the road, but aren’t very effective for cyclists’ physical safety.

IMG_0100-001.JPGKing Street, Kitchener

brampton-pic-no-1-panels_page_17Evaluation of all design alternatives

Each of the various options were evaluated based on specific criteria, such as improvements to the local environment and public realm, pedestrian and cyclist safety, traffic impacts, and construction and maintenance costs. Only alternatives 1 (closed road), 2 (two traffic lanes, no parking, bicycle lanes), and 3A (two lanes, flexible street, one side) are being carried forward. Each of these three alternatives align with the City of Brampton’s vision for the downtown core.

Further study of these alternatives will be made and presented at another meeting in April. Construction on the water infrastructure will take place in the summer, and street reconstruction will take place after that.

In my option, I don’t yet believe that a full road closure on Main or Queen Street is desirable at this time. On Main Street, several bus routes use the corridor (re-routed for Saturday farmers’ markets and special events), and passing traffic is important for many merchants. Downtown Brampton isn’t Yonge or King Street. Merchants would also likely protest against the loss of street parking, despite plenty of off-street parking in the area.

brampton-pic-no-1-panels_page_09There are lots of off-street municipal garages in Downtown Brampton, along with nearby GO Transit parking, which is mostly unused on weekends. 

I was also excited, at first, to see separated bike lanes proposed in Alternative 2. With a nearby transportation hub, Downtown Brampton would be an ideal place to encourage cycling. But without effective connecting cycling infrastructure, these lanes would end up as orphans, and likely little-used.

This is why I expect Alternative 3A to go ahead. It’s a compromise that preserves some curbside parking, but still widens sidewalks and allows for some improved streetscaping, and it’s still a vast improvement over the status quo. But I would like to see more details, especially how it would look at each intersection, and specific plans on how to bring life to the widened sidewalks.

The City of Brampton is looking for feedback. If you live, work, shop, go to school or frequent Downtown Brampton, I suggest that you look through the materials and send them your thoughts in the online comment form.

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