Categories
Roads Toronto Walking

Toronto’s killing streets

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A collision involving a pedestrian on Jarvis Street, 2017

If there’s a “war on the car” in Toronto, the car is still winning.

On Tuesday, Gideon Fekre was acquitted of dangerous driving causing death, after he sped on Dundas Street East, crossing a bike lane, mounting a sidewalk, and struck a pedestrian, Kristy Hodgson, killing her and one of the two dogs she was walking at the time. Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Fekre was distracted at the time, reaching for a water bottle that fell. But Fekre was acquitted because his driving was not deemed dangerous enough to be worthy of a “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle” conviction. As Ed Keenan — an excellent Toronto Star journalist who covered the trial — pointed out, the Supreme Court ruled the same way in a similar case.

Surveillance video showing Kristy Hodgson walking her dogs, before Gideon Fekre’s car crosses the bike lane and mounts sidewalk before hitting and killing her. (Toronto Star/YouTube)

In the second case, Deriba Wakene was acquitted of leaving the scene of a collision after a 2015 hit-and-run that killed Nelisa DaMota as she was crossing Bloor Street mid-block. The judge in that case explained that he believed Wakene when he said he did not hear, see or feel any impact, even though Wakene’s neighbours could see the damage to his car after he parked it in his driveway.

Both these judgments have made me angry. I hit a raccoon once while driving on a dark, rural highway, and heard and felt that impact, and I was shook up by that, even though there was no damage to the car, and there was’t much that I could do. If you hit a pedestrian, and don’t even know it, you shouldn’t be behind a wheel. If you’re distracted enough that you mount a curb and hit a pedestrian, there should be consequences to that.

These two trials were the result of criminal charges, rather than lesser Highway Traffic Act (HTA) charges more commonly laid by police. For most HTA offences, the accused does not need to appear in court, even after a pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed, and penalties are light — often a small fine. A proper vulnerable road users law, like that proposed by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, is necessary. Her bill sets out mandatory probation orders and community service for careless drivers that cause death or serious injury to a pedestrian or cyclist. DiNovo’s Bill 158 passed first reading at Queen’s Park, but may not be passed in time before the legislature breaks for the June 2018 general election.

Sadly, there’s not enough action on pedestrian and cyclists’ safety here in Toronto. The city’s Vision Zero plan is modest as best, as I recently discussed. Drivers are too often unaccountable for their careless dangerous operation of their potentially deadly machinery. Sidewalks and bike lanes are debated at length, while opportunist politicians and reactionary pundits complain about a “war on the car.” If there is such a war, the cars are still winning.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Toronto’s Zero Vision and the folly of Seniors Safety Zones

IMG_4386-001Eglinton Avenue East near Brimley Road, one of twelve Seniors Safety Zones in the City of Toronto

Despite its status as a global city, a city that’s often ranked as one of the world’s safest, a city that likes to think of itself as both progressive and a top place to do business, Toronto does a lousy job of protecting its residents from injury and death on its roads.

Although there have been a few positive steps — the new King Street Pilot, launched last week, or the Bloor Street bike lanes, made permanent between Avenue Road and Shaw Street in October — Toronto does far too little to protect pedestrians and cyclists in this city. The installation of sidewalks in residential neighbourhoods are often opposed by local residents resistant to losing driveway space on which to park their cars, or unhappy about having to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. Affluent neighbourhoods might be dotted with “drive slow – kids at play”  lawn signs, but their residents and elected representatives will oppose new bike lanes and lower speed limits on the arterial roads they use to commute downtown.

The general idea of reducing road violence is a popular one. But specific actions are often opposed. The city’s own Vision Zero strategy — weak as it is — is a good indication of the ambivalence to road safety we have in this city.

IMG_4403-001Woman and young child cross seven lanes of traffic at a crosswalk at Eglinton Avenue East and Danforth Road

Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden, is the road safety philosophy that no loss of life is acceptable, and that all road users are human, that humans make mistakes, and road design must minimize the impacts of those mistakes. Complete streets that accommodate all road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and transit users), and road engineering measures to protect pedestrians and cyclists and reduce traffic speeds are in the spirit of Vision Zero.

But when Mayor John Tory and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Jaye Robinson (Councillor, Ward 25) originally announced the city’s Vision Zero plan in June 2016, it merely aimed to reduce serious collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists by 20 per cent over a ten year period, allocating $68.1 million over five years.  The plan itself was modest. After a social media backlash and criticisms from active transportation activists (including Walk Toronto, of which I am a co-founder and a steering Committee member), the plan was revised, with an additional $10 million allocated and the goal to eliminate serious collisions, rather than simply reduce that number.

One of the specific measures in the city’s Vision Zero plan is the creation of seniors safety zones, areas with high volumes of older adult pedestrians and higher risk of collision. Older adults make up a majority of pedestrian deaths in Toronto; 37 of the 43 pedestrians killed  in 2016 were over the age of 55. According to the City of Toronto’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, seniors safety zones will feature changes intended to improve pedestrian safety, such as lower speed limits, improved street lighting, advanced and extended walk signals at signalized intersections, red light cameras and radar speed signs, improved sidewalks and additional crosswalks, and increased enforcement.

Twelve seniors safety zones were designated across the entire city of Toronto. Five are in the old City of Toronto, including Dundas Street at Bloor, Dundas at College/Lansdowne, and Dundas at Spadina. Six are in Scarborough, and one is in North York.

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Senior Safety Zone sign and 40 km/h speed limit, Danforth Avenue at Coxwell

On Danforth Avenue, two senior safety zones were identified: near Coxwell Avenue and near Main Street. The speed limit on Danforth Avenue was reduced from 50 km/h to 40 km/h in 2016, but few other visible changes are apparent. Danforth Avenue is a five lane street, including a centre lane for left turns, and is paralleled by a subway line. The curb lanes on Danforth are unusually wide, and are used for parking outside of weekday rush hours. There are no bike lanes on Danforth either.

Despite the 40 km/h speed limit, the wide lanes, dedicated turning lanes, and the absence of daytime local transit promote high speeds. The design speed of Danforth is simply too high; simply reducing the speed limit and putting up “senior safety zone” signs will do far too little.

IMG_4396-001Seniors Safety Zone sign on Eglinton Avenue East, at Brimley Road. Note the 60 km/h speed limit sign

Eglinton Avenue East, between Midland Avenue and Danforth Road in Scarborough, is another senior safety zone. Two pedestrians were killed on this stretch of road in 2016.

Eglinton Avenue through Scarborough is seven lanes wide, including a centre left-turn lane to cross streets and commercial properties that line the wide street. Traffic signals  are typically 500 metres apart; many TTC bus stops on Eglinton Avenue East are located far from a designated crosswalk. Buses are frequent between Midland and Brimley; four frequent routes feed into the Kennedy subway station to the west. Again, there is no cycling infrastructure to be found.

The senior safety zone here is a joke. Not one safety intervention was made here. The yellow-and-black safety zone signs that read “drive slowly” are merely advisory, and do not stand out among other traffic  and commercial signage. The 60 km/h speed limit was not changed, and intersections were not altered at all to improve pedestrian safety.

IMG_4374-001At Eglinton and Midland Avenues, wide curb radii encourage speedy right turns into crosswalks; many drivers do not stop at the red light before making a right turn

Several residential side streets off of Eglinton, such as Winter Avenue, do not even feature sidewalks. The signs might say “seniors safety zone” but there is no evidence that pedestrian safety is taken seriously at all here.

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Winter Avenue’s sidewalks disappear a mere 50 metres south of Eglinton Avenue

Physical interventions, such as narrower lanes (which could make room for cycling infrastructure and/or wider sidewalks), bump-outs at crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility and slow down right-turning vehicles, would be more effective. Police enforcement, or speed radar cameras, would be an additional deterrent against dangerous driving.

At least the city has taken notice of the unacceptable numbers of pedestrians and cyclists killed in Toronto, but simply putting up new speed limit and safety zone signs are not enough. Without road engineering works to slow traffic down, and without effective police enforcement against speeding and drivers’ failures to obey traffic signs and yield the right of way to pedestrians, we only get feel-good measures and ineffective signs. A real commitment to Vision Zero requires political will, which so far is lacking at City Hall. Instead, we get zero vision.

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Roads

The trouble with those “cyclists dismount” signs

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Recently, I wrote about inconsistent, misleading, and problematic signage at road construction sites. Too often, cyclists are instructed to dismount and walk when a bike lane or general traffic lane is closed for construction.

But these signs also exist where many multi-use trails and paths cross intersections. In suburban municipalities such as Brampton and Mississauga, multi-use paths adjacent to major roadways are preferred over on-street bike lanes (protected or not). But they too, are littered with signs instructing cyclists to stop, get off their bikes, and walk across the intersection, such as the example illustrated below, in Mississauga.

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The trouble is, the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM), used by transportation planners and engineers to design roadways and install the appropriate signage, takes a dim view of signage requiring cyclists to dismount when on roadways or on multi-use trails:

“It is sometimes necessary for cyclists to dismount their bicycle and walk when the terrain or cycling conditions are difficult and no alternatives exist. However, the option of asking cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes should not be relied upon in lieu of adequately accommodating cyclists through appropriate road design.”

Book 18 of the OTM (available here as a PDF) states that the “dismount and walk” sign should “be used only in exceptional cases, such as where an in-boulevard facility ends, and cyclists would discharge into a sidewalk or pedestrian zone.” This clearly means that these signs should not exist when a bike route or multi-use trail crosses a driveway or an intersection, but only when the route ends and becomes a sidewalk, or at a pedestrian mall where cycling is not permitted. (Page 118, OTM Book 18, 2013 edition.)

OTM Book 18 page 118Excerpt from page 118, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

The OTM also says that “…cyclists usually find it difficult to rationalize why “dismount and walk” restrictions are in place, and conclude that they were a poor, illogical or arbitrary decision. Thus, if facility designs cause cyclists to make what they consider to be unnecessary stops, this will increase the likelihood that they will ignore or disobey traffic controls.”

What the Ontario Traffic Manual does specify, is how signage, road markings, and design should be made to clearly mark crossing locations, warn motorists to watch for cyclists, and to remind cyclists to yield to pedestrians. Figure 4.103 from OTM Book 18, shown below, illustrates how a mixed pedestrian and cyclist route on the side of a road — like those in Brampton and Mississauga — should meet an intersection. While signs warn motorists and cyclists to watch out for each other, and for cyclists to yield to pedestrians, there are no “cyclists dismount” signs to be seen in the diagram.

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Illustration of how a multi-use trail should meet an intersection. Figure 4.103, from page 124, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

Multi-use trails are an effective way of providing safe cycling infrastructure, especially in the suburbs, where traffic speeds are higher and politics may not make installing bike lanes an easy sell. Traffic engineers have figured out that those ubiquitous “cyclists dismount” signs are not effective and developed designs that instead accommodate cyclists.

It’s time that municipalities figured this out.

Categories
Cycling Roads

Toronto can do better for cyclists at construction sites

For years, cyclists in Toronto have not been getting enough respect. In 2011, City Council voted to remove bike lanes on three streets — Jarvis Street, Pharmacy Avenue, and Birchmount Avenue. Major off-road cycling routes are closed for months or years at a time, while additional funds are found to accelerate road closures and construction on the Gardiner Expressway. Mayor Tory is committed to spending $1 billion to maintain the eastern section of the Gardiner, despite low traffic volumes and lost opportunities for the revitalization of the eastern Harbourfront. Yet funding for a comprehensive grid of safe cycling routes remains hard to come by.

There have been some positive news, however. The new Bloor Street bike lanes — officially a pilot project — between Avenue Road and Shaw Street were recommended for retention by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee this month. New bike lanes were added on Woodbine Avenue this year. And the Toronto Police Services’ parking enforcement officers have been targeting cars and trucks stopped in bike lanes.

But one problem that still needs to be addressed is proper messaging at construction sites where bike lanes or general-traffic curb lanes are closed for construction. Too often, cyclists are told to dismount and walk their bikes, despite their status as vehicles, entitled to use the road as any other vehicle. (There are, of course, exceptions such as freeways and some high-speed roads where pedestrians and cyclists are expressly not permitted.)

For example, cyclists heading west from Danforth Avenue over the Prince Edward Viaduct were greeted with a sign reading “bicycle lane closed – cyclists dismount and use sidewalk.” Next to that sign was a “sidewalk closed” sign, directing pedestrians to the south side of the viaduct.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act says that cyclists are to ride as close to the right of the roadway as practicable. But this does not necessarily mean cyclists must ride right next to the curb either, especially if there are blockages, debris, or other hazards. Motorists must also pass cyclists at a distance of at least one metre, and must wait for a safe opportunity to pass.

147 (1) Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 147 (1).

4) Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (4).

(6.1) Every person in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway who is overtaking a person travelling on a bicycle shall, as nearly as may be practicable, leave a distance of not less than one metre between the bicycle and the motor vehicle and shall maintain that distance until safely past the bicycle. 2015, c. 14, s. 42.

After several complaints, new signage directing cyclists and motorists to yield and share the lane was installed on Danforth Avenue approaching the viaduct.

On Yonge Street, where construction between Wellington and Richmond Streets has reduced the road to two lanes, “cyclists dismount” signs have appeared as well. While this part of Yonge does not have bike lanes, the signage is still wrong. Cyclists have the same right to take the lane. I complained to a construction worker nearby after spotting these signs, who complained about cyclists riding through anyway, not getting my point.

IMG_3940.JPGConstruction signage on Yonge Street, south of King Street

Signs telling cyclists to dismount are generally ignored, like those on multi-use paths in suburban Toronto. They’re placed at intersections and at narrow pinch-points for safety (drivers not expecting cyclists to cross; conflicts with pedestrians on sidewalks), but they are poor substitutes for solutions such as traffic calming, painted cross-rides at road crossings, and gentler, more effective measures to slow fast-moving cyclists, such as speed humps and barriers where necessary. At construction sites, it is far better to remind motorists to yield to cyclists and share the road, than expect cyclists to get off their bikes and walk around the construction zone. That said, “cyclists dismount” signs and enforcement is necessary and useful in pedestrianized zones, such as street festivals and pedestrian malls.

Signage telling cyclists to dismount at construction areas is lazy, de-legitimatizes cycling, and sends the wrong message to motorists. I hear enough complaints about “cyclists who break all the rules.”

Of course, it’s best to provide a safe passage for cyclists at construction zones, such as detouring a bike lane around the construction. On Richmond and Adelaide Streets, some building construction sites have shifted the separated bike lane around the site, an encouraging development. Where it’s not possible or feasible to maintain a bike lane through the construction zone, the signage still can be improved.

At a construction site on Simcoe Street, confusing signage and a poorly marked diversion endangered northbound cyclists, forced out of the separated northbound lane and into oncoming traffic. This resulted in at least one close call.

On a recent visit to Chicago, I came across a sign that delivers the right message. It read: “bike lane closed ahead — shared lane — yield to bikes.” The large orange sign was mounted in the road, in a way that it would be seen by motorists. It also makes it very clear that cyclists not only have the right to use the general traffic lane, it also makes it clear that motorists must give way to cyclists detouring around the closed bike lane. Toronto would do well to follow this example.

The City needs to develop mandatory standards for bike lane and curb lane blockages, in order to reduce confusion, as well as promote the safety and legitimacy of cycling in this city. It must also enforce those standards vigorously.

IMG_2904-001.JPGSign in Chicago sends the right message

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Travels Walking

The Halifax Department of Silly Walks

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As part of our trip through the Maritime Provinces a few weeks ago, we visited Halifax. Nova Scotia’s capital and largest city is the economic, cultural and transportation hub for Atlantic Canada. In 1996, the City of Halifax was merged with surrounding towns and suburbs, as well as rural Halifax County; the Halifax Regional Municipality is now 5,490 square kilometres, nearly nine times the size of the City of Toronto.

Like many amalgamated cities in Canada, Halifax has a historic, densely populated inner core, surrounded by urban neighbourhoods. Beyond the old cities of Halifax and Dartmouth is a ring of suburban homes and businesses, such as Bedford, Cole Harbour, and Bayer’s Lake. And like Hamilton and Ottawa, there’s another, even larger ring of rural farms, woodlands, small villages, and exurban estates. Peggy’s Cove, for example, is near Halifax’s eastern boundary. Councils of these amalgamated cities must reconcile the needs and desires of the urban centre with those of suburban and exurban residents. In Toronto, bike lanes are held up, or even removed, for the benefit of motorists living outside the urban core. The debate over Hamilton’s LRT has pitted suburban councillors against those representing the lower city. Halifax is no exception.

Halifax’s urban core is worth exploring, despite construction detours around the new convention centre, the waterfront, and new condominium development. Downtown includes the historic Citadel, Province House, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, among other museums. Halifax Common and the Public Gardens are welcoming public spaces in the classic New England style.

Halifax Transit operates a ferry service to Dartmouth — only $2.50 per person, with the return trip free if taken within 90 minutes — which offers great views of the city and the various commercial and naval ships in the harbour. The ferry is also fully integrated with the local bus system. The new Halifax Central Library is one of Canada’s greatest new public buildings: the five storeys are bright and user-friendly, and there is even a rooftop patio and café to visit.

Downtown is compact and a pleasure to walk abound.

IMG_0903-001.JPGThe spectacular new Halifax Central Library

But once you stroll beyond Halifax’s urban core, the landscape changes. Signed crosswalks are fewer and farther between, even in older residential neighbourhoods.

Maritimers are famously courteous to pedestrians; most motorists will slow or stop if they see a pedestrian about to cross the street, whether or not there’s a marked crosswalk. But that slower pace of life in itself does not prevent collisions. As in any North American city, Halifax’s arterial roads and suburban streets are built to move cars through quickly and efficiently.

That’s where the flags come in. What was intended as a well-meaning, inexpensive measure to promote pedestrians’ safety at crosswalks has become one of the most ridiculous pedestrian initiatives.

Crosswalk flags were the idea of just one man, Norm Collins, a Dartmouth retiree. The flags and buckets only cost $200 per crosswalk, compared to $15,000-25,000 per crosswalk for proper signal lights. In 2015, municipal staff were cool to pedestrian flags, though the idea enjoyed support from HRM councillors, particularly suburban politicians, and the flags were approved by council.

Now, at most crosswalks outside Halifax’s urban core, there are buckets of bright orange flags for pedestrians to take when crossing the street. These buckets and flags can even be found at signalized crossings with flashing amber lights activated by pressing a button. Each bucket has instructions printed on how to “be cautious…be seen…be safe.”

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One of the buckets, with instructions on how to use the flags left inside

Yes, even when there are flashing lights at an intersection, Halifax Regional Council expects pedestrians to use these flags (even if city staff disagree). The instructions above clearly indicate that the onus for safety is entirely on the pedestrian crossing the street, not on motorists taking care by driving safely and attentively.

Vision Zero is the Swedish road safety philosophy that seeks to end traffic fatalities by minimizing the effects of mistakes made my all road users. Lower speed limits, enforced by road re-engineering works (such as bump-outs, speed humps, and tighter corners at intersections) that slow down cars and trucks is one such effective measure. So are complete streets, designed to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists. Cheap pedestrian flags, which do not address the root problem, are not within the spirit of Vision Zero.

If Halifax Council — or any municipal government — was serious about improving pedestrian safety, features that would help include improved lighting, narrowing the roadways at pedestrian crossings, and raising the crosswalks closer to the curb level, forcing motorists to slow down (and also improving drainage. Flags and high-visibility clothing are useful for temporary conditions and for traffic control personnel, but not for everyday conditions and everyday people. The onus should always be first on the licensed motorist to be attentive to the road and drive according to the conditions.

A ridiculous pedestrian safety measure deserves a ridiculous walk, as I demonstrated in Dartmouth.

 

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Transit

A better Hurontario Street – an LRT update

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Metrolinx light rail vehicle mock-up at Gage Park, meets a Brampton Transit Zum bus, 2013. 

Earlier this week, I visited Brampton City Hall, where at a public open house, Metrolinx and city staff provided an update of the Hurontario Light Rail Transit project. Brampton City Hall was an ironic location for the open house; before Brampton Council voted against building the LRT up to Downtown Brampton and the GO/VIA Station, the LRT line would have stopped right here. Even with Brampton’s decision, there will be three stops in the city, so an open house for local residents to provide their feedback was still needed.

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The Hurontario LRT project, map via Metrolinx

The open house was quite interesting as more design details were displayed. There`s a focus on promoting active transportation — walking and cycling — and urbanizing much of the corridor. Three lanes of motor traffic will go down to two in most places, and right turning traffic will be tamed. This will make Hurontario Street a safer and more pleasant place to be.

Along the entire LRT corridor, Hurontario Street will feature separated bike infrastructure — for the most part, there will be separated bike lanes, with multi-use paths in a few areas, especially south of the Queensway, where Hurontario Street is narrower. Sidewalks are also wider. With only a few exceptions, cyclists will be able to ride across intersections without being required to dismount. Those exceptions are at the Queen Elizabeth Way, and at Highways 403 and 407, where Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) standards at interchanges will force the “stop, dismount, wait for gap” regime; pedestrians will also still have to yield to motor traffic.

img_8334-001Typical cross-section once the LRT is built. The orange paths are the separated bike lanes, the green paths are sidewalks. Hurontario Street will only have two traffic lanes in each direction. 

img_8328-001At expressways, like at Highway 407, pedestrians and cyclists still must yield to motor traffic at on-ramps. 

In another benefit for pedestrians and cyclists, channelized right turns are eliminated along the entire route. Channelized right turns (like the one shown below) are convenient for motorists, but they increase conflicts with foot traffic and are incompatible with lower speeds and safe cycling infrastructure. Their removal also creates new room for streetscaping opportunities.

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An example of a channelized right turn

The northern terminus of the LRT, at least for now, will be at Steeles Avenue. As Brampton debates other LRT alignments (Kennedy Road and McLauglin Road are indirect alternatives to reach Downtown Brampton), the stop was moved to the south side of the intersection. This is unfortunate: the Brampton Gateway bus terminal, which opened in 2012, was designed to easily connect with the planned LRT stop on the north side of the intersection, with two short crosswalks across southbound Main Street.

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Planned LRT terminus at Steeles Avenue, including tunnel between the LRT platform and the Brampton Gateway Terminal. 

Instead, a more expensive tunnel is required to accommodate transferring passengers between the LRT and buses. Elevators and escalators will provide direct access to the tunnel; crosswalks at Steeles Avenue and Lancashire Lane will also be accessible from the platform.

The final contract is planned to be signed in mid-2018 and construction should begin in Fall 2018. As the City of Mississauga backs the LRT project, hopefully any change in the provincial government will not jeopardize this plan. Not only will Mississauga (and south Brampton) get a fine new transit service, it will also see a tamer, more urbanized main street.

And maybe Brampton City Council will come to its senses and extend the transit corridor via the direct, least-expensive, Main Street alignment.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Urban Planning Walking

Rethinking Downtown Brampton’s streetscape

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. 

Categories
Roads Toronto

From the vaults: the end of Yonge Street

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Note: This article was previously published in Spacing Toronto on April 13, 2011.

One of Toronto’s greatest debates concerns Yonge Street’s controversial claim as “the World’s Longest Street.” Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records published Yonge Street’s status as the true record until 1999; a bronze art installation in front of the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas has a map of Yonge Street extending to Rainy River.

This claim rests on the rather tenuous claim that that the 1,896 kilometre length of Yonge Street from Queen’s Quay on Toronto’s Harbourfront to Rainy River via Highway 11, at the Minnesota-Ontario border is in fact, the longest continuous “street.”

While a popular claim, I’ve been a skeptic of this local legend. Highway 11 and Yonge Street have never been one in the same, especially after the downloading of Highway 11 south of Barrie by the Harris government in the late 1990s.

In 1920, Yonge Street was added to the Ontario provincial highway systemas Highway 11, which extended from Downtown Toronto as far as the end of Simcoe County, at the Severn River north of Orillia, where an unnumbered highway continued through the unincorporated Districts of Muskoka, Parry Sound and Nipissing to North Bay. In 1937, Highway 11 assumed the Severn River-North Bay portion and the newly-completed North Bay-Hearst section.

During the Second World War, the section between Nipigon and Hearst was completed; it finally provided a complete provincial highway link between the Manitoba and Quebec borders and formed a crucial part of the Trans-Canada Highway until the more direct Highway 17 link from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa was completed in the 1960s. Indeed, Highway 11 could still claim as the longest signed route within a sub-national entity but several national routes, such as US Interstates and US highways, are longer. In fact, the last reference to Yonge Street on Highway 11 north of Holland Landing is a short section of former Highway 11 in south Barrie.