A dash of Paris
Car-free streets could provide midtown with much-needed safe pedestrian space
Now that the weather is getting warm, people want to be outside and are looking for places to stroll. The most efficient way to create more publicly accessible space is to repurpose existing public space for different uses, such as turning roadways into walkways by creating pedestrian streets.
Pedestrian-only streets sound great in theory. In reality, successful pedestrian streets work best under certain conditions: either as a destination for shoppers or tourists or as a way to improve the overall function of the surrounding area.
The best examples of pedestrian areas in the world include streets in Copenhagen, Paris, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo. In Toronto, there are a few good examples of pedestrian-only areas, but the city of Toronto doesn’t have a great pedestrian mall.
One success story is around the area of Yonge and Dundas. Ryerson University converted a street into a pedestrian-only walkway to form Ryerson Square. The area is now home to patio tables and chairs and hosts a weekly farmers’ market.
Closer to midtown, the city attempted to replicate the success of the Ryerson experiment. Several years ago a portion of the street was closed at Orchard View and Yonge just north of Eglinton for the summer as a pilot project.
Planters were placed on Yonge and tables and chairs were installed. Part of the street remained open to access parking lots and private driveways, but the end of the street was blocked off.
There was a farmers’ market every Thursday, and the area quickly became the spot for people who worked in the local area to enjoy lunch or take a break.
It was a very successful experiment because it created badly needed public space for the local community.
The offset intersection just north of Yonge and Eglinton creates traffic and pedestrian chaos. The closure of Orchard View meant that pedestrians could safely walk north on Yonge and cars were diverted.
In spite of the success of the closure, the combined condo construction and LRT in the area caused the city to rethink the viability of the project and it decided against a permanent street closure.
The upcoming election provides an opportunity for candidates to rethink how some of the local streets in midtown could be reclaimed as public spaces.
With a modest investment, many of the side streets would work because there are great amenities in the area and it would improve pedestrian safety overall. Karen Stintz is a former city councillor, elected in 2003, and was a chair of the TTC. She lives in Ward 16 with her family.