A dash of Paris

Car-free streets could pro­vide mid­town with much-needed safe pedes­trian space

Bayview Post - - News - KAREN STINTZ

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.

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