In a time of growing concern about the safety and efficiency of Toronto's streets, media outlets have become mills of Vision Zero headlines, raging OpEd pieces, disturbing traffic camera footage, and plenty of finger-pointing. And the shaming isn't just local - it's global. Toronto has been singled out as the "worst commute in North America" by UK-based Expert Market, while social media abounds with testimony and tirades from frustrated pedestrians and drivers. Unsurprisingly, #NearMissToronto has become one of the most popular hashtags among Twitter users in the GTA.
As the city meticulously documents every incident that might be blamed on Toronto's "deadly streets", the City Building Institute at Ryerson University has been busy putting together a report on 5 of Toronto's popular streets. What does that have to do with fatal collisions or daily gridlock? Well, Ryerson's thinkers, planners, and builders, are driven by the same questions as the rest of the city: how do we make Toronto's streets safer? How do we make them more efficient?
The report, Toronto's Greatest Streets, reviews five recent street revitalization projects in the city in order to demonstrate "what’s possible when stakeholders come together with a vision to improve the safety, mobility, and shared use of our streets".  Forget broad strokes; the CBI details every tweak - big and small - that has had a positive effect on efficiency, safety, or set up local businesses and neighbourhood micro-economies to thrive. It's been years since the conclusion of these projects, so there's been time enough to see clear, tangible results.
It's an eye-opening read; we don't always recognize the power of small infrastructure changes, and how the ripple effect can improve all facets of a community. At Urbaneer, we have a particular interest in the power of placemaking, and how the design of smart, accessible public spaces can enhance the quality of daily life. These ideas are closely tied to the concept of 'shelter' in Toronto, a passion which has always been at the core of Urbaneer.
Below are the CBI's famous 5! For each, there was a major focus on accident reduction, accessible public transportation, and improved traffic flow, but also street sharing, increased prosperity of neighbourhood businesses, and beautification. We've highlighted some of the easier to spot changes from each, but remember these are only a few out of the many improvements.
Highlights: Upgraded and dedicated bike lanes, improved street lines and signage, additional parking on adjoining side streets.
Highlights: Two car lanes removed, sidewalks widened with curb bump outs, new streetcar platforms/bike lanes, new street/sidewalk lighting, 85 new trees.
St. Clair Avenue West
Highlights: 6.8km of dedicated right-of-way streetcar track and raised platforms (which has reduced "collisions between pedestrians and vehicles by 48 per cent between 2000 and 2011."  )
Queens Quay West
Highlights: Space re-allocated to serve all road users, including broader sidewalks for pedestrians, a dedicated streetcar right-of-way, and a multi-use trail (part of a larger 22-kilometre bike path). Also, street beautification that encourages enjoyment of the waterfront.
Highlights: Multi-use lane (patios in summer and parking in winter) segregated by removable bollards, a pedestrian "paving palette" (with tactile elements for the visually impaired), curbs removed, and a focus on the accessibility of local businesses.
For the most detailed rundown of these successful streets, we suggest you go straight to the source: Toronto's Great Streets. But for a slick summary, with great visual aids, the Ryerson CBI also published this article!
Isn't it refreshing to stop focusing for a moment on what Toronto has done wrong, and spotlight what it has done right?! With the city's population expected to increase 35% by 2041, city council needs to pause, and reflect on successful projects before making any further decisions about our largest corridors, like Yonge Street, King Street, and Eglinton Avenue. After all, there's no blueprint on how to create a blanced, modern street. It's time to get creative!
What changes would you propose for some of Toronto's busier thoroughfares?
For some supplementary reading, we offer these blogs:
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