Toronto should embrace the concept of complete streets to design streets that are suitable for all ages, abilities and modes of travel.
Pros: Improved economic activity, updated public realm, user safety, increased urban activity, and proven success in the city.
Cons: Political resistance to eliminating traffic lanes and street parking; requires a robust public and active transit network, cannot be piecemeal.
Toronto should explore current best practices in urban design and implement “complete streets” throughout the city. Already common in many European cities and being implemented in areas in Toronto under intense development pressure, such as the waterfront; complete streets are designed to meet the needs of all users of a street: vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, business owners, and local residents. St. George Street, in the Annex, College street in Little Italy, and Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market are some of the best examples of complete streets in the city. Complete streets, like these, are different than pedestrianized streets in that they provide equal right of way to all modes of transport, including cars, bicycles, and buses. Further, Complete streets are often arterials, essential for economic activity and as avenues for commuters.
Transforming traditional streets to complete streets requires a major change in how we, as Torontonians, conceive of what our streets should do, how we travel, and what we think public spaces should provide. The first step in retrofitting streets typically includes the removal of one or two car lanes, to accommodate for bike lanes and increased sidewalk widths. On-street parking is limited to certain lanes at off-peak hours or removed altogether. Bicycle lanes are either separated by mobile bollards or planters or are simply painted alongside lanes reserved for vehicles. By removing traffic lanes, widening sidewalks, and adding bicycle lanes, policy makers provide the conditions for all three types of users to thrive. Vehicles move slower, but more efficiently as cyclist and on-street parking are limit to specific areas. Local businesses and pedestrians benefit by having more opportunities for outdoor seating areas, increased tree cover, and more places to rest. Complete streets become ‘sticky’ streets where people want to spend their time. They increase local economic activity by improving streetscapes, bring more users (particularly cyclists ad pedestrians) to the area, and make streets safer for all.
Complete streets require extensive changes to existing to traffic and business policies and as such require significant political support. Years of congestion, poor public transit service, and public realm neglect have left many Torontonians disillusioned and reluctant to experiment with bold urban design initiatives. However, the success of St. George Street among others, illustrates that complete streets can and will thrive in the downtown Toronto. Paired with changes to downtown parking strategies, public transit expansion, and increased residential development, complete streets have the potential to drastically improve the quality of life or Toronto residents, particularly in downtown neighbourhoods, and provide economic growth opportunities.
Image credit: Matej Duzel, Flickr creative commons