Toronto should follow lead of major European cities and pedestrianize sections of downtown streets to improve the public realm, increase economic activity, and attract tourists.
Pros: Improved pedestrian safety, increased economic activity through commercial opportunities, more human-focused urban form, proven success in pilot programs thorough the city: I.e. – Yonge Street, U of T side streets, street festivals. Very low cost.
Cons: Eliminates on-street parking, resistance from local business owners, traffic re-routing.
Removing cars from downtown streets not only makes roads safer, but it also has a proven ability to increase economic and social activity. The reduction in core traffic would allow the closing of the streets to provide traffic-free zones for shopping, cafes, musicians, etc. Access to the space would be provided for emergency vehicles, garbage collection, etc. with the use of remote controlled bollards and/or other removable barriers. Deliveries to business would happen only during certain hours. At cross streets, pedestrians would have right of way and traffic speeds would be severely limited. With this idea, large sections of our downtown core could eventually be closed to traffic facilitating a “people first” environment.
Pedestrianize streets are the norm in many European city centres, particularly on High or Main Streets in the United Kingdom, and have been successful in Toronto when they have been piloted or permanently installed. They are a low-cost, easy, and highly visible form of urban intervention that City actors and businesses have experience with. Requiring simple barriers, possibly street painting, and sign replacement, pedestrian streets are among the most simple and effective strategy for activating public realms to increase economic activity on streets that typically act as either parking lots and conduits for thorough traffic.
Image credit: Andreas Nilsson, Flickr creative commons