Where should Toronto’s pedestrian mall be?

Last summer, I spent some time in Stockholm, Sweden with a few friends. We were attending a wedding of a friend, but scheduled a lot of time to wander the city. Stockholm has a number of pedestrian malls that I was instantly envious of. The mall pictured above is the bustling Drottninggatan, which is equal in length to Queen north to Gerrard, possibly College.

Toronto experimented with a pedestrian mall on Yonge Street in the 1970s, but it only lasted a few years. If Toronto were to create a long or sizable pedestrian mall, where should it be?

39 comments

  1. I’d go with narrow streets with high volumes of pedestrian traffic to start:

    Kensington Market – Baldwin and a couple blocks of Augusta. Allow deliveries or restrict deliveries to certain hours.

    Gould St. (Ryerson campus) from Yonge to Church and the north section of Victoria.

  2. I would say Queen West would be a good candidate if it were not for the streetcars! Anywhere that would be a good spot already has streetcars running through I think.

  3. For them to work properly, they have to be designed with that purpose in mind. Take Yonge for example. Most stores get their shipments via the front door since there is no real access via the back. The new Sobey’s express has a ‘hatch’ where employees have to lower shipments from the sidewalk into the basement stockroom.

    Even Kensington, as awesome as it would be to have pedestrian only, 24-7, is very reliant on the roads for getting product to them.

    They should incorporate something into the waterfront renewal plan. Design the area so stores have access roads in behind. That’s their best bet to have something work and that people will be happy with.

  4. Wow, that woman in the first picture is really tall.

    Yes, Stockholm has some great pedestrian-only areas, as does Copenhagen (Strà¸get, apparently Europe’s largest). But at least one closer example is discouraging: Ottawa’s Sparks Street Mall is far less vibrant than the car-choked Byward Market. Do we understand how to avoid whatever killed Sparks Street?

  5. I think Yorkville is the most obvious choice.

    Close down Yorkville and Cumberland (Bay to Avenue), except for a small driveway-sized access to the existing parking garage from the Avenue Rd. side.

    Also, close Bellair and Hazelton (Yorkville to Scollard.

    Yorkville Park is there, the area is already very pedestrian friendly, its a nice shopping/patio district.

    ****

    Alternative options include, St.Lawrence Market area (lower Market Street and Front Street, Yonge to Jarvis)

    And

    Kensington Market (though not as un upmarket pedestrian mall)

  6. Extend staircases down the pillars of the Bloor Viaduct and into the Don Valley. Turn the DVP into a long pedestrian stroll. We might hear the birds singing in the valley.

  7. Queen north to Bloor and Parliament west to Spadina – ah, to dream!

  8. Gould Street was supposed to be turned into a pedestrian mall as part of the Ryerson makeover but in the most recent version it’s jsut a regular street still (see link). Now they just want to tear down Kerr Hall!!! and pave over the flower/shrubbery/vine/tree beds that surround it. Read Globe article on it.
    Gould is a natural for a pedestrian mall as it only runs about four blocks and isn’t a major thruway and it’s in the middle of a campus. They should put it back in the plan. Delivery vehicles could still be allowed so that’s no excuse.

    Of course the usual candidates – Yorkville and Kensington would be good too. And I’m thinking maybe Church would be a good north-south alternative (bike/foot/skate/blade) thouroughfare.

  9. Yonge Street south of Bloor should be transformed into a pedestrian-only street with beautiful shops, boutiques, restaurants with patios, galleries, fountains, street art, lamps, trees, shrubs, plants, and a bike lane all down Yonge Street. In the spring, summer and fall there could be farmer’s markets and street festivals animating the street.

    A pedestrian mall on Yonge would be a magnate for locals, families and international tourists. It’s great for business, it’s great for the environment, it’s great for residents, it’s great for tourism. And with so many condos and businesses in the neighborhood, a pedestrian-only Yonge Street would be an incredible commercial success, bustling with people of all ages day and night. Yonge Street is our main street and it should be our pride and joy, and with some forward thinking from politicians and developers, it could be transformed into a model for other cities to follow.

    It is mind-boggling that we have allowed Toronto’s (indeed Canada’s) most famous street to be a strip of run-down fast-food chains, dollar stores, strip clubs and porn shops! What an embarrassment!

    As for funding this concept, the City should start requiring that developers in the area (such as Bazis the developer of the proposed 80-story condo at the south-east corner of Yonge & Bloor) put money towards creating a pedestrian-only district on Yonge Street south of Bloor as part of its agreement to allow them to develop.

    Also, Yorkville should be pedestrian-only, as well as some sections of Queen West or King West.

    Toronto is car-infested, concrete jungle. We use our streets for commuting by car. They are ugly and neglected. Trees are dying, there is no greenery, and very little public art. We don’t have a street life in Toronto like European cities have, and that is a real shame and quite depressing! Pedestrian-only areas would be so easy to create – we just need to make sure that they are designed properly so that they succeed.

    We have a lot to learn from European cities on how to become a more beautiful, more livable and more environmentally-friendly city.

    Let’s start having more public discussions about this, more articles in the press, and more public pressure to create beautiful, dynamic pedestrian-only areas in downtown Toronto.

  10. Deliveries to shops should be restricted to certain hours (ie early morning) on pedestrian-only streets. During that time frame, trucks and cars making deliveries would be allowed into the area.

    We should also examine how cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen deal with issues such as deliveries to shops in pedestrian-only areas.

  11. Yonge Street, who cares? When was it ever really that interesting anyway ? I sat there when it was closed in the 70’s and it was a big ugly canyon.

    Kensington, despite the delivery issues, would be great as it would combine tourism with small scale business and residential; the perfect balance.

    Or a cheaper way would be to put more tables up on Corporate Shill Square, I mean Dundas Square.

  12. Yes, Yonge Street has always been a decaying, decrepit, ugly embarrassment to this city. And it’s our main street. That really says something about the level of urban planning in this city.

    Making Yonge Street a pedestrian only street in the 70s was ridiculous. People didn’t live downtown in the 70’s – the downtown core was dead after 5 pm! And why would anyone want to hang out on a pedestrian strip composed of discount stores and porn shops!

    The time is ripe for making Yonge Street south of Bloor and north of College into a pedestrian zone, but it needs to be done right. And let’s not do any more projects “cheaply” . When projects are done cheaply it not an investment in the city’s future. They are cheap and ugly and destined to fail. If we do a pedestrian only street, let’s make sure we raise the funds through public-private partnerships, to ensure that it is done right and that we create a neighborhood that is successful and that we can be proud of.

    Let’s learn from other cities that have higher standards in urban planning and apply them to Toronto. I am sick of dodging cars and looking at grey concrete everywhere in this city.

  13. I mean this is the nicest way possible, but the post asked for comments on where to do a mall, not tell us what sucks about this city. Though I sympathize with the commenters on the downfall of Yonge Street, let’s try to propose solutions to those problems instead of griping.  Most of ius know where the problems are, we need to start fighting for these places witha collective voice.

    I think both Yonge (all the way from Bloor to King) should be a mall, and same on Bloor from Spadina to Christie Pits.  At minimum on Bloor, turn one lane into a ped mall with a bike lane and allow one lane each way for cars. But really, the Annex is ripe for it. I’d also say Queen West — the streetcars become a ROW and ped mall on either side. Do this all the way from Yonge to Trinity Bellwoods Park (approx Strachan Ave).

    Just creating those malls would turn this city into a tourist haven. It would force store owners to spruce up their facades. I don’t care if its not used as much in the winter, but I think it would be used much more than expected. The space would be perfect for wintertime  festivals, mini ice rinks, etc, that would draw people out of their homes.  Think of these malls as the canals of Ottawa.

  14. I’d like to think the idea of creating a pedestrian mall is to lead the revitalisation of a suitable area, not pander to an already successful commercial district.

  15. There is a compromise option (I hesitate to add) that is succeeding in Europe. It is to redesign some streets to blur the demarcation (kerbs) between street and sidewalk. Apparently, drivers are much more considerate as they are forced to pay attention to pedestrians and not obliviously barrel down the road with the cliché cell-phone in one hand and latté in the other steering with their elbows.

    I could see this working on Yonge south of Bloor. But the traffic lanes should be reduced to the two centre lanes, bringing out the sidewalks by 8 or so feet on each side. Of course it would have to be done properly with mosaic-ey paving stone and lots of trees. On summer weekends it could be totally closed to vehicle traffic.

  16. Mitchell,

    I beg to differ about your comment that “most of us know where the problems are” in the city of Toronto.

    That’s the problem in Toronto. People don’t care enough about our public spaces and about good urban design. People who read Spacing may care, but the average Torontonian isn’t well versed enough about urban design in the world’s great cities to be outraged at how terrible our urban design is.

    I’m happy to see that public opinion has been changing a bit in the past few years and for the first time ever I feel that Torontonians are starting to see the possibilities for greatness in our city.

    I agree with you that we need to start fighting for a great city with a collective voice. If there was more public outrage at Toronto’s poor urban planning and mediocre architecture, politicians would have to start listening and start raising standards.

  17. LB > when I said “us” I meant Spacing readers.

  18. There is nothing to prevent streetcars from co-existing with pedestrians provided that the street is properly designed. Imagine Queen Street West with the sidewalks widened into what is now the curb lane. This would make a huge increase in pedestrian space while allowing room for transit (which moves people around after all) to get through the area.

    Remember that any area still needs access, and not just for deliveries. Many people need access by taxi, and these must be allowed to share the transit space.

    Proposals for a transit mall on King in the club/theatre district met with huge opposition from the locals who fear the lost ability of customers to get to their shops/restaurants/theatres as well as traffic chaos in the surrounding area. Oddly, transit on King is not all that frequent outside of the rush hour, especially evenings and weekends. Pitching this as a transit scheme has hurt the TTC when a more broadly-based street design for all uses is really what is needed.

    Steve

  19. Please read this excerpt from Patricia Chisholm’s piece in the Globe today. It gives me hope that with more public awareness and outrage of how badly designed our city is and more public pressure to create a really great city, plans for well-designed pedestrian-only streets may soon become a reality.

    —————–
    Fixing our eyes on the future

    This six-part series on fixing Toronto’s public spaces, which ends today, was driven by one purpose: to explore how a city that has lagged badly in the public realm can do some quick catching-up. Burdened by an excess of pragmatism and an almost willful refusal to give aesthetics its due, Toronto has suffered the consequences – drab streets, mediocre architecture and a strange lack of inviting gathering places.

    Until very recently, Torontonians seemed resigned to the situation. But we’re now seeing debate about the public realm and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Dinner-party conversations buzz over the merit of new buildings and design plans, from the Royal Ontario Museum to the waterfront. When there is a design competition to make over Nathan Phillips Square, people flock to register their preferences. And Fixing Toronto has provoked an online conversation now stretching to more than 100 comments.

    Will there be change? The designers who generously donated their time and ideas to this series have sent Toronto a strong message – if there’s sufficient public will, a way can be found. While arguments about cost and consensus have their place, it is becoming obvious that what’s needed most is public pressure. And the results could be remarkable. Yes, property values will increase and tourism will flourish. But more than this, Torontonians can begin to step into the vast potential of their city.

  20. Have a look at the following report. It is very interesting:

    MAKING TORONTO’S STREETS
    September 2006
    Report prepared by
    Paul M. Hess, PhD, University of Toronto
    Beth Moore Milroy, PhD, FCIP, RPP, Ryerson University

    The main finding of this study is that Toronto is talking about a new vision for its streets but the tools to achieve it are missing. The new vision wants more people out of their cars, on public transit, on foot and bikes. But almost all the institutional mechanisms for making and changing streets in light of those ideals are geared to an older vision, one primarily oriented toward moving cars, not to the new one. There is little money to work with so creative solutions are needed.

  21. Worrying about how deliveries are made seems to be the go-to concern in the debate on pedestrian malls. While , yes, deliveries do have to be made, they are not so frequent that delivery trucks would pose any danger in a pedestrian zone. Most deliveries could be done during mornings and evenings, the rest could be done at low speeds through pedestrian traffic during the day. The odd thing about this point is that delivery trucks pose a far greater impediment to car traffic on regular streets (see the shredding truck that was parked on yonge north of bloor earlier this week that had traffic backed up to davenport for the afternoon).

  22. I love this site, I always learn something new about my city whenever I come in here, such that Yonge was a failed pedestrian street in the 70’s, Ryerson’s plans and the report on MAKING TORONTO’S STREETS.

    I sometimes feel there is a shift happening in Toronto, the opening of the ROM (hate it or love it) has people talking and daring to dream. A cultural renaissance might be happening (still too early to tell) and maybe Torontonians are finally realizing the immense potential this city has to offer.

    I believe we will start demanding more public spaces, it doesn’t matter if it is more cultural institutions like museums, new green areas, or pedestrian friendly spaces. The question is when will the balance tip for those with a vision against those that fear change?

    Great place we can do without traffic in this city: Bloor between Spadina and Ossington, Yonge from Bloor to Queen, Kensington Market, Saint Lawrence Market, Queen East at the Beaches (or Beach), Queen West from University to Bellwoods, Yorkville, King from Avenue to Bathurst, Roncesvalles from Queen to Dundas, Queen in Parkdale, Dundas St at the Junction area, Danforth from Broadview to Coxwell (or beyond), Front between Yonge and York, Baldwin Street, Dundas from Dufferin to Ossington.

    Pick one, I would be happy with at least one. But we are still a car oriented culture, this will probably only happen when the Leafs win the Stanley Cup (i.e. never).

  23. Several pedestrian malls have been proposed throughout the city, dating back to the 1960s and possibly before. Most haven’t happened because of resistance. Businesses generally aren’t interested so politicians are going to have to work with landowners if this is going to be a reality. Some people are also worried that pedestrianisation entails gentrification.
    What about John Street?

  24. Queen West between uni and spadina is the obvious choice — this coupled with Queen streetcar LRT/ROW from Scarborough to Etobicoke.

    Actually, Queen should be dotted with ped malls all along the ROW.

  25. Well, we don’t have to be a car oriented culture. We need to study how other countries have created cities that are pedestrian-friendly with lots of pedestrian zones and create such a place here.

    Toronto’s plan to increase density in downtown Toronto is great. If a condo is built downtown with 500 units, it means not having a subdivision with 500 homes in the suburbs and 500 drivers on the road.

    We also need to put money into expanding the subway system downtown. I mean expanding the subway downtown. Not to North York. We need to think long-term and invest in the city’s future. It’s absolutely ridiculous that a city with the size and sprawl of Toronto only has two subway lines. Even small European cities like Prague, Budapest, and Vienna have extensive subway systems.

    Yes, putting in new subway lines downtown will be very expensive, but it has to be done and we need to think of new, creative ways to fund it. Streetcars are slow, inefficient and awful to use in the winter in Toronto, especially when it is minus 20 C outside.

    Yonge Street south of Bloor is ideal for a pedestrian street since the subway runs underneath it and it’s easily accessible by public transportation.

    As Patricia Chisholm said in the Globe & Mail yesterday, what is needed the most for change is public pressure. We need to let our politicians know that the current state of our city is unacceptable and that we will not put up with ugly, poorly designed streets, mediocre architecture, and a lack of inviting pedestrian places in Toronto any longer.

  26. For what it’s worth, Kyle Rae has said for a couple of years that he would support closing Gould and north of the parking lot on Victoria between Yonge and Church once the Toronto Life Complex is complete. Though to qualify that, he also wants to be confidant that emergency vehicles, deliveries and other essential services are able to maintain access to the area as required (for those quick to jump at the qualification in that statement, note “required” and not a different word like desired.)

  27. No problem – all they have to do to allow access for emerg and delivery vehicles is ensure street furniture and trees are not placed in obstructive positions, i.e. keep a clear passage at least one lane wide.

  28. Several European cities have streetcars sharing the pedestrian malls. A friend of mine visited Amsterdam and took a great telephoto shot of the pedestrian mall where it looked like the streetcar was going to run several pedestrians down because of the compression. (The people were actually crossing the tracks a block away from the streetcar.) In cities like Amsterdam and the Hague the streetcars have the right of way and people know enough to stay off the tracks, which are demarcated with a thick white line and frequent signs warning pedestrians of the streetcars. The pedestrian mall is vibrant, there are sidewalk patios literally mere feet away from the tracks. According to the locals in the Hague, incidents between pedestrians and the streetcars were extremely rare.

  29. Are you sure that’s a photo of Sweden? Sure looks like the Malastrana side of the Charles Bridge in Prague…

  30. I’ve never been to Prague, nor have my friends. Unless we were kidnapped and drugged to believe we were in Prague, that is Stockholm.

  31. Yonge street is the obvious choice.
    The public votes for this every time they celebrate a dubious sporting achievement whether it is the World Series wins in the 90’s or the Olympic Hockey Gold medals.
    This is where people instinctively congregate en mass and on foot.

    There also is the subway line and no legal parking spaces to be lost between Bloor and King street.

    People for whatever reason freak out when civic improvements eliminate parking spots but since there is no place to stop and park along Yonge even the dumbest merchants could figure out that more foot traffic will equal more sales but then perhaps they know that a pedestrian mall will mean more gentrification and higher rents….so long head shops.

    Deliveries could still be made at select times early in the am and cross streets would be preserved.

    This would be the best way to improve Yonge street, currently I avoid it like the plague, now more than ever as Yonge and Dundas gets worse by the week.

  32. Patricia Chisholm’s series was interesting but seemed to be concerned with large vision instead of street life. In this weeks story using a phrase like “one of Toronto’s most uninspired quadrants” seem a bit insulting to a very large geographic arera that has some of the best things that Toronto has to offer. The tone pisses me off and shows a lack of any real knowledge of any of the street level issues in this area that need addressing (lack of community centres being a big one/the redevelopment of railway lands being another). Instead of locals needing to “wake up” maybe writers and designers need to come visit.

  33. Keeping in mind that this is North America, not Europe, it may very well be that just as Toronto was dumb-lucky to escape the worst or inner-city expressways and urban renewal, it was dumb-lucky to escape the worst of well-meaning street-malling.

    Besides, all in all, it’s probably the sort of thing that works better (and more Euro-like) in back-alley rather than major-artery situations–think of the soon-to-be-RIP-by-Borat Roys Square at Yonge + Bloor…

  34. If Yonge Street south of Bloor were to be converted into a pedestrian mall it would be one of the city’s key attraction. As Alex Bartlett says above, people already naturally congregate on Yonge Street. It would be the absolute perfect choice for Toronto’s Pedestrian Mall.

    This is what Where Magazine writes about Sparks Street Mall in Ottawa. Why can’t we have something this great in Toronto on Yonge Street? It would be fairly easy to implement and would be wildly successful if done properly.

    http://www.where.ca/ottawa/guide_listing~listing_id~2202.htm

    Located one block south of Parliament Hill, Sparks Street is Canada’s oldest outdoor pedestrian mall. Popular amongst visitors and locals, the eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, pubs, and hopping outdoor cafés makes it a key destination in the city. Visitors can also see some of Ottawa’s most beautiful heritage buildings, stunning architecture, as well as a variety of works of art, statues, and fountains which decorate the street. Events take place on Sparks Street throughout the year, including the Ottawa International Busker Festival (August 2 to 6, 2007) and the International Chicken & Rib Cook-Off (June 20 to 24, 2007).

    This is what I’m envisioning for Yonge. It would be an incredibly awesome thing for our city. Hopefully David Miller, City Hall, the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism Toronto will see the enormous value in such an initiative for residents, tourists, businesses and the international reputation of Toronto.

  35. The majority of European towns and cities have made part of their centers carfree since the early 1960s, but there are also many numerous examples of successful pedestrian malls in North America including
    Lincoln Road, a 7-block pedestrian mall in Miami. It’s one of the hottest shopping spots in the US.

    Also, Boston is planning on expanding its downtown’s pedestrian-only shopping district with an oasis replete with sidewalk cafes, bicycle taxis, and a fresh-foods market similar to Harrods Food Hall in London.

    Hope we can catch up with the rest of the world’s great cities and start creating our own well-designed pedestrian-only areas. But they have to be well thought out and designed, otherwise they will fail.

  36. I didn’t know Borat was an investor, Adam. Wow. Kazakhstan, people, Kazakhstan, the next world class destination.
    As for pedestrian malls, the blurring of sidewalks/streets is a useful idea and it works. And it’s worked for centuries. Much of what we consider “pedestrian friendly” Europe is simply that, streets that didn’t bother to change much when the car came. But, in Toronto, there’ll be some who shout, “What about the children?”
    The reality of pedestrian malls is that it can’t be simply shutting down the street to traffic. That only works on festival weekends. It needs a complete redesign, of the paving, landscaping, etc.
    University Ave. would have been a perfect location for our Ramblas (sorry, was hoping to make it through without referencing some place in Europe), but the development there doesn’t really lend itself to vibrant pedestrian life, save for the accused enjoying a latte in a tree covered median before prosecution commences at 361.
    And we must resign ourselves to the fact that pedestrian malls often become tawdry, touristed places where too-hip locals don’t go, but, honestly if it brings in tourists to see the TD Centre, or our cultural neighbourhoods, or, God forbid Carlos, the Maple Leafs, then I guess I don’t have a problem with it.
    I’ve been away from Toronto living across the world for the past five years. When I was there, I felt I was the only one who cared a damn about how a building fit into the streetscape, or how a gnarly traffic junction should be worked out to provide some life to a neighbourhood. Since then, websites like this have sprung up and the improvement of urban Toronto seems to be a daily conversation, and, with some distance, I see hope in that. Don’t despair all ye who enter here, thinking you are the only ones who care. I think things are getting better.
    Oh yeah, my suggestions for a pedestrian mall: Gould Street, I think, is good, if only to provide a safe haven for Ryerson students, not so it can become an “august” institution like U of T (I like the fact both Unis are different and don’t want that to change); and why not College between Bathurst and Ossington (maybe too far), it’s already got the densities, and the street is narrow to begin with (obviously keeping the streetcar).

  37. 1) Queen West from University to Spadina.
    2) King West from University to Spadina.
    3) Yorkville.
    4) Kensington.
    5) College between Grace and Palmerston.
    6) Yonge from Queen to Bloor — on weekends and holidays at least.

    Where streetcar routes exist, they become the only motorized traffic permitted.

    One-way residential streets that intersect these areas should continue to operate as usual, without allowing turns of course.

    Delivery times might vary depending on the needs of the locations.

  38. I’m not sure that there is anyone in Toronto with the vision and the ambition to create a great pedestrian district, nor is there enough public pressure to demand such initiatives. I fear that even if we do try it, the bar will be set so low, and it will be done so cheaply and with such poor planning that it is doomed to fail. It’s sad, but so true with most of the urban design projects in Toronto. I know this is a little harsh to say, but let’s just face reality please.

    Pedestrian streets would make a huge difference to life in Toronto. For someone who has lived all over Europe, it is really hard to live in a city like this — a city without much street life or well-designed public spaces which encourage interaction among people.

    People in Toronto just don’t live in the streets, they don’t talk to one another, or make eye contact, or interact like they do in other cities. Really, it’s such a sterile, cold environment.

    It is also difficult to live in a city where beauty is not important. Things seem to be improving a little in these past few years with the revitalization of run-down neighborhoods and the addition of a few high-profile buildings, but in general Toronto has got to be one of the ugliest cities of its size that I have ever seen.

    I agree that Yonge Street would be an ideal venue for a pedestrian street, but it would have to be designed properly with trees, benches, public art, fountains, an efficient tram, a bike lane and a mix of attractive restaurants, retail shops, bars, boutiques and galleries, as well as places people frequent on a daily basis like grocery stores.

    I also agree that journalists need to cover this in the press more to create more public awareness and more pubic pressure to demand excellence in urban design for our city.

  39. I’ve thought about this for a while, and this may sound radical, but I don’t see a need for private veicles anywhere in side spidina, front, jarvis, and bloor. That would be the Ideal situation, in my humble opinion, as long as parking, and other ammenities were taken care of.

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