A local resident recently brought my attention to an impending decision by the City of Toronto to not add a sidewalk to Chine Drive, a local road in Scarborough that is the primary route to a school. The road is being rebuilt due to the bad state of the paving, and the City went through an 8-year consultation process to see if other improvements could be done at the same time, but in the end it chose to do nothing more than repave.
The resident tells me that, while some parents in the area would like to walk their kids to school but are afraid to do so without a sidewalk, the residents on the Drive itself were adamant about keeping sidewalks out. Despite current concerns about the decline in the number of children walking to school, and about childhood obesity, the City has no systematic policy about improving infrastructure to make it easier and safer for kids to get to school on foot.
It’s a typical suburban situation — a street was originally built in a semi-rural fashion, and while it may now be in the midst of a city, residents want to keep it the way it was originally built. It’s understandable from the residents’ point of view, but cities change and grow, and it seems odd that the City would still be offering residents a “rural alternative” (which was one of the options considered) when they live nowhere near the city limits (and even a considerable distance from the semi-rural Rouge Park).
If the City wants to respect the residents’ desire to not have a sidewalk, then it should offer, as an alternative, some form of “shared street” model as they often have in Europe, where the street does not have separate sidewalks but is clearly marked as one where vehicles share the road with pedestrians and cyclists. This can be done by establishing a low speed limit and other measures such as narrowing the entrances to the street. The City could also, for example, explicitly allow ball hockey to be played on a street, if there is demand for it.
A shared street plays into residents’ desire to limit traffic on a street, while still moving from a rural conception of the street to a city one. It encourages using the street for walking without changing the appearance that residents moved there to enjoy. If the municipal government won’t build sidewalks on a school route, then it needs to come up with an alternative solution that still encourages safe walking to school.