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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Dreams of Front Street

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The Union Station precinct study (led by various architects and consultants) held a public meeting tonight to discuss options for re-shaping Front Street in front of the station. The overall direction is very positive — the primary goal is to expand the pedestrian realm, and create a spectacularly attractive space welcoming people to the city.

Union Station The study cited some remarkable statistics: pedestrians outnumber vehicles by 10 to 1 on this part of Front St. (and 20%-30% of those vehicles are taxis). As well, currently during rush hour traffic is effectively travelling in one lane because of cars stopping and pulling into traffic. In recognition of this, most of the options that the study is considering would reduce traffic to two lanes (either one in each direction, or two in one direction). There would be lay-bys for taxis and drop-offs. The pedestrian space on both sides of the street would be greatly expanded. As well, the whole street would be seen a pedestrian crossing place, and the study is toying with ideas such as having a level surface without curbs, but bollards instead, so that there is not such a clear boundary between vehicle and pedestrian spaces.

There was also some interesting discussion. The traffic lanes are planned to be a wide 4.5 meters in order to accomodate cyclists. However, several cycling advocates who were present said they would probably not use Front Street anyway, and would rather have efforts made to improve cycling paths elsewhere in the precinct; meanwhile, pedestrian advocates noted that 4.5 meters was very wide (traffic lanes could be as narrow as 3 meters) and urged either a reduction in width, or else that 1.5 meters be clearly demarcated for cyclists to narrow the driving lane.

Another issue that was mentioned was the question of building over the train tracks (at one point, a tall hotel was proposed for this space). The consultants indicated that this was not likely to be an issue for quite some time, as there were many complications that would have to be resolved.

One audience member, in response to the issue, put forward a very interesting concept of “air parks” — air space that is designated as public space, in order to allow sunlight and view of the sky for people in a heavily-used public space on the ground (such as the square in front of Union Station).