There is much talk about creating cities for people and not just for car mobility. There is lots of talk about improving pedestrian safety, promoting cycling, improving public transportation, but not much doing.
The World Car Free Day celebration presents a wonderful opportunity to be innovative and actually do something relevant and bold in Toronto. Why not open Queen Street to pedestrians, cyclists and street cars and close it to motor vehicles during the week of September 20th to the 26th?
Queen Street is already poor for car mobility. It’s narrow, has too many parked cars and the street car makes it even slower. The amount of cars using this street could easily be absorbed by Richmond and Adelaide, from Niagara Street in the west to Parliament Street to the east. It’s just 3.8 kilometres but could be a magnificent pilot project that if successful, could become permanent in 2011.
Queen Street is a good street, but it can be better. It can become a world class street. The transformation of Queen Street, along with car diversion to parallel streets, can be a learning experience for many communities. Similar actions in comparable cities have proven to be extraordinary for local business, and magnificent for people of all ages and levels of ability who enjoy a great public place. In the process, we can imagine what a Toronto for people can look and feel like.
A great complement to this pilot project would be to do a ped/bike friendly treatment on Yonge St., by opening the right lanes in both directions exclusive for bicycle riders from Bloor St. to Lake Ontario, leaving the two centre lanes for cars and buses. This would complete the east-west and a north-south bicycle connection.
Smaller interventions should also be used to connect these two arterials to educational institutions, parks, Union Station, and other points of origin and/or destination.
This would be a celebration of Car Free Week with a great deal of impact, which would get everyone thinking about the role of the pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and cars, in a sustainable city. Special projects could be developed from elementary schools to PhD students, media coverage, public forums, etc. The monetary cost is small, as all you need are some signs, pylons, and politicians who have guts and aren’t afraid to think and act big.
Other cities have taken similar measures.
- In Bogota, Colombia, Car Free Day is celebrated on a Thursday in February by not allowing circulation of cars anywhere in a city of 7 million people (approved by referendum);
- in Brussels, Belgium, they also have a total ban on cars one Sunday per year.
- NYC transformed Broadway around Times Square into an exclusive pedestrian and cycling way.
Copenhagen, Paris and Portland also enjoy car free streets and closer to home, one of the nicest experiences for Vancouverites during the Winter Olympics was to have multiple streets open to people and closed to cars during the games; the experience was so successful for community building as well as for the business owners that Administration is evaluating the possibility of making it permanent.
Change is hard and it does not happen by consensus. We must change if we want to combat global warming, the obesity epidemic, economic crisis and traffic congestion, elements that are creating a perfect storm. We cannot expect different results by doing things the same way.
Why not take up this challenge and together, elected officials, city staff, and community members look for solutions to the problems that might arise with this pilot project and not for problems to the solutions and make it a wonderful celebration of life in Toronto?
Queen St. could really become the Jewel of the City, and in the process, contribute to having a cleaner environment, more vibrant business, nice recreation for all, real alternative transportation modes and more physical activity improving public health.