urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

Bike Lane Ideas from Paris


Tonto sent these bike lane examples from Paris in as a suggestion for ways to improve the way we deal with bike lanes in Toronto (this was part of his comment in response to the last post A Bike Lane Disappears… ). As he says “One solution however, to properly demarcating bike lanes, can be found in Paris. Here are some shots of possible divisions between vehicular and bicycle areas. Some work would need to be done to prevent snowplows from tearing off the strips, but I am sure there are ways around that.”


Quay to the City Timelapse


DuToit Allsopp Hiller (DTAH) have uploaded a series of cool timelapse sequences of the Quay to the City installation along Queen’s Quay that was in place from August 10th to 20th. These are some stills, but check out the original at their site here (props to Tonto for the link).






Newspaper Box Consolidation Project

bloor and bay

The newspaper box consolidation effort started by the Downtown Yonge BIA at Dundas Square has been extended by the Bloor-Yorkville BIA at the corners of Bay and Bloor and Yonge and Bloor. The design is different than the Dundas Square ones (see Spacing Wire post here), and seems to be similar to the style of the ones in Chicago.



The influence of the Drake Hotel continues. Whichever side of the issue you fall on, you can’t argue with the results – changes along Queen West between Ossington and Dufferin have been both pronounced and rapid, from cafes and bars to boutiques and Starbucks.

Those changes are just the tip of the iceberg – a couple of significant condominium development proposals are currently in negotiation south of the Drake in the area dubbed the West Queen West Triangle – and this bizarre sales centre for the “West Side Lofts” (stuck right beside Woolfitts) is the harbringer of things to come.

While it’s exciting that they’ve broken with the staid and obviously temporary standard typology of the sales centre, the flip side is that the aestheticisation of architecture and design in this case is entirely for the sake of attracting attention in the form of sales – once that function has been fulfilled, the building will disappear. This seems a more and more common “programme” of contemporary architecture (read ROM, AGO), one which almost of necessity neglects the other responsibilities of buildings towards the urban fabric.

I suspect that the debate over the influence of the Drake and the nature of gentrification along Queen West is just getting started.

Toronto’s Future Waterfront a la West 8 / DTAH

Some evocative renderings by Toronto Landscape Architecture and Urban Design firm du Toit Allsopp Hillier from the winning proposal in Toronto’s Waterfront Innovative Design Competition. Congratulations to the West 8 / DTAH team.

I reported on the result (with more images from the scheme) and set myself a-musing on its possibilities in a post yesterday. Click images to enlarge! Enjoy.

Waterfront Promenade - The Green Foot

Queen's Quay - Day View

Queen's Quay - Night View

West 8 / DTAH win Waterfront Design Competition


TWRC and the City today announced that the West 8 / Du Toit Allsopp Hillier team were the winners of the waterfront design competition. See TWRC and DTAH websites for details and many more images.

I think we all know the best proposal won. Let’s hope that the scheme goes through with the same principles (maybe sans giant floating maple leaf).



The winning scheme proposes the demolition of the Gardiner Expressway, to be replaced with a Champs Élysées-style boulevard, but it’s attitude towards the railway corridor (the real barrier to the waterfront) is more ambiguous. Knowing Toronto’s politics and methodology, the danger of insisting upon pinning the scheme to the demolition of the Gardiner is delaying design development or construction until agreement can be reached on the Gardiner (and that might be akin to waiting for Hell to freeze over).

Alternatively, going ahead with the Queen’s Quay, slip, and waterfront promenade work without a commitment to demolishing the Gardiner would fulfill the mandate of the competition’s terms of reference, while giving little leverage to force action on the Gardiner question. This whole issue is aggravated by the fact that the existing development along the north side of Queen’s Quay deliberately turns its back on the Gardiner (for obvious reasons), and consequently Queen’s Quay operates quite independent of the Gardiner/Lakeshore Boulevard co-dependency. It is therefore hard to practically argue that a Gardiner demolition is essential to the work on Queen’s Quay.

We’ve seen this play before – some of us might remember the euphoria that accompanied the Fung report and the release of the Making Waves Part II Plan for the Waterfront, both of which gave the impression that the Gardiner would soon be a piece of history, until the Front Street extension became TWRC’s first priority – a project that now seems to be on hold, but which is a constant threat hanging over the Gardiner’s future.

Adrian Geuze of West 8 might be blissfully unaware of the machinations of the Toronto undercurrents, but that doesn’t mean that the proposal to demolish the Gardiner is wrong. The idea of a Champs Élysées-style boulevard is in fact a huge leap forward since most other schemes have proposed a tunnel (akin to Boston’s hugely expensive Big Dig) which is tantamount to accepting the failure of the whole idea in advance.

I think the issue of the Gardiner is so divisive that I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a mayoral election issue in much the way the fixed-link to the Toronto Island Airport became the issue that galvanised David Miller’s win in the last race. There are enough drivers who adore the views and experience of driving the Gardiner (regardless of the cost to the city and the waterfront) and functional transportation thinkers who have a hard time imagining how the boulevard could make up the capacity of the Gardiner, that I would be worried to rely on a plebiscite to settle the issue.

There is the additional oddity that along the western waterfront there are three directly parallel and adjacent large roadways all making their way towards downtown – Lakeshore Boulevard (6 lanes?), the Gardiner (not raised, 6 lanes?), and the Queensway (6 lanes?). My question is, if the raised downtown section of the Gardiner was demolished and replaced with a boulevard (presumably eliminating Lakeshore Boulevard which practically runs beneath it), would that then enable removal of one or two of these western arteries which pose such an enormous barrier between the western waterfront and the city?

If the Gardiner did ever come down, I can’t think of a better reason to dramatically improve the GO train service along the waterfront corridor. Improved service and frequency in both directions throughout the day could go a long way to relieving possible congestion or increased travel times resulting from a demolition of the Gardiner. A perusal of current schedules shows that frequencies aren’t too bad – except who wants to wait an hour for a train? Running a better service might require electrification of the lines (which allows quicker stopping and acceleration after a stop and therefore increased number of stops) possibly allowing for the running of local and express lines with better travel times than the Long Branch streetcar line. An integrated GO transit – TTC fare structure / transfer privileges wouldn’t hurt either. Hey, if we can dream about demolishing the Gardiner, surely we can dream about improved transit?




Ringless Bike Posts – Update

Bike Posts Re-Ringed!

I am pleased to report that the ringless bike posts along Dundas Street West east of Keele that I described last week have been re-ringed (well, a lonely two are still ringless, but it’s an improvement). It’s good to know that the City’s services are capable of working this fast when they’ve been made aware.

All credit should go to Matt Blackett over at the spacing wire who saw fit to give the orignial incident widespread exposure (see here) and then Dylan Reid who followed up with contact information to get the problem fixed (see here).

Bike Posts Re-Ringed!

By the way, the cafe opposite McBride’s Motorbike shop I mentioned in the original post is called “Cool Hand of the Girl”. Give it a try. The Agora cafe a few blocks west of Keele is also a good bet.

Yup. They’re Too Big.

Too Big!

I know it’s old news. But it still boggles the mind. Toronto’s new waste and recycling receptacles are too big for the old inner city neighbourhoods. It’s rare enough to have a nice clear and wide sidewalk along many streets what with newspaper boxes, advertising sandwich boards, tree planters and all the rest of the streetscape paraphenalia. The last thing we need is a giant perpendicular garbage billboard taking up half of a sidewalk. Just look at the photo (taken at the corner of Ossington and Dundas) – it is actually taking up half the sidewalk!

And as for revenue, in the receptacle in this picture both sides have ads advocating recycling which I sincerely hope the City didn’t have to pay for – but of course, since this network of multi-tasking billboards are run for profit, you can bet those recycling ads won’t last for long.

I like to think that these abominations won’t either.

Edit: the spacing wire just answered my question (see here).

The Curious Incident of the Missing Bike Rings


There’s a whole stretch of Dundas Street West, east of Keele Street, where all the Bicycle posts have lost their rings. It’s quite curious. Have they been stolen? Is it vandalism? Is there an official reason behind it? With summer fast approaching and fairweather cyclists snapping up all the available lock-up space, I don’t like to see unusable bike posts.


And here we have the ultimate combination – the ringless bike post next to the cut off stump of a poor little failed street tree. Toronto’s uplifting streetscape in the flesh!

FYI – there’s a cool new coffee shop with excellent fair trade organic coffee right around here – just across the street from McBride’s motorcycle shop (before you grimace, let me tell you it was $1.50 and was a great cup of coffee – organic milk and cream as well). As a matter of fact, the whole area’s hopping these days. Having grown up in the Junction, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going.

While you’re in the area check out Pandemonium, a great used book shop at Keele and Dundas – or if you can make it further west, the refined The Book Exchange stocks only very good condition used books – but don’t go by their website, it’s the pits.

Hail to the City! In Praise of Real Town Centres

I’ve been having fun over at Yellow Pages exploring just what a real downtown is all about. They’ve got a great new search feature called Proximity Search. So if you want to know what makes a more traditional downtown such a great place for people on foot, keep reading. Using Dundas and Yonge in Toronto as my centre point, I performed a search leaving the category field blank and using the smallest radius (1 km) which would give an area of 3.14 square km. The search returns 10,000 businesses. A few more searches reveal that 10,000 is the maximum the Proximity Search can return, so who knows how many more there might be.

But that’s not all – scroll down the search returns and on the left side will be a list of “related categories” which will tell you how many of each category of business falls within the search area. This shows that 902 restaurants, 1,265 lawyers, 33 hotels, 54 retail florists, 115 social and human service organisations and for some reason 72 mining companies are within 1 km of Yonge and Dundas. In case you think there might be some kind of mistake, a similar result is achieved within 1 km of Granville and Robson in Vancouver – 9,101 businesses within a very geographically restricted area – whereas again it is over 10,000 within 1 km of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent in Montreal. The downtowns of some of our smaller cities tend to be closer to 4,000 or 5,000.

It is precisely this sheer “proximity” of such a wealth of choice and diversity of work opportunities, shopping opportunities, and services that makes downtowns such magnets – and that same concentration is what makes them reasonable places to get around without a car and logical places for the convergence of public transit. Add to these figures the large numbers of people who live within these areas and require services, and you begin to understand the vitality and bustle of the downtown – my estimate is that in the general area of Toronto around Yonge and Dundas, an area of about 3.14 square km would house about 20,000 people along with an astounding 235,000 jobs (I’ve based these statistics on data available on the City of Toronto’s Website here and here).

I bring this up in reference to our attempts at creating new “town centres” – and the constant promises of improved transit ridership through marginal increases in overall density. In order to create an efficient network of public transit, we need nodes or corridors of high density, but we also need extreme concentrations of businesses and residences like those of the downtowns listed above – places that demand transit by creating demand. We already know how to build high density suburban residential development – we’re doing it all around the GTA at densities that frequently exceed those of the City of Toronto – but these places are not seeing the transit ridership many would have hoped for – in fact, the transit modal split for the GTA is going to continue falling for many years before we succeed at inching back up – it could be 2020 before we’re back where we are now (see the Neptis reviews of Smart Growth).

With the vast size of the GTA, expecting time-efficient transit service capable of replacing the automobile without extremely dense nodes (such as a downtown) seems thoroughly naive. Yet all of our attempts to create new “town centres” so far pale in comparison to the central downtowns of a Toronto or a Vancouver. When I perform the same proximity search as above for Mississauga’s downtown (an area that includes the colossal Square One Mall) it returns 1313 businesses – for Scarborough Town Centre (coincidentally another mall) it returns 1,243.

As a comparison, I would like to present one last search to put these results in perspective – Dundas and Ossington in Toronto – a primarily residential neighbourhood of detached and semi-detached homes cut by a grid of “main street” retail about 2 km west of downtown. A 1 km proximity search on yellowpages.ca returns 3,240 businesses – more than double the number of businesses within a 1 km radius of downtown Missisauga.

This kind of extreme meshed mixed use of old inner cities is the stuff transit dreams are made of. For many, it is also the stuff urban livablility is made of – choice – the choice to walk, bike, take transit or drive – the choice of many businesses, restaurants and stores within walking distance. Despite constant rhetoric to the contrary, suburban development is not delivering on these key markers of a truly sustainable urban life and won’t be any time soon. It is hard to imagine that we will easily find a way of reproducing the amazing mix of business and homes of the inner city neighbourhood, but we can rethink the scale we are imagining new city centres because these do have the capability of reproducing the function of the traditional downtown, but only if they present the diversity, density, vitality and concentration that makes true downtowns natural nodes (of both transit and urban life) instead of imposed ones.