140818 Open Streets - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

This past Sunday, August 17, was Toronto's first experiment with the "Open Streets" concept. For four mighty hours – 8am - 12pm – large chunks of Bloor and Yonge streets were closed to cars but open to people. There was nothing particular happening during that time, with no overarching design or festival to occupy the space, but there were lots of volunteers out to guide people along and lots of little things going on to enjoy.

The photo on the left is from Sunday, while the one on the right is from the following Monday. This is Yonge street just south of Walton, looking north toward Gerrard. The street doesn't look too busy when it's occupied by pedestrians, while the Monday photo is about right for the workday. You can click on the photos to see them larger, should you want to.

The photo on the left has about fifty people in it south of Gerrard street, with thirty-one of them walking in the roadway. There's nothing particularly interesting here, nothing 'going on', these are just people out to enjoy a morning walk and see what the city has to offer.

The photo on the right has twenty people walking on the sidewalk – again, this is just counting the activity south of Gerrard, which is the major cross street with the traffic lights. There are four cars on the road, including one taxi, which means six people. There's also the delivery truck and the van parked on the side of the road, so there's a couple more people associated with those as well.

Same idea here: Open Streets on the left, normal weekday traffic from about the same time on Monday on the right. Once again the street with pedestrians looks pretty empty, while there's a typical clump of cars navigating the stop light and narrowed lane of Yonge at Gould street. 

It's impossible to count the crowd past Gould street in the photo on the left, but there's at least seventy people between the stop lights and the camera, with at least half being in the road just for the sake of being there. The photo on the right has that same stretch of roadway being used by eleven cars – two police vehicles, occupants unknown, plus eight private cars and one taxi. So being very generous there might be fifteen people using the roadway. That's far less than are on the sidewalk, even in the photo on the left, where they're hidden behind the row of street lamps.


Obviously not everyone can walk everywhere they need to go – although Penny and I are both able to walk just about everywhere, including to our jobs, which is a huge improvement to our quality of life that comes from living in such a dense part of the city. But part of being a pedestrian also means seeing what a massive public investment of space and money is required for a relatively few number of people to drive their personal cars.

Fixing this imbalance is one of the biggest challenges that the city needs to accomplish.

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