160918 Open Streets - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Today was the second Open Streets day of 2016, which is a great little non-festival that takes over major thoroughfares in the city core. Long sections of Bloor, Yonge, and for the first time, the Danforth were all closed to cars for the morning and early afternoon. The idea is that there's no major programming involved, but different community groups and individuals can use the empty space as a blank canvas for whatever it is they prefer.

Empty space, empty roads. And sure enough, there's a lot of space to enjoy here.

I count more than two dozen people in the street in the photo above, without counting past the far side of the intersection, or the people on the sidewalks. And I was really only trying to see how much room two dozen people take up because of the next photo below.

This is the scene when I turned ninety degrees to the right. It's Mount Pleasant road, which looks moderately busy – in fact I waited around until there was traffic on it, and picked the photo showing the most cars for comparison. 

I count fifteen cars, including some that are just cresting the hill and are barely visible even in the original file. The traditional presumption is that cars carry an average of 1.5 people, which is deeply optimistic, but I'll even round up and call it 23 people. Let's throw in the one pedestrian on the sidewalk as well, just to be sporting – and this road is still carrying far fewer people than the carless Bloor street in the first photo.


This photo shows 98 people that I can count; without a doubt there are more that I can't see from this point of view. It's taken on the Bloor (aka Prince Edward) viaduct, which was included in the Open Streets network for the first time. This was enough to lure me and my favourite person into the east end, walking the nine kilometre round-trip to the Big Carrot and back. We've made that trip before, and recently too, but it was a much nicer day today.

So here is the view from the same place but taken just ninety degrees to the right. Due to the different vantage points there's a much longer stretch of the Don Valley Parkway shown than in the photo of the Bloor viaduct that crosses it.

Southbound traffic was backed up, moving slowly, which is why the road use is so unusually dense. I count sixty-eight cars, and one bus, and that's important.

The cars, assuming a more typical 1.2 people occupancy, are probably carrying about 82 people. The bus can carry over fifty, and I rarely see them less than three-quarters full, so that one bus likely has as many people as half of the cars in the picture. It doesn't get to use half of the road space, but I suppose that's democracy for you.


These photos may look a little unusual. That's because I'm playing with a new camera that sees slightly differently from the norm – it has had its UV and IR blocking filters removed from its sensor. The top two photos are 'full spectrum', so things that are bright in IR light, like leaves and synthetic fabrics, appear brighter and purpler than expected. The rest of the scene, which is mostly reflecting visible light, looks mostly normal even though colour balance can still be a bit of a challenge.

The second two photos are taken with the same camera, but using a filter than blocks visible light while letting infrared pass unimpeded. In addition to changing how bright or dark objects are, this has the added benefits of cutting through some gentle haze and completely removing printing from so many synthetic surfaces, like tents and signs. While this look can become monotonous and has its detractors, I'm enjoying its effects and seeing what things look like in a different light.


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