Highway Land Hogs and Reclaimed Pedestrian Space

By Ben Bull
Published October 30, 2007

Interesting reading in this week's NOW magazine.

After a lengthy Red Hill Expressway debate at the foot of the RTH blog, All Part of the Cost of Doing Bidness, Roger Brook provides us an update, and an insight, into Toronto's own expressway woes, specifically on the battle for improved pedestrian access at Yonge and 401.

"Toronto is headed down the wrong path when it takes a healthy person 15 minutes to legally walk across an intersection," suggests Brook, as he recounts the on-going citizen versus the city battle to improve pedestrian access at this junction.

RTH has assessed the massive land loss that accompanies two- and three-lane highways and their grass gobbling on/off ramps before. It is heartening to read here at least, how some cities are now in the process of dismantling these land whores, and utilizing the reclaimed land for progressive development:

Montreal is in the final phase of demolishing its Avenue du Parc interchange at the base of Mont Royal," reports Brook. "The city took the unusual step of holding a contest to decide what to do with the land and received over 100 submissions that will be made public in November."

He continues: "Many U.S. cities even the Motor City itself, Detroit were forced to provide practical freeway crossings like pedestrian bridges because their expressways hacked through the beating heart of pre-existing communities crammed full of people."

Even in the GTA common sense appears to be emerging: "Consider what's happening to the South Kingsway in Swansea," recounts Brook. "A recent interchange environmental assessment recommended replacing some of the ramps of the Gardiner with a traffic signal and link road."

For the most part though, Toronto's (and I'm sure, Hamilton's) infrastructure development is still all about the car.

"Toronto's highway mileage generally follows the path of least resistance," concludes Brook, "through parks, industry or farmers' fields, where there (is) little pressure to accommodate pedestrians."

Sadly, there are an increasing number of places in our cities which have become virtual no-go zones for pedestrians. Here's hoping towns like Hamilton and Toronto can learn the lessons of Montreal and Detroit, and start giving the city streets back to the pedestrians.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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