One small part of Toronto road network puts pedestrians first

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


young and bloor.jpg
An iPhone photo taken by CityCaucus at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Street yesterday

In a business trip I took to Toronto this week, I had the opportunity to stay at a hotel near Bloor and Yonge Street. If you’re not familiar with Hogtown, this is one of the busier and more active parts of the city that’s helped to define it as one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan centres in the world. However, it wasn’t Toronto’s night life and vibrancy that caught my attention, it was a rather unique pedestrian crossing (okay...I write for a civic affairs blog, not Entertainment Weekly).

If you happen to be at the corner of Yonge and East Bloor, you’ll find that pedestrians rule! That’s right, move over cyclists and single occupant vehicles, this busy corner of Toronto is owned by the lowly pedestrian. As you can see from the photo above, pedestrians are given special priority when it comes to crossing the street. One man is shown walking in the middle of the street as he safely crosses to the other side. At every second light, a voice bellows over a loud speaker and lets pedestrians know they have complete priority over the intersection.

What does “complete priority” mean? Well, not only are all the lights red at the same time in all directions (see photo), pedestrians can actually walk kitty corner across the street. It’s almost surreal. For about 30 seconds, pedestrians can walk in all directions and they have full control over one of Canada’s busiest intersections.

While Toronto was narrowly voting to defeat new bike lanes, it was comforting to know that at some point in their history elected officials thought it was worth experimenting with this type of "pedestrian first" crossing. Unfortunately, Yonge and Bloor is the exception, not the rule. I’m told by locals that it’s one of only a handful of pedestrian first crossways in Toronto. I’m also told it took locals a while to actually get used to having priority at this busy intersection.

Could something like this actually work in Vancouver? The simple answer is yes. There are several intersections downtown where this type of experiment could easily be implemented and help send a message from council that pedestrians are their top priority. Having seen it for myself first-hand, I also know it doesn't necessarily turn streets into gridlock.

The current Vision Vancouver dominated council has been captured by the cycling lobby over the last 18 months. As a result they regularly put pedestrians in the back seat when it comes to developing transportation policy. The best example of this was their move to add a dedicated bike lane on the Burrard Bridge. It made the cyclist lobby happy, but it was clearly a big setback for Vancouver’s pedestrians.

If Vancouver is going to be the greenest city in the world, the time has come to try some truly innovative policy options to put pedestrians first in Vancouver. How about a new pedestrian first crossing at the corner of Howe and Georgia Street? What do you think? Are we putting too much focus on cyclists at the expense of pedestrians? Leave a comment below and give us your perspective.

- Post by Daniel



"For about 30 seconds, pedestrians can walk in all directions and they have full control over one of Canada’s busiest intersections."

Sounds like pretty much every intersection along Yonge south of Bloor at pretty much every time of day. ;-)

Vancouver has had the same thing since +/-1975 via the Granville Mall. There, you cross mid-block between intersections for 6 blocks just by looking both ways. But, let's look @ expanding this to a few key intersections as well. What say the Planning & Engineering Departments?

We should try "common sense" intersections, with no lights, lanes, sidewalks, or rules. It would force people to actually think for 10 seconds out of the day, and interact with each other.

They do it in Europe, and that should be enough reason for the green-eco-planner types at city hall to give it a go.

There was a "scramble light" at Granville and Hastings in 1959 and possibly later.

I wrote about these 'barn dance' intersections in the Vancouver Sun in 2007 when I saw them in action in Auckland. I too was advised that Vancouver used to have them at major pedestrian intersections. I think the city should investigate re-introducing the approach at some key intersections....we should also look at eliminating right hand turns on red lights where there is heavy pedestrian Howe and Georgia.

Here in Toronto, the cyclists have teamed up with the Pedestrians. We are moving forward together by trying to bring a "complete streets policy" to Toronto, one that would better integrate all modes of transportation, not pit one against the other.
We had originally started this process by creating an "Active transportation" group (TCAT) which was quite effective on the pedestrian front. The Toronto Cyclists Union (aka Bike Union, aka Bike Lobby) was created to bring a stronger voice to cyclists. And now both are teaming up with transit users as part of the Complete Streets movement.
The Mayoral race be dammed; together we will make Toronto a better place to walk, cycle or take public transit in!

Traffic management in Vancouver seems to be stuck in the stone age compared to some other parts of the world. Poor junction design, incredible numbers of completely uncoordinated traffic lights, road paint that vanishes in the dark and wet. The list of shortcomings is beyond a joke.

We need to look at up to date solutions as adopted in many European cities, which typically cope with significantly heavier traffic on significantly less blacktop. Maybe the engineering departments throughout Metro Vancouver could swallow their pride and rivalries and bring in one of the international traffic consultancies before our swelling population causes chaos.

Finally, given the abysmal driving standards in our Province, let's just get rid of the right turn on red altogether.

I really like what Anthony stated about the transit users/peds/cyclists pooling their resources to lobby for complete streets, we definitely need this type of combined action in the van-dot.
Watching until late the other night I was captured by their collection of shorts on Paris' road sharing strategies. Out of the plethora of good ideas two really stuck with me.
1. Speed limits.
Paris has three speed limits- 15, 30, 50 KM/H with 30 not 50 being the most widely used. They "help" Parisians to stick to these low speeds with raised sidewalks at just about every intersection(like a little speed bump) and also lots of changes in street materials such as cobble stone in intersections. Guiding folks to slow down at intersections with the physical street scape seems like a really awesome technique I'd love to see here. Basically slower traffic is safer for all folks on the road.
2. Road Responsibility.
The idea that everyone on the road is responsible for travellers in a lower weight class. ie. Cyclists are responsible for pedestrians, cars are responsible for both cyclists and pedestrians, trucks and buses are responsible for cars, cyclists and pedestrians and so on. When your deciding to get that big new SUV because it's going to be "safer" for you and yours, what if you also thought about how many more of your fellow commuters that big vehicle makes you responsible for on the road. I love this way of thinking about road responsibly. Roads are for all and we need to look at them in that light, cheers.

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