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