Thursday, May 6, 2010

Transport: Pedestrian Infrastructure

Dylan Reid of Spacing Magazine pointed out the grooves designed to help the sight impaired find the crosswalks at King and Bathurst in Toronto, Ontario on 1-May-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Arguably, there are some Jane's walks that should almost be mandatory introductions before taking any of the other walks. One is to go through the neighbourhood where Jane Jacobs chose to settle in Toronto, the Annex, including her home and a running commentary comparing her writings to features of the neighbourhood. The next is to walk the proposed route of the Spadina Expressway, which Jacobs famously led the effort to stop. This year, I think a third walk qualifies as a needed introduction--the King West pedestrian infrastructure walk led by Dylan Reid.

A rare functional and complete example of the infamous privately-owned garbage bins was found on King Street West in Toronto, Ontario on 1-May-2010

Reid, a senior editor at Spacing magazine, has served as co-chair of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee and thus has gained quite a bit of insight into how the city addresses pedestrians. Some on the walk were highly critical of the city, pointing out that only pedestrians have to put up with privatized infrastructure, citing the often non-functional garbage receptacles and poorly designed transit shelters that are supplied by a private contractor that gets to put advertising on them. Yet, in some ways, that is the least of the issues pedestrians face in the city.

An example of a nice 2.1 metre-wide "clearway" was found on King Street West in Toronto, Ontario on 1-May-2010

One of the plethora of tidbits that came up over the course of the walk was that pedestrian spaces are supposed to be at least 2.1 metres wide. However, there are many examples of shelters, restaurant patios, planters, and other obstacles that cause the sidewalk to be much narrower. Furthermore, at locations such as jogs in streets and at the edge of parks, the city has generally done a poor job of designing "desire paths," or the shortest routes to where pedestrians will want to go, leading to unofficial routes across grass or private property, leading to not just livability concerns but safety concerns.

A "desire path" was noted for pedestrians to walk across the grass at Clarence Square Park directly to a crosswalk on 1-May-2010

One of the liveliest conversations of the walk came up in discussing crosswalk signals. It turns out that though Toronto has installed countdown timers across the city, the laws have not been updated. A pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk if they entered it when the "walk" signal was still lit, regardless of how long they take to cross. But, if they enter during the flashing stop, they could receive a ticket, even if they clear the intersection before the countdown expires. Provincial law would need to be updated to change that. Furthermore, the default pedestrian activation system used by Toronto (called "PS2MVG" for "Pedestrian Signal 2 - Minimum Vehicle Green") will automatically do a countdown regardless of whether an opposing path is desired--and if no vehicle or pedestrian requests an opposing move, it will return to the default pattern and turn green again after the countdown. This practice is incredibly annoying for pedestrians, who stop at the flashing stop only to receive a green and be able to continue--cars face no such needless delays.

Dylan Reid closed the King West pedestrian infrastructure walk at Clarence Square in Toronto, Ontario on 1-May-2010

Jane Jacobs emphasized walkability as a key to creating a livable city. The King West Pedestrian Infrastructure Jane's Walk was a great way to learn more about how a city becomes friendly to pedestrians, and to how well her chosen city is doing in that process.

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