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Exclusive: 'Great Streets' project reimagines downtown Toronto

Last Updated Oct 24, 2017 at 8:38 pm EDT

Twelve major Toronto streets could look completely different in the coming years, as the City of Toronto re-imagines the downtown core to serve its booming population.

CityNews has exclusive details of the latest proposal under TOCore — the 25-year vision that outlines what the city’s cultural, civic, retail and economic realms could look like in the coming years.

The dozen roadways, which the city has dubbed “Great Streets,” include some of Toronto’s busiest and most historic: Bloor, Queen, King, Jarvis, Parliament, Yonge, Front, Bayview, Queens Quay, Spadina, College-Carlton-Gerrard and University.

City planners and consultants say they aren’t living up to their potential, and could be transformed into the communal front lawns and meeting places for busy vertical communities.

The re-designed streets have the potential to serve as connections to existing park spaces and other hubs. For example, the boulevard on University Avenue is made of three acres of parkland, but it’s sandwiched between several busy lanes of traffic.

A city study found that during the week, only three per cent of people passing by choose to spend time in the median, and over the weekend, that drops to one per cent. The street also connects King Street — one of the fastest-growing neighbourhoods in the city — to public resources like City Hall, and to hospitals and health-sciences research centres.

On University, the city is considering reducing north-south traffic from eight to six lanes, which would all be on the west side of the boulevard, and turning half of the road into 7.7 acres of parkland. As envisioned right now, the park would stretch from Queen to College Streets, and would include bike lanes and a seven-metre wide sidewalk.

“We can make our boulevards and our sidewalks basically work harder to be part of our parks as we walk through that open space,” says Lorna Day, director of urban design at the City of Toronto.

CityNews spoke to some city councillors, who shared their concerns about reshaping downtown streets.

“We also have to think about the functionality of university, which is leading to the legislature and all the hospitals,” says Coun. Paula Fletcher, Ward 30. “It’s probably a fantastic idea if it fits with emergency wards, if it fits with mobility.”

Etobicoke Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti says he’s concerned the plan will create more traffic congestion.

Day says that research and planning still need to be done to determine how traffic would move around in the future – not just on University Avenue, but through all of downtown.

“I think it’s also important to imagine the streets a sometimes places where people are welcome,” Day says.

The city says a dramatic redrawing of the downtown map is necessary as thousands of people continue to move into the core every year. Though the drawing being pitched is only a starting point. City staff hope it will be used to stimulate conversation about what kind of city citizens envision for the future. Over the last five years, downtown’s population has increased by 10,000 people each year. Toronto is growing vertically, with 83 percent of the population living five stories and up. The city is also encouraging developers to build family-friendly condos. Further, Toronto expects a 50 to 60 per cent increase in the number of people who work downtown in the coming years.

The TOcore study was launched in 2014, and a final report is expected this year. The great streets plan isn’t funded yet – it would have to go through city council to get approved – and the province and private sectors would also need to help out with funding and planning.

City planners say plans like TOcore are living documents. They want Torontonians to weigh in and help refine the vision for their ideal future city. A public meeting is scheduled for December 2, where more ideas for the streets will be unveiled. And citizens will be able to weigh in online starting in November.