Public spaces or parking spaces?

RVBIA - ArchiveARCHIVE, Beautification, Front Page, Parking, Roncesvalles Village BIA

The City and the TTC appear to have reached a general consensus on the basic design theme of the street, proposed for the 2008 or 2009 reconstruction of Roncesvalles.

Back in July, the TTC presented a preliminary plan for curb extensions (bumpouts) onto Roncesvalles. The TTC’s plan widened the sidewalk at TTC stops along the entire length of a streetcar. This bumpout would be placed back from the intersection, allowing for a right-turn or go-around lane for car traffic. The widened sidewalks would create new public space for benches and greenery, and would allow for new sidewalk patios and merchandise displays. Boarding the streetcar without having to cross a traffic lane would be a significant safety and accessibility feature. However, the plan also would require the loss of a significant number of existing parking spaces along Roncesvalles.

The BIA and community members asked the planners to consider the loss of parking, the traffic restrictions and the effect of diverted traffic on neighbourhoods. We also stressed that the bumpouts should enhance public space, and not simply serve as transit platforms.

Since then, the TTC and the City have been going back and forth, discussing every intersection in detail. On December 6, they presented a more complete proposal for the street.

Southbound at Howard Park

Photo: TTC

Widening the Sidewalk: A proposal by the TTC and the City suggests widening the sidewalk in order to allow riders to board the streetcar without crossing a traffic lane. This would allow for greater use of the sidewalk, including patios and merchandise displays. The proposal would significantly reduce on-street parking, however.

The newest proposed plan, still preliminary, widens the existing sidewalk space by 0.3 – 1.5 metres, not including the bumpouts, and it allows for a widened, “sharrow” lane that can accommodate cyclists. This would be achieved by narrowing the parking lanes. The west side parking lane, which currently has peak-hour restrictions, would be made permanent. The plan also calls for upgrades to the crosswalks to make them more visible and obvious. The TTC withdrew its earlier proposal for a left-turn prohibition at northbound Howard Park, but now proposes peak-hour prohibitions at southbound Howard Park and northbound High Park. As for parking, the City estimates that about 40-50 on-street spaces will be lost in order to make room for the widened sidewalk.

At a meeting on January 12, members of Roncesvalles Renewed (representing the BIA, the three neighboring residents’ associations and other community groups) expressed strong support for the new public spaces proposed by the City and TTC. This support echoes comments the BIA has received from businesses and the community since August, when we posted the TTC’s first preliminary proposal. So far it appears the community strongly desires new and enhanced public spaces along Roncesvalles, even if this means a loss of on-street parking.

While Green P has recently added some parking capacity to Roncesvalles, it is clear that this plan would change Roncesvalles into a street that prioritizes transit, cycling and pedestrian uses over car traffic and parking. This is in line with new city policy, as well as the BIA’s streetscape strategy of 2003. While the BIA would like to preserve parking where possible, the plain fact is that Roncesvalles will never be able to compete with other shopping areas on parking availability. To compare, Roncesvalles currently has perhaps 200 on-street parking spaces, while Yorkdale Mall has 7,200. But Roncesvalles can offer something that a mall never can: a pleasant and distinct experience for shoppers who walk, cycle or ride the streetcar.

The BIA strongly insists, however, that the new sidewalk space must enhance the public realm and be well-used. It must do more than simply open up some room and give transit riders a place to wait for the streetcar. It must bring new people out onto the street, give them a place to meet, chat and shop. Will this plan achieve those objectives? Please share your opinion by emailing the BIA at info@roncesvallesvillage.ca, or your local residents’ association, or leaving a comment.

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UPDATE (Jan 15): Steve Munro has launched a discussion of the proposal on his well-read transit blog.