Archive for July, 2007

The invisible cars of the Danforth

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Speak of the “Green Utopia” that might be Toronto, and car-free living comes to mind: Ward’s Island, the city’s ravines, the beaches. Danforth Avenue.

Danforth Avenue? “Highway 5?” A car-free zone?

Yes, for the educated pedestrian—a woman or man who’s used to the patterns and expected movements of car traffic in the city—the busiest stretch of Danforth Avenue might as well be void of cars entirely. Here, where traffic creeps and crawls, confined to its one lane in each direction, with a wide painted median strip at the centre and a lane of parked cars along each curb, the cars are rendered by circumstance invisible.

In fact, it’s cyclists the pedestrian must really take care over, for here, where the Danforth has been “thickened,” so it froths with activity night and day, bikes have been left with a virtual expressway: the piece of the parking lane between moving cars and parked cars is almost two meters wide, wider than a regulation bikelane, providing more than adequate clearance from the “door zone” of parked cars. Too narrow for a car, this de-facto bikelane lets cyclists really zip along. Never mind “Take the Tooker.” This part of the Danforth is a bicycle expressway already, without the fuss.

Go to the Danforth today and judge for yourself if it isn’t effectively a car-free zone.

Stand where Pape Avenue crosses Danforth and look both east and west. Look west and you’ll see the heart of “Greektown,” with its busy sidewalks and congested roads. West of Pape is the “car-free” district of the Danforth. Drivers that enter this stretch do so knowing they are going to crawl. Here, drivers drape their arms out the side window, chat with their passengers and inch along as traffic permits. They enjoy this street almost as much as pedestrians do. For pedestrians, the entire street is a shopping mall, where crossing north and south is done on a whim, with barely a pause to check the traffic is truly stopped.

East of Pape it’s different. It’s not the size of the shops or the height of the buildings. It’s not the width of the sidewalks, the width of the road, or the nature of the residential neighbourhoods to the north and south. These factors are unchanged, east and west of Pape. But no one would argue that the Danforth east of Pape is anything but dangerous for pedestrians. No one would refer to it as a “greenTOpia.” It’s still called “Greektown” across Pape, but everyone knows it’s not the same.

What’s the difference then?

Only one thing: paint.

Danforth Avenue, heal thyself. Paint the entire stretch, from Broadview to Kennedy Station, the way you’re painted west of Pape, and watch the Green Utopia Grow!