Danforth Peninsula Redux

The shallow troughs of knowledge at the ALLDERBLOB were taxed the other day by Joe Cooper of the “Riverdale/East York Mirror and Car Advertiser.” In his weekly “watchdog” column of October 12, 2006, Cooper declaimed about the condition of Danforth Avenue here in Toronto: in particular the “east” section of the street (unfortunately the link to Cooper’s original column has been removed by the newspaper).

Now, to our 13 1/4 loyal readers, we must apologize. This will seem like an extremely arcane subject to you. First of all, there is the problem of the Danforth. It is, by definition, in the east end of Toronto. But just think: it gets worse. It turns out there is a further distinction to be made: a west end and an east end to the Danforth itself.

The horror, the horror.

As we have described it elsewhere, the mysterious Danforth Peninsula is bisected
on a north-south line at Coxwell Avenue. However it will not surprise you to hear that long before one reaches Coxwell, traveling east, the “Rougher end of the Danforth” has been found.

For naturally, if there is to be a pleasant part of Danforth at all, it would be the western section.
The eastern section, as Joe Cooper makes clear, is a train wreck. West of Pape Avenue, all is nice. You would be forgiven for confusing your experience there with any of a number of busy, people-filled ‘hoods of the west end of Toronto. Bloor West Village. Little Italy. Queen St. West. The Junction. It has tons of little boutiques and restaurants, it has people crossing midblock and with abandon, it has grocery stores, a bookstore and three subway stops to choose from. You can walk there from Yonge Street in less than a half-hour, and you’ll be treated to a literary experience crossing the Prince Edward Viaduct as you go.

Wow. No wonder they can pack ’em in at the “Taste of the Danforth.”

Although he does not say so, it seems likely Cooper is responding to a similar argument put forth by Bert Archer in the local paper “The Global Male and Car Advertiser” [shurely you mean “Canada’s National Newspaper” –ed.] a few Saturdays previous.

Oh, it wasn’t always thus. At some point in the dim and distant past, when Joe was a lad and his granddad ran a butcher shop at Woodbine and Danforth, before the subway, before the duchess-faced horse [yes, yes, you’re a poet: get to the point –ed.], there was a real community on Danforth East: a vital place, a centre. Not a place completely removed from Toronto proper (Cooper takes pains to remind his readers that the owner of the movie palace located at Woodbine and Danforth was briefly mayor of Toronto).

Now, readers of Joe Cooper know that, as surely as the car ad will be decried in the ALLDERBLOB, the amanglemation of Toronto will be despised in the Watchdog, and Cooper was true to form in his discussion of Danforth East. In fact, he takes the curious position that it was the advent of the subway that killed his beloved corner at Woodbine. He describes how, with the Bloor/Danforth line’s extension to Woodbine came first the death of the movie palace (people took the subway downtown) and soon after the immolation of the small butcher’s (the movie palace was replaced by a supermarket–a supermarket with–gasp–an entrance directly from the subway!).

But as you can imagine, our resident urban designer had something to say about the matter, and a furious letter-writing campaign commenced.

Yesterday, two weeks later, the letter found print, if not web-space at the RimRom. Lucky for our readers, we retained a copy:

To the Editor:

Joe Cooper writes (“Danforth Avenue has 40 years of bad planning to overcome,” Oct. 12 2006) that Danforth Avenue east of Pape has a lot of problems: “the area is struggling, with many businesses having to cope with declining sales, crime and a poorly maintained streetscape.”

He doesn’t mention it, but it’s said that Toronto cabbies have a nickname for this stretch of Danforth: “the miracle mile,” so-named because they say if you hit the right speed, it’s possible to cruise the entire stretch without braking or slowing down for any red lights.

The fact is, this road has been designed for speed. The Metro Toronto planners, with their 1950s car-oriented mentality, got their meathooks into it a long time ago, and turned it into a “traffic corridor.” It’s the road design that’s led to the downfall of community along Danforth

Notice that Cooper addresses the Danforth “east of Pape.” What makes the difference to the west of Pape?

The storefronts are similar in size. The residential neighbourhoods to the north and south are similar in density. The road is the same width. The subway’s there east and west. But there is one significant difference: it’s the way the road is striped.

Danforth west of Pape has been “calmed” for 22 hours of the day. The road markings allow for left turn lanes and two through lanes of traffic during rush hours, but for most of the day the road is a lazy two-lane affair. It has what urban designers like me call “thickening:” a deliberate slowing of traffic, with ample parking on both sides, ample room for cyclists, and a centre painted median that allows pedestrians to safely cross the street almost anywhere (a
feature that is enhanced by the slowing of traffic during non-peak hours).

Contrast this with the street layout east of Pape. There, the same width of road encourages a squeeze zone of dangerously speeding cars in the right lane, while cars back up behind traffic making left turns. The street is unpleasant for pedestrians and dangerous for cyclists.

[but at least you can park there, thank God –ed.]

Children and the elderly visit this stretch of road at their peril.

It’s no wonder small stores have so much trouble staying in business. All any sane person would want to do in the eastern section of Danforth is race through, to get back home as fast as possible.

Until the business owners east of Pape understand this simple difference, and demand the city restripe their end of the street, there is no chance “Danforth East” will ever become a place that
people will want to linger or savour an experience.

Wow. Such forceful expression. Surely the car advertisers [newspapers, you mean? ed.] are lining up with offers of employment. Surely a book deal is in the offing. May we say we are as impressed with Mr. Allderdice’s writing as you are?

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