Yesterday evening Urban Toronto had a closer look at the John Street Revitalization plans presented at the second public open house hosted by the city. Attending this event were representatives involved in the planning process, together with a series of very detailed display boards highlighting different aspects of the plans. Today we present an overview of some of the interesting details that were displayed and discussed. For those interested in more specific details, the city will be posting all of the display board information online at the John Street Corridor Improvements site next week.
Four street design options were being considered, and four major criteria points were used in their assessment: pedestrian realm, effective sidewalk, patio potential, and pedestrian priority. A quick glance at those four points clearly shows that planners are primarily focused on improving the pedestrian environment, and thus their preferred design option is the one which seems to offer the greatest flexibility for different pedestrian uses on a regular, seasonal, and special event basis.
All of the four design options reduce the street to two lanes. The flexible boulevard concept preferred by planners realigns the centre of the street to the West, narrows the roadway to a 6.4 m width, removes all on-street parking and dedicated turn lanes, and adds the 'flexible boulevard' strip along the East side of the roadway which can be seen in the following two images.
The flexible boulevard strip has a number of possible uses, the most basic of which is as a very wide extension of the pedestrian sidewalk on the East side. This strip has a number of possible temporary uses as well, which are shown in the following images. These include: seasonal patio enclosure, extended patio enclosures, divided patios in the boulevard strip, temporary public art installations, temporary on-street winter parking, winter snow storage during extreme snow storms, as well as truck delivery parking (not pictured).
Truck deliveries on John Street were a major issue that planners presented. They compared the flexible boulevard option with a shared lanes boulevard option that was also under consideration. The following images show what a typical truck delivery scenario would look like in the flexible boulevard option. The truck is completely off-street, temporarily taking up space in the flexible boulevard strip. This same concept was recently completed on King Street in downtown Kitchener, and shown as an example of how it may look on John Street.
Under a shared lanes concept, which is very similar to today's delivery scenario, trucks pull up close to the curb taking up road space and requiring traffic to actively move around the parked obstacle.
Planners also focused on the increased and potentially varied sidewalk patio arrangements that could be possible with the flexible boulevard concept.
Planners highlighted a number of goals which they were aiming to accomplish with this project, as well some of the physical design features with which they hoped would achieve them. One of the major goals is to discourage drivers from using John Street as a thoroughfare to get from one area of downtown to another, rather to encourage only those drivers who intend to use John Street and the immediate area as a destination. To accomplish this, planners have removed any permanent on street parking opportunities, no dedicated turn lanes will be available, and the street will be paved in a way which encourages traffic calming. Street curbs will no longer be barrier curbs like we are used to seeing, but are intended to be rolling mountable concrete curbs. They also plan on using the same kind of paving treatment on the sidewalks as they use on the street, giving motorists a visual cue that this area is no ordinary street, and that extra caution should be taken when driving it. European woonerf examples were used to illustrate what they envision. The idea is to create a 'healthy tension' between pedestrians, motorists and cyclists so that in theory, each will have to adjust to an increased accommodation of the other.
For the paving, planners intend to use a herringbone paving pattern that can be appreciated at two different scales: up close, and at a distance. The intent is for people to see the pattern as a pedestrian, but also to be able to appreciate the street as a whole for those viewing it from their office or condo higher up. They intend to use a lighter tone for the paving so that it also becomes a good night time canvas for lighting schemes.
Trees were also addressed at the meeting. Under the flexible boulevard option, they expect to have approximately 187 trees that can be planted in various cross-sectional arrangements that can be seen in some of the earlier images. The plan is to continue using the Silva Cell system which the city has already used on both the Bloor Street and waterfront reconstruction plans. As part of a more sustainable irrigation plan, they intend to divert storm water runoff directly into catch basins around the tree roots, and only use the storm sewer as a last resort for excessive levels of water flow.
Some options for public seating were presented, but it is still very early in the process for settling on an exact design. The idea would be to have both artistic, as well as purely functional seating types.
Planners would also like to see a permanent electrical installation gutter underneath the sidewalks which can provide on demand power hookup for temporary art installations, as well as for major events. This would help remove the spaghetti wiring that you often see crossing the street and sidewalks around major event installations, such as this weekends MMVA's which were being setup the same day.
The revitalization is also being undertaken to give the city the ability to close off the street for special events, as well as on weekends to provide future local residents with an enhanced public realm on a regular basis. The intent is to provide more public space in an area where extra green space is difficult to acquire. Planners intend to install attachment points for flexible rubber bollards at all John Street intersections, giving the city maximum flexibility in deciding how many sections of the street to block off, while still allowing East/West traffic and transit vehicles to pass through. The city would like to use stiff but flexible bollards because they give emergency vehicles the ability to access the street by simply driving over them in urgent situations. Initial thoughts were to have a hydraulic system with steel bollards being permanently installed into the roadway, and raising them on demand. Planners are no longer considering that option because of our climate fluctuations and the higher expected maintenance problems that they can incur.
Cycling opportunities seem to be just as contentious here as they are on other downtown routes. Currently planners are looking at both Simcoe Street and Blue Jays Way for installation of permanent cycling lanes, along with the necessary signalling upgrades at certain intersections. This in theory would allow for more pedestrian flexibility on John Street with the flexible boulevard option, instead of having two dedicated bike lanes with no flexible strip. The major point of dispute with the flexible boulevard option is that it encourages the mixing of car and cycling traffic, a point which cyclists find unnerving, particularly as John Street is the closest North/South route to the existing bike lanes on Beverley to the north, and cyclists tend to prefer John Street's proximity. Planners insist that some of the design measures they are taking to encourage traffic calming will lead to slower speeds and safer mixing of the two modes. One of the overall goals is ideally to bring traffic speeds down to 20 km/h, but most likely between 20-30 km/h for the entire stretch. The question is whether or not this will still be safe enough for both motorists and cyclists to share the same lanes.
Planners now have to present the preferred plan to council for their approval, but do not expect that to happen until after the cycling study has given its assessment, as any decisions made in it will likely impact decisions made here. They would like to have the John Street approvals process wrapped up in the fall, with early design in January of 2012, and construction beginning later that year and lasting for about a one year period of time. Toronto Hydro is also expected to be given the same 20 year no-dig condition that they were given on Bloor Street, and as such we may see Hydro doing their own repairs and upgrades in association with the street construction. As our Bloor Street experience shows, this will likely add to the construction timelines, but the goal is to have everything complete in time for 2015.
A few final renders of what the new John Street may look like:
What do you think of the John Street Revitalization plan? Comment below, or join in the discussion in the John Street Revitalization thread.