This past weekend UrbanToronto had the opportunity to go on a Jane's Walk hosted by the Queen West BIA focusing on a the section of Queen Street West between Simcoe and Bathurst streets. Jane's Walks are a great opportunity to see and to understand a neighbourhood in its current form. In this case, the walk was also focused on what the area could look like in the coming years. As Canada's first and only street currently designated as a commercial heritage district, the time is now right for discussion of how to draw on the area's unique characteristics to beautify, declutter, and improve the streetscape from building face to building face. The Queen West BIA is only in its third year of existance, yet one of its first major initiatives is to create a master plan for a new streetscape. Hosted by Chris Hardwicke, Fung Lee, and Laura Schaefer, this walk was the first of what will likely be many discussions and public consultations to gather ideas and suggestions for the future plan. 

Jane's walk leader Chris Hardwicke Queen Street TorontoWalk leader Chris Hardwicke. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

We started our walk near Simcoe Street. Nestled between the Canada Life tower and the Campbell House Museum, this short section of Simcoe has been completely pedestrianized, the streetscape improved by the choice of paving. Behind the building, the same kind of paving treatment makes for a more inviting walk down the back alleway connecting Simcoe to St Patrick Street. This location was chosen to highlight a small section of public space which is moving in the right direction. 

Pedestrian Simcoe Street Canada Life Tower Toronto Jane's WalkPedestrianized Simcoe Street to the east of Canada Life Tower. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Pedestrian laneway Canada Life Tower Toronto Jane's WalkPedestrianized laneway behind Canada Life Tower. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Walking back to Queen Street, it immediately becomes obvious how cluttered and layered the current infrastructure has become over the years. These two side-by-side hydro poles are just one of many similar examples of the situation up and down the street. The pole on the left is completely unused and abandoned. 

Queen Street Toronto clutter abandoned hydro polesClutter of hydro poles, some unused and abandoned on Queen Street. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Another abandoned hydro pole with an unused light fixture waiting to be removed. Discussion of unused hydro poles inevitably led to questions about burying hydro infrastructure in its entirety. 

Queen Street Toronto clutter abandoned hydro polesHydro pole clutter and abandoned light fixture. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

The paving treatment is inconsistent, as is likely the soil conditions underneath the sidewalks. 

Queen Street paving treatment TorontoSidewalk paving treatment near Queen and John. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Queen Portland paving TorontoPaving treatment outside RioCan building, Queen and Portland. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Of particular importance to Queen West are major intersections like those at John and Spadina. At John, new plans will have to carefully integrate with the approved and forthcoming John Street Master Plan, construction of which is expected to begin with improvements to the underground services. 

Intersection Queen John TorontoWhere Queen meets John, looking south. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

At Spadina, the master plan will have to deal with the vast expanse of the intersection, including the existing streetcar tracks, overhead wiring, and transit platforms. 

Queen Spadina TorontoWhere Queen meets Spadina. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

The sidewalks are narrow along most of its length, but in some areas they are wider, providing an opportunity to create a richer experience. Apart from paving treatments and perhaps more seating provisions, are there any thoughts on how to creatively make use of these spaces? 

Queen Street wider sidewalk TorontoWider sidewalk space near Queen and Soho Street. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Queen Street wider sidewalk TorontoWider sidewalk space near Queen and Soho Street. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Will there be a place to continue to showcase public art in the new master plan? 

Public sidewalk art Queen TorontoPublic sidewalk art between Soho and Spadina. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

This is one of only a few public benches along the length of the walk. More benches would be nice, but how would they be integrated into some of the narrower sections of sidewalk?

Queen Street bench TorontoOne of a few benches along this stretch of Queen between Soho and Spadina. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Designed last year by OCAD students, these bicycle stands provide a small expression of the neighbourhoods creativity. How else can the neighbourhood express its creativity through furniture or other aspects of its new public space design? 

OCAD designed bike stands Queen Street TorontoOCAD designed bike stands. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

OCAD designed bike stands Queen Street TorontoOCAD designed bike stands. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

This walk was just the beginning of what will likely be a lengthy process. Next up: the Queen West BIA wants to hear from you. What do you think the new public realm should look like? Do you have suggestions for things to keep, to change, or to create entirely from scratch? Check out this interactive map and leave your comments, or email them directly to get involved in the conversation. All the comments they receive will be used to put together a draft master plan which will go through the same public consultation and approvals process that John Street and other master plans have gone through in recent years.

We'd like to hear from you as well. What do you think would improve this stretch of Queen Street, and how do you think the essense of the neighbourhood can be expressed in the redesign of its public spaces?