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University Avenue (History and Future Redesign)

Junction416

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Back to Should University Ave. get a makeover?
Should University Ave. get a makeover?
March 15, 2010

Vanessa Lu


Would a pedestrian walkway help transform University Ave. into a living part of the city, rather than a car-dominated structure?
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
As readers debate how to make Toronto better, one online reader posted a suggestion to turn University Ave. into a pedestrian magnet. Here's an excerpt: "The beautiful boulevard on University Avenue now lies between two busy four-lane roads and is all but inaccessible. Its main function now is to look nice for cars whizzing by.

"How about taking the whole boulevard and moving it either to the east or west? Then join it to the existing sidewalk, leaving exactly the same amount of roadway?

"This would provide a huge pedestrian walkway on University. Cafés and small independent artisan-style booths and shops could be encouraged. This could transform University to a living part of the city, rather than the existing 'monumental' car-dominated structure."

A pilot project in New York last summer shut down sections of Broadway around Times Square and Herald Square – infuriating taxi drivers. Those areas were turned over to cyclists and pedestrians, with tables and chairs.

In February, the closures became permanent. The move did not, as promised, improve traffic flow on streets Broadway crosses diagonally. But it cut traffic injuries, and merchants and tourists loved it.

Share your response and ideas at thestar.blogs.com/yourcitymycity.


Love this idea, why have a useless middle strip when we could have a broad and wonderful boulevard! Any thoughts?
 

Urban Shocker

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We discussed this issue at length several months ago, though I forget which thread it's on. I'm all in favour of widening the sidewalks and getting rid of the median - someone posted a rendering that showed what University would look like without it.
 

Archivist

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I agree that the centre median on University is mostly attractive but serves little purpose, and furthermore, I find the clusters of monuments crowded into it to be sort of sad - if we erected these statues and memorials to commemorate something, how unfortunate that they have ended up all crowded together in a part of the city where few pedestrians venture. How much better it would be if they were scattered about the city in unexpected places, where they might get more attention.

Nonetheless, I think the idea that wider sidewalks would make University Avenue a pedestrian magnet is not very credible. The built form of the avenue - hospitals towards the north - offices with insurance and government workers towards Queen - is established and not likely to change easily. There's not that much space for interesting retail on the street. Furthermore, the logical source of those pedestrians - Queen Street - will always be hard to tap into given the long expanse of Osgoode Hall and Canada Life at the south end of the street (which, though both attractive in their own ways, are not likely to encourage a lot of University-Avenue-Specific walking for commercial purposes).
 

jn_12

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Essentially, what they're asking for is a version of Queen St with a wider road. The issue I have (and perhaps it is because I love monuments) is that the monuments in the centre are what I find to be the greatest positives on the street. University had a chance to be something like O'Connell in Dublin, with monuments in the centre boulevard and lively sidewalks, but lining the road with institutions and government buildings that do nothing once they meet the street killed that opportunity. Besides how exactly would "cafes" exist in this area considering many of the buildings don't have ground-level business spaces? If you want to take one lane from the cars in each direction, keep the monuments and retrofit all of the buildings then by all means go for it.

To be entirely honest, I think the greater potential is in Lakeshore, particularly as it approaches the CNE and the Princes Gate.
 

achender

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I think I'd still like to see something in the middle of the avenue to break up what would otherwise be an 8-10 lane wide swath of tarmac.
 

the_yellow_dart

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...but I love that median for my urban mountain biking. :)

Seriously, it's one of the spots I like to hit. Stairs, curbs, interesting obstacles to avoid in some areas, bases of monuments to jump, and during the winter, a drained fountain to jump in and out of.

I know, I know, that's not what it's for... *sigh*
 

junctionist

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The sidewalks are not what's keeping University from becoming lined with cafes. It's the general institutional nature of the street which doesn't attract people. The median beautifies the street. Its monuments, fountains, and landscaping highlight its importance leading up to Queen's Park. Its one of the most unique major streets downtown because of the median. It would be regressive to remove it.

However, University is in need of beautification. The concrete tree planters, concrete sidewalks, lighting, and ugly rusted metal poles at some intersections are all things which should be improved on this grand boulevard. The fountains should be upgraded so that they can function all year round.

We should also considering further enhancing its grandeur with perhaps a traffic circle with a massive new monument in the centre at some intersection.
 

whatever

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I doubt University could ever be a bustling pedestrian draw. I'd actually rather see them drop a lane of traffic in each direction and use the space to widen the median. If the median were 20 feet wider (maybe even a little more if we stole a couple feet off of the sidewalks) there should be enough space on the medians to throw in some small cafes/kiosks (something like New York's Shake Shack would probably be a hit somewhere close to Queen). I also wouldn't mind seeing some of the water features restored, perhaps also to be configured for skating in the winter. Maybe we could go crazy and have an off-leash dog park on one of them. If people have a reason to use the medians they will.

I like the roundabout idea as well. And this might also be a good place to try physically segregated bike lanes.
 

W. K. Lis

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Another problem is that the speed limit on University Avenue is 60 km/h. Maybe fine for the ambulances heading for the hospitals, but not for pedestrians.

Step one would be to narrow the lanes, so that the speed limit can be reduced. If the lanes are not reduced, the single-occupants in those cars would still exceed 50 km/h. By reduced the lane widths, they will have to slow down.

Step two would, in addition, they maybe able to squeeze in bike lanes, by narrowing the lanes and keeping the same number of lanes.

Then, and only then, could they go to step three, the concrete redesign of University.
 

alklay

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Exactly. Pick a street that already has restaurants and retail (as opposed to hospitals and court houses) and fix that up. Start with removing wooden telephone poles on King and Dundas.
 

BMO

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I think they should widen the median and make a tree lined walkway along it all the way leading to Queen's park. I've seen this done in Paris and Madrid, and is quite nice. I agree with junctionists post about the institutional nature of the street and that affects the reason why there aren't many restaurants or retail.
 

kettal

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While there's not much pedestrian traffic going along University Ave, there are intersections where lots of pedestrians cross University in mass.

How about putting an attraction in the median at the Queen or Dundas intersections? Perhaps a small cafe or crepe shop selling food, and benches for people to sit and watch the fountain while they eat?

Aside from that, Yonge Street would benefit more from a redesign.
 
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lesouris

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I've always felt that University Ave. is really the only place in Toronto where you feel, first and foremost, that you're in the capital of Ontario. While elsewhere in the city, Toronto's status as the largest city in Canada, as the cultural/financial capital of the country, or as one of the most multicultural cities in the world is apparent, only here do I (and I would suspect others) feel like I'm in a capital. That said, I feel that any alterations to University should play up the capital city thing. So here's my modest proposal for Toronto's grand avenue:

We are all familiar with the concept of a walk of fame. It's been done to death - stars in the sidewalk with celebrities names in them. Now imagine the sidewalks along University dotted with something similar, except instead of stars, trilliums or maple leafs or something. Instead of celebrities' names, each trillium/maple leaf has the name of a city/town/other community in Ontario. I can just imagine a family on vacation from Timmins or something walking up and down the street looking for their city's name, maybe taking a photo with it or something. A small project, yes, but a nice way to commemorate the vastness and diversity of our province.
 
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