When most people think of Toronto's Financial District, they first think about the skyline and the gleaming bank towers which surround the intersection of King and Bay; most don't think about what's going on at ground level. For the Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area (FDBIA), the organization which coordinates the marketing of the area, what you can see at ground level when you're moving through the area is very important.

In December 2012, the FDBIA began an analysis of how Torontonians and visitors viewed the district's public realm. Over a year of research later, the organization has released a 92-page report entitled Raising The Standard on ways to improve the public realm of the Financial District, which includes in-depth studies on how to improve the streetscape, the underground PATH network, and the area surrounding Union Station.

Towering And Reflecting, image by Matt M S

The 15 square blocks within the district holds Canada's most prominent white-collar firms, world-class architecture and design, the extensive underground city, and some of the Toronto's most exclusive restaurants. In other cities with similar cores, improving the public realm has added extraordinary benefits. In 1996, Chicago undertook $36M of improvements on State Street and Michigan Avenue. As a result, vacancy rates were reduced by 10%, and new retail space increased by 66%. In 2004, New York City invested over $40M into Lower Manhattan's Financial District, as a result property values increased by $56M. The FDBIA expects that investing in Toronto's Financial District would have similar benefits. As a major economic generator for the city, improving operations and the quality of life here should benefit the entire city.

Public consultations preformed by the FDBIA provided insight into key areas of improvement desired by people who work in the Financial District. Priorities identified include:

- Wayfinding/Navigation (24.6%)

- Circulation/Transportation/Connectivity (15.8%)

- Green Streets/Streetscape (15.1%)

Proposed Financial District BIA Improvements, courtesy of FDBIA

Some projects to improve the streetscape and flow of the district are already taking shape. Listed below are brief overviews of the major streets in Toronto's Financial District, and how each improvement should contribute to improve the area.

Front Street (2014)

For the past few years, much of Front Street between York and Bay Streets has been closed off to pedestrians and vehicles to allow completion of the Union Station Revitalization Plan. A second TTC Subway platform, improved PATH connections, and an improved pedestrian friendly streetscape will be completed over the next year and a half. As the revitalization moves toward street and sidewalk reconstruction, the BIA wants to ensure the new plaza in front of Union Station is built with the highest quality materials and finishes. The BIA also wants to the changes in front of Union Station to be replicated on Front Street east to Yonge Street.

Front Street Revitalization Rendering

Richmond Street (2014)

Richmond Street is a major four-lane, one-way westbound street running through the Financial District. The street is characterized by narrow sidewalks, and heavy commuter traffic. From York to Yonge Street, Richmond is fronted primarily by the backs of buildings and loading docks. According to the FDBIA, some view the public realm of Richmond Street as 'run down and tired'.

While remaining an important street for traffic movement, plans are in the works to revitalize Richmond Street's public realm. Last year, The City of Toronto looked into the feasibility of creating bi-directional or uni-directional bike lanes on Richmond Street from Parliament to Bathurst. As a pilot test for Spring 2014, the City will implement separate bike lanes on Richmond west of the Financial District. Alongside bike lanes will be streetscape improvements, replacing raised planters with mature in-ground trees. TTC track replacement and road resurfacing (with a possible reduction to three traffic lanes between York and Victoria Streets) will also be implemented this year following work on watermains currently underway.

Rendering of Proposed Cycle Track design on Richmond Street

Bay Street (2015)

Bay Street is arguably the Financial District's most important passage. A high focus on aesthetics and a strong focus on operations is the end goal with Bay Street. Bay must be able to accommodate large influxes of people during morning and afternoon rush hours, commuting north to the streetcar lines and southwards to Union Station. Unfortunately, with major pedestrian traffic comes easily worn out roads and sidewalks. In response to the deterioration of the pavement, The City of Toronto will be resurfacing Bay Street from the Gardiner Expressway to Queen Street in 2015. 

York Street (2015-2016)

Another high traffic street in the Financial District. While many properties used their York Street frontage as an opportunity for outdoor patios and small open plazas, the FDBIA considers York north of Adelaide to be in poor condition. Aging sidewalks and poor frontages at the Sheraton Centre Hotel and Four Seasons Centre causes a disconnect from connecting the Financial District to Queen Street West. Further south, the York Street underpass is dark and 'uninviting', which creates a disconnect between the growing Southcore area and the current Financial District.

The City of Toronto is currently constructing a northwest expansion of the PATH, connecting Union to Wellington. Underground connections will ease pedestrian traffic above the ground on York Street. Once the Northwest PATH expansion is complete, the City will be introducing wider sidewalks and new streetscape elements from Front to Wellington Street. The York Street tunnel is also set to see lighting improvements within the next few years.

The Northwest PATH extension will reduce vehicle lanes on York Street to Wellington Street, creating wide sidewalks

Adelaide Street (2016)

Adelaide Street is an extremely important street in the Financial District, given it's the only one-way eastbound street that runs through the downtown core. Over the past five years, new developments (Bay-Adelaide Centre, 100 Adelaide Street West, Trump Hotel & Tower) have brought a new focus to Adelaide Street. While Adelaide becomes more of an important street for pedestrians, the BIA wants to stress Adelaide Street's importance as an operational street.

For 2014, the City of Toronto will be resurfacing Adelaide Street while the TTC will be replacing streetcar tracks between York Street and Simcoe Street. Alongside Richmond Street, the City of Toronto will also be testing bike lanes leading up to the Financial District from the west.

'Streetwell' looking east along Adelaide, image by Jack Landau

Wellington Street (2017-2018)

Wellington Street acts a major westbound route through the Financial District. While fronted by restaurants, patios, and retail stores, Wellington also acts as a highly operational street. The street is a major taxi drop off street, with many taxi cabs perched at the entrances of commercial towers. Between York and Yonge Streets lies the highest concentration of loading and parking exits as well.

To keep operations on Wellington Street running efficiently, the Downtown Transportation Operations Study will look specifically at how to improve operations on Wellington Street. In 2017, the TTC will be decommissioning one streetcar track, while replacing the others. During this time is an opportunity for streetscape and sidewalk improvements from Church to York Street. Because Wellington Street stretches from St. Lawrence Market across to the Entertainment District, a working group has been established with each BIA along Wellington to ensure collaboration and consistency during streetscape improvements.

Yonge Street (TBD)

Although one might not think 'Financial District' when one thinks of Yonge Street, the four-lane north/south road acts as an important eastern edge of the district. The street is rather interesting as it turns from retail-oriented from Dundas to Queen, to business-oriented southwards. A study for Planning and Revitalizing Yonge Street was approved by Toronto City Council in July 2013, finding ways to improve the Yonge Street public realm. Opportunities include improving the pedestrian experience by widening sidewalks, replacing dated pavers and pedestrian lights, and incorporating details from surrounding neighbourhoods. Plans are to be determined.

University Avenue (TBD)

One of Toronto's widest streets is University Avenue, reaching eight lanes north of Richmond Street. University Avenue acts as the western edge of the Financial District, with large setbacks from buildings alongside the road. Sidewalks do not need to be widened, but small improvements can soften and beautify this street to create a "linear park" concept. No timeline for works has been established for University Avenue yet, but many opportunities to improve the pedestrian environment have been identified. Once hailed as a "grand ceremonial boulevard", streetscape improvements such as continuous trees, raised seat walls, improved ambient lighting, and more can bring back the former glory of University Avenue.

FDBIA's Financial District Public Realm Strategy

These are but a few of the FDBIA's plans; check out the full document here, which further explains planned work and opportunities within Toronto's Financial District, including plans for the Cloud Gardens, Melinda Street, Pearl Street, Piper Street, Queen Street, Sheppard Street, Simcoe Street, and Temperance Street. Meanwhile, there are always construction projects underway in the core, and UrbanToronto dataBase files for those are linked below. They'll give you an idea of what to expect in the coming years.

Want to add your voice to the mix? You can join in the conversations in the associated Forum threads linked below, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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