dandyARCHIVE: You complete me

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This article originally appeared in dandyhorse volume 3, issue 1. Get it here.

It’s time for a Complete Streets policy in Toronto

Illustration by Mike Votruba
Concept Chris Hardwicke
Graphic by Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co
Story by Hamutal Dotan

Having all its parts or members; comprising the full number or amount; embracing all the requisite items, details, topics, etc.; entire, full: Perfect in nature or quality; without defect.

The first and most important thing to realize about “complete streets” is that they are not defined by a certain configuration of physical space or a particular kind of infrastructure. There is no fixed list of ingredients. A complete street is simply a street which provides safe passage for all of its users, regardless of their mode of transportation. Because the community of users varies from street to street, there is no one recipe for making a street complete. Building a complete street requires a nuanced sense of place and community.

Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) program director Nancy Smith-Lea says “It’s trying to get a sense of what those elements are that work really well so that all users feel that they’re comfortable, that they’re welcome, that they’re safe.”

St. George Street is often cited as the closest thing Toronto has to a complete street because it is so well scaled to both the volume and variety of traffic that it accommodates comfortably. Drivers can travel at a reasonable speed. Cyclists have a bike lane and lots of lock ups. Pedestrians have broad sidewalks with benches, trash bins and planters at frequent intervals. Intersections are clearly marked. Arguably, St. George isn’t the best example of a complete street because it doesn’t have any transit. But then again, it doesn’t need any; with a subway station at Bloor, the College streetcar to the south and another parallel streetcar right-of-way on Spadina. It’s a small-scale example, but St. George St. exemplifies the principles that underlie complete streets planning: it welcomes all users.

It seems that every major road redevelopment in Toronto right now is accompanied by a great deal of tension, as disputes about whether and how to accommodate various kinds of transportation infrastructure are waged anew in each community, with each project. This is why TCAT, with the Toronto Cyclists Union, is starting work to bring a complete streets policy to City Hall.

“That would mean that whenever a street is designed or reconstructed that all users would be considered in that design,” says Smith-Lea. And, it would do so as a matter of course. Passing such a policy would ensure that each and every road development does not become a battleground, as Jarvis did recently.

It seems so simple, really: safe passage for all travellers. But with finite space and limited resources, little about city planning stays simple for long. We can’t afford many more fights like Jarvis: they are too taxing on our collective spirit, too damaging to the community. A coherent planning approach is rapidly becoming essential. And it is essential that any coherent approach to urban transportation planning make room for us all.

TCAT will be hosting a Complete Streets Forum in April, looking at complete streets policies as they exist elsewhere and considering how they might best be introduced in Toronto, April 23, 2012. tcat.ca/completestreetsforum2012

Read more about this year's Complete Streets Forum in our dandyBLOG post here.


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