Archives for posts with tag: streetcar

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Toronto may be the city where the mayor has declared the end to the “war on cars“.

It may be the only city in the world to be removing bike lanes while letting the shoulders of major streets go painfully uncovered.

It may be the only “world class” city without a “world class” transportation system, permanently frozen by ego and politics.

But,

I love that this city
Has inherited a streetcar system
That encourages
No — demands
That pedestrians spill into the street
Taking them over temporarily
To board a streetcar
& to get off them too.

For those non-Torontonians out there, the official boarding procedure for Toronto’s streetcars (when there is no traffic island), is to spill onto the street, blocking traffic until boarded. And in this way, there is a constant, intangible expansion of the territory of the sidewalks into the streets.

Sure, it’s probably not the safest, or most efficient way to run a transportation network. But every time I see pedestrians spill into the streets to board a street car, taking them over, “taking back the streets” my heart swells with Toronto love.

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When I passed University Avenue on the Dundas 505 streetcar west yesterday evening, I looked north, and for the first time appreciated Queen’s Park’s night-time illumination.

The building is lit subtly, four points of light highlighting the edges of its geometric roof. It accentuates Queen’s Park’s architectural features, and quietly announces its commanding presence over the street.

The lighting of Queen’s Park solidifies University Avenue’s status as Toronto’s grand boulevard, a street deserved of such a beautiful anchor point. It brings a cohesiveness to the night time street scene, as University Avenue’s traffic islands, adorned with dignified  statues and grand parades, lead gracefully toward the nobly lit structure.

A city needs symbolic design features such as these. As a complex and dissonant place, there needs to be grand, simple landscapes that all Torontonians can identify with (read Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City for more on this). University Avenue is a rare moment of Canadian confidence and exuberance expressed in its urban design. It reminds me of the grand boulevards of South American cities, like Buenos Aires’ 9 de Julio Avenue, which, with its remarkable 16 lanes, is similarly anchored by grand structures, in Buenos Aires’ case, obelisks.

Back in Toronto, the Dundas streetcar passed University Avenue and continued west, past the AGO, and through Chinatown, crossing Spadina Avenue.

Spadina, like University Avenue, is a grand boulevard. The street’s width is enormous, and its traffic boulevards, this time supporting the transit right-of-ways adorn Spadina with an impressive prestige.

But as the streetcar crossed Spadina, I looked north, and noticed that the beautiful University of Toronto building at 1 Spadina Crescent was left unlit, invisible in the darkness of the night.

It would be so simple to light it like Queen’s Park. If the University of Toronto were to light 1 Spadina Crescent to showcase its beauty at night, it would transform the feel of Spadina; it would make the street feel regal, and raise its status as the city’s other grand boulevard.

A simple urban design move would catapult Spadina Avenue into Toronto’s collective mind, establishing it as a strong anchor point of orientation and an undeniable image of our city.