Making Pedestrians a Priority on John Street
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Making Pedestrians a Priority on John Street

The pedestrianization of John Street will end in October, but it will be back next year—and bolder than before.

The dust has settled on yet another instalment of TIFF, the Blue Jays are about to be caged for the fall, and patio season is nearly at an end. And on John Street, a new, summery initiative is about to pack up for the winter—though Torontonians can look forward to seeing the street pedestrianized again when the warm weather returns.

In mid-April, the Toronto Entertainment District BIA kicked off a six-month pilot project that closed one lane of John Street to vehicular traffic between Queen and Adelaide, replacing the cars with a row of tables and chairs (including 20 Muskoka chairs custom painted by a pair of OCAD students). Dubbed John Street: Toronto’s Red Carpet, the project lends a touch of glamour to what BIA executive director Janice Solomon calls the “central spine” of the Entertainment District. But it also offers a preview of a much grander project that’s in the works for next year: the John Street Pedestrian Initiative, which will include widened sidewalks, more trees, and slower traffic speeds to make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly.

“The priority is really about making the street a destination street for the residents of the area,” Solomon says, noting that the condo boom has brought more people to the area than ever before. “When you think about the big neighbourhoods around the world, especially in European cities, the streets can actually become a gathering place for local residents and that can also grow into a tourist destination as well.”

Solomon says the new, pedestrianized version of John Street has been compared to streets in Manhattan neighbourhoods such as Soho and Chelsea—and although tourists and Torontonians alike have made use of the new seating, she says the current setup doesn’t compare to that envisioned in the John Street Pedestrian Initiative.

“If you’re talking about sheer volume of people coming down during TIFF, it was definitely a success,” she says. “But I think that the real vision of the street will be more conducive to having a pedestrian priority street or line of blocks that could be shut down for events of that size, like the MMVAs, Luminato, or Nuit Blanche. The goal is to really widen the sidewalks as much as possible and make it much more focused on the pedestrian—but also with the possibility of closures if an event happens to be taking place, whether that’s just a block or several blocks.”

Toronto’s Red Carpet will be rolled up on October 12. The Entertainment District BIA will then release details of the John Street Pedestrian Initiative, and in the spring of 2015 hold public consultations on the project. Solomon says it’s been a long time coming.

“When we first became a BIA in 2008, we embarked on a master plan for the Entertainment District, and one of the things that evolved fairly quickly was that John Street is almost like the central spine that intersects with almost all of the other streets within the BIA,” she explains. “From the AGO at the top end, and from the John Street Pedestrian Bridge at the bottom, it connects you right down to the waterfront. With everything that’s on or just off of it, it’s an extremely walkable cultural corridor. So many of us are anxious to see this happen.”