August 29, 2019

The Value of Tactical Urbanism

For those who aren’t already aware, the term “tactical urbanism” refers to the use of temporary, low cost materials to help improve public spaces and neighbourhoods. The practice has been around for a long time, but this term has been popularized over the past few years including by Mikael Colville-Andersen during his TV series “The Life Sized City”. Last weekend, 8 80 Cities and Better Block took this concept to a whole new level by building a pop up complete street on Danforth Avenue known as 8 80 Streets Danforth; a first of its kind for Canada.

This pop up reduced Danforth from four lanes to two, removed parking, added protected bike lanes, and expanded pedestrian space for 200 metres from East Lynn Park to Woodbine Avenue. The pedestrian area was animated with a performance stage, a checker board and mini trampoline for kids to play, light poles, and tables and chairs for seating. Aesthetics were further improved with planters for bike lane separation and elsewhere, along with a street mural. Finally, Toronto Hustle helped do bicycle safety checks for passers by. These changes helped make this part of Danforth appear unrecognizable from its traffic induced self.
Sure, doing this pop up during the Friday afternoon rush hour – and Saturday until 3:00 PM – may not heve been the most practical time with motorists impatiently honking their horns. The removal of all parking for this stretch is very unlikely to happen with the proposed pilot bike lanes on Danforth Avenue from Broadview Avenue to Dawes Road; expected to be implemented in 2020 or 2021 subject to council approval. However, the goal of this pop up is to show some possibilities of how our streets can be used differently by everyone from eight-year-olds to eighty-year-olds. Some of the pop up features such as bike lanes, street art, gardens, and seating have been done on their own before to promote their respective benefits. Overall, this pop up received favourable media coverage and visitor feedback (see below), while local Councillor Brad Bradford was very supportive.

My initial reaction was this pop up should be copied and pasted to other arterials in Toronto such as Bloor Street in Bloor West Village to help build support for further bike lane extensions beyond High Park Avenue. When I asked 8 80 Cities’ Executive Director Amanda O’Rourke about expanding this pop up to other streets, she said funding is needed and that the Danforth pop up (along with two others) were funded by a private donor. She informed me the other two pop ups are expected to be in a North York residential area and in a school zone in the west end.
The 8 80 Streets Danforth experience can serve as a useful dry run for Toronto’s Cycling Unit as they conduct consultations and detailed design for the Danforth pilot. Those who visited and enjoyed the pop up are encouraged to write to Councillors Bradford and Paula Fletcher to voice their support for getting the Danforth pilot installed by next year, as well as sign Cycle Toronto's Danforth Loves Bikes pledge.

Pop it up!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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