July 06, 2020

Mixed Reviews for Quiet Streets

The City of Toronto has launched a survey collecting feedback about the over 50 kilometres of quiet streets which were created as part of ActiveTO. While I encourage people who used these quiet streets to fill out the survey and share, here are some thoughts that are street specific.

Brock Avenue

The quiet street on Brock slows down traffic but barrels are prone to being knocked over or moved
While I can’t vouch for Emerson, Brock is one route I use regularly to get to Shaw, Bloor, or Richmond-Adelaide. The quiet street implementation involves placing construction barrels on alternating sides to force drivers to slow down. While it is moderately effective, there is a tendency of the barrels getting knocked over or moved which negates this "quiet street" benefit. Even for a temporary set up, more durable barriers are needed to prevent them from being moved.

Cowan and Winona Avenues

One way residential streets such as Cowan and Winona are pointless for quiet street installations. Even without the construction barrels, traffic on such streets tends to be low. On Cowan, the barrels are placed at intersections (e.g. Queen, King, Springhurst) which don’t do much except for making drivers turn slower on to (or off of) Cowan to improve pedestrian safety. On Winona, additional barrels are placed in between intersections which appear to protect parked cars instead of people.
The construction barrels on Winona appear to protect parked cars instead of people (via Michael Black)
A more effective traffic calming treatment for one-way streets is to put in contraflow bike lanes. With Winona expected to get them as early as next year, why not replace the quiet street treatment by painting in the bike lane now? Cowan is too narrow at 6.0 metres, so contraflow bike lanes would need to be installed on adjacent Elm Grove and Spencer to provide an alternate to Dufferin. The same argument for Winona should also apply to other places where bike lanes are expected in the short term including the St. Lawrence - Distillery connections and Sumach.

High Park Avenue

The installation at High Park Avenue is a complete flop. Not only is the street too wide for it to be effective (12.8 metres); the barrels are placed in the middle of the road at intersections which do nothing to calm the street. Instead, parking needs to be removed on one side to allow for protected bike lanes which can connect the upcoming Bloor bike lane extension with the existing bike lanes along Annette Street and south along Colborne Lodge Drive.

Kensington Market

Another quiet street area which has been highly criticized is Kensington Market per the below Global News clip from May 15, 2020. As with Winona, the barriers tend to protect parked cars more than slow drivers down. The only acceptable solution for this area is to make it car-free with maybe the exception of delivery vehicles for local businesses. Even then, such businesses should encourage deliveries to be done during off-peak hours.

Etobicoke Waterfront (and Suburban Gaps)

The series of quiet streets along the Etobicoke portion of the Waterfront Trail west of First Street are among the few examples where the treatment works well. When I last biked in the area a couple of weeks back, motor vehicle traffic was minimal while the barriers – along with the large numbers of people biking along the trail route – were effective in slowing drivers down. This setup ought to be made permanent with more durable barriers and 30 km/h speed limits.

Despite this piece of suburban good news, there are a limited number of installations in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. In North York, the quiet street along Shaughnessy was removed shortly after implementation due to numerous complaints from motorists. To avoid this from happening again, the quiet street program needs to be expanded in the suburbs with expedited public consultation.

Building on Quiet Streets

Despite the shortcomings, Toronto can learn a few lessons from their quiet streets experiment. As was done in Toronto-East York, all residential streets in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke-York need to have speed limits reduced to 30 km/h. Residential streets also need to have traffic calming measures built in to force drivers to slow down. Bump-outs on alternating sides – which the barrels intended to achieve – can be effective in accomplishing this goal as would speed bumps.

On one-way streets, contraflow bike lanes can narrow the space available for motor vehicles while filling in key gaps in the cycling network. Wider streets such as High Park Avenue need a more comprehensive redesign to improve safety.

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