There’s a fascinating piece up this week on The Grid on how to make Toronto a better city. They asked a whole bunch of prominent people for ideas, each to be no longer than 200 words. The ideas didn’t necessarily have to be practical, but would be things to make us think. Some of them are wacky, some are brilliant, and some are both. My favourites are:
- Give people alternative ways to pay their dues, e.g. instead of taxes, struggling artists donate public art, etc. (Seema Jethalal);
- Hold a blackout holiday twice a year, to mimic the sense of connectness we all got when the power grid went down in 2003 (Carlyle Jansen)
- Use ranked ballots for all municipal elections (Dave Meslin)
- Banish all outdoor commercial ads (Sean Martindale)
- Ban parking on all main streets (Chris Hume)
- Build a free wireless internet via decentralized network sharing (Jesse Hirsh)
- Make the TTC (our public transit) free (David Mirvish)
Better yet, they asked for more suggestions from readers. Here are mine:
Safe bike routes to schools. Every school should be connected to a network of safe bike paths for kids. Unlike the city’s current bike network, these bike baths should avoid main roads as much as possible: bike lanes on main roads are not safe for kids. Instead they should go via residential streets, parks, and marginal spaces, and physically separate the bikes from all vehicle traffic. These routes should provide uninterrupted links from sheltered bike parking at each school all the way through the residential neighbourhoods that each school serves. They should also provide a larger network, linking each school with neighbouring schools, for families where the kids go to different local schools, and where kids use services (e.g. pools) in other local schools.
Advantages: kids get exercise biking to school, gain some independence from parents, and become better connected with their environment. Traffic congestion and pollution at school drop-off and pickup times would drop. To build such a network, we would have to sacrifice some on-street parking in residential streets. However, a complete network of such bike paths could become a safer alternative to the current bike lanes on main streets, thus freeing up space on main streets.
Car-free blocks on streetcar routes. On each streetcar route through the city, select individual blocks (i.e. stretches between adjacent cross-streets) at several points along each route, and close these stretches to all other motorized vehicle traffic. Such blocks would only allow pedestrians, bikes and streetcars. The sidewalks would then be extended for use as patios by cafes and restaurants. Delivery vehicles would still be permitted, perhaps only at certain times of day.
The aim is to discourage other traffic from using the streets that our streetcars run on as major commuting corridors through the city, and to speed up the flow of streetcars. The blocks selected to pedestrianize would be those where there is already a lively street life, with existing cafes, etc. Such blocks would become desirable destinations for shoppers, diners and tourists.