Toronto always seems to be under construction, and once the details of its revitalization are finalized this summer, John Street will too. According to Ward 20 City Councillor Joe Cressy, the project “is hoped to break ground in 2017.” The initiative stems from a 2009 push by the Toronto Entertainment District, and saw the support and involvement of former councillor Adam Vaughan as well.

John Street is a notable historical road named after Toronto’s founder John Graves Simcoe, stretching from the foot of Grange Park on Stephanie Street, down to Front Street. It brushes alongside landmarks like the AGO, CBC, NFB and CTV buildings, the Scotiabank, TIFF Bell Lightbox and Princess of Wales theatres, and provides access to both the Skydome and CN Tower. It’s an artery for much of Toronto’s culture, and for that reason has recently been highlighted as a “cultural corridor” in need of some improvements.

According to a 2012 Environmental Assessment Study, the planned changes will “lead to an environment that is accessible, beautiful, and pedestrian-friendly, and that accommodates the many events and festivals held along John Street.”

However, John Street also has functional importance as a north-south route, with major intersections at Queen West, Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington and King. It isn’t arterial, but it does widen to three lanes from Queen to Adelaide, and then four onwards until Front. The latest design plans for John Street indicate a desire to narrow John Street to two lanes everywhere save for the stretch of road between Wellington and Front, which would be three lanes. All of that space will go towards its pedestrianizing.

What follows are some of the more telling comments from the minutes of a 2014 design panel gathering of representatives from prominent and award-winning architectural and engineering firms such as HOK Canada, whose Vice-President Gordon Stratford chaired the meeting, Meg Graham of superkül and Jenny McMinn of Halsall Associates.

“It looks like a road with really nice pavement, and linear lines of trees.”

The Environmental Assessment Study says to expect the “widening [of] sidewalks, creating a gentler slope from the curb to the roadway, allowing the street to be used a plaza space for events during road closures, greening the street by planting additional trees and public art,” to name some of the larger cosmetic changes.

But some of the architects didn’t feel too strongly about the transformative powers of lane reductions and cosmetic changes to make John Street something more than it already is. It’s really a matter of how John Street ends up being utilized more than its final look.

The plans for John Street are estimated to cost around $28.7 million. Some of the most pricy points are for utility relocations, administration and construction costs, which goes to show that much of the money is going towards accommodating change more than achieving impactful results.

Toronto taxpayers will be responsible for city standards in road infrastructure and bicycling and garbage amenities, but much of the rest of the financing will be handled by the Toronto Entertainment District business improvement area and its funding partners. This means that any businesses in the area will pay additional taxes or levies to pool money for the project. Cressy’s office committed “$15 million through Section 37 funds,” meaning money from trade-offs with developers from the ward over zoning rules.

“It seems like there are too many trees.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing to hear, considering what sort of positive long-term impacts the greening and pedestrianizing of John Street can have. Air quality can be improved, noise levels can be decreased and traffic can be calmed. As well, pedestrianizing, and thus popularizing, John Street will not only build its reputation as a Torontonian focal point, but also bring it a lot of good business.

“[The road] should be difficult for cars to navigate, but it looks easy.”

There are plenty of things that detract from the appeal of such a project, especially considering that it is actively meant to make John Street less vehicularly functional, which is its foremost purpose as a street.

The short-term effects due to construction range from increased noise and traffic delays to decreased air quality and business activity.

In the long run, John Street will see increased delays that cause traffic congestion. Visitors and residents may be easily put-off by the fumes of idling cars while strolling in the shade and simultaneously trying to soak in all of the culture the street offers.

But Cressy feels differently, saying: “in downtown Toronto and across the city, our roads are already at capacity, so we will not alleviate congestion in a city that is already congested by widening roads to make space for cars. We couldn’t widen roads enough… There just isn’t the room. So the way we alleviate congestion is by encouraging and incentivizing people to use other modes of transit, [like] walking and cycling.”

“I encourage you to find ways to not have a long, straight road.”

This will be hard to do, because John Street is, well, a long, straight road. Similar, but temporary, projects have taken shape on other major arteries in previous years. During the summer of 2013, 15 parking spaces were repurposed into patios on Church Street. Even Yonge Street saw the addition of patios and green spaces along several blocks in 2012, although metal barricades and traffic jams made its interim nature quite obvious.

the newspaper spoke with Kate Nelischer, the Senior Public Coordinator on the John Street project, about other streets that could be candidates for revitalization. Like, say, St. George Street, and she pointed out that the U of T artery had already undergone a major overhaul about 20 years ago.

The UTSU of 2013-2014 had pushed for the idea of pedestrianizing St. George Street and even gained the support of Adam Vaughan, but never took it to the university or came up with an assessment like the Environmental Assessment Study. Presently, Cressy has indicated that there is something in the works “that has been floated—not proposed, but floated—[about] pedestrianizing parts of the campus, and while it hasn’t been gone through in detail, that’s a concept I’m very supportive of.”

Otherwise, Nelischer and Cressy remained vague about what other streets in the city could be good prospects.

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