Imagine if we didn’t design for everyone.  What if we designed first and foremost for whatever provided the greatest return and then prioritized design in order of demand?  It would be like basic economic theory applied abstractly to physical design. This may seem socially unethical or even anti-democratic, but it’s practiced every day by traffic engineers in the setting of vehicle speeds, the placement of traffic signals, and the location of turning lanes.  Traffic engineers and planners design to mitigate impacts by sacrificing the demands of some for a desired return of others.  Take for example King Street West.  Arguably the most physically impacted street in the GTA.  Vehicle speeds during the waking hours are reduced to a snail’s pace with pedestrians outpacing street cars and cyclists screaming past cars parked in the travel lanes.  The level of frustration by advocates on all sides (cyclists, pedestrians, commuters, transit riders, business owners) reached a fever pitch forcing the city to develop a plan to end once and for all the vibrancy of street.

The irony is that while every other city in north America sends its planners to Toronto to find out how to achieve vibrant street life the planners in Toronto have chosen to plan away said vibrancy and re-design it for everyone instead.  During the pilot project approved by Council, for a short while at least, you will be able drive much faster down King W for at least a city block at a time before turning right, the streetcar will move unimpeded, and you will be able to loop endlessly by right turns only while searching for parking spot on Wellington and Richmond.  No more window shopping for a restaurant, no more double parking to let your date out to grab a table, no more walking at the same pace as the streetcar making furtive eye contact with your fellow urbanite. No more driving home to Parkdale.  The slow pace of traffic with endless streams of cars, the honking horns, the clang of the streetcar and the pitched voices of the crowds from the sidewalks are in direct conflict with the city’s desire for social justice. By designing for everyone city hall hopes to eliminate that which provides the greatest return–people, energy, vibrancy, light, noise, full tables, and retail sales.

Speed the traffic, remove the impediments, take away the congestion (read people) and then you achieve true social justice. King W can be just like every other street.  It can be for everyone, not just anyone.

Jeff Craft BA, BLA, ASLA, OALA, CSLA

Jeff is a partner and urban designer, planner and principal landscape architect at Terraplan.

Contact Jeff Craft at jcraft@terraplan.com

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