The curse of wide lanes in Toronto


It would be hard to overstate how much I hate, hate, hate wide lanes in cities. Wide lanes are optimized for driver comfort and encourage speeding. They also deaden the neighbourhoods they traverse and encourage a car-centric lifestyle; how can you create lively, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods optimized for active transportation while cars barrel by at 50-60km/h?

Recently many city planners and urban activists have recognized the flaws associated with wide lanes and encouraged the use of “road diets” to slim streets and encourage more pedestrian life. Unfortunately Toronto is well behind the curve: it often blindly follows the NACTO standard, which recommends a minimum lane width of 3m. The city then compounds the error by designing too many lanes (often 2 to 3 per direction – and that’s before including a dedicated turn lane!) to create streets that approach highway-level widths.

A recent example of this can be seen in the Six-Points reconstruction that’s just wrapping up. In the attached renderings we see streets approaching 26m (that’s almost 86 ft) in width! Toronto Planning and Toronto Transportation proudly portray this as an example of a ‘complete street’ that supports multiple uses, including lively pedestrian traffic. Ridiculous. Although condos and some street-level retail are planned for the neighbourhood I would be shocked if the area evolved into anything like the renderings. It’s sad, and another generational opportunity lost to reverse the suburban form of Toronto. Sometimes I wonder what it’ll take to change the mentality of Toronto Planning and Toronto Transportation.

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