A Better Bathurst

March 6, 2014

Anybody who’s spent much time in Toronto has at least heard of Bathurst Street. The nearly 60 kilometre stretch of road, bathurststreetrunning from the island airport ferry terminal on Lake Ontario, all the way north up to Holland Marsh. (If Wikipedia is to be trusted.) It demarcates the western edge of the official downtown area of Toronto.

To many, Bathurst Street is probably loathed more than it is loved. But for some of us who cross it daily, we see it as the thinking man’s Spadina Avenue. We do. Trust me.

In actual fact, Bathurst Street is pretty much nothing more than a big line on a map. It offers space to get people to where they’re going. There’s little else it offers up, frankly.

And to tell you the truth, it doesn’t do that very effectively. It’s not much fun to walk. It’s a bit of a terror to cycle and I’m not even referring to the Davenport hill. Congestion frequently clogs it, making it joyless to travel by car, bus or streetcar.

On top of which, Bathurst Street is regularly undergoing massive road work. Regularly. Like I’m talking 2, 3 times a season.

Poor ol’ Bathurst Street.bathurstbus

So when news came last year that the city had brought in a development moratorium along a 3 kilometre portion of the street from Dupont down to Queen in order to conduct a built form and land use study, it was welcome news to many. Hoo-rah! Maybe we can make something of this ratty, tatty, rag tag strip of pavement.

The timing wasn’t coincidental to the fact that plans were already in the works for the former site of Kromer Radio on the west side of Bathurst between College and Dundas. A big box store development that had caught the unhappy attention of nearby residents and businesses including those in Kensington Market a few blocks to the east. There were also rumblings of the sale (now done) and eventual redevelopment of the iconic Honest Ed’s at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor Street.

It’s also worth noting that south of the study area, south of Queen on Bathurst, zoning permits building heights of 50 metres, I believe I heard. Towers are rising there. bathurststreet1This study was intended to set rules in place that would help keep that kind of scale from creeping north into substantially more residential parts of the street.

On Monday night, there was a community meeting held (the fourth, I believe) to discuss the plan as it was to date, and to give a staff report including a third-party retail report. The chairs were mostly full. I’m never good at these estimations but there had to be 17 million people in attendance. (For all you Father Ted fans out there.) I don’t know, a couple hundred? A hundred and fifty? A hundred.

A healthy number, let’s just say on a cold Monday night. The tone, as with most of these kinds of meetings dealing with development, was politely tense. Maybe not tense. Edgy? Suspicious?

Politely tight in a non-alcoholic way although somebody had the nerve to bring in their dinner from Harbord Fish and Chips. Seriously. dougalIf you don’t have enough to share with the entire room. That’s going to fray some nerves.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose Ward 20 is bordered on its west by much of the Bathurst study area, stressed that what he was looking for was a street defined by the communities living on either side of it. That sounds good in theory, very participatory and all democracy in action, but also might endorse a little of some not in my back door-ism. Intensification, like an increase use of public transit, always seems like a very good idea for other places, other people.

Although, to be fair, there was not a whole lot of that in evidence at this meeting. People, by and large, seemed curious is a very cautious way, asking questions largely about very specific ideas put forth by city staff. Overt antagonism only manifested itself a couple times. There were none of the aggressive outbursts I’ve witnessed at similar community consultation meetings. This is a part of town not entirely alien to the notion of intensification.

It is early in the process, however.

One bothersome note for me, though, was the subtle framing of the question: “How do we protect our neighbourhood?” The underlying implication of that is a place under siege by change. bathurststreet2There was no feeling of embracing the positive possibilities that might come with an attempt to alter the current streetscape of Bathurst. Of course, things could be made worse along the street. But how exactly, proposed increases in building height in some places to 6 stories from current practice of 3 to 4 on most of this strip would do that is beyond me at this point.

OK. There’s one that springs immediately to mine. A lack of thorough transit studies to accompany these reports might prove to be problematic in the long run. I, for one, was somewhat shocked that there was little to no money set aside as part of this study. How can you do a proper built form and land use study without a full traffic impact analysis?

Anyone who travels or lives anywhere near the study area (I’m a block west from the Kromer radio site where it looks to be the most intense spot of redevelopment) knows what a traffic nightmare that stretch of Bathurst can be throughout much of the day. bathurststreetcarAmidst all the seeming non-stop construction, it’s a mixed use mess of cars, trucks, streetcars and buses, non-advanced left turns, parking, parking and more parking. A combination that leaves little space for bikes or even peaceful strolls.

Whatever manner you use to negotiate Bathurst it’s ultimately just a case of head down and gettin’ `er done and over with.

To talk about further intensification without a proper and vigorous traffic study seems to me to relegate the whole exercise meaningless. More people, more businesses that only succeed in bringing more traffic in the form of cars will in no way make that portion of Bathurst any more desirable a setting to traverse than it is now.

During the great Walmart debate on the Kromer Radio location, there was much chatter about NIMBY elitism with a measure of class conflict thrown in for good measure. My opposition to the proposal, which bore no direct imposition on my dwelling, was more aesthetic and concerned about the effect on the surrounding street life. cmonIt represented a huge failure of imagination from my perspective.

Big box store developments don’t tend to enhance the neighbourhood, especially if they abide by outdated parking requirements. The initial traffic study for the proposal was laughable. Three hundred+ parking spots, underground, with only one entrance that would also serve for deliveries? In an already congested point on the road? Along a route where a streetcar runs and two more lines to the north and south, both less than a 5 minute walk?

I mean, C’MON!

Look, with all the access to public transit in this study area — 4 streetcar lines, 2 bus routes, 1 subway stop – it is a place ripe for further intensification. bathurstcondoIt is a place already undergoing intensification. There is much to like in the report so far.

But if we don’t get the traffic flow right, if we continue to adhere to outdated ideas of planning in terms of what transportation modes are given priority, we’re just going to succeed in making a mess even messier. Let’s not have to endure Bathurst Street any more than we already do.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr