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City of Toronto closes in on new look for Front Street

Posted by Chris Bateman / November 8, 2012

toronto front streetAs far as Toronto welcomes go, the exit to Front Street from Union Station could be a lot worse. It certainly beats the anonymous landscape around Pearson and the claustrophobic driving experience one is treated to coming down the Don Valley Parkway but, as far as the City is concerned, we could still do much better.

Capitalizing on the major TTC and Metrolinx renovations taking place under Union Station, the city is planning to completely re-work the stretch of Front Street between York and Bay streets, adding improved taxi and pedestrian facilities as well as better connections to the surrounding streets.

The project itself isn't new (it's actually been in the works for several years) but specific details are only now starting to be fixed in place. Though there's plenty still to be finalized, it's worth taking a look at what we're likely to get in the coming months.

toronto union pathAs one exits Union Station's ticket hall, a wider sidewalk area, possibly with cafe seating, will be the most noticeable change. On the road itself, the city envisions a raised "table top" area constructed using interlocking stones for easier vehicle connections. Presently, the crush of taxis in rush hour is brutal.

Under the street, a new PATH extension will connect Union with a portal on the northwest corner of York and Front. A second tunnel, to be constructed later, will stretch under York to Wellington Street.

For cyclists, the city is against installing a separated lane through the table-top area, fearing bikers could be encouraged to ride too fast in the pedestrian-friendly space. A dedicated lane would also take up valuable sidewalk space.

toronto union stationAccording to the minutes of the city's Design Review Panel, a group of experts that critique new developments in the city, the plaza outside Union needs to be "a vibrant, memorable public space of the highest quality." In their September meeting, the most recently available, the panel called for more trees and public art installations on the block.

They also asked for rolling curbs like those on the Sherbourne bike lane to be used on the new median to improve access for wheelchair and vision impaired users. The relatively small size of the taxi area was also revealed as a concern.

What do you think of these changes — do we have the potential for a winning public space on our hands? What, if anything, would you like to see added to the street? More details on the project are available in this public document [PDF].

toronto front street

Images: City of Toronto



really? / November 8, 2012 at 03:03 pm
Just replace the giant guitar lady and accordion guy with some scalpers and not much has changed.
toothpaste / November 8, 2012 at 03:15 pm
Wait, so the project's been in place for over a year, and haven't confirmed what it's going to look like?
ee / November 8, 2012 at 03:15 pm
Once again, bicyclists are ignored by the city. However, I am very pleased to see a lady with a giant triangular guitar greeting tourists, as this is obviously what Torontonians want.
Gripe Soda / November 8, 2012 at 03:15 pm
seems pretty bland, conservative, uninspired… so it's perfect for a gateway into the city.
Jordan / November 8, 2012 at 03:22 pm
Looks pretty banal - nobody needs that much tope - nobody.
Alex / November 8, 2012 at 03:29 pm
You can't put benches there, that's where the hotdog stands are. I can't listen to my giant triangular guitar woman without a hotdog dammit!
cholland / November 8, 2012 at 03:43 pm
Love the guy playing the dorito in the last picture.
Za-Munda / November 8, 2012 at 03:45 pm
From the renderings, I assume Front St. will be a one-way street carrying eastbound traffic. That would make sense since Wellington carries westbound traffic.
rr replying to a comment from Za-Munda / November 8, 2012 at 03:49 pm
Jen G replying to a comment from Za-Munda / November 8, 2012 at 03:57 pm
I think you've confused the York St PATH exit platforms for Front Street. Front definitely looks two ways in all the pictures.
Sean / November 8, 2012 at 04:00 pm
The last photo posted, the front of the Union Station reminded me of Albert Speer's dream of the capitol building of Germania. The only thing missing is the dome! Do we want this in Toronto?


Back to the last photo... where are the hot dog vendors???
Pk replying to a comment from ee / November 8, 2012 at 04:12 pm
This seems like a whiny response. The road is there for us cyclists to navigate, for better or for worse. If it's narrow or doesn't have space allotted especially for us, we take extra care. It's not the end of the world.
optics / November 8, 2012 at 04:21 pm
Um the rendering is quite yellow like a story book for children. As you know real life doesn't have this golden glow most of the time; an accurate illustration is required. The illustrator did a beautiful job with these but it's in a particular style not indicative to the true colour tones and mood of the space.
dc / November 8, 2012 at 04:33 pm
So how quickly are those glass subway entrances going to get smashed by a car?
John replying to a comment from Gripe Soda / November 8, 2012 at 04:33 pm
Don't see you coming up with any suggestions for grand public spaces -- your useless comment adds nothing to the greater conversation.
ee replying to a comment from Pk / November 8, 2012 at 04:35 pm
limp wristed responses like this are why city hall doesn't give a crap about cyclists and why we will keep getting screwed in new developments
fook replying to a comment from ee / November 8, 2012 at 04:43 pm
who cares...cyclists don't follow the rules anyways
Pk replying to a comment from ee / November 8, 2012 at 04:50 pm
Oh whatever. I'm a cycling advocate. I bike to work every day, but I don't dissolve into a puddle of tears and indignation when someone cuts me off. That's life in the big city. Limp-wrists and all.
PositiveView / November 8, 2012 at 04:51 pm
It is not really a public space. Train station is a place where people rush in and out therefore the simpler the landscape around it-the better. Make it clean, with less obstacles,no trees (trees can be on the median or on the sides of the station). Art is fine, but one that, again, doesn't interfere with the flow of people traffic. Perhaps creative use of light and projectors or something.
p / November 8, 2012 at 05:02 pm
W. K. Lis / November 8, 2012 at 05:02 pm
Where will the hot dog carts or food carts be placed?
Ford4ever / November 8, 2012 at 05:07 pm
Forget about dorito-guitar girl, I want to know what's up with the two white guys in matching taupe suits. Are they twins?
Amy W / November 8, 2012 at 05:10 pm
It doesn't look any more functional than the current space. The artist rendering lacks realistic gridlock and pedestrian hoards (and their patterns of movement). A little colourful street art couldn't hurt. The tree lined streets are the only thing appeasing to the eye. But we've all seen in practice that mature healthy trees don't grow from sidewalk, and only one of those trees in the rendering has enough green space around it to support a root system.
anon / November 8, 2012 at 05:23 pm
Trees need bigger planters so they can grow to be huge! Otherwise, not bad. Maybe some provision to build some sidewalk cafes so that people arriving to Union don't walk out onto a barren streetscape? Punch some holes into Union or something?
Andy1356 / November 8, 2012 at 05:27 pm
It doesn't look that different other than a few additions. And those of us living near there are put through this horrific construction for this???
gr1 / November 8, 2012 at 06:05 pm
does anyone know the name of the band that triangle guitar lady and accordion guy are in?
Tony / November 8, 2012 at 06:33 pm
mmmmmmm.... Dorito Guitar.
nnds / November 8, 2012 at 06:38 pm
You guys are all wrong, she is actually a food vendor and that is a giant pizza she is playing.
bill / November 8, 2012 at 08:30 pm
Cycling on the left of taxis?..see no problem with this setup. Move the bollards in the first pic to the left more and protect people and cyclists. This looks like not much improvement for the future imo
the lemur / November 8, 2012 at 09:16 pm
The idea behind the wider sidewalk/narrower street in the middle seems to be to connect the station more to the Royal York. The taxi bays might keep them out of traffic but I think it won't take much to jam the street up at peak periods.

What I don't understand is why this redesign appears to make no provision for surface transit, since Union is a major GO/TTC commuter hub. Some thought should have gone into that instead of drawing ornate balalaikas.
lol / November 8, 2012 at 09:50 pm
not bad.... single lane is a good idea.... make the sidewalks wide.. but its not like anyone wants to sit in that zoo down there
Jose / November 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm
In the future, all instruments will be edible.
Jeremy / November 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm
If they're going to increase the size of the sidewalks, I think they should give a little bit more on the Royal York side too. Trying to walk through there when a bus is loading up with luggage can be pretty tight.
Kamal / November 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm
Rawb Fjord / November 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm
That giant guitar looks like gravy! Quick, call 911 !!
daryl / November 9, 2012 at 12:53 am
When you compare the landscaping at 1 University now to what they show here it's a definite downgrade. A beautiful bed of flowers is replaced with plain grass?!

The rest of that corner looks OK. Maybe they can raise the concrete around the PATH exits so if a vehicle hits it wont completely shatter the glass. They can also opt out of elevator installation to maintenance cost down [there are multiple wheelchair access points from the surrounding buildings].

They really need to do something about the panhandlers around Union station. They are regular fixtures now, one or two camp out on the island between University and Front on a red milk crate and another outside the Tim Horton's.
Acon / November 9, 2012 at 12:56 am
The best part about this article are all the comments about the GIANT guitar lady... made my night! XD
Broken String / November 9, 2012 at 04:13 am
Ah, it seems someone on the design team misread the promo material for the Royal York. At one point, it was the tallest building in the British Empire. Not the largest, most triangular guitar.
Anyone got a phone card? I need to call 1980. / November 9, 2012 at 04:16 am
What's with the baseball caps? This is so 2003.
TJ / November 9, 2012 at 08:50 am
No offense but completely pathetic. They are going to spend millions and millions so that it will look like it does now with 1 less lane in each direction and a few trees? Kidding me right?
the lemur / November 9, 2012 at 09:15 am

mjb / November 9, 2012 at 09:20 am
Pretty uninspired. It would be nice to include a major public art / landscape art piece here. Yes, wide sidewalks are needed for circulation; however, some more ambitious urban design that recognizes the importance of Union Station is warranted here.
Antony / November 9, 2012 at 09:23 am
Welcome to Toronto, why not relieve gridlock and ride a BIXI to your office... oh wait, the Union plaza has no BIXI or bike racks in sight, and the street is one big car-door zone.

This new design sucks even more what's there now, and fails GO Transit's "intermodal hub" guidelines.
alex / November 9, 2012 at 09:35 am
not nearly enough condos in this redevelopment
Ray / November 9, 2012 at 10:37 am
Traffic is already a nightmare down there why would they make it one lane each way? Like it or not cars are not going anywhere and with a growing population so too will the number of cars on the street. Taxi's will inevitable stop in that single Front St. lane to pick up people curbside slowing everything down. And why do we need a massive pedestrian area outside there anyway?? There's plenty of pedestrian space as it is and people arent' going to 'hang out' in front of a train station.
Aaron / November 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm
Another example of "Well it's not great but I guess it's better than what was there before". Just shrug your shoulders and await the next underwhelming project.
ee / November 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm
I don't get why anyone is whining about the lack of cycling lanes. It's York to Bay which is like 200 metres. Who cares if there's no bike lane? It would be a bike lane from nowhere to nowhere so it doesn't matter!
KeithC / November 9, 2012 at 09:03 pm
This wider pedestian walkway should have european inspired fountains with seating. This would tastefully compliment the clasic lines of Union Station while creating a sense of community atracted by art.
Tara / November 9, 2012 at 09:09 pm
Cyclists get over yourselves, honestly. I've noticed that cycling quickly becomes some kind of odd life crutch for those who are too into it. They can't even walk two minutes from their homes to the grocery store without needing to jump on their bicycles. It pains me to watch them lock and unlock their bicycles with grocery-laden arms, when they could have just walked. Walk a bit and curb this rampant cycling. It would be nice to have widened sidewalks instead of this call for bike lanes, bike lanes, bike lanes.

Perhaps I would be more sympathetic if I met a cyclist who followed the rules of the road instead of nearly impaling pedestrians at every crossing. Or one who is nice.
the lemur / November 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I'm a nice cyclist who follows the rules and doesn't use a bike for errands that would be easier on foot, unless there's something to be carried that can't go in a pannier bag.

You don't have to look while cyclists lock and unlock, you know. I don't know of anyone who tries to do so with 'grocery-laden arms' - the whole point of doing errands on a bike is to use fewer bags, especially if the load would hurt your arms and hands after a while.

Widened sidewalks? Because we don't already have acres of wide and largely unused sidewalks throughout downtown?

I don't particularly want bike lanes on Front, because it's probably going to be as much of a mess as always, with too many cabbies hanging around as always and apparently no thought given to surface transit.

As for crossings, it would be nice if there was one place where pedestrians didn't veer off the crossing area, slip behind cars, jaywalk diagonally so traffic coming at them becomes more invisible to them as they approach the other side or otherwise randomly step into the road.
mike / November 10, 2012 at 12:01 am
Hey tara, how does it feel to be a troll? you live in toronto but you've never met a cyclist who is "nice". anyways, how come we can leave out or 'forget' about bike lanes here, because thy may be dangerous to pedestrians, but let CARS in? that is completely assinine. CARS kill people. bikes don't ever kill people. OK, like once and the person was like 100 yrs old, and it was in the deep 'burbs so the bike was riding on the sidewalk. people get crunched under cars every day in this city, and sometimes their heads explode and their brains pop out. but, oh ya, don't forget the taxi stand and lanes of traffic for the most transit accessible space in the entire country!
Seth M / November 10, 2012 at 08:55 pm
I'm surprised no one mentioned the glass roof over the moat - no more getting dripped on by rain and dirty roof and sidewalk runoff while darting from the GO Train to the subway, or holding your breath to pass through the haze from all the smokers.

Everyone asking why there isn't more consideration given to [blank] needs to remember that this is only a small part of the huge picture.

To everyone complaining about the loss of traffic lanes, the point of the project is to give more space to pedestrians, which outnumber cars 10 to 1 during rush hour around Union Station. They need all the space they can get, and the street is already at 2 lanes with the subway construction, so it's not like it'll be worse than how it is right now. In fact, it'll be better, since cars won't have to slalom around the construction barriers.

And about surface transit, the objective is not to put it on Front Street; there is a plan to build a new consolidated GO and Greyhound Terminal on the south side of the station at Bay Street (in that big empty parking lot) and integrate it into the station directly. A sheltered, well-organised terminal beats a 24/7 wall of buses on Front Street any day.

To everyone complaining about the surface finishes or the landscaping, it's a simplified artist's rendering! The final thing will look different (i.e. not so much beige, not replacing flowerbeds with grass); it's simply to give a general idea, and the colour is because the rendering was set in the late afternoon.

Lastly, to whomever did the rendering of the balalaika woman, sheer genius. Hats off to you!
realtalk / November 11, 2012 at 03:58 pm
More trees please!!!
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