Woonerf in Toronto

Woonerf: It’s Dutch for smart city-building
March 14, 2010 by Christofer Hume (Toronto Star)

The really big news in Toronto right now is that woonerfs are coming to town. In case you don’t speak Dutch or happen to be a planner, woonerfs are streets designed for cars and people, but with precedence given to the latter.

What? you may well ask: Pedestrians given precedence over drivers? In Toronto? Is this yet another example of the gathering War on the Car? Quick, someone call Rocco Rossi. The poor man will no doubt be appalled to learn that the neighbourhood now under construction in the West Don Lands will be organized around a grid of these new-fangled streets.

“The idea is to give pedestrians priority,” explains Waterfront Toronto’s vice-president of planning, Christopher Glaisek. “Woonerfs are a new street typology. They won’t look like anything we’ve seen in Toronto.”

Rest easy Rocco, he’s not talking about remaking Yonge, or even Jarvis – though we can hardly wait for that – Glaisek is referring to the network of secondary roads that will be built in the area west of the Don River, south of King St. Until recently, this was a wasteland. That’s all changed; for several years, an enormous “flood protection landform” has been under construction in anticipation of future development. It will also be the site of the 2015 Pan-Am Games’ Athletes’ Village, and after that, up to 12,000 permanent residents.

So what is a woonerf exactly? Picture a regular street, but narrow, minus a curb, finished with pavers instead of asphalt.

“There’ll be a slight grade change to show where the curb would be,” says Glaisek. “We’re probably using stones to mark it. It’s a visual treatment that makes it known to drivers that that they are guests.”

Though laneways would have served much the same purpose, the city doesn’t provide services to alleys – but that’s another story. That’s why the most remarkable aspect of the project is that it’s happening at all.

“The city has approved the concept,” Glaisek says. “It’s what we’re going ahead with. It required the city to think outside the box and go beyond what they’re used to. They wouldn’t have thought of this on their own. In my view, this is a tremendous success.”

No kidding. The struggle to make Toronto more liveable typically revolves around fiscal issues – jobs, taxes and the like. Rarely do we focus on anything as basic as the streets beneath our feet, unless it’s to complain about potholes. But as Dutch and other European centres have discovered, something as simple as a woonerf can have a huge impact on our approach to the shared spaces of the city.

The West Don Lands remain a mountain of mud, but we can expect construction to begin within a year. When that happens, Toronto will truly have turned a corner, or should that be a woonerf?

Uit de commentaren:

One has to remember
That amsterdam is FLAT thus very easy to walk and bike. Their cyclists are even more unruly than Toronto cyclists , although they ride on the road they rarely obey traffic signals or give way to pedestrians on the crosswalk. Amsterdam is for cyclists first everyone else last. Pedestrians in amsterdam are watchful and wary, they need to be. The other problem in Holland in general is that in a very few years almost 40% of it will be under the sea. Wonder if we could convince their displaced to come here? Toronto needs to create a car free zone in the downtown core. The narrow streets with centre drains and raised cycle lanes is a great idea. Public transport only and deliveries restricted to early morning and over night. This has worked beautifully in some pedestrianized areas in Europe. Bollards enforce the curfew. Public transport has transponder which operates bollard. Maybe we should tel the city fathrs where to spend their next vacation.

totally awesome .. !!!
I had the good fortune to go to Amsterdam a few years back, and the thing that struck me the most was the lack of a “car mentality” that I witnessed in the city.. Their were cars of course, but it seemed pedestrians were given their rightful place in the pecking order.. people walked and rode bikes. a lot.. What did I witness as a result..? People were fitter and seemed happier.. I can honestly say, I saw very few fat people their, except for North American tourists.. I think this is an amazing idea to try out with the new development taking place.. that and the railpath development going on now in the city gives me hope for the future of this city ! and yes, I do own a car..

Sense of proportion and civic pride goes with Dutch planning
Another interesting feature of cities and towns in Holland is their ‘sense of proportion’. Their terrains are not blighted by soaring towers, big-box malls and monster subdivisions. It must be a sign of an ‘old culture’ when politicians show respect for urban planning practices that have served the populace well for more than a century. There is a human dimension to Dutch towns, and that is why humans have been given priority in transportation. This culture was not solely designed around the automobile as has been done in North America. BTW, Holland does get snow and ice, particularly this year. When the canals are frozen, my Dutch cousins love to use their skates. Ever heard of the Eleven City Race? It was not held this year because there was too much snow, and the Dutch don’t use zambonis on the canals.

a city constantly in the edge of bankruptcy because of over government spendings. Whatever money there is left now should be used to pay back her debts. It is totally shocking to hear that someone is suggesting “new” ways to spend more ! “Dutch for smart city-building” is the Dutch’s business. None of ours because Toronto has no money but lots and lots of debts. Toronto’s “smart city-building” is to repay her debts first. The $100 millions belong to the creditors.

This ain’t Holland

Just put up a big gate at the core city limits and put all vehicles off limits. Walk or bike – end of story. That way all the left-wing tree huggers can get what they want. Business can then move elsewhere and the stupidity of Toronto Real-estate prices will crash. Sound funny? Have a look at Detroit – nearly a century of left wing democratic mayors and look where it left them?! Folks you can’t have it both ways and you can’t have it all. Cars have to drive carefully, but pedestrians have to take the earbuds out, stop texting while walking and obey the traffic signals. How do you like me now?! LOL!

Great article. Funny how some people can be so fiercely negative about any kind of city planning that makes for a more livable city… too much cost! Darn lefties! (as if you had to be left-wing to want to stroll down a pleasant street) And yet if you showed them to some of the beautiful, planned streets in Europe, they would say, “well of course you can’t make this a high-speed car thruway, there are people walking all around enjoying themselves, living their lives, shopping. That’s just how it is in this place.

What we tend to forget
when we hasten to import ideas from elsewhere is that the local climatic conditions may make the idea impractical for adaptation. How much snow does Holland have in comparison with Toronto? The experience in shovelling snow off a driveway that has been converted from asphalt to pavers makes me wonder about the impact of “woonerf” on snow removal. Or has that been ignored in the rush to adapt something new? Furthermore, taking out sidewalks from streets will increase the number of pedestrian-vehicle encounters leading to injuries and even death. I cannot understand why people do NOT walk facing the traffic where there are no sidewalks. They walk two and three abreast, oblivious of the car that is following behind them, trying to find an opportunity to pass.

Canada lacks 2 centuries building infrastructure.
In Amsterdam everything is just around the corner, not a twenty minute drive away. Sadly apples are not oranges even when you dream in technicolour.

The Dutch know a thing or two
The Dutch know what they are doing but as usual, their expertise will be tossed out in the end. Just look at New Orleans after Katrina. The Dutch said build dykes, build high and strong dykes. Did New Orleans listen? Of course not. Is Toronto listening? Well maybe Toronto ‘hears’ ,but are we ‘listening’? Just wait and see, and wait, and wait, and wait and wait and…..