Streetscape Manual

four sidewalk views showing range of streetscape treatments across Toronto

Streetscape Manual

The Streetscape Manual is a reference tool developed to guide the design, construction and maintenance of sidewalk and boulevard improvements on Toronto’s arterial road network.

The Manual emphasizes design quality and amenity in the pedestrian realm with specifications for paving, trees, medians, lighting and street furniture.

Designing Streetscapes

About Streetscapes

Streets are a vital part of Toronto's public open space system. They function as movement corridors for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and vehicles, as well as support many social and business activities. The appearance and character of Toronto streets play a large part in determining the overall quality and liveability of the city.

The Streetscape Manual is an urban design reference tool for the improvement of the City's arterial street network - the Main Streets and Green Streets that define and connect neighbourhoods. The Manual focuses on design quality in the public right-of-way, with an emphasis on coherence, beauty, durability, accessibility, pedestrian amenity and tree canopy.

Following a hierarchy of streetscape types, the Manual assigns a set of standard or specialized design treatments to each arterial road. Although the Manual does not typically include collector roads, local roads or laneways, design quality and tree canopy on these streets is also very important.

The design treatments specified in the Manual centre on five streetscape elements - paving, street trees, medians, lighting and street furniture. When applied over time, these design treatments will enhance the appearance, health and enjoyment of the urban landscape.

Streetscape Types

The Streetscape Manual categorizes all Major and Minor Arterial Roads identified by Transportation Services Road Classification System as Main Streets or Green Streets depending on the street use, built form pattern, type of public or business activities, transportation priorities and natural features.
 

sidewalk view of a main street with street trees, pedestiran lighting and shops street edge view of a green street with grassy boulevard and trees
Main Street Green Street


Main Streets and Green Streets are sub-divided into a hierarchy of streetscape types. The hierarchy helps assign appropriate design treatments to reflect the character and significance of an arterial street within Toronto. Streetscape treatments remain generally consistent on streets of the same type across the city.

The hierarchy of streetscape types includes:

Since many streets cross long distances and a range of areas in the city, it is possible that the streetscape type may change several times from beginning to end.

Illustration of Changing Streetscape Type - example: Eglinton Avenue

3 images of Eglinton Avenue showing the changing streetscape quality from the city's west to east end
Scenic Street
(Eglinton West)
Existing Main Street
(near Yonge St)
Emerging Main Street
(Eglinton East)

 

Main Streets

Main Streets focus on commercial, residential and mixed-use buildings which generate grade-related activities. The buildings create a continuous street wall with a direct or 'storefront' relationship to both the pedestrian realm and the vehicular portion of the street. They support public transportation networks, pedestrians, cyclists and private vehicles. This streetscape category encourages diverse types of economic stimulation and social interaction at a pedestrian scale.

bird's eye view of University Avenue showing generous treed boulevardSpecial Streets can be distinguished by their high level of importance in the city resulting from historical, cultural, physical or functional characteristics. Often used as ceremonial routes, they are recognized provincially, nationally or even internationally as making significant contributions to the character of Toronto. 

Special Streets are usually lined with important public and institutional buildings. They support a high volume of pedestrian movement, as well as vehicular traffic, and are well-connected by public transit. The distinct identities of Special Streets should be complemented with customized design elements and the highest quality materials.

Major Streets are well-established streets that lead to or are lined with important public buildings, and therefore, have provincial and city-wide importance. They are predominantly lined by institutional and commercial buildings, with some ground floor retail and restaurant uses. Businesses are well-established and contribute to the municipal and provincial economy. They are well-connected with public transportation and support a high volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.


Example: King Street West

Major Streets generally require many years of development to achieve their provincial and city-wide importance and tend to have a moderate level of historical significance. As with Special Streets, Major Streets are not restricted to any particular area in the city, however, due to the high concentration of institutions and businesses, as well as intensity of land use, the majority of them are within the Downtown and Central Waterfront areas.

Existing Main Streets are predominantly commercial and mixed-use in nature, with residential areas in close proximity. The livelihood of the businesses is dependant on the local community, therefore, making them the most important street in the neighbourhood. They are the focus of public life in a neighbourhood and support local festivities such as sidewalk sales and festivals.


Existing Main Street - example: College Street

Existing Main Streets are usually supported by public transportation in the form of streetcars or buses, and their local scale supports a comfortable pedestrian environment. They typically retain some aspect of an earlier era such as a post office, banks, community religious centres and/or rows of older commercial buildings.

Emerging Main Streets are predominantly commercial in nature, with suburban characteristics, and are undergoing both commercial and residential intensification. Although the existing businesses may be less established than those on Existing Main Streets, they are important contributors to the local community. Therefore, Emerging Main Streets are often the most important street in the neighbourhood.


Example: Eglinton Avenue East (near Brimley Road)

Emerging Main Streets are supported by public transportation, usually in the form of a network of bus routes. With significantly wider road widths than Existing Main Streets, vehicles have a strong presence on these streets and substantial parking areas are usually adjacent to businesses. Although Emerging Main Streets do not currently provide significant pedestrian amenities, the extra road width provides opportunities for improved pedestrian environments, such as grassy boulevards and street tree planting. Emerging Main Streets share some qualities with Existing Main Streets; however, their transitional state requires their streetscape design to be flexible.

Green Streets

Green Streets are highlighted by adjacent natural areas, public parks and open spaces. The urban elements within the streetscape are integrated with natural environments and enhanced with street tree planting, creating open space corridors with a naturalized form. Green Streets play a similar role as the Green Space System (Toronto Official Plan), while still supporting vehicular traffic, pedestrians and cyclists. This streetscape category encourages diverse types of environmental protection and social interaction at a pedestrian scale.

Scenic Streets are adjacent or have a direct physical relationship with natural features such as parks, ravines, rivers and lakes. This relationship often provides important views. Buildings plays a minor role in the character of Scenic Streets, however, when present, they are usually residential. 


Example: Keele Street (near York University)

Scenic Streets have wide boulevards, often with grassy or tree planted medians which reduce the impact of vehicles. Their generous width provides opportunities for pedestrian and bicycle trails which often connect to a wider recreational system. Their significance can be regional, city or provincial-wide. Scenic Streets are usually supported by public transportation in the form of buses.

Intermediate Streets have a stronger presence of buildings than Scenic Streets and therefore, the edge of the street is better defined. Although the buildings are usually residential, there are often mixed-use buildings. Intermediate Streets exhibit suburban characteristics such as wide set-backs, substantial parking areas and residential lots with rear gardens and privacy fences facing the street. The reverse lot conditions offer no connection to adjacent buildings and limited vehicular and pedestrian access.


Example: Royal York Road

Intermediate Streets connect important places in a neighbourhood such as schools and community facilities. They provide an uninterrupted Given the wide set-backs, Intermediate Streets often have significant street tree plantings or opportunities for such. Reverse lot conditions can benefit from screen planting along privacy fences to soften the boundary. Similar to Emerging Main Streets, Intermediate Streets support opportunities for intensification. They can evolve into an Emerging Main Street or stay as an Intermediate Street, depending on the use and level of development.

Special Areas

Sidewalk view of St. George with trees and landscape Although the Streetscape Manual deals mainly with streets in the City’s arterial road network, it does include recommendations for some local and collector roads within Special Areas.

The Manual identifies these neighbourhood streets with a “Special Area” designation to indicate that special planning circumstances exist, e.g. the street is located within a historically significant area, a Centre, a special district, business improvement area, educational campus, etc.

Special Area streetscapes may be main streets or green streets and include enhanced paving, lighting, or other design features that reinforce the history or character of the surrounding area.

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Streetscape Elements

Toronto's streets are the most extensively used public spaces in the city. Decorative paving, street trees, medians, pedestrian and vehicular lighting, and street furnishings such as bicycle rings, bollards, garbage/recycling receptacles are all important contributors to a vibrant and cohesive public realm. The appropriate combination and placement of these elements is necessary to create high quality streetscapes with distinct character.
 

paving icon street tree icon roadway median icon street lighting icon street furniture bench icon


The design treatments specified in the Manual cover five streetscape elements:

Paving

sidewalk view of wellington street west showing trees, bicycle parking and the pedestrian clearwayA wide range of paving materials may be used to construct Toronto's sidewalks. A typical Toronto sidewalk pattern consists of concrete sidewalk with a decorative paving band next to the curb.

Decorative Paving Band

On Main Streets, the decorative paving band is often along the curb-side, in the Edge Zone and/or the Furnishing and Planting Zone. The standard width of the paving band varies from 400mm to 1200mm and is dependant on the space available and the Streetscape Type. Beyond aesthetics, the decorative paving band serves to align fixed objects such as trees, parking meters, bicycle rings, garbage and recycling receptacles and street lights.

The decorative paving band is made up of either concrete or granite unit pavers, which must meet or exceed CSA standards. City-approved decorative paving band treatments include:

  • precast concrete unit pavers (200x200x60mm and 100x200x60mm)
  • flame finish solid granite pavers (200x200x50mm)
  • granite setts (also known as TTC pavers)
  • precast concrete unit pavers (600x600mm, 300x600mm and 300x300mm)
Precast Concrete Pavers Granite Pavers

The colour and pattern of the concrete and granite unit pavers are chosen to reinforce neighbourhood or area identity. The distinct surface of the pavers and their contrasting colour not only have an aesthetic purpose, but also serve as a warning strip for vertical obstacles and the edge of the curb for those who are visually impaired. Decorative bands do not cross lanes, driveways or crosswalks.

The base under the decorative pavers is poured-in-place concrete with an integral curb at the roadside and a flush retaining curb next to the Pedestrian Clearway. The two curbs provide a border for the pavers. The unit pavers are dry laid on a thin sand setting bed over the concrete base and held in place by the concrete curbs.

Unit paving materials are standardized for quality control, reasonable supply, and to achieve neighbourhood identity. The dimensions are chosen in accordance with industry standards, durability, availability and the ease with which maintenance and replacements can be undertaken.

Pedestrian Clearway Surface (see also Streetscape Zones tab)

pedestrian clearway on St. GeorgeGenerally, the Pedestrian Clearway surface is smooth, broom finished concrete. The concrete is marked by trowel joints or saw cuts which divide the surface into 1200 mm to 1600 mm bays. This provides a simple pattern, controls cracking, and allows for modular placement of paving materials. The use of concrete should continue to be the primary choice as the paving surface for pedestrians.

Natural stone (typically solid granite) is occasionally used as a Pedestrian Clearway surface. In most cases, it is funded and maintained by private applicants. Although natural stone is an expensive initial investment, it is highly durable and reusable and therefore, offers best value.

In the past, asphalt has been used as a paving surface for pedestrians, as a filler in remnant pedestrian areas and as a repair material to pedestrian paving surfaces. These uses of asphalt within the boulevard/sidewalk zone should be phased out and replaced with broom finished concrete, concrete unit pavers, granite pavers or grass as appropriate. Asphalt may be used as a pedestrian surface for park and open space pathways and bicycle trails.

In most instances, the Pedestrian Clearway is situated far enough away from car doors, parking meters, news vending boxes, and moving traffic to provide a safe and accessible pedestrian path. The desired width of the Pedestrian Clearway is 2.1 metres, however where this is not possible, a reduction to no less than 1.53 metres may be considered.

Street Trees

sidewalk flanked by two rows of mature trees next to a parkToronto has been known as the "City of Trees". More than three million trees grace our parks, ravines and natural areas, line our streets and distinguish our neighbourhoods. In addition, there are millions of trees located on private property. These trees collectively form Toronto's urban forest.

The urban forest plays an important role in making Toronto a clean and beautiful city. Trees significantly enhance the context for all new development and renewal projects. The contribution that trees make to the quality of our environment as well as the many quantifiable benefits such as improved air and water quality, are well documented.

In recognition of the importance and benefits of trees, the City's Official Plan recommends policies and strategies, adopted by City Council, that call for an increase in the amount of tree canopy from the existing 17% to a tree canopy coverage of between 30% and 40%. We therefore need each development to help make a positive contribution to the urban environment and help sustain and enhance the quality of the city and its urban forest. The planting, protection, and maintenance of large growing shade trees on both public and private lands should be an important aspect of all projects.

Trees must be mature and thriving in order for them to provide the streetscape with their many benefits. In order to mature and thrive, trees need space to grow. Trees need sufficient quantity and quality of appropriate soil, oxygen, water and essential nutrients. The tree planting standards contained in the Streetscape Manual have been developed in order to provide the necessary conditions for the successful growth of trees within the challenging environment of our city streets.

There are many competing interests for space within our sidewalks. In the past buried utilities had often been a significant limiting factor in how and where trees are planted. The tree planting details within the Manual have been developed to permit better integration between trees and utilities. The use of precast components for the tree planting details will facilitate access to utilities and simplify the repair process while not degrading the tree's soil environment.

Trees tend to be considered part of the "natural" environment. But within our streetscapes, they have come to be recognized as much a part of the city's "infrastructure". They are now also considered a utility, along with gas, hydro, and water, and are an integral component of our streetscapes along with sidewalks, street lights, benches, hydro vaults, bicycle racks, etc.

In order to successfully plant trees within a streetscape comprised of so many elements, it is essential that the conditions required for tree planting be considered integral to the design, planning and construction of all projects. Particularly important is the early coordination between the tree planting plan and utilities.

There are a number of standard planting details provided along with guidelines and specifications to help inform the most appropriate solution. The tree planting standards contained in the Manual will help achieve healthy, mature trees that will make a positive contribution to the quality of our streetscape.

Medians

raised centre roadyway median planted with trees and flowersMedians serve three primary purposes: to separate opposing traffic, to provide space for planting, and to provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. They can be effective at humanizing the scale of a wide street, softening an urban environment and creating a sense of importance.

Medians are either designed with a hard surface or with planting. Hard surface medians are typically between 1.8 - 3.0 metres wide and paved with broom finished concrete or precast concrete unit pavers. Planted medians vary in width, but are usually no less than 3.0 metres. They are bordered with concrete curbs, and are planted with trees and/or shrubs in a bed of soil or grass. Medians can be designed to enhance a neighbourhood's identity and address site specific issues.

Lighting

a sidewalk with special street lighting and decorative pavingLighting is an important element that ties the city together, while helping to distinguish the identity of individual streets, neighbourhoods and districts. Lighting should contribute in creating safe and aesthetically pleasing public spaces. The family of standardized City fixtures contributes to harmonious, uniform and coherent streetscapes. 

Street lighting has two classifications: roadway lighting and pedestrian scale lighting. The design of the City's pedestrian light standard (Type II fixture) was influenced by Toronto's traditional 'globe on post' pedestrian light found in Chestnut Park and on Palmerston Boulevard. The Type II fixture creates a sparkling effect and forms a family with the other street fixtures. 

The Type II family includes a pedestrian cluster of globes, a bracketed single globe, a globe mounted on a concrete pedestal or wall, and a roadway light with a pedestrian scale globe attached to the pole. The globes can be equipped with internal shields and/or refractors that reduce upward glare and direct light according to their location, whether on sidewalks, parks or roads. Newer designs for other light fixtures in the city also consider light pollution reduction and bird-friendly design.

Street Furniture

Street furniture is designed to provide amenity and fulfill many needs in a public place. Whether a transit shelter, bench, sign post, or litter/recycling container, street furnishings must be well-designed to serve their purpose, contribute positively to the appearance of the public realm, and be adaptable to various streetscape conditions throughout the City.

Streetscapes come in many forms. Some have wide sidewalks and plenty of space to place furnishings, grow trees, and provide accessible routes with little conflict and overlap. Other streetscapes have limited space and may be congested with competing needs, such as markets, outdoor cafes, trees and planters, high volumes of pedestrian traffic and bicycle parking. While these "busy" streetscapes are often the most vibrant places in the City, the constraints on space demand that the street furnishings be particularly well-organized and efficiently designed to bring order, safety and amenity for all users. By following the "Vibrant Streets" (PDF) placement guidelines on all streetscapes, street furniture will be installed on the City's sidewalks and boulevards in a manner that enhances its function and accessibility, and respects the needs of pedestrians of all types.

Coordinated Street Furniture Program

In fall 2007, the City entered into an agreement with Astral Media through a comprehensive Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The Coordinated Street Furniture Program involves the installation of new street furniture on Toronto's streets beginning summer 2008 and continuing over the next 20 years (Learn more).
 

illustration of transit shelter illustration of public automated washroom illustration of litter/recycling receptacle
illustration of information column illustration of public posting column illustration of bicycle parking post and ring
illustration of multi-publication structure illustration of newspaper box corral illustration of a bench

 

The elements are of high quality in both design and materials, and for the first time, Toronto will have compatible street furniture elements designed to work together that are functional, adaptable, incorporate sustainability features and will address the City's varied urban form and scale. The Streetscape Manual includes a complete summary of the Coordinated Street Furniture elements under design detail F-1.

The furniture section of the Manual also contains a small catalogue of existing street furnishings and other elements not included in the coordinated program. As a result of private initiatives, many of the existing elements are found in Business Improvement Areas. BIAs own a wide range of unique furnishings which reinforce their local identity.

Streetscape Zones

Most streets can be divided into two parts: the sidewalk/boulevard and the roadway. Pedestrian activity occurs within the sidewalk zone. The roadway portion is divided into vehicular lanes, cycle lanes, and parking lanes, and is used by cyclists, motor vehicles and public transit. On some roadways, traffic is divided by a central median or a transit priority right-of-way. While the Manual does provide some direction for streetscape elements found within the roadway (e.g. medians), the majority of design treatments focus on the sidewalk zone.

Sidewalk Zone

One of the first decisions to make when designing a streetscape is to determine the appropriate width and organization of the sidewalk zone.

The sidewalk zone must be designed to provide safe, efficient and accessible pedestrian movement, as well as balance the many competing demands for limited space (e.g. tree planting, furniture placement, utilities, signage, business activity, etc.). 

The Manual organizes sidewalk space into four functional zones:

Edge Zone

Edge Zone - Immediately adjacent to the roadway, the Edge Zone provides clearance between the traveled portion of the road or parked vehicles and other sidewalk functions. This zone provides a safety buffer against door swings, mirrors, etc., and possibly can accommodate sign and utility posts, garbage set out and snow windrow storage. The Edge Zone should be a minimum of 0.46 metres wide, including the width of curb.

Furnishing and Planting Zone

Furnishing and Planting Zone - The Furnishing and Planting Zone, which is adjacent to the Edge Zone, may contain street furniture, sidewalk cafes, trees and other fixed objects, and may be characterized by decorative paving features. Coordinated alignment of such services within this zone is desirable, and these features should be placed in a manner that does not obstruct the Pedestrian Clearway. This zone provides an important comfort buffer between pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

The Furnishing and Planting Zone may typically vary between 1.0 and 2.2 metres wide, depending on available space. To accommodate tree planting in the Furnishing and Planting Zone, the preferred minimum width is 1.8 metres, and must be no less than 1.2 metres. If the Furnishing and Planting Zone is less than 1.0 metre, consider placing furniture in an alternate location.

Street Furniture Placement
The proper placement of Street Furniture in the public right-of-way is important to ensure that the streetscape is organized, functional for all users, and aesthetically pleasing. The Pedestrian Clearway must be kept free of obstructions, yet have easy access to furnishings for safety, comfort and amenity. Furniture elements must also be placed at least 460mm away from the curb face to limit conflicts with roadway activities. Refer to the "Vibrant Streets" (PDF) placement guidelines for more placement details. For Coordinated Street Furniture elements, contact program staff for procurement and placement assistance.

Pedestrian Clearway

Pedestrian Clearway - The Clearway accommodates pedestrian movement; a clear, unobstructed continuous linear path of sidewalk with an appropriate width to serve pedestrian flow. Provision of this zone is a high priority. The width of the Pedestrian Clearway should be determined prior to the width of the Furnishing and Planting Zone, to ensure it supports the existing and projected volume of pedestrian traffic. The minimum width of the Pedestrian Clearway is 2.1 metres, unless this cannot be accommodated within the sidewalk width, in which case consideration may be given to reducing it to no less than 1.53 metres.

Frontage and Marketing Zone

Frontage and Marketing Zone - The Frontage and Marketing Zone is adjacent to the building/property line that buffers pedestrians from windows, doorways, and other building appurtenances. This zone may consist of marketing, outdoor merchandise displays, boulevard cafes and/or landscaping, and in some cases may support street furniture.

While Main Streets sidewalks typically have all four zones, the arrangement of Green Streets is slightly different. As Green Streets often have open spaces nearby and a residential component, typically there is no Frontage and Marketing Zone. Instead, the Furnishing and Planting Zone can be on either side of the Pedestrian Clearway (depending on the space available).

The width of the Frontage and Marketing Zone varies, depending on the building set back and location of the property line. If street furniture is to be placed within the Frontage and Marketing Zone, it must have a minimum width of 1.0 metre.

Business Improvement Areas

street view of Junction Gardens BIA main street buildings and special area street lightingA Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area, who work in partnership with the City to create thriving, competitive, and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses. 

The Streetscape Manual includes many streets that are part of a BIA. Streetscape designs within the boundaries of a BIA are frequently customized to enhance or create a local identity. Where applicable, the Manual identifies streets within BIAs and a link is provided to the City of Toronto's BIA website for further information. When planning a streetscape project within one of Toronto's BIAs, please contact City BIA staff

Public Utilities in the Street Allowance 

Public utilities such as natural gas, electricity, telephone, cable, water and sewer, and even streetcar service lines are located within the street right-of-way. Utility congestion, both above and below ground is a major problem throughout the city and poses a particular challenge to tree planting and the quality of the sidewalk zone. 

The location of utilities in new development areas are planned in accordance with the principles established by the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Utilities Coordinating Committee (TPUCC). Each utility is assigned an "ideal" location horizontally, and a specific depth below the surface. These utilities are mapped by, and are available from the TPUCC. Shallow utilities are located under or near the sidewalks and deeper utilities under the roadway. 

New types of utilities, such as telecommunication wires, compete for space under the sidewalk with the ever-expanding network of existing utilities. Trees are difficult to locate within this dense network of utilities, but they are nevertheless a major streetscape element and should be considered to have the same status as other public utilities, if not a higher one. 

Given the frequency of disruption to pedestrian surfaces due to emergency and demand-driven utility work, many of the streetscape details in the Manual are designed to facilitate easy access and repair. Each utility requires intermittent maintenance, which usually requires cut repairs if the problem cannot be fixed at an access hole or vault. With dry-laid construction, unit pavers can be removed, excavation and repairs carried out, and the original pavers relayed on a new base, thereby not compromising the functional and aesthetic appearance of the initial installation.