The transformation of Market Street, completed in Spring 2014, sets a precedent in Toronto for the creation of innovative and flexible urban streets, using creative partnerships. As a new model for street design, Market Street enables a dynamic range of activities with the capacity to adapt to different seasons, days of the week, or time of day.
Located next to an internationally-renowned market, Market Street is within a heavily pedestrianized and historic part of Toronto known for its many restaurants, shops and boutiques. The street itself, however, was in great need of renewal with the historic St. Lawrence Market on the east frontage and newly restored and enhanced heritage buildings with multiple commercial units, purpose built for small restaurant uses on the west frontage. What was missing was critical and obvious – outdoor café patio spaces and vibrant retail frontages – yet difficult to provide given the physical constraints of the narrow right-of-way and conflicting demands for parking and deliveries.
To widen the boulevard for patios would remove parking on the west side of the street. In conventional designs, this would require permanent conversion from road bed to boulevard and would result in a permanent loss of parking. A proposal to extend the sidewalk approximately 2.5m from the existing curb face following the existing 2 per cent sidewalk slope and the installation of a trench drain at this low point, resolved flooding issues. This measure then permitted the lane to be used for parking in the colder months and repurposed for patios during the warmer weather. Ensuring the new curb-less street was also able to accommodate the needs of the visually impaired, while respecting the heritage context and that the design solution could be easily maintained and constructed, were key considerations for all of the partners.
A Flexible Solution
Market Street’s ‘flexible’ street design ensures that the needs of a variety of users is met throughout the year. Seasonal accommodation is achieved: 1) during the winter months, when parking is provided on both sides of the street with sidewalks adjacent to the building frontages; and 2) during the summer, parking along the west side is given over to pedestrians while the sidewalk is occupied by outdoor restaurant patios, using the bollards as fence posts for the patio enclosures. This feature avoids the need for attaching temporary fences to the sidewalk.
Materials were selected to identify and celebrate Market Street as a multi-purpose space accommodating all users. All surfaces feature concrete unit paving on a concrete base. Barrier curbs have been replaced with rows of bollards to create a continuous barrier-free surface from building face to building face. Contrasting colour and textured paving materials were used to delineate the various zones. A 600mm band of rough black pavers provided tactile delineation for all users, but particularly the visually impaired. The crosswalks at either end of the street were among the first installations of the City’s new standard for cast iron tactile warning indicators for those with visual impairments. All components were selected and organized to reflect the heritage context, while clearly indicating the pedestrian and vehicle zones. The brackets that are used to attach patio enclosures in the summer are repurposed in the winter to attach parking regulation signage, avoiding the need for traditional sign poles core-drilled into the pavers.
The design and delivery of Market Street was a collaborative process involving the City of Toronto and a private developer, together with designers and contractors. The idea was the brainchild of the late Paul Oberman, a well-known Toronto developer and heritage expert, to develop a pedestrian-priority street in the St. Lawrence Market area. The idea was embraced by the City’s Public Realm Section in Transportation Services, who played an active role in developing the new standards and policies required for project approval. The project was originally planned for delivery in two phases, but the local Councillor, the St. Lawrence Market and the Business Improvement Area worked closely with City staff to obtain funding and maintenance agreements so the street could be completed at once. The result was a significant savings in time, cost and disruption.
The Market Street project has met with approval from residents, businesses, visitors and has drawn the attention of professionals from across North America. It has changed construction standards that are now being implemented city-wide, and opened the door to rethinking a variety of street projects. Market Street demonstrates that well-designed streets can address a wide range of dynamic needs and contribute to the liveability and beauty of a community.
Many elements of the street are maintained and operated by the landowners and coordinated with the City, to mitigate impacts on limited City resources.
With the help of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and the City’s Public Realm Section, pavements and other features were designed to the highest standard. Special features include cast iron tactile warning plates at crosswalks and textured paver strips delineating pedestrian/vehicle zones.
A range of concrete unit pavers created surfaces that are functional, visually distinctive, easy to maintain and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliant.
Bollards and patio fences are custom designed and fabricated from steel with a durable painted finish. The fences and bollards were designed to facilitate ease of removal and efficient storage by the landowners. Bollards and brackets were designed to secure poles for winter parking signage.
Without normal barrier curbs, a new approach to dealing with run-off was required. The solution was a single privately-maintained trench drain down one side of the road that captures surface water and drains into a City-maintained sump pit – while providing a dramatic visual statement in the roadbed.