What future for Bank Street?

“Bank Street Active Transportation and Transit Priority Feasibility Study”. The name is a mouthful. And with such a title you’d expect this project would try turning this hostile thoroughfare into a street for people. Unfortunately so far it doesn’t live up to those expectations.

The city held a first virtual open house on the subject on 12 June, with a presentation focusing on four different options after a few slides focused on the current situation. And the current situation is: bad. The sidewalks are too narrow. Bike infrastructure is non-existent. Beg buttons for pedestrians display where the priority of the City is: car drivers and their cars. The street tries to be two things at once, and succeeds at neither: moving people quickly in and out of downtown, and being an attractive place for people. Spoiler alert: with car traffic prioritised above all else, this will never work. If people are still coming to Bank Street, it’s not thanks to car traffic, but despite it.

Back to the consultation, the process itself was underwhelming: most impactful options already off the table, virtual open house that is everything but open, comments limited to 255 characters in the online survey (which you can answer until 31 July 2024). For a deeper look, Neil Saravanamuttoo has you covered.

As for the actual content, it’s no better:

– The presentation looks at car traffic growth without even mentioning future pedestrian and bike traffic estimates.

– The complete on-street car parking removal is already off the table, even though it only accounts for 7% of the total supply in the neighbourhood.

– No mentions of the Official Plan and the Transportation Master Plan policies and commitments even though those documents should be the foundations and the touchstones of every project.

– Total lack of dedicated cycling facilities in 3 out of the 4 proposed options, and bad cycling facilities in the 4th option: lanes too narrow, bus stops interrupting bike lanes, winter maintenance ignored, etc.

Is this the best we can do?

You’ll find our full letter to the City below.

If we broaden our horizon a bit beyond the borders of the City, and look for examples of similar streets, Oxford Street in London comes to mind. Narrow right of way, high density of businesses and housing and high levels of traffic, there are many similarities. Well, the City of Westminster has made, and is planning to make, changes that would help solve the Bank Street conundrum: one car lane in each direction, no on-street car parking, no cars allowed between 7am and 7pm, only busses, taxis and bikes, wider and shorter pedestrian crossings, etc.

Wouldn’t it be nice? A peaceful street scene with low-rise buildings similar in size to those found on Bank Street. There are lots of pedestrians, trees, and wide sidewalks. The street has public transit in its own lane and there are almost no cars.

This project will shape Bank and the Glebe for decades, and yet the City wants to repeat the same mistakes as on Elgin. There’s no vision here, no boldness, no planning for the future. Only putting the wishes of people passing through by car before the needs of people actually living and going there. Matt Pinder is offering great leads on how to actually improve Bank Street in his latest blog post.

Elgin Street. “An exemplary transportation project”, in the City’s own words. The street is choked with cars, the sidewalk is very narrow because of street furniture, and there are no pedestrians.

If you too aren’t pleased with the direction this project is headed, you can get involved: write to the project manager, to your councillor, to the media. Join others, make some noise. Go to the Critical Mass rides (second Saturday of each month, 10am at the War Museum, and last Friday of each month, 6pm at Confederation Park). Make your voice heard.

See you out there!