Downtown pedestrian mall

Downtown Toronto Pedestrian Mall on Yonge St., 1970s

I have long believed the town should close part of the main street (Hurontario St.) for a few months in the summer to test whether a pedestrian mall would be popular among visitors, businesses, and residents. Main street retail stores could be given space for tents or booths; restaurants could extend their patios; there could be benches and trees or bushes in planters; there could be spaces for buskers and a stage for entertainment; there could be tables or picnic benches for people to sit at and eat; there could be a kingsize chess set (like they have at Blue Mountain); it might be able to take the overflow of vendors from the weekly farmers’ market. There are many options we can explore.

As one writer explained, pedestrian malls are not merely to attract shoppers:

The future of the pedestrian mall is not in trying to save downtown merchants by bringing new shoppers in, but in improving the experience for the shoppers who are already there…
Pedestrian malls in places with existing foot traffic succeed. …Teaching people to drive downtown to shop didn’t work, but capitalizing on, and improving resources for, existing consumer desire lines did. 

It would certainly be safer for pedestrians and cyclists; it could attract more people to shop and eat downtown, and it could offer family-and-pet-friendly activities and events.

Many municipalities have pedestrian malls and you can find out about them online. Some are permanent (like Ottawa with its Sparks Street mall), others temporary. A recent story on CBC told how organizers turned one block of Danforth Ave. into a mall this month. Another CBC story told how volunteers from OpenStreetsTO turned a large stretch of Yonge Street into a pop-up park this month. That story noted:

During the event, Yonge Street was closed in both directions from Bloor to Queen streets, while Bloor Street was closed in both directions from just west of Christie to Yonge streets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event drew hundreds of people to the closed roads.
People walked, cycled, roller bladed, danced and did yoga. The event was held for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization believes streets can be places for public health and social connection.
In a news release, the organization said: “This program repurposes existing public assets — our iconic streets — and provides access to free recreation space (on portions of Bloor and Yonge), focusing attention on the importance of physical activity and community.”

Toronto had previously experimented with turning Yonge Street into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s. In Southern Ontario, Port Dalhousie is considering turning its downtown into a pedestrian mall, according to a story in the St. Catharines Standard. There has been a call to turn another downtown Ottawa street (Wellington) into a second pedestrian mall. An older report (from 2009) lists 136 North American municipalities with pedestrian malls. Mount Tremblant and Blue Mountain Village both have successful “pedestrian villages.” St. John’s NFLD has a downtown pedestrian mall.

A pedestrian mall might not be a success, or it might revitalize the downtown in unexpected ways. We won’t know unless the town and the BIA make the effort and do a test. I would suggest the block of Hurontario Street from Second to Third Street, and closed from the Victoria Day to Labour Day weekends. Let’s find out if it works for Collingwood.

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