Cars are part of the mix in Kensington Market

One of the first areas I take people when they visit Toronto is usually Kensington Market–that dense grid of narrow streets stuffed with fruit and veggie stores, cafes, colourful vintage shops, and taco joints.

It’s fun to navigate the market, threading between parked or slowly moving cars, crossing from one side to the other with just a casual glance over the shoulder. Kensington has a lively energy to which many other neighbourhoods aspire. It’s a neighbourhood that has found its pedestrian-friendly groove.

You won’t find special paving here, or curbless streets, or bollards, or any of the other tactics designers and planners now mobilize to make other areas pedestrian-friendly and people-centric. It Kensington it just kinda…happens. 

Still, in an article published today in the Toronto Star, Christopher Hume argues that banning cars from Kensington is the “obvious move” and the area is a “battleground” between cars and people on foot? A battleground? If any neighbourhood in Toronto can least be described as a battleground between cars and people, it’s Kensington Market. More of a slow dance, really.

Pedestrian-only Sundays are great, but I would hazard a guess that they’re great because they’re pedestrian-only Sundays and not pedestrian-only all-the-times. 

Go to Kensington and watch the main streets. Cars go slower, people spill off of the sidewalk and walk in the road or cross back and forth. This is Kensington’s special sauce. By removing an ingredient you risk ruining it. 

Pedestrianization is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

The desired end is usually a lively, comfortable, safe place that people like to go and hang out. Sometimes removing cars is the way to do it. Ryerson’s Gould Street is a great example of an area that has flourished since cars were banished and people allowed to flood into the space. 

But sometimes it’s the slow mix of cars and people and bikes that makes certain areas what they are. Go to Boston’s North End and you find the same thing. Narrow streets with people spilling out of Italian restaurants, cars winding their way slowly through it all. It works because everyone understands that people come first.

We have something really special in Kensington right now, something that emerged on its own, over time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

photo by Diego Torres Sylvester on Flickr (cc)

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One thought on “Cars are part of the mix in Kensington Market

  1. I suppose I can see your point, although I’m not entirely convinced that car exhaust is really the “special sauce” that makes Kensington enjoyable.

    When it works, it’s because drivers understand that they are essentially entering a pedestrian space. Drivers are forced to go slowly, because there’s so much overflow from the sidewalks. The problem is during the less busy times (with fewer cars), when drivers try to race through the area. Pedestrians are still walking through as usual, and risk getting flattened. Perhaps if there were signs posted at the entrances with more obvious physical barriers (e.g. speed bumps), it would at least eliminate that occasional hazard.

    Like

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