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What if Kingston…

Kingston pedestrian friendly

Back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to spend the bulk of my summer working in la Ville de Québec.  It was not my first extended stay in Québec City, but it was by far the most memorable thanks to adventures involving St-Jean-Baptiste, le festival d’été, and half a dozen new friends.  Although I was sad to leave, I knew that it would merely be a matter of time until I returned for my fill of poutine, live music at les Voûtes Napoléon, and unknown escapades through the cities’ uneven streets.  Although one could easily point out numerous differences between Québec City and Kingston, I can’t help but notice subtle similarities.  Both cities were established centuries ago, in part, due to their strategic proximity to the St. Lawrence.  Furthermore, early development came in the form of military fortifications, while both the Limestone City and la Ville de Québec enjoy city centres with a rich history, and narrow streets.

One day I was wandering along rue St-Jean, and I noticed an extraordinary number of people walking on the road.  At first I was rather confused, as a few hours earlier, the street was heavily congested with rush hour traffic.  As I made my way along St-Jean, I noticed inactive traffic lights, metal road barriers blocking off intersecting streets, and various signs detailing the pedestrian friendly hours.  The net result was a huge concentration of walking tourists and shoppers, umpteen street performers, as well as shops that were bustling with business.  This has lead me to wonder, what if Kingston were to adopt pedestrian friendly measures downtown?

I can already hear a chorus of complaints coming from the opposition.  They’ll say that there isn’t enough parking downtown, or that we can’t afford the lost revenue from fewer people paying for parking.  To those of you who would agree, or otherwise thumb your noses at such a pedestrian friendly proposal, perhaps you’re unaware of  New York City’s new initiative to regularly close Broadway (from 47th to 42nd and from 35th to 33rd Streets) to all vehicle traffic.  Yes, this is the same, famed avenue that is home to Times Square.  Via Inhabitat:

The goal is to reduce congestion by closing down sections where traffic meets tricky intersections. The hope is that by doing so, flow will be improved. Sure enough, the first real test of the plan will be this week, once regular business traffic returns to the city. But the real change may happen soon after. If the city judges the closure of these sections a success, it is prepared to go even further and close the entire boulevard to vehicular access. The city plans on creating a truly pedestrian friendly walkway in the heart of the Manhattan theatre district. It will effectively become the biggest change to the makeup of the city, an urban companion to New York’s Central Park.

Although I’m comparing Big Apples with oranges, I can’t help but conclude that since large metropolises such as NYC and Québec City have successfully make their cores pedestrian friendly, albeit during select times of the year or day, surely little old Kingston can too.   Save for a bit of lost revenue and the minor inconvenience of walking, the end result promotes an active lifestyle, and cuts down on emissions during those hot and hazy days of summer.  Moreover, it adds to the tourist friendly atmosphere we’ve already got.  Last but not least, may I remind you that parts of Princess Street are already closed off to vehicle traffic during events such as Blues Fest, and Buskers Rendezvous.  Thus we already know that that we can do it, and that businesses don’t suffer as a result.  So the question remains, why aren’t we doing it more often?

Thanks to moriza for the pedestrian friendly image.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

19 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • May 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm
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    Rue St-Jean is not Highway 2. There are several ways into Old-Quebec that don’t involve Rue St-Jean. Moreover, when Rue St-Jean is closed, traffic signals elsewhere are adjusted to compensate for the changed flows.

    This is evidently beyond the capabilities of the traffic-idiots at City Hall here in Kingston, who do squat to compensate.

  • May 28, 2009 at 9:30 am
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    @ricoJ Closing off Princess from Division to Ontario (exactly 1.1km or road) after rush hour will not cut off any major arteries in the City, or hinder access to the downtown. There are still many avenues one could use to access the downtown, and Hwy2 is not closed to traffic. Now, if we were to make the Division, Gardiners, Sir John A etc… 401 on/off-ramps pedestrian friendly, that would be a different story. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that St-Jean and Broadway accept far more traffic than Princess on any given day. Furthermore, the pedestrian zones are far larger in both NYC and Québec City.

  • May 28, 2009 at 9:33 am
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    This is a perfectly reasonable, practically free idea that would make downtown Kingston substantially more pleasant.

    And it will never happen. The sensibility of Kingston is far too rural/suburban for this to be accepted.

  • May 28, 2009 at 10:02 am
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    @Harvey, the problem is not “accessing downotown”, it’s getting *through* downtown.

    Don’t think of downtown as a destination, rather think of downtown as a royal PITA to be avoided at the best of times.

    Remember, there are only two ways to go East-West: 401 and Causeway. Close Ontario Street and you screw up routing for EVERYONE who lives in the East-End. Close Princess Street without compensating the lights on Queen and it’s the same story going the other way.

    Close streets without remedial compensating measures and you *create* hassles for people who need to get-places that are completely unrelated to downtown.

    Can’t wait for that third-crossing so Downtown Kingston, in its current incarnation, dies completely. Gimme a third-crossing then yeah, knock-yourself-out with your friggin’ tourist-trap tax-dollar-grubbing Downtown.

  • May 28, 2009 at 12:22 pm
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    @RicoJ Maybe you misread something there. I’m not proposing that we close Ontario St, but rather, that we close Princess from Division to Ontario St. So Ontario St would still be open to anyone going to/coming from the causeway. I’m not sure what changes are made with the traffic lights when Princess is closed for Buskers and the Blues Fest, but it works, and would work for what I’m talking about. Again, keep in mind that I’m talking about closing the street during non-rush hour. In any case, it sounds as though you have a big hate on for waiting in traffic, and the downtown in general. Our historical downtown is what makes Kingston a great place to live, work and play. Your grand scheme for future development is simply preposterous, and the sad thing is I can’t tell if you’re trying to be funny, or if you truly believe it.

  • May 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm
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    Thanks RicoJ for providing evidence of the pig-ignorant rural/suburban mindset I was grousing about above!

    Knee-jerk complaints about the “downtown” say a lot more about you than they say about the downtown.

  • May 28, 2009 at 1:10 pm
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    @ Harvey: In my perambulations around Kingston sized cities of Germany many do have either dedicated or shared use pedestrian /vehicle zones (buses and taxis allowed). But two features are almost always present which I have not seen in Kingston: (1) there is almost always an inner ring road which allows traffic moving across the downtown core to enter and exit the other side without crossing the pedestrian zone, and (2) there are generally multiple parkades along this inner ring with prominent signs indicating how many spaces are free in each. For a truly walkable and human oriented downtown space, it is not sufficient to simply block off a road or two – considerable effort needs to be devoted to addressing the issue of traffic moving, and traffic seeking parking spaces.

    @ RicoJ: Whilst I am not as pessimistic as you I agree that any plan to allow a pedestrian zone necessarily would have to be accompanied by a traffic management plan (possibly something beyond the abilities of our City administrators I grant you);

    cheers, junior

  • May 28, 2009 at 1:12 pm
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    What if Kingston were to adopt pedestrian friendly measures?

    Then every time my husband got deployed, my toddler and I wouldn’t be completely stranded in this city. What a dream.

  • May 28, 2009 at 1:33 pm
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    I like the idea of pedestrian friendly streets. But as a compromise, perhaps the City of Kingston (if they were thinking of pedestrians… EVER) could try turning off one lane of Princess Street from Division to Ontario. It does cause some frustration but you can always get around it. Just look at downtown right now!

    Then again, I wonder how our local businesses would react. Would they like it or not? Maybe A&P might disapprove. Then again, I can see some of the restaurants and cafes take over part of the street for more patio space :)

  • May 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm
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    Why would Kingston need this? How would the downtown benefit from it? It’s a novel idea, to be sure, but it serves no practical purpose as the sidewalks downtown are almost never overcrowded anyway. All it would achieve is making the downtown look deserted.

    As it is, the primary problem for people visiting the downtown area is a lack of access points. Blocking off the primary one wouldn’t help at all.

  • May 29, 2009 at 5:31 am
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    Quebec City does it, Ottawa does it, Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener are known to do it at times too. In fact, when I lived in Hamilton, they blocked off a street for a festival and it was one of the only streets that goes west (as you may know, Hamilton is full of one ways) but it worked. If it means making your city more friendly and green then I think people will try to make it work. Kingston is very much a walking city and we should encourage that.

    I think a section of street blocked off downtown would add to the warm feeling Kingston already has. I don't think we should block off as much as Harvey is suggesting. There's not much up near Division that I would be interested in walking to, I say stick to the areas with little shops and galleries and of course, this would only happen after rush hour. I think it would be more reasonable to block off a smaller section like they do for Buskers (so Bagot to Ontario – not including Ontario).

    @RicoJ: Suburbinites who hate downtown can jump on the 401 and go around. Last I checked, Queen, Brock and Johnson all run parallel to Princess, giving us other options when necessary. If you really feel that downtown is such an awful pit, you aren't looking hard enough. There are some wonderful gems – unique stores, galleries and restaurants alike – that make our city a place that people love to visit.

  • May 29, 2009 at 8:04 am
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    There certainly appears to be a lot of negativity to the idea. In absence of weighing in every pro and con, I think it is an excellent idea… so I’ll mention some of the pros that I can think of:

    – Development of a new downtown identity (i.e. obviously the downtown is faltering with the advent of the big bad box store and cookie-cutter BS on Gardiner & Midland St’s. This would give it some life – and a different one than having to compete with the small-business destroyers out in the west end.)

    – Promote greener forms of transportation to and from the d/t.

    – Without better maintenance and upkeep, and injected life into the d/t, tourism will decline. No one comes here to shop at the big boxes – they’ve got those exact stores in their own towns, and they look and smell exactly the same.

    – Change to a pedestrian area would shift the nature of the shops no doubt, but I think this would be for the better. The only path forward for the d/t core is to offer the specialty boutiques, the cafes and patio restaurants… i.e. the type of place you’d like to stroll to find neat different things.

    Can you tell I’m not a fan of the big box?

    Anyway, I’m not an expert and in reality I have no idea if it would work – there are obviously a lot of problems with the concept.

    However, I have visited a number of City’s that have such a pedestrian focal point and in my experiences, they were busy. Not quite applicable to Canada, but: San Jose Costa Rica (Avenida Central) has one, Wellington NZ (Manner St) has one and so does Perth, Australia. They were ALL prosperous and busy when I was there, which was many occasions over longer stays.

    Does anyone know of any such things in Canada?

    ryant67: Your last sentence. I agree, but it is a lack of access points for CARS that is the problem. If the City truly wants to become “Canada’s Most Sustainable City”, then it needs to actually get on with it and promote sustainability through urban design & retrofit. Right now it is failing in that the downtown is proving to be unsustainable in its current form.

  • May 29, 2009 at 10:15 am
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    This would be a great idea during events, festivals,etc. But to do it everyday? I agree with ryant67 that there is not enough pedestrian traffic on an average day to merit such a system.

  • May 29, 2009 at 10:22 pm
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    In Windsor at night on the weekends in the summer (I know that is really specific) they close the main street in the downtown area because there are so many bars downtown that result in drunk idiots that they all stumble in front of cars anyways so if the street is closed they have more space to stumble from club to club. In that context it works rather well, but it is more of a safety issue than anything else.

  • June 1, 2009 at 6:58 pm
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    Like I said, Bryan and Danielle, give me a third-crossing and you can go nuts with your money grubbing, tax dollar sucking, influence peddling, ludicrously overrated tourist-trap downtown.

    Because once it’s not a main thoroughfare anymore, Downtown Kingston will be dead as nails and that’s just fine by me, not to mention it’s a well-deserved outcome for the jerks down there.

    Screw us once, shame on us. Screw us twice, or in this case repeatedly, well then it’s over, baby. Just die already, and stop sucking the life out of the whole rest of Kingston. You know, all the folks beyond the 5 or so families that own this shameful downtown.

    People are slowly but certainly wisening-up to the free-gig the downtown has been creating for itself since amalgamation. It’s inevitable. Face it: the party’s over for downtown. Gimme that third bridge.

  • June 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm
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    I think its a good idea. Like Danielle said there are several streets that run parallel to Princess as an alternate for traffic, I dont see the closure playing so much of an impact on the causeway that its be unfeaseable. I more than anyone hate living over the bridge, in fact have considered buying a rowboat and docking it a RMC becuaase 80% of the time that would be faster than waiting in traffic. In fact its quite a nice walk over the bridge, maybe they should institue a commuter parking lot at the bottom of Fort Henry hill, park it and walk downtown to work.

    Blocking off that section of downtown I think would help rejuvinate it in a way. I love on the few occasions that its closed (buskers) because it just makes it a much nicer place to be. Less noise, less stink, and less worried about being clipped by one of our cities wonderful taxi cabs.

    Downtown is hardly a one stop shop, usually when I do any shopping down there Im visiting multiple stores, walking the stretch anyway. In the summer Kingston has enough pedestian traffic to make it work. Maybe it should be a seasonnal closure. And if the street was open to pedestrian, one might actually notcie and increase in pedestrian traffic, since walking is the only option.

    I think its a great idea, people are far too lazy and rely on their vehicles too much. It might even helop some of the struggling boutiques downtown because walk in traffic could account for an increase in business. It far easier to catch someones eye and bring them inside when they are just walking by, as opposed to in their car where they would have to find parking.

  • June 4, 2009 at 4:51 pm
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    You’ve actually managed to make me feel embarrassed for you, RicoJ. A rare accomplishment, considering the low standards of blog comments.

  • April 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm
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    It looks as though this crazy idea may not be that crazy after all. There has been a lot of talk lately about pedestrian friendly Sundays, and other trial days to test it out in downtown Kingston. I recently stumbled upon this Facebook group, which already has 300 "attendees" in support of a pedestrian oriented promenade and festival. Let's hope the momentum continues and that this initiative helps breathe some much needed life into the downtown.

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