Page 1

DESIGNING WALKABLE STREETS. Currently in York Region there is a lack of practices in the design and policy processes of streetscapes to that ensure that they are safe and inviting for all users of the street. As the demographics of the streetscape change with development, it is imperative to evolve our streetscapes to best serve the context in which they lie. By having a clear vision for York Region’s streetscapes, it will be possible to design our streets with contemporary practices that make it accessible and safe for everyone.

Challenges & Opportunities

in streetscape design





id t





ur e


St ru

Cy cli s St t Fa re et cilit Ar ies t St or m w at er M an



ne Pl an





Li gh

Ut ilit ie

Bu ild in g

Building Form Structure Current Problem The buildings along a street have a high impact on the experience of that space, as they are the walls of a streetscape. Having a large distance between the building and the street diminishes the aesthetic and sense of community of a streetscape. The more open streetscape also encourages motorists to move faster through the space, making the area more unattractive to pedestrians and cyclists. The height of a building can also shadow the entire streetscape. Having large setbacks is more discouraging to pedestrians, as it creates a less “walkable” streetscape.

Solution To achieve a desirable relationship between the buildings and the streetscape, you must address the urban design and planning principles when developing a streetscape with an approach such as Form Based Code.

Having large parking lots in front of buildings for commercial development also contributes to the barren streetscape aesthetic. Placing parking lots and driveways behind buildings in relationship to the streetscape makes them more accessible and brings down the scale of the street.

“To achieve a desirable relationship between the buildings and the streetscape, you must address the urban design and planning principles when developing a streetscape with an approach such as Form Based Code.”

Form Based Code is a method of regulating development that focuses on detail and physical form, with a lesser focus on land use. Form based codes address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks.

“Form Based Code is a method of regulating development that focuses on detail and physical form, with less focus on land use.” [top] This urban-rural transect cross section shows the ideal configuration of buildings in relation to the various streetscape contexts. [bottom] Many form based codes are project specific, like the SmartCode adopted for Mike Holmes’Windwalk project in Alberta. [next page] A comparison of form based codes to traditional practices

Lane Widths Current Problem Road design currently supports that vehicles should be able to travel efficiently with little interruption, which often results in lanes being larger than necessary. Larger lanes will lead to increased speed, as drivers feel more comfortable driving faster across open roads. Although it may be the case on high speed roadways such as the 404, studies have shown that wider lanes are not always safer.

“Analysis of geometric traffic volume and accident data has found no consistent, statistically significant relationship between lane width and safety for midblock sections of urban and suburban arterials. There is no indication that the use of 3.0-3.3m, rather than 3.6m wide lanes for arterial mid segments leads to increase in accident” Potts, Harwood & Richard, Transportation Research Board, 2007 Solution Reducing uninterrupted road width will create a more ‘shared’ streetscape, as well as increase safety. Lane width can be reduced by use of elements such as: Medians Medians are a good way to break up a road into smaller sections. Medians can be used in a variety of ways, such as creating a separated bike lane, dividing directions of traffic, providing refuge for crossing pedestrians and animals, along with hosting additional plantings on a streetscape Curb Extensions Curb extensions slow turning vehicles, and make drivers more aware of the crosswalk and improving eye contact with pedestrians. A shorter crossing distance is also created for pedestrians, and at busy intersections can prevent

crowding. Curb extensions also prevent drivers from crossing over into on street parking. The additional space can feature site furniture, plantings, or bus stops. Curb extensions can also be staggered to create a Chicane, which prevents speeding along a road.

“Reducing uninterrupted road width will create a more ‘shared’ streetscape, as well as increase safety”

[top left] York Region roadways lack comfort for pedestrians & cyclists [center left] Chicanes along Norelco Drive, Toronto, Ontario. [bottom left] Curb extensions can create a ‘gateway’ character in the streetscape.

Stormwater Management Current Problem


“Stormwater refers to rainwater and melted snow that flows over roads, parking lots, lawn and other sites. Under natural conditions, stormwater is intercepted by vegetation and then absorbed into the ground and filtered and eventually replenishes aquifers or flows into streams and rivers. Later, part of it is returned to the atmosphere in the form of transpiration. In urbanized areas, however, impervious surfaces such as roods and roofs prevent precipitation from naturally soaking into the ground. Instead, the water runs rapidly into storm drains, municipal sewers and drainage ditches into streams, rivers and lakes and on its way it picks up pesticides, road salts, heavy metals, oils, bacteria, and other harmful pollutants and transports them through municipal sewers into streams, rivers and lakes.” -TRCA

While plantings of all nature improve the ability of the streetscape to mitigate negative runoff effects, certain planting features such as rain gardens and bioswales are very effective at doing so.

“The main difference between rain gardens and bioswales is that rain gardens do not move water, where bioswales do”

Bioswales Bioswales are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. They consist of a swaled drainage course with gently sloped sides and are filled with vegetation. The water’s flow path, along with the wide and shallow ditch, is designed to maximize the time water spends in the swale, which aids the trapping of pollutants and silt. Rain Gardens Rain gardens are an area of depressed soil that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and is fed by surface runoff. The main difference between rain gardens and bioswales is that rain gardens do not move water, where bioswales do. Permeable Pavers Permeable Paver Blocks are manufactured units which interlock to create a durable pavement. Permeable systems have spaces which are filled with permeable materials such as pea gravel, sand or soil, allowing surface water to infiltrate.

[bottom left] Rain gardens can be functional on a small scale, while making the streetscape more comfortable to pedestrians. [top right] Rain gardens can be incorporated into curb extensions. [centre right] Plantings in rain gardens require minimal maintenance. [bottom right] Bioswales are effective on rural and suburbarn scales.

Plantings Current Problem


Currently there is a lack of plantings along with suboptimal conditions for health & longevity. The maintenance of planting features in York Region is also neglected, diminishing their value as a streetscape investment. Plantings are able to contribute to the environmental and aesthetic quality of a streetscape and are a great opportunity. In order to realize the full benefits of plantings it is important to incorporate more vegetation into the streetscape, using planting features to address context specific issues such as stormwater runoff and enhancing the aesthetic qualities of the streetscape.

Street Trees Street trees are one of the most common elements of streetscape. The longevity of trees can be a problem however, with issues such as salt spray and insufficient room for roots. Having a continuous tree trench is ideal for growing conditions, but in urban contexts, where sidewalk space is limited, the trench needs to be bridged.

Artificial Turf While not providing all the benefits that live turf has, artificial turf can minimize heat island effect and drastically enhance the streetscape aesthetic where putting in living vegetation would be unfeasible.

Planters Planters are another way to incorporate vegetation into the streetscape. Planters are flexible as they can be hanging or located on the ground, and detached planters can be moved around with ease.

“Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures through shade and evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Evapotranspiration, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2–9°F (1–5°C)” Kurn, D., S. Bretz, B. Huang, and H. Akbari. The Potential for Reducing Urban Air Temperatures and Energy Consumption through Vegetative Cooling, 1994

[top right] Green walls improve the aesthetic and ecological virtues of the streetscape. [centre right] A continuous trench is ideal for street tree health. [bottom right] Street trees can bring down the scale of the street, creating a traffic calming effect.

Utilities Current Problem While a necessary component of the streetscape, utilities often contribute to the ‘clutter’ of a streetscape. Utilities can diminish the accessibility of a space and the aesthetic qualities of a space. Utilities are currently placed in a purely engineering perspective, where the pedestrian experience is not considered, leading to locations and treatments that detract from a desirable streetscape.

Solution Locating utilities underground has a considerable impact on the aesthetic and accessibility of the streetscape. While not always an appropriate solution (due to the costs) for rural or some suburban areas, it is vital for a inviting pedestrian experience. Another solution that is cost effective and appropriate for both urban and rural contexts is visually screening utilities by methods such as painting them or locating them behind other streetscape elements. To best ensure that utilities don’t detract from the streetscape, it is imperative to include design perspectives such as Landscape Architects in addition to engineers when determining utilities location.

[top left] Utility boxes can be painted to improve the streetscape aesthetic and involve the community. [top right] When utilities cant be located underground, alternative measure such as putting a finish on the box can be used to make it look more attractive. [center right] Plantings can be used to screen utility boxes and improve streetscape aesthetic [bottom left] Here the utility box has been painted in a ‘trompe l’oeil’ style, creating character & giving the space a distinct identity.

Street Art Current Problem Currently there is a lack of public art, making the streetscape appear barren and uninviting. The streetscapes are indistinct, and are missing the opportunity to add to the urban character of the space and calm traffic.

Solutions Having an aesthetically pleasing streetscape can be traffic calming, in addition to making the space more inviting for all users. Public art is very good for cognitive way-finding, and creates distinct landmarks that give the streetscape a unique identity.

“Street art has many benefits beyond aesthetic value�

[top right] A streetscape guardrail has been painted to depict the image of an eye as one moves through the street. [centre right] Street art can be a great opportunity to engage the community [top left] Sculptures can give the streetscape a distinct identity, making wayfinding easier by creating landmarks [bottom left] In Vancouver, Canada, the street has been painted to appear as though a girl is there, slowing motorists and raising their awareness.

Lighting Current Problem Lighting can be an issue when there is too much, creating light pollution and wasting electricity. The lifespan and efficiency of lighting elements are also important factors for the streetscape sustainability. Poor lighting can also be a safety concern for both pedestrians and motorists.

Solution Cut-off lighting Cutoff lighting reduces the chance for light to escape above a horizontal plane. Full cutoff lights typically reduces the visibility of the lamp and reflector within a luminaire, so the effects of glare are also reduced. The use of full cutoff fixtures can allow for lower wattage lamps to be used in the fixtures, producing the same or sometimes a better effect, due to being more carefully controlled. Dynamic/Luminescent Paint This novel technology allows for the road to respond to conditions and the presence of drivers by lighting up the road. While being sustainable they also offer safety benefits, as they illuminate contours in the road and can inform drivers about hazardous road conditions.

Street Trees One of street trees benefits is that they can absorb and block a great amount of light pollution. LED Lights LED lights have a lifespan of 10-15 years, about 3 times longer than alternative lights. They are also made out of sustainable materials and require less energy to operate. LED lights can also be dimmed at times such as dawn or dusk. They also can turn off and on instantly, as they require no time to heat up. Nocturnal bugs are also not attracted to LED lights, making them safer for the urban ecology as well.

“One of street trees benefits is that they can absorb and block a great amount of light pollution.�

[top right] LED lights are efficient and can adjust their brightness levels. [center right] Dynamic/luminescent paint can be treated to respond to certain atmospheric conditions and relay that information to the driver. [bottom right] Dynamic paint can also bu used to illuminate the road and adjust lane signals.

Bike Lanes Current Problem


Having a cyclist friendly streetscape is an important to the overall success of the street. There are a few challenges however, that prevent streets from being a shared realm.

To make the streetscape more cyclist friendly there should be more features such as separated bike lanes, bollards to enhance nighttime lighting, a reduction in on street parking, along with traffic calming measures to increase safety.

•Excessive speed of motorists that reduces safety for cyclists. •Lack of lanes to keep cyclists separate from vehicles, along with on street parking that forces cyclists into the vehicle traffic lane .

For features such as separated bike lanes, it’s important to ensure that the barrier are well defined so that motorists can not move into it to park. Ways to accomplish this include medians, bollards, tall curbs, and coloring.

•Poor lighting and visibility, at nighttime and at intersections where there could be blind spots that prevent motorists from seeing cyclists. •Few features to make the street enjoyable at a smaller scale, and lack of elements such as bike shelters. •Restrictions such as one way streets being applied to cyclists.

[top right] “Lay-bys” like this one are supposed to give drivers a place to safely stop on Sherbourne, Toronto. [center right] Colored bike lanes in Vancouver clearly delineate where the lane is, and raises driver awareness of the lane & cyclists

[bottom right] This bike lane in Montreal creates a more defined barrier to prevent vehicles from parking on the bike path [bottom left] With on street parking, divers will still park on the bike lanes, obstructing the path for cyclists and forcing them to bike in the vehicle lane.

Designing Walkable Streets