Architect Tye Farrow was standing knee-high in weeds. His bicycle on the kickstand beside him, he surveyed an overgrown area as large as Ontario Place but, except for those brave souls willing to get a little dirty, completely cut off from civilization. The Don River burbling away to his left, he looked up at the massive piece of “enlightened” infrastructure above and wondered why a connection couldn’t be made.
“I was there two weeks ago on the west side – the only things that were there were me and a deer with a massive rack,” says the affable architect while lifting his hands above his head to make finger-antlers. “I came down from the [Evergreen] Brickworks, which was packed full of people; this was empty, nobody accesses it.”
His resolve was further strengthened during a west-to-east drive from Bloor and Bathurst streets to Pape and Danforth avenues. Along his route, he noted two lanes of active traffic, two bicycle lanes, a little bit of parking and a very “urbane” feeling all the way.
Except, that is, where Bloor and Danforth connect at the five-lane Prince Edward Viaduct. “And what do people do? They jump on the gas.”
So, how to slow drivers down? How to create an experience on that massive bridge – with its incredible views in all directions – rather than continue to allow it the indignity of being a place to hurry across?
Old photographs of the viaduct just after it opened in 1918 show folks promenading along its (then) wide sidewalks, bicyclists whizzing between the trolley-tracks, and wide, ornate light standards that carried the streetcar’s electrified lines marching right down the middle of the road. All combined to give the composition a more intimate, human scale as compared to the thin sidewalks and highway-style, cobra head light fixtures of today.
That’s when “Market Bridge” started to take shape on the drawing boards at Farrow Partners Inc.
By reducing the automobile lanes to three – two active and one parking/loading that could switch to active during rush hour – pedestrians could promenade once again. Or relax. Or purchase a bouquet of flowers or a beverage under an attractive, Art Nouveau-style wooden pavilion/shelter.
“The pavilions aren’t to compete against [businesses of] the Danforth, but they could have social incubators – like high tech startups, but you could do it as a social incubator – for somebody who has an idea for a coffee stand … The other pavilions could be a place that you’re going for a yoga class or, Sunday afternoon, you’re going to hear a lecture. In the evenings … you’re going to sit and listen to music.”
Farfetched? Maybe not. As Mr. Farrow points out, a school sits at either end of the bridge; City Adult Learning Centre at Broadview and Rosedale Heights School of the Arts at Castle Frank. There’s also a subway stop at either end and tens of thousands of residents in both single-family homes and high rises on both sides. Then there is the ravine below, which connects to the much-loved Evergreen Brickworks and Todmorden Mills to the north and Riverdale Park to the south.
To entice strollers and bicyclists down into all of that green, Mr. Farrow proposes not only an enhanced trail system (where the inaccessible weedy field is now), but also a “switchback” ramp that would whisk bridge-goers through architect Edmund Burke’s massive, riveted arches to deposit them onto a gently curving final walkway that terminates near the Don River. And because the viaduct is so strong, the whole thing could hang from a cable-system rather than disturb the ecosystem below.
“Think of going from the surface deck, down between the subway line, in this beautiful web of steel, and coming through the concrete arch and ending at the water that’s meandering down below,” says Mr. Farrow with a twinkle in his eye. “It would be a quite a sensorial experience.”
But who, a skeptic might ask, would want to hang out on a bridge?
Mr. Farrow points to a recent announcement by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Before 1950, it carried 400,000 New Yorkers across by foot, trolley and automobile; today it carries half that, so new bicycle lanes, it’s hoped, will bring those numbers back up. Also, consider the success of New York’s High Line, a linear park built on an abandoned railway viaduct that has become a major tourist attraction. Or historic examples, such as Venice’s Rialto Bridge, Pulteney Bridge in Bath or Germany’s Kramerbrucke Bridge, which all sport shops or residences. Ironically, one can also point to Toronto’s own (and relatively new) “The Bentway,” which transformed areas underneath the western portion of the Gardiner Expressway into public space for art shows or ice-skating.
“These things have the ability to do more, and specifically if they’re in an extraordinary place in the city.”
And speaking of the city, are any movers-and-shakers at city hall on board? Are community leaders bending their ears? Mr. Farrow says he has shown the idea to city councillors and city planners, and has the “enthusiastic” support of Evergreen’s Geoff Cape, KPMB’s Bruce Kuwabara and urban designer Ken Greenberg. And why not? Market Bridge ‘retrovates’ a beloved piece of Toronto infrastructure, puts a ‘there’ there and adds a much-needed connection to green space.
“What it does is it takes High Park and it puts it on the edge of the Danforth and the edge of Bloor Street,” finishes Mr. Farrow, who recently completed a Master of Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design (NAAD) at the University of Venice. “I think that’s the power of it … In the light of COVID and where we’re going in the future, [it’s] the importance of getting outside, and the connection, not only from a physiological standpoint, but from a psychological standpoint.
“And it’s all under our nose. It’s right there.”
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