In a previous post on Sprawl I mentioned how what took 50+ years to build, couldn’t be undone easily or cheaply. So I figured that I would dive into that discussion a little bit. Which brings me back to a quote from 2016:
Forget about the fact the streets are all four lanes, they’re too wide and the cars are going too fast, that’s one thing,” James Howard Kunstler, author of Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, told CBC News. “But the buildings themselves are so amazingly ugly, it’s like somebody came in and beat the city with an ugly stick.” CBC Windsor
Although I find much of the work of Kunstler extreme in its descriptions and consequences, the comments that he made about Windsor do hold some water. Windsor major arteries are ugly and a significant challenge to overcome from a safety, aesthetic and environmental standpoint. Arguably the city is defined by six major North-South (Huron Church, Ouellette/Dougall, Howard, Walker, Lauzon and Banwell) thoroughfares, three major East-West (Tecumseh, Wyandotte and Riverside) corridors and EC Row Expressway. You can argue that CR 42/Cabana Rd could also join this list but given the geographic location and that large areas are currently not developed it is one to watch for the future.
These are the arteries through which the lifeblood of the city flows. Although some would argue the purposes of these roads, what they should be for, for the most part these roads were built for the car and designed to satisfying a community and region built on sprawl. The only major artery that “fits” a “main-street design” would be sections of Wyandotte St. (in Walkerville and near the University) and it could be argued that elements are missing from those areas (protected/separated bike lanes as an example). The road diet on Riverside Dr. did offer what a temporary glimpse of what the streets could be but there is a bigger disconnect not only in the road designs themselves but in the building stock that sits next to them.
So what did I do? I counted buildings along Tecumseh Rd from Huron Church to Lauzon and Walker Rd from Provincial to Riverside Dr. This evaluation of the building stock isn’t scientific but it does illustrate the nature of the problem. Buildings were classified in one of eight categories: residential (single and multi); commercial (single or multi business); mixed use (ground flood commercial with apartments above); institutional, parking/lots and abandon/vacant.
To try and transform these arteries into something other than race tracks the building stock must be changed. It is true that road diets, bike lanes, traffic calming would help, but without places to go, buildings that are adapted to roles other than servicing cars or people living on these roads, the purpose of these throughfares won’t change which reinforces the current status quo. Given that only about 16% of the buildings on Tecumseh Rd (2% on Walker Rd) feature some sort of mixed commercial/residential usage, the question becomes where are the people and places to slow down these street? This lack of mixed usage is compounded by vacant lots, car lots, standalone parking lots which contribute to 15% and 24% of respective “building spaces” on Tecumseh and Walker Rd. The bulk of establishments (greater than 55%) on both Tecumseh and Walker Roads are are non-mixed use commercial, the vast majority of those being single story construction.
Beyond Walker and Tecumseh Roads; almost every other major thoroughfare in the city all face similar stock challenges. With large stretches of poorly aligned building stock low density residential; overbuilt car centric commercial segregated by swaths of industrial properties both active and brownfield. Although not all portions of the major arteries in Windsor are designed to be dense mixed use construction, there is almost no evidence beyond a few condo developments on Wyandotte St. that redevelopment is a priority for developers. I would surmise that part of this lack of interest has to do with many of these arteries being lined with vacant commercial spaces and brownfields that are difficult and expensive to re-purpose.
Yes surrounding neighbourhoods have people, but if they aren’t going to places on these roads now and business aren’t utilizing the existing vacant land or commercial spaces, will just having more/different abilities to access these spaces transform these areas or is something more drastic in order? Arguably Wyandotte St. is the closest major thoroughfare to a “main street” with the BIA areas (plus Wyandotte West near the University) being the clusters of attraction and activity to emulate. These BIAs are built around mixed sub-communities along the artery and are currently missing some connective tissue to tie them together, separated bike lanes as an example.
I would argue that this is a model that could to be emulated on sections of other major thoroughfares and although not all of the roads are conducive to this change something probably needs to be done. What is needed is a building stock that is conducive to mixed activities and that is missing on most thoroughfares. Although I doubt the Costco plaza of South Windsor on Walker to be a main street, but why can’t the markets near Ottawa Street be connected to a future development at the GM site by one?
To bring a “main street” to these arteries is a monumental challenge that as long as the existing building stock is maintained, no amount of road diets, bike lanes or tree plantings will solve the underlying issues. As these roads are the skeleton that the rest of Windsor is built on, what needs to be done is a radical transformation of the housing and building stock in core areas of our community. Without change these roads are barriers to connectivity that segregate and isolate parts of our community from one another, the car will remain king, infill will remain illusive and sprawl will perpetuate.