Market Bridge at the Prince Edward Viaduct, Toronto Canada

Market Bridge at the Prince Edward Viaduct is a practical and farsighted civic idea that hopes to reimagine this much beloved historic infrastructure, through a community-based co-creation process, asa new civic, social, and pedestrian centred destination for Toronto. A generous new pedestrian realm for the city, that could mix public space, plazas with public art, and socially driven market stalls housed in mixed use market-like pavilions.

Occurring around the world-from the Highline in New York City, the Camden Highline, LondonEngland, to the reimagined Champs-Élysées in Paris-infrastructure reuse projects are bringing incredible environmental, social, cultural and economic gains to many cities.

As Toronto becomes denser, obtaining land for community uses and open space have become more and more challenging. Finding imaginative ways to create community much beloved civic spaces has never been more important-by transforming single use infrastructure into new urban multi-use assets-creating enlighten infrastructure.

It is also part of a larger initiative to create a new ‘Brick-Bridge’ urban park precinct, an added jewel to the Lower Don Trail system, featuring enhanced trails, active and passive park activities, framed by anew direct connection to the Evergreen Brickworks to the north, and a new connection from the viaduct deck surface to the trail system below, allowing ease of access by Torontonians from Bloor and Danforth to the new park and Brickworks beyond.

Market Bridge at the Prince Edward Viaduct envisions a vibrant, connected urban precinct of public spaces, urban activities, community gathering pavilions, socially driven unique micro market retail and fresh produce, arts interventions, and charitable activities; all high up in the air with an unprecedented view of the Don Valley and Lake Ontario beyond.

Imagine a destination for hearing street performances and music, a place where one can buy fresh produce and wander fresh flower stalls; a place to sample from speciality food stall, enjoy cafes and restaurants; enclosed community space which organizations can use for meeting or events; all driven by a social and civic goal of causing health for the wider community.

A place to go to experience one of a kind retail incubator with a variety of multicultural themed gourmet food stalls, high quality local produce and foods, handmade chocolates, artisan bakers, sustainably and ethically sourced coffee, locally grown flower stalls, Ontario produced fruit and vegetables, retail incubators.

The road section of the viaduct is now reconfigured to a profile that contains three lanes of traffic, one of which will be parking at off peak traffic times, two bike lanes and a pedestrian precinct that is close to half the width of the viaduct, from the existing five lanes of traffic, flanked by bike lanes and a sidewalk.The proposed road section is similar to the majority road sections that presently existing for Bloor street to the west and Danforth Avenue to the east.

The length of the new pedestrian promenade will be a mix of squares and promenades of varying size, supporting a range of activities and uses including bicycle racks. The paved squares punctuated with street trees, furniture and urban planters providing a range of textures and scents, would offer a mix of uses.

Interspersed amongst the squares and public space are market pavilions containing a mix of different sized merchandising offerings. The single-story vaulted ceiling pavilions are designed to maximize the range of interior special configurations, ranging from open arcade-like stalls, accessible booth merchandizing, over the counter service and single tenant uses. Public washrooms and related common services are clustered towards either end of the viaduct.

The streets and public realm that are located between the east and west ends of the viaduct connecting to the Castle Frank and Broadview TTC stations are reconfigured to provided more generous sidewalks, enhanced existing green space and separate pedestrian routes and ease the flow of traffic to the north bound Don Valley Parkway from the east end of the bridge.

A new Brick-Bridge Urban Park Precinct

Beyond enhancing this important main east-west street for the City of Toronto as an enhanced civic realm, Market Bridge offers the opportunity to create a new ‘Brick-Bridge’ urban park precinct, an added jewel to the Lower Don Trail system, featuring enhanced trails, active and passive park activities, framed by a new direct connection to the Evergreen Brickworks to the north, and a new connection from the viaduct deck surface to the trail system below, allowing ease of access by Torontonians from Bloor and Danforth to the new park and Brickworks beyond.

The addition of a light steel frame stair and elevators at the viaducts eastern central pier allows which would connect Bloor Street and the Danforth t directly to valley trail system below. It is envisioned that the west side of the Don River, north of the viaduct, could be made accessible by a number of bridges and new trails, and the existing land enhanced not dissimilar to the ponds and waterways of theEvergreen Brickworks Park, focused on revitalizing naturalized spaces into green, sustainable places for everyone to experience the grandeur of the river system valley through out the seasons.

At present it is very difficult to access the Lower Don Valley Park trail system from either Bloor Street or the Danforth, however the viaduct can become an important connector for the adjacent neighbourhoods and subway stations to the base of the Don Valley, north to the Brickworks and theTailor Creek and East Don trails, and south to the lake front trail system, through the addition of the new vertical circulation.

The Viaduct can now become an important connector for the city to the park trail system and lake beyond which at present is missing at this important city through fare.

History ofThe Prince Edward Viaduct

Also known as the Bloor Viaduct, is truly one of Toronto’s great pieces of enlighten infrastructure. Designed by Thomas Taylor and Edmund W. Burke under the guidance of public works commissionerR.C. Harris as an elegant three hinged concrete and steel arch bridge, with a length close to five football fields, was completed in 1918 at the height of World War One.At its completion, it was both an important symbol of progressive engineering, material and construction innovation, paired with the civic aspiration of being a connector and facilitators of flow to and spurring early growth and prosperity, of the eastern portion of the city.

The viaduct was also an elegant, urbane, broad boulevard divided by lampposts, paved with cobblestones and generous sidewalks 40 metres above the river valley. A new destination to admire the long views of the Don Valley below and lake beyond.

By the 1960’s, the viaduct experienced a number of disastrous alterations that have had long lasting and ultimately tragic consequences. With the subway installed below the surface, the graceful lamp post and cobble stone central paving band were removed and replaced with asphalt, along with addition car lanes and highway overscale light stands in the middle of narrowed sidewalks. These alterations fundamentally altering the proportions, character and perception of the viaducts surface as a public, pedestrian and civic realm.

East-west bike lanes were eventually added, however the surface was now dominated by five lanes of cars traffic which had the feeling of an expressway; an unprecedent number of traffic lanes along this important main city east-west corridor, where most sections of the road as of 2020 are now two traffic lanes and two bicycle lanes. It viaduct surface has now become a straight, unencumbered raceway that seemed to naturally encourage drivers to accelerate once upon it.

But even more unsettling, this new desensitized space, empty and devoid of pedestrian life, became a magnet for suicides. By 2003, it was infamous as second only to Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as the site of the more suicides in North America, with a unsettling five hundred people taking their lives annually.

As a result, in 2003, the City erected a five-metre-high suicide barrier, known as the Luminous Veil.While a sophisticated and thoughtfully designed new piece of jewelry for the viaduct, harmonious with the bridges structure below, on the bridge surface, the five-metre height of the structure, from a pedestrian scale, seemed to further reinforce the vastness of the five-lane roadway as not being of a human scale; not a place to linger or be caught alone on foot if another choice was available.

By 2010, a study tragically revealed that while the barrier stopped suicides from occurring on the viaduct, the total number of suicides by jumping in the city did not change with the erection of theLuminous Veil.

Arguably the Luminous Veil was a great design response to the wrong question. A pathogenic question of how do we stop deaths, versus a salutogenic question of how can we cause health? The barrier stopped suicides, but it didn’t encourage life, health and wellbeing; community growth, bridging and causing civic opportunities and connecting of individuals with others in our wider community.

But why must this be?

An Invitation: Discourses on Reimagining The Prince Edward Viaduct

We are aware that the idea of changing the viaduct to something different than presently exists is sometimes hard to imagine. The imagination itself, and the exploratory illustrations within, could be considered as a starting point of a discussion. And thereby, as a first and important step, it might just bring to our common awareness, that our initial human impulse of how things “ought to be”.

And there is nothing wrong about this, it is a natural human tendency. Yet, what the pandemic has show us is that we need to reimagine our public realm to be friendlier and inviting to pedestrians, versus car dominated streets.

And importantly co-creatively imagining and exploring varying ways that might make the Viaduct a more inviting and celebrated community place seem like a fitting challenge as we make our way out of the pandemic, through a shared and participatory discourse: about opportunities for health-oriented thinking at an urban scale. Nothing more. And nothing less.

We can only do so, by imagining it together