There is a path, we just need to see it

You probably saw many “No Exit” signs in your city. And if you pay closer attention, there are quite a few of them that actually have exits. In many cases, if you are walking or cycling, “No Exit” signs are not accurate. There are passages, curbs, bridges, tunnels, stairs or other urban forms that don’t prevent us from moving forward. Those urban forms have a more human scale and we mistakenly label them as “No Exit”.

There are many examples here in the city where I live.

Doulton St. and Highbury Ave. 

Yes Exit on Doulton St

There is a “No Exit” sign in both sides of the Doulton St in the west end but if you go all the way you will find a nice and wide sidewalk that can also be a very useful shortcut depending on where you are going.

McMahen St. and Elizabeth St.

Yes Exits on McMahen St

There is a “No Exit” sign on McMahen St. right after you cross Elizabeth St. However, there is not just one exit. There are three!! You can access a supermarket, a community centre and Mornington Ave which, again, can be a very helpful shortcut.

Arundell St.

No Exit: Arundell St

To give a counter example. Arundell St. is a one-block long street that ends with a house right at the end of the street. There is no way to go through unless you enter private property. This is a real “No Exit” street and it is an exception.

This is a very appropriate metaphor for City Making. Our cities are facing multiple challenges and we may end up adopting a “No Exit” mentality of impending doom. It doesn’t have to be that way as long as we can make different choices and realize how many pathways we have to continue our urban journey when we learn to see those opportunities.

A good starting point would be changing “No Exit” signs and mentality to “Yes Exit” (for people and bikes)!

By the way, this is not an original idea. A citizen-led initiative mapped hundreds of Yes-Exit streets in Toronto. Dylan Reid, a founder of Walk Toronto who spearheaded the project notes that “No Exit” signs as we know is a clear evidence of car-centric planning:

… forced to get our exercise by local walks and, in the process, deepen our knowledge of the streets and passageways that extend from where we live. And as we walk, we’ve realized in so many ways that the city has not been designed and, more specifically, signed for travelling on foot.

Dylan Reid

This caught the attention at City Hall and a motion was eventually passed to update those signs. Turning neighbourhood hidden pathways accessible to all, especially for those who are not familiar with the area.

Redefining our cities in this way is more than making life easier and more convenient for people (already a significant goal in itself). It is also about shifting our mindset to imagine different ways of doing things and a better future.

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