Main streets may be closed to vehicular traffic on weekends again this year as part of Toronto’s ActiveTO program, but it looks like the most popular closure won’t return.
In a city report released on Tuesday, transportation staff outlined their plans for this year’s edition of ActiveTO, which in 2020 saw major streets temporarily closed for 25 weekends between May and October.
The initiative, which also included the installation of “quiet streets” and a major expansion of Toronto’s cycling network, used temporary infrastructure that could be deployed quickly and aimed to give residents a way to get out while remaining physically distanced in the early days of the pandemic.
The report recommends continuing weekend road closures “into 2021 and beyond” and reopening sections of Lake Shore Boulevard East and Bayview Avenue to pedestrians and cyclists this year.
But staff are not recommending repeating the closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West this year, due to major roadwork already underway at the nearby intersection of King Street, Queen Street and Roncesvalles Avenue.
Construction is expected to last until August 2022 and will significantly limit east-west traffic along King and Queen. Recurring Lake Shore West closures would add to congestion and “therefore … are unlikely to be able to be accommodated” in 2021 and 2022, staff concluded.
Last summer, the closure of six kilometers of the eastbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard West between Windermere and Stadium Roads drew an average of 18,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians each weekend, according to city figures.
The city is exploring alternative road closures in the downtown west, including at Exhibition Place, is also considering locations outside of downtown.
Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 880 Cities, a nonprofit that works with municipalities to promote active transportation, said Lake Shore West’s exclusion this year is “disappointing.” But she was encouraged that the city is not treating ActiveTO as a one-time response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s exciting to see that the city is getting used to taking this kind of approach (of experimentation), of doing rapid interventions in order to create more space for people to be active and to go out,” said- she declared.
In addition to weekend closures, city staff are seeking approval to implement a “complete street” pilot project on a 3.2 kilometer section of Yonge Street from Bloor Street to Davisville Avenue . Similar to changes made last year on Danforth Avenue, the project would include on-street patios, streetscape improvements, temporary bike lanes and road safety improvements, while setting aside space for the parking and loading. According to municipal staff, installation could begin in early summer.
As part of ActiveTO in 2020, the city used traffic signs and temporary measures like traffic barrels and concrete blocks to slow traffic on 65 kilometers of local roads and provide more space for pedestrians and to cyclists. But staff do not recommend repeating the quiet streets initiative this year.
Feedback received by the city indicated that while residents wanted traffic calming, many doubted the effectiveness of the quiet streets program and expressed “dissatisfaction” with the traffic impacts and maintenance of the infrastructure, according to the report. Many barrels were damaged shortly after deployment, and others were thrown away by frustrated drivers.
The city also received comments from Black, Indigenous and residents of color who reported that some people were using the quiet streets program “to make them feel unwanted on the streets.”
“While comments of this nature are rare, racism of any kind at any time is unacceptable,” a city spokesperson said.
In a statement, Mayor John Tory said that overall the report shows ActiveTO “was a huge success in 2020 and city staff are confident we can build on that success this year.”
The report will be considered at next Tuesday’s meeting of the infrastructure and environment committee. Staff estimate ActiveTO road closures will cost $2.8 million in 2021 and cycling projects an additional $3.8 million.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
What do you think of the city’s ActiveTO plan?