Toronto is reducing ActiveTO closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West this summer in an effort to ease traffic congestion and access issues for businesses along the waterfront.
City Council on Wednesday accepted city staff’s recommendation to limit the number of ActiveTO closures on the main thoroughfare.
Instead of recurring weekend closures, these will be “limited special events,” the city said.
Future ActiveTO closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West will be based on several factors, including the number and location of street events scheduled in the city on any given weekend.
“Staff will also consider coordinating with other event organizers, as was done this year with the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” the city added.
ActiveTO was implemented in 2020 and closes some roads on certain weekends in an effort to give pedestrians and cyclists more space to wander off amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have made tremendous progress in reopening Toronto and that progress will continue. City staff are working to accommodate and balance, as much as possible, all major city events that are now back,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement. .
“ActiveTO was a great pandemic program and city staff will work to ensure the program continues where and when possible.”
In a report released today, Toronto Transit Services says it has reviewed new traffic data and advises against regular recurring weekend closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West.
Staff say ActiveTO should instead continue on the street only sparingly and should be “planned and well advertised” in advance.
“In identifying dates for any future closures of ActiveTO on LSBW, staff will consider the number and location of street events scheduled for this weekend, construction impacts on parallel corridors, access to adjacent sites and traffic impacts,” Barbara Gray, Transportation Services general manager, wrote in the report.
There are 10 street events scheduled on Lake Shore Boulevard West this year, up from zero in 2020 and one in 2021.
The report adds that staff considered condensing lanes on Lake Shore Boulevard West to accommodate ActiveTO road closures this year, but said existing pedestrian volumes “do not require the implementation of changes to temporary design”.
Many residents argued the value of ActiveTO road closures given the relatively small number of people taking advantage of car-free roads.
Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro has also called for Lake Shore’s closure to be reversed, submitting an open letter to City Council in which he argues that it’s impossible for baseball fans to travel to Rogers Center to weekend games.
However, Norm Di Pasquale, administrator of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, sent a letter to Shapiro in response to his comments and said he is “shocked” that the team does not support the program which encourages exercise at the ‘outside.
“Here we have what is essentially a sports organization advocating against the health and well-being of Torontonians who use ActiveTO and they use it in huge numbers,” he told CP24 on Wednesday.
“You can advocate for better public transit, but don’t advocate against the physical and mental health of families in downtown Toronto.”
Today’s report details new data collected on ActiveTO’s only two closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West so far this year, May 23 and May 29.
On May 23, staff say more than four times as many cyclists and 25% more pedestrians were observed on the road, Martin Goodman Trail and nearby boardwalk than the average number seen the previous two days of this long weekend.
Cyclists take advantage of the ActiveTO closure of Lakeshore Boulevard. in Toronto on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Toronto has closed large sections of major roads to give thousands of people space to exercise while physically distancing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
The report also noted concerns raised by companies about the impact of customers being able to access their services during the latest ActiveTO shutdowns.
Affected businesses identified in the report include Sunnyside Paddling Club, Sunnyside Park, Ontario Place, Exhibition Place and Hotel X.
“After the LSBW closed on May 29, and for the first time since the program began in 2020, staff received hundreds of complaints asking for the closures to end and the road to be reopened to motor vehicles, citing frustration traffic delays and lack of access to the aforementioned locations,” the report said.
Mayor John Tory says the city’s goal is to strike a balance between providing road space for summer events and preventing excessive traffic congestion.
“We do the best we can balance between those who have to move, which we understand, the neighborhoods who are worried about traffic in their neighborhood when we close some of these streets and on the other hand , to have a livable, fun kind of city where people can experience riding the streets or walking around or walking,” he told CP24 on Wednesday morning ahead of the report’s release.
Tory has previously said the program is unlikely to be phased out entirely.
Toronto lawyer and cycling advocate David Shellnut argues that ActiveTO should stay along Lake Shore Boulevard West to allow residents to enjoy the city’s waterfront.
“In 2020, we know that every weekend tens, tens of thousands of cyclists and pedestrians were there using this space. It’s right next to our beautiful waterfront, lots of businesses. This is the kind of area that should be promoted for active public use, rather than a four to eight lane highway,” he told CP24.
Shellnut added that the road closures provide a safe space for cyclists who he says face an increase in collisions on city streets.
“We (the cyclists) are hit in large numbers there. This discourages people from cycling. This imposes a lot of cost on our health care and policing systems. We really need to fix this problem.
City Council is expected to vote on the recommendation today.