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Toronto to open some traffic lanes to pedestrians in congestion ‘hot spots’
April 28, 2020
David Rider

Toronto is opening curb lanes on select streets to pedestrians to alleviate sidewalk crowding during the COVID-19 crisis.

The move was welcomed as a good first step by pedestrian advocates who say closing sparsely-used vehicle lanes makes sense because people on foot are struggling to adhere to physical distancing rules.

CurbTO, the plan announced Monday by Mayor John Tory, will also see the creation of special new parking zones to facilitate motorists picking up food deliveries or medicine during the pandemic.

Ten initial spots for either or both innovation will soon be expanded citywide, Tory told reporters during a news briefing.

He called the move a “common sense approach” to dealing with “hot spots” of pedestrian traffic, including outside takeout restaurants, grocery stores and other essential services.

“I know there are some who want more than this now -- more bike lanes, more extensive lane and street closures across the city,” Tory said. “I will continue to follow the advice of the medical officer of health, the current advice that we focus on encouraging people to stay home rather than closing long lists of roads.”

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s public health chief, confirmed she is concerned big new pedestrian spaces could encourage people to mingle and possibly contaminate each other at a crucial stage of efforts to halt the virus

Tory didn’t rule out possible street closures later, saying: “Transportation and mobility in all forms will be key parts of the city’s recovery and restart process.”

The initial spots are:

Carlton Street and Church Street -- Pedestrian zone
Danforth Avenue and Broadview Avenue -- Pedestrian & Parking zones
Dupont Street and Lansdowne Avenue -- Pedestrian zone
Bay Street and Yorkville Avenue -- Parking Zone
Front Street East and Berkeley Street -- Pedestrian & Parking zones
Gerrard Street East and Parliament Street -- Pedestrian zone
Gerrard Street East and Broadview Avenue -- Pedestrian & Parking zones
King Street West and Spadina Avenue -- Parking zone
Bloor Street West and Bathurst Street -- Pedestrian & Parking zones
Queen Street East and Carlaw Avenue -- Pedestrian zone

The city is inviting Torontonians to suggest other locations either by calling 311 or emailing Business owners who want to participate can apply via the city’s website.

Dylan Reid, co-founder of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, called the plan “the most grudging admission you need to do something. But it’s better than nothing, for sure, and will make walking less stressful for people trying to (physically) distance.

“It’s notable the initial rollout is almost as much as finding places for cars as it is finding space for pedestrians, but I hope this is just the beginning with more ambitious plans in the future.”

Anne Harris, a Ryerson University epidemiologist who co-wrote a letter calling on the city to give pedestrians more space, said: “We will be eagerly following to see next steps. We note that anywhere people are forced into live motor vehicle traffic lanes to give distance are a safety concern.”

But Tricia Wood, a York University geography professor who writes about urban transportation, said the changes are designed to accommodate merchants.

“It isn’t a bad thing to do, it’s a good accommodation of queues,” she said. “But it is not an accommodation of pedestrian movement in any way.”

The Monday briefing heard that Toronto had 4,973 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, with 308 people in hospital including 104 in intensive care.

That’s a jump of almost 1,300 new cases in one week. But the growth has slowed in recent days while the number of patients in intensive care has dropped slightly.

Tory compared Toronto’s battle against the pandemic to a Toronto Maple Leafs Game near the end of the second period.

“The Leafs are winning, things are looking better, you just want the game to finish on a positive note and you certainly don’t want overtime,” he said.