City to close parts of Lake Shore to cars, create ‘quiet streets’ in Kensington Market to make room for pedestrians, cyclists
May 15, 2020
Pedestrians and cyclists will soon have more space to spread out on Toronto’s roads as the city enters a new phase of its COVID-19 response.
On Thursday, city crews began implementing traffic calming measures on a slew of local streets in areas like Kensington Market, and this weekend will start temporarily closing portions of major roads like Lake Shore Boulevard to car traffic in what Mayor John Tory says is a “common sense” approach to alleviating crowding on trails and sidewalks.
The program, which is called ActiveTO, was launched last week and is intended to take advantage of the sharp drop in car traffic during the pandemic to allow residents to get outside while practising social distancing.
The first details were revealed at the city’s daily pandemic news conference Thursday afternoon, hours after Premier Doug Ford announced that next Tuesday the province will enter the first stage of reopening its economy by allowing storefront retail, all construction activity and select non-essential businesses to resume. The loosening of economic restrictions is expected to lead more people to venture out.
According to a news release, the ActiveTO program will create 57 kilometres of “quiet streets” where non-local traffic will be prohibited and calming measures like signage and temporary barricades will be erected to slow drivers and create a roadway that “welcomes people who walk, run and bike.”
The city began installing quiet streets Thursday in Kensington Market, in an area bounded by Nassau Avenue, Spadina Avenue, Augusta Avenue, and Dundas Street West, as well as on Shaughnessy Boulevard and Havenbrook Boulevard in North York.
About 10 kilometres of major roads next to busy recreational trails will also be closed to car traffic on a trial basis starting this Victoria Day weekend.
They include a roughly 6-kilometre stretch of the eastbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard West, between Windermere Avenue and Stadium Road, next to the Martin Goodman trail that has been the site of crowding on recent weekends.
Bayview Avenue between Mill Street to Rosedale Valley Road, as well as River Street from Gerrard Street East to Bayview will also be closed to car traffic in order to alleviate crowding on the Lower Don River Trail.
This long weekend’s major closures will last from 6 a.m. on Saturday to 11 p.m. on Monday. Future weekend closures will go from Saturdays at 6 a.m. to Sundays at 11 p.m.
The city will announce future closure locations as they’re finalized, but Tory said Lake Shore Boulevard East between Coxwell Avenue and Woodbine Avenue will be closed the weekend of May 23 and 24.
“ActiveTO is about making sure people have space to get outside, have the space to get around while respecting physical distancing,” said Tory in prepared remarks included in the news release.
“All of this represents both a quick start and a common sense approach, similar to what has been done in Calgary and Denver, to respond to areas where there is bike and pedestrian congestion right now.”
Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York), the chair of the city’s health board and an advocate for active transportation, called the measures announced Thursday “an important first step.” But he said that the pandemic has only underscored the urgent need for the city to redesign its streets to make them safer for non-drivers, and more fundamental changes are necessary.
Dylan Reid, co-founder of pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, said he was also encouraged by the plan so far.
He described closing streets near busy trails on weekends as “a great idea,” but a temporary one. “I think we need a measure that will be in place for a matter of months at least” while the crisis persists, he said.
Reid said the other major piece missing from the plan was “a long-term extension of sidewalks on main streets, especially now that shops will be reopening.”
The city has so far created 30 pedestrian zones as part of its CurbTO program, but Reid said that was too patchwork an approach.
Some critics had already taken to social media Thursday afternoon and questioned whether the signage and barriers installed in Kensingon Market would be effective.
Reid said it was too early to judge. “The trick is to do it quickly, see if it works. If it doesn’t, try to ramp it up,” he said.
The mayor told reporters the traffic calming measures would be adjusted over the course of the program.
The city announced the ActiveTO plan last Wednesday after weeks of pressure from advocates who urged Toronto to emulate cities like Montreal, which in April began creating “public health corridors” along major streets.
Tory and local public health officials initially warned barring car traffic could lead to people congregating and increase the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
The plan announced last week included a high-level proposal to expand the city’s cycling network.
The city didn’t release details of the cycling expansion Thursday, but they’re expected in the coming weeks.