In an interview with local news station CP24, Mayor John Tory said that the city was considering implementing one-way directional traffic on city sidewalks as part of a response to COVID-19. This idea was considered as a measure to ensure physical distancing on Toronto’s sidewalks.
The mayor, however, does not support the alternate solution of increasing the amount of road space given to pedestrians and cyclists. With traffic on major routes such as Yonge, Queen, and Bloor reduced, and most businesses closed, it would be easy to provide additional space for pedestrians without causing traffic congestion. According to the mayor, “it could have the unintended effect of attracting more pedestrians to busy areas, something the city is actively trying to discourage right now.”
With businesses closed, no patios to linger at, and no programming (unlike at any other street closure, whether it be Taste of the Danforth, Open Streets, Pride Week, or Buskerfest), pedestrians will not be attracted to linger and crowd sidewalks in dense urban neighbourhoods. However, they will be able to walk to work, get to essential services, exercise the dog, or get some fresh air, without having to dodge other people or sidewalk barriers, such as construction scaffolding.
Furthermore, enforcing one-way sidewalks — the city’s only other idea — would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would only increase the distance pedestrians would have to walk to get to work or essential services. It would go against centuries of practice, and it would encourage less-safe midblock crossings. It would be especially cumbersome for seniors and pedestrians with disabilities.
While Toronto continues to do nothing to protect vulnerable road users during a pandemic, other cities — including Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Denver, and Oakland— have closed entire roads to better serve pedestrians and cyclists in parks and dense urban areas. Closer to home, Kitchener and Brampton have also taken steps to to assist active transportation during this unprecedented time.
A decade ago, King Street in Downtown Kitchener was reconstructed with new lighting, street furniture, trees, and a rolled curb separating the narrow street with sidewalk and street parking and loading areas, which were separated from the pedestrian area by removable bollards. As a response to COVID-19, most of the parking spots were blocked off, with the bollards moved towards the roadways, quickly and easily expanding the pedestrian zone. With new residential development in Downtown Kitchener, several portions of the regular sidewalk were covered with scaffolding. The widened pedestrian clearway made it easy and safe to get around the barriers, allowing pedestrians to practice physical distancing.
Meanwhile, in Brampton, where sidewalk crowding isn’t usually a problem, the city government went ahead with a plan to close the right lanes of Howden Boulevard and Vodden Street — four-lane collector roads through residential areas — to install temporary bike lanes. This will provide a five-kilometre bikeway across the city between Etobicoke Creek and Chinguacousy Park, crossing Highway 410 at a safe location.
Installing temporary lanes makes it easier in the future to make the lanes permanent — Vodden and Howden could use road diets after all — which could connect three north-south ravine paths and connect Downtown Brampton with Bramalea City Centre. City Council — including Mayor Patrick Brown — is committed to improving the city’s rather poor active transportation infrastructure.
While Toronto continues to drag its heels on providing safe spaces for its residents to walk and bike while being physically distant, its peer cities — and even one of its suburbs, are leading. One can only speculate about the reasoning behind Mayor Tory’s reluctance to do more.