Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

Finding a washroom during Toronto’s pandemic winter

Sugar Beach in the wintertime

Update November 28, 2020: I have added the list of 51 temporary portable toilets that the city has or will be adding to its parks this winter as part of an effort to encourage Torontonians to get outside for winter walks. Many of these locations are along the major ravine paths, including the Don and Humber Rivers. Most location descriptions were easy to locate, though others were quite vague. I did the best I could with the information given. I also added the toilet locations at Tommy Thompson Park, which is operated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

There remain some critical gaps, including the absence of Guild Park in Scarborough and along the waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Marie Curtis Park, but on the whole, this is a positive development. The city also announced new winter maintenance of additional park paths, though ideally, this service would be extended along the entire ravine network.



As of Monday, November 23, Toronto and Peel Region will be in another lockdown. Non-essential businesses and services will close or be open only for take-out and curbside pickup. Gyms, patios, and salons will all be closed. Though we may not be able to socialize with friends and extended family, we can still go for walks, runs, and bike rides to maintain our physical and mental heath.

But with indoor dining prohibited since October in Toronto, and most malls closing down, finding a washroom has become much more difficult. Many outdoor park washrooms are not winterized, so they must close as well. For many of us, having access to open and accessible washrooms is a necessary when leaving the home for long periods of time.

Happily, the City of Toronto has identified over 40 park washrooms that will be open during the winter months, with the promise of more to come, including portable toilets placed in strategic locations.

Though there is a list of washrooms open (or soon to open) on the city’s website, they are listed in alphabetical order, without easily-accessible location information. I took the liberty of mapping each park washroom location, as well as selected other city-owned public washrooms accessible seven days a week.

Though winterized public washrooms can be found across the city, there are a few areas left unserved, including the Etobicoke waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Long Branch, the eastern Scarborough waterfront parks, including Guild Park and the Port Union/Rouge Beach area, and northwestern Etobicoke. Ideally, every Torontonian should live within walking distance of a four-season park.

Even with the impending lockdown, there are some other washrooms that will remain available when necessary. GO Transit has kept washrooms at its stations accessible even during the Spring 2020 lockdown. On the Lakeshore Line, stations are open seven days a week, including Guildwood and Rouge Hill. Many supermarkets have public washrooms as well.

I hope that there will be improved four-season access to public washrooms this year, and every year going forward. Simple outdoor activity, including long walks, are one of the safest and easiest things we can do to keep ourselves happy and busy.

I will update the map as more washroom facilities open.

Categories
Roads Walking

Opening up the streets in Toronto and Guelph

Toronto’s Danforth Avenue has been transformed with new protected bike lanes and patio spaces

In the last few days, I visited Toronto’s Danforth Avenue and Downtown Guelph to see how municipalities can support local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Danforth Avenue, new interim bicycle lanes were installed between Broadview Avenue and Dawes Road, spanning three business improvement areas (Broadview Danforth, Greektown, and Danforth Mosaic). With the new bike lanes, dedicated spaces for restaurant patios were installed in the curb lanes. The new patios extended beyond restaurant storefronts, with spray-painted demarcations to mark each business’ territory. This gave businesses with limited or no indoor seating plenty of room to serve customers and recoup some of the lost business due to the pandemic.

Where one patio space begins and where another ends: Greektown on the Danforth

Though most curbside patio space was allocated to businesses, Muskoka chairs placed within the Destination Danforth area are free for anyone to sit, no purchase required. This helped make the setup perfect for pedestrians out for a stroll or headed to nearby businesses.

While cyclists are thrilled to get the new bike lanes (the Bloor-Danforth lanes will soon extend as far west as Runnymede Road once construction is complete on Bloor Street West), walking along the Danforth was the best way to see the changes.

Muskoka chairs on the left are may be used by anyone, while tables on the right allows a local restaurant to seat customers while maintaining physical distancing

In Downtown Guelph, the intersection of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets was closed to allow restaurants, bars, and breweries to operate large open air dining areas, in what is called the Downtown Dining District. Unlike The Danforth, patio areas allocated to local businesses in Guelph are enclosed with fences or ropes, but the centre of the street is free to walk or bike through.

The corner of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets, Guelph

Though the Downtown Dining District will only continue through Labour Day, the area was busy on a Wednesday afternoon and early evening. Most restaurants have been able to operate entirely with outdoor seating — thanks to generous canopies and umbrellas to provide protection from the sun and rain. This provides additional protection for restaurant staff and patrons. Though Phase 3 is in effect across the province (allowing for limited indoor dining), the fresh air is preferable.

Macdonell Street looking towards the Basilica Church of Our Lady Immaculate

Though it took a pandemic to rethink how we use our streets, it is nice to see these changes. Perhaps Guelph could make the Downtown Dining District an annual tradition, attracting visitors from nearby cities, like Toronto, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps the Destination Danforth changes also become permanent as well – after all, Torontonians love open streets and festivals.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road

Roadside memorial to a three year old boy at The East Mall and  Montebello Gardens,
near Burnhamthorpe Road, Etobicoke

On Tuesday, August 11, just after 11AM, a father and his two children were attempting to cross The East Mall north of Burnhamthorpe Road. They were crossing from the west side of the minor arterial street, where there is the main entrance to a long term care home, to the corner of Montebello Gardens, a short residential street on the east side.

As the three pedestrians were crossing, an 81-year-old woman driving a black SUV turned left from Montebello Gardens to go south on The East Mall, crashing directly into the family.

All three pedestrians were rushed to hospital. A three-year-old boy was soon pronounced dead, while a seven-year-old girl was taken to a trauma centre. The driver remained on scene. It is not certain if charges will be laid.

The three-year-old’s death came only a day after the Toronto Star’s Ben Spurr reported that 2020 has been the safest year for pedestrians and cyclists since at least 2007. There were 63 collisions resulting in serious injury or death in the period from January 1 through July 1, down from an average of 99. The decline can be explained by considerably reduced traffic since COVID-19 lockdowns began in mid March, and by fewer pedestrians on city streets.

As traffic picks up with the loosening of restrictions and as people go out for strolls and exercise for physical and mental health, the need for improved road safety and a commitment for real Vision Zero implementation, especially in Toronto’s suburbs, remains crucial. The area near where the young boy was killed last week just shows how much further we need to go.

TTC bus stop on The East Mall, north of Keene Avenue

I visited The East Mall on a sunny Friday afternoon. I took the 111 East Mall bus from Kipling Station to Keane Avenue, the first stop north of Burnhamthorpe Road. The bus stop has a nice, clean shelter and a large concrete pad, but no where safe to cross the street. On the other side, there is a southbound stop for buses heading towards Cloverdale Mall and the subway, and Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute, a high school specializing in programs for mature students and adult learners.

The intersection of The East Mall and Keene Avenue, looking north. Burnhamthorpe CI is behind the southbound bus stop A sign warns drivers of a winding road, with an advisory speed of 30 km/h.

A signalized pedestrian crossover exists further north, in front of West Glen Junior Public School, but the next TTC stop, at Capri Road, is at yet another unsignalized intersection. The distance between Burnhamthorpe Road to the south, and the pedestrian crossover is over 550 metres, and neither designated crossing is visible from Keene Avenue nor Montebello Gardens due to the winding nature of The East Mall.

This part of Toronto has seen plenty of tragedy this year. The Eatonville Care Centre was one of several long term care homes where the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed due to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 amidst poor working and sanitary conditions documented by CAF medical staff. Forty-two residents died during that outbreak.

Eatonville Care Centre, with the roadside memorial in the background

The presence of a long term care home, a library branch at the southeast corner of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, two nearby schools, and a large Loblaws supermarket and pharmacy on the southwest corner should have made this area a priority for improved, safer road infrastructure. Speeds along The East Mall are much higher than the posted 40 km/h limit, while the winding, roadway limits both drivers’ and pedestrians’ fields of vision. There should be no excuse for such long distances between safe pedestrian crossings, especially with the vulnerable populations living in this area.

Though the driver who killed the three-year-old boy was carelessly turning from a side street, and not speeding along The East Mall, another tragedy is inevitable without significant changes. Meanwhile, The East Mall is similarly laid out south of Burnhamthorpe, where there are older rental towers and townhomes and new condominium towers going in, yet nothing is done to calm traffic along a winding, busy street.

Though the intersection of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road is signalized, it is also a dangerous intersection to cross. Burnhampthorpe Road widens to four westbound lanes leading towards Highway 427, while wide turning radii make it easy for motorists to turn right at all four corners. Drivers, rushing on and off Highway 427 take little notice or care for pedestrians, as I experienced trying to cross the street.

An Uber/Lyft driver in a red Nissan sedan and a Land Rover SUV driver turn left from The East Mall to Burnhamthorpe Road towards Highway 427 after the advance green signal disappears and the walk signal turns on, with me starting my crossing

While motorists are treated to generous geometries and easy turns, pedestrians are only an afterthought, despite the library, supermarket, offices, and several bus stops used by TTC and Mississauga bus routes. Meanwhile, a new townhouse complex on the northwest corner will add even more pedestrians to this area.

The intersection of Burnhamthorpe and The East Mall encourages high speeds, with pedestrians only an afterthought

This part of Etobicoke is simply unforgiving of pedestrians and cyclists — it is one of only a few parts of the city where no ActiveTO measures have been introduced and where the local councillor, Stephen Holyday, has demonstrated consistent opposition to safe and effective active transportation measures. Holyday describes himself as taking “a tough stance against congestion-causing initiatives” such as bike lanes and the King Street Transit Pilot. He was only one of two councillors to vote against the ActiveTO bike plan in May.

If we value lives, support healthy lifestyles, and are deeply committed to Vision Zero, central Etobicoke will need to see big changes.

Categories
Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: Keele Street and Calvington Drive

On Sunday, June 7, Olivia and Julia Sarracini were crossing Calvington Drive at Keele Street. It was 12:15 in the morning. The walk sign turned on, and the two sisters, aged 17 and 19, entered the crosswalk, walking north. Behind them, the driver of a black SUV waited for southbound traffic to clear the intersection before turning left, directly into the two young women, who were already halfway across the intersection.

Julia suffered leg injuries and was sent to hospital. Olivia, who was just finishing Grade 12, was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the SUV did not stop, but fled westbound on Calvington Drive.

Two days later, Toronto Police arrested 46-year-old Shawn Ramsey. He was charged with two criminal offences: fail to stop at the scene of an accident causing death and fail to stop at the scene of an accident causing bodily harm.

The driver was definitely at fault for striking the two women, who were walking with the right of way and all due care necessary. But it remains quite possible that if the motorist remained at the scene that night might only be facing minor Highway Traffic Act charges. (Without a vulnerable road users’ law, justice for pedestrians and cyclists injured or killed on Ontario’s streets is terribly inadequate.) Yet road design and a poor transportation network in Toronto’s inner suburbs played a significant role here.

Memorial for Olivia Sarracini

This section of Keele Street provides a link between Highway 401 and Humber River Regional Hospital to the south, and Finch Avenue, York University, and several industrial areas to the north. Downsview Park is just to the north of Calvington Avenue, and along with the large parkspace, new residential development is well underway, with more planned.

The area around Keele and Calvington was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, though visages of the old village of Downsview can be found close by, towards Wilson Avenue to the south. Between Wilson and Sheppard, Keele Street is five lanes wide, with a centre left-turn lane. Traffic is heavy throughout the day and evening, with many trucks headed to and from industrial lands and nearby construction sites. Even in heavy traffic, motorists regularly exceed the 50 km/h speed limit.

Pedestrians are provided only with narrow sidewalks, close to the road. These sidewalks are not separated from strip plaza parking spaces. Despite a major hospital, nearby elementary and secondary schools, a library, Downsview Park, and urban intensification taking place in the area, there are no cycling facilities. Cyclists, therefore, usually take the sidewalk. While cyclists avoid heavy traffic on Keele’s narrow lanes, they infringe on the little bit of space given to pedestrians.

Strip plaza across Keele Street from Calvington Avenue

Calvington runs west from Keele, with a strip plaza and gas station on the east side of the intersection. Though most traffic off Calvington turns south, pedestrians are prohibited from crossing at the north side, lest they slow down left-turning motorists off of Calvington. Furthermore, an advance left turn signal gives priority to northbound motorists turning on to Calvington from Keele, though the advance signal is only triggered by a queue of several left-turning vehicles.

Though neither the advance signal nor the crossing restriction were factors in the collision on June 7, they are just further reminders of who the streetscape was designed for.

Pedestrians are prohibited from crossing at the north side of the Keele and Calvington intersection. Note the sidewalk cyclist, likely headed to nearby Downsview Park.

Soon after Olivia Sarracini’s death, Councillor James Pasternak moved to request a traffic safety review of the Keele and Calvington intersection at the June 16 meeting of North York Community Council. Pasternak suggested that street lighting, traffic signal synchronization, traffic signage, and “the feasibility of installing advance green traffic lights” be included in the review.

The trouble with that motion is that it too narrow. There are dozens of similar intersections in Toronto’s post-war suburbs. The intersection already has an advance green traffic signal. I would suggest that a review of the whole district is necessary in the the context of new and upcoming urban development, poor access to Downsview Park from the south and west, and inadequate and unsafe active transportation infrastructure. Nearby Highway 401 and the GO Transit Barrie Line both create significant barriers to pedestrians and cyclists in the area.

Olivia Sarracini was killed and Julia Sarracini was injured by a dangerous and callous driver who did not have the humanity to stay and offer assistance and take responsibility. This tragedy shouldn’t warrant a narrow safety review. Without changing the built environment, tragedies like these will continue.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Pylons are not enough: how to make a quiet street

Pylons and Quiet Street signage left in the gutter, Crawford Street, Toronto

Toronto took its time recognizing the need for pedestrian space during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until late April that the mayor and the medical officer of health considered limited curb lane closures to accommodate crowded sidewalks in front of supermarkets, drug stores, and other essential businesses.

But those curb lane closures — called CurbTO — later expanded to ActiveTO, which includes hundreds of kilometres of “Quiet Streets” for pedestrians and cyclusts and regular weekend road closures on Lake Shore Boulevard and Bayview Avenue. By June, CurbTO and ActiveTO were joined by CafeTO — which would expedite restaurant patio licences and even allow temporary patio space in parking lanes — as well as CampTO and SwimTO, programs to safely open up public pools and day camps for the summer.

Most significantly, new cycle tracks and bike were approved by a wide margin at Council in May, including the entire stretch of Bloor-Danforth between Runnymede Road and Dawes Road.

Map of ActiveTO Quiet Streets, weekend closures, and new cycling routes

Through the weekend road closures are closed off with metal barriers and enforced by police, the Quiet Streets are protected only by pylons and temporary signage. On Shaughnessy Boulevard, one of the first Quiet Street implementations, pylons were removed by angry motorists. Elsewhere, residents rearranged pylons to block half the street, doing more to discourage through traffic.

In Kensington Market, pylons were moved by drivers onto the sidewalk, creating additional barriers to pedestrians, especially those with disabilities.

Clearly, pylons are not enough.

While I was in Brampton recently, I noticed a more effective approach. On Scott Street, just east of the city’s downtown core, a narrow bridge was closed to motor traffic in order to provide a quiet and safe crossing of Etobicoke Creek to connect two sections of the Etobicoke Creek Trail. Instead of moveable pylons, rigid plastic bollards were bolted to the roadway, with a compliant “road closed” sign posted in the middle.

Closely spaced yellow bollards on Scott Street

Signage approaching the closed bridge was also also quite clear.

Road closed sign on Scott Street

I also noted that bolted bollards were also used to mark the interim bike lanes on Vodden Street and Howden Boulevard at every intersection, precluding their use by through traffic. On that early weekday afternoon, only one vehicle was illegally parked in the lane along the entire four-kilometre route. Not one pylon was out of place either.

While Brampton was one of the first cities in Ontario to implement improved active transportation infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has done little else since. However, Brampton has an ambitious new active transportation master plan to fix many gaps in its cycling infrastructure and expand its paths system; hopefully it will able to accelerate parts of its plan as Toronto is now doing.

But what Brampton did right was putting in effective barriers and signage to protect its temporary walking and cycling routes. This is something Toronto could learn from.

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

A tale of two streets: Winona Drive and Shaughnessy Boulevard

Typical Quiet Street signage and pylon placement, Crawford Street

Earlier this month, as part of Toronto’s long-overdue response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city introduced ActiveTO. ActiveTO includes several measures addressing the need for safe active transportation and recreation routes as summer approaches and businesses slowly reopen.

Current ActiveTO initiatives include weekend traffic closures of sections of Lake Shore Boulevard and Bayview Avenue to take pressure off narrow and busy multi-use paths, designating specific “quiet streets” to provide safer cycling and pedestrian corridors, and the construction of new bike lanes and cycle tracks, accelerating work on the painfully slow implementation of the city’s cycling network plan.

One of many families enjoying the Bayview Avenue extension closure on May 16. The weekend closure provides a safe, spacious alternative to the crowded Lower Don Trail

I visited two Toronto streets this week included in the initial list of ActiveTO quiet streets that were announced on May 14, 2020.

On Winona Drive, the pylons and signs placed by city work crews were moved by residents to block an entire lane of traffic at each intersection. This enhances their effectiveness in reminding motorists that the space is for local traffic only and that the roadway is shared with pedestrians and cyclists.

Winona Drive at Benson Avenue, May 25, 2020
Close-up of relocated pylons on Winona Drive

Shaughnessy and Havenbrook Boulevards, near Sheppard Avenue and Don Mills Road, connect the densely populated Fairview Mall and Don Valley Village neighbourhoods with the Betty Sutherland Trail, part of the Don River ravine system. Though Shaughnessy is mostly fronted by comfortable, midcentury homes, it borders several apartment buildings and townhouse complexes, including several Toronto Community Housing properties.

Shaughnessy Boulevard looking north at Rochelle Crescent

In 2012, some road calming measures were undertaken on Shaughnessy to slow down traffic, particularly near local schools and parks. A four-lane section between Sheppard Avenue and Glenworth Road was narrowed, including a very short section of bike lanes. A shallow concrete median was added between Glenworth and Esterbrooke Avenue. However, the street remained problematic.

The shallow median on Shaughnessy Boulevard does nothing to slow down aggressive motorists

In a recent Toronto Star article, resident Robin Sacks noted that the street was unsafe as motorists used it as a bypass of parallel Don Mills Road. She, and many of her neighbours, supported Shaughnessy’s designation as an ActiveTO quiet street.

Unfortunately, other residents took it upon themselves to remove the pylons and signs and complain to their local city councillor as soon as they were installed. By the weekend, they — along with concrete barriers placed in the median — were removed, and the street wiped from the city’s website.

Councillor Shelley Carroll, a progressive, was quoted in the Star article that she felt those who objected to the traffic calming measures were on “solid ground,” as there were no community consultations before the measures were introduced. She also noted that Shaughnessy is “a safe street with ample sidewalks and, unlike denser parts of downtown, ‘no one’s having any trouble distancing.'”

To Carroll’s credit, a consultation is planned for Wednesday, May 27. Overall, her track record has been supportive of safer streets in her community and in Toronto as a whole, so I was surprised by her comments. Hopefully, Shaughnessy, like many other suburban streets, will see improvements shortly.

Quiet streets, if planned as a network, are helpful for encouraging active transportation, especially where wider sidewalks and cycle lanes are unable to be installed on parallel major roads (due to streetcar lines, for example), or where they can connect major parks, off-road trails, and other cycling corridors.

To make such quiet streets permanent, curb extensions at intersections and other physical cues should be used to slow down traffic. Traffic circles and well-marked crosswalks could also take the place of four-way stops, which are easily ignored by motorists while frustrating cyclists.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed severe inequities; between those who work in the logistics, healthcare, and food service industries, and those who are able to work at home; between those who have comfortable homes with access to ample green space and those who do not, and those can rely on their own automobiles, and those who must walk, cycle, or take transit. This is why expanding public space and providing safe routes to travel is so important.

“please drive carefully” – sign in median of Shaughnessy Boulevard

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Ontario Roads Walking

Room to share: How cities can make physical distancing work

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Blackfriars Bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists in London, Ontario

For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.

In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.

IMG_8499-001
Cyclists on Howden Boulevard, Brampton

In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.

This was one of my favourite articles I have written so far. 

 

Loblaws queue on Church Street
Queue on Church Street at Carlton to enter Loblaws supermarket

With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.

The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.

Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

IMG_8327
Parks across Canada are closed, with the exception of walking through

On Saturday April 11, during the Easter long weekend, the City of Toronto announced that a team of over 350 police officers and bylaw enforcement officers would shift from an education-based campaign of verbal and written warnings to people congregating and using closed amenities in parks to a zero-tolerance ticketing campaign. Tickets for violating orders — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — include a fine of up $1,000.

In the press release, the city listed twenty parks specifically targeted for enforcement. Though most are located in the old City of Toronto and along Lake Ontario, there are several others located in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

The list of parks include several along Toronto’s waterfront, including Humber Bay Park, Woodbine Beach, and Bluffers Park. It also includes several small downtown parks adjacent to recent high rise residential development, including Corktown Common, College Park, and Allan Gardens. Large suburban parks known for family gatherings and picnics, such as Earl Bales, G. Ross Lord, and Sunnybrook Parks are also on the list.

These parks are illustrated in the map below.

Toronto_Target_Parks_COVID
Parks targeted by the City of Toronto for stricter enforcement (click for larger image)

Though many of us are at home, working remotely or waiting for schools and workplaces to reopen, those employed in essential industries and services do not have a choice. For the rest of us not required to self-isolate, an occasional walk or bicycle ride is good for our mental and physical well-being. It may be necessary to pick up food and prescriptions.

For those of us without yards and quiet residential neighbourhoods, going outside means either navigating narrow and occasionally crowded sidewalks, or going to nearby small and busy parks, especially those without access to a car. In my experience so far, the vast majority of people are respecting the calls for physical distancing.

Closing parking lots and amenities such as playgrounds and picnic facilities makes sense. Where possible, we shouldn’t be straying far from home while physically distancing, and we should be keeping close to those we’re living with. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people live in apartments in Mimico and Humber Bay Shores; they shouldn’t be crowded out of their own backyard by others seeking a stroll along the waterfront.

But downtown and in the Yonge-Eglinton area, quiet open spaces close to home may be hard to come by. Sidewalks are narrow, construction barriers such as scaffolding make physical distancing especially difficult, and along Eglinton Avenue, Crosstown LRT construction has made getting around on foot especially challenging, with pedestrians often restricted to narrow passages.

These help to explain the problems at College Park, Eglinton Park, and Allan Gardens. Furthermore, Allan Gardens is close to several shelters and social services such as Seaton House, and has long been a place for marginalized residents to socialize and linger.

This is one more reason why dense, growing urban neighbourhoods require more space. Increasing the space allotted to pedestrians and cyclists by removing underused traffic lanes would provide some of that relief.

This was the argument made by two associate professors of epidemiology at Ryerson University, who sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, arguing for more road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

How to reimagine our streets during a pandemic

Queen Street West, late March 2020
Nobody’s going to be flocking to the streets during a pandemic

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.”

That’s ridiculous.

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.

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King Street, Downtown Kitchener

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.

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Bollards moved close to the street, and parking banned. It’s much easier to get around the construction scaffolding.

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.

Brampton Temp Bike Lanes
Temporary bike lanes coming to Howden Blvd. in Brampton

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.