Dennis Hanagan –
A plan is in the works to ban vehicles on a major Toronto roadway in 2014 and make it for pedestrians only. The goal is to get people out of their homes and get them physically active.
A suggestion has already been made to close Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue between High Park and the Beach to motor vehicles in good weather months and replace them with cyclists, rollerbladers, walkers, skateboarders and anything else that doesn’t have a combustion engine.
All along the street there’d be activities staged by community groups for people to take part in, or just sit back and watch. It would be something like Pedestrian Sundays that take place in Kensington Market but on a much greater scale, involving kilometre after kilometre of roadway.
“The key issue is streets are a public space and belong to everybody. In Toronto it could be the best Open Streets program in the world,” Penalosa told The Bulletin in an interview because Toronto is flat, not that big at 20 x 40 km, and it has “many great attractions.”
He said he needs the support of three sectors to make Open Streets happen—city councillors and school trustees, city staff such as transportation officials, and the public at large. “More than anything it needs political will,” said Penalosa.
Businesses and retailers will also have to be brought on side because they’ll lose customer parking space when roads are shut to traffic. However, John Kiru, executive director of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, told The Bulletin “in principle we definitely support the concept.”
He said it would be helpful if provisions could be made to accommodate more parking on sidestreets during Open Streets. He pointed out vehicles make lots of deliveries to businesses on weekends in the Downtown core and need places to park.
“We will cooperate but there needs to be a balance,” said Kiru. “As long as deliveries and that sort of stuff are not affected we look forward to working with them to make it work.”
“This is great for economic development, it’s fantastic for tourism, it’s great for retail and commerce. It’s great for physical health and for mental health because people want to be with people,” Penalosa said.
“In something like this you get high income and low income people, all ethnicities, all ages. It’s an exercise in social integration. In a city like Toronto that seems to be so divided it would be a great way to be united,” he said.
It’s also good for the environment by getting cars off the road. “We have done measurements in cities where we have developed the program. On Sundays we measure the quality of the air, the level of noise, and then we go back on a weekday (for more measurements) and the difference is amazing,” said Penalosa.
The plan for 2014 is to have a major road closed to traffic on six Sundays in good weather. In subsequent years it could be every Sunday from May to September, said Penalosa.
“The first year we might get a lot of private funding, but eventually it should be funded by the city.”