City mulls future of popular ActiveTO road closures for pedestrians and cyclists

·2 min read
ActiveTO ran on Allen Road in the north end of Toronto in June 2021. (Robert Krbavac/CBC - image credit)
ActiveTO ran on Allen Road in the north end of Toronto in June 2021. (Robert Krbavac/CBC - image credit)

The future of Toronto's popular ActiveTO initiative is up in the air.

The city says it's reviewing the pandemic program that began in the spring of 2020 and sees major streets blocked off to traffic on weekends to ensure pedestrians and cyclists have space to exercise. The city also temporarily expanded the cycling network, adding dozens of kilometres of new cycle tracks and bike lanes.

Mayor John Tory says staff are looking at the number of people who took part, as well as the impact on traffic patterns and nearby businesses. A report will be sent to council.

"It is my wish to see these programs made permanent," the mayor told reporters at a news conference this week. "But I think that should only be done after we thoughtfully examine the data."

Coun. Michael Ford, who represents Ward 1, Etobicoke North, voiced his opposition to extending ActiveTO in August, tweeting that with events and people returning to downtown, it's becoming an inconvenience and causing traffic congestion.

Tens of thousands of cyclists took part

But there's also ample support for ActiveTO. Last year, a city survey found more than 90 per cent of respondents said they wanted the road closures to continue during and after the pandemic.

On weekend days in the summer of 2020, the city estimated on average more than 26,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians used Lake Shore Boulevard West and East and Bayview Avenue during the closures.

The popularity of the program shows how much it's needed and how crowded the city's trails would be otherwise, said Cycle Toronto campaigns manager Kevin Rupasinghe.

Paula Duhatschek/CBC News
Paula Duhatschek/CBC News

"It's one of the most popular programs to come out of the pandemic," Rupasinghe said. "The idea of going back to normal, I don't think that's a viable path forward."

He wants to see road space allocated permanently to pedestrians and cyclists, such as on Lake Shore, expanded closures to other neighbourhoods like those in Scarborough and Etobicoke, and he wants the city to keep the protected bike lanes so people feel comfortable cycling

"What we really want to see is people using bikes for day-to-day trips and for errands, to go to school and get to work," he said.

"And that's the sort of on-street infrastructure the city has done a great job or rolling out, but it's also temporary and needs to be made permanent."

Weekend and holiday road closures will wrap up later this year depending on the weather, a city spokesperson said. ActiveTO is running this weekend on Bayview Avenue and The Meadoway.

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