A stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard West blocked off on weekends to allow residents more space to walk or cycle may only close once more this year, following a city council meeting on Wednesday.
The road was initially opened to pedestrians as part of ActiveTO, a program launched in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City staff are now recommending limiting the popular program due to a "saturated" events calendar and frustration over traffic congestion, said Barbara Gray, the city's general manager of Transportation Services.
In the report, which was debated at city council Wednesday, Transportation Services staff recommend the program be continued on a limited basis, noting the road closures were causing significant traffic delays and interfering with other weekend events.
Gray said staff have been poring over events calendar for this year to try to accommodate ActiveTO road closures, but it's been especially difficult with an "exceptional number of construction projects."
She said staff are looking at the possibility of one more ActiveTO closure on Lake Shore this year, but could not guarantee that. She said the city should be looking for ways to continue the program.
"The events calendar is extremely saturated so we're going to have to sharpen our pencils and go back and find some dates," Gray said when asked for specific dates.
"Between now and October, we will commit to coming back with as many dates as we can find."
Motion passes to improve pedestrian, cycling amenities
A motion moved by Coun. Perks for staff to look into quick actions to improve pedestrian and cycling amenities as part of the 2023 update to the Western Waterfront Master Plan was carried by a vote of 22-1, with only Coun. Stephen Holyday voting no.
Brad Bradford, councillor for Beaches-East York, is in favour of continuing the regular road closures for ActiveTO. He said other factors contributed to traffic congestion and the program should not be to cited as the single reason for delays.
"The events are coming on the calendar, there's more construction, there's parking issues there's a whole litany of issues but in fact we've only had two days of ActiveTO," said Bradford on Wednesday.
"I think it's frankly unfair and disingenuous when folks provide overly simplified solutions to really complicated problems. That's what we're actually dealing with here."
In its first year, the program saw up to 36,000 cyclists and thousands of pedestrians accessing the area on Lake Shore, between Windemere Avenue and Stadium Road.
But as public health measures gradually lifted and traffic volumes have begun to surge —reaching between 90 to 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels — the report says the closures are adding pressure to the "available roadway network."
Staff said they have since received hundreds of complaints calling for the roads to reopen to motor vehicles due to the traffic disruptions and restricted access caused by the program.
On Saturday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he hopes city council can strike a "balance" on the issue, after Toronto Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro called on council to scrap ActiveTO closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West. In an open letter to the city, Shapiro said the closures make it more difficult for baseball fans to access the Rogers Centre on weekends.
"I want to tell you as mayor, I want to see this program continue," Tory said Wednesday, adding that the city has been juggling to accommodate the program while addressing some of the complaints they have received.
On May 21 and May 22, with no ActiveTO closures, the average travel time on the Gardiner Expressway between Highway 427 and York Street was approximately 21 minutes. In comparison, on May 23, average travel time rose to approximately 39 minutes with the ActiveTO closure. On May 29, that same distance took an average 48 minute travel time, but Gray noted there was a collision.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said when it comes to tackling congestion the city should consider making changes to bike lanes while it looks at ActiveTO.
"I'm disappointed it takes a letter from the general manager of the president of the Toronto Blue Jays for us to sit up and take notice, this is a big problem. It's not just him, there are many people who are completely frustrated by the congestion," Minnan-Wong said.
Staff to consider other events when deciding on closures
Given the concerns around access issues for businesses and attractions, staff are suggesting an approach that "allows for a limited number of ActiveTO closures," the report says — though it is not clear how many will occur each year.
According to the report, staff will consider other planned weekend events, construction on parallel roadways, access to local venues and impacts to traffic, when selecting dates for the closures.
In addition, the report is recommending that ActiveTO closures on Bayview Avenue and the Meadoway continue.
So far this year, ActiveTO road closures took place on May 23 and May 29. The city estimated on average more than 17,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians used Lake Shore Boulevard West on May 23, during the closure.
In 2021, cycling advocates and Torontonians in favour of the program called on the city to make the program permanent earlier after a 2020 city survey found more than 90 per cent of respondents said they wanted the road closures to continue during and after the pandemic.