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Toronto gets a breath of fresh air as ActiveTO allows for safer outdoor pursuits


Traffic calming, street closures and expanded cycling network encourage Torontonians to get outside

TORONTO, ON., May 7, 2020 — Yesterday afternoon, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced that there will be at new ActiveTO program being developed by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services to provide more space for people walking and cycling as well as transit riders to allow for better physical distancing as part of the city’s restart and recovery.

photo by City of Toronto

This decision can’t come soon enough for Toronto residents, particularly those living in high density dwellings without yards and properties to escape to. Yesterday, Toronto Star columnist posted a link on social media to his Toronto Star opinion piece that Mayor Tory should less status quo and more responsive by opening up spacious less congested areas where residents can be active rather than shutting everything down. He cited examples where other cities around the world were adapting to the problems posed by the need to physical distance. Arthur said Paris opened up 650 km of bikeways, Milan transformed 35 km of downtown streets for bikes and pedestrians and New York City did something similar with 100 miles of streets.

For Toronto residents the new ActiveTO program is literally a breath of fresh air as the city comes to terms with the new normal for coping with the movement restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Bruce Arthur’s headline reads, “Now is the time to redraw our city. We need more room to breathe, not less.”

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, advice to residents to stay at home as much as possible, to avoid rushing out to create conditions that would encourage people to congregate, has helped slow the spread of the virus, but people cannot stay home forever and they will need to go outside. It will be good for their health provided they continue, to a reasonable extent, to keep their distance from others.

Right now, vehicle and pedestrian traffic are at an all-time low, while bike traffic has stayed about the same in certain downtown locations. In anticipation of changes in traffic patterns in the coming weeks and months, the Mayor and City Council requested City staff look at more active transportation as a crucial part of the restart and recovery. 

The City of Toronto said in a statement that ActiveTO is about making sure people have space to get outside, have space to get around while respecting physical distancing, and – when it comes to the larger bike lane projects – that we have a safety valve when it comes to the TTC.

Meanwhile, the City’s CurbTO program is already being rolled out to immediately address hot spots on sidewalks and streets. Primarily the hot spots are where there is sidewalk crowding and temporary parking concerns around essential businesses. Grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants/bars and community agencies are increasingly offering pick-up, take-out and delivery services and have created store access line-ups to maintain physical distancing requirements as recommended by Toronto Public Health. 

A comprehensive update of the ActiveTO plan was released late yesterday with further details to be released next week. 

“Our streets are going to look different in many places in the post-COVID world,” said Mayor John Tory. “We will need more road space for walking. We will need quiet streets. We will need more bike infrastructure. We are going about this in a responsible, common sense way with Toronto Public Health, Transportation Services and local councillors all involved in making common sense, health-focused decisions which broaden out our transportation network,” said Tory.

So what exactly is the city planning to do in order to create more of a cushion between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers? Part of the ActiveTO plan is to close off residential streets enabling local traffic only, close off some major roads adjacent to areas that attract more people, creating a larger network of bike lanes around the city, something that many residents have been crying for long before the pandemic.

ActiveTO Initiatives: 

Creating Quiet Streets 
These will be local routes with traffic calming measures that will enable local car traffic only and open up space for pedestrians and cyclists. These projects will roll out fairly quickly and the initial target will be 50 kilometres of quiet streets. 

Major streets for active transportation 
Transportation Services staff and Toronto Public Health recommend closing some major roads adjacent to major trails or recreational attractions where crowding on weekends and holidays has been observed. These would include some locations with complete closures to all car traffic and would be delivered through recurring short-term road closures, such as on weekends. When this happens, on a trial basis, staff will be monitoring adjacent routes with real-time data and will make adjustments as necessary. 

Expanding cycling network 
More bike lanes will help people move around the city as the restart gets underway. This plan would see the cycling network expanded and temporary active transportation lanes installed. The City will expand and accelerate key parts of the council-approved Cycling Network Plan, that connect the cycling network, as well as bikeways that mirror major TTC routes. 

Perhaps when the threat of this deadly virus has passed, part of Toronto’s ‘new normal’ will be more human and the city will become less car centric and more pedestrian and bike friendly

So far, 21 CurbTO pedestrian curb lane and temporary parking pickup zones have been installed and City staff aim to install zones at more than 100 hotspots. Seven asphalt curb ramps have been put in place at three locations to support accessibility. 

Businesses can apply and learn more about eligibility criteria and program guidelines at toronto.ca/covid19BusinessTO

story by Terry Lankstead

with notes from City of Toronto

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