April 06, 2020

Physical Distancing during COVID-19

Over the past month, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated the headlines along with constant reminders to stay (and work from) home, maintain social physical distancing, wash your hands, and self isolate for 14 days after recent travel. Canadian cities such as Calgary, Winnipeg, and London have been closing traffic lanes to give people who walk or bike the space they need. Toronto has no plans to follow suit at this time over fears the street closures would entice people to congregate. However, there is one exception.

While doing a short ride up the West Toronto Railpath and back down High Park yesterday, I noticed cars were banned from High Park during COVID-19. This is part of Toronto’s closure of all park amenities including parking lots, sports facilities, playgrounds, and High Park Zoo. It’s refreshing to see people walking and biking on the roads throughout High Park outside of the cherry blossom festivities in late April or early May. Speaking of which, the Sakura in High Park website stopped providing blossom updates given the huge crowds the blossoms bring in, while the City is considering a full closure during that time.
Even though the Zoo is closed, you can still see the llamas from a distance; a perennial park favourite.
Tape was used around the playground with signage reminding kids the playground is closed.
There have been many calls over the years to permanently ban cars in High Park; not just during the cherry blossom season, COVID-19, or certain special events. Maybe this crisis could provide the opportunity to make this ban permanent?
Elsewhere in Toronto, physical distancing can be difficult to do depending on the location. Many sidewalks in Toronto are barely two metres wide and even narrower on some residential streets. While it may be easy to go on the other sidewalk or step on the road on residential streets, it’s not practical on an arterial such as King Street in Liberty Village and Parkdale.
The West Toronto Railpath was not bad when I was there and it was still possible to maintain physical distancing. However, there have been reports of crowding recently (see below); during which I suggest trying a north-south alternate such as Sterling, Symington, or Perth. One trail I recommend avoiding (if possible) is the Martin Goodman Trail; especially in parts where you can use the Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks instead.
Matt Pinder’s “Beyond The Automobile” blog has a good post explaining the pros and cons of closing traffic lanes during COVID-19, as well as how to do it right. In Toronto’s case, Yonge Street is often talked about given current consultations on pedestrianizing Yonge, high pedestrian volumes, and narrow sidewalks. Danforth Avenue would be a great candidate in the east end (which also has an ongoing study) while Bloor Street should be considered in areas where bike lanes don’t exist yet. Specifically between Sherbourne Street and Avenue Road, as well as west of Shaw Street. Closing one lane on Lake Shore Boulevard between Strachan and Windermere Avenues could relieve crowding on parts of the Martin Goodman Trail which can’t be served by Richmond-Adelaide.
Which other streets in Toronto would you like to see more space provided for people who walk or bike? Let's keep the conversation going!

Rob Z (e-mail)

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