June 16, 2022

RANT – Death of ActiveTO Lake Shore West

For those of you who don’t remember, Toronto stubbornly refused to provide space for people who walk or bike in March and April 2020 when virtually every other major Canadian city was doing so to allow for physical distancing early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite dragging their feet in creating ActiveTO two years ago which ended up being highly popular, Toronto City Council accepted staff recommendations to scrap ActiveTO on Lake Shore West – the program’s crown jewel – except for a limited number of occasions. It seems old habits really die hard here in Caronto and there is too much eagerness to return to the status quo with people returning to the offices post-pandemic.

To make this episode even more frustrating, there was some undue influence from Mark Shapiro, the CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays. He sent a letter to City Council calling for ActiveTO to be scrapped on Lake Shore West due to traffic concerns; something promptly slammed by road safety advocates. Being a sports organization, shouldn’t Mr. Shapiro be instead encouraging people to get to Jays games by foot or bike, or at least support improved public transit for those living further away?

With the Toronto Blue Jays being owned by Rogers, that put Mayor John Tory in a potential conflict of interest given his long-standing ties with the telecom giant. Despite this, he dismissed the calls from pedestrians and cyclists wanting to keep ActiveTO on Lake Shore West as “intolerance”. This kind of discourse from Toronto’s Mayor is unacceptable and one he needs to apologize for as soon as possible.

With TransformTO calling for 75% of trips under five kilometres to be made by foot, bike, or public transit by 2030, Toronto cannot afford to continue pandering to motorists over traffic delays. As Ward 13 Councillor Robin Buxton-Potts put it, she wished there was the same fervour for when the TTC is stopped for 45 minutes. People who bike have become similarly inconvenienced with construction blocking bike lanes left, right, and centre. Obstacles which have life or death consequences. City decisions need to prioritize pedestrians first, then cyclists, public transit, and goods movement with drivers being last.
What’s perhaps the most upsetting thing of all from ActiveTO is how not a single councillor came forward with a motion to try to keep this popular road opening going. The only motion that was proposed is one from my former City Councillor – Gord Perks – in which he called for quick safety improvements for those who walk or bike by Lake Shore West as part of the 2023 Western Waterfront Master Plan update. When not even progressive councillors are willing to stand up for those who walk or bike, it can give the impression that all hope is lost.

Having construction at the King – Queen – Queensway – Roncesvalles intersection in 2021 and 2022 certainly did not help matters. Even so, it’s not a valid excuse. There are at least sixteen traffic lanes between the Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard, and The Queensway. Surely closing off three of them to provide space for people can’t be the end of the world? Especially with the frequent crowding on the Martin Goodman Trail.

Even if ActiveTO couldn’t happen on both Saturdays and Sundays, Toronto could have opted for ActiveTO every Sunday from 9 AM to 3 PM from May to October as some others have suggested. Something much better than the stunted Open Streets TO which was done only two Sundays annually. Providing space for people on predictable schedules would have ensured a lot more people come out than giving only a few days notice as was the case with ActiveTO on Victoria Day which was less used than prior ones. Predictable schedules would have also allowed for motorists to find alternate routes to where they need to go and minimize their so-called inconveniences.

Instead, the ActiveTO debate raised the red herring of needing paid duty police officers; something similarly raised when explaining why Open Streets TO couldn’t happen on more Sundays. Speaking of policing; there was a recent report on Black people being disproportionately targeted by police brutality which deserves a rant on its own. Why couldn’t we use lower cost options such as crossing guards or traffic wardens instead of paid duty officers?

With Toronto holding elections this October, Torontonians have the obligation to ask their candidates to support creating a city for people instead of one for cars. That includes providing an open streets program every Sunday from May to October.

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