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Toronto has countless street festivals each year, and most of them are pretty much the same: midway games, Tiny Tom donuts, and a few local musical acts competing for attention with overpriced finger food from neighbourhood restaurants. Open Streets TO is proposing something a little different. The group, a collaboration between councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, 8-80 Cities and other like-minded organizations, aims to stage a massive, multi-part festival along Bloor Street between High Park and Greenwood Avenue, as well as part of downtown Yonge Street.
The plan, which has yet to gain city approval, calls for that entire stretch of road to be closed to auto traffic (though north- and southbound cars would still be allowed to cross Bloor). The idea is for the festival to unfold over the course of several consecutive Sundays in July and August. . . .
Even so, car issues are sensitive in Toronto, (ipsedixit note: Not to mention bus issues, Bub!) and closing 10 kilometres of a major thoroughfare is bound to be controversial. The Open Streets Toronto plan will need city council’s approval before it can go forward. BlogTO reports that the event’s organizers already have $180,000 in provincial funding lined up.
I believe this is a much needed idea. It will encourage citizens to participate, get involved, engage in physical activity and connect with other members in their community. When I travel to other cities, it's opportunities exactly like this ciclovia-proposal that I try to find. This is where the activity, energy, people and fun exist. A city is for people and more now than ever, do we need facilities and programming to get people outdoors, active and connected to other human beings.
It's obvious. They're ALL smoking crxxk! What a stupid idea.
Mayor Rob Ford has been a very vocal opponent to such closures for festivals and marathons over the years and said he would not support Open Streets TO because he saw no benefits to closing major roads to vehicular traffic.
“People are going to get very upset when they find out the streets are closed just to walk on street we weren’t meant to walk on,” Ford said. “They’re made for cars and buses and bicycles.”
Ford said he wants to know how permits to close the city's two main traffic arteries, even for only a few hours, were approved without a vote at council.
As for the price tag associated with the event, organizers said they will announce some major sponsors in the coming weeks that will cover the police duty paid to ensure safety at the event.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he will not support an initiative to close Bloor Street to cars for four Sundays this summer, saying it would cause “chaos.” . . .
“I can’t support that,” Mayor Ford told reporters Tuesday. “If people want to do their yoga, we have tons of parks – or whatever the purpose was of closing the streets.”
Mr. Ford said that “gridlock’s a huge problem” in the city, and that the program would just add to it. “Bloor’s busy as it is, they’ll either go north into people’s backyards or south into people’s backyards.”
Ms. Wong-Tam, who represents the downtown ward of Toronto Centre-Rosedale, says the Open Streets program is not just about physical activity, but also about community connectivity and development.
“Almost one-quarter of [Toronto’s] population is actually living below the poverty level,” she says. “And it’s very expensive to get a gym membership for the entire family."
A motion for the initiative was introduced in November, 2012, when Ms. Wong-Tam asked city staff to report on the feasibility of the project.
The city staff report that was due before April 2013 came out a year late at the end of March 2014. The report found most affected organizations were supportive of the event, but there were major concerns from the police.
The Toronto Police Service response to the Open Streets proposal says it would be “logistically, operationally, and functionally impossible to achieve or
support on the basis of extraordinary staffing requirements that far exceed capacity.”
The report points to the 14.8 km route as being too big a space.
“This is not in any way to suggest that [the] concept is unattainable within of the City of Toronto,” the report says. “But the proposed event design and locations far exceed the capacity the police to properly handle.”
Ms. Wong-Tam calls the program a great “social equalizer,” that would provide residents with a new space for recreation with the existing infrastructure, without having to build a new park or sports complex.
She says the program would also generate revenue for businesses in the area that would normally be closed on Sunday mornings. Part of the plan is to exclude any additional outdoor vending in order to increase traffic to existing local businesses.
Public Works Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong has expressed concerns about the events, noting the existing problems with traffic and gridlock in the area.
Mr. Minnan-Wong disagrees with Ms. Wong-Tam’s idea that the events would boost business along the street.
“A number of businesses rely on the commerce that is brought in from motorists, and motorists will just decide not to come,” he says. “The weekend is an important time for them to conduct their business during the summertime, and this will discourage many of them from coming into the downtown.”
Almost before it began, Toronto’s first Open Streets was over. Held bright and early Sunday morning, it was a huge success. The problem was that many Torontonians slept through most of it.
Open Streets Toronto, which ran from 8 a.m. to noon, was just getting going when it had to shut down. Organizers sought permission to close Bloor (between Parliament to Spadina) and Yonge (between Bloor to Queen) from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. But that was too much for city transportation officials; they would only agree to noon, and even then, reluctantly.
Although the deck was stacked against the event, it clearly resonated with Torontonians. People turned out in droves to wander streets that for a few short hours belonged to them. Aside from the sheer novelty of the experience, Open Streets was an exercise in social integration. As activist, Gil Penalosa, president of 8-80 Cities, put it, “Rich and poor, young and old, fat and thin, they’re all here.”
“The transportation department said our program was too ambitious,” Wong-Tam recalls, smiling wryly. “They wanted something more modest. There were other challenges, too, educating city staff, making retailers aware ... We asked if we could close Bloor from High Park to Main St. They said no. We asked the TTC to open at 8 instead of 9. They said no.”
That Wong-Tam prevailed against such overwhelming institutional inertia speaks of another Toronto, one that’s waiting for its chance.