Toronto city staff recommends halt to ActiveTO road closures

Toronto city council will review ActiveTO road closures and whether they should continue. This comes after several complaints from local businesses and even the President of the Blue Jays, saying the closures bring congestion to the city.

With most COVID-19 restrictions now in the rearview mirror, the City of Toronto is being forced to re-examine several initiatives brought forward during the pandemic.

City Council will review ActiveTO on Wednesday following numerous complaints from business owners, residents, and the president of the Toronto Blue Jays.

In a new report, City of Toronto Transportation Services staff says the road closures should end.

“Given the concerns around access conflicts for businesses and attractions, as well as the resumption of the ten planned street events in the area, many of which would come into direct conflict with the [Lake Shore Boulevard West] ActiveTO closures, Transportation Services staff are recommending against regular recurring weekend closures in favour of an approach that allows for a limited number of ActiveTO closures on LSBW,” the report reads.

“These would be implemented as special events that are planned and well-advertised in advance.”

ActiveTO road closures were introduced in 2020 to help give residents more room for physical activity during the warmer months by shutting down some of the city’s major roadways each weekend.

Now, some claim the program has overstayed its welcome with the benefits being outweighed by increased congestion as traffic volume returns to more normal levels and in-person events come back to the city.

“The city has come almost fully back to life,” said Mayor John Tory on Friday. “There are people who will say that we should never have any roads closed for anything, there are others who say we should close far more of the roads far more of the time. My job is to strike a balance based on the evidence.”

Last year, cycling advocates and other city residents favouring the program had called on Tory and the city to make it permanent.

“Most Torontonians don’t have a cottage to escape to on the weekend,” says Keagen Gartz, Executive Director of Cycle Toronto. “Frankly we’ve only got one Lake Ontario, the kind of lakefront experience they’re seeking and they deserve.”

Gartz says she doesn’t believe cyclists and pedestrians have to face the same obstacles as before the pandemic just because things are gradually returning to normal, saying other cities have closed entire highways to give residents more space.

Among the major roadways that shut down most weekends, are Bayview Avenue from Rosedale Valley to Lawren Harris Square, and Lake Shore Boulevard West from Windermere Avenue to Stadium Road.

Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro penned a letter to the city council asking they not extend ActiveTO and the program’s subsequent road closures — specifically on Lake Shore Boulevard West.

He says that the lane closures on that portion of the Lakeshore would be a persistent headache for baseball fans planning to attend games at Rogers Centre, citing “unprecedented levels of construction and other diversions” already posing a challenge.

“Removing one of the only ways into and out of the downtown core would be extremely challenging to our fans, who rely on these routes to attend our games,” writes Shapiro in the letter.

The team president faced some ire online following his statement, which prompted a response from Mayor John Tory who said it is important to listen to both sides.

“I really found it so sad that Mr. Shapiro should write a letter, simply setting out the views of his business and the fact that he has 30, 40, 50,000 people coming to a game, and the abuse he took from people online,” said Tory on Saturday.

The city will specifically look at the impacts of the closure on Lake Shore West when reviewing the program during their council meeting on Wednesday.

“I’m quite sure (ActiveTO) will continue,” Tory said. “There’s no one putting up any fuss at all about the Bayview route, or Lake Shore East. But, Lake Shore West is something that we have to study very carefully.”


Cyclists along Lake Shore Boulevard near the CNE grounds on June 12, 2020.

The letter from Shapiro also prompted a rebuttal from David Shellnutt, a Toronto lawyer and cycling advocate, who is encouraging the city to extend ActiveTO and “prioritize safe streets through the continued use of public space for modes of transportation and exercise that do not involve motor vehicles.”

“Let us not go down the road of prioritizing summer events,” writes Shellnutt. “If the returning Caribana parade gets in the way of a baseball game, should it be prohibited from using (Lakeshore West)? Should the Pride Parade be diverted off Yonge to keep traffic moving? Acknowledge and support a plurality of great summer activities in Toronto.”

Gartz says she believes the Lake Shore West closure is a reasonable request.

“Two lanes on Lake Shore Boulevard which is six to eight lanes wide. It’s next to the Gardiner Expressway, which is also next to the Queensway,” she says.

“Our GO train network is fantastic if you want to go to a Jays game. That’s the way Torontonians travel.”

On weekends in the summer of 2020, the city estimated more than 26,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians used Lake Shore Boulevard West and East and Bayview Avenue during road closures.

With files from Maleeha Sheikh, Lucas Casaletto and Lucas Spadafora

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