South Parkdale feeling development pressures and the traffic that comes with it

It doesn’t matter if you bike, drive or take the streetcar, South Parkdale is often a sea of brake lights and seething frustration. Caryn Ceolin with why the neighbourhood is ground zero of Toronto’s congestion crisis.

In Toronto’s South Parkdale neighbourhood, most residents don’t own a car. But their streets are crawling with them.

The community in Toronto’s west end is a connection point to not only the Lake Shore Boulevard and Gardiner Expressway (including the unusually short Jameson on-ramp) but three other neighbourhoods: King West, Queen West, and Liberty Village.

On a TFC game day, residents say side streets are slammed by drivers looking for a shortcut. Not to mention the havoc wrought by the almost three-week-long Canadian National Exhibition.

At the nexus of King and Dufferin Streets, construction has at least one lane of traffic blocked on the best of days.

“We live with it,” Ric Amis of the Parkdale Residents Association told CityNews.

While the traffic demand already exceeds capacity, the gridlock will only get worse once major work on the future Ontario Line, BMO Field expansion and the Ontario Place transformation gets underway.

The neighbourhood is a minefield of orange cones, brake lights and seething frustration, and Amis said those living in the line of fire are desperate for a fix or, at the very least, better public transit.

“It should be a location that has a lot of viable alternatives,” Matti Siemiatycki of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto told CityNews.

Yet, Siemiatycki said taking transit through South Parkdale is not more convenient than cars. He blamed the deterioration of the King Street transit corridor, which had made riding the crowded, screeching 504 streetcar bearable for some time.

“It used to be a real, viable alternative for people to get into the downtown core much quicker and because it’s not being enforced, the transit is not as reliable, it’s not as quick,” said Siemiatycki.

Development putting ‘a lot of pressure on the community’

Underlying all of this, Amis said, is a concern about increasing density and how it affects working-class people who live along the lively streetscape.

Towers are sprouting like weeds with community hubs like the McDonald’s and Burger King at Dufferin and King Streets already lost to luxury condos.

Eighty-six per cent of South Parkdale’s residents are renters, versus less than half for the broader city and about a third of those people live below the poverty line.

“We should be looking at every project, every development through an equity lens and making sure that it’s contributing something back to the community, so that we’re not spurring gentrification and displacement,” explained Siemiatycki.

Amis acknowledged developers are engaging more often with the community to ensure residents also benefit from building projects. For example, developers will promise community assets like daycare centres on the ground level of their massive towers.

“But it’s surprising how tokenistic it is,” said Amis. “What happens when you don’t get your 30-storeys? I guess we’re not having a daycare centre.”

Despite having different needs, Amis added developers keep looking across the street at Liberty Village, which 20 years ago was nothing but a brown field.

“Now it’s all 20-, 30-storey buildings,” he said. “[South Parkdale] is an established neighbourhood. It’s been here for 150 years. So to densify it even more than it is, that creates challenges for us.”

Challenges residents hope eventually build opportunity, not just congestion.

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