Regular road closures along Toronto’s waterfront to accommodate cyclists and runners during the COVID-19 pandemic is set to end.
The closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West for ActiveTO has become a lightning rod for debate between cyclists and drivers in Canada’s most populous city.
The closure began in 2020 in response to pandemic lockdowns. The eastbound portion of the six-lane road was shuttered at weekends to allow open access to the waterfront, a space where residents could exercise and social distance at the same time.
Those closures continued during 2021 although less frequently and happened twice in 2022: on May 23 and May 29.
The event has been welcomed by vocal advocates in Toronto’s cycling community in particular, but it has drawn frustration and ire from some, including several city councillors and Toronto Blue Jays’ CEO Mark Shapiro.
On Wednesday, City of Toronto councillors accepted a staff report that recommended limited closures of Lake Shore Boulevard West for ActiveTO. They should be treated as “special events” that are planned and advertised in advance, “rather than operating as regular recurring weekend events.”
“In identifying dates for any future ActiveTO closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West, officials will take into consideration the number and location of planned street events on that weekend, construction impact on parallel corridors, access to adjacent venues and impacts to traffic,” the city said in a statement.
Staff said traffic and congestion in Toronto has returned to between 90 and 95 per cent of its pre-pandemic. Officials also said an “exceptional” number of construction projects was squeezing road space.
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Plans to essentially wind down the program frustrated some councillors.
“Probably who we’re not hearing from most are those who are enjoying some of these spaces,” Coun. Mike Layton said. “Let’s not be afraid to be a bit bold here.”
Coun. Brad Bradford also said the program had become a “punching bag for congestion” in Toronto which “has historically been very congested.”
The staff report considered by council said ActiveTO road closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West between Windermere Avenue and Stadium Road had as many as 36,000 daily cyclists and “thousands” of pedestrians in 2020.
It said the number of pedestrians remained constant with or without the closure, but biking was between two and five times higher.
Other councillors believe it is time to end the road closure, citing congestion among other factors.
“Being bold is not listening to the cycling lobby (but instead) listening to those families that don’t come to city hall, yet are having to sit for 13 extra minutes in traffic just to get downtown because they want to take their family to a baseball game,” Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said.
When Lake Shore Boulevard West was closed for ActiveTO on May 23, staff said that travel times along the Gardiner Expressway between Highway 427 and York Street increased from 14.5 minutes to 33.6 minutes.
“A number of businesses and stakeholders in the area have raised concerns about the impact on patrons and residents in accessing local properties and public spaces as a result of the May 23rd and 29th ActiveTO closures,” city officials said.
Barbara Gray, Toronto’s general manager of transportation services, said the May 29 Lake Shore closure resulted in “the most” complaints the program had ever received — estimating they were in the “hundreds.”
Councillors voted to accept the staff recommendation of making closures on Lake Shore Boulevard West as a “special event” and explore adding additional active transportation infrastructure in the area in an upcoming master plan.
Other ActiveTO road closures on Bayview Avenue in the Rosedale area and Meadoway in Scarborough will continue.