Toronto councillor leading Open Streets initiative

by | Apr 8, 2014 | News

By Derick Deonarain

The middle of Bloor Street may be filled this summer with people if a proposal by a downtown councillor is successful.

Toronto Centre-Rosedale Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam has proposed a series of “Open Streets” events that would turn a section of Bloor Street into a pedestrian playground for four select Sunday mornings throughout the summer.

Courtesy of Joey Schwartz via Wiki Commons

Courtesy of Joey Schwartz via Wiki Commons

Residents would be able to practice yoga, salsa dancing lessons and even cycling.

The tentatively proposed route will connect High Park in the west with Withrow Park in the east, as well as Yonge Street  to Church St south of Bloor.

“It’s great to hear what Wong-Tam is trying to do to take back public spaces in our city. It’s a good way to focus on being healthy and enjoying a part of Toronto for once without seeing cars,” said Michelle Pênate, 22, a resident of the High Park neighbourhood.

The proposed dates for Open Streets events are July 27, August 3, August 17 and August 31.

While some people may be for the Sunday street events there is a growing concern from drivers that closing a main street like Bloor will only add to the summer traffic congestion.

Daniel Bielby, 24, works downtown Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre and said he’s worried about his drive if the proposal goes through.

“There’s always so much construction in the city during the summer and I can only imagine that shutting down a part of the main artery into the city will wreak havoc for drivers and only make commuting worse for me,” explained Bielby.

According to the Open Streets website the events would “soft-close” Bloor Street, but north to south car traffic would continue to move.

Despite some Torontonians who may be opposed to Wong-Tams proposal, Shamez Amlani, co-creator and organizer of Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, said naysayers and fence walkers don’t know what their missing out on if they don’t try it.

“Seeing is believing. Once you’ve seen that couple locked into a passionate embrace, dancing, doing tango in the street and the next day there’s a truck idling their engine they go oh you know that was better,” he explained.

“Street events like these are a great opportunity to demonstrate what people could do with a public space,” Amlani added.

Although Wong-Tam’s proposal is still awaiting approval from City Council, Amlani told Humber News that there are bigger challenges the city of Toronto faces with street events.

“If you look at places like Copenhagen, they had cities that were built organically for people that evolved over a thousand years in a medieval fashion.  It’s easier for them to convert it back to streets being for people and not for cars,” he said.

In Toronto’s case Amlani said the challenge is that the city was built to a scale that was always made for automobiles.

While Toronto may have to rethink some of its city planning moving forward, larger cities like New York have had recent success in taking back public spaces such as Broadway Avenue.

“We’re a little behind… but what Wong-Tam is trying to do is definitely a step in the right direction,” Amlani told Humber News.