Toronto is looking at closing Bloor St. to cars for one Sunday morning this summer in a pilot project patterned after Open Streets events held in New York, Mexico City and other cities.
The idea is to boldly transform the street into a linear park and let pedestrians, joggers and cyclists take over for a giddy day of motor-free enjoyment.
The city’s economic development committee okayed a limited approach after concerns were raised about the original pitch — which was to stage Open Streets on four Sunday mornings, closing at least 10 kilometres of road each time.
That proposal would have meant closing Bloor-Danforth all the way from High Park to Greenwood Ave., from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 27 and Aug. 3, 17 and 31. Yonge and Church would also be closed from Bloor to Queen.
It was suggested the Bloor route could be shortened, still starting at High Park but ending in St. James Town. The committee didn’t specify a preference.
A dozen citizens who appeared at the committee were uniformly in favour of the project. Architect and urban planner Ken Greenberg called it “the simplest thing you could possibly do. It is really easy.”
But councillors and bureaucrats took turns pouring cold water on the idea.
“If pedestrians wish to use Bloor St., they can. There are sidewalks,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who’s not a member of the economic development committee.
Toronto police said they would need to charge an event of that scale $839,092 to recover costs of policing it.
The Toronto Transit Commission said it could only support three of the four suggested dates and said it would need $135,000 to open the subway early on three Sundays.
Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the committee, moved to have staff come up with a scaled-back pilot in discussion with police, TTC and stakeholders. His motion for a smaller pilot passed unanimously.
Thompson said the project needs more work and further consultation with merchants, residents and others, but blasted police for suggesting they’d need 250 police officers to handle a four-Sunday event.
“Are you kidding me?” said Thompson, who’s also vice-chair of the police services board. “Quite frankly, 250 police officers is absolutely ludicrous in terms of the need and the necessity. It’s ridiculous to suggest that.”
Following the unanimous vote, Thompson said he expects the first event to happen this year.
“I think there’s obviously a desire to ensure a pilot is actually in place this summer. And so that’s where we’re going.” The event could be expanded in future, he added.
Thompson wouldn’t give an opinion on the length of the route but noted there’s opposition from Danforth merchants. Bloor-Yorkville merchants have yet to adopt a position, while members of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area were supportive.
“Based on Open Streets events elsewhere in North America, we are confident that this program will increase foot traffic on Sunday mornings and increase business for our members,” the organization said in a letter to the committee.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who is pushing the project forward, said the committee’s discussion was positive.
“We recognize that we have to go slow,” said Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). “People legitimately have concerns about what the impact will be, and so those fears are there and we want to be able to alleviate them.”