There are calls for Toronto to step up its efforts to promote and create opportunities for outdoor, physically distanced activity this winter as major elements of the city’s summer-long ActiveTO program come to an end.
ActiveTO included measures such as the weekend closures of some busy roads, as well as the ongoing, but partial closure of some residential streets to encourage outdoor activities such as cycling, walking and running.
The program was implemented in the spring when the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic struck Toronto.
However, both types of road closures are expected to end as soon as this weekend, and there are growing concerns that Toronto lacks a similarly ambitious plan to encourage outdoor activity during the fall and winter.
“Toronto and Torontonians are going to have to embrace winter in a way that we traditionally haven’t,” said Michael Longfield, the interim executive director of Cycle Toronto.
His advocacy group has launched a petition to make ActiveTO a permanent program, and his group is also calling on the city to adapt interim solutions to encourage cycling and other forms of physical activity this winter.
“Ensuring these options are here for people to get outside and stay active, whether for recreation or for transportation will be crucial for the winter,” he said.
ActiveTO also included the installation of approximately 40 kilometres of temporary bike lanes across the city, which will remain throughout the winter.
Mayor John Tory confirmed during a Monday afternoon COVID-19 briefing that he has asked city staff to come up with new ideas to encourage outdoor activity during the winter, though a specific plan has not yet been determined.
Tory said the measures “might consist of different activities we can have in the parks, different kinds of things we could plow or keep open that might not normally get plowed.”
He indicated that road closures will likely not be part of the city’s winter plans.
Those temporary road closures in the ActiveTO program were due to finish at the end of October, though Tory also said on Monday that a stretch of good weather means the city could extend the closures for the coming weekend.
“Stay tuned on that,” Tory said.
Improved snow clearing, maintenance of park facilities suggested
Solutions to encourage more outdoor activity in cold weather include relatively simple measures such as more consistent clearing of snow and ice from sidewalks, park trails and bike lanes.
Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Ward 19, Beaches-East York, is one of the most vocal supporters of cycling infrastructure on Toronto city council. He said the city should also consider further changes around how it operates its parks and facilities during the winter.
“Right now, I don’t think we’ve cracked how to make the most of our cold winters in the city,” Bradford said in an email to CBC Toronto.
“Winter gardens, indoor-outdoor spaces and winter parks trails are just some other examples of how we can encourage people to get out more in the city.”
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, has consistently promoted outdoor activity as an effective method of slowing the spread of COVID-19, which is more easily transmitted in crowded, indoor spaces.
“I’ve asked people to think about how we can responsibly and successfully adapt to life with COVID-19 at an individual level; certainly that can happen at a city level as well,” de Villa said when asked about the city’s winter plans.
Toronto city council in October voted to extend its outdoor dining program, CafeTO, into next spring, though some changes, such as the allowance of curb-lane patios, will not continue.