City staff asked to take 2nd look before axing ActiveTO’s most popular road closure

City staff asked to take 2nd look before axing ActiveTO's most popular road closure-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Lake Shore Boulevard West attracted an average of 18,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians daily when it was closed to traffic during weekends and holidays last year. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Councillors are asking transportation staff to take another look, but for right now the most popular road closure of Toronto’s ActiveTO program in 2020 is unlikely to be repeated this summer due to a major nearby construction project.

ActiveTO is (mostly) finished, so how will Toronto get residents outdoors this winter?

Following a short debate Tuesday morning, Coun. Jennifer McKelvie asked staff to explore several options, including:

  • Accommodating full or partial closures on Lake Shore on select weekends
  • Looking for other west end ActiveTO options, including nearby Exhibition Place
  • Seeking opportunities to do more traffic calming in local neighbourhoods
  • Looking for more alternative ActiveTO locations

City staff will present a report on options ahead of the April 7-8 council meeting.

The initial ActiveTO report recommends the suspension of the closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West, between Windermere Avenue and Stadium Road, due to a major ongoing construction project at the complicated King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles (KQQR).

The report says intersection means the closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West to vehicle traffic “cannot be accommodated” in either 2021 or 2022.

Last year, the Lake Shore stretch was one of several major roads that were closed during weekends and holidays in a bid to promote walking, running and cycling in accordance with physical distancing recommendations. It was by far the most popular route.

Delaying project impossible, local councillor says

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park and is one of council’s staunchest supporters of environmental initiatives and cycling infrastructure, said the project has been years in the making and that delaying it now would be impossible.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say it is one of the most complex urban infrastructure projects we have had in Toronto in decades,” Perks told CBC Toronto.

Perks said the city has explored the possibility of continuing construction while also entirely closing Lake Shore Boulevard West, but that the resulting traffic delays and streetcar diversions would make the situation “intolerable.”

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A major rebuild of the nearby King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection will give vehicles few viable alternatives if Lake Shore Boulevard West is completely closed to traffic, the city says. (Google Maps)

While the construction project would override a program designed to promote cycling and active transportation, it does have some similar goals.

The purpose of the KQQR project, Perks said, is to make the intersection “safer, greener, more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly.”

The project also involves significantly modifying the physical layout of the interaction, in addition to the replacement of streetcar tracks, water mains and sewage infrastructure.

Lake Shore West drew thousands more cyclists than other closures

If the decision to suspend the closure goes ahead as planned, residents will lose access to what proved to be the busiest ActiveTO location for cycling last year.

According to city statistics, the closed stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard West was used by an average of 18,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians during a typical 15-hour period on weekend days without significant rainfall.

Bike-share stations along the route also saw a 142 per cent increase in usage.

The ActiveTO road closure of Lake Shore Boulevard East drew 6,300 cyclists and 5,300 pedestrians over the same period, while the closure of Bayview Avenue attracted an average of 2,000 cyclists and 300 pedestrians (though a similar number of people continued to use the adjacent Don Valley Trail).

“People are really looking for spaces to get outside and be active,” said Keagan Gartz, the executive director of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto.

The group has been campaigning for the city to consider options such as closing the road for select weekends or converting part of the road for cyclists and pedestrians.

Lake Shore Boulevard West is six lanes wide for the most of the section closed last year.

“We don’t think it has to be all or nothing.” Gartz added. “There are solutions to these challenges.”

City will be asked to consider solutions

McKelvie, who represents Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park and is chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, said the city should at least take a second look.

“The popularity that we saw on the route last year does suggest that we should have a second look at this,” said McKelvie, though she acknowledged that a full closure of the road is not likely.

McKelvie noted the continuing ActiveTO closures in other parts of the city, as well as a proposed pilot project to add bike lanes on Yonge Street in midtown Toronto as alternatives.

“I think that while we are looking at less on Lake Shore West, hopefully across the city we can see more,” McKelvie said.


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