A proposal to close Bloor Street to car traffic for four summer mornings is going back to the drawing board after a Toronto city hall committee voted unanimously to send the plan to city managers for revision.
The Open Streets TO events would see Bloor Street closed to vehicular traffic between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. for four Sundays in July and August between High Park and Withrow Park to allow for more pedestrians and bikes, and to offer free activities such as yoga or dance classes led by community groups. Similar events have been successful in Guadalajara, Los Angeles and Ottawa.
Economic development committee chair Michael Thompson said his intention in sending the proposal to city staff on Wednesday afternoon is not to “kill it,” but to move it forward.
He said the magnitude of the project would be difficult to manage, pointing to the number of police officers the Open Streets working group says it would need for the events.
“Two hundred and fifty police officers on a route on a Sunday morning,” he said. “It’s not the most nuts thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s got to be closely ranked up there.”
Mr. Thompson said moving the proposal to city staff will help work out those bugs before Open Streets can make its Toronto debut. He said the event is likely to be scaled back from what the working group originally pitched. A one-day pilot this summer is more likely than a full four-day program, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to benefit,” he said.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city councillor championing the Open Streets events, says the committee’s decision is positive in moving the event planning forward.
Before the committee voted, it heard from about a dozen supporters of the initiative, including business improvement area representatives and residents. While most of the speakers were largely in favour of the proposal, some had concerns about the route.
Ms. Wong-Tam said it would be “very challenging” to change the route at this stage. “We’ve actually done hundreds of hours of consultation already,” she said.
In a previous interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Wong-Tam said Bloor was chosen because of its subway system and its cultural significance to Toronto.
While Bloor would be closed to east-west traffic, north-south traffic could still pass through at major intersections.
Open Streets is looking for a corporate sponsor to cover the cost of policing the event. In a report, Toronto Police say they'd need more than $800,000 to provide enough staffing.
The plans are getting a generally positive response from businesses along the route.
Aaron Zack, who works in brand development and operations at Snakes and Lattes, said he thinks Open Streets would be good for businesses along Bloor, because most of their customers come in by foot or by transit.
“We’re seeing Honest Ed’s closing down and a lot of gentrification. It’s good to see culture reinjected into this area.”
But Mayor Rob Ford said closing Bloor would cause chaos in an area that already deals with gridlock problems.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has also been a vocal opponent of Open Streets. He said he didn’t agree with the proposal because local businesses rely on traffic for business.
“I don’t know that you need to close [Bloor] to discourage all that business that’s coming downtown,” he said. “In those cars is a lot of money that wants to buy things from business on Bloor Street.”
Ms. Wong-Tam said, with about a month left of consultations, the working group will continue to negotiate with people and organizations affected by the events.
“We recognize we have to go slow, and that people want more information,” Wong-Tam said. “I think it’s about compromise and making sure it works for everyone.”
With a report from Ann Hui
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