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A group of runners run along Lake Shore Boulevard East as road closures come into effect for the return of the ActiveTO program in Toronto on May 1, 2021.Yader Guzman/The Canadian Press

Toronto will continue to close eastbound Lake Shore Boulevard West to vehicles on select weekends as part of ActiveTO this summer, although the program could be reduced as automobile travel increases in the core with the return of major events.

ActiveTO opened up roads to cyclists and pedestrians during the first COVID-19 summer in 2020 to provide more space for physical distancing and recreational activities. Lake Shore West from Windermere Avenue to Stadium Road was converted to active transportation space for 20 weekend days that year. That was reduced to only six days last year in response to construction on other east-west corridors.

In an update to Toronto City Council Wednesday, head of transportation services Barbara Gray said it will be more challenging to accommodate ActiveTO this year with a substantial uptick in planned events such as festivals and concerts, but the city is committed to offering the program on Lake Shore West for as many weekends as feasible. Ms. Gray also conceded that the city needs to do a better job at advertising the closings and providing ample notice so residents can plan ahead.

Toronto should never let go of ActiveTO

“We’re going to have to go back and sharpen our pencils and find some dates that we think will work,” she told councillors. “We are very eager in helping to support events that people are interested in attending and there’s been lots of interest in people attending ActiveTO over the years.”

The city’s transportation team is now working to develop a schedule of vehicle closures as a result of ActiveTO until October.

In 2020, an average of 18,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians used the roadway space each weekend. On the busiest day in 2021, 39,000 people used the space. Even with the removal of pandemic restrictions on indoor events, the city says the demand is still present.

ActiveTO was in effect for two days so far this year on Lake Shore West and drew 21,000 people on Victoria Day Monday. Although down from last year’s high, the number of cyclists in the area was four times higher than the previous two days of the long weekend when the road closings weren’t in effect.

The recent closings in May drew significant criticism of the program from commuters and business owners, Ms. Gray said, pointing to events at paddling clubs that had to be cancelled because commuters couldn’t access driveways to waterfront amenities.

Discussions about the program also prompted Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro to call on council not to extend ActiveTO on Lake Shore West because of its impact on travel times to the stadium. (However, the ActiveTO closings haven’t been in effect during any Blue Jays home games so far this season.)

Cycle Toronto executive director Keagan Gartz said with the pandemic-response purpose of ActiveTO fading, her organization now wants to see the road reimagined to better support all users and make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Just last month, a cyclist was critically injured along the road after a driver lost control of the vehicle and drove on the trail.

Ms. Gartz is calling for scheduled and regular ActiveTO installations, so the public is aware in advance of when they will be occurring as well as the potential to redesign aspects of the road and reallocate a lane for cycling use.

“Lake Shore is a local street. It should not be operating like a highway and it should not be next to one of the busiest cycling and pedestrian trails in its current form,” she said in an interview. “It’s just dangerous by design.”

A study from the 2021 program highlights an increase in eastbound travel times during the closings on the Gardiner Expressway as well as The Queensway and Bloor Street West. From the first two iterations of the program this year, the city found that traffic delays have increased further owing to the return of prepandemic volumes.

Councillor Mike Layton, who brought the ActiveTO discussion to council, said the city needs to find a way to ensure all transportation needs can be met and not just satisfy one type of road user. He said he is hopeful city staff will take into account the success and benefits of the program when crafting this summer’s schedule.

“I appreciate it is an inconvenience to some, so let’s try and find that healthy medium that allows everyone to enjoy the space on at least a couple summer afternoons,” he said.

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