Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he will not support an initiative to close Bloor Street to cars for four Sundays this summer, saying it would cause "chaos."
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is spearheading a project to shut down Bloor Street between High Park and Withrow Park, to provide fitness classes, cycling, and music lessons, among other activities, led by local community groups.
"I can't support that," Mayor Ford told reporters Tuesday. "If people want to do their yoga, we have tons of parks – or whatever the purpose was of closing the streets."
Mr. Ford said that "gridlock's a huge problem" in the city, and that the program would just add to it. "Bloor's busy as it is, they'll either go north into people's backyards or south into people's backyards."
Ms. Wong-Tam, who represents the downtown ward of Toronto Centre-Rosedale, says the Open Streets program is not just about physical activity, but also about community connectivity and development.
"Almost one-quarter of [Toronto's] population is actually living below the poverty level," she says. "And it's very expensive to get a gym membership for the entire family."
The proposed Sundays for Open Streets are July 27, August 3, August 17, and August 31. The events still need the approval ofat city council, and sponsors to cover policing costs.
A motion for the initiative was introduced in November, 2012, when Ms. Wong-Tam asked city staff to report on the feasibility of the project.
The city staff report that was due before April 2013 came out a year late at the end of March 2014. The report found most affected organizations were supportive of the event, but there were major concerns from the police.
The Toronto Police Service response to the Open Streets proposal says it would be "logistically, operationally, and functionally impossible to achieve or support on the basis of extraordinary staffing requirements that far exceed capacity."
The report points to the 14.8 km route as being too big a space.
"This is not in any way to suggest that [the] concept is unattainable within of the City of Toronto," the report says. "But the proposed event design and locations far exceed the capacity the police to properly handle."
Ms. Wong-Tam calls the program a great "social equalizer," that would provide residents with a new space for recreation with the existing infrastructure, without having to build a new park or sports complex.
She says the program would also generate revenue for businesses in the area that would normally be closed on Sunday mornings. Part of the plan is to exclude any additional outdoor vending in order to increase traffic to existing local businesses.
The events would "soft-close" Bloor, according to the Open Streets website, meaning north-south traffic could cross Bloor as normal.
"They just need to stop at a red light," Ms. Wong-Tam says.
Ms. Wong-Tam has support from several international and provincial consulting firms, including 8-80 Cities and regionalArchitects, to get the Open Streets pilot under way. She says work is being done to bring similar events to Kingston, Windsor, and Thunder Bay this summer as well.
She says although similar programs and activities have taken off in other cities, including Los Angeles and Ottawa, she wants to craft an Open Streets experience unique to Toronto.
Public Works Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong has expressed concerns about the events, noting the existing problems with traffic and gridlock in the area.
Mr. Minnan-Wong disagrees with Ms. Wong-Tam's idea that the events would boost business along the street.
"A number of businesses rely on the commerce that is brought in from motorists, and motorists will just decide not to come," he says. "The weekend is an important time for them to conduct their business during the summertime, and this will discourage many of them from coming into the downtown."
With a report from Elizabeth Church