ActiveTO and CafeTO were both popular, but only one was about making money. Guess which city hall let wilt?
Both pandemic programs transformed the cityscape more than most civic initiatives over the last two decades have.
Ossington itself was the closest I’ve ever seen Toronto behave like a European street. To walk the sidewalk was to pass through people sitting at tables, their chatter and the clink of glasses near-continuous down to Queen Street. It was like being in another city, far away from uptight, overly officious Toronto. Then winter came and the patios disappeared.
The good news is CaféTO is coming back for a third season, with the city’s registration deadline April 2. Last summer, the program extended well beyond the downtown core, with rows of patios in places like Yonge Street in North York, though the highwaylike conditions there make it decidedly less pleasant than by slower, downtown traffic. The “REimagining Yonge Street” plan to redesign the entire street into a more humane place for the tens of thousands of people who live along it between Sheppard and Finch Avenues cannot come soon enough.
It’s remarkable that after decades of political strife every time a proposal to remove street parking came up, more business owners understood that the space and beautification benefits of these patios far outweigh the few parking spots lost. That’s a rule to remember in other contexts too. Cars are big and take up lots of physical, mental and political space, but that doesn’t always map to how most people get to an establishment in a city like Toronto.
Both programs were highly visible, successful and city-changing, but one was continually championed and the other allowed to shamefully shrink. Now closing High Park to vehicles on weekends is the last, sad rump of ActiveTO, a program that had no real champions on council and run by unseen city staff who decided when and what streets were closed on a willy-nilly schedule that made it hard for anybody to predict where they could go on weekends.
Despite being so popular, it was allowed to die on the vine, even by councillors who represent downtown wards where loads of apartment dwellers made use of the program. Some weekends Lake Shore Boulevard was closed, sometimes it wasn’t.
Why the difference between ActiveTO and CaféTO support? We are a city where most of our ruling class have backyards and even cottages of their own, so there was little incentive to create more recreational space. That, and Toronto is a mercantile city and CaféTO is about making money and ActiveTO isn’t.
The good news is the city says, “ActiveTO major road closures will return in 2022” and that “the program is currently being planned and more information about timeline and locations will be provided soon.”
I'm glad to see it will return for people running, walking and cycling because last year became very apparent that the Martin Goodman trail across the lake could not come close to meeting the needs of citizens on a sunny weekend afternoon. It's also good news that the "ride for heart" is coming back in June with a new sponsor in Baycrest.
bike lanes do make money. planning studies consistently show that high street shops make more sales and earn higher revenues when there is more cyclist infrastructure, even when it comes at the expense of car infrastructure. it literally just allows more humans to be in the high street at speeds in which they might actually take interest in a retailer. simple stuff.
ActiveTO, as random police enforced road closures, should die. Permanent, 7-day per week, cycling infrastructure is a better use of this funding.