Summer brings the opportunity for more walks and hikes, and more time on the bike, in some cases, on car-free streets.
A handful of Canadian cities are experimenting with open streets, streets that are temporarily closed to cars, opening up space for cyclists and pedestrians.
David Simor, director of the Center for Active Transportation (TCAT) in Toronto, said cities got a glimpse of what’s possible when they tried out new arrangements early in the pandemic, though it’s unclear if that progress will be sustained in the long term.
“I think we’re at a really critical time in Canada right now with how we’re thinking about mobility and road use,” he said by email.
“Not all approaches or programs were successful, but overall, the transportation response to COVID-19 demonstrated that cities can act quickly to create more people-centered streets and public spaces.”
This is what some of those more open spaces look like today.
Cars vs Motorcycles in Toronto
There is often a debate in Toronto about the weight of cars in public space and the safety of the people riding two wheels next to them, as well as nearby pedestrians.
“It’s still quite dangerous to ride a bike in the city, and many people are afraid to do it,” said Beth Savan, an expert in active transportation and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment.
In fact, dozens of people have been killed in traffic fatalities in Toronto each year for the last decade. So far, 2023 has claimed the lives of 13 pedestrians and one cyclist.
Yet despite these very real concerns about the need for safer roads, there are still tensions over how Toronto decides to reallocate parts of that space, on a temporary basis, over the summer.
The city created ActiveTO in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, to promote active ways to get around. Their programs included closing some streets to cars on certain days. The program was initially hailed as a success by former Mayor John Tory, but city staff suggested reducing certain associated road closures last year, in part due to driver frustration.
Toronto confirmed to Breaking: that ActiveTO’s weekend closures related to Lake Shore Boulevard West, one of the city’s main arteries, will no longer take place on a regular basis. Rather, they are limited to special events announced well in advance.
“As street events in Toronto are back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s hard to find weekends where the closure of ActiveTO Lake Shore Boulevard West doesn’t conflict with other planned events or increase traffic congestion on the city,” a spokesman said by email. .
Reduce open streets in Ottawa?
A similar disagreement has arisen in Ottawa, also over a seasonal program change where pedestrians, bicycles and cars can circulate.
TO 2.4 kilometer stretch of Queen Elizabeth Drivewaywhich meanders along the west side of the Rideau Canal, is reserved for active transportation use from 8 am to 8 pm during the summer.
The National Capital Commission (NCC) manages the avenue where the closures are taking place. Its officials support the arrangement.
However, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe is among those calling for that setup to be scaled back. A colleague from the council, for his part, described the mayor’s position on the matter as “regressive.”
The NCC is collecting comments from the public. about your active use programs.
It also offers weekend bike days, which close parts of the Kichi Zībī Mīkan and Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway on weekends and bank holiday Mondays. until the beginning of October.
Pedestrian streets in Montreal
For the second summer in a row, Montreal has established 10 pedestrian streets.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante believes these conversions, part of a three-year initiative, are good for the businesses that line these streets and the people who walk them.
“They also create a sense of community for the people who live in the area,” Plante said earlier this year. “They also become destinations for tourists, visitors and students.”
Savan, the active transportation expert, said the open streets can serve as opportunities for people to try a new way of getting around.
Summer shift in Edmonton
Edmonton summer streets they have been making more space for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians.
This year’s edition has been running since May. It grew out of an initiative that began during the first year of the pandemic.
“Active transportation is an important part of how we combat climate change and support a healthy and vibrant city,” Ali Alou, a senior traffic engineer in the city’s traffic operations department, said in an emailed statement.
The seasonal program consists of the installation of temporary mobility lanes, through flexible poles that define a separation between traffic and people who participate in active modes of transport.
These changes have been made along portions of Victoria Park Hill Road, Saskatchewan Drive, and 104 Street.
Alou said the city pays close attention to how the lanes work and considers how they may be adjusted in the future.
Lower speed limits in Winnipeg
In Winnipeg, the city has lowered speed limits on some streets where more people ride bikes.
These “neighborhood greenways” are routes the city says have been established to move drivers and cyclists through these 19 spaces safely.
The speed limit is set at 30 km/h for these areas, and throughout the year for more than half of these routes.
There are also speed reductions in effect on five seasonal bike routes.
Pilot programs in Vancouver and Hamilton, Ontario.
Some cities are checking out what the most open spaces are like.
In Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood, a two-block stretch of Yew Street has been made available for pedestrians to live in this summer. It is closed to vehicles, with a few exceptions, and is the only open street of its kind there.
The city told Breaking: that it has been “monitoring and evaluating how people use the space and gathering feedback from the public and businesses” and adjusting accordingly.
There are also more limited-time pilots being tested elsewhere. They include the Open Streets Hamilton event, held in the city of Ontario last month.
The one-day event involved the blocking of vehicles on part of a downtown street for a few hours on a Sunday.
Fitness stations and various activities were available throughout the “temporary linear urban park”.
Alison Carlyle, project manager for the city’s sustainable mobility unit, told Breaking: that staff will brief the council on the event. She said more events could be held in the future, if that’s what the council decides.
Simor, the director of TCAT, said that open street events are “tempting opportunities for cities” as they provide a large reward without a corresponding large cost.
“Open Streets reuses an existing asset, our streets, that we’ve already invested money in building, and turns it into a higher, better use for a few hours each week,” he said.