The plan to close an 11-kilometre stretch of Bloor Street on four Sundays during the summer has revealed divisions between downtown and suburban Toronto city councillors.
Closing the street off to cars is good for pedestrians, local business and Toronto, one councillor argues, while another questions whether it will further snarl traffic, shut out motorists from the festivities and generally be bad for business.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, councillor for the downtown ward of Toronto Centre-Rosedale, has proposed a plan called Open Streets, for which Bloor would be closed to auto traffic so pedestrians can use the street for fitness classes, cycling, music lessons and other outdoor activities. She says the street would be like a "paved park."
It would affect Bloor Street from High Park through the Yonge intersection to Withrow Park at Pape.
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a Scarborough councillor, has spoken against closing the street. He said motorists will see the move as unwelcoming and just not go downtown. "A number of businesses rely on the commerce that is brought in from motorists, and motorists will just decide not to come," he said. "This will discourage many of them from coming into the downtown."
Mayor Rob Ford, a former councillor from Etobicoke, also dislikes the idea.
"Bloor is busy enough as it is," Ford said. "So I cannot support that. I will not support that. I need traffic to flow. This will just add to the gridlock. This is a busy city, it's getting busier all the time."
But Wong-Tam and other organizers made arrangements for both traffic flow and business.
The street would be 'soft closed' to traffic, as north-south traffic on intersections would still pass through.
Open Streets will not allow outside vendors off the street for the chosen Sundays, saying that pedestrians will make purchases "at established businesses along the route."
The Open Streets initiative is modelled after South American concept of ciclovía, in which a street is closed permanently or temporarily for cars to open the roadways up to pedestrians and bicycles. New York, Los Angeles and other major cities have implemented the plan.
Wong-Tam has been working on the initiative since spring 2013, working with organizations 8-80 Cities, regionalArchitects, Arup, Senayah Design and CicTOvia. The proposed dates for Toronto's Open Streets pilot project are July 27, August 3, August 17, and August 31 — all Sundays.