It may be freezing, but the city wants your feedback on changes to sidewalk cafés, patios

Some major changes may be coming to the city of Toronto's sidewalk cafés to make it easier for people with mobility issues to get around, but first the city wants to hear what people think at a meeting Thursday evening.

New proposals could be a win-win for all parties, accessibility advocates say

The sidewalk patio of N'awlins Jazz Bar and neighbouring restaurants on King street. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

At a time when Torontonians are shivering under frigid temperatures, the state of the city's sidewalk cafés and patios might not be top of mind, but that isn't stopping city hall from looking for feedback on some major proposals for change.

City staff are holding a meeting Thursday evening to hear from the public about proposed measures, such as erecting fencing and planters to make these spaces more detectable for pedestrians, and for visually impaired people using white canes. 

Accessibility advocates, who have complained in the past that sidewalks narrowed by patios and marketing displays can be a minefield for pedestrians and those with disabilities,say the new proposals could be a win-win for all parties.

"It's really important for people to know that accessible and vibrant sidewalks can co-exist," said Dylan Reid, spokesperson for Walk Toronto, a pedestrian advocacy group that is in favour of the proposed changes.

"The key goal for these changes is accessibility," said Reid. "So that people who walk with difficulty, can walk along the sidewalk without hitting obstacles."

The meeting, the 31st consultation since 2014 as part of the Sidewalk Cafés and Marketing displays review, goes from 6:00 p.m to 7:30 p.m. at city hall.

Under the current rules, restaurant and shop owners can apply for permits allowing them to operate patios or small stalls selling goods on public property. 

The main goals of these proposed changes are to increase sidewalk accessibility under these permits.

For example, staff have proposed enforcing 2.5-metre "clearways" around cafés and marketing stalls on specified downtown streets to make it easier for pedestrians and people with disabilities to walk. The proposal would have 1.8-metre clearways for local roads while the width would be 2.1 metres for arterial and collector roads. 

Harmonizing bylaws 

The city is also looking to consolidate the bylaws, so that the same rules apply to businesses across the city.

Right now, the city is divided into seven different zones, each with their own set of fees. If the changes are adopted, there would only be two: the central zone and the outer zone.

The new rules would mandate accessibility requirements like fencing or planters.

Additionally, there would be changes to the way the city collects permit fees for sidewalk cafés. Currently, the cost of a permit ranges from $5.50 to $114.12 per square metre, depending on which zone the business is located.

The proposed changes would mean restaurants in the central zone pay $88.31 per square metre for the patio annually and those in the outer zone would pay $44.14.

Scarborough is not included in the city's current zones, as sidewalk cafés are not permitted there. However, under the new rules, it would fall under the outer zone.

This image shows the current fees for annual permits, left, and the proposed fees, right. (City of Toronto)

These changes would only be implemented immediately for new restaurants and those whose fees will be reduced. Current permit holders expecting their fees to increase will see the changes phased in over a 10-year period to help minimize the impact.

"We recognize that small business are being hit with increases in their rent, in their hydro, in their cable packages," said Carleton Grant, the city's director of policy and strategic support.

"We've heard from the community loud and clear that these are significant costs to their businesses, so as a result we've looked at phasing it in over 10 years."

But not everyone is sold on this proposal.

Ashley Tollis stands inside N'Awlins Jazz Bar on King Street West. (Haweya Fadal/CBC)

"I had no idea that these consultations have been taking place," said Ashley Tollis, whose family owns N'awlins Jazz Bar on King Street West near John Street.

The general manager for the restaurant says she is concerned about the possible impact of these changes.

"I think for a lot of us, our confidence in the city's organization has been diminished with certain things like the King Street pilot project, for example," Tollis said. "When changes like this arise, we're not given much information."


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