Toronto

City councillor proposes closing Yonge Street to traffic to help with social distancing

Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam is asking the mayor to consider closing part of Yonge Street in the heart of the downtown core to traffic so people can get outside for some fresh air while maintaining a safe distance from one another amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wants part of Yonge closed to vehicles in downtown core

Torontonians still have to get out to get groceries and fresh air amid the spread of coronavirus, so one councillor is calling for traffic to be shut down in the dense downtown core to give people more space to walk safely. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam is asking the mayor to consider closing part of Yonge Street in the heart of the downtown core to traffic so people can get outside for some fresh air while maintaining a safe distance from one another amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The intention would be for downtown Yonge Street — so from Bloor South to Queen Street [to be closed]," Wong-Tam told CBC News. 

Wong-Tam said this would be a safe way for people who live in the area and have essential jobs to get to work and back home.

Public health officials continue to reassure people that it's OK to go outside, but to ensure that when they do they keep a two-metre (think two arms-length) distance between themselves and others. In Toronto's ultra-dense areas, like Yonge Street, that can be a challenge. 

"Our sidewalks are generally very narrow, especially for the most densely populated neighborhood in the country," Wong-Tam said.

"People are not passing each other safely because there isn't enough space for them to do so."

Being too close to people, health officials say, is a risk. Canadians are also being advised to limit any possible contact with people in poor health or older adults, and leaders are sharpening their message when it comes to warning people to avoid group activities.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told people bent on hanging out in groups to "Go home, and stay home."

Maintaining distance a challenge, dog owner says

Across Toronto, pedestrians are trying to keep their distance, something that can prove challenging. 

Denise Thompson says she tries to keep at least six feet away from other people while walking her dog, but admits that many sidewalks in the the downtown core just aren’t wide enough to do that. (Greg Ross/CBC)

For downtown Toronto resident Denise Thomson, staying home for an extended period of time will be a major adjustment.

"I have to be outside at least three times a day," said Thomson, who owns a condo near Liberty Village. 

While Thomson has been able to work from home, she still has to go for regular walks with her newly-adopted eight-month-old puppy — Hudson.

In recent weeks she's been very mindful of social distancing while out of her home.

Thompson says she tries to keep at least six feet away from other people, but admits that many sidewalks in the the downtown core just aren't wide enough to do that.

"Sometimes when you're walking on a sidewalk or in closer proximity to someone, it's really hard to always keep that distance," Thomson told CBC News. 

Shutting down traffic

Wong-Tam says closing down some streets to vehicular traffic to allow more room for pedestrians could be a solution.

Toronto city Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam has written to Mayor John Tory asking him to consider closing some streets in the city to vehicle traffic, to provide more room for pedestrians. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Her email letter to Tory and the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, asked them to consider doing just that. 

She said it would  also provide a safe environment for people who need to get out of cramped downtown condos to get some fresh air. 

But Wong-Tam said it's also very important that people realize these streets would not be a place for people to gather.

"It is not an invitation necessarily to create a street party or a street festival," she said. 

This would solve a lot of Thomson's problems.

"That would give us a lot more room to spread out," Thomson said. "We wouldn't have to try so hard to avoid everyone." 

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