In these colder, darker winter months running errands by car is a great convenience. Warmer weather will again bring out not only more Beachers but also draw in hundreds of out-of-area visitors, many arriving via public transit but many by car – and our tight little neighbourhood just cannot take it anymore, in more than one way.
At numerous public meetings in the past months Beachers have voiced their concerns about the effects of increasing developments and greater density in our area. The fear focuses on already-strained infrastructure, traffic, parking and transit capacity. And let’s not forget pedestrian traffic.
Our concerns are valid, yet how much change to personal travel behaviours is taking place?
Every morning as I walk to work, I see more single-occupancy than multiple-occupancy vehicles driving out of the Beach (or through?). Twice a day for a 30-minute window or more, Kippendavie Avenue turns into an SUV parking lot outside Kew Beach Public School. Yet, at a recent public meeting, some of those same drivers voiced their discontent about the congestion on that street.
What about adverse health effects from traffic? A 2004 study by the Medical Officer of Public Health shows that each year, traffic pollution accounts for 440 premature deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations, with children experiencing more than 1,200 acute bronchitis and asthma episodes per year as a result. Those could be your children.
Transportation needs aside, our community needs to take some personal responsibility. The Beach is receiving much attention from senior City transportation and planning staff, so now is a good time for goodwill and solutions from our side.
Positive community action is a start. Of course there are parameters to keep in mind. Any significant street and sidewalk improvements to Queen Street, akin to Roncesvalles’ complete street renewal, are at least 10 years away. “Major improvements generally piggy-back on a planned infrastructure renewal because of the high cost,” Edward Birnbaum from Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s office explains. This is not something a community can afford on its own; it means creative approaches, incremental and behavioural changes are called for, not only in the interim but long-term.
Working on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ is what Adam Smith, coordinator of Ward 32 Transportation Committee, suggests. He is looking into getting left turns at traffic lights on Queen eliminated during rush hour. “If left-turning cars don’t block the streetcars and vehicles behind them, then traffic won’t back up the way it does,” he explains. “It just takes switching the traffic lights and putting up a few new road signs.”
There is no shortage of workable solutions from within the community, and by liaising with the City.
Motor Vehicles: Implementing no left turns at traffic lights along Queen Street during rush hour; reducing single-occupancy and local car trips by car-sharing or car-pooling (Erideshare.com), taking transit, or walking to local errands or taking children to school. Do you really need two vehicles?
Parking: Car-free days and providing ‘Park & Ride’ programs from outlying parking lots to reduce visitor car traffic (especially during the summer); selling that second car.
Walking: Sidewalk ‘bump-outs’ to widen sidewalks and improve pedestrian flow; ‘Walking Schoolbus’ to walk kids to school in large groups – fun and healthier for everyone.
Cycling: Promoting safe cycling through programming and events, including car-free days.
Global cyclovía days (Spanish for ‘bicycle path’) have turned major city streets into car-free lanes for walking, cycling, rollerblading, and outdoor exercise classes. Started in Bogotá, Colombia, in the 1980s, these half-day closures draw 30 per cent of the city’s population and enliven streets and local businesses. Downtown City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wants to bring cyclovía-type road closures to Toronto.
Several BIAs (Business Improvement Areas) have, in collaboration with local residents, businesses, and local City Councillors, introduced successful car-free days. For example, Celebrate Yonge brought four weeks of two-lane traffic closure for expanded sidewalks, cafés and patios, landscaped planter boxes, and renewed excitement and sales to Yonge Street businesses. Kensington Market’s Pedestrian Sundays have enabled pedestrian-friendly shopping from noon to 6 p.m. in August and September since 2004, also benefitting local store-owners.
Most European medieval towns or cities, with their restrictive, narrow cobble-stoned town centres, limit car traffic to deliveries and local residents, making walking from shop to shop so much safer, healthier and more enjoyable. People who walk are more likely to stop and shop.
In the Beach, we are already primed for road closures, as we celebrate them several times a year for the Easter parade, Jazz festival and marathons. They need not be as mighty but can be as much fun for the community and useful to local businesses.
At Councillor McMahon’s recent Traffic, Transit and Parking meeting, I offered to facilitate a public, positive, hands-on visioning activity (call it a design charette if you will). The aim will be a creative yet realistic session. So, dear neighbours, here’s a CALL TO ACTION: Let’s have a positive, creative vision for our neighbourhood and work towards solutions together. It will involve some changes in habits but it can be done!
If you have creative ideas, are an urban or landscape planner, architect, artist or someone who can draw or at least visualise ideas, or can otherwise contribute some time and energy to help plan and co-host such a future community engagement session, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Members from Greening Ward 32 and the community Transportation Committee will see how and what community process we can create with help from our Councillor and the BIA.
Martina Rowley is a local environmental communicator