Open Streets. Closed Minds.

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr

5 Responses to Open Streets. Closed Minds.

  1. Dorothy says:

    In Glasgow, Scotland where I am from we have three interconnecting main shopping streets FULLY pedestrian only – in the shape of a Z – Sauchiehall Street at the north end, Buchanan Street on the vertical and Argyll Street along the south end. Shoppers can spend all day on foot “spending money” as it is so easy to go from store to store. You either travel into the city by bus, train or car and park the car for the day in a car park nearby. Stores love it because it brings in so much business. Toronto City Council and the BIA’s are so behind in their thinking.

  2. Lloyd Alter says:

    That last paragraph is wonderful and so fucking true.

  3. Sonny says:

    I guess we’ll see how the Council votes on the new version of Open Streets…

    Last night I was at “What are we going to do with our Senate?”
    The Churchill Society is hosting a panel discussion on Canada’s Senate. MP Craig Scott will be participating and representing the NDP, he will be joined by MPs Stéphane Dion and Erin O’Toole.

    O’Toole is the Con MP for the same riding as his father John the MPP. Got me thinking about how some people are speculating one of Flaherty’s sons will run in his riding. The wife has the MPP seat.

    So today I heard Adam; son of Colin Vaughan will be running in Trinity Spadina versus Joe; son of Gordon Cressy.

    P.S. I am predicting that Rob; son of Doug Ford Sr. will be lying in his speech that will reach 20 minutes because of stage managed clapping.

  4. Bets says:

    Seriously! Have so few council members ever ventured outside of Toronto. Pedestrian only is everywhere and growing. Let’s get with it!
    Hey Rob Ford & Co. the 50’s are calling, they want you back.

  5. Is there a reason this closure is being proposed for so early in the day? Councillor Wong-Tam seems minded to lean on TTC to open the Bloor line early those Sundays but those late openings permit TTC to do work which can’t be fitted into the weekday/Saturday overnights. As we saw at Davisville recently, TTC is struggling to keep pace with maintenance so early openings or Nuit Blanche overnight operation should be reserved to when there are no other realistic choices.

    The TPS submission makes some interesting comparators on similar events elsewhere to which I look forward to the organizers response.
    http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/ed/bgrd/backgroundfile-68199.pdf

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