City councillor proposes closing off downtown street to vehicle traffic

Toronto city councillor 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.

“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.

Wong-Tam’s call comes even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday appealed to Canadians to follow public health guidelines on COVID-19, warning that stiff enforcement measures could be imposed if people don’t stop engaging in behaviour that puts lives at risk.

The message from the prime minister was clear: “Go home, and stay home.”

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)

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.

This is a big problem, councillor says

Wong-Tam says this is a particularly big problem in her ward, along Yonge Street.

“Our sidewalks are generally very narrow, especially for the most densely populated neighborhood in the country,” Wong-Tam told CBC News.

“People are not passing each other safely because there isn’t enough space for them to do so.”

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

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

Denise Thomson’s newly adopted eight-month-old puppy — Hudson. (Greg Ross/CBC)

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.”

On Monday Tory declared a state of emergency for the City of Toronto.

A state of emergency gives the mayor the power to do what Wong-Tam is requesting without having to get approval from council.


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