A south Etobicoke community group is trying to persuade the city to leave its neighbourhood free of sidewalks.
Kingsway Park Ratepayers Inc. launched a petition two months ago asking local councillor Mark Grimes to intervene with city staff, who are planning to add a sidewalk to South Kingslea Drive as part of a larger project to install new water mains on the quiet street next year.
The group says the neighbourhood in the Bloor Street West and Royal York Road area has been without sidewalks for 70 years. And they want it to stay that way. The change.org petition had attracted more than 1,200 signatures as of last week.
In it, president Fiona Campbell cites four reasons for her group’s objection: potential damage to tree roots during construction, more heat due to paved surfaces; and an increase in contaminated water that the group believes pours off paved surfaces into Lake Ontario.
Their most serious concern, the group writes in its petition to Grimes, is “the illusion of safety” that it believes sidewalks create.
“Motorists have demonstrated feeling confident travelling at higher speeds when they don’t expect pedestrian traffic on the roadway,” the petition reads. “Walking facing traffic on the side roads reclaims the road for all users.”
But others in the neighbourhood disagree.
Melissa Goulet says sidewalks would make her street safer for her and her two small children.
“I love trees; we’re very outdoorsy, we love the environment but I value people’s health and safety more,” she said.
“And so if people don’t want to be in a place that has rules that make it easier for pedestrians, then maybe they need to look for somewhere more rural.”
She spoke to CBC Toronto just after distributing flyers.
“When I received the notice that there was construction planned for the installation of a sidewalk on our street I was thrilled,” the flyers read.
“We are on foot travelling the streets around us at least once a day. And I will tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t feel some sort of frustration or anxiety around our safety while trying to navigate the roads with vehicles flying past,” they continue.
That’s a view that’s shared by the city’s general manager of transportation, Barbara Gray.
“Having that little bit of a curb grade separation is well proven to increase safety in neighbourhoods,” she told CBC Toronto.
“So everywhere that the city does reconstruction work where there’s not a sidewalk, we will put one in on at least one side of the street.”
But Campbell insists that sidewalks don’t make streets safer.
“I cannot find a single instance of anybody being killed on a side road because of an absence of sidewalks,” she told CBC News.
“Unfortunately, a sidewalk is not necessarily an element of safety to keep your children safe. You have to train them on how to walk down the road, how to traverse the city safely. And that means walking facing traffic,” Campbell added.
“Sidewalks do not make children any more safe than the prudent training of young people.”
Gray counters that that sidewalks make communities more accessible for the disabled — a goal municipalities are expected to achieve under the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
But Campbell argues people in wheelchairs often are accompanied by companions or pets, which narrow sidewalks cannot always accommodate.
“The road is a flexible surface that accommodates whoever is on it at that time,” she said.
A quarter of streets have no sidewalks
Gray also challenges the view that sidewalks are damaging to the environment.
She says city arborists have already studied South Kingslea Drive’s trees and will design a plan that will limit damage, should sidewalks be installed. The sidewalks themselves are engineered to control runoff, rather than channel it toward the lake, she says.
“When you’re talking about one piece of sidewalk in isolation, it’s not going to have a measurable effect,” she said.
Gray says about a quarter of Toronto streets have no sidewalks, but the city plans to add them whenever a larger project is approved, such as new water mains.
That policy is part of the city’s ongoing Vision Zero strategy to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But Gray says staff in her department always listen to the community and it’s possible the plan for South Kingslea Drive could be altered during consultations with neighbours.
Coun. Mark Grimes didn’t agree to an interview with CBC Toronto, but responded with an email.
“I’ve heard from community members on both sides of this issue, and it’s my job to work with City staff to find a way to balance the requests and needs of the community with City policies,” he wrote.