On Friday Toronto joins over a thousand cities around the planet in celebrating Car Free Day. While Canadian urban areas have been slow to join this worldwide movement, it's a good time to imagine what life would be like without increasing congestion. The GTA’s roads and highways may seem particularly crowded this month, above and beyond the usual post-summer holiday traffic. This causes problems for the TTC — which is already short of buses and streetcars -— as more vehicles are delayed and riders wait longer.
Toronto’s Car Free Day events have been growing gradually over the last few years, although they are modest compared to cities like Bogota, Colombia which has shut huge thoroughfares. In Austria and Spain alone, over 200 cities and towns will take part.
Motorists do grumble, but whenever streets or expressways here in Toronto are closed for celebrations, parades or charity events, pedestrians and cyclists show up in huge numbers. The recent transformation of Queen’s Quay this summer showed what it would be like to reduce the amount of pavement —and cover it with grass, flowers and bike paths. This year’s Car Free Day will see a small portion of our most important artery opened up to people. Yonge Street will be no-go for cars between Dundas to Shuter Streets. Head over to Dundas Square after 11 a.m. for a chance to enjoy music, art, street sports — all hosted the City of Toronto, Sierra Club of Canada and some big-name sponsors.
Dan McDermott of the Sierra Club says we need to construct our cities so that the car is no longer the preferred choice for getting around. “The fact that in a congested area like downtown Toronto — with the price of real estate being what it is — that we devote so much geography to private automobiles ... is something from our past.”
Also on Friday, the group Streets are for People will hold a “parking meter party” and parade on Queen Street West.
Montreal has pulled ahead of Toronto with its celebration “In town, without my car!” AMT, the regional transit authority, is directly coordinating the event, where more than ten downtown city blocks will be a car-free zone.
Transit service will be augmented, over 1,600 square meters of asphalt are to be covered in grass for a day and Quebec’s transport minister will preside over the ceremonies. In Montreal, the event is part of a major political campaign to promote transit. Could that happen here, too?