G20 security empties streets, speeds up lines in downtown Toronto

TORONTO - Commuters to Toronto's downtown core have found many changes this week — a fortress-like security fence, a plethora of police officers and spare time in which to take it all in.

TORONTO - Commuters to Toronto's downtown core have found many changes this week — a fortress-like security fence, a plethora of police officers and spare time in which to take it all in.

The security measures implemented for the G20 summit have sent most Toronto residents scurrying away from the downtown core, which is under virtual lockdown in the days leading up to the weekend meeting.

Those who dare to brave the heightened security measures say they've found a few pleasant surprises in the form of faster commutes, empty sidewalks and shorter lineups for morning coffee.

Jackie Todd, 19, breezed through the lineup at a downtown coffee shop to grab an afternoon snack and returned to her nearby office building along sidewalks almost devoid of their usual pedestrian traffic.

"I've noticed a lot fewer cars on the street," she said, adding her morning commute went slightly faster than usual.

Akila Raja, a cashier at a downtown Tim Hortons location, said lineups at the usually busy restaurant had all but disappeared Tuesday.

"Yesterday there were still lineups at lunch hour, but today there was nothing at all," she said.

The social networking site Twitter was also abuzz with Torontonians reporting their unusual experiences in the downtown core.

"Perfect day for a drive into downtown Toronto — wow," wrote one user.

"G20 has turned Toronto's downtown into a ghost town," tweeted another.

GO Transit, which operates trains from Toronto's outlying suburbs directly into the hub of the security zone, said there is anecdotal evidence to suggest a slight drop in ridership over the first two days of the week.

"Based on our observation, we think there is a slight decrease in passenger volumes during rush hour," said spokeswoman Vanessa Thomas, adding concrete tallies will not be available until after the summit has concluded.

Commuters, warned about the impending hassles of the security measures, are likely heeding advice to work from home and avoid the city centre, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Toronto Transit Commission, which operates the city's subway and bus service, said ridership appears unchanged so far.

Despite the unexpected perks, Torontonians are still expressing discomfort with the heavy police presence and unprecedented security measures.

Internet posters describe the downtown core as everything from "spooky" to "like a prison," and protest groups continue to mobilize online in preparation for the arrival of world leaders on Friday.

One Twitter user summed up a common sentiment throughout the city: "whateva u do, dont come back to downtown toronto this weekend!!"

 
 
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