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Toronto closing down some streets to car traffic in favour of pedestrians and cyclists

Last Updated May 6, 2020 at 7:24 pm EDT

Officials in Toronto announced measures to help residents resume regular routines on Wednesday, pledging to close some roads and improve cycling infrastructure in a bid to let people circulate while observing physical distancing measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The plan dubbed ActiveTO is still being developed, but accompanied a shift in messaging from city officials who have begun urging people to move about while keeping their distance rather than staying home as much as possible.

“We will need more road space for walking, we will need calm streets, we will need more bike infrastructure,” Mayor John Tory said at a news conference. “Transportation services and Toronto public health are working together on a plan to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders to allow for better physical distancing.”

Tory said the city plans to soon close 50 kilometres of roads to all but local traffic. While he did not provide details as to which streets would be affected or how the new measures would be enforced, he said some closures would likely include major roadways near hot spots like large parks that attract crowds.

Tory also said Toronto would accelerate plans to connect its bicycle network, including installing new infrastructure near public transit routes.

“We know we need a safety valve for our transit system because some people may be hesitant to ride the (Toronto Transit Commission) for health-related reasons,” he said.

The mayor’s announcement came hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford loosened restrictions for some businesses shuttered during the peak of the pandemic. Garden centres, nurseries and hardware stores will be allowed to resume full operations by the end of the week, and other non-essential retailers have been cleared to start offering curbside pickup effective Monday.

TTC spokesman Stuart Green said the transit service does not have immediate plans to increase service levels despite the expected uptick in ridership caused by both the provincial and municipal announcements. The transit agency has been operating service levels at between 70 and 80 per cent of regular capacity throughout the outbreak, even as ridership plunged by at least 80 per cent and about 1,200 employees had to be temporarily laid off.

“We will continue to monitor ridership and respond in real time,” Green said.

Toronto’s tentative plan was endorsed by the city’s top public health official.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said it’s important to get people active.

“The World Health Organization has urged wherever feasible to consider walking or biking when moving around during the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.

“These modes of active transportation not only provide physical distancing but can significantly reduce our risk of chronic disease and improve our mental health.”

Tory said more particulars of the ActiveTO plan would be announced in the coming days.

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