On Tuesday’s World Carfree Day, a parade is gathering in Trinity Bellwoods park. The day is—according to the event’s hand-drawn poster—”celebrated by 100 million people across the world.” The contribution from this parade currently stands at around fifty people, mainly on bicycles.
Shamez Amlani is one of the organizers for Streets Are For People, which is hosting today’s parade. He wears a top hat and is climbing into a rickshaw. His group, which was set up in 2002, aims “to demonstrate the absurdity of our auto-addicted culture” and “open dialogue about alternate visions for our city streets,” according to its website.
“The revolution will not be motorized,” Amlani says. “We have got to look to the past to see what the technology of the future is like.”
“I run a restaurant, and I move large quantities of wine and beer. I have never had a driver’s licence,” he says, indicating his rickshaw.
There is no more important time than now to start talking about how to remove cars from city centres, he stresses. Toronto could change for the better if it lost its focus on the automobile, but it would take some radical, yet inexpensive ideas, that were built around people.
“If we let the authentic city street come out then we can be more like Berlin,” he says. “That’s the closest city in nature to Toronto that allows the public realm to be a place for citizens to share.”
As for the top hat, he wears it to make himself more visible on the road. (Not entirely ludicrous, as research has suggested that wearing a helmet on a bicycle makes you more, not less, vulnerable to drivers.) “I am all about conviviality,” he says.
To pass the time before cyclists from Critical Mass appear to accompany the parade, a salsa band strikes up, overseen by Juno Award–winning jazz musician Richard Underhill. This causes some people in their cars to gawk and traffic to slow down, which perhaps wasn’t the intended consequence.
One man hands out triangular flags for waving purposes. During an interlude in the music, one of Underhill’s band members addresses the crowd on parade safety, most specifically on streetcars: pull to the side if one is coming. “And if you see a streetcar, shout: ‘We love the TTC!'”
Finally, the parade gets underway. The police now decide four wheels is the best way to follow, as you can see from this footage from a Queen Street West bystander. The cyclists and flags take a couple of minutes to pass by. According to Shamez, the first attempt four years ago at celebrating World Carfree Day involved shutting down Queen Street West entirely, but the idea was nixed at the last minute by the authorities.
The parade wasn’t the only thing Toronto did for World Carfree Day. On Sunday, Queen Street played host to a parking-meter party, in which participants paid a meter and filled a parking space with whatever they could that wasn’t a car. Bands, again, were fairly popular. Bicycles, too. (A bicycle-powered band was also present.) Yonge Street was also briefly closed yesterday between Queen and Dundas, and was populated by games of mini-golf and Scrabble.
But the whole point, says Streets Are For People, is that drivers have to be persuaded out of their cars. This parade was probably as good a way as any.
All photographs by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.