The northern road blockade at this year’s instance of Car Free Day.
Today was Toronto’s tenth annual iteration of World Car Free Day. This year, for the first time, the event was held in Queen’s Park North, where roads were blockaded to car traffic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Few people turned out for the event, making it less a celebration of pedestrians and cyclists than a massive, desolate mid-day auto traffic obstruction.
Dan McDermott, director of Sierra Club Canada’s Ontario chapter, which orchestrated the event in partnership with the City, told us that this year’s lacklustre celebration was a result of both weather and bureaucracy.
“Up until this year, we’ve been pretty lucky with the weather,” he said, noting that one Car Free Day vendor had actually canceled this morning, fearing lightning.
“The other aspect of it is we do this in partnership with the City of Toronto,” which delayed offering Car Free Day use of Queen’s Park North until a city council meeting on August 27, when councillors Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) and Kyle Rae (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) co-sponsored a member motion to authorize the road blockade. The associated costs—estimated by City staff at twenty-two thousand dollars plus staff time—were to come out of the operating budgets of the Toronto Environment Office, and Transportation Services.
The event has taken place in Yonge-Dundas Square for the past four years, McDermott said—but the Square was booked this year, necessitating the move to Queen’s Park. Ordinarily, he said, Sierra Club would spend up to six months planning and promoting an event on the scale of Toronto’s Car Free Day. This year, because of the permit delay, they only had about one month.
Bike tune-ups were on offer, but few showed up to take advantage.
The event began with an address by Kyle Rae. Mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone also made an appearance. But by 12:30 p.m., only a few people remained in Queen’s Park—most of them vendors, or media. A few bike mechanics offered tune-ups to attendees, and advocacy groups handed out literature. A miniature golf course had been set up in the middle of the road, but nobody was taking advantage of it. A woman selling pulled pork sandwiches from a booth told us business had been slow. Linda Millen, a sales rep for EcoRyder scooters, who was also manning a booth at Car Free Day, echoed McDermott’s supposition that the day’s heavy, grey skies might have impacted the turnout. “People might have been afraid to leave their cars at home,” she said.
At the southern road blockade, which prevented traffic from traveling north of Wellesley Street on Queen’s Park Crescent, police officers (“This is a debacle,” one of them told us) waved a crush of motorists onto side streets.
“This is a disaster today,” said mayoral candidate HiMY SYeD, who was in attendance. “It’s spread out around Queen’s Park, which is arguably the largest traffic island in the city, and today it’s trafficked by campus students who don’t even know there’s a Car Free Day happening.”
Meanwhile, McDermott pointed out that, regardless of turnout, Car Free Day does have a message:
“I will say that one needs to ask the question: is driving…the best way to get around Downtown Toronto?”
At the blockade, one man, driving a white panel van, shook his fist and shouted angrily through an open passenger-side window. He, at least, would likely be inclined to say “No.”
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.