Toronto officials lay down the law on new sidewalks
City staff are proposing changes that would allow new sidewalks to be installed on local roads even if residents don't want them.
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Torontonians could soon see more sidewalks – whether they want them or not.
A proposal from city staff would allow sidewalks to be added to local roads during construction or re-paving without prior approval from residents or councillors.
Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, hailed the change as a step towards safer streets.
“Sidewalks should be considered a basic need for pedestrians. They’re not an optional thing,” she said.
Nearly one third of Toronto streets, most of them in the suburbs, don’t have sidewalks. The city’s official policy is to add a sidewalk to at least one side of the street when roads are resurfaced.
Until now, councillors have had to sign off on the sidewalk as a proxy for residents.
And, surprising to some, “the answer almost always comes back as ‘no,’” said Fiona Chapman, the city’s manager of pedestrian projects.
Sidewalk debates have often been heated as people fight to preserve the sanctity of their driveways and lawns, Chapman said. There are also concerns sidewalks will invite “other people” to enter neighbourhoods, she added.
Ultimately, Chapman said the city’s duty to comply with the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act trumps residents’ concerns. The law took effect Jan. 1 and requires municipalities to reduce barriers for people living with disabilities. That means building a safe network of sidewalks in residential areas, Chapman said.
“It’s no longer something we can ask local residents if they want,” she said.
The proposed change isn’t sitting well with some people.
“It makes me really angry,” said Dana McCabe, who led a failed attempt to block a new sidewalk along Midland Avenue in Scarborough last year.
McCabe called the city’s approach “cutthroat” and predicted homeowners won’t stand for it.
The city “doesn’t remember that we’ve lived here for decades. We’ve gone decades without sidewalks and we’re fine,” she said.
Chapman expects a report on the issue to go before council in June, coinciding with the city’s complete streets review.
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