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Toronto advocates push city for safer, better-regulated sidewalks

As city committees examine sidewalk bylaws, advocacy groups say an enforced 2.1-metre minimum width is needed to keep pedestrians safe.

Adam Cohoon from Walk Toronto gives a speech at city hall, advocating wider, clearer, straighter sidewalks in Toronto.

Lance McMillan / Metro

Adam Cohoon from Walk Toronto gives a speech at city hall, advocating wider, clearer, straighter sidewalks in Toronto.

A new coalition — backed by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Walk Toronto, the Centre for Independent Living Toronto and others — is demanding the city live up to its stated barrier-free goals by clearing the clutter from sidewalks.

The city’s Licensing and Standards Committee as well as its Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will look at bylaws governing sidewalk cafés, patios and marketing displays on Dec. 4.

By stopping businesses from placing furniture or goods outside permitted areas, and establishing minimum requirements for the width of open sidewalks,advocates say the city could improve the lives of the visually impaired, those using mobility devices or wheelchairs and other affected citizens.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam addressed a "Sidewalks for All" demonstration at city hall on Wednesday, saying that city staff have worked on a plan for two years and got feedback from 850 individuals and groups. Wong-Tam, chair of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, said the plan provides “basic clarity” to businesses as well as a blueprint for safer sidewalks by 2025.

“The staff-recommended advice includes a pedestrian clearway of 2.1 metres,” she said. “And this coalition would determine that to be the very minimum.

“In a city that’s getting older, where you have more people using mobility devices, I think more and more people realize that if you want to build a city in a vertical way, that means you have more people concentrated on your sidewalks. We need to find a way to accommodate everybody.”

The report says that, aside from temporary year-round café enclosures, pedestrian clearways "for all sidewalk cafés, small frontage café, small curbside standing café and public parklets" should be at least 1.8 metres wide on local roads and 2.1 metres wide on main roads.

On sidewalks of five metres or more downtown, the minimum should be 2.5 metres unless otherwise directed. In addition, clearways should be continuous and should not have pronounced changes in direction.

Wong-Tam said the 2.1-metre minimum is being pushed as it’s “the smallest space possible for three people to use a sidewalk together.” She said there was a fear among stakeholders that people might look to erode that "modest" ask.

“The one thing for us is that the 2.1 metres not be tampered with,” she said.

Should the recommendations pass the committee stage, the rules should be voted on by council in January. If passed by council, the phasing in would start by May 2018, Wong-Tam said.

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