Help Create Sidewalks for All

Updated:  November 28, 2017 to reflect impact of the Staff Report on our “Asks” of Council. We thank others (notably, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association), for separately addressing the licensing and operational aspects of the Bylaws with equal rigour.

The City of Toronto Licensing and Standards and Public Works and Infrastructure Committees are meeting on December 4, 2017 to discuss the City of Toronto's Sidewalk Café and Marketing By-law. The committees' decision at this meeting will play a major role in determining how walkable and accessible Toronto sidewalks will be for pedestrians. 

We thank City Staff for this high-quality research that went into the City's Transportation Services report, which, if adopted, will accomplish two important goals:

  1. Providing a City-wide harmonized bylaw for café patios and marketing displays; and,
  2. Facilitating long-promised delivery of the Pedestrian Clearway, by providing a number of creative café patio design options to address existing and potential sidewalk obstructions they have caused.

While these recommendations go a long way to improving sidewalk accessibility and supporting sidewalk commercial activities, we are concerned they do not go far enough in key areas.

1.  Wide Sidewalks

We ask that Council support the Staff Recommendations for an absolute minimum 2.1 metre wide Pedestrian Clearway on arterial streets, subject to adjustment for high volume pedestrian areas.  Appeals for width less than 2.1 metres should be decided by the General Manager of Transportation Services, using strict criteria. 

City vibrancy is driven by walkable, pedestrian-filled streets – not just sidewalk cafes or “place-making”.  In line with the City of Toronto's commitment to being an accessible city, it is clear that accessibility and walkability must be priorities for Toronto sidewalks. 

As outlined in City staff presentations, a wide Pedestrian Clearway is required for everyday situations on Toronto sidewalks.  This includes:  parents with children or infants in wide strollers; people walking in twos and threes; those with caregivers, mobility devices, white canes or guide dogs; and, those with abundant shopping bags or just window-shopping. 

The AODA 1.5 metre Pedestrian Clearway requirement is a minimum provincial standard.  While this may be appropriate for smaller Ontario towns, it is simply not relevant for Toronto; the fourth largest city in North America, where pedestrian traffic numbers are increasing in line with population growth. 

In recognition of Toronto's crowded sidewalk conditions, a 2,1 metre minimum Pedestrian Clearway is already specified in Council-approved Vibrant Streets Guidelines and in a number of Council-approved by-laws.  Exceptionally, Toronto's Municipal Code requires an even more substantial Pedestrian Clearway for busy sections of specific streets:  Spadina, 3.05 metres; Dundas Street West, 3.05 metres; Danforth Avenue, 3.0 metres; and parts of Downtown Yonge Street, 3.6 metres. 

We therefore support the Staff recommendation of an absolute minimum 2.1 metre Pedestrian Clearway, with provisions for increase on high pedestrian volume sidewalks.  This support is given as a concession that provides essential accessibility, while mitigating the business impact of transitioning existing cafe patios and marketing displays to the new by-law standards. 

Update:  We applaud the assessment that Staff in Transportation Services, and Municipal Licensing and Standards have provided to respond to our request for Pedestrian Clearway dimensions in Toronto that necessarily, and logically, exceed the AODA minimum requirement.  We strongly support the vast majority of the Staff recommendations for Pedestrian Clearways, including the increased Clearway widths to accomodate patrons at marketing displays, and making it the accountability of the GM-Transportation Services to deal with any request for variance to the Pedestrian Clearway requirements.  We also acknowledge and support the comprehensive list of obstructions that are to be addressed in sidewalk design and maintenance. 

However, for Frontage Sidewalk Cafes and Marketing Displays, the proposal is to measure the Pedestrian Clearway from the limit of the permit zone to the back face of the curb.  This proposal has pedestrians walking in the Edge Zone (an 18” allowance, adjacent to the roadway, frequently demarcated with contrasting brick pavers), which Council-approved Vibrant Streets Guidelines,.and the more recent Complete Streets Guidelines, declare as a buffer zone.  And this buffer zone serves to separate pedestrians from parked cars and moving vehicles; to accomodate car access/egress; for placement of street signs; and, for set-out of garbage – which is generally substantial and obstructive for marketing displays. 

To deliver sidewalk safety and accessibility, we ask that the Pedestrian Clearway be fully  separate from (and therefore be measured from) the Edge Zone, not the curb back face.

2.  Straight Sidewalks

We ask Council to support the requirement for an essentially straight Pedestrian Clearway, and that any proposed deviations be approved by the General Manager of Transportation Services.  This is an essentially straight, predictable walking path, that is free of obstructions requiring the need to abruptly change direction within a block.  And while such a direct path is obviously beneficial to all pedestrians, it is critical for the safety, comfort and convenience of those with vision, mobility and cognitive impairments.

Update:  We support the Staff recommendation to limit any shifting of the Pedestrian Clearway to a maximum of 20 degrees within a block.  As we have noted, this is particularly important for those with vision impairment. 

However, while this looks like a smooth transition on paper for all sighted people (Report Attachment 3), the reality is that a blind person using a white cane will still walk into the patio end wall, and have to sort out a path from there. 

To increase sidewalk safety and accessibility, we ask that Staff continue to work with accessibility advocates to ensure that such Clearway shifts are cane-detectable.  

3.  Clear Sidewalks

We ask Council to require proactive monitoring and enforcement of café and marketing bylaws, to ensure the pedestrian clearway is free of encroachments from sidewalk commercial operations and A-frame signs.  A 2015 Staff survey identified that approximately half of the surveyed café locations failed to comply with existing Clearway standards.  The current complaint-based management of sidewalks obviously doesn't meet pedestrian needs.   Proactive enforcement should be paid out of licensing fees; supplemented, as necessary, by the Public Realm Reserve Fund.  There are three Toronto parking enforcement officers currently patrolling bike lanes for lane obstructions. We strongly believe that one or more dedicated by-law enforcement officers should similarly be provided to ensure that Pedestrian Clearways will be safe and clear for all users.

Update:  We are disappointed that most recent Bylaw Compliance Audit results haven’t been included with this report, since we understand that the rate of non-compliance for cafe patios and marketing displays is even higher than the 2015 results that we note above.  We applaud the Staff recommendation to very significantly increase the consequences for bylaw infractions; and we are optimistic that the deterrent effect of significant fines, and impacts on licence renewal, will encourage businesses to be “good sidewalk neighbours”.  Provisions such as demarcation of permitted areas and prominent posting of licensing permit conditions will better inform sidewalk users, and further encourage compliance.  

However, we remain concerned about the ineffectiveness of the current “complaint based” system, when we are dealing with such a significant impact on safe mobility of pedestrians. 

To ensure ongoing, dependable sidewalk safety and accessibility, we continue to ask that one or more dedicated by-law enforcement officers be provided to monitor sidewalk installations on a daily basis, to ensure that Pedestrian Clearways remain safe and clear for all users.

4.  Accessible Sidewalks

We ask that Council requires Staff to carry out further discussions with accessibility stakeholders, to ensure that pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted (using white canes or guide dogs) will be ensured safe passage when encountering cafés without railings along the Pedestrian Clearway.  When an outdoor seating area isn't appropriately demarcated, pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted are left without the physical guidance they need to safely and comfortably avoid veering into café furnishings or patrons. Lack of railings also increases the likelihood of cafes or their patrons "creeping into" the Pedestrian Clearway, and causing pedestrian obstruction.

Update:  We one exception, we applaud the thoroughness of Staff Recommendations with respect to cane-detectable barriers for sidewalk patios.  And we support the recommendations for: a solid wall at each end of the patio area; a cane-detectable railing or planter barrier along the Clearway; and, a 1 metre accessible entrance to all cafes. 

However, we are again concerned that for Small Frontage Cafes, the lack of end barriers and cane-detectable railings or pavement markings along the Clearway will again leave white cane users without clear guidance on these obstructions. 

To increase sidewalk safety and accessibility, we ask that Staff continue to work with accessibility advocates to ensure that such Small Frontage Cafes are cane-detectable.  

5.  Better Sidewalks  

We ask Council to request Staff to pursue at least 10 additional pilot projects for new café and/or marketing configurations during the initial 2018-2020 period.  The current proposal limits activity in 2018-2020 to extreme situations with less than 1.5 metres of clear walking space.  This approach provides pedestrians with very limited relief from the many non-compliant installations that challenge pedestrians on a daily basis.  To encourage participation, businesses volunteering to participate in pilot projects could have their transition costs paid or subsidized by the Public Realm Reserve Fund.  The information gathered would inform the plan for transition for 2020-2025, and potentially address business hesitance or concerns with new patio design option. We ask Council to specify that at least 20% of non-compliant installations are to be made compliant in each year of the 2020-2025 period, to avoid the understandable tendency of businesses to defer compliance to 2025.

Update:  While we applaud the Staff recommendation that there be no grandfathering of cafe patios not in compliance with the new bylaws, we are very disappointed that the previously recommended “phased-in transition” to the new Harmonized Bylaws has been removed.  In its place is a recommendation that permit holders as of May 1, 2018 would now be able to operate to pre-existing license conditions until 2025!  Is safe mobility on Toronto sidewalks of such low priority that a further eight patios seasons must be endured before the Pedstrian Clearway is finally delivered? 

To demonstrate that sidewalk safety and accessibility is high priority, we continue to ask for a phased-in Harmonized Bylaw implementation plan, as outlined above.  We further ask that there be no leniency for continued operation of patios that are unpermitted as of May 1, 2018.

Supported by:

  • Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC)
  • CNIB (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind)
  • CILT (Centre for Independent Living Toronto)
  • Harbord Village Residents' Association
  • St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association
  • BALANCE for Blind Adults
  • Walk Toronto
  • Toronto Accessible Sports Council (TASC)
  • StopGap Foundation
  • Tenants for Social Housing
  • The Canadian Council of the Blind
  • Brentwood Towers Tenant Association
  • Deer Park Residents Group
  • Federation of Metro Tenants Association
  • Toronto Seniors Forum
  • 8-80 Cities
  • The Canadian Council of the Blind
  • Canadian Council of the Blind, Toronto Visionaries Chapter
  • Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP)
  • United Seniors of Ontario
  • Federation of North Toronto Residents' Associations (FoNTRA)
  • SPH Planning & Consulting Ltd.
  • Greater Yorkville Residents' Association

Together we will unite to advocate for streets that can be safely enjoyed by all residents and visitors to the City of Toronto. We hope you will join us. Is your organization interested in signing on as an official supporter? Email us!