The City of Toronto Licensing and Standards and Public Works and Infrastructure Committees are meeting on October 13 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 accessible sidewalks will be for pedestrians in the City of Toronto.
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:
- Providing a City-wide harmonized bylaw for café patios and marketing displays; and,
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
CNIB (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind)
CILT (Centre for Independent Living Toronto)
Harbord Village Residents' Association
BALANCE for Blind Adults
Toronto Accessible Sports Council (TASC)
The Canadian Council of the Blind
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!