The effects of CNE parking in Parkdale

From the start of August, the southern part of Parkdale is transformed by two major events: Caribana and the CNE. A huge influx of people descend on the area, leaving behind a not-so-pleasant legacy. Caribana sees a variety of out-of-town visitors run rough-shod over the area: people urinating on residents’ fences, garbage thrown from cars onto lawns and the rail tracks, and a cacophony of noise from flatbed trucks filled with mostly speakers and one or two performers.

But it’s the parking of CNE patrons that has the most profound effect on the neighbourhood. For some reason, the City waives almost every bylaw on the book to allow residents to turn their front yards into makeshift parking lots for the duration of the CNE. From morning ’til dusk, home owners and apartment superintendents stand in front of their property (see photo above) waving at drivers to hand over $10 for prime parking spots within walking distance of the Ex. If fireworks are planned, or when the air show starts on Labour Day weekend, the situation gets even worse.

The CNE grounds offers parking at $25 a pop, so the residential parking spaces are a huge discount. But the effect it has on the neighbourhood is depressing. The driveways and parking lots that are often filled with kids playing are now devoid of any human activity (doubly sad since it’s the last days of summer before they head back to school). Each night you can see the effects of wheels ripping up grass, and even worse, driving over delicate tree roots. With the rain that has saturated Toronto this summer, lawns are soft. I’ve seen about five yards with deep trenches formed from spinning wheels.

I recognize that a number of Parkdale residents are in dire need of the extra cash generated and I’d hate to be the one to deliver the news that parking on their front lawn is a poor decision from an environmental and neighbourhood perspective. The challenge of convincing drivers to take transit to the CNE is difficult when the over-crowded 29 Dufferin bus, two streetcar routes, an unpromoted specical Exhibition Rocket from Dundas West station, and the unreliable GO train are the only mass transit options.

click on photo to see larger version

The other effect CNE parking has on the neighbourhood is in Marilyn Bell Park. As I mentioned last year in a post on this topic:

…Once I approached the Exhibition grounds I was amazed to find that most of the parkland and green space on the south side of Lake Shore Blvd., stretching between Strachan and Jameson, had been converted into makeshift parking lots. Nothing was paved over, but cars were parked on the grass I sometimes lie on during lazy Sunday afternoons. Vehicles were parked just inches away from trees, which means they were sitting on top of delicate root systems. Camper vans and mobile homes were parked right up to the edge of the waterfront pedestrian path, idling their engines while their generators ran at full tilt.

I find it unbelievably reckless for the City to turn one of its few active green spaces along the waterfront into a makeshift parking lot to accommodate the massive influx of automobiles. The effect of cars driving on the soil is tremendous (Spacing contributor and urban forest expert Todd Irvine says the ground of Marilyn Bell Park is not much different than cement). What’s worse is that Toronto’s tree advocate, councillor Joe Pantelone, is also a director of the CNE and has previously defended the decision to place cars on the park. I’d hope that the bylaw protecting trees on private property during development — a fenced-off area at the base of a tree — could (and should) be applied to the public trees at this park.


  1. I would be careful projecting onto Parkdale residents who supplement their income by selling space for parking. This popular local economy has been going on since day 1 and also includes underground parking in many of the apartments as well. Far from depressing I think it adds flavour and chaos to south Parkdale and is not a big environmental disaster. Frankly there are other bigger fish to fry.

    In terms of MB park I think you are over stating the effects as it looks pretty much the same as it did when I was a kid; I am looking the pictures now. If anything I would say that the waterfront along there has never looked better (except for Sylvia Watson’s parking lot). Any event that attracts millions of people will need parking for people who are out of town and I would rather have 3 weeks of parking on grass than year round asphalt (and resulting driving).

  2. If the ground is already as hard as ‘cement’, then why would parking be able to compact the soil?

  3. @Glen – I read it as cement because of all the parking over the years.

    The first comment though indicates there is a double standard for Parkdale residents. Which is fine, but then we abdicate the ability to look at how car culture affects the rest of the city. This doesn’t read as a condemnation at all — just concern and reportage of what goes on.

  4. Parking on the residential grass yards has been going on since I remember, and I was born in the 1950’s. Let them supplement their income, it will compensate them for the crowds.

    Its the parking on the CNE grounds itself that bugs me. Too much asphalt on the grounds, when it should be either grass or buildings.

  5. I agree with you, Matthew, but a chance to make a few tax-free bucks trumps grass and tree roots.

  6. I was cycling on the Martin Gardner on Sunday and was surprised to see the grass verges all along Lakeshore filled with parked cars. On my return trip, about 5pm, I was pleased to see that many cars near Sunnyside Park were all ticketed. It is sad that the City neither properly promotes the public transit option to the CNE nor more actively discourages illegal parking, at least on public parkland.

  7. As a concept, novel too, what about improving the transit?
    Perhaps instead of a Front St. Excessway a Front St. transitway? that stops near Dufferin and also at the east edge of the Ex near Strachan as it goes out to Etobicoke?
    Don’t bother with the WWLRT – its own EA says that unless it’s direct to the core it’s not good value. At c. $750M (that’s including the Union Station loop rebuild) I’m reasonably sure we could also get better value by putting expedited surface transit through a Front St. ROW, and restore transit service to this wider road. Studying this direct route was urged in that 1993 WWLRT EA, but funny how it didn’t get funded but the road did including multi-million$ on land acquisition.
    Don’t forget to extend the Harbourfront line through the Ex grounds too as a quick fix to give even more transit, even stopping near the entry to Ontario Place as another dangerous unpopular thought.
    Dusting off the Downtown Relief line concept and maybe changing it to an LRT on the Weston railtrack line could also help out perhaps.
    Pardon the edge – it’s been about six years of seeing this as obvious but blindp politricks interfere.. or maybe it’s my delivery.

  8. The fact that there are “bigger fish to fry” does not absolve the smaller “fish” from “frying.” And how is a problem okay if it’s existed for a long time? I don’t get that logic. Parking on lawns has been happening for decades, therefore it’s acceptable? Weird.

    And if the millions of CNE visitors “need” so much parking, the solution is the CNE creating more parking, not turning parks and lawns into parking. If there’s no room for you to park, you don’t park; you can’t just start parking in weird places illegally.

  9. A decade ago, I spent 3 summers working at Ontario Place. While parking was tight (if not impossible to find) during the Ex, I never saw cars like that on parkland! It’s terrible. I’m going to write to my city councillor and demand an explanation – I hope these cars were there illegally and were all towed and heavily fined. The city is for its residents, not for out-of-towners choosing to drive in for special events.

  10. Even if transit was promoted as the preferrable alternative to turning Parkdale into one giant parking lot (an aside – love the obvious pun there), the article briefly touched on the TTC being unable to handle those who have already decided not to drive.

    Personally, I only witnessed the mess of the Union Station streetcar stop — the line was backed up all the way into the upper level of the subway station, it was madness.

    Before the parking issue can be addressed, a viable alternative needs to be developed. The TTC is consistently unable to handle transporting visitors to large events like this.

  11. I would add that I now live at Dundas West and I find that the TTC express bus to the CNE is usually less than half full and at times the buses are 100% empty in both directions.

    >Alexander. You are reading logic that I never attempted to make.I still think that parking on grass for a few weeks is better than paving over grass all year.

  12. Matt, I don’t know where you live, but if it’s not in Parkdale, then why should you care about a matter that doesn’t impact the city outside of the neighborhood, and that the local residents are apparently okay with? Not to mention being temporary and providing a useful service that benefits the rest of the city.

  13. Out of towners and east/west enders could easily use GO to get to the Ex.

    The Lakeshore West line has a ton of FREE parking:
    Aldershot = 1020 parking spaces
    Burlington = 2,374 parking spaces
    Appleby = 2,422 parking spaces)
    Bronte = 1,849 parking spaces
    Oakville = 2,544 parking spaces
    Clarkson = 2,539 parking spaces
    Port Credit = 922 parking spaces
    Long Branch = 281 parking spaces
    Mimico = 173 parking spaces

    Total = 14,124

    You can repeat the calculations for Lakeshore East by adding up the info from here.

    You can even buy your Ex tickets at GO stations.

    The bottleneck at Union, that Val mentioned, is highly unfortunate and should be fixed.

    It’s also highly unfortunate that the creation of Marilyn Bell Parking Lot screws up cycling and pedestrian access to the Ex.

  14. Shawn, I was referring to the front-lawn parking in the neighborhood. I agree that parking in the park is bad.

  15. Andrew: I do live in Parkdale so it bothers me on a personal level. If I saw this happening in other parts of the city it would still bother me.

    It does impact the city as a whole in some ways: other neighbourhoods could use it as an example and have whole areas turn into parking lots.

    While its a useful service, I suspect if it was banned then those people would look for other alternatives to park (on streets further away, in the lots provided, or take transit). Its the same philosophy of building roads: if you build it, they will come.

  16. It’s not as bad an 2006. After the park was under construction for more then a year, it was finished and immediately closed for the World Dragon Boat Championship, then open for a week or so, then closed to become a parking lot for the Ex.

  17. In response to Vic…yeah, I’m sure that a family with 2 or 3 kids under 10 wants to travel via the GO.
    Have you ever had to deal with exhausted children after a day at the ex?

    Please. There are certain “leave the car at home” ideas that make sense, the CNE is not one of them.

    Or maybe we should just shut down the ex, because it brings in too many “out of towners”.

  18. Just wondering — since the kid-card has been played — how did families with 2,3 or more kids under 10 get to and from the CNE before everybody had cars? In the archival pictures, they are loads of kids there, year after year.

  19. Radmila,

    Not every car parked at the Ex is carrying a family with 2 or 3 kids under 10 years old.

    Of course, the GO train isn’t ideal for everyone. But it would certainly make sense for MORE people to use it. It seemed pretty simple for the large number of people of all ages getting off at Exhibition Station on Sunday morning (I was there to catch a westbound train).

    Besides, I think that hopping on the train and being whisked out of town to a parking lot closer to home would be much easier on the nerves than navigating a car through the trees, pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists in that highly congested area.

  20. yes, you’re right in that respect.

    I grew up on Tyndall Avenue, and used to wave my rolled up newspaper to bring cars onto my parents lawn, and back then…it was mostly families.
    The CNE is one of those venues, and I venture to think that there are fewer single couples parking on those lawns than families.

  21. I must confess I parked on that grass on the south side of the CNE grounds a few years ago. And yes, the ground was like cement then too. But in my defense I came from Peterborough (where I lived at the time), came to the CNE, and the other lots were completely full at the time.


  22. It’s horrible. It’s always looked like shit. Why the city permits this is beyond comprehension. What is this? Fucking Niagara Falls.

  23. During the CNE Air Show last year I could not believe how many cars were parked on random patches of grass in the park and other random places.
    I drove down Lakeshore this year during the Air Show, and the situation was definitely improved. The city had posted signs on the grass stating that all cars parked illegally would be fined $105, and towed. This seemed to scare most people off from parking there.

  24. I live on Springhurst, and DREAD the CNE/Air Show for what it does to my neighbourhood. 905ers honking their horns until late into the night, blaring crappy music on crappy car stereos completely disregarding the fact that this is someone’s neighbourhood. Tired carnival-goers walking down the middle of the street (usually 4 or 5 people wide) without a care in the world, making it difficult to get past on your bike — and heaven help you if YOU’RE on your own feet, just trying to get home at the end of your long work day.

    The litter at Marilyn Bell Park after the CNE was disgusting. It looked like a pack of wildebeasts had rummaged about in the trash and left everything strewn about. Bottles, cans, wrappers of every imaginable sort just tossed onto the grass, and yes into the water. Its a real shame that people seem to have lost respect for this ciy.

    You would hope that people wouldnt behave like this in their own neighbourhoods, so it’s absolutely boggling why they seem to think it’s ok to act this way in mine.

    And as for parking, what $105 fines? Not on my street. And the ppl who were waving the $10 signs? They dont even live here. I had one fellow ask me if the store was far away, when it was not even at the end of the block.

  25. Radmila,

    As it turned out, I was on the GO train on the first Saturday of the Ex. In fact a large number of families with young children got off at the Exhibition station. It was apparent that some of the kids were not used to the train and found the ride an exciting part of the day.


  26. Larissa,

    Those signs you saw were printed and put up by community volunteers not the city. We wanted to ensure drivers had fair warning. We put them up on Labour Day and we agree that they did have a good deterent effect. There were many fewer cars parked on the grass this Labour Day as compared to last year. Volunteers patrolled along the waterfront during the air show and we spotted at least 5 parking control officers handing out tickets. The fine is $105.00 for parking on the grass and $60.00 for parking at the curb. We estimate that drivers who parked illegally had about a 70% chance of getting a ticket. The other 30 % got away with it by filling in vacant spaces after the officers had moved on.

    Unfortunately we did not have the volunteer resources to put up the signs on Saturday and Sunday. It is our intention to keep up the pressure on this issue in the months and years ahead until our western waterfront parks are treated with the respect they deserve.

    We will be campaigning as well to get the CNE to discontinue using Marilyn Bell Park for parking.

    Our group is the Parkdale-High Park Waterfront Group. I’m sure Matthew Blackett would put you in touch with Roger or me if you want to help us with this campaign.

  27. Matthew,

    I don’t disagree that Caribana can be disruptive to peace and quiet of the neighbours.

    The one thing that Caribana does get right, however, is the banning of all cars on Lakeshore Blvd from Parkside east. They also run special shuttle buses from Keele Subway down Parkside as a quick alternative. My observation over the years is that these buses are well used by people of all ages including families with small children.

    BTW, the people in the Sunnyside neighbourhood do not tolerate temporary front yard parking during Caribana even though they are very close to the venue at the end of Parkside Drive. Maybe it is time for the people of Parkdale to insist on protection of trees and green space in their neighbourhood too.

  28. Kelly said: “I live on Springhurst, and DREAD the CNE/Air Show for what it does to my neighbourhood. 905ers honking their horns until late into the night,”

    Do you know for certain that they were 905ers? Did you ask them their phone numbers? Maybe they were 519ers, or 705ers, or even 716ers. The 905ers are far more likely to be taking the GO train than people from further out of town, if they’re driving in from Brumbo, Omemee or Cheektowaga.

  29. @ RobL: I dont have to stop and ask them when the back of the cars have dealership stickers and/or license plate holders to advertise where the car is from.

  30. Well… I would not allow anybody parking on my lawn. Even for $100.

  31. The problem is, the public transit service to the Ex is pretty horrible. The buses and streetcars are jam packed and very uncomfortable during the whole period because there simply isn’t enough capacity. This makes the parking problem a whole lot worse.

    My suggestion: run frequent (every 15 minutes or better) GO Train shuttles between Union and Exhibition stations for the duration of the Ex, and significantly more frequent service from destinations further afield.

  32. The exhibition grounds themselves are a space that’s almost entirely unused throughout the year, and in my opinion _should_ be a park. The Ex has a long history and most Torontonians seem to really love it, but I think it’s a serious problem that such a nice spot near both the waterfront and near the downtown is an ugly, dilapidated, unused parking lot all year long so that it can be a fair for two weeks.

  33. Supplementing income?…stereotyping of Parkdale residents again? Looks like it’s homeowners and apartment supers allowing the parking, not lowly tenants. The Ex is fun; I like the carnival-like atmosphere it provides in the hood…then again, I don’t live on one of those side streets where lawn parking is permitted and I don’t have to breathe in the fumes. What about their neighbours who choose not to rent spaces but have to endure?

  34. when were this pictures taken, airshow weekend???? This is only the really busy day.

  35. I live nearby and saw this scene EVERY DAY of the CNE. Not just the sir show day.

  36. It’s up to local residents to complain if they want to.

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