McNicoll Avenue at Boxdene Avenue. There’s no sidewalk on the south side of this busy Scarborough road.
It might come as a surprise that nearly 25% of all local streets in Toronto don’t have a sidewalk. And many more only have a sidewalk on one side of the street.
Most local streets that don’t have sidewalks are found outside the old Cities of Toronto, East York and York, particularly in parts of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough built in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these residential and industrial streets were built with ditches instead of storm drains; others were laid out without sidewalks in mind. In the master-planned Don Mills development, there are many walkways connecting parks, major roads, and schools; it was likely intended that these would be used for getting around on foot rather than sidewalks. In other post-war subdivisions, particularly affluent areas like those in central Etobicoke, it was probably assumed that everyone would get around by car.
Static map showing the City of Toronto’s sidewalk inventory as of 2011.
The City of Toronto is hoping to change this. As roads come up for reconstruction, the new policy, recommended by staff, is to install a sidewalk where there isn’t one already, even despite local opposition. The current policy, in place since 2002, is that a new sidewalk could only be installed on an existing local street after the local councillor completed a consult of the neighbourhood and there was a consensus supporting the installation.
In Toronto, the installation of new sidewalks has been surprisingly controversial. But the city’s presentation lists some of the reasons why sidewalks are often opposed. Sidewalks have to be cleared by the adjoining landowner. Residents can’t park their cars in the driveway if they block the sidewalk. They might result in the removal of landscaping or trees. And there is a minority who just want to keep outsiders away from their homes. You could call this NIMBY-ism, even though sidewalks are technically is in the front yards, not the backyards, of local opponents.
Sidewalks provide safe, accessible routes for pedestrians, especially important for people using strollers or mobility devices. They promote the city’s initiatives encouraging children to walk to school, for all persons to engage in physical activity, and for seniors to age at home. City policy, including the Toronto Pedestrian Charter, supports sidewalks.
On Chine Drive, in an affluent part of Scarborough near the Bluffs, local residents opposed the construction of a sidewalk, even though it would provide a safe path to a nearby school. Since 2004, some residents opposed the sidewalk, claiming that they were afraid it would “take away from the rustic look of the neighbourhood.” Supporters, including parents with young children, wanted a safe route to the local school. It took ten years, but in 2014, the sidewalk was installed.
Last year, on nearby Midland Avenue South, there was a similar fight to keep sidewalks off the street. This is despite the fact this section of Midland is designated as a collector road, and is part of the Waterfront Trail’s route in the Scarborough Bluffs area. The city owns the land, known as a boulevard, where the sidewalks would go, but without the consent of local homeowners, the city was left in a bind. This new city policy will hopefully solve this problem.
And on Glen Scarlett Road, in the old Stockyards neighbourhood, Ward 11 Councillor Frances Nunziata is opposed to the installation of a sidewalk on that industrial street, according to members of Walk Toronto, who have been following this issue closely. (Full disclosure, the author is a member and co-founder of this organization.) Glen Scarlett Road, lined with slaughterhouses and other industries, is due for reconstruction this year between Symes Road and Gunns Road. Local industries oppose a sidewalk as it would cross their loading docks; Nunziata’s office claims that since the street “is unsafe for pedestrians to be walking on due to heavy traffic, [the City] should not be encouraging pedestrians to use this road by installing a sidewalk.”
Not only is this logic is completely counter-intuitive, it ignores the needs of workers walking to work, or local residents walking to the streetcar loop at St. Clair Avenue and Gunns Road, or nearby shopping and residential areas.
A few weeks ago, I created an interactive map of the City of Toronto’s sidewalk inventory, with geo-spatial data obtained from the City of Toronto’s Open Data Initiative. The city’s database shows the sidewalk status for every public street in the city of Toronto (excluding private roads and laneways), as of 2011. Since posting it to my blog, I made a few edits, such as including the new Chine Drive sidewalk, and I corrected a few errors and omissions identified in the comments on the website and social media.
Almost every arterial and collector road in Toronto has a sidewalk on at least one side of the street. Exceptions include Highway 27 and Black Creek Drive, where, like expressways, pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited, the Bayview Drive Extension though the Don Valley, and in the far northeastern part of Scarborough, in Rouge Park. But it’s the local streets, marked in orange and red that are most apparent.
Providing safe, accessible, and consistent pedestrian infrastructure is simply the right thing to do. The city owns the land on which sidewalks can be put down, if they aren’t already. There are legitimate concerns that need to be taken into account when new sidewalks are proposed — trees and landscaping especially — but at the end of the day, the needs of vulnerable road users need to be addressed first and foremost.