Not In My Front Yard: The controversy of installing sidewalks

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.

CityData - Sidewalks
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.


  1. Today’s Toronto is now NOT farmland. Toronto is a city. Cities have sidewalks. If you want subways, subways, subway, you have to walk to the stations using sidewalks, sidewalks, sidewalks.

  2. If I ever ran for mayor SIDEWALKS SIDEWALKS SIDEWALKS! would be my slogan. 😉

  3. Sure Chine may have technically lost the fight, but if you go to that street you’ll see a beautiful artisanal cobblestone sidewalk winding through the neighbourhood. Not the ugly slabs of grey-beige squares the rest of us schlubbs have to walk on.

    Take a note. NIMBY whiners get nice things.

  4. The Midland South sidewalk project is ridiculous. It’s two blocks of sidewalk that are not connected to anything else. Notably, there is no sidewalk north of Ramona through the steep hill with blind corners that also had water main construction performed on it at the same time. These two blocks of standalone sidewalk serves no purpose at all. And it is literally the section of streets in the area with the best sight lines and least need for sidewalks.

  5. I once saw someone quoted in a news article as not wanting “new-fangled sidewalks” – and I don’t think they were being tongue in cheek.

  6. I agree with the safety of sidewalks, but I must confess I like the off-the-track nature of these earlier suburban streets. (Not the industrial ones). Perhaps there is a less ‘engineered’ way of providing a walking surface without the heavy-handed curbs that come with the one-size-fits-all solutions for our streets. Grass verges would provide the division between asphalt and sidewalk.

  7. I grew up in Parkdale and have lived downtown for over 30 years.
    Recently lived in the south kingsway (Royal York and Bloor) neighbourhood where there are indeed no sidewalks. Who would have thought that a neighbourhood could exist without a sidewalk to help seperate pedestrians from automobiles. To my surprise and bewilderment life was just fine without a sidewalk. Kids walked to school and played in the wide street, people walked to the subway and biked around, and cars drove slowly and safely. And as someone who grew up with the convenience of a sidewalk at my doorstep I quickly adapted to a neighbourhood without them. Obviously I think that a sidewalk is a necessary and practical piece of urban infrastructure, but it’s nice that some neighbourhoods are different and work well without them.

  8. The above comments by Kim and J Lisgar are a common refrain from lots of people but they blindly ignore the reason sidewalks need to be on every street — the most important part of a street is not about how it “feels” (I do recognize it is somewhat important) but rather to give pedestrians safe passage, and that means for everybody. Those streets without sidewalks keep anyone with a mobility issue away, anyone whose is approaching an elderly age will rarely walk on streets, not to mention people like mothers & caregivers with strollers who will have great difficulty navigating streets in the winter months. If you only look at sidewalks from the POV of an active and able-bodied person you’re doing a disservice to the people who need sidewalks the most.

    Sidewalks are as vital as sewers and street lights and we do not have to have public consultations on whether those are installed in a neighbourhood. Nor should sidewalks.

  9. I am puzzled that we don’t approach these neighbourhoods and residents by raising the taxes on the properties without sidewalks, and letting them pay for the privilege of shafting their fellow citizens on basic infrastructure.

    If it’s important to you to not have this amenity, then voting in a ballot-box specific plebiscite to incur an additional tax on your property should be a non-issue. And… if it turns out the NIMBY’s are right… and their properties are more valuable without the sidewalks, the value of the levy will increase to the rest of us.

  10. I suspect most people don’t want sidewalks as they perceive it makes their home safer to not have

    The biggest benefit I see to sidewalks aside from the obvious is reduced road space and lower car speeds as a result

  11. The people who oppose such sidewalks are owned by their autos and can’t help themselves. Their cars isolate them from reality which results in a form of retardation.

  12. I live on Ridgemoor Av. Which has no sidewalks and connects to Midland Av. South which is another sidewalk less street that was mentioned in the blog above. In fact my whole neighbourhood has no sidewalks! Anyway, when I am walking up or down my street, cars go zooming past me at times, swerving and honking at me as though I should jump onto someone’s front lawn. It seems that some ignorant car drivers TRULY believe that they have the right of way on sidewalk less roads. It happens to me 2 or 3 times a month.

  13. The city needs to put a path in from rosedale valley Rd and bayview south to corktown commons. This route is basically a dead end for pedestrians and bikes. Sidewalk and bike lanes desperately needed. And a slower speed limit.

  14. For low volume residential side streets, there is an alterative to sidewalks. They could be reconstructed as Dutch style woonerfs, with street features that limit vehicle speeds to under 20 mph.

    For higher volume streets, sidewalks should be mandatory outside of rural areas.

  15. I live downtown but regularly visit family and friends on streets without sidewalks. When I drive at night, I am always afraid that I will come around a corner and hit someone in a dark coat, and when I walk, I am scared for the lives of myself and my children. To keep safe, we often just walk on the grass where the sidewalk would be, but this is not an option with a stroller, or if someone has extended their flowers, shrubs or other landscaping into this area.

    A woonerf can work in a dense area because there are lots of people and activities on the street, forcing cars to move slowly. A country road doesn’t have sidewalks because there are simply not enough people to justify them, and often not enough road width (they also don’t feel very safe to walk on). These neighbourhoods fall into neither category.

    Sidewalks bring more people onto the street and keep them safer when they get there. That’s why
    newer suburbs typically have been built with sidewalks, as was the old city. These areas are the result of a particular era of planning. As noted in the article, the idea was that people would be either driving, or walking through off-street paths to get where they were going. In many cases, the neighborhoods were just built on the cheap, with the assumption that sidewalks would be added someday, by someone else. Someday has come.

  16. Front of house sidewalks are an invasion of privacy and personal private property. If they are really a necessity then plan for them in new developments.

  17. David — You do realize that the property along the curb and extending 3 feet into a yard is actually the City’s property and not yours? Weather there is a sidewalk or not this is the case.

    And it’s an invasion of privacy? No it’s not. There is no way any court would agree with that assertion.

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