ActiveTO transformed Toronto’s streets, but Thorncliffe Park residents are still left waiting

Almost a year after Toronto first unveiled a plan to quickly transform its streets in support of physical distancing and active transportation, residents in one of the neighbourhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 are still waiting for improvements to arrive in their community.

The city unveiled its ActiveTO program in May 2020, which resulted in the speedy installation of temporary bike lanes and other road safety enhancements at numerous locations.

Those changes were largely made on city streets in or near downtown Toronto, such as University Avenue, Bloor Street and Bayview Avenue.

However, proposed enhancements to Overlea Boulevard, which cuts through the heart of Thorncliffe Park, remain “under consideration.” 

Of the nine corridors identified by the city as locations for safety enhancements since the start of the ActiveTO, Overlea Boulevard is the only place where no new infrastructure has been installed.

“This corridor remains under consideration for potential temporary improvements,” reads a city report published in March.

The stretch being examined runs from Don Mills Road to Millwood Road, and includes a bridge over the Don River that has become the focus of a local effort to improve road safety.

“It definitely feels very unsafe,” said Zanib Zaakia, a student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute who lives in Thorncliffe Park.

“We really depend on the city to make changes but recently we haven’t seen that happen.”

‘Not clear’ why changes have not been made

Zaakia, along with some of her classmates and teachers at Marc Garneau C.I., are advocating for safety improvements to the Overlea bridge, which may include better lighting, higher guardrails, wider sidewalks and bike lanes.

Giselle Cordova, a teacher at the school, said she couldn’t explain why enhancements that could improve safety in her community have not yet been installed.

Thorncliffe Park has experienced 7,187 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents during the pandemic, while neighbouring Flemingdon Park has logged 6,327 per 100,000. 

Those figures are among the highest rates anywhere in Toronto, excluding the city’s northwest corner.

“Although it’s been successful in other parts of the city, it’s not clear why this has not happened in this community,” said Cordova.

“As a board-wide and school-wide mandate, we focus on equity,” she added. “And right now the students are experiencing inequity coming to school every day.”

City to host community consultations this summer

According to Toronto’s transportation department, the city is aiming to begin work at the Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Road intersection as early as 2022, along with possible work to “rehabilitate” the bridge.

Spokesperson Eric Holmes noted challenges around TTC service in the area.

Since around 40 buses cross the bridge per hour, he said any changes that create more space for cyclists or pedestrians would hopefully not interfere with TTC travel times.a person riding a bicycle on a city street: Toronto quickly installed temporary bike lanes on major downtown roads, including Bloor Street, soon after launching the ActiveTO program last spring.© Evan Mitsui/CBC Toronto quickly installed temporary bike lanes on major downtown roads, including Bloor Street, soon after launching the ActiveTO program last spring.

About 33,500 vehicles also use the bridge every day, though the group connected to Marc Garneau has said enhancements will not necessarily result in a reduction in lanes for vehicles.

Toronto plans to hold community consultations on possible changes to the bridge later this summer.

“This has been an issue for years,” said Huda Kouli, a parent and resident of Thorncliffe Park. 

“We deserve that the city takes action.”

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