Speakers Corner: Activists pushing to change Toronto’s crosswalk, sidewalk closures

It’s something nearly every pedestrian in Toronto has come across while out and about, a sign indicating a sidewalk or crosswalk is closed for a construction project.

Two groups are now working to change the way the permits for these closures are issued.

“They have to do something different,” says Maria Regina Visani who lives at Queens Quay near Yonge Street.

“We have gone more than a month with a very busy crosswalk closed down and pedestrians are putting themselves at risk.”

The crosswalk she’s referring to was closed down for a Hydro One construction project on Queens Quay. The company was issued a permit from the city to close down the crosswalk. Visani says it’s creating havoc for drivers and pedestrians.

“It’s very dangerous,” she says. “This area is full of people crossing the street and with the nearest crosswalk far away, people are confused as to where to cross safely.”

She says it’s especially difficult for people who have disabilities. Over the past few weeks she’s been shooting cellphone video of people being nearly hit by vehicles while trying to cross.

“And it’s not just here,” she says. “It’s in other parts of the city as well.”

From condo construction to infrastructure and road projects, it’s not uncommon for a crosswalk or sidewalk to be shut down across the GTA.

“It’s a big problem across the city,” says Dylan Reid with Walk Toronto, a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to making Toronto safer for pedestrians.

“As we know, there’s construction everywhere in Toronto,” he says.” And these construction sites often don’t make good provisions for pedestrians, and they block the sidewalk which can be really dangerous.”

“This area is full of people crossing the street and with the nearest crosswalk far away, people are confused as to where to cross safely.”

It’s ultimately up to the City of Toronto, which issues permits to developers, allowing them to close down a side or crosswalk.

“Constructors are required to obtain a Street Occupation Permit to temporarily occupy the right-of-way, including crosswalks,” Reid says.

Crosswalk closed at Queens Quay near Yonge Street. CITY NEWS

In a statement, Toronto Transportation Services says, “As part of the permitting process, City staff review and provide input on the constructor’s Traffic Management Plan that outlines how all road users will get around the work zone safely.”

But WalkToronto and CycleToronto say more needs to be done before and after issuing these permits. Both groups are asking for a joint meeting with city staff to outline their requests.

“First of all, we want clear guidelines for construction companies and we want a clear plan for pedestrians for safety.” Reid says. “We’re asking for much better enforcement and planning enforcement around construction sites because it’s such a big issue and such a dangerous issue.”

They also want more inspections done after a permit is issued to ensure pedestrians can cross safely.

“We really need to make sure that even with a short-term blockage of a sidewalk, there’s a safe solution. That’s something that the city needs to work with construction companies and show them what needs to be done.”

As for the closed crosswalk at Queens Quay, the City and HydroOne addressed the concerns after CityNews reached out to them by adding more safety measures. The project itself is nearly complete.

But in a city with numerous projects planned, it won’t be the last.

“We just want a clear process that creates safe spaces. And if there’s not a safe space, it’s really easy to get it fixed,” Reid says.

“Just come out and inspect these sites after a permit is issued to see how it is or isn’t working,” Visani adds. “Then they’ll know if the plan is working.”

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