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Toronto Needs Wider, Unobstructed Sidewalks, Disability and Pedestrian Advocates Say

Toronto – CBC News

As she navigates Toronto’s sidewalks, Yin Brown finds herself dodging a dizzying array of obstacles.

“I smash into patio fences, trip over cafe chairs, get stuck in bicycle racks, walk into trees and even knock down seniors,” said the president of Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

Given those challenges, she said too many people like her have simply given up walking in the city.

“Many blind people such as myself have imposed our own isolation because our sidewalks are cluttered and unfriendly to pedestrians,” Brown said at a Wednesday news conference at city hall, where organizers laid out a mock obstacle course.

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But there may be relief on the way for the blind, the elderly, people with disabilities, and other struggling pedestrians.

Next week, the city’s joint Licensing Standards and Public Works Infrastructure committee is set to vote on a broad update to bylaws governing Toronto’s sidewalks.

The report recommends the city require sidewalks on busy roads to have a straight, unobstructed “clearway” of at least 2.1 metres on main streets and 1.8 metres on quieter roads.

“Wide, safe, comfortable sidewalks benefit all of us,” said Adam Cohoon of the advocacy group Walk Toronto, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “Pedestrians of all ages and abilities deserve the right to move safely on our city sidewalks.”

Disability advocate Adam Cohoon says the bylaws will make little difference without strict enforcement.

Patios in for change

If the report is approved by the committee and city council, businesses will have until 2025 to adjust their patios to accommodate the new minimum width.

At the moment, Toronto city staff say around 150 sidewalk patios have clearways of less than 1.5 metres.

“Businesses are maybe feeling a little bit nervous because they don’t understand the rules,” said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee. “They haven’t been following the discussion, but I think that this is very, very fair.”

The report also recommends the city allow new types of patios, including “public parklets,” which are “public spaces installed in parking lanes for people to sit, relax and enjoy the city.”

The changes would improve the vibrancy of the Toronto’s patios, according to the authors of the report, “while mitigating the potential economic impact” on current patio permit holders, though some business owners have told CBC Toronto they are concerned about the proposal.

How will changes be enforced?

Advocates at the Wednesday news conference said the report is generally agreeable, though some suggested the 2.1- metre minimum remains narrower than would be ideal.

However, a larger concern remains on the issue of enforcement.

Organizers say for the bylaw changes to make a difference, enforcement officers will have to actively monitor Toronto’s sidewalks to ensure compliance. The city must not rely solely on complaints from pedestrians, they said.

“It’s not about more rules,” Cohoon said. “It’s about how they’re enforced.”

The report goes to the joint Licensing Standards and Public Works Infrastructure on Dec. 4. If approved, it will proceed to another vote at city council.

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