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That time Toronto banned street parking downtown

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 1, 2013

toronto parking mapFor all its differences, the Toronto of 1931 had a very relatable problem: traffic. Parked cars on major crosstown routes blocked streetcars and forced moving vehicles to share a lane with public transit. At the time, cars park on King, Richmond, Yonge, and other major routes without fear of a ticket.

New mayor William Stewart, who had arrived in office earlier in the year, changed all that by pushing a new parking by-law through council, banning or restricting parking on key routes through the city. During rush hour, curbside waiting was halted entirely in an attempt to keep streetcars and private autos moving. Speaking on April 27, 1931, days before the rules came into effect, Steward declared:

"The parking situation is particularly unsatisfactory. Too many of us have come to regard street parking, not as a privilege, which it is, but rather as a statutory right, which, decidedly, it is not."

toronto traffic 1930sIn the days after the ban, as photographs attest, the weight of traffic on the most congested routes access roads to the downtown core was dramatically reduced. In a radio address, mayor Steward said the by-law would "assist our people to operate their vehicles in their own interests, in the interests of their fellow citizens, and for the good of the city."

Though it clearly was effective at unclogging Toronto's busiest streets, shopkeepers and business owners cried foul, claiming the city had inadvertently stymied trading. Pedestrians were not immune from regulation; traffic officers handed tickets to "jaywalkers" who crossed mid-block. Despite some confusion on May 1, the first day of the new rules, the Toronto Star "successful, even beyond the hopes of those concerned."

Interestingly, private parking lot owners who fiendishly inflated their prices in anticipation of a spike in demand found many drivers simply left their cars at home and hopped on the streetcar.

Many of these rules are still in effect on parts of King and Yonge, but is it time the city did something about the parking situation on Queen and other roads? Could restricting parking there improve streetcar service in peak periods or would that have a negative effect on local business?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Toronto Star.



Antony / February 1, 2013 at 09:37 am
This experiment was tried all over North America. A good book on the subject:

This was one of the last efforts by transit engineers to design city streets around moving people. Soon after, the metric was changed to moving automobiles.
Jacob / February 1, 2013 at 10:05 am
They need to ban parking on Queen, at east during more hours.

For all those who still complain about streetcars, what's a better use of our limited road space? A moving streetcar carrying 100 passengers, or an empty, stationary car taking up a whole lane?
me / February 1, 2013 at 10:10 am
An empty stationary car any day.
W. K. Lis / February 1, 2013 at 10:18 am
Needed next: a parking tax on the wasted parking slots in off-street parking lots. Having free parking only encourages single-person driving, adding to the congestion on roads.
the lemur / February 1, 2013 at 10:44 am
This needs to happen again - it's annoying not being able to use the full lane because of curbside parking here and there. The fact that the ban is still in effect on 'parts of' King and Yonge just means that lane-changing adds to congestion.
Robert / February 1, 2013 at 10:50 am
Interesting, the time frame is around when we lost so many building to parking lots. Many still around today.
Simon / February 1, 2013 at 10:51 am
We should bring this back. Not only to reduce CO2 output and make for safer cycling but to help move traffic of all vehicles smoothly. When are motorists going to realise that the lane wasted by plopping stationary cars on it could be used to drive on? It just reinforces my opinion that most of them are idiots and wouldn't last a day on a bike.
NoPark / February 1, 2013 at 10:52 am
There should be no street parking from 8am until 8pm, on the major arteries in the core. King, Queen, etc.

I don't care how much revenue it brings in.

It will really help congestion.
Bullit / February 1, 2013 at 10:58 am
Easy enough bylaw for street parking that should be put in place: If there is a street car not with it's own right of way no parking during weekdays.

Vola, people (no matter what mode of transit they choose) are now moving.
scottd / February 1, 2013 at 11:09 am
Street parking slows down traffic and creates congestion which is a good thing. Look at cities that have no parking, they are ghost towns after 5pm. IThe only thing that redices the number of cars is reducing the number of lanes.
the lemur replying to a comment from scottd / February 1, 2013 at 11:20 am
Congestion is not a good thing for surface transit or emergency responders.
JM / February 1, 2013 at 11:24 am
To be effective, the restrictions should really ban Stopping. If you take a look at Bay Street, there is No Stopping from 7am to 7pm Monday To Friday for nearly it's entire length, and No Parking during other hours (with a few new exceptions north of College). Left turns are also banned during the same hours at nearly every intersection (with police actually enforcing these restrictions),it actually seems to improve traffic flow.

I've always wondered why this is the only street that has such harsh restrictions, especially since it doesn't even have streetcars on it (besides a short diversion track).

I'd like to see the same restrictions on King, Queen and other major routes in the core. There is no reason why these streets should be down to one driving lane at anytime of day during weekdays. Violators of the No Stopping zones should be fined or towed without warning. There is a culture out there where people will just figure "Oh the parking guy will tell me to move" and it creates massive gridlock. People can park and wait on side streets or in parking lots.
Marc / February 1, 2013 at 11:41 am
"The parking situation is particularly unsatisfactory. Too many of us have come to regard street parking, not as a privilege, which it is, but rather as a statutory right, which, decidedly, it is not.

This. This about so many things in our city now.
the lemur replying to a comment from JM / February 1, 2013 at 11:50 am
The restrictions on Bay are probably because it's considered the main artery of the business district, but it would be nice if the diamond lane restriction were actually enforced there and elsewhere.

Side-street parking is easy to find around places like College at St Clair and yet we somehow have to preserve on-street parking there because of complaints that it's supposedly bad for business to remove/reduce it.

Another thing that needs to be tackled is the sheer volume of taxis allowed to congregate on streets like King and Front - they are there for hours on end, doing nothing but taking up space.
iSkyscraper / February 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm
Keep in mind that in 1931 the parking meter had not even been invented yet. People still assumed that the streets belonged to everyone (what a concept) and as such they could pretty much park their horses where they wanted. Except the horses became cars. And the streets became car-space. Various courts in the US had to rule that cities had a right to control parking at all. In that context it's pretty visionary and amazing that Toronto was able to pull this off.

As Antony points out, this has been a fascinating area of study lately. Tom Vanderbilt also has a book, Traffic, that is very enjoyable if you want to read more on the subject.

For the future, Toronto has two choices. Either remake the streets so that streetcars have their own ROW, or remove parking, turns and other barriers to streetcar flow. (While you're at it, remove half the stops too). Since rebuilding the streets at this point is impossible and possibly not even desirable, that leaves us with more parking and turn restrictions. In a city with a massive and growing downtown population this should at least be tried.
iSkyscraper / February 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm
Link to the blog for "Traffic":
Mark Dowling / February 1, 2013 at 02:18 pm
War and the car folks. War on the car war on the car war on the car.
McRib / February 1, 2013 at 03:24 pm
who are "they"?

you know you don't have to be gay to park on Church St.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Mark Dowling / February 1, 2013 at 03:59 pm
Ah, but war on whose car, Mark? Not on the car of the person who lives or works downtown and is paying for their parking in their garage or lot. (User-pay) Nor on the person who is trying to drive their car through the area and wants traffic to move faster. (Economic benefit) War on the car belonging to a person who wants to park in front of a Timmy's for an undermarket price and block everyone else in the process, yes. (Market inefficiency)

You would think a person with a brain would understand that this is in fact a conservative position. But, you know...
W. K. Lis / February 1, 2013 at 05:02 pm
It should be remembered that with streetcars on streets without safety islands, that automobiles have to stop behind the streetcar's open doors (unless you're Rob Ford, of course). That allows left turners moving in the opposite direction to make their turn in front of the streetcar and the stopping traffic.
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