social distancing rules toronto

Social distancing rules in Toronto are causing people to walk on the street

The choir of voices ringing out for city officials to make it easier for people to physically distance is piping up again, this time with Ontario MPP Jessica Bell advocating to change some of the road rules to make it happen.

But like everything in Toronto, that's a lot easier said than done.

The University—Rosedale representative and NPD Transit Critic called out Mayor John Tory and Manager of Transportation Services Barbara Gray in a tweet, asking them to "please change the road rules to make it easier for people to walk on streets and practice physical distancing."

"The sidewalks are too narrow. #UniRose residents are asking, and I agree with their request."

Bell's tweet highlights that sidewalks are, in some cases, too narrow to adequately allow for the roughly six feet needed to adhere to the physical distancing policy that's resulted in many people having to walk on to the street to avoid "incidental" contact or risk a $1,000 fine.

In the Traffic and Parking portion of the Toronto Municipal Code under Pedestrians' Rights and Duties, the by-law outlines that for pedestrians to enter into the street outside of a designed crosswalk, it's basically jaywalking.

It reads:

"No person shall, except where traffic control signals are in operation, or where traffic is being controlled by a police officer, or at a pedestrian crossover, proceed so as not to yield the right-of-way to vehicles and streetcars on the roadway; however, nothing in this section shall relieve the driver of a vehicle or streetcar from the obligation of taking all due care to avoid a collision."

This means that each time someone enters the street outside of a crosswalk, it's not exactly legal and they need to be mindful that vehicles and streetcars have the right of way. 

It's also super dangerous.

The same rule applies when you temporarily hop off the curb to avoid being within six feet of someone, then hop back on when they've passed. 

Toronto Police Traffic Services told me that "while the TPS would work within any changes to the rules of the road, it is our position that the existing by-law on this issue is in the best interest of pedestrian safety and ensures the safe flow of traffic."

Under the by-law, walking into the road outside of a crosswalk and/or failing in yield to vehicles and streetcars carries a potential ticket in the amount of $90.

Any way you look at it, entering into the street outside of designated pedestrian crossing zone is never a good idea, which brings me back to Bell's note about making "it easier for people to walk on streets."

Her tweet echoes calls from many others to consider opening up a portion on Yonge Street and give pedestrians the chance to put the required two metres between themselves and others.

But the city has already made it clear that that's not an option.

Director of Project Design and Management for Toronto Transportation Services Jacquelyn Hayward told the Toronto Star that "closing streets to car traffic could undermine Toronto Public Health directives against people congregating in groups."

Heyward said that banning cars in favour of pedestrian use is usually intended "to bring people together" and "the exact opposite" of what officials want as the city looks to crack down on physical distancing violations in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

It's true that festivals and events like Pedestrian Sundays and Open Streets base their appeal on the promise of a car-free experience.

Furthermore, Hayward noted that opening streets up would require resources like signage, barriers and enforcement to ensure safety; things that are best used where they are most needed right now.

Tory was asked about this issue on CBC Radio where he said there’s no reason to walk on Yonge Street because stores aren't open and no one is there.

Winnipeg has already closed four streets and designated them as physically distance-friendly zones for pedestrians.

Sadly that doesn't look like anything in Toronto's immediate future.

Not yet, anyway.

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