curb lane patios toronto

Car plows through restaurant patios in curb lane of major Toronto street

Erecting hundreds of new dining spaces in the curb lanes of major downtown streets across a city of 2.9 million people, where restaurant patrons can eat and drink just inches away from live traffic: What's the worst that could happen?

We're incredibly lucky not to have found out the hard way this weekend when, in the wee hours of the night, someone drove straight through the patio sections set up in front of two popular Parkdale restaurants.

Toronto Police say they were called to the area of Queen Street West, just east of Brock Avenue, around 4:22 a.m. on September 7 for reports of a car driving into a business.

Security footage from the scene shows the crash taking place closer to 3:45 a.m., however, not even two hours after last call, in front of Guu and Chantecler.

TPS Cont. Jenifferjit Sidhu confirmed Tuesday morning that officers were able to locate the driver early Monday. The unidentified motorist has since been charged with careless driving and driving without a licence.

Chantecler, one of the city's most popular French restaurants, has been closed since November on account of a devastating fire, but the business had launched a new pop-up bar called Bitter Days in front of their adjoining butcher shop just days before the incident occurred.

Bitter Days was destroyed as a result of the collision, as was Guu's patio and even some exterior signage above the Heartbreak Chef.

"The driver missed the concrete barrier," said Chantecler and Bitter Days owner Jacob Wharton-Shukster, noting that the city-provided block had been "placed very close to the sidewalk" — and not very well at that.

Had the incident taken place earlier, when people were sitting on both patios, he says, "a person would have been severely injured or killed."

Wharton-Shukster was able to pull security footage of the crash from cameras outside Le Phenix, his temporary restaurant across the street from Chantecler and Bitter Days.

It was only through viewing this footage that he learned what had actually happened to the strip of Parkdale businesses.

"I called the police but they wouldn't give me any details," he said by phone on Tuesday.

"The city didn't contact us, police didn't contact us... they just pushed everything and taped it off. They left the war zone there, like piled up trash."

Toronto Police eventually responded to Chantecler's queries on Twitter to say they didn't have contact info for the owners or managers of the impacted businesses, drawing the ire of several local residents.

The overwhelming sentiment among everyone who's seen photos from the scene, though, is that the city is lucky not to be grieving any additional road-related deaths today.

"Thankfully no patrons were enjoying a meal. But very very scary incident re: #CafeTO in our neighborhood," wrote one resident, tagging Toronto Mayor John Tory and city councillors Gord Perks and Ana Bailao.

"Those are scary patios due to vehicle traffic, including large trucks and TTC buses barrelling down the street," wrote another of the CafeTO program.

Guu was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, but images suggest the restaurant's curbside patio sustained significant damage.

"Everything was destroyed for them," said Wharton-Shukster, noting that Guu's patio was filled with furniture at the time of the crash.

"We didn't lose any furniture or anything — just the fence that was built the week before," he continued. "Just a lot of time and effort."

Some in the city are now holding the incident up as an example of why letting people dine on the road was a bad idea from the start.

When asked for a comment regarding the safety of its 406 approved curb lane cafes, the City of Toronto provided the following statement:

"The video is startling, the manoeuvre by the driver in the video was both dangerous and illegal, and the City of Toronto is thankful that Toronto Police responded quickly and there were no reported pedestrian injuries. CaféTO locations were designed with both safety and accessibility in mind and each curb lane location requires a detailed traffic management plan, including compliance with the Ontario Traffic Manual Book 7. This incudes advanced signage notifying oncoming motorists that the curb lane ahead is closed, large detour signage to notify motorists to change lanes, large safety barrels or concrete barriers in advance to indicate the lane closure and, in some cases, speed limits have been reduced to support safety."

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