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Toronto is getting rid of all curb lane patios to make way for winter snow clearing

If you enjoy the novelty of eating on a major street in downtown Toronto, separated only by a thin fence from cars and buses whizzing by, go visit your favourite curbside dining destination. Soon.

Curb lane patios are coming down, Mayor John Tory confirmed during a press conference on Tuesday, to make way for snow plows ahead of everyone's least-favourite season.

Yes, winter is coming, and curbside lanes are being called to serve what's been deemed a higher purpose: To hold the big piles of snow cleared from roads after blizzards so that cars can still get by.

Fortunately, every other type of patio built under the CafeTO program is safe.

In fact, Tory says the city will be doing even more to support restaurants operating patios during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with a previously-announced extension of existing zoning bylaw amendments.

Introduced this summer, when Toronto first entered Stage 2 of the provincial government's economic reopening plan, CafeTO was created to help bars and restaurants survive while indoor dining was banned.

The city effectively "paused" its normal café permitting and application process at the time so that restaurants could set up patios, quickly, as long as strict requirements were met.

Those without space could apply for a curbside patio permit, and many did: As of this week, 376 curb lane cafes exist across Toronto, many of them quite popular (at least among people who aren't freaked out by the potential safety risks.)

With Toronto pushed back into a modified version of Stage 2 due to rising case numbers, the need for alternative solutions like this is more pressing than ever... but you simply can't beat Mother Nature.

"As much as we would love to leave the patios in the curb lane, all of those patios will come out," said Tory on Tuesday.

"The ones on the curb lanes are coming out starting this week, and there's a very simple reason for that… we have to plow the roads when it starts to snow."

Tory said that all curb lane patios will be gone by mid-November "because of the advent of snow and winter."

"The reason that they're starting to come out now is, historically, that… it is soon going to snow," said the mayor. "We have a responsibility to keep the roads clear and obviously, if there is a patio in the curb lane, it is not going to be possible for us to clear the roads properly."

Hundreds of other new outdoor dining spaces on sidewalks, private property and rooftops will, however, have the chance to last longer and grow even larger under the city's proposed CafeTO extension.

If approved this week by the Planning and Housing Committee, and then also by city council on Oct. 27, the plan will ensure that CafeTO rules stay in place until May 25, 2021 (as opposed to expiring on Nov. 16, 2020, as they were originally meant to.)

Tory said on Tuesday that the city wants to increase flexibility for establishments to innovate over the colder months, mentioning the concept of outdoor "winter bubbles."

While the city doesn't intend on building bubbles for restaurants, Tory said he'd "like to permit restaurants to do that" if they so choose, similar to how they recently loosened rules for outdoor patio heaters.

"That's the objective here," said Tory. "To have those patios that are on sidewalks or other places on the land — not on the street — to be kept in place, if people can find the resources and the determination to do so."

Lead photo by

Lauren O'Neil

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