high park cycling

There is a movement to make Toronto’s massive High Park a car-free zone

With the city’s High Park Movement Strategy underway and following many issues around the intersection of bicycles and cars in the park, a group is proposing to eliminate automobiles from the park entirely. In New York City 10 years ago, it might have been difficult to find many people who thought the famous Central Park could or would ban cars from inside the grounds. But it happened. Some are asking why not in Toronto? A petition to make High Park car-free has more than 500 signatures at this point with a goal of 2,000.

“We believe (the park) should become a natural refuge from the stresses of city life – a healthy environment where people can enjoy the park free of motor traffic and the accompanying air pollution, noise, and threat of injury,” the petition reads, in party.

According to Cycle Toronto’s Maggie Crawford the city strategy is at the core of the debate over what should happen within the leafy confines of one of the city’s largest parks.

“It presents four different options for reimagining traffic patterns in High Park, and one of them is to make it closed to visitor vehicles entirely,” she says. “High Park has been doing car free weekends since 2020, and several surveys have been conducted that make it clear that this overwhelming improves the experience for visitors to the park (75% of respondents indicated this).”

Crawford says, the weekend road closures have not only encouraged low carbon and active modes of travel, but have also provided visitors with more space to enjoy the natural beauty and peace of the park.

“Access to green spaces like High Park is essential to maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing of Torontonians. Even Central Park went car free in 2018 – if they can do it, why not Toronto?” she adds.

On the Car Free High Park Coalition website there is a quote from former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when Central Park went permanently car-free back in 2018: “Our parks are for people, not cars. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of millions of parents, children and visitors who flock to Central Park,” it reads.

There have been many well-documented incidents in the park that occurred when Toronto Police Service were policing cyclists in the park, including allegations of harassment and one occurrence of a TPS SUV running into a cyclist.

A protest ride was organised last summer against the level of policing in the park.

“Our position is that the conflict between police and cyclists over the summer demonstrated how there the way space is allocated in High Park clearly needs to be reconsidered,” Crawford says. “We do not condone dangerous cycling, but we also do not believe enforcement was the way to handle this; instead, we would like to see the Park redesigned so that room is given to people walking, cycling, and rolling.”

The preferred option that comes out of the the city strategy is scheduled to be implemented this spring. Three of the four options involve curtailing motor vehicle traffic in the park to some extent including restrictions on certain roads, at certain times, and an outright ban. For more information on the strategy, check out the city site here.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO