High Park will continue to be closed to vehicles on weekends and holidays while city staff develop a plan to ultimately ban private cars from the landmark greenspace in the future.
The Toronto city council approved the plan in a heated debate with 18 votes in favour and 7 against. The changes will be minor in the short term, but the city staff will work on physical alterations to ensure that cars, pedestrians, and cyclists can safely share the space.
Councilor Gord Perks, who proposed the successful motion, said that it will take several years to achieve a completely car-free High Park.
“I am grateful to Toronto residents and visitors who took part in the City’s extensive public consultations on the High Park Movement Strategy. While there is still a great deal of work, we must do, this is an important step in the right direction,” said Perks. “Working to achieve a car-free High Park aligns with the City’s commitments to Vision Zero, improved urban design and achieving our climate change goals.”
Highlights of the strategy approved by City Council, the implementation of which will begin this summer, include:
- Permanent closure of West Road and portions of Colborne Lodge Drive seven days a week, providing over 1.7 kilometres of new car-free space for park users.
- Car-free weekends throughout the park. Access to the Spring Road parking lot will remain.
- Enhancements to transit and a new shuttle service serving the park’s interior destinations.
- Changes to parking, including the addition of accessible and family-priority spaces and exploration of paid parking.
- Improvements to cycling infrastructure, including separated bike lanes in some areas and a recreational cycling pilot to test dedicated, early morning cycling hours in partnership with cycling groups.
- Re-naturalization opportunities and public realm enhancements, including sidewalk widening, improved pedestrian crossing areas and wayfinding and signage improvements.
The first stage of work will include new pavement markings and temporary traffic control measures, such as barriers and signage, to indicate changes to the travel network.
“When High Park was deeded to the city, there were no cars” @gordperks is speaking about the various changes to the park configuration and need to continue adapting to our needs. He also mentions that people with disabilities are advocating for making car-free. 👏🏼 #VisionZero https://t.co/s2QIiwBKwc pic.twitter.com/Ykzb1cEv3z
— Cycle Toronto (@CycleToronto) May 11, 2023
Councilor Perks argued that his opponents are living in the past, where people could freely drive anywhere they wished, whereas now, too many visitors try to access the cherished west end green space.
Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the plan offers balance.
“The City’s strategy for High Park balances the many uses the public has for this beloved park,” she said. “Over the past two years, staff have engaged in extensive consultations to ensure those viewpoints are heard and included. Now, it’s time to start implementing the first phase of these important changes, which will refine how people move around and access High Park.”
The city staff also mentioned that a parking lot at the edge of the park is still open, and WheelTrans vehicles will continue to access the roads through the park all week. They are exploring shuttle options to assist people’s mobility after private vehicles are prohibited.
City council rejected the staff proposal to allow vehicles only on Sundays instead of the current weekend ban.
City Councilor Stephen Holyday, representing Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre, labeled the plan “another example of war on the car.” Ward 7 city councilor Anthony Perruzza tried to persuade his colleagues to open the park to vehicles seven days a week but was unsuccessful.
Perruzza said, “I love slipping into his Spandex, feeling tight all over.” He argued that any restrictions on drivers in High Park are ideologically driven and constitute “hate for cars.”
The High Park Movement Strategy Council decision is available on the City’s website.