City’s Approach to Sidewalks Must Change

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

In a week without access to school yards, the importance of outdoor infrastructure for physical activity has become even more evident. As with so many families struggling to adapt to online learning for young kids, we’ve been forced to encourage more self-reliance so that we, as parents, can keep up with work.   While this has had predictably mixed results with classroom activities (perhaps a topic for a future column), an independent walk to a local park is something we have to be very cautious of without sidewalks in our neighborhood.

Even with a push on road safety via the Vision Zero program, Toronto has not increased its annual budget for sidewalk installation since Council established a fund in 2002.  At the current rate, each city ward would have enough for about 225 m of new sidewalk each year.  With just under 300,000 m (or 300 km) of local roads in North York without sidewalks, this pace just isn’t acceptable.

Because of the small budget, the City tends to only adds sidewalks when roads are being reconstructed.  Even when an important gap in our sidewalk network is identified, it can take decades for projects to get moving.  John has successfully moved motions through Council, most recently in 2019, calling for an increase in this budget.  But despite that political success, it hasn’t yet changed the staff’s approach.  The entire program needs an overhaul.

Our office has been working to identify stretches of local roads that are most in need of sidewalk additions in Willowdale.  This has included input from the community through a road safety survey, and online neighbourhood conversations run last fall.  We hope to prioritize any local road longer than 200m, open to traffic on both ends, in close proximity to a public school or large park.  Is there a road in your community without a sidewalk that fits this description?  If so, please e-mail me so we can make sure it’s on our list for an upcoming meeting with City Transportation staff.

Whether it’s next week, or in the near future, our kids will eventually get back into classrooms and school yards.  Safe access to parks will still be important, just as encouraging walking to and from school will return to being an important campaign to keep kids physically active and reduce traffic congestion.  Sidewalks are simply a necessity under all conditions.