Toronto Car-Free Day Stalls

By Tooker Gomberg, Toronto, Canada.

Toronto likes the car-free idea, but can’t seem to move on it.

Judging from the inertia at City Hall, it’s possible Toronto won’t be joining the September 22 annual Car-Free Day, which was observed last year by over 60 million people in 700 cities and towns.

This is despite enormous popular support – an October poll found 67% of Torontonians support a car-free downtown for one day per week – and a set of hopeful beginnings.

In 1999, after being stuck in traffic in his limo, Mayor Lastman waxed eloquent about the need for a car-free downtown. Then, last year, after the Smog Summit, City Council passed a motion to set up a working group for a Car-Free Day. The Sierra Club of Canada and city administrators rolled up their sleeves and started meeting.

And then things stalled.

Dan McDermott, director of the Sierra Club’s eastern Canada chapter, worries that the initial enthusiasm has evaporated. “City bureaucrats are running out the clock for this year” says McDermott. “My guess is that nobody wants to say it is a good idea because they will then have to budget for it.”

Almost a year after council’s directive, the city admin is still wondering what to do next. “If council really wants to do this, who’s going to organize it? Should the city’s special events office take the lead, or is it something we support community groups in doing?” asks Dan Egan of transportation services.

So, as the temperature rises and smog warnings wail, Torontonians can only hope and urge that one day soon they will taste clean city air – even for a scant 24 hours.

Last year at a media scrum for Car-Free Day in London, Mayor Ken Livingstone was asked if he had any advice for Toronto’s mayor. The tube-travelling Mayor replied: “Tell him to stop driving his car.” Even for one day – it would be a start.