Mayor hopes for ‘balance’ on ActiveTO program after Blue Jays CEO writes letter on road closure

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he hopes city council can strike a “balance” on the issue of a pandemic program that allows residents to walk and bike on a major road in the west end for hours on weekends.

At its next meeting on June 15, council will receive a report on the program, ActiveTO, from the city’s general manager of transportation services. The report is expected to look specifically at the closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West.

One piece of correspondence to be considered is a June 6 letter from Toronto Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro, who asked council to scrap the closure of Lake Shore Boulevard West for ActiveTO because he says it makes it more difficult for baseball fans, particularly ones from out-of-town, to get to games at the Rogers Centre on weekends.

Tory said Saturday that council will take a hard look at the benefits and impacts of the program and of that particular closure.

“Council is going to receive a report which will indicate the benefits of the ActiveTO program, how many people have cycled and walked and skateboarded and strollered down those roads that we’ve made available on certain weekends,” Tory told reporters.

“But they’ll also receive information about the impact that it’s had on traffic, on some neighbourhoods, on some businesses, which the Toronto Blue Jays are a business that are in operation now again after two years.” 

ActiveTO involves the closure of many major roads for recreational purposes. According to a city description of the program, major roadways next to popular trails are closed to create more space for walking and cycling while residents are able to keep physically distant.

Since the city launched the program in May 2020, thousands of residents have enjoyed the wide open space that the program has provided.

Baseball fans are pictured here during the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener in April 2022. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Tory expressed sympathy for Shapiro, saying the online response of many people to his letter was hateful and he found that unfortunate.

“I really found it so sad that that Mr. Shapiro should write a letter simply setting out the views of his business and the fact that he has 30, 40, 50,000 people coming to a game and the abuse he took from people online for daring to state his opinion,” he said.

“My job is to sort of take all the evidence of people who love ActiveTO as I do. And I understand why people like it and those who have to get a vote and those who have neighbourhoods and those who have businesses and balance all of that and the right answer. That is what we are doing,” Tory said.

“Mr. Shapiro simply wrote a letter indicating his view. And I think in our country, we should welcome people who do that and take their responsibility seriously. Doesn’t mean we have to accept his point of view. It means we have it and we can listen to it as we will listen to all the others.”

Public transit ‘not an option’ for many fans, CEO says

In his letter, Shapiro asked council not to vote in favour of extending ActiveTO on Lake Shore Boulevard West.

“We recognize ActiveTO played a crucial role in encouraging people to get outside and moving again, at a time when entertainment options were limited; however, the location of this program in 2022 drastically impacts fans’ ability to access the ballpark on summer weekends, when baseball is a main attraction in the city.” Shapiro wrote.

“Many of our fans travel to Rogers Centre from outside of the GTA and taking public transit is not an option. Out-of-town fans are often not aware of ActiveTO and do not know to allocate extra travel time.”

Shapiro said local fans as well have experienced “significant” traffic delays on days when ActiveTO is in effect on Lake Shore Boulevard West because traffic has been ground to a halt on downtown routes.

“As a sports organization, we support folks getting outside and being active, but Toronto has many options and routes to use, whereas our fans do not. Please do not vote to close Lake Shore Boulevard West.”

Cyclists gather at the corner of Remembrance Drive and Lake Shore Boulevard West in the designated bike lane next to the roadway on Saturday. (Dale Manucdoc/CBC)

Joe Mihevc, councillor for Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York, said he sees both sides of the issue. He said ActiveTO has been well-received and well-attended by the public, but he said the public also wants to support the Blue Jays and help them to have a successful season.

“Well, my bias as a public health person would be towards the ActiveTO. However, it’s also true that the Blue Jays don’t play every day,” he said.

The city should encourage Blue Jays fans to leave the car at home, he said. And the city needs to encourage people to patronize restaurants in the downtown area after baseball games, he added.

“People don’t just go to a baseball game,” he noted. “They then go for a walk in the downtown area. Then they go to a restaurant and then they might go to a pub. They might go to see some friends. That’s part of Toronto as well. And we need those tourism dollars as much as anyone does, especially as part of the pandemic recovery.”

ActiveTO ‘hugely successful,’ advocate says

David Simor, director of community and stakeholder relations for Open Streets Toronto, a non-profit organization that facilitates shutting down streets to cars for recreational programming, said ActiveTO has been “hugely successful” in getting people involved in physical activity.

“I think the question should be: Where can we do this program where it’s going to have the most impact and benefit for the largest number of Torontonians?”

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