After years of debate over whether cars should be allowed to drive through High Park, the city is designating parts of the park car-free at all times, building new bike lines and eliminating more than half of its parking spots.
It’s all part of a revitalization strategy the city began consulting the public on in 2021, spurred by the popularity of pandemic road closures, according to the city. Thousands of residents weighed in on whether cars should be banned from the park, allowed at all times or something in between.
Now, after a series of reports, the city is implementing the first phase of “improvements” to the park starting Monday. But while some are applauding the city for taking steps to limit car use, others have said fewer cars in the park will community groups that rely on them.
Heather Oliver, the senior project manager for parks planning and strategic initiatives at the city, told CBC Toronto the changes are “about making it easier, making it safer and making it more comfortable for all park users to travel.”
“The changes also maintain options for park users who wish to travel to the park by car, but our aim is really to reduce the total volume of vehicles,” she said.
Here’s what’s changing:
The following changes will be in place beginning Aug. 5, the city says.
- About 60 per cent of the park’s 560 parking spaces will be eliminated, according to city documents.
- The West Road and parts of Colborne Lodge Drive, south of Grenadier Café, will be car-free at all times.
- The main vehicle entrance will be at Parkside Drive and High Park Boulevard and will be open Monday to Friday and closed on weekends and holidays. Visitor vehicles will not be permitted to enter at Bloor Street West.
- Visitor vehicle access will be provided to the Children’s Garden, Colborne Lodge Drive and the Spring Road Parking lot at all times.
- Public parking spaces within High Park will be reduced. Designated pick-up/drop-off spaces will be added near main destinations.
- Dedicated bike lanes will be added to Centre Road and Colborne Lodge Drive.
- Improved pavement markings and signage will be added to pedestrian crossing areas.
Majority of respondents favoured limiting cars
A 2022 city survey of 10,384 residents as part of the High Park consultation process found that 58 per cent of respondents said reducing motor vehicle traffic in the park is a “high priority.”
Faraz Gholizadeh, an organizer with the advocacy group Car Free High Park Coalition, applauded the changes.
“The park should be a safe, quiet place. Not a place to drive through and park your car,” he said.
“I’m feeling very excited and optimistic. This is a great step toward achieving a car-free High Park. The city has been behind other cities around the world,” he said. “The quicker we can get there, the better the city will be.”
Concerns over limited access
But some are frustrated by the coming changes.
Jason Okamura, the vice president of the High Park Little League’s baseball division, said his organization has long made their concerns clear to the city.
With young children finishing league practices or games late at night, he worries about their safety if cars are limited. He also says he hoped for further consultations.
“There’s been a real lack of attention to personal safety. Without cars, there’s also a lack of shelter for the kids if the games are rained out or if a thunderstorm rolls in,” said Okamura.
Asked about the little league’s concerns, the city said there are still options to drive into the park on weekdays and that parking lots remain at the High Park Zoo and at the The Grenadier Cafe.
“We’re also adding pick-up and drop off spaces that will probably make it easier to drop off your kids,” Oliver said.
Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who represents Humber River-Black Creek, told CBC Toronto he also disagrees with the road closures, saying they’ll limit accessibility to the park.
“A lot of seniors, a lot of people who love to enjoy the park on a daily basis… They simply can’t make the trek,” he said.
Park has better future without cars: councillor
Another councillor who has supported the changes said fewer cars will create a “better future” for the park.
Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Parkdale—High Park, said the city has seen support for the plan.
“We have seen tremendous excitement from the overwhelming majority of people,” he said.
A transit service will run through the park in the summer months and shuttle service is being planned as well, he added.
Many will have to modify their routines if they are used to getting around the park in a car, but it’s worth it to increase safety so pedestrians and cyclists don’t need to worry about vehicles, he said.
“Change is always startling for people,” he said. “But High Park is a magical place that could be so much better.”
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