Car Free High Park
March 27, 2023
High Park Movement Strategy Team
Councillor Gord Perks
Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie
Barbara Gray, Transportation Services General Manager
Janie Romoff, Parks, Forestry and Recreation General Manager
Councillor Mike Colle
Councillor Jon Burnside
Councillor Amber Morley
Councillor Anthony Perruzza
Councillor Dianne Saxe
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
Dear High Park Movement Strategy team, Deputy Mayor, Councillors, Transportation Services General Manager, and Parks, Forestry and Recreation General Manager,
Re: A park for people and the High Park Movement Strategy
We believe that High Park should become a natural refuge from the stresses of city life – a healthy environment where people can enjoy the park free of motor traffic and the accompanying air pollution, noise, and threat of injury.
Back in 2020, the City of Toronto took the bold step of closing High Park to vehicles on weekends. Three years later and the success of this decision could not be any more clear: the park is as busy as ever on weekends and 75% of people surveyed agree that the road closures have had a positive impact on their experience visiting the park. Only 13% disagreed.
That’s because the full potential of High Park shines through on car-free days. Families are able to walk comfortably side by side. People with disabilities are free to move beyond the cramped sidewalks. Park users of all ages and abilities are provided more space and can move about comfortably. The road is re-purposed for people walking, jogging, rolling, scooting, and biking. Everyone enjoying the safety, freedom, and peace that a car-free High Park provides. High Park becomes an oasis in the city. A joyous environment that is safe, quiet, and inspires community.
While we appreciate the hard work of city staff to do their due diligence and explore multiple solutions, the majority of park visitors and users surveyed, including the majority of families with young children and park users with disabilities, agree that a car-free High Park will:
Make the park safer
Make the park more accessible
Improve the park's natural environment
A car-free High Park has encouraged low-carbon modes of travel, such as walking, biking, and taking public transit. High Park is well supported by public transit with 2 subway stops (High Park and Keele), 2 streetcars (501 Queen and 506 College) and a bus (80 Queensway), which drop visitors off at various park entrances. The Bloor Street bike lanes and Martin Goodman Trail provide safe passage to the park for people choosing active modes of transportation. There are also 12 Bike Share stations in and around High Park, totalling over 200 available bikes/docks. A car-free High Park will fully support the City of Toronto’s ambitious TransformTO goals.
In a car-free High Park, everyone should have the ability to access park attractions. Our coalition recommends for the provision of a shuttle-bus or shuttle-train system, as has been discussed as part of the High Park Movement Strategy and is commonly found in other car-free parks across the world, to effectively allow those with mobility disabilities to move efficiently from the park's perimeter to the interior attractions. Optimally, this service would run seven days a week during most daylight hours. To enhance accessibility, the coalition recommends improving sidewalk infrastructure in the park, including adding missing sidewalks, to provide ample space for people of all abilities. More benches should also be provided along the main paths to further support seniors and park users with disabilities. The parking lots at Spring Road and Colborne Lodge would be altered to exclusively accessible parking spaces, seniors parking spaces, and families with young children parking spaces, including convenient pick-up and drop-off locations.
High Park, when it is car-free, also serves as a refuge from the threat of road violence. It has allowed children to roam more freely and for persons with disabilities to have one less concern when visiting the park. There are precious few places in the city where people are guaranteed to be safe from the threat of being injured or killed by a reckless or distracted driver. The High Park Movement Strategy outlined that the average speed of vehicles in the park is nearly double that of the 20km/h posted speed limit.3 A car-free High Park will fully support the City of Toronto’s Vision Zero goals.
With the city’s rapidly growing population, many of whom don’t have their own personal outdoor space, the need for more park space can not be understated. Research has shown that green spaces are linked to improved mental health, lower levels of stress and loneliness, reduced rates of depression and anxiety, and improved general well-being.
This is why it is vital we maintain and expand upon one of the few car-free spaces in the city. As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said when Central Park went permanently car-free back in 2018: “Our parks are for people, not cars. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of millions of parents, children and visitors who flock to Central Park.”
If a park can’t be car-free, then what hope do we have of prioritizing low-carbon modes of transportation, meeting our climate goals, and putting the health and safety of people first?
Closing parks to cars is not a radical idea, but rather a sensible one that is being implemented all around the world, including other parks across Canada, the US, Germany, London, Paris, and many more. It is the logical path forward in today's climate, it is the direction the world is heading in, and it is what the vast majority of people in this city want.
Car Free High Park
8 80 Cities
Brown + Storey Architects
CHASE (Canadian Health Association for Sustainability & Equity)
Community Bikeways (TCBC)
David Suzuki Foundation
Friends and Families for Safe Streets
Midweek Cycling Club
No More Noise Toronto
Parkdale High Park 4 Climate Action
Parks Not Planes
Saddle Sisters of High Park
The Biking Lawyer LLP
The Centre for Active Transportation
Toronto Bike Brigade