The death of Jenna Morrison in November of 2011 shocked the city of Toronto. Not only had she died in a collision with a truck leaving a five-year-old son behind, she was also five-months pregnant. Her death caused an outcry for safer conditions for cyclists and created an organized effort to make trucks on the roads safer.
This piece appeared on Rabble.ca in February of 2012, the day of a public meeting for the Safe Trucks initiative.
Environmental impressions from a week in Canada’s largest city
Before moving to Toronto for the rest of the summer I was warned about the dangers of biking on its streets. I’d need a helmet and some luck, I was told. And I’d heard plenty about newly elected Mayor Rob Ford’s lack of appetite for cyclists and their paths.
In fact, the week I arrived, bike paths were making headlines as city council decided to remove bike lanes on Jarvis street they had set up one year earlier. The irony of the decision is that it will cost much more to remove the lanes than it did to install them. Reports say the removal will cost $200,000 while the original installation cost only $59,000.
As the late summer sun went down on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the crowds came out to enjoy the Mix’ Arts street festival, which had the bustling boulevard closed to cars and open to pedestrians from August 26-29 between Sherbrooke Street and Mont-Royal Avenue. Full of music, food, art, drinks, and especially people, the four-day festival is the Société de développement du boulevard Saint-Laurent’s way of showcasing the street’s mix of shopping, restaurants, bars and culture.
“We need it, we need it more often, we have to enhance the business, you know,” said Bill Fernandes, owner of Papas Tapas and Martini Bar, echoing the sentiments of business owners up and down the Main. “It should close all the time. It should be a closed street.”
Daniel Ma, part owner of Dyad Electric Scooters and Bicycles, noted that the street festival is even more important for new businesses. “Because we just opened, we need more people to know the products. A lot of people pass by and ask and try, and so it’s good advertising”, said Ma.
Yes, that's St-Laurent boulevard
The Montreal Urban Ecology Centre advocates creating more public spaces like the street fest, spearheading projects like Green, Active and Healthy Neighbourhoods, aimed at increasing public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. The Centre’s website states, however, that, “In order to make this transition possible, adequate infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is a prerequisite”.
Montreal graffiti artist, Fluke, was on the street for the June version of the street festival displaying his spray-painting skill on a temporary wall set up for demonstrations. “We just came to show off a little bit of our skills and showcase what we do”, said Fluke. He also said local artists have a long history with the street festival. “It’s helped us a lot over the years because there’s a lot of downtown crowd that passes through here that we don’t necessarily have a chance to talk to and show our stuff to on a regular basis”.
Visitors were also enjoying the pedestrian space. In town for the weekend, David Ryning of Edmonton, Alberta said, “This is fantastic, from a tourist’s point of view”.
Of course, not everyone in the area was walking on sunshine. Colleen Steacy has lived in two apartments on the Main and says noise is the main problem. “The last place that I lived was better because my bedroom was at the back of the apartment,” said Steacy. “At the new place that I’m living I’m bothered by noise constantly and it’s the reason I’m moving.”
She plans to stay in the area, however, and said she loves the shopping available during the street festival. Even at the quietest of times Saint-Laurent is buzzing, but with cars removed from the equation the Main showed it has the potential to become an even more vibrant public space and showcase for Montreal’s best.
Watch and listen to a mash-up of the sounds and voices of the Mix’ Arts St-Laurent street festival: