Shawn Micallef: Pop-up patios are a positive side effect of COVID-19, but Toronto drivers may have to curb their enthusiasm

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Over the past week, curb lanes have been cordoned off on streets across much of the city, allowing restaurants and bars new patio space. They are part of the CafeTO program and hopefully are enough to keep these businesses running for a bit longer. On the night walks this week, the sound of the city was a revelation: vibrant human life after months of silence.

This virus has not yet suffocated the city.

For years, taking back these lanes for anything, whether it’s wide sidewalks or bike lanes, has been controversial and almost impossible, but with a few exceptions. The CafeTO locations seem completely random: concrete blocks have been placed on the street to provide some protection against dangerous drivers, with pylons and orange bollards along the pop-up patios.

The pandemic has given officials a license to act quickly, and this has often been a good thing. Just like that, a Toronto miracle that makes life on the streets so much more enjoyable.

The scarcity of public space in cities has made it a battleground for COVID-19. Parks, sidewalks, and streets are places where we can stretch out, exercise, support local businesses, and simply live life outside the home. Cars, both the space they occupy and the service they provide, have been at the center.

Mayor John Tory announced Thursday that CafeTO has so far helped 279 businesses create 3,394 meters of “new outdoor dining options.” As Ontario, with the exception of a few areas, including Toronto, is rushing to the ‘third step’ where indoor bars and restaurants can open, a move that has caused large increases in COVID cases elsewhere, it looks like to a balance that we could live with during the summer.

This week, the DriveInTO program was also launched (yes, everything in Toronto is now TO’ed), allowing people to access entertainment experiences from their car.

The Toronto Zoo has previously attempted to allow people to cross part of the property, but a friend who went reported that most of the animals were hiding in vehicles. Ontario Place started the “Toronto Shines” drive-in movie series in its parking lot, though admission wasn’t cheap, starting at $ 90 for a two-person car. As a temporary effort to give some businesses and organizations the opportunity to be creative and people with cars to do something, this is again a welcome relaxation from the city of Toronto.

Yet more than a quarter of Toronto households do not have a car, and in downtown Montreal, more than half of households do not, so this option is not open to everyone.

It is true that having a car has made it easier to manage the pandemic. The curbside pickups of large grocery runs every few weeks, limiting in-person visits, can easily fill a sedan, but they’ve also made it easier to get out of town to places where there is little or no traffic. world. However, the isolation offered by a car, a cocoon of steel and glass, is contrary to what makes city life pleasant: all the details that we can see, smell, hear and feel. Cities are sensory experiences and being in a car blocks a lot of that.

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