By Krishika Jethani
The city’s Esplanade and Mill Street connection project moved into its second phase in late May, starting with road safety upgrades from Lower Jarvis Street to Lower Sherbourne Street.
Two-way cycle tracks were installed on the south side of The Esplanade, a new platform for bus passengers was created west of Lower Sherbourne and the speed limit was reduced from 40 km/h to 30.
The changes were made to reduce traffic conflicts and improve bus service on The Esplanade, but the removal of curbside parking and loading areas distressed some local businesses. For example, Jim Kim, owner of NOVA Supreme Dry Cleaners (at Jarvis Street) says most of his customers park on the street; he fears a loss of sales.
Interim City Councillor Robin Buxton Potts said the Esplanade changes followed 18 months of working with local residents, the TTC and Toronto Police. Residents wanted less congestion and a new bus lane to avoid buses being stuck in traffic, she added.
However, traffic jams have increased, according to Esplanade resident Victoria Musial. “I take my bike to work now because the bike lanes are more convenient. The amount of recent traffic has caused buses to have constant delays or not even show up, because they’re stuck behind a sea of cars.”
“A car in the bike lane on Mill Street was driving the wrong way to avoid traffic on Parliament and Front Street. That’s pretty concerning,” Musial added.
The issue has worsened over the weeks prompting the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association to publicly address their concerns with a letter, dated Aug 22, to Mayor John Tory, who is up for re-election this October. “Routinely, most frequently on weekday afternoons, drivers are ignoring selected turn restrictions, driving through one way sections the wrong way, blocking bus only routes – paying little or no attention to the new traffic management features that have been introduced into the area.”
“It takes a while to get used to these kinds of changes,” Buxton Potts commented. “We did have traffic wardens stationed around the area to help direct people when it was first installed.”
The city alerted Google about the changed road, the interim Ward 13 councillor said, but Google Maps kept directing cars onto roads they were no longer allowed to drive on.
“I’m hoping that the next council really takes this issue seriously and invests in more traffic wardens. This is how we make sure we are protecting these new road configurations to ensure everyone stays safe,” she added.
Joe Mihevc, interim councillor for the adjacent Ward 10, said meetings will be scheduled with police to emphasize the need for enforcement, “starting off with gentle enforcement but then getting tougher if people continue to disobey the new traffic rules.”
Caroline de Kloet, Toronto Police media relations officer, stated in an email, “We’re looking at increased enforcement, including [of] illegal stopping and parking. The service is committed to being responsive to our community and their concerns.”
Resident Alan Barthel says the lack of traffic control officers allows drivers to ignore directional signs. “At the very least there should be one traffic control officer at each of the major intersections along the Esplanade during the afternoon rush hour.”