2023 Winter Village: automobile fight club versus holiday joy

By Daryl Gonsalves –

 As the holiday season approach­es, a large Christmas tree in the Distillery District will once again be illuminated. The No­vember 16 tree lighting marks the start of the Distillery Winter Village, which will run until the New Year. After 4 p.m. tickets ranging from $16.50 to $33 will be required to enter.

Although it may be filled with bright lights and festive sounds, the holiday spirit is all but for­gotten as the surrounding streets become Toronto’s version of an automobile fight club. Winter Village visitors and nearby res­idents all compete for any open space that can fit their vehicle of choice.

Visiting drivers slowly crawl through traffic to pounce on legal or illegal parking spots, while residents regret choosing to drive, telling themselves this will be the last time they make that mistake.

This traffic mayhem leads to long delays, excessive honking, parking violations and safety concerns.

It’s clear that local residents, Winter Village organizers and visitors would benefit from stronger traffic management and consistent enforcement, as prob­lems have grown every year the market has operated.

According to nearby resi­dents I interviewed, last year was particularly problematic. Vehicles were illegally parked on local streets and private ga­rages, paid duty police officers failed to show up or sign up for a shift, and local roads including Cherry Street were closed creating bottlenecks. Amidst the chaos, I saw police officers giv­ing up trying to enforce traffic management and cars squeezing into my condo resident parking garage seeking the golden free parking spot.

Could there be hope for 2023?

Interviewing the Gooderham & Worts Neighbourhood As­sociation (GWNA), Councillor Chris Moise’s office and a pub­lic relations firm representing the Winter Village, I was sur­prised to note good-faith coor­dination across all the relevant stakeholders to find solutions. All parties have been meeting monthly.

Due to pressure from the GWNA, the Winter Village or­ganizers retained a traffic man­agement consultant, BA Group, which revisited the traffic plan from 2019. Following motions moved by Councillor Moise and Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik, their slightly modified traffic management plan is working its way to City Council on Novem­ber 8. Councillor Moise’s office said an additional police officer will help manage local traffic this year, and some non-essen­tial construction projects have been paused. Finally, GWNA said notices will be posted be­yond the Distillery District di­recting drivers to seek parking elsewhere.

As many readers know, I see public transit as the solution for (almost) all of Toronto’s prob­lems. Winter Village organizers need to ensure that their market­ing disincentivizes driving and communicates that the TTC is the best way to access the festiv­ities. A simple incentive could be a small ticket discount for those who choose to take public transit. Winter Village organiz­ers could also go a step further and subsidize transit fares for visitors.

As the November 16 tree lighting draws closer, nearby residents are bracing for im­pact from Winter Village 2023. Stakeholder collaboration over the past year may mitigate problems, but even the best-laid plans can’t eliminate un­certainty. Both the GWNA and Councillor Chris Moise’s of­fice indicated that enforcement and implementation of parking regulations and the revised traffic management plan will be most important during this year’s Winter Village.