Toronto – You’re already here

Ben Bull, Columnist –

I am taking a virtual reality tour of Toronto, not a real one. I’ve found a pair of ridiculous-look­ing glasses in the closet and rammed them onto my head. I close my eyes.

I am walking westbound along The Esplanade towards Lower Sherbourne Street. The sidewalk is wide here; it feels safe. A fully segregated bike lane is to my right and a one-way road next to that. I stop and tilt my head – what’s that noise? It’s people, chatting, laughing, kids screaming, bike bells ring­ing. I walk on.

On my left are parks, flower beds and play structures. People are meandering, some sitting in the parkettes looking around. What is wrong with them? They’re not even playing on their phones.

I amble over to the junction with Jarvis Street. I don’t have to rush for the light or approach with caution because the cars are creeping along. It’s not a traffic jam causing the slow­down, it’s the signs: ‘30 kmph’ ‘Speed Traps In Effect’

Nobody is blocking the inter­section or running a red light. I spy more cameras strapped to the poles.

I don’t have to wait too long to cross. I wonder if City Council finally implemented my ideas:

• No downtown pedestrian to wait more than 20 seconds to cross a street.

• Four-way crossings at major intersections.

• Whole city blocks cordoned off from cars – forever.

It could happen. Behind these googly-eyed granny glasses, anything is possible.

I walk diagonally to the north and continue west.

Did I just walk … diagonally? How weird is that? North Amer­icans are right angle-obsessed. Wiggly lines are highly under­rated.

I take a right and head up Mar­ket Street. These cobblestones are so old-towny, a little slice of the past. Judging by these metal barriers, it looks like this street is blocked off from cars for good.

At last!

I stroll down the middle of the road – because I can – and look up at the historic buildings. These used to be warehous­es, didn’t they? I didn’t notice them so much before. Because sidewalks are on the side of the street, it’s hard to look up. If you pan around from the edge of the road, you get vertigo and crick your neck. And people look at you sideways.

But standing here in the mid­dle gives the street a whole new perspective. I wish I could do this all over the city.

A busker is breathing fire to my right, with people standing around oohing and clapping. They used to have Buskerfest around here, didn’t they? And Woofstock? What happened to that?

I remember walking around laughing at poodles in their doggy strollers. It was a mas­sive crush, maybe too massive. Perhaps the city thought that if the streets are closed off to cars and people can wander freely, it will be chaos.

I walk past rows of Muskoka chairs and benches, all occu­pied. Once again, nobody is fid­dling with their phone.

I cross Front Street. I don’t have to look left and right be­cause this street is closed for cars too. A sign says, “Weekend Market”. All along the street the tents are up, the cat is out. Twenty dollars for a set of doi­lies? No thanks.

There’s a nice aroma in the air – banana crepes? Yes, please.

I grab a crepe and apple cider and take a seat by the Flat Iron building. So many people are out today. It’s like the Distillery District’s Christmas Market, but without the honking, line-ups and the cold. It’s not like the rush-hour Union Station crush or the underground PATH net­work rat run. No.

Nobody is in a hurry to be somewhere else today. Why? Because they’re already here.