Wrapping up the Distillery Winter Village

Daryl Gonsalves, Columnist –

 As the 2023 edition of the Winter Village in the Distillery came to an end, local residents breathed a sigh of relief. After lasting the majority of November and De­cember, this year’s event was extended to January 7, testing to see if demand would persist beyond the traditional holiday season.

My previous pieces in the bridge summarized new meas­ures deployed for this year’s Winter Village, initial results and resident reactions. Some outcomes improved, but traffic and parking enforcement is still inadequate.

New residents living with­in or nearby Distillery District quickly realized that the holi­day season is both the best and the worst time of the year. If you travel on four wheels, trips get longer as the area becomes gridlocked with traffic. Playing it smart with your two feet? You have to stay alert to avoid care­less drivers.
Feedback from nearby resi­dents doesn’t call for shutting down the Winter Village but for more care to ensure that resi­dents, patrons and businesses all experience more positive outcomes.

To their credit, the Gooder­ham & Worts Neighbourhood Association and Distillery Dis­trict management have spent considerable resources integrat­ing feedback from past winter villages into a comprehensive traffic management plan, along­side a concerted effort to en­courage non-vehicle commutes. However, despite best efforts, a single condition of success re­mains: consistent and respon­sive enforcement from Toronto police and parking authorities.

On the enforcement front, this year was no different. Residents reported that paid-duty police failed to let through some de­livery drivers or tradespeople. Parking enforcement officers vowed that towing was on the table, but an officer I spoke to bluntly told me there is no prac­tical way to tow all the cars that defy the no-parking signage.

Residents also reported a paid-duty officer being too busy reading the bridge online on his phone to ensure the flow of traf­fic and pedestrians. And towards the end of the Winter Village, I noted that Distillery manage­ment had closed the Mill Street bike lane despite claiming to en­courage arrival by cycling.

In early January the Gooder­ham & Worts Neighbourhood Association organized a virtu­al community town hall so that Distillery management direct­ly heard feedback. Residents expressed their experiences, with a representative from the Distillery responding that man­agement is listening and will integrate feedback for next year. One resident passionately de­cried an increase in litter near the Distillery District due to the Winter Village.

Unsurprisingly, all parties agreed that enforcement con­tinued to be lacking this year and was the Achilles heel of the 2023 traffic management plan. Although the revised plan did mitigate a significant amount of traffic impacts compared with previous years, more changes are needed to reduce reliance on Toronto police and enforce­ment officers. Year after year, enforcement has proven to be mostly talk and no game.

Advocacy by the Gooderham & Worts Neighbourhood Asso­ciation has been impressive, and no doubt will continue in the road to the 2024 Winter Village. The Distillery management has updated the website to state that the next edition will open on November 13.

That means nine months until it is again the best time of the year or the worst – take your pick.