UTSU forges ahead with plan to close St. George Street to local traffic

Despite backing from local city councillors, ambitious project not yet endorsed by university

The UTSU’s campaign to pedestrianize St. George Street will continue into next year, with presidential candidate Munib Sajjad pledging to renew the initiative first proposed during the last campaign season, by Shaun Shepherd.

The Community Action Commission says the closure would create a safer walking culture on campus.

“Most of the vehicles driving down St. George fail to yield when one is crossing the street,” said Abigail Cudjoe, UTSU vice-president, external. “Many students will admit that when in a rush they will cross St. George at their convenience, simply because there is not enough time between classes to go from a class from east to west campus within the 10 minute gap.”

Cudjoe says the closure could also unify the west, central and east portions of the downtown campus, allowing students to “engage in an open space.”

In September 2012, St. George was closed by the UTSU Orientation Team, who won permission to host a street festival for 100 clubs, food vendors and sponsors.

The UTSU plans to release a detailed proposal for a permanent closure by April. The union has scheduled a town hall meeting for March 20 to solicit feedback from the community.

“The campaign is in motion, and has the backing and support of city councillor Adam Vaughan,” said Sajjad. Those involved with the project acknowledge that there is more work to be done in order to secure wider support for the initiative before taking a proposal to City Hall.

Vaughan was not available for comment as of press time.

The project is in line with the Toronto Walking Strategy, initiated in 2009, which seeks to “get Torontonians on their feet” in order to promote healthier and more sustainable forms of transportation.

The main impediments to the closure are likely to be traffic costs and logistical issues with traffic.

Sajjad says it is a misconception that the street closure will stop emergency vehicles. “Emergency vehicles and transport vehicles would be able to access the road,” says Sajjad. Local traffic would be prohibited while the city would ensure that any events booked on the pedestrianized space would keep a fire lane accessible at all times.

Sajjad also said he has consulted with the Ryerson Students’ Union (rsu), who successfully ran a multi-year campaign to close Gould Street, the major thoroughfare running through the Ryerson campus.

The UTSU’s proposal has not yet been endorsed by the university administration. “The St. George Campus Master Plan, approved in June 2011 by Governing Council, does not include a plan to pedestrianize St. George Street,” said a university spokesperson.

The spokesperson also added that the street underwent “a significant revitalization” several years ago. “The objective was to calm traffic, increase pedestrian and cycling amenities, and enlarge the existing open green space, and it reduced the four lane street to two, widened the sidewalks, and added greenery,” said the spokesperson.

The changes won a 1997 City of Toronto Urban Design Award.

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