Pedestrian Only Sundays in Toronto’s Kensington Market

In an effort to offer Torontonians respite from cars, and a taste of this rich multicultural community at its best, P. S. Kensington kicked off the third season of Pedestrian Only celebrations in Kensington Market with a spring themed grand opening yesterday, May 28th. Organizers have planned family-friendly Pedestrian Sundays for the last Sunday of each month from May to October.

Though massive waves of US origin air pollution regularly blanket Toronto, roadway traffic is a significant source of the air pollution that affects human health in this city. These pollutants carbon monoxide being one of the worst offenders are emitted from cars, trucks and SUVs at ground level in close proximity to people. According to Toronto Public Health, “Short-term exposures to air pollution have been linked to increases in respiratory symptom infections, acute bronchitis, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature deaths. They have also been associated with reduced lung function and aggravation of asthma symptoms.”

Air quality testing, conducted by a team of scientists from York University on Pedestrian Sundays in 2004 and 2005, measured carbon monoxide concentrations on the street as an indicator of local air quality and compared it to measurements taken on days with regular vehicular access. The purpose was to assess the environmental and health benefits of creating a car-free zone results showed clearly that this had a direct positive effect on outdoor street-level air quality.

While advances in vehicle technologies and fuels are expected to reduce emissions from vehicles in the coming years, it is generally recognized that these advances will not be sufficient to protect human health, given the growing volume of traffic on roadways, particularly in large urban centres (Report from the Medical Officer of Health, City of Toronto – “The Impacts of Traffic on Health”, March 2006). In the context of recent legislation limiting exposure to second-hand smoke, a coherent policy would require pro-active actions such as reducing vehicular traffic, in order to address the issue of air quality in our cities.

Though organizers of Pedestrian Sundays are pleased to have seen the momentum of the initiative build over the past three years, they do not want to see the market area turned into a permanent “showpiece” pedestrian zone while car culture continues to strangle the rest of Toronto. Making the implementation of temporary and permanent pedestrian zones more accessible for neighbourhoods throughout the city is one of the group’s long term goals.

On each Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market, no motor vehicles are permitted from 12:00 noon until 7:00pm (until 10:00pm on the north end of Augusta Street). Programming begins at 1:00pm. The affected streets include Augusta from College to Denison, Baldwin from Augusta to Kensington, and Kensington from Baldwin to Dundas.

Each day has once again been designated a theme:

May 28th – OPEN UP! Grand Opening Spring Celebration
June 25th – FIRE! Summer Solstice SUNday
July 30th – WATER! Streams of Consciousness
August 13th – BLACKOUT! Kensington Unplugged
August 27th – AIR! Kensington Community Air Show
September 24th – EARTH! Global Harvest Traditions
October 29th – HALLOWEEN! Honouring Our Ancestors

Street activities yesterday included live music by local performers such as Michael J’s Red Rhythm (with swing dancing), the Kensington Community Horns, Maracatu Nunca Antes, and Samba Elegua. Other activities include dance demonstrations and lessons, portrait drawing for all ages, giant board games including chess and scrabble, a walking labyrinth, an organic lemonade stand, and much more.

Kensington Market, one of North America’s largest open air markets, is so well served by public transit that the best way to enjoy this clean air pocket is to make your way there by TTC, bicycle or on foot.

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