Alas, the death-defying dash across 12 lanes of speedy Lakeshore traffic to the beach has begun.
Armed with homemade cardboard signs, hard hats and fluorescent vests, a people’s traffic brigade has been trekking down to Lakeshore Boulevard every weekend since the Jameson bridge was unexpectedly closed for repairs in May to guide locals seeking the cool of Lake Ontario.
The alternative is a 3-kilometre round trip via Dufferin or the Roncesvalles bridge.
Time for guerrilla crossing guards.
I served as a crossing guard during my elementary school years, before adults took over the job. But Lakeshore and Jameson is tricky.
Three lanes of eastbound cars zoom around a bend under the bridge to merge with ramps heading to and from the Gardiner and Jameson.
What works best, we discover, is a loud whistle and boosting our Pedestrian Crossing sign overhead.
While 99 per cent of vehicles stop, a few attempt to get ahead of pedestrians in the makeshift crossing, prompting some to holler, “Can’t you wait?”
Although “interfering with traffic” is technically illegal, police from 11 Division, too, seem troubled by the dangerous situation.
They warn us we risk “major personal liability” for fender benders or worse. One weekend, an officer confiscated our sign and guided people across himself.
The bridge’s construction foreman says he has been instructed by the city to call police whenever he sees us stopping traffic. Even so, police haven’t ticketed us.The biggest challenge comes on Canada Day.
I grab the stop sign and whistle while Richard hikes 25 metres ahead to alert approaching vehicles, waving our crossing sign. A steady stream of people approach: families with food and blankets for picnics, cyclists, groups of teenagers and those who move at a slower pace.
We’re dressed as construction workers (so as not to confuse drivers), and most assume we’re legit. Unlike lonely Richard, waving the warning sign, I hog the praise: “Great job,” “Thanks for being here.”
As darkness descends, dozens of spectators are drawn to the shoreline to watch the fireworks at Ontario Place. I move the pylons used to mark our crossing under the streetlight while Dirk fastens blinking bike lights onto our cardboard signs. We’re ready.
At the show ends, a festive chaos erupts. Both cars and people stream out of the dark, eventually turning Lakeshore into a parking lot. Cars begin using our pedestrian crossing to makes the turn onto Lakeshore, creating conflicts, so volunteers move pylons or stand in front of vehicles to clear a path for pedestrians.
No one is injured.
The truth is, Parkdale could have had convenient waterfront access decades ago if transportation officials had valued the community as much as the vehicles racing through it. The problem could have been avoided if the city’s transportation services department hadn’t turned down pleas for a traffic signal at Dowling and Lakeshore last year.
But this summer we learned that all it takes is a cardboard sign and a whistle to temporarily even the odds.
Roger Brook is chair of the Parkdale High Park Waterfront Group.