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Sunday shoppers in Kensington Market won't have to look both ways when they step off the curb this summer, thanks to seven new swing gates designed to keep cars out of the enclave's narrow and often crowded streets.
The gates were unveiled Friday morning by local Councillor Adam Vaughan and the Kensington Market Business Improvement Association, and will be put to use this weekend during the popular Pedestrian Sunday street festival.
After that, they'll be closed every Sunday from now until September 23 as the BIA launches Market Sundays, weekly car-free days similar to Pedestrian Sundays but without any of the festival programming. Come fall, the barriers will be removed to allow for snow removal.
Before the city commissioned the swing gates, the Kensington Market BIA had to rent out temporary barriers whenever it closed off the streets, something that it's been doing regularly for the past nine years. BIA coordinator Yvonne Bambrick says it was high time the group got permanent infrastructure to do the job.
"There's more pedestrians than ever," Bambrick says. "It gets tight. It's hard to get from one side of the street to the other when there's cars backed up and people everywhere. The streets are narrow... This allows people to do what they're already doing in a much safer way."
Bambrick notes that the gates, which are positioned strategically at seven points throughouth the market, will also help make the area safer for people with strollers or mobility issues.
While the BIA is responsible for operating and maintaining the gates, the city picked up the $179,000 bill for the barriers' construction. Councillor Vaughan sees that as welcome recognition from City Hall that automobiles no longer reign supreme in the centre of town.
"The streets in the downtown are evolving," Vaughan says, citing a population spike that is bringing more car-less residents than ever to the centre of town. "It's creating neighbourhoods that have more pedestrians that have ever been there before. So the sidewalks need to adjust."
The retractable steel gates were designed by Colin Burroughs, a recent graduate from OCAD U's industrial design program. Each one contains a planter full of native grass, and features a laser-cut image of a neighbourhood scene.
One gate portrays a local store, while another shows a rack of bicycles. The gate near the market's famous Garden Car portrays the original version of the flower-box-on-wheels, which was retired this year and sent to a school in the city's northwest end.
The designs on some of the other gates however are, um, a little hard to make out.