Construction for the Pan Am games include the creation of Athlete’s Village in West Don Lands neighbourhood, southeast of King and Parliament. When the games are over, the village will be converted into affordable residential space for Torontonians and dorms for George Brown college students.
The 2015 Pan Am Games will be the biggest multi-sport event this country has ever seen— double the size of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. With more than 10,000 athletes and officials, an expected 250,000 spectators, and 8 sports complexes being built to host the events, city dwellers are bracing themselves for the crowds. As is, the GTA is under constant pressure to expand and improve public transportation as the downtown core inhales and exhales a deep breath of commuters on a daily basis. Squashed up against the window of the crowded streetcar on Queen, I can’t help but think I’m not the only one looking to the games with anxious claustrophobia and a desire to skip town. With more people, massive events, and increased traffic during the Pan Am Games – how does Toronto expect to pull this off?
Fortunately, the inevitable challenge of squeezing hundreds of thousands of people into a densely populated city has occurred to the Pan Am operational leaders. Thus came the proposal for and the creation of the Pan/ParaPan American Transportation Team (PATT), a group composed of experts from the Ministry of Transportation, Metrolinx, and the TO15 Organizational Committee. Their goal: to evaluate the required construction for fast and frequent transportation to and from Pan Am events, considering traffic demands around each venue and the city activity that will continue unchanged. PATT is composing a strategy to not only accommodate a larger and more active population throughout the summer of the games, but also to ensure long-term benefits for daily commuters with an improved transportation system. The committee will encourage travelers within the city to turn to the “Go Train, park ‘n ride, cycling, shuttles and even old-fashioned walking,” in the hopes that even these simple solutions will be instilled in daily lives of downtowners.
While good “old-fashioned walking” is all good and well for citizens with short commutes, voyagers coming in from afar will be provided with more tangible improvements to the transport structure. One of the major projects that we are anticipating is the Union Pearson Express, an airport rail link that will provide a much needed route between Toronto Pearson International Airport to Union Station. The express track is a part of Metrolinx’s strategy to provide efficient and integrated transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). With many currently turning to the Toronto Island Airport in order to avoid lugging bags on the Pearson-downtown subway trek, this new development is great news for us (and for Pearson’s business). The express will be completed in time for the games.
Though traffic within the city can get away with relying “heavily on public transit to move spectators,” the Pan Am events will be spread out among 15 municipalities across the region. Modifications to urban spaces are in the works in order to provide easy access for a strong surge of guests, and Pan Am’s organizational commitee is prepared to hear our suggestions. In Hamilton, discussion surrounding the Pan Am Stadium has been opened up to the potential re-design of Cannon Street, with the goal of adding bike lanes and to alter the layout to allow for the street to be closed on event days for total pedestrian access. These changes have been persistently recommended by the Yes We Cannon campaign, a local movement that’s been petitioning City Council to make the street pedestrian, bike, and child-friendly. Opposing the concept of limiting vehicle access are those who use Cannon street to drive in to Toronto, fearing that traffic will be slowed and pushed to King Street. With the coming games, the Yes We Cannon petitioners are hopeful that their ideas will take shape – as are those of us who see the Pan Am games as an opportunity to create positive change in our city structure.
The bottom line? Toronto knows what they’re getting into, and is making the necessary steps to prepare. The organizational committee has reached out to the IBI group of London, UK, offering them a contract to develop the 2015 Transportation Master Plan. The IBI group will drawing on their experiences with the London Olympics to offer aid to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
The 2015 Pan Am games bring opportunity for city reconstruction and transportation development, bringing issues with our current system to the surface. With two years until the games begin, there are a number of ways to have your voice heard. Reach out to the Community Engagement Council (CEC), a board composed of experienced leaders in the field of community collaboration working to unite the ideas of Ontario citizens over the Pan Am games. Apply to the IGNITE program, a community partnership that enables individuals to create Pan Am/Parapan Am initiaties and to increase awareness about those already in place, and also check out the TO2015 Facebook to follow updates on development and to find opportunities to get involved.
Farrah Khaled is an intern at the Toronto Standard. Follow her on twitter at @farkhaly.