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Public safety restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic required restaurants to significantly reduce their indoor seating capacity. Restaurants quickly felt the effects of these restrictions as they struggled to remain open, and residents grappled with a desire to be social and dine out while remaining safe. With limited space in the city to expand restaurant square footage and accommodate more people, the City of Toronto looked for a solution to support businesses while ensuring residents, restaurant operators and staff remained safe.
We provided critical support to restaurants and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) across Toronto, developing a strategy that would allow them to reopen safely, with increased capacity. Our curb lane roadway strategy allowed for additional patio seating outdoors while respecting capacity and social distancing requirements.
Our placemaking experts and transportation engineers conducted site visits throughout the city to identify candidates for the program and map lane closures. Working closely with local restaurants and BIAs, we undertook a collaborative design process to map and produce technical drawings outlining the specifications of curb lane closures. After the sites had been determined and approved, we developed a traffic control plan that considered public transit stops, emergency services and traffic lights to allow restaurants to open safely with minimal disruption to traffic flow. Following the City’s approval of the plan, it was immediately executed, and we were engaged to provide coordination services to support more than 350 lane closures.
Our CaféTO strategy and plan brought immediate relief to more than 500 restaurant owners struggling to remain open and retain staff throughout the pandemic. The Café TO plan allowed restaurants to increase their seating and serving capacity while complying with public safety regulations.
During the pandemic, strict provincial health regulations aimed to keep people safe meant residents and visitors lost the ability to socialize with one another. The CaféTO project offered everyone a means to safely interact with one another and support local businesses. Initially launched in the summer of 2020, the program has returned to the city of Toronto every year since. The project is a great example of how public space can be reimagined to fit the needs of the people in times of crisis.