Indy race will add to traffic chaos

Race organizers sent out a media release Wednesday with the headline: “Honda Indy Toronto pledges not to add to traffic woes.”

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Let me begin by saying that I love the Honda Indy.

I loved the race when it was the Molson Indy. At one time, I was part of the organizing team of that race (and the ones in Vancouver and Edmonton, working in media relations). At other times, I have gone on radio and television to extol its virtues and, as a newspaper reporter and columnist in print and online, I have written tens of thousands of words — 99.9 per cent positive — interviewing and promoting and commenting on the race and the events surrounding it, before and after. So it can safely be said that I am a friend of the Honda, née Toronto Grand Prix, née Molson Indy.

But I can’t hold my tongue on this.

As everybody knows, the race takes place through the Exhibition grounds and out along Lake Shore Blvd. Ever since 1986, with one exception, the race has been held in July and a minor inconvenience has been the closure of the Lake Shore between Strachan Ave. and British Columbia Rd. But what has been a minor inconvenience in all the other years will very likely become a horrendous inconvenience this year. Traffic is already bogged down everywhere west of Yonge St. because of the construction on the Gardiner, and closing the Lake Shore from July 17 to 21 is guaranteed to add to the chaos.

Race organizers sent out a media release Wednesday with the headline: “Honda Indy Toronto pledges not to add to traffic woes.”

I’d talked to the event’s president and GM, Charlie Johnstone, about this very thing several weeks ago and suggested that he and his team bend over backwards to find a way around gumming up the traffic works even more. I was very pleased to see, from the headline, that they’d taken positive action. But after actually reading the release, I’m disappointed. Yes, as they have in other years, they will do the majority of the track construction at night, which they say in the release. They say they won’t start work on the Lake Shore section of the track till July, rather than June as in previous years, because traffic will be lighter due to summer vacations. And they say they won’t completely close Lake Shore Blvd. until Thurs., July 17 (which is a day later than they usually close it).

But it will still be completely blocked off to all traffic Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and until 6 a.m. Monday morning. I don’t really care about the weekend. It’s the Thursday and Friday that I’m concerned about.

There will be no racing cars on the circuit until Friday morning, when practice begins. In the “old days” (and I can remember them holding off in Vancouver until Friday morning at 8 a.m. before putting the last retaining wall in place so motorists could cross the Cambie Street Bridge into the downtown), they didn’t close off the circuit till the last minute. So why does the Honda Indy feel it necessary to close all of Lake Shore Blvd. on Thursday?

Yes, the track will have been built and the retaining walls put into place but why can’t the two southernmost lanes be left open going one way east until noon and then one-way west until after the evening rush hours? Could they not adjust the schedule on Friday (which is strictly a practice day and free to the public), so that cars aren’t on track till after 9 a.m. and then off track after 3 p.m. so commuters can use those two lanes eastbound into the downtown in the morning and the same two lanes westbound to get out of town after 3 p.m.?

Yes, in the release, the Honda Indy urges everyone to use public transit and points out the excellent service to and from the race provided by the TTC and GO Transit. But there are thousands of people who could care less about this event who are already being terribly inconvenienced by the incompetence of the people who run the city of Torontos and its those people that the Indy organization and Honda should be concerned about.

Somebody’s not trying hard enough. I suggest there’s still time.

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