July 15, 2016
The Toronto Star
It’s game on for road hockey and basketball in Toronto.
Council paved the way Friday afternoon for road hockey and basketball nets on local roads, removing a bureaucratic ban on play without further debate.
Council backed a change to rarely enforced city rules and now play will be explicitly allowed on roads with speed limits of 40 km/h or less during daylight hours between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.
It’s about time, says Matthew Blackett. He got involved in the push to end the ban 10 years ago, and said while he’s not surprised the change took so long, he’s happy it finally happened.
“I think it’s fantastic that council has recognized that our streets aren’t just conduits for getting from point A to point B. You can play in the streets,” he said.
Growing up in Willowdale, Blackett said he and his friends played road hockey all the time without any problems. It wasn’t until he moved downtown in the late ’90s and started seeing “ball play prohibited” signs that he took up the cause.
“I thought it was so antithetical to Canada and how much we like our hockey,” he said. He also said that creating a culture of playing in the streets makes everyone safer.
“I remember as a kid (drivers) would start to slow down because we played ball hockey out there all the time,” Blackett said.
Under the new rules, nets will now be allowed on the road as long as they don’t block driveways or impede sightlines for cars and pedestrians. They must also not block the city’s ability to clean the road of snow and litter. Nets must be taken off the road when play is done.
“I am ecstatic that we were able to get something through this quickly,” said Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence).
“For something that’s been tried many times and now kids can be active and it gives them another mode to be out and having fun and learning street smarts and building community. It’s really a win for families.”
Dealing with staff concerns over safety and liability to the city, Carmichael Greb’s successful motion says those participating or permitting play of road hockey and basketball games “are responsible for determining what locations are safe and for playing in a safe manner and agree that they are assuming any and all liability to persons and all risks to themselves or children under their care.”
Council’s direction — taken against staff’s own advice but Stephen Buckley, outgoing general manager of transportation services, is tasked with implementing it. He said there are many occasions when council goes against staff advice and “we’ll work with it.
“The motion gives very specific criteria about where and when this can occur, but ultimately the risk is on either the parents of the children or the persons in the street themselves,” he said.
Carmichael Greb said many, like her residents, thought the rules and $55 fine were unnecessary since they already aren’t enforced.
“It shows that you really can make change at city hall, even if they’re little things,” she said.
The reaction from a few young players could be easily guessed.
“I was really surprised that it wasn’t legal,” Ryan Turnbull, 15, said Friday. The Lawrence Park native said “I have always played street hockey with my friends and neighbours. Everyone just joins in no matter how old they are or their gender.
On the May long weekend, he said, “I was totally shocked when officer Mike (Walker, of 53 Division) stopped his police car and asked to join me and my brothers in a game. It was really cool of him, and especially exciting for the 7-year-olds. He then was nice enough to give us a tour of his police car.”
The move to legalize the street game comes after Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau urged the city to lift the ban in a rare public intervention in municipal affairs by a provincial minister.
“We should encourage our kids to play (but) . . . sometimes, as government leaders, we focus too much on the details of programs, policies, budgets and statistics, when the best thing we can do is just get out of the way,” Coteau wrote in an open letter.
Council’s decision follows previous attempts to lift the ban, including by Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s) in 2012.
Back then, councillors argued there was no need to change the rules since they were not often enforced — exactly why Matlow said it should be struck.
With files from Betsy Powell, Robert Benzie and Jesse Winter