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Toronto braces for G20 logistics crunch

Late-June summit could cause trouble for commuters,
island airport users and baseball fans, as well as downtown residents

By Anna Mehler Paperny

When the G20 comes to Toronto in June, it promises to bring not only the planet’s most powerful leaders and a cast of thousands but a slew of logistic and transit hassles in the city’s downtown core.

Subway lines and the underground PATH system pass through a security zone - an “interdiction” area - that will feature identification checkpoints and traffic diversion.

Baseball fans, as many as 40,000 of them, could have a difficult time getting to the June 26 game to see former Jay Roy Halladay pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies because of disruptions to local traffic, the TTC and GO Train service. The GO trains that run directly behind the convention centre will likely be halted at specific times during the two-day summit, depending on the whereabouts of heads of state.

RCMP Sergeant Michelle Paradis, a spokeswoman for the Integrated Security Unit, said none of these services will be shut down entirely due to G20 security, but it’s still not clear where there will be delays or rerouted traffic, and what aspects of the PATH will be closed - and when.

“There will probably be restrictions, whether it be traffic restrictions or pedestrian,” Sgt. Paradis said, adding that the goal is for transit restrictions to be minimal.

Paul Beeston, CEO of the Jays and the Rogers Centre, confirmed this week that the ball game is going ahead, but as far as getting fans to their seats “there are some issues to be resolved.”

These issues, says Councillor Adam Vaughan, include how the tens of thousands of people expected to show up for the game will navigate a convoluted route to the stadium from restricted public transit.

The route will be dictated by the placement of the two three-metre-high security fences that are set to encircle the premium security zones, with one likely encompassing the hotels that will house the delegations: the InterContinental, The Fairmont Royal York and perhaps the Westin Harbour Castle, although the latter could have its own fence.

If Torontonians want a taste of what this will do to their downtown core, they need only look to Pittsburgh, which hosted the G20 summit last September. Additional security, rerouting and delay arrangements cost Pittsburgh’s transit system close to $500,000 and effectively closed the city’s triangular downtown peninsula to transit vehicles for the duration of the summit. In Pittsburgh’s case, buses on more than 130 of the city’s 180 routes had to take detours leading up to and during the summit; the light-rail transit lines that normally pass through the downtown core were stopped just outside, effectively reducing the city’s public transit system to a single downtown entry point.

In a city whose downtown area is also its economic core, that’s a big deal, said Pittsburgh Port Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo. “Not only were there limited positions of access into downtown, the buses looped and routing within downtown was altered, so we were working with detours and with stop changes,” Ms. Pharo said, adding that ridership dropped precipitously during that time, thanks to both the inconvenience and the number of businesses whose operations were disrupted. About 96,000 people took downtown transit on the Thursday of the summit, compared to 220,000 the Thursday before.

Although most transit delays weren’t more than 45 minutes, one protest in the area forced all transit vehicles to avoid the downtown for an entire afternoon, Ms. Pharo said, adding that the transit system did its best to alert riders in advance but didn’t get a detailed breakdown of what its G20 routes would look like until Sept. 15, barely 10 days before the summit.

Over the next several weeks, security forces will fan out across Toronto’s dense and busy downtown neighbourhood, giving special accreditation that will allow employees and residents to enter and exit an interdiction area that could extend as far as Queen Street in the north, Spadina Avenue in the west, Lakeshore Boulevard in the south and Yonge Street in the east. A traffic diversion area will detour downtown vehicles away from the secure zone. Designated “speech areas” are being prepared for protesters.

“Those aspects of security can change depending on the intelligence we receive,” said Sgt. Leo Monbourquette of the Integrated Security Unit. “If we realize there’s going to be less of a presence of protesters, maybe our footprint can be a little bit smaller.”

Spokespeople from the TTC, Go Transit and the Toronto Port Authority that runs the island airport say they’re working closely with summit security to minimize inconvenience to passengers. But they all say they don’t know exactly how that will work. “The port authority has been very active in those discussions, but really we don’t know what all the details are going to be,” said airport director Ken Lundy, adding that the airport is putting additional security in place but he’s “not at liberty to divulge” what that entails.

In the meantime, multiple police forces are preparing for an onslaught of high-profile guests and attendant protesters. A U.S. Secret Service spokesman said they have special protocol for American “protectees,” including President Barack Obama, but couldn’t elaborate on what it is.

With reports by Jeff Blair and Kelly Grant