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Curb-lane cafes became part of Toronto's response to COVID-19 but now appear to be a permanent summer feature. Photo: Sue-Ann Levy
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Toronto receives applications for 500 curb lane cafés

April 6, 2023

City of Toronto receives more than 500 CaféTO curb lane café applications

More than 500 restaurants and bars have applied for a City of Toronto CaféTO curb lane café patio this summer.

City staff are reviewing all applications to ensure they meet the program requirements set out in the regulations under Chapter 742, Sidewalk Cafés, Parklets and Marketing Displays. Staff will also work with a traffic management consultant to develop a safe and balanced approach to curb lane use, including loading zones and cycling infrastructure.

Approved CaféTO curb lane locations will be installed between mid-May and June and will be available for patrons and businesses to use until October.

The CaféTO program was first introduced in 2020 as a temporary emergency response initiative to support restaurants and bars affected by indoor dining restrictions and has evolved into a popular, annual program. It is estimated that customers spent millions of dollars dining on CaféTO patios from May through September last year.

Operators must install a removable, temporary platform in their curb lane café area that makes the space level with the sidewalk to address a key accessibility barrier. All temporary platform designs must be stamped/signed by a licensed design professional (engineer, architect or BCIN designer) and submitted to the City by Saturday, July 1. Although operators are encouraged to install a platform at the start of the season, a temporary ramp from the sidewalk into the café area can be used until Tuesday, August 1. 

None of the driving professionals Taxi News spoke with in January 2023 support the Curb Lane cafes.

Taxi News could not find any driving professionals who support the curb-lane patios, temporary or permanent.

“I’ve never liked the idea!” says Taxi driver Jafar Mirsalari. “It’s horrible, unsafe, unhealthy and causes traffic jams big time, specifically wherever the streetcars are running.”

Rideshare driver Earla Phillips told Taxi News, “I don’t understand why they are doing the expansion at all. These were originally brought in as a COVID measure. I personally find them scary, as a potential customer; drivers are nuts on the road.”

Phillips also notes the fact that where patios extend into curb lanes, bicycle lanes must merge into the more limited traffic lanes. “Cyclists hate them; and now there will be more of them, and permanent?”

Co-op Cabs CEO Abdul Abdul Mohamoud says “I just have to wonder how healthy is it for people to sit there inhaling traffic fumes.”

Twenty-four Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) are participating in the CaféTO Curb Lane Pilot Program  , which will conclude following the 2024 patio season. As part of the pilot, BIAs are working with CaféTO operators to extend patio lengths, add bicycle parking, provide loading zones and/or establish waste collection areas. BIAs are well-positioned to partner with the City and area businesses to design curb lane closures that address and balance local needs. 

Operators are encouraged to apply for the CaféTO Property Improvement Program, which is accepting applications until Friday, June 30, or when the $1.5 million of available funds are expended. Applications are considered on a first in, first reviewed basis. The program will match 50 per cent of the cost of eligible patio space improvements, including costs associated with renting, leasing or purchasing accessible temporary platforms, up to a maximum of $7,500 per operator. This program, available for the 2023 and 2024 CaféTO seasons, is funded by a Government of Canada investment of $18 million through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) as part of the Toronto Main Street Recovery and Rebuild Initiative (MRRI).

The City’s BIA CaféTO grant program also continues this year to support planter maintenance and curb lane closure design. The grant, which opened to applications from BIAs in March, provides up to $5,000 for eligible expenses.