Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nuit Blanche 'overwhelms' TTC services - Toronto Star

Nuit Blanche 'overwhelms' TTC services
`Huge' turnout for all-night art festival leaves streets jammed, travellers waiting
October 02, 2007
Bruce DeMara
Entertainment Reporter

The numbers for Toronto's second Nuit Blanche are still coming in, but it's clear the 2007 version was a smashing success – maybe even a bit too successful.

Numbers from 195 venues are steadily trickling in as organizers try to determine the economic impact of the all-night event. But there's little doubt they'll handily exceed last year's inaugural year estimate of 425,000 people.

"My first impression is that there were probably twice as many people as there were last year. It was huge," said Councillor Kyle Rae.

You don't have to tell that to the hundreds of thousands of participants who relied on extended TTC service – shuttle buses, streetcars and subway – and found themselves waiting and waiting.

"There were people coming from all over the city and frankly, the TTC service was a little bit overwhelmed. There's no other way of saying that," said Councillor Joe Mihevc, a TTC commissioner.

"Next year, we will be more fully prepared with much greater service. We did not think this would be such a large success and so we provided a minimalist service as opposed to what we really needed for –the downtown core at least – which was rush-hour service."

TTC chair Councillor Adam Giambrone said for surface routes – especially along Queen St. W. – milling crowds were the main factor in slow service.

"If we'd doubled the number of streetcars, it still wouldn't have improved service on Queen St. You still could have walked faster than the Queen streetcar," Giambrone said.

But he noted the TTC ran short of day passes and had difficulty getting around the provincial Employment Standards Act – which requires specific breaks for hours of service – in getting staff to operate various routes.

From a policing perspective, the event was remarkable. A spokesperson for Toronto police said there was no criminal activity reported that related to Nuit Blanche.

Jaye Robinson, the city's director of special events, called the lack of incidents "very impressive" considering the unexpectedly large crowds.

At the Gardiner Museum, for example, the numbers increased to 17,000 this year from 11,500 last year. At the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor St. W., an event put on by the Greek consulate rocketed to 15,000 from 1,000 last year.

The event's popularity means organizers should get an "immediate" start planning for 2008, Robinson said.

"It's grown so rapidly here in Toronto (because) of the way Torontonians have embraced the event. It's just remarkable," she said.

"Strategically, we have to look at the scale and the scope of the event. It needs to grow to accommodate the crowds," she added.

Mayor David Miller called the event "unbelievably successful."

"If anything, we had too many people. It was just extraordinary and it was clear Torontonians have an incredible appetite for modern public art installations, including offbeat and weird ones," he said.

But not everyone agreed the event was an artistic success, including the mayor's own daughter, Julia, 12.

"My daughter ... leaned over to me and said, `Dad, everything in Nuit Blanche is weird,' " Miller said, with a laugh.

Artist Mark Reid – partner of Toronto councillor Kyle Rae – panned a Church St. display, noting it could have been "a lot raunchier."

But Reid said art is meant to be unpredictable and Torontonians shouldn't expect to like everything they see.

"It's contemporary art. A lot of it is not easy stuff. It's not your white bread and potatoes type of stuff," Reid said.

Many artists spontaneously took to the streets and to event venues, in some instances using bedsheets as screens to show off their videos and films.

"There's something that makes it special, being up all night. If you did the equivalent (event) for a day, it wouldn't be the same at all," Reid said. "Staying up all night is a big thing."
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