Toronto's iconic Yonge Street to be transformed into pedestrian-friendly space

Feb 4 2021, 7:32 am

Toronto City Council voted on Wednesday to approve the YongeTOmorrow plan, which would see a pedestrian-friendly transformation of Yonge Street, including more patios and green space.

The proposed plan calls for significant changes to the busy downtown throughway, starting at Queen Street and stretching north to College Street. The planned changes include reduced lanes of traffic, pedestrian-only zones, protected bike lanes, and more sidewalk space for patios and greenery.

The Council’s vote to approve the YongeTOmorrow plan wasn’t entirely unanimous, with 21 councillors in favour and 5 against.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, a vocal advocate of YongeTOmorrow, celebrated the victory, saying in a tweet that the project was a long time coming.

“Thank you to the residents, biz owners, thought leaders, cultural mavens who spoke in support of this big urban transformation,” Wong-Tam said. “Yonge St is a project 10 years in the making and today’s historic vote solidifies its bright future!”

The project was previously hailed by environmentalist David Suzuki, who commended the plan’s proposed bike lanes as a great way to encourage cycling as a preferred mode of transportation to get around the city.

Some of the most noticeable changes that the plan could bring are the pedestrian-only route along Yonge Street on both the north and south sides of Dundas Street and select one-way traffic areas along Yonge Street.

“During the day, from College Street to Queen Street, Yonge Street would be a place focused on the movement and experience of people walking, cycling, and connecting to transit, rather than [a] way to get through the downtown core by driving,” The YongeTOmorrow plan reads.

“The one-way driving blocks provide daytime access for those visiting or servicing a local property by car or truck, while keeping traffic volumes low to support a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.”

During overnight hours — 1 am to 6 am — two-way access would resume.

City officials believe that the project would increase business in the area, with the YongeTOmorrow plan citing New York City’s Times Square, which is largely closed to traffic, as an example of how improving the pedestrian experience could increase foot traffic and, in turn, bolster businesses.

Some, however, including Cadillac Fairview, the owner of the Eaton Centre, have voiced concerns that the plan could ultimately be damaging for their business.

“We are aligned with members of our community and are eager to have an improved pedestrian experience and public realm; however, the pedestrian-only zones and bike lanes that are now part of the current preferred design concept would be especially damaging for CF Toronto Eaton Centre and local businesses,” Martin Wray, Cadillac Fairview’s vice president of operations wrote in a letter to City Council prior to the vote.

“We request, in the strongest terms, that these plans be re-evaluated to maintain essential and continuous access along Yonge Street. Overall logistics are confusing and will not be adhered to, and there is no additional funding for long-term enforcement.”

The YongeTOmorrow plan will continue to undergo further consultation and refinement before beginning construction, which is expected to start in 2023 and finish in 2025.

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