Toronto City Council approves Yonge Street transformation plan

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Toronto City Council has voted to approve a plan to transform Yonge Street, including reduced lanes of vehicle traffic and added space for pedestrians, seating and greenery.

Council voted 21 to 5 in late January in favour of the YongeTOmorrow plan that downtown Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says will transform the downtown and “solidifies its bright future.”

“Thank you to the residents, (business) owners, thought leaders, cultural mavens who spoke in support of this big urban transformation,” Wong-Tam wrote in a tweet shortly after the vote.

Council has approved an initial design for the project, which targets a stretch of Yonge Street from College Street in the north to Queen Street in the south. More detailed plans will now be developed, evaluated, and additional consultations will be held.

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Construction is still several years away.

A December staff report describes the need for a downtown makeover:

“While the number of pedestrians on Yonge Street has somewhat lessened during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the last several years, Yonge Street has been struggling to serve the growing pedestrian demand which has resulted from more people living and working downtown. There is overcrowding and insufficient clearway on some sections of sidewalk,” Barbara Gray General Manager, Transportation Services wrote.

“The number of pedestrians on the street is expected to continue to grow due to a projected doubling in population and employment in the surrounding area by 2041 along with a continued mode shift towards walking. Without improvement, the sidewalks will become critically deficient, risk pedestrian safety, and deter significant economic and cultural investment.”

The Recommended Design Concept proposes a consistent, yet flexible road design that can accommodate different operations and programming. The following design elements are consistent for the full length of the focus area from College Street to Queen Street:

  • 6.0 m-wide, two-lane roadway with mountable curbs and vehicular unit paving
  • 2.7 m-wide furnishing, planting and café zone
  • 4.0 m-wide (minimum) pedestrian clearway with pedestrian unit paving

The typical cross section from Gerrard to Queen Streets is more constrained at 20 m. From College Street to Gerrard Street, the right-of-way is six metres wider than the rest of the corridor. The character of the adjacent properties is also less tourism and entertainment-focused. Cycle tracks, which provide links between the existing cycling facilities on College Street and Gerrard Street are recommended for this section. “The proposed 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,” a website for YongeTOmorrow reads.

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“Driving circulation during the daytime would provide vehicle access to support parking garages, loading, deliveries, ride-hail, tour buses, Wheel-Trans and municipal services while maintaining a pedestrian-focused streetscape.”

Overnight (i.e. from 1:00 am to 6:00 am) all blocks would have two-way traffic.

Greenery would be planted throughout much of the area and there would be “furnished zones,” according to the initial design.

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Identified goals include wider sidewalks, more bike lanes, patios, benches, parkettes and public art.

The city must replace a water main that is more than 100 years old and sits underneath Yonge Street, which “provides the opportunity for the city to redesign the street,” the YongeTOmorrow site said.

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“This is the opportunity to bring one of Toronto’s most historic and culturally important streets back onto the world stage.”

Subject to approval of the EA, the next phase of the project will develop the detailed design of the Preferred Design Concept along with construction phasing and schedules.

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