Yonge Loves Pedestrians
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Yonge Loves Pedestrians

Ideas for the future of Yonge Street presented at a packed meeting this week.

Yonge Love 1

It’s finally time for a “big, bold, and beautiful” plan for Yonge Street that would allocate large parts strictly for pedestrians.

At the Yonge Love meet-up Wednesday night, some big ideas were presented to a packed atrium at the Ryerson City Building Institute. The goal is to attract people back to the area with space for foot traffic, street-level shops, and a focus on making side streets and laneways more vibrant.

“Evolving cities need to go through this kind of a process,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, the chief planner for the City of Toronto. “Yonge Street is going to function in a very different way in the future than how it has functioned in the past and, as a result, the alignment of the street needs to shift and change.”

During the discussion, panellists weighed in on some tricky issues like safety and transportation, a potential pilot project along King Street, and failed attempts in the past to make Yonge Street pedestrian friendly. Even autonomous vehicles were brought up by a member of the crowd to add to the list of things to consider for a project this bold.

“It really feels like déjà vu all over again,” said urban designer Ken Greenberg, referring to the previous Yonge Street project that was kiboshed by City Council.  

An informal show of hands taken at the event by moderator Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda, clearly showed that the majority of the crowd walked to the event, located just north of Yonge-Dundas Square.

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Yonge Love, a report released by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, studied the strip of Yonge Street from Grosvenor to Richmond streets over the course of seven months in 2014. Pedestrians and business owners shared their opinions about what they would like to see change along the street.

The study produced more scientific results: 49 per cent of people used transit to get to Yonge Street, 40 per cent walked, 13 per cent biked, and five per cent drove.

The study found that people are concerned that the sidewalks aren’t wide enough to accommodate the amount of people being drawn to the area. The solution could be: widen sidewalks in some areas, in other areas, restrict access for cars and bikes, or maybe create pedestrian-only areas.

Yonge Love Stats

Screencap from the Yonge Love report.

“It’s good they’re looking at broad things to do, but what’s actually politically palatable?” said Janani, Planner, who attended the event.

“There’s a whole ecosystem of pedestrian life and pedestrian movement of people living and working in the area,” Greenberg added. “We should be looking at the perpendicular streets, we should be looking at the interior spaces as well as the sidewalk spaces.”

Plans to move this project forward depend on a “forthcoming” environmental assessment, Keesmaat says.

Other Canadian cities, such as Montreal and Vancouver, have been successful with initiatives to pedestrianize parts of their cities. 

According to the study, people also want more pop-up shops and public spaces along Yonge Street.

“I would also challenge the development industry,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Center-Rosedale). “Some of the low hanging fruit for the development industry is that we want to be able to rent to good tenants and good tenants usually mean Shoppers Drug Mart. I don’t know if anybody needs another Shoppers Drug Mart.”