TORONTO – Residents in Willowdale joined local Councillor John Filion along with advocates from across the city at a virtual press event this morning calling on Toronto City Council to support recommendations for the reconstruction of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues.
The report REimagining Yonge, returning to the City’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee on December 1, would revitalize Yonge St. with much wider sidewalks, enough room for planting, benches and outdoor patios plus a bike lane separated from both motorists and pedestrians. By repurposing a motor vehicle lane in each direction, Yonge Street would transform from a commuter highway, to a livable main street where people can enjoy shopping, restaurants, and a livable cityscape.
“This is about the future of Willowdale,” said area councillor John Filion. “The Transform Yonge recommendation provides that rare opportunity to recreate a main street and change the focus from cars to people.”
Members of the community, each actively involved with a local organization, expressed personal views on how vital the project would be for local residents.
A well designed main street would help bring the local community together said Garry Lam, Edithvale-Yonge Community Association. “As a busy highway, Yonge Street tends to divide neighbourhoods to the east and west. A more vibrant main street would unite our community with places to connect and spend time together.”
Jane Brackley, Yonge Corridor Condominium Association, described the difference a better pedestrian environment would make for the many thousands of local condo residents that live steps from Yonge.
”I’m pleased that the City is taking action to better meet the needs of those of us who live, shop, eat, walk and enjoy life along the Yonge Corridor. We include retirees, working people of all ages, and increasingly, young families with children. We all need safer, more welcoming multi-use public spaces.”
Business leaders are aware that wider sidewalks and space for outdoor patios will draw more customers to the area. OJ Faghani, President of Newland Financial said, “There are nearly 80,000 people living within walking distance of this part of Yonge Street. Attracting them with a spectacular main street will mean more economic activity for everyone doing business in the area.”
REimagining Yonge is a plan that adopts best practices that have successfully improved cities all over the world. It supports the City’s overall transportation, environmental and public health priorities, earning it top marks from a range of city building experts.
Ken Greenberg, renowned Urban Designer and Principal of Greenberg Consultants, described the importance of planning infrastructure projects with the needs of the future in mind. “This is a one in a generation opportunity to make the shift to a Yonge Street that truly reflects contemporary needs: accessible, safe, comfortable for all ages, and supporting daily life in this growing community.”
Since its first trip to Council in 2017, REimagining Yonge has also captured the attention of public health and road safety advocates. “The importance of supporting active transportation as a matter of public health can’t be understated,” said Kim Jarvi of the 46,000-member Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. “When people are allowed to build biking, walking and running into their ordinary activity, they decrease their risk of heart disease, obesity, depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Getting people out of cars reduces health-harming pollution. And giving people more space to pass each other on sidewalks lowers transmission of viruses during this pandemic.”
Jess Spieker, Friends and Family for Safe Streets, addressed the rising collision rates along this stretch of Yonge, a number that is simply unacceptable. “The heartbreak and anguish that comes from road violence is a life sentence, but that pain can be avoided by improving our road design through Vision Zero. It’s a moral imperative to save lives, and we don’t have any more time or lives to waste in North York – we must Transform Yonge, now.”
Council most recently considered the report in April 2018, deferring a decision to address TTC concerns. If approved by Council, construction would likely begin in 2025 following traffic flow improvements resulting from extensions of both Doris Avenue and Beecroft Road.
Other participants in the event attending to show their personal support included:
Eli Aaron, Toronto Youth Cabinet
Steve Boyle, Willowdale Central Ratepayers Association
Mike Capotosto, West Lansing Homeowners Association
Gideon Forman, David Suzuki Foundation
Jim Gratsas, West Willowdale Neighbourhood Association
Darnel Harris, Our Greenway
Dr. Sarah Levitt, Doctors for Safe Cycling
Daniella Levy-Pinto, WalkTO
Michael Longfield, Cycle TO
Amanda O’Rourke, 8-80 Cities
William Pham, Willowdale Youth Council
Linda Rataj, North York Seniors Centre
Saman Tabasinejad, Progress Toronto
This segment of Yonge street is at the end of its life cycle and must be reconstructed within 5-8 years.
An estimated 80,000 people live within walking distance of this section of Yonge, with a projected increase of 10% by 2031.
Since 2011, there were 159 reported collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists on this stretch of Yonge St, including 10 fatalities.
REimagining Yonge is consistent with the City’s Vision Zero road safety plan, narrowing crossing distances for pedestrians, adding signalized crossing locations and giving pedestrians adequate and safe space to travel.
During two years of public consultation, most residents who have expressed an opinion agreed that Yonge should become a community Main Street rather than a six-lane highway.
During rush hour, currently 75% of the cars on Yonge St. are travelling to and from the 905 region.
Through extensive modelling and study, staff estimate an average travel time increase of less than 30 seconds at peak periods as a result of the proposed changes.
REimagining Yonge is consistent with the City’s declaration of a climate emergency and the TransformTO plan seeking to increase all trips under 5 km to be walked or cycled by 2050.
Cost estimate for the REimagining Yonge reconstruction is $60 million.
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Alex Byrne-Krzycki Markus O’Brien Fehr
Senior Advisor – Strategic Initiatives Chief of Staff