REimagine Yonge (UPDATED)

UPDATE – March 2018

City Council this week deferred consideration of REimagine Yonge. The deferral came after the TTC raised last-minute concerns about potential conflict between bike lanes and a bus lane north of Finch Avenue.  With this issue unresolved, the Transform Yonge option would not likely have passed. John therefore reluctantly supported postponing the decision.

The issue could possibly come back to Council this term or, as the last Council meeting this term is in July, a decision may be delayed until 2019.

The Transform Yonge option is recommended by city staff and was supported by the majority of residents who attended the many consultation meetings.  It was also supported by every organisation advocating for pedestrian and cycling safety and a who’s who of city building experts, including David Crombie, Jennifer Keesmaat, Ken Greenberg, Richard Florida, Richard Peddie and the Ryerson City Building Institute.

Transform Yonge would create a Main Street environment on Yonge with much wider sidewalks, with enough room for planting, benches and outdoor patios plus a bike lane separated from both motorists and pedestrians. It would also reduce a lane of traffic in each direction, making Yonge much less of a highway for 905ers.

Some of the key reasons John supports the Transform Yonge option:

There are currently 14 lanes running north-south between Sheppard and Finch Avenues – six on Yonge and four each on each of Doris and Beecroft, located a short block from Yonge.  Reducing the 14 lanes to 12 still leaves more than enough road capacity, to the point where any delay to commuters is estimated at less than one minute.

Seventy-five percent of the cars on this stretch of Yonge at rush hour are from the 905.  Reducing the six-lane highway funnelling cars onto Yonge from north of Steeles will reduce the number of cars commuting through Willowdale.

Yonge Street is in poor condition and overdue for reconstruction. This opportunity comes only once every 60-75 years.  Willowdale has changed dramatically over the past 25 and the pace of change is accelerating.  I believe it is important to plan for streets and sidewalks that look to the future. This area needs an interesting and attractive main street – something that will never happen with substandard sidewalks and a six-lane highway running through it.

Between 2010 and 2017, on this stretch of Yonge, there were 78 reported collisions involving pedestrians.  Eight of these persons were killed or seriously injured.  Wider sidewalks and reduced lanes of speeding traffic will make this road safer.

Despite all of the evidence and support, it is difficult to win a vote against the wishes of the mayor. Mayor Tory supports a proposal that would retain six lanes of traffic and sidewalks that are much too narrow in many sections. He proposes bike lanes on Beecroft at an additional cost of $10 – $20 million. This would mean rebuilding Beecroft, most of which was built only a few years ago, and lead to continuous Yonge/Beecroft construction lasting approximately four years.

A copy of the city staff report can be found online here.

To share your thoughts you can complete John’s feedback form here.

UPDATE – February 2018

Following a two year REimagine Yonge Street study, City staff have again recommended the “Transform Yonge” option.  Staff have held seven well publicized and well attended community meetings.  In addition, John has gone out to over a dozen additional neighbourhood meetings to discuss the project.

Transform Yonge would create a community friendly Main Street on Yonge between Sheppard and Finch Avenues, with wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, trees, and outdoor cafes to support a vibrant public realm and a safer roadway.

Some key facts:

  1. During two years of public consultation, most residents who have expressed an opinion agree that Yonge should become a community Main Street rather than a six-lane highway.

  2. During rush hour, 75% of the cars on Yonge are travelling to and from the 905 region.

  3. Including Doris and Beecroft, there are currently 14 lanes of north/south traffic between Sheppard and Finch. The Transform Yonge option reduces this to 12 lanes.

  4. An estimated 80,000 people live within walking distance of this section of Yonge. This number will continue to increase. The existing sidewalk is not wide enough to handle the population.

  5. In recent years, several dozen pedestrians have been hit by cars on this section of Yonge. Two have died.

  6. An improved environment for pedestrians will make the area more attractive to office and retail tenants.

  7. The removal of lanes only affects four hours a day at rush hour. Through extensive modelling and study, staff estimate an average travel time increase of only 1 minute.

  8. York Region has announced that they will be moving to four lanes where Yonge enters Toronto at Steeles Avenue.

  9. A proposal to maintain the current width of the road and sidewalk, and to put the bike lanes on Beecroft Road, would cost an additional $20 million while failing to create a main street atmosphere on Yonge.

  10. The opportunity to reconstruct Yonge Street comes along only once every 50 or 60 years. If we do not Transform it now, the opportunity will be lost for two generations.

  11. Experts endorsing the Transofrm Yonge plan include former City Chief Planners Jennifer Keesmaat and Paul Bedford, reknown city building experts Ken Greenberg and Richard Peddie and Director of Cities at UofT, Richard Florida.

  12. Organizations who have committed support to the project include:

The Public Works & Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) will continue their discussion of this REimagine Yonge on Tuesday, February 27.  It will then go before City Council at its meeting of March 26-27.  It is expected that the vote will be close.

To share your thoughts you can complete John’s feedback form here.

For further reading, see:

Toronto Star – Christopher Hume, October 17, 2017

Urban Toronto – Julian Mirabelli, December 22, 2017

For a Better Toronto – Richard Peddie, January 13, 2018

Toronto Sun – Sue Ann Levy, January 17, 2018

Globe and Mail – Alex Bozikovic, January 18, 2018

NOW Magazine – Jared Kolb, Gideon Forman, February 14, 2018

Toronto Star – David Rider, February 20, 2018

Ryerson City Building Institute – Claire Nelischer, February 23, 2018

Globe and Mail – Marcus Gee, February 24, 2018 (subscription required)

Original Post: Staff Report Recommends a New Vision for Yonge St in North York (January 2018)

City investment is needed to transform the North York Centre into a vibrant community, according to city experts, area residents, urban thinkers and the area councillor.  In a report released this morning, REimagining Yonge, staff recommend that Yonge Street between Sheppard Avenue and Finch Avenue be transformed with a host of much-needed improvements: wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, trees, and outdoor cafes to support a vibrant public realm and a safer roadway.

“Downtown North York should be more than a sea of high-rises with six lanes of highway running down the middle,” says area councillor John Filion. “This area has been neglected for far too long. The City needs to invest in creating a beautiful Main Street that connects the buildings and the people who live in them.”

According to passionate city-builder Richard Peddie, “It is time city hall leadership realized that whether it be in the downtown core or in Willowdale we need to create a better Toronto by focusing on people and places, not cars and traffic.”

For years, residents in the area have been demanding improvements to the crumbling roadway and sidewalks in one of the city’s largest urban hubs.

“The City grabs a huge amount of revenue out of the North York Centre and gives very little back,” Filion continued. “Residents are fed up with that, and most support the Transform option even if it means fewer lanes of traffic.”

This stretch of Yonge is one of the few parts of Yonge Street in Toronto that is currently six lanes wide; and north of Steeles, York region has announced that it intends to go to four lanes to coincide with the northern extension of the Yonge Street subway.

Local resident Michael Koor is among the personal supporters of the Transform Yonge option and the president of the West Willowdale Neighbourhood Association. He says, “When I first heard about the proposal I thought it was a ridiculous idea, but after reading up on it, and listening to the experts – I became convinced that it’s absolutely necessary.”

Gil Penalosa, livable cities expert and Founder and Chair 8 80 Cities said: “Toronto must use every opportunity to improve its infrastructure in making it safe and enjoyable for all people. Investment in North York is required to make this happen. Transform Yonge is the best option at a time when we must focus on creating a great city.”

Yonge Street has been identified as a priority corridor for safety improvements under the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, adopted by City Council in 2016. There have been 83 reported collisions between drivers and vulnerable road users in the study area since January 2010 – a clear result of a road and sidewalk that have not been properly designed for people walking, riding bikes, and taking transit. Road safety advocate Jess Spieker spoke on behalf of Friends and Families for Safe Streets (FFSS) to the need for dramatic improvements to Yonge St:

“Toronto needs to improve its abysmal road safety record and must seize this opportunity to follow through on its stated commitment to Vision Zero. With six lanes of fast-moving traffic, no dedicated cycling infrastructure, and inadequate sidewalks, this section of Yonge Street is a danger zone. It has always been FFSS’ stance that streets must be designed to include all road users, and that the ongoing failure to do so will result in continued tragedy, both for bereaved families and friends, and for survivors of road violence. Transform Yonge will not only create a vibrant place to live – it will save lives.”

Under the recommended Transform Yonge option, the project would be eligible for both federal and provincial funding to cover a portion of the estimated $51 million cost. Other alternatives that are not being recommended, would cost significantly more or not be eligible for federal and provincial infrastructure money.