By Markus O'Brien Fehr Chief of Staff
A reader recently responded to John's newsletter with an excellent question: "What's going on with the reconstruction of Yonge Street?"
It's true that there hasn't been much public activity since Council approved the transformational REimagining Yonge Street plan in 2020. But behind the scenes, it's another story: there has been a flurry of activity that residents will start to notice over the coming year.
Reimagining Yonge Street is the title of a transformational concept for Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. City Transportation Staff brought forward a proposal that would create more space for pedestrians, tree plantings, street furniture, outdoor patios and cycling infrastructure, by removing the curb lane on each side of Yonge. The design is intended to create a safer and more walkable main street, acting as an enticement to generate more office and retail activity in the area.
When we started to work on the plan in 2015, we understood it to be important work. Over the last several years, it's become increasingly critical. The pandemic has shown us the importance of outdoor communal space, even as local businesses experienced extreme stress.
In 2021, the City took the plan for a kind of test run through CafeTO. The program allowed for outdoor dining in curb areas as one of several pandemic recovery supports. Even as the program returns in 2022, one of the things that experience made clear is we still need a better solution to divert traffic away from Yonge, and create spaces where diners feel safer enjoying their meals.
Last month, the City completed its Environmental Study Report, a significant technical milestone. But the detailed design work – in which we decide what the street will end up looking like block-to-block when completed – is scheduled to get underway next year. Residents should expect invitations to another round of public consultations.
Organizations, such as the Willowdale BIA, are already considering their thoughts. When we started to discuss this project, issues like the need for curbside pick-ups for meal couriers were barely on the radar. That has changed now that many more of us are reliant on drivers from services like Door Dash and Fantuan to pick up and deliver meals. What's the right balance between temporary pick-up parking and longer-term Green P Parking? That's one of the many issues we'll need to consider during the detailed design work.
The City is also establishing a committee this year to create a permanent memorial for victims of the Yonge Street Tragedy. This group will solicit design proposals for the public space between Olive Square and Mel Lastman Square. That memorial could be built into a redesigned streetscape.
The reconstruction work on Yonge remains at least four years away. The plan approved by Council included an improved alignment connecting Doris south of Sheppard Avenue, and an extension of Beecroft Road north to Drewry Avenue to create bypass options, especially during construction. The work on Doris Avenue gets underway this year with Beecroft starting in 2024.
Other projects impacting the future of Yonge Street are also starting. Early work is beginning on Finch Station to accommodate the extension of Line 1. The Environmental Assessment for an upgraded interchange at Yonge Street and Highway 401 has also begun, with public consultations expected this fall.
The 2020s will be a busy decade for major infrastructure work in our community, and no doubt there are going to be growing pains along the way. But after so many years without action on some of these projects, it's encouraging to know that so much is moving forward to transform the way we get around our neighbourhood.