Yonge Street Now and in the Future

Dear Neighbours,

This week, my eyes are on the Yonge Street pavement but l’m looking towards the future.

Whenever we emerge from the terrible time of COVID, handshaking isn’t the only normal we shouldn’t be returning to. Many people are thinking about a city with more public outdoor space, wider sidewalks for pedestrians, more opportunities for social distancing, safe cycling networks to provide a better alternative to crowded transit or car travel, and outdoor patios to help restaurants recover.

Sounds a lot like Transform Yonge, a plan for Willowdale’s Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch. The plan takes us out of the past and into the future, transforming  a six-lane highway, used mostly by 905 commuters, to a main street for our community.

Twice over the past three years, City Council has failed to adopt city staff recommendations to implement it, even though Transform Yonge had not only my full support but that of virtually every local community leader, a long list of respected urban thinkers and every organization in the city promoting pedestrian safety and livable communities.

I won’t dwell on why that happened. When the item returns, likely this fall, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Mayor and most of Council don’t embrace it. History will remember it as part of the new way we approach the world post COVID.

For the moment, because of the delays, we are forced to make urgent repairs to portions of the road and sidewalks that have become hazardous. I’ve asked city staff to get it done now, while road use is down and pedestrian traffic is still less than usual.

For two or three weeks, traffic will be down to one lane in each direction. There will be some sidewalk repairs that will inconvenience pedestrians, and the closure of curb lanes will impact both pedestrians and businesses.

Transportation staff have promised me that they will designate at least 15 metres on each street off Yonge for vehicles doing restaurant delivery and pick up, so that restaurants are not further impacted during a very difficult time. And some makeshift pedestrian lanes will be designated in areas where the sidewalks are being repaired. If you experience any difficulties, please let me know.

When we get the curb lanes back, before the middle of June, we’ll be expanding the space for pedestrians at some locations, and creating both short-term and regular parking areas to support local business.

And as the pandemic wears on us, we can turn our minds to all of the ways that, as we recover, we can embrace change and build a community and a society that is better than the one we’ve had.

For today’s music video, I turn to David Bowie. To listen click here.

— John