The project will implement widened sidewalks and one-way traffic during the daytime
Toronto city council voted this week to proceed with the YongeTOmorrow project, which will reconstruct a major strip of Yonge Street.
YongeTOmorrow will widen sidewalks on Yonge Street between Queen and College Streets, making a safer walkway for pedestrians, who make up 50 to 75 per cent of the traffic along the strip, according to the YongeTOmorrow website.
Century-old water mains must be replaced on Yonge Street between Queen and College streets, making the construction an opportunity to turn Yonge Street into an urban centre that supports “critical public health objectives,” according to an open letter penned to the infrastructure and environment committee.
The website for the project also cites higher walkability in neighbourhoods being linked to healthier lifestyles, as well as improved accessibility.
The idea for YongeTOmorrow began in 2011, when city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam proposed a more pedestrian-friendly Yonge Street stretch.
“I am so thrilled that this next step in transforming Yonge Street was so overwhelmingly supported by city council,” said Wong-Tam. “This project germinated over a decade ago with support of the local BIA and residents. We have an unprecedented cross-section of support for this project.”
With the future following the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, YongeTOmorrow proposes that widened sidewalks will help with economic recovery, as pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders tend to spend more at local businesses than those who drive cars. The widened sidewalks will also provide more room for pedestrians to practise physical distancing, as stated in the official proposal.
Johanna Kyte, the project manager leading YongeTOmorrow, says the work on Yonge Street is being “driven by the data.”
Between 1996 and 2016, pedestrian volumes doubled in the study zone, while driving volume decreased by almost half. Only 22 per cent of trips that occur between Queen and College streets are taken by car, according to Kyte.
In light of this, the project will see the installation of pedestrian priority zones. Most of the strip will only support one-way traffic, with two-way traffic being permitted in certain areas in order to access parking garages and delivery zones.
Two-way traffic will be permitted throughout the strip every night between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
There is also potential for a heightened performer presence on Yonge Street, as the new environment would be able to host more music performances and festivals. This would honour Yonge Street’s history as a musical hub of the city.
“Thousands of people, including former mayors, students, arts and culture festival directors, major developers, small business owners and local residents came together to act clearly — this is the moment to think boldly about the future of this iconic city street,” Wong-Tam said. “I am so proud I delivered for them.”
YongeTOmorrow is already receiving international support, with the consul general of Sweden writing in a letter to the city that “the whole world knows Yonge Street.”
With the usual pedestrian traffic in and around Ryerson campus, Kyte said the main benefit of YongeTOmorrow on the Ryerson community will be more space to walk safely and more public space to enjoy Yonge Street.