It’s long been Toronto’s most iconic street — and its busiest.
But now, the city is looking to transform one particularly bustling stretch of Yonge from Queen Street to College Street, where pedestrians are often spilling off the narrow sidewalks due to lack of space.
It has been carrying out a study called YongeTOmorrow, focusing on that pedestrian-heavy section since late 2018.
On Thursday, it held its first public session, giving Torontonians a chance to look at alternatives that will reduce congestion and beautify the space. There will be two more public consultations before the final environmental assessment report is presented to council in 2020.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the area, says the aim is to incorporate public feedback into a design that will transform that stretch of Yonge into a more pedestrian-friendly space.
“This has been my passion project. I really believe Yonge Street is Canada’s main street,” she told CBC Toronto.
“My ambition is to see it become a street that is going to encourage people to linger; that is going to bring beauty and pleasure into the space.”
More pedestrians than vehicles
The section of Yonge between Queen and College currently has the highest pedestrian volumes in the entire country with numbers exceeding 100,000 a day.
“The numbers are wildly skewed towards pedestrians … It’s also becoming much more residential. The population of Yonge Street has exploded. So we have a lot of density coming in,” Wong-Tam said.
According to the city, the population in the area is expected to double by 2041.
Jeff Slater, who lives in the area, was at Thursday’s meeting. He would like to see the street transformed.
“It’s always crowded, even in the dead of winter,” he said.
“I’d like to see it become completely pedestrianized.”
April Engelberg also wants to see it be more pedestrian-friendly, with “wider sidewalks and better, safer bike lanes.”
“It’s time we have to realize the demographics of Yonge Street have really changed and we need to make it better,” she said.
Different redesign options
Redesign options shown at the session included turning the entire area into a car-free zone, or reducing the current four lanes of traffic into either three, two or one.
Those extra lanes would then be transformed into wider walkways, bike lanes, green space and public enjoyment areas.
These are all elements Wong-Tam says she would like to see.
“I’d also be interested in knowing if we could get heated sidewalks, if we could build patios and animate the street differently,” she said.
“I’m a strong believer that if we have beauty and pleasure in our public spaces, people will want to come back and they will stay for longer. And that’s what makes a great street.”