When Toronto's mayor planned to make Yonge and Bay one-way streets

Mayor Art Eggleton had an idea in 1988 to address traffic flow in downtown Toronto, but it got no buy-in from merchants on the two city streets.

Art Eggleton thought it was an idea worth trying in 1988, but merchants disagreed

One way on Yonge and Bay?

35 years ago
Duration 2:14
A traffic plan in Toronto's core gets mixed reception from merchants and residents.

Sam Sniderman was going to have to sell a whole lot more records if a plan by the mayor of Toronto came to fruition in 1988.

Standing inside his Yonge Street store, the longtime record retailer predicted he'd lose $1 million if the street traffic out front was forced to drive in one direction only.. 

"It's not conducive to the neighbourhood or retail trade," he told the CBC's Patricia Chew on May 17, 1988. "I think this experiment will be abandoned."

But a fellow retailer just up the street said vehicular traffic didn't much matter to the success of a Yonge Street business — pedestrians did.

More than cars to consider

Man inside record and CD store
Yonge Street merchant Sam Sniderman said one-way traffic could cost him $1 million. (CBLT Newshour/CBC Archives)

"People are going to walk on sunny side of the street," the merchant said. "In late afternoon, we have high traffic on our side of the street ... I don't see there being any difference whatsoever."

Asked for their two cents' worth, citizens thought making Yonge and Bay streets one-way was alternately "great," or "impossible." 

Kyle Rae, a future city councillor who was then part of an advocacy group called Friends of Downtown, was not in support of the idea. It had first been proposed by Mayor Art Eggleton the previous month, according to the Toronto Star.

"What we have here is a neighbourhood," said Rae, after getting a hotdog from one of the city's street vendors. "We have fought ... to keep it a successful neighbourhood.

"That's what Toronto is, it's a city of neighbourhoods. And this is cutting a swath through the middle of it."

'Political ego'

Crowded city sidewalk
Many users of Yonge Street were not cars at all, but pedestrians. (CBLT Newshour/CBC News)

Eggleton's plan seemed closer to becoming a reality after passing a recent vote by the executive committee on the council of the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. 

But Councillor Dale Martin did not believe support for the plan was widespread, saying the mayor was trading votes to get his way.

"He does not have any support on the technical side," said Martin. "The TTC opposes it as not being in the public interest. It's strictly political ego."

Further reporting by CBC showed that the redistribution of traffic on Yonge and Bay streets did not even get as far as a pilot project.

According to the Globe and Mail, a series of court challenges and public consultations came to a "dead end" in February 1989 when Toronto city council voted 14-2 to reject the proposed scheme.

Man in plaid shirt in front of hotdog vendor on a city street
The Friends of Downtown advocacy group -- which included future city councillor Kyle Rae, seen above -- was not in favour of remaking downtown streets for one-way traffic. (CBLT Newshour/CBC Archives)

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now