Yonge St. pedestrian-friendly transformation in the works

City planners and councillors are envisioning an ambitious plan that could re-shape Toronto's largest thoroughfare over the next four years.

Proposed changes aimed for completion in 2021

City planners are taking advantage of a water main repair to create a more pedestrian friendly environment on Yonge street (CBC News)

City planners and councillors are envisioning an ambitious plan that could re-shape Toronto's largest thoroughfare over the next four years. 

Yonge Street, in the downtown core, spans from Queen Quay to Bloor Street, and has long been one of the city's main arteries.  And according to city Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Yonge is also a source of frustration for pedestrians. 

"People moving north and south on Yonge Street, there is a lot of people. Sometimes there are so many people, they are literally pushed onto the road, onto oncoming traffic," Wong-Tam said.

"And we know that that's not a healthy, vibrant neighbourhood condition that we want to see moving into the future."

Ryerson University hosted a town hall style meeting on the planned future of Yonge Street (CBC News)

The project —  led by Jennifer Keesmat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto and Wong-Tam — is in the discussion phase and requests for proposal (RFP) are being received by the city.

While details are not set in stone, the aim is clear: make Yonge Street more accessible for pedestrians. 

Keesmat said the project to re-shape Yonge is in keeping with TOcore, the city's downtown planning program with a focus of opening up mobility. 

"We have a critical mass of people in a much smaller space," Keesmat explained in a town hall style meeting at Ryerson University on Wednesday.

"We need to look at ensuring we have the spaces for people to walk safely - and for people to use walking as their first option to get from one point to another."

Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for City of Toronto is leading the charge to transform Yonge Street. (CBC News)

The project began with a scheduled upgrade to a century-old water main that spans a large section of Yonge Street. 

An upgrade to a century-old water main that spans a large section of Yonge Street was in the works when city officials asked what more could be done to transform Yonge Street.

With construction expected to create traffic issues as fallout, Wong-Tam said it created an opportunity for city planners to ask questions about the future of the city. 

"Great cities have great public spaces. We all know that Yonge Street can be more than what it is today. And if we want to make this investment — which will be an investment for the next 100 years — we're going to have to spend the time and be thoughtful," Wong-Tam added. 

The proposed changes will roll out in two phases. The first, from Queen Street to College/Carlton, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

The next phase of work from College stretching north to Davenport is expected to be finished by 2021. Keesmat estimates that approximately 30 per cent of the targeted areas could be re-designed. 

Businesses preparing for 'short term pain'

Owners of some nearby businesses, including Barberian's Steak House, have raised concerns about the effects of congestion that could be created from construction in the area, including disrupting delivery schedules of inventory and a lack of parking spaces to draw in clientele. 

Owners of businesses along the Yonge corridor have mixed reactions to the proposed changes. (CBC News)

Other owners say they're ready for what could be short term pain in exchange for long term gain. Justin Robinson, manager of clothing boutique JRSV, said business could grow in the area if more pedestrians are walking along Yonge. 

"When you're in a herd of people in a six-foot-wide sidewalk, you can't even see left and right anyway," Robinson said. 

He added that by making the area more friendly to pedestrians, there is an opportunity to make the Yonge corridor from Dundas to Yorkville a "walking retail space."

That kind of approach, of modelling Toronto after other cities that have increased foot traffic appears to be in the minds of city planners. 

"[Yonge] should be one of the key destinations," Keesmat said. 

"We need to make it a more inviting place that can act as a gathering space in the city."