Several blocks of Toronto's legendary main drag, Yonge Street, have been partially reclaimed from the car for a four week long installation of patio space and greenery. We met up with Evan Weinberg, Planning and Development Manager for the Downtown Yonge BIA to talk about the event. "Over the past few years we've brought a number of initiatives forward to make Yonge Dundas Square a really people-freindly space, like the programming in the square and the scramble crossing. How do we now get people to enjoy this iconic street beyond the square itself? Now we're extending that people friendliness beyond the square."
"We've identified a number of event spaces along Yonge to help people appreciate what's here. At Yonge Dundas Square we have 'The Hub' with Ryerson's Digitial Media Zone who are bringing an installation out of the building. Each block has its own branding to highlight its features."
"Planning for this event started a year and a half ago. There was the fire at 335 Yonge, and the cleared area for the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, and suddenly questions about 'what is the future for Yonge Street' with these missing pieces? What is the vision, particularly for the Dundas to Gerrard block, which to us is 'Main Street' for our planning purposes, as it's the last untouched section. So, working with the City Councillor's office, and funded by the local businesses, we put together a planning document that identified more public space for people in many different iterations. Here we are a year later and we've got something significant."
"You look at some of the streets like Queen West near Spadina, or College in Little Italy, and what they're able to do in the summertime with their wide sidewalks, and then you think about how Yonge and Dundas is the busiest intersection in the entire country, and yet we have the most cramped sidewalk space. It's the Downtown BIA's mission to create more space for people, so we now have the maximum amount of space we can get for a defined period of time, and we can create an event around that to get people excited and down here to experience the street in a different capacity. We'll look at people's reaction, we'll get feedback from the businesses, we'll look at the numbers: we have pedestrian and vehicle counters at five different intersections. It's from all of that that we can see what the next stage should be."
Vehicle counts will tell the story about how well the traffic moves during the time that it is restricted to one lane each way plus left turn lanes at some intersections. While the public perceives Yonge to be a busy street, traffic consultants retained by the BIA found that only up to 550 vehicles per hour ply the street in peak hours in each direction, much less than most other major downtown arteries, and a number which can be accommodated in less space than the four lanes usually given over to cars on Yonge. For the event the BIA's consultants have created lay-by spaces along the street where delivery vehicles and taxis can pull off the two remaining lanes to take care of their business without holding up traffic. At the same time, the remaining lanes are now wider, a full 4.5 metres to better accommodate bicyclists and even emergency vehicles. Flow is maintained while making more space for pedestrians.
"The street is now lined with these planters - sponsored by the carpenters' union, which helps tell the story of who is building this city - while each box has been planted by different landscapers, nurseries, and florists around the city. They've been given a theme and we've made it a contest, working with LiveGreen Toronto and Landscape Ontario, and we've got this beautiful result. Last week there were cars driving here, this week we have greenery and people enjoying themselves. The year's work has been immediately rewarding, to see people filling these chairs they way we envisioned it."
"Some of the seating is for general public use, other spaces have been taken by specific businesses - restaurants and pubs mostly - some of whom have built decks. This is the first opportunity in Toronto to take advantage of the new liquor licences that allow servers to cross the sidewalk to serve drinks to customers. This arrangement keeps the sidewalks clear of seating and keeps storefronts exposed and doors accessible."
"Walton Street, this side street south of Gerrard, has been animated similarly to Yonge. The Delta Chelsea has opened a patio here; we'll have live music on the weekends. It's like a little oasis; we hope people explore down here to see what's hidden behind Yonge Street's shops."
"As soon as we put these Adirondack chairs out, they filled up. It's like people have been waiting for this. They're sitting having an ice cream, they're reading a book, some Ryerson students are doing homework, all while they become part of the energy of the city. Not only for tourists - as this area has changed over the last ten years there are many people living here now - it's a neighbourhood now too. We have to create space for the 150,000 people who now live within a 20 minute walk of the street."
"There's an economic value in investing in the public realm. You can see for yourself people spending money eating at these restaurants and enjoying shopping here more. It's after lunch hour, and the energy level is still high. And this is still early on, we expect this to get much busier as more people hear about it."
"This ward is one of the most parkland deficient areas of the city, and we have a park now on Yonge Street called Celebration Park. It's done by ING with a whole bunch of sponsors. This has even inspired a street vendor to hang a flower box from their cart on Edward Street; they want to be a part of it. The businesses are so proud to be a part of this and being showcased in this way."
"The post boxes have been incorporated. Parks Canada is here. For people coming out of the subway suddenly it's 'oh wow, there's greenery overhead!' Everything's here now, you can shop and relax afterwards, you don't need to leave the area for a full day out."
"The 205 Yonge guys and Massey Tower have done a great job fixing up with space between their buildings… and we've been working closely with TIFF to make the space in front of the Elgin Winter Garden work for them during the eleven days of their festival. This area that is currently a cafe for the Elgin Winter Garden will become the red carpet for film galas held here. It will be really interesting to see how that works. We worked closely with everyone holding events here to make sure this works for all."
"We have lots more going on. There's bike art - you have come back to see the bike art!"
There will be a return to see the bike art, and more… but what comes next once the four weeks are over? The BIA will assess the Celebrate Yonge event and consider how it all went, and what should happen next time… and how long next time might be.
How will the City react to Celebrate Yonge… and what's your reaction? Have you strolled Yonge Street since Celebrate Yonge was installed? Please leave a comment below, or visit the thread dedicated to Yonge Street on the UrbanToronto Forum here.