Major upgrades may be coming to the stretch of Yonge Street from Sheppard Avenue north to the Finch Hydro Corridor as the Reimagining Yonge Street study is closing in on a preferred option for the revamp of the major artery. At last week's Design Review Panel, City officials presented their findings and put forth a proposal to reduce Yonge from six to four lanes between Sheppard and Finch, while adding bike lanes, a landscaped median, wider sidewalks, and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Aerial view of the study area showing Yonge Street and North York Centre, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Having kicked off in the spring, the Reimagining Yonge initiative has been examining the feasibility of improving the pedestrian and public realm along the major spine of North York Centre. Identified as one of four centres in Toronto targeted for transit-focused employment and residential growth, the current state of Yonge through the core of North York presents an inconsistent streetscape that creates challenges to pedestrian and traffic flow, and lacks any cycling infrastructure. The study is looking at ways to improve the public realm along the street to create a safer, more attractive and consistent street that meets the growth objectives of the city.

Over the past few months, planning officials have embarked on an extensive process of public consultation that included community meetings, Jane's walks, online and on-street surveys, and a design charette. The results of this public input have heavily influenced the outcome of the study.

Attendees placing comments on one of the display boards at a community meeting, image by Salena Barry

After exploring the implications and feasibility of several degrees of intervention, ranging from implementing minor alterations to existing infrastructure to a total overhaul of the street, planners have chosen the 'transform' option as the preferred route, which would see a complete redesign of the entire stretch of Yonge.

Most notable of the proposed changes is the reduction of the road width from six to four lanes between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. The public identified heavy traffic and the highway feel of the road as major aspects that they disliked about the street, and the majority were in favour of reducing the number of lanes. The added space will be used to add bike lanes in both directions, and to widen the sidewalk to roughly six metres on either side.

Proposed cross section through Yonge Street, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The majority of respondents identified a landscaped median as a positive feature that they would like to see along Yonge. The current proposal includes a 4.5m median down the centre of the road, interrupted only by turning lanes.

Proposed plan of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The proposal also includes integration of three major public spaces along Yonge: Olive Square, Mel Lastman Square, and the Joseph Shepard Federal Building. Where these public spaces are located, a change in paving material and surface painting on Yonge would merge the aesthetics of the squares with the road, thereby integrating the street within the wider public realm. The new design would also allow for large public gatherings to spill out onto the street, by minimizing barriers and removing the median along these stretches.

Proposed street design at the three public spaces along Yonge, image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Overall, the Panel members were pleased with the direction of the study and fully supported the reduction of lanes, wider sidewalks, and inclusion of cycling infrastructure. However, an interesting debate evolved around the landscaped median: the Panel was nearly unanimous in opposition to its inclusion. They argued that the median did not seem necessary nor did it add much value to street, and that the extra 4.5 metres of space would be better used for expanding the sidewalks or bicycle lanes. As well, they felt that the median would serve to increase the speed of vehicles on the road, and that it is very likely that the vegetation would not survive in such a harsh environment, as is common for many landscaped medians.

In defence of the median, the designers pointed out that it mitigates the varying width of the road caused by turning lanes at the intersections, and that the street would otherwise flare out and narrow in each block. They also argued that the landscaped median creates a safe haven for people crossing the street, and offers a unique identity and character for North York Centre. Landscaped medians were heavily favoured by the public during consultations.

The result of the debate was that the Panel unanimously voted in support of the plan, with the added condition that the implications of the median be re-examined. Panelists urged the design team to further explore options to resolve the varying width of the road at the intersections in order to verify whether or not the landscaped median really was the best option.

Results of the public design charette, showing the desired plan and section, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Once the study is complete and the preferred option finalized, an Environmental Study Report (ESR) will be drafted and presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in November, before going to City Council for approval in December. After a 30-day public review period of the ESR in Winter 2017, the Detail Design Study will begin and further refine the proposal and its implementation plan.

We will keep you updated as news becomes available. In the meantime, tell us what you think about the proposed changes to Yonge Street! You can get involved in the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.