Hot on the heels of City Council's approval of the redesign of Yonge Street in North York, another section of the important Toronto artery looks set to follow in its footsteps with a complete transformation in the downtown core. The Yonge TOmorrow initiative appeared before the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on January 11 and was recommended for adoption, clearing the way for it to move on to a Council vote on February 2. The plan seeks to transform the section of Yonge between Queen Street and College/Carlton Streets into a highly pedestrianized road, removing the majority of vehicular traffic along the stretch and nearly doubling the sidewalk space with a pedestrian-friendly design.
The initiative was planned in conjunction with the need to replace an aging water main that runs below Yonge Street. That infrastructure upgrade provided the opportunity to address the needs of this busy stretch of Yonge, which sees pedestrian volumes that exceed 100,000 people per day, not including the numerous parades and special events that regularly take place along this stretch. This is only set to increase in the coming years, with thousands of new condo units under construction and in the development pipeline within the immediate vicinity of Yonge.
The redesign of the street takes a varied, flexible approach that adapts to the various traffic and pedestrian needs along its length. A central 6.6-metre spine down the middle of the road is the one consistency along the stretch, which is the equivalent of two traffic lanes. The remainder of the right-of-way will be dedicated to sidewalk space, furnishings, and potential terraces for retail tenants, with a minimum of 4 metres dedicated on each side to the sidewalks.
There is a temporal aspect to the design as well. The restrictions to vehicular traffic, described in detail below, will apply between 6:00AM and 1:00AM each day, with the full stretch of Yonge open to two-way traffic overnight. This will allow for loading and delivery vehicles as well as the 320 night bus to continue to use the road unencumbered. The City is looking at various ways of controlling vehicular access, including automated gates that open during off-hours or for emergency vehicles.
While cyclists are considered, it was decided early on that dedicated bike lanes were best implemented on parallel roads rather than on Yonge. Dedicated bike lanes will be introduced on the stretch of Yonge between College and Gerrard Streets to connect the existing east-west lanes on those roads, but the remainder of Yonge south of Gerrard will only contain sharrows, though the reduced traffic and pedestrianized design will make it safer in general for cyclists to use. Parallel to this decision, the bike lanes on University Avenue have been chosen to be made permanent between College and Adelaide, with the City now reviewing the feasibility of making the temporary lanes from College to Bloor permanent as well following their success during the pandemic.
Moving north to south through the Yonge TOmorrow redesign, the stretch between College/Carlton and Walton Street (just south of Gerrard) will contain two-way vehicular traffic, with the aforementioned dedicated bike lanes and widened sidewalks. This stretch has a wider right-of-way than the remainder of the road at 26 metres, and so can easily accommodate the high pedestrian volumes while still maintaining vehicular access.
The stretch from Walton Street to Elm Street will be pedestrian-only and closed to vehicles during the day. It is interesting to note that Walton Street, currently a dead-end road that serves only the Chelsea Hotel, is shown in the City's diagrams as continuing all the way to Bay Street. This extension is proposed as part of the redevelopment of the hotel property, which was approved for rezoning and is moving through the late stages of the planning process.
Between Elm Street and Edward Street, Yonge would accommodate one-way traffic in the southbound direction. This provides an outlet for vehicles on Elm and Gould Streets, which contain many businesses and service access points, with all vehicles then being funnelled westbound onto Edward.
The stretch between Edward Street south to Dundas Square would once again become pedestrian-only. This portion of the road has by far the highest volume of pedestrians daily, and also features event infrastructure at the popular Yonge-Dundas Square. The pedestrianization of this portion would expand the event-hosting capabilities while providing ample space to accommodate its many daily users.
Continuing south, the stretch from Dundas Square to Shuter Street would be open to one-way traffic northbound. Vehicles at the intersection of Yonge and Shuter—which is also the entrance and outlet to the Eaton Centre parking garage—would not be allowed to turn left, with westbound traffic on Shuter forced to turn north on Yonge, and cars exiting the parking garage forced to either continue straight or turn southbound on Yonge.
The final stretch of the street between Shuter and Queen Street would contain two-way traffic down the middle, with the expanded pedestrian zones on either side.
With the intricacies of traffic and pedestrian flows all sorted out, the next step is to move into detailed design, where it will be determined exactly how this will all look in the end. The images shown above are conceptual, and the actual furnishings, tree plantings, landscaping, signage, and materials will be selected in due time. At an appearance at the Design Review Panel in September, 2020, the Panel members hailed the transformation as long overdue and as an exciting and ambitious project that will greatly improve the user experience on Yonge Street, but cautioned that the detailed design phase is critical to ensure that the street maintains its richness and vibrancy through implementation.
Yonge TOmorrow faces a vote at City Council on February 2, and if it is approved and the funds are available, detailed design and operations planning will begin in the spring, with construction scheduled to take place from 2023 through 2025. A future Phase 2 Environmental Assessment will look at a redesign of Yonge Street between College/Carlton Street north to Davenport Road, focusing on an enhanced pedestrian environment, much like Yonge TOmorrow.
We will keep you updated as this transformative project moves through the planning process, but in the meantime you can join in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.