Advocates call on Tory to support Yonge Street bike lane project

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Advocates call on Tory to support Yonge Street bike lane project

A group of environmental and road safety advocates are calling on Mayor John Tory to support a proposed project that would reduce lanes and add a raised bike path on a three-kilometre section of Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue.

The plan, called "Transform Yonge," which is being recommended by city staff, emerged from a study called the "REimagining Yonge" project.

In an open letter to the mayor sent out on Tuesday morning, 8 80 Cities, a non-profit community organization, along with several other community advocates, says the proposed plan is "what the city needs."

"It's a chance to dig in our heels and actually follow through on building a 21st century, Vision Zero city rather than settling for incremental changes that preserve the status quo."

One of the main points the group makes is that reducing two lanes of traffic on Yonge Street would support a city-led safety plan called Vision Zero, which tries to substantially lower traffic-related deaths on Toronto's streets.

"The inadequate sidewalks, absence of cycling infrastructure, and paucity of seating and trees send the message that street life doesn't matter," the letter reads.

The group will hold a press conference at city hall around 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Area has 'no connective tissue'

"Transform Yonge" would see Yonge Street's six lanes reduced to four, from Sheppard Avenue to Bishop and Hendon Avenues, just north of Finch Avenue West. In addition to adding the raised bike lanes, the proposal calls for improved and widened sidewalks, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks and the addition of a landscaped median.

"[The area] doesn't have any soul or character or connective tissue," Coun. John Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale), a supporter of the project, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning in January, just hours before a council meeting to discuss the project. "You're not going to have that as long as you have the six-lane highway. It's really critical that we get rid of the two lanes and expand the public realm there."

Alternative plan will cost more

But Tory has said he doesn't support narrowing Yonge Street, and is pushing instead for an alternative plan called "Enhance Yonge and Transform Beecroft," which would move the bike lanes to Beecroft Road, a parallel street just west of Yonge Street.

"I just think we can achieve the beautification of Yonge Street … without taking two lanes of traffic out in an area that has been identified in the city's own reports as one of the most difficult areas to manage traffic in," he told reporters last month.

Tory's favoured plan would add $20 million to the project's estimated cost of $51.1 million.

A public meeting on the proposal will be held on Feb. 27, after the Jan. 19 hearing was postponed due to time constraints. 

'I'm hoping he'll come around'

Back in January, Filion admitted that he wasn't initially in favour of "Transform Yonge."

"For about five minutes I was sort of frightened by the notion of removing two lanes of traffic," he said. "[But] in fact, it's going to make it much better, but it takes a few minutes to wrap your brain around that."

"We have 80,000 people who live within walking distance of that section of Yonge Street. Imagine if they were all out there calling it their own street, making it their own, meeting their friends, doing their shopping there."

Traffic modelling shows travel time would only increase by one minute in 2021 — and that the plan preferred by Tory isn't much better. By 2031, the report states, traffic would only be 30 seconds faster if Yonge Street isn't narrowed.

Transportation staff say that will be made possible by optimizing the remaining roadway, in part by removing hundreds of on-street parking spaces.

"Maybe [Tory] has the same initial reaction that I did," Filion wondered. "I'm hoping that he'll come around."