Toronto council OKs plan that could see bike lanes on Yonge Street by summer 2021

·3 min read

Toronto city council has approved a plan that could see the installation of protected bike lanes on a six-kilometre section of Yonge Street spanning most of midtown Toronto by next summer.

The motion calls for the city to explore adding temporary bike lanes on Yonge Street from Bloor Street to Lawrence Avenue, in conjunction with new on-street patios and other traffic-calming measures.

City council adopted the motion by a 19-3 vote during its Wednesday meeting.

The motion calls for the lanes to be installed by the second quarter of 2021, should the plan receive a green light from Toronto's Transportation Services department.

Coun. Mike Colle, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, was among the most vocal supporters of the plan during Wednesday's council meeting.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about "a new way of looking at transportation," adding that the addition of bike lanes on Yonge Street would revitalize local business, while also improving safety and relieving traffic congestion.

Yonge Street 'not just a highway,' councillor says

"We're looking at a way of trying to calm the street down. We're telling people Yonge Street is not just a highway," Colle said.

Toronto has rapidly expanded its network of protected bike lanes since the start of the pandemic. Since the spring, the city has added new bike lanes on University Avenue, Danforth Avenue and Bloor Street.

The city has also introduced temporary but ongoing road closures of other major streets, such as Bayview Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard as part of its ActiveTO program.

"What the pandemic has shown is that the city, if it has to, can actually move very quickly," said John Taranu, a member of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto.

Taranu, who lives near Yonge and St. Clair, has been leading a campaign since the spring to have bike lanes installed on Yonge Street. He called Wednesday's council vote "a great milestone." The new bike lanes could reasonably be installed by spring 2021, he said.

"Yonge is just the most natural place to do it," Taranu added. "There's plenty of room there and we can find a very safe and attractive way to include bike lanes within the streetscape."

While the proposed expansion states a preference for the lanes to be installed on Yonge Street, the motion also includes language that would let the city consider installing the lanes on "parallel routes." Avenue Road and Mount Pleasant Road were listed by councillors as possible alternatives.

The temporary lanes will be evaluated "throughout 2021" if they are installed.

Few dissenting voices on council

Suburban councillors Stephen Holyday, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Michael Ford each voted against the proposal.

Holyday, who represents Ward 2, Etobicoke Centre, said the reduction of vehicular traffic lanes on Yonge Street could lead to a disastrous increase in congestion post-pandemic.

"I cannot understand why we would intentionally create a bottleneck of this magnitude," Holyday told council.

"What we're talking about here is taking, I would probably argue, one of the busiest stretches in the city and narrowing it from four lanes to two."

Colle responded sharply to those comments, arguing that Yonge Street should not be viewed as a thoroughfare for people on their way to another destination.

"It's easy for that councillor from Etobicoke to talk about Yonge Street as a highway to the downtown," Colle said.

"Well, it isn't."