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Reimagining Yonge Street


 

Residents of Toronto have been invited to many public consultations lately. It can be nerve-racking to learn about changes that may affect your daily lives. The trick to keeping calm while tuning in to these virtual meetings is knowing when the "thing" — whatever it is — will likely happen.

In the past, the City of Toronto could be justly criticized for consulting too late in the planning of a project. Residents and business owners felt as if they were invited to a "Show and Tell" instead of a consultation. That needed to change, and it has over the last couple of years. While urgent matters do arise from time to time, changes led by the City as well as private sector applications all need to stand before the community well in advance of projects breaking ground.



Transform Yonge


The "REimagining Yonge" project is a perfect example of this past problem. Also known as "Transform Yonge," this is a project to update the stretch of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. It would finally create the Avenue that would complete the North York "downtown core" that former Mayor Mel Lastman and his North York council once envisioned. The idea came before Toronto City Council in 2017, at a time when there was not much awareness around the project beyond the immediate neighbourhoods in Willowdale.


There were a number of concerns raised when the project was first presented to Council. It was determined that City staff should further refine and consult on it. The finished product was presented this week to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee and will be debated in City Council before we break for the holidays.


Since 2017 there have been a number of consultations, thankfully most of it just before the pandemic made community meetings difficult. Despite this, there is still some misinformation about this plan to make Yonge Street a true entertainment and shopping destination. I’m going to let the local councillor, John Filion, debunk some of that. Here is an excerpt from his latest e-blast:


Safety in mind


That was a long excerpt, but who better to describe this project than the local councillor who has been working with his staff and community members to develop this vision of Yonge Street for many years?


John explained the current challenge very succinctly with: “When you give motorists a highway, they treat it as such.”


Because of that highway feel, there have been 143 collisions involving pedestrians and an additional 16 involving cyclists over the past nine years in the Transform Yonge area. Ten of those resulted in death or serious injury, not including the tragic events of the van attack. On a cold evening in February, just before the pandemic locked us all down, I joined Councillor Filion and a community group to walk just half of the area from Finch Avenue down to Mel Lastman Square. They stopped me at a number of fatal collision sites to explain how a road redesign may have changed the circumstances and saved multiple lives. When we got to the Square, we lit candles for the dead.

My thoughts There is an additional thought I’d like to add that I think is an important consideration for us in Don Valley North. If Transform Yonge were being proposed for this very year, I would be concerned. However, the plan does not have construction scheduled until 2026, at which time we will be better prepared for construction on Yonge Street. For a long time, thick construction along Eglinton Avenue has challenged every major north/south avenue. Once the Eglinton Crosstown is up and running, Leslie Street, Bayview Avenue and Bathurst Street to the west will be able to accommodate us during the execution of this exciting new proposal.


I know many of you are concerned about the disruption this project would bring, which is understandable. But consider this — whether we like it or not, North York is rapidly becoming a major entertainment, employment and residential hub, especially along this particular stretch. Pedestrian and vehicle traffic along Yonge on any given day (pre pandemic, that is) was already becoming unsustainable. A redesign, while initially bothersome, would ultimately make everyone's lives easier. So, let's keep our minds open and look forward to change that is truly in the best interest of our city and its residents.


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