A City of Toronto ActiveTO report proposing the return of weekend road closures and a new pilot project along Yonge Street as part of the city’s Complete Streets proposal was set to be reviewed by the Toronto City Council Infrastructure and Environment Committee on March 23.
A year or more ago, the thought of sacrificing automobile lanes for separated bike lanes would have been a monumental struggle. Doing so on the city’s main thoroughfare of Yonge Street? Utter madness.
Not so fast. Now, the world has changed. And the success of the Destination Danforth pilot project has shown that complete street projects that include separated bike lanes are a boon for neighbourhoods.
The new pilot project on Yonge Street at Bloor Street to Davisville Avenue would include bike paths, CaféTO sidewalk and street patios, parking spaces that would allow for loading and deliveries and various road adjustments.
The proposed project is modelled after Destination Danforth that launched in 2020.
Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s former chief city planner and an avid cyclist who lives in midtown, has long advocated for bike lanes on Yonge and is supportive of the new project.
“One of the challenges with creating a cycling city is that gaps in the network mean only part of your trip is safe on a bike, and that is a significant disincentive to new riders, women, children and other vulnerable riders that should have access to safe cycling in the city,” she said. “Filling the gap in the network on Yonge from Bloor to Davisville will make it possible to ride from midtown to downtown safely on a bike.”
Destination Danforth was largely successful last year and allowed both cyclists and motorists to coexist while also providing restaurants and shop owners with expanded outdoor access. Cycle Toronto heavily supported the Danforth project and pushed to make the new bike lanes permanent.
“Adding bike lanes on Yonge from Bloor to Davisville is about mobility, but it is also a grand place-making gesture. Walking down the street, dining on the street, shopping locally — all of this will be transformed.”
According to Cycle Toronto, the Destination Danforth pilot project and all other ActiveTO bike lane projects are temporary.
The group is also in support of the new Yonge Street project and explained that it has about a year to convince the city to make it permanent.
“Following strong local support from businesses, community leaders, residents associations and community groups, Cycle Toronto is looking forward to the Complete Streets proposal along midtown Yonge Street, which was inspired by the transformation of Danforth Avenue last summer.” said Kevin Rupasinghe, campaigns manager for Cycle Toronto.
“Adding CaféTO patios will be a lifeline for struggling local businesses, and the ActiveTO protected cycling lanes will keep local residents safe as they look to maintain their physical and mental health by cycling, or conduct essential trips by bike without straining our transit or road network. When combined with new planters and greenery, on-street parking and street artwork, this stretch of Yonge will transform,” he said.
Councillor Mike Layton has been a strong proponent of ActiveTO and is also in favour of the Yonge Street project and additional ActiveTO road closures.
“ActiveTO showed us that Toronto can build safe and fun streets that better serve all road users and local businesses. This year we will bring those lessons to Yonge Street between Bloor and Davisville,” he writes in a recent newsletter. “It is anticipated that a virtual public meeting will be hosted on April 27.”
The ActiveTO program was created to allow city residents space to walk and be physically distant while also expanding Toronto’s bike paths to allow cyclists more significant movement throughout the city.
Unlike revamped streets, ActiveTO road closures are a problem for some residents. The closure of main streets last year caused traffic jams and frustration. Still, many shop owners are optimistic that more accessible streets may mean increased business and a chance at financial recovery.
“We welcome the initiative. It will increase foot traffic, which will mean greater visibility for our business (so long as we are able to stay open) and hopefully increase sales,” said Lyndsay Borschke of the Tuck Shop Trading Co. in Summerhill.
“I look at this as a lifting one another up scenario. Close the streets so that restaurants can provide the service they excel at, and ultimately, it will benefit the other businesses that surround them. We all need a little hope right now, we all need a little pick-me-up. I think this could do the trick,” she said.
In a city poll, residents that used the ActiveTO street closures to walk or bike were in favour of additional closures. Ninety-two percent of people polled wanted closures to continue, and seventy-five percent noted that they were more active because of ActiveTO measures.
When the city breaks ground on the new project or which roads will close and when remains to be determined and will largely depend on city construction dates along with council and residents approval.
Keesmaat, for one, thinks Yonge is ready for the move.
“Adding bike lanes on Yonge from Bloor to Davisville is about mobility, but it is also a grand place-making gesture. Walking down the street, dining on the street, shopping locally — all of this will be transformed,” she said. “Yonge has always held the potential to become a great street — designed for people, rather than cars. This cycling infrastructure begins to deliver on that possibility. It is good 21st-century city building.”