Reimagining Yonge

Contentious people-first plan to reduce car lanes on Yonge in North York returns

Pencil in the date: Dec. 16. At the next Toronto city council meeting expect some fireworks as REimagining Yonge, a contentious plan to carve two car lanes off of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch and create a pedestrian- and bike-friendly district that puts people first is back up for debate after more than two years.

The last time the city tried to revamp uptown Toronto in the area of Yonge from Sheppard to Finch, in the spring of 2018, it got messy. REimagining Yonge was eventually shelved for further study into transit implications much to the dismay of local councillor John Filion and Willowdale residents who were advocating for the creation of a pedestrian and cycle-focused district. 

The debates were loud and cantankerous and involved former city councillor and mayoral candidate and current Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

At a city council meeting regarding REimagining Yonge, Ford was asked by Filion whether he had read the report, and Ford replied, “I don’t need to read a staff report to see they’re going to destroy Yonge Street.”

It was that kind of process.

Now, REimagining Yonge is back and being put forward at a very different time when the value of public space and safety of, for example, pedestrians, and cyclists, has taken on new urgency since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overarching goals of the REimagining Yonge project remain as follows, from the staff report:

• Facilitate efficient movement of people, surface transit, and general traffic through better utilization of North York Centre’s road network.

• Improve safety and reduce the number of people who are killed and seriously injured on the street in keeping with the City’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan.

• Improve vibrancy of the streetscape in keeping with the economic importance of North York Centre.

• Address state-of-good repair along the corridor.

At a meeting on Dec. 1, Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee has endorsed the Transform Yonge design vision within the overarching REimagining Yonge project, which is the recommended design from the general manager of the city’s Transportation Services department for the reconstruction of Yonge Street in Willowdale.

The project would see a reconfiguration of Yonge Street from Florence and Avondale Avenues, located south of Sheppard Avenue, to the Finch Hydro Corridor just north of Finch Avenue.



According to the plan, Yonge Street would be reduced from six to four lanes between Sheppard Avenue, and Bishop/Hendon Avenue, and the area would see the introduction of separated cycling lanes, a centre landscaped median and wider boulevards. 

The preferred design option between Sheppard Avenue and Florence/Avondale Avenue is six lanes, with cycle tracks and a centre landscaped median. 

In addition, two new signalized intersections are recommended along Yonge Street at Horsham Avenue and Ellerslie/Norton Avenue in order to improve pedestrian safety, as well as a narrowing of other side streets along Yonge to reduce crossing distances and improve the pedestrian environment.

In a letter supporting Transform Yonge posted to his website, councillor John Filion called the proposal a chance to change Yonge Street from a highway to a main street between Finch and Sheppard, saying the area will become a place to stroll, shop and linger.

“When you give motorists a highway, they treat it as such,” wrote Filion, who said that the average speed on that section of Yonge is 17 kilometres per hour faster than other four-lane main streets in Toronto.

“Why in the world would we want to live next to a highway full of speeding cars, 75 per cent of which are travelling to or from the 905? This should be our main street.”



Nathan Gomes, vice-president of the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association thinks the reduction of lanes on Yonge Street will create a traffic bottleneck in the area.

 “When that happens where does the traffic go? It’s going to go into our inner streets that don’t have sidewalks, where there are kids playing or riding bikes on the inner streets, that don’t have sidewalks or bike lanes,” said Gomes, who said a survey of residents in wards 15, 17 and 18 showed that most people do not support the lane reductions. 

“That’s I think the main concern because they are going to try and find different ways to get to the 401.”

The estimated cost of Transform Yonge is $60.44 million, which includes detailed design, municipal servicing and utility relocations. 

Expect more “war on the car” rhetoric when REimagining Yonge is up for debate on Dec. 16.

Article exclusive to TRNTO