Yonge Street looking to the future with newly minted community-centred strip

Willowdale will be home to one of the longest stretches of restaurant patios in Toronto

Changes to design and regulation are taking place along Yonge Street in Willowdale as health restrictions loosen and CaféTO returns for a second summer.

The CaféTO program aims to provide expanded outdoor dining space for restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who still can’t provide indoor dining. The program is returning for a second year after city council approved an expanded version of the program, before the second patio season of the pandemic.

On June 8, city council adopted a speed limit amendment for the stretch of Yonge between Sheppard and Finch. On the recommendation of transportation services, which was requested by the local city councillor to investigate the feasibility of a reduction, the speed limit will be changed from 50 kilometres an hour to 40 kilometres an hour. This stretch of Yonge will be reduced from six lanes to four for the length of the CaféTO program, which is due to run until November.

“This regulatory reduction will allow a means of enforcement, if necessary, while also promoting reduced travel speed and additional comfort and safety of those utilizing the cafés, parklets and short-term parking on Yonge Street,” reads a report from Roger Browne, acting director of traffic management, to North York Community Council, who approved the reduction before it was sent to city council.

Laura Burnham, executive director of the Willowdale BIA, said about 40 restaurants in the area have been approved to participate in CaféTO and more are expected to become a part of the project soon.

“It will be one of the longest stretches of patios in Toronto. There are also many popular destination eateries offering takeout. New parklets will provide additional public seating,” said Burnham, who added that CaféTO will be a big boost to Willowdale’s restaurants as well as many others across the city.

“One hundred flower boxes have been installed to beautify the patios, and many of the Willowdale restaurants have additional plans to enhance their patio spaces,” Burnham said.

She anticipates the economic recovery period in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic will take time, and hopes the program will become an annual city initiative.

According to the report by Browne, although the CaféTO installations are temporary, the street will be reviewed later in the year to determine the appropriate speed limit, taking into consideration the conditions on this section of road.

Article exclusive to TRNTO