Public Realm

Urban Public Space that Toronto Can Be Proud Of

By November 8, 2019 No Comments
Busy intersection full of people

The redesign of downtown Yonge Street has been years in the making, and now, a new vision for a people-first Yonge Street is really taking shape with the release of a set of four alternative designs for Yonge Street as part of the City of Toronto’s YongeTOmorrow Environmental Assessment (EA) study.

After years of attention to this subject, Ryerson CBI was thrilled to see a preferred design presented by the City that aligns with our research and advocacy. The preferred scheme, “Alternative #4,” includes a reduction of vehicle lanes, significantly expanded pedestrian space and streetscape enhancements, and a pedestrianized section from Gerrard to Dundas Square. By rebalancing the roadway to prioritize pedestrians, Alternative #4 has the potential to transform Yonge Street into a premier urban public space that Toronto can be proud of.

Ahead of the City’s public drop-in event on November 21, we dive into the design alternatives for Yonge Street. And we highlight how the City’s Preferred Alternative #4 could advance mobility, prosperity, livability and sustainability on Yonge, today and into the future.

Prioritizing Pedestrians

Today on Yonge Street, pedestrians far outnumber cars, yet they are given the least amount of space in the right of way. And with the neighbourhood expected to add more residents and jobs each year, this mismatch will only worsen. 

Luckily, enhancing the pedestrian experience has been a core objective from the outset of the EA process, and all four of the City’s Alternative designs reduce vehicle lanes and expand sidewalk space. But we are most excited about Alternative #4 (the City’s preferred option), which dramatically expands pedestrian space on Yonge, including a fully pedestrianized portion through the heart of Downtown Yonge and the “front porch” of Ryerson University.

Caption: Alternative #4 would introduce a pedestrianized zone from Dundas Square to Edward Street, and further pedestrian-priority areas north to Gerrard Street.

Unlike Alternatives #1 and #2, which offer either little or no pedestrianized space, or Alternative #3, which introduces pedestrian priority spaces along the majority of the street along with potentially burdensome curbside access restrictions, Alternative #4 stikes a strong balance between enhancing the pedestrian experience and supporting the access needs of businesses and various users of the street.

The widened sidewalks, a green and vibrant public realm, and new space for dining and gathering proposed in Alternative #4 would best serve the needs of the neighbourhood’s 175,000 residents, 500,000 workers, and 36,000 students, and ensure that Yonge Street remains safe, walkable, and adaptable to the needs of our growing city.

Balanced Priorities

A full network of safe, separated cycling facilities across Toronto is critically needed. But on Yonge Street, the priority to create a pedestrian-only space, free from traffic, is at odds with the goal to allow cyclists to travel safely, swiftly and efficiently through the corridor. To date, CBI has pushed for safe, separated cycling infrastructure to be installed on adjacent north-south corridors as part of the yongeTOmorrow EA.

So it’s encouraging to see that all four of the City’s proposed alternative designs include cycling facilities on an adjacent corridor through the downtown core—either on Bay, Church, or University. We wish to emphasize that for this plan to work, the alternative routes must feature safe, fully-separated cycling infrastructure, must form contiguous connections with other other existing cycling facilities, and must support a strong north-south cycling corridor through the city that prioritizes the safety, convenience, and comfort of people on bikes.

Movement and Placemaking

A well-designed street strikes an appropriate balance between movement and placemaking,  recognizing that streets get us from A to B but are also important public spaces in their own right. By conceiving of the street not just as a place to move through, but a place to go to, Alternative #4 embodies this principle. It manages to dramatically expand pedestrian space and create an iconic public space where residents and visitors alike come to gather and experience the city, while it also ensures safe and consistent curbside access to support loading and deliveries, emergency access, and vehicle and transit access where necessary. 

Caption: Alternative #4 includes an emphasis on pedestrian safety and comfort along the length of Yonge Street from Queen to College, including a pedestrian-priority section from Edward to Gerrard where limited vehicular access could be permitted (though discouraged) and pedestrian movement could take precedence.

Flexible and Future Proof

A redesigned Yonge Street must also accommodate a diversity of curbside access needs, like deliveries, loading, waste management and nighttime bus service. Alternative #4 incorporates a number of creative operational strategies that foster flexibility and ensure access when – and where – it’s needed: timed access restrictions for deliveries and servicing, laybys for loading and passenger pick-up, access allowances for emergency vehicles, and night-time access for busses.

Alternative #4 adjusts its design and operational approaches block by block in response to local conditions. The area with the highest pedestrian traffic, from Edward to Dundas Square, is fully pedestrianized during the day, while some form of vehicle access is maintained in areas to the north and south where pedestrian demand is lower and access needs higher. Laybys, loading zones, street furniture and patio space can be allocated where needed based on street width, pedestrian volumes and the nature of adjacent businesses.

Caption: Alternative #4 includes portions where vehicular access is maintained but lanes are reduced from the existing four to two. This reduction allows for a dramatically expanded public realm, including more space for seating, planting, patios, bike parking, and laybys for loading and deliveries.

Alternative #4 is flexible and can change over the course of a day, week or year to meet demand. During the day, the fully-pedestrianized portion optimizes space for those on foot, while still allowing vehicle access where necessary in limited areas. At night, access restrictions are lifted to allow for two-way bus service along the Yonge Street night bus route. The unobstructed right of way will allow for temporary closures for festivals, parades and events on special occasions, or longer-term closures during the warmer seasons when pedestrian activity is at its peak. In the long-term, its future-proof design will allow for gradual change, upgrades and modifications to reflect changing demographics and demands in the neighbourhood over time. 

Critical to Success

The City’s Preferred Alternative #4 demonstrates a bold vision for the future of Yonge Street. But ultimately, the success of this plan relies upon a commitment to both high-quality detailed design and a robust long-term maintenance and management strategy.

High-quality, durable materials and features including paving, street furniture, lighting and planting will ensure that the final design reflects Yonge Street’s ambition to be a premier public space in downtown Toronto. Using materials that enhance the street’s beauty, reflect the area’s unique identity and support neighbourhood safety and accessibility will be critical.

Finally, the work won’t end when the new Yonge Street is unveiled. The continued success of this public space requires a strong programming and maintenance strategy to ensure the street remains safe, active and vibrant at all hours of the day, and on all days of the year. The City needs to commit the appropriate resources to dedicated programming staff and operations funds to support Yonge Street’s bright future.

The City’s Public Drop-In Event #2 for the yongeTOmorrow EA will take place on Thursday, November 21st, 2019 from 4:00 – 8:00 pm at the Central YMCA (20 Grosvenor Street).

You can also view the consultation materials (including all four Alternative designs) and take the online survey by December 6, 2019.