City BuildingPublic Realm


By February 17, 2017 No Comments

Big changes are coming to downtown Yonge Street.

The City of Toronto is currently exploring ways to redesign downtown Yonge Street to accommodate the needs of the 21st century. To understand what this could mean for Toronto, the Ryerson City Building Institute is hosting Yonge Love, a sold-out “Meet-Up” on February 22.

According to a study by the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, Yonge Street between Adelaide and Gerrard streets attracts almost 600,000 each day. And, as every Torontonian knows, Yonge and Dundas is the busiest intersection in Canada.

Things are only going to get busier. Right now, dozens of developments are being planned or constructed for the area, including several condo towers that will bring thousands of new residents into the neighbourhood. Anyone walking from Queen to Gerrard would witness firsthand a street in transition.

The Yonge Love study found that Torontonians want a more pedestrian-friendly Yonge street with more public space, patios, and more diverse retail options. And with good reason. It’s estimated that 180,000 people already get to the downtown Yonge area at College, Dundas, and Queen subway stations each day. Of these people, 49 per cent use transit and 40 per cent walk, while only 13 per cent drive.

A walking tour of downtown Yonge


Possible Options

Ryerson University is also making plans to improve its public realm to make it more accessible and safe for the community. And because of its proximity to Yonge, Ryerson’s plans will undoubtedly have an effect on the neighbourhood, and vice versa. The university’s new public realm plan will improve the campus by adding street furniture and better lighting, integrating laneways in the pedestrian network, and enhancing connectivity to public transit.

There are a number of options the City of Toronto could take when redesigning downtown Yonge Street. It could pedestrianize it either full-time or at certain times fo the year. Another option is to opt for a complete street which provides space for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars.

Making Yonge Street better for pedestrians isn’t new. In the 1970s, under then-mayor David Crombie, Yonge Street was pedestrianized each summer between 1970 and 1973. The project was so successful that 90 per cent of local businesses supported keeping the Yonge Pedestrian Mall open throughout the year. Unfortunately, Queen’s Park refused to support permanent implementation, so the mall eventually gave way to more vehicles. (For more background on Yonge Street in the 1970s, check out our blog post with Stephen McLaughlin, Toronto’s first Commissioner of Planning.)

A few years later in the late 1970s, there was a proposal to widen the sidewalks on Yonge Street. This time Metro Toronto rejected the plan and prioritized traffic over pedestrians. In both cases, momentum to improve Yonge Street for pedestrians was thwarted.

Times have changed

Nowadays, city dwellers are opting for transit and bicycles to get around. And around the world downtown addresses have become desirable places to live. We’re also seeing this in other Canadian cities like Vancouver and Montreal, which are boldly redesigning their downtown main streets and public squares to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. But in Toronto, there are very few car-free areas. The largest is Gould Street on the Ryerson campus.

With Toronto’s downtown core projected to double in population by 2041, we need to do a better job of moving more Torontonians in our limited rights-of-way. The city can’t accommodate a doubling of cars.

Downtown Yonge is the best opportunity for a pedestrian corridor in Toronto. The conditions are already there: no street parking, no surface transit or streetcar tracks, and a predominance of pedestrians spilling onto the sidewalk. And it’s been done before.

Our Meet-Up, moderated by the host of TVO’s “The Agenda” Steve Paikin will explore the options and future of downtown Yonge with leading city builders, including:

  • Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner, City of Toronto
  • Mohamed Lachemi, President and Vice-Chancellor, Ryerson University
  • Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale, City of Toronto
  • Mark Garner, Chief Operating Officer & Executive Director, Downtown Yonge BIA
  • Gary Switzer, Chief Executive Officer, MOD Developments
  • John Archer, Chief Development Officer, 360 Collective
  • Derek Lee, Partner, PWL Landscape Architects (Granville Street, Vancouver)
  • Anjali Mishra, Project Manager: Infrastructure, Roads and Transport Services, City of Montreal (rue Sainte Catherine, Montreal)