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Should Yonge Street Lose a Lane?

Posted by Ian / March 9, 2007

20070309_yongenarrow.jpgAs part of the GTA Transport Summit on Wednesday, Gary Welsh, Toronto's General Manager of Transportation, suggested that Yonge Street could be narrowed down to three car lanes south of Bloor to expand sidewalks, discourage car use, and benefit pedestrians. It's an interesting idea for a strip of the city that sees so much pedestrian traffic; for all its vibrancy, Yonge Street (particularly between College and Bloor) is not the most attractive or walkable street in Toronto.

Two articles reporting the story cite the obvious concern of increased traffic congestion. While drivers would definitely have a lot to complain about, the reduction would help Yonge not because of what it removes, but because of what it could add. With a lane of traffic gone there might actually be room for trees, some public art, and maybe even bike lanes.

With Yonge as important a driving route as it is, though, I have a feeling it's an idea that'll have a tough time getting off the ground.

Image by Metrix X from the blogTO flickr pool.



Matt / March 9, 2007 at 11:38 am
It's a very interesting idea. But then I'm in the privelege position: no car, two feet. :)
Tyson Williams / March 9, 2007 at 11:46 am
I would love to see no lanes at all south of Bloor all the way to the lake. Just make a pedestrian boulevard with plenty of threes, restaurants, shops, cafes, patios etc. Business would boom, there would be less car pollution and I would love it! Right now the street is ugly with crappy dollar and sex stores.
Christina / March 9, 2007 at 11:53 am
As a pedestrian, I'd love to see that too. Even as a driver, I don't think it would be too bad - provided the city then provides copious extra amounts of AFFORDABLE parking around the Bloor area where the lane is reduced, to further encourage people to leave their cars behind there and take advantage of Yonge by strolling down instead of driving down.

In that case, I don't think the traffic congestion would be too bad at all. It is often proven that with further limitations, things can be improved to better fit those limitations. So I think it would work out somehow.
Jerrold / March 9, 2007 at 12:13 pm
If I happen to be on the core in my car (I usually use TTC), I already avoid Yonge and choose University, Bay, Jarvis or Church for N/S travel.
Dan / March 9, 2007 at 12:14 pm
Nice idea, but I don't think it'll make people use more public transportation. I think it'll a) cause more traffic along Yonge, & b) cause more traffic along other streets due to the increased traffic on Yonge.

Also, I've never really had too much to complain about the width of the sidewalks along Yonge. What we really need is a public education blitz about sidewalk walking etiquette. We could make due with the sidewalks we have if more people just moved out of the way when passing each other.
Todd / March 9, 2007 at 01:51 pm
i agree with tyson...

why not turn yonge into a pedestrian street? although turning yonge into a pedestrian street from bloor to the lake probably wont work. but, from shuter to bloor is more realistic. in that stretch, there are no parking garages exiting onto yonge. having a subway line running down the street is, in my opinion, redundant. by closing off the street to traffic, cafes, decent shops, and other commerical activity would boom. of course, this would not only increase property taxes but would also give our city a central commerical area for residents and tourists alike. i cant see why this hasnt happened already. university and bay streets are virtually deserted after 5pm anyway so there would be alternative routes for traffic going north/south. i'm sure everyone who reads this site has appreciated pedestrian streets in europa. i cant see shy everyone else in city wouldnt. the real estate value would sky rocket along the yonge corridor. most importantly, everyone would enjoy the opportunity to stroll down the street and not worry about dodging pedestrians, bypassing them on the street, and avoiding oncoming traffic.
Chris / March 9, 2007 at 02:00 pm
I'd love to see this happen, along with just about anything that takes space away from cars and gives it back to human beings. Aside from private property and the occasional park/square exception, there is really very space in the city that is designated for pedestrians. And nevermind just 'designated' - it's downright lethal to step off the tiny sliver of pavement we're given. Understandable, given that we grew up as a car culture and no one saw anything wrong with an entire society based on the idea that anyone going anywhere and doing anything will drive their car there and then have to park it. We do need to get with the times, though, because what used to make sense really doesn't any more.
Mark Dowling / March 9, 2007 at 02:18 pm
Start with 1NB 1SB and a tidal lane, just like Jarvis. See how it goes...
James / March 9, 2007 at 02:20 pm
Right idea.

Wrong execution.

Two lanes is the right width.

Why two and not none, or three?

No lanes, while a nice idea, has been tried and has failed before, both here and elsewhere.

Yonge Street went pedestrian only, on the weekends in the 70's and it didn't last.

Turning away all car traffic (and thereby delievery trucks, emergency vehciles etc.....can be a big problem.

On the other hand....a reduction in vehicle lanes is an excellent idea.

It will serve to create a more pleasant and aethetic pedestrian experience.

It will increase the number of people who choose to walk downtown.

It won't have a huge effect on total car volume downtown, but a modest encouragement in the direction of transit is still a good one.

So why two lanes, not three?

First, because a three lane configuration almost certainly means the middle lane changes directions in rush hour.

This is the way Jarvis currently works.

And, well, Jarvis doesn't work.

The city is now in final stages of a plan to get rid of Jarvis' 5th lane.

'Switch' lanes tend to cause a lot of driver confusion (no solid yellow line in the middle of the road)

The often create more accidents.

And if you have three lanes, you either A) Can't have left hand turn lanes)
B) Can't widen the sidewalks at intersections, which is where pedestrian overcrowding most often occurs

You also won't get bike lanes and sidewalk widening with a 3-lane configuration.

Each middle lane of Yonge St. is 3.3 Metres wide. Bike lane standard width is 1.5M x 2 sides of the street, for 3.0 M total.

The width needed to add trees to the side walk is 1.0 M per side

So, a 2 lane Yonge Street allows for Bike lanes, and sidewalk widenings, plus selected left hand turn lanes, which could actually speed traffic up.

Jerrold / March 9, 2007 at 02:31 pm
Those tidal lanes can be confusing to some drivers.

Not sure that would be wise on Yonge, where so many pedestrians are.
Dan / March 9, 2007 at 03:00 pm
hmmm... no car lanes at all on Yonge. I think that's a better idea than taking one lane away.
Dan / March 9, 2007 at 03:34 pm
hmmm... no car lanes at all on Yonge. I think that's a better idea than taking one lane away.
todd / March 9, 2007 at 04:33 pm
if yonge street was closed off to all vehicular traffic that wouldnt necessarily block access for delivery and emergency vehicles. the shops along yonge street, for the most part, have back access through alleyways. also, the cross streets (college, etc.) could remain open to vehicles. generally that would increase emergency vehicles' response routes to one or two blocks.
sookie / March 9, 2007 at 11:03 pm
the bike lanes and pedestrian flow give Amsterdam some of its charm - but taking away all traffic lanes would lead to Yonge's demise. store owners need all kinds of traffic - winter would be especially tough for businesses on a car-free street when there would be so few who feel like going for a ride or a stroll.
rek / March 10, 2007 at 04:32 am
Short answer: yes.

Wider sidewalks, bike lanes, trees; do it now.
Alex Fayle / March 10, 2007 at 04:52 am
I've been living in Europe for a while now and for all that Canadians think that Europeans don't have the same fixation with cars that North Americans do... Europeans LOVE their cars.

And yet, large cities like Barcelona have huge swaths of pedestrian routes.

Bordeaux was a congested mess until the shut the centre of the city down to anything but delivery vehicles and transit. And now it's beautiful and vibrant and the businesses have benefited.

Canada needs to get over the all or nothing attitude. Pedestrians streets don't mean NO traffic where deliveries can't be made. It means putting the focus on the person who will walk into a store rather than car that will whip by it (or crawl by it in gridlock).
chephy / March 11, 2007 at 11:46 pm
The thing about traffic... if you take it all away from Yonge, you'll have to dump it all elsewhere. You can't just make those cars - poof! - disappear. So I say two lanes for Yonge is good (three is bad for reasons mentioned above). So either two regular lanes + two bike lanes or two wide lanes. And widen the sidewalks. Yonge is DYING for some pedestrian space... it's a pain to walk on it!
geoffrey / March 25, 2007 at 09:12 am
Where are the bike lanes?
geoffrey / March 25, 2007 at 09:14 am
Where are the bike lanes? Don't forget the bike lanes!
don L / April 5, 2007 at 11:09 pm
Making Yonge Street a pedestrian only zone from Bloor to King would be fantastic. It is the main street of our city and an utter embarrassment with all of those run-down, cheap dollar stores, discount shops and and sex stores. It is also creepy and unsafe to walk around Yonge Street after dark. It sets the tone for our entire city!! Tourists are absolutely amazed when they walk down Yonge Street. They can't believe that we allow our main street to look like a dump!

Having a pedestrian zone with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, shops and a bike lane would be fantastic. Especially if it was done like the Distillery District to recreate the atmosphere of Old Toronto -- with cobblestone streets, trees, plants, old Toronto-style street lamps and renovated, cleaned up store fronts. It would be a very upscale, glamorous part of town, right in the centre of our city. Locals and tourists would flock to it. It would be our pride and joy, and featured on postcards and in tourist books

Pedestrian streets if designed properly with upscale shops are boutiques are tourist magnets and prime focal points for cities. This has been proven all over the world!

Some examples of great pedestrian streets include:

Vaci Street in Budapest
Los Ramblas in Barcelona
Arbat Street in Moscow
Zelezna Street in Prague

One person commented that Yonge Street was made into a pedestrian street in the 70's and didn't work. Well you have to have shops, boutiques, restaurants and attractions that people want to go to in order for a pedestrian street to work. Obviously no one wants to walk down a pedestrian street that looks like a dump!!

Almost all European cities have lively, well-designed pedestrianised street centers combined with town squares and parks which are crowded with people walking at every hour of the day and night.

Well designed pedestrian zones are great for business, great for tourism, great for the environment, great for locals, great for families, and great for our health (we exercise instead of drive!).

Everyone wins.
Jonathan / April 7, 2007 at 12:01 pm
Yonge Street should not just lose a lane, it should be transformed into a beautiful pedestrian-only street which celebrates Toronto's rich history.

Cobblestone streets, Old Toronto street lamps, trees, shrubs, plants, beautiful shops, boutiques, restaurants, galleries and fountains all down Yonge Street until Queen Street.

A tram or trolley should be added as well as a bike lane.

A pedestrian-only Yonge Street would be the venue for farmer's markets, artist exhibits, performing arts festivals, music events etc. It would become one of Toronto's top tourist attractions and would be a magnate for international tourists as well as locals. The street would be alive and dynamic, day and night.

As for funding this concept, the City should require that the developer of the proposed 80-storey condo project for the south-east corner of Yonge & Bloor put money towards funding it.

This should be the vision for our Yonge Street!

Let's do it right this time!! We Torontonians have so often managed to screw things up with mediocre ideas and short term vision.

We have the opportunity now to make our city truly "world class" - a fantastic place for us to live and a fantastic place for international tourists to visit. Let's not accept some half-baked plan. Let' strive for Yonge Street to be our pride and joy!!!
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