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Yonge Street now more pedestrian (and patio) friendly

Posted by Staff / August 18, 2012

yonge street park torontoYou may have noticed some construction and a whole lot of greenery creeping up on Yonge St., around the Eaton Centre. No, it's not just senseless digging--rather, the area is being transformed into an urban, natural playground.

The crowded, concrete strip will become a green oasis of trees, boulders, logs, grass, and soil. It will also feature a 30-seat amphitheatre built into the dirt, 3 patios and a cedar fort. The design of the natural playground itself is courtesy of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.

The project is part of the Celebrate Yonge initiative, a community-based, month-long event that aims to transform a stretch of Yonge St. with art installation, public seating areas (and larger pedestrian zones), and activities. I can't help but wonder if they're prepared for what I think will be an outpouring of enthusiasm from pedestrians and cyclists (and equal amounts of rage from drivers).

yonge street park torontoThe green space project is funded by ING Direct, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Parks Canada and the Robert Bateman Foundation; it's slated to be completed on August 18, and will remain in place until September 18.

Additional photos: yonge street park torontoyonge street park torontoyonge street park torontoyonge street park torontoyonge street park toronto

Photos by Jimmy Lu



Dizzy / August 18, 2012 at 07:41 am
Is it complete? I passed it by yesterday and didn't really see the appeal of the patios ie sitting in Yonge Street traffic breathing in its fumes basically. There are nicer patio locations. Most of them seemed occupied though. The little park in your last two photos was a nice surprise.
Must / August 18, 2012 at 08:06 am
Wow. And I thought this was only for a week. We should keep this as a permanent setup for Yonge street to facilitate a social space for our pedestrians and stimulate vibrancy in dt Toronto. This almost reminds me European city centres where people are encouraged to walk.
Cjones / August 18, 2012 at 08:19 am
Walked by this yesterday afternoon and didn't see any real new pedestrian areas. They essentially took the public lanes of traffic and gave them over to private retailers. Even EB games had a tent set up. There were a few random tables and chairs for public use but nothing substantial. Based on how the media has been describing this I was expecting to see simply an extension of the sidewalk for pedestrian use. I still think this project is a good idea but it should be presented to the public more honestly.
CityPainter / August 18, 2012 at 08:49 am
An interesting idea, but esthetically it's somewhat ruined by the ugly metal barriers around the licensed patios. Drink in a cage, anyone? This is likely because of liquor laws, though, the coffee shop tables look nicer surrounded by planters. I'm all for improving the pedestrian experience in Toronto but I'm not sure this artificial takeover of a major thoroughfare is the best place to start, it may just breed resentment and opposition.
Joe Byer / August 18, 2012 at 09:07 am
I think the ideal plan is to have Yonge transformed into a Complete Streets project with widened sidewalks, a bike lane and single lane traffic in either direction. They need to get buy-in from the local businesses and this is the best way to kick it off. It will also allow drivers that use Yonge (for whatever reasons) to get used to the idea of single lanes. Sure there'll be some teething pains, but everyone's gotta lose their baby teeth.

I'm also not too psyched about eating next to idling traffic but looking forward to visiting these fine establishments to show my support. As a local resident, I'm excited for the future of what could be on Yonge.
TG / August 18, 2012 at 09:47 am
I think it's a great idea, I think a more permanent setup would help with the "sitting beside idling cars" problem. Think Los Ramblas in Barcelona, large patio/walking area in the middle, one narrow traffic lane on each side.
Dave / August 18, 2012 at 10:02 am
This is just Toronto's failed attempt at trying be be NYC's little brother. Fail.
Harrison / August 18, 2012 at 11:15 am
Great concept. Poorly planned. Perhaps they're trying to mimic other cities. Either way, your sitting in fumes on a street. I don't see the comfort in this...
Dave / August 18, 2012 at 11:19 am
Make it permanent.
Ruth Treloar / August 18, 2012 at 11:48 am
It will be permanent AND comfortable when bicycles or electric/other close-to-zero emissions vehicles only are to be permitted along the 2 lanes. Perhaps that rule will soon apply to all or most of downtown.
Robert / August 18, 2012 at 11:53 am
This is a nice idea, but giving the Pickle Barrel a sidewalk patio isn't quite enough to make we want to eat at Pickle Barrel.
John in TO / August 18, 2012 at 01:12 pm
I wonder if the sketchy fake ID shops will be participating.
Azzklown replying to a comment from Ruth Treloar / August 18, 2012 at 02:36 pm
Shut up, hippie
W. K. Lis / August 18, 2012 at 02:52 pm
Most of the customers on Yonge Street are walk-ins. Very, very few are drive-ins. If one drive-by and then decides to come into a store, they have to spend another 30 minutes finding a place to park, by then they'll forget why they wanted to park. A walk-in would just go right on in.

That is why widening the sidewalks on Yonge Street would be a good idea. That and the addition of more bicycle parking.
skazzy / August 18, 2012 at 03:20 pm
It kinda looks like a wannabe Times Square. Except it's not as great or vibrant as TS.
Aaron / August 18, 2012 at 03:42 pm
The Guantanamo-like drinking prisons are an elegant touch!
Shana / August 18, 2012 at 04:50 pm
They should close that section of Yonge entirely and set it up for pedestrian use. It's not a useful road anyway for cars. It's a good idea. Yonge is such a hot-spot for pedestrians and it's so ugly right now, it deserves some patios and green space.
Bubba / August 18, 2012 at 04:55 pm
Mmm, sucking in gas fumes will having dinner! oh yeah that is super appealing! How about getting rid of the cars completely and let people who actually live in this city take it over, instead of a half-assed job they have done for tourists.
Jeff / August 18, 2012 at 06:55 pm
Yum: steak, salad and fumes.
lol / August 18, 2012 at 08:20 pm
went by today. looks pretty good, lots of ppl out sitting and enjoying themselves.... younge would be amazing if we made it 2 lanes with perminate wide sidewalks and sitting areas.... who drives down younge anyway other than tourist and taxis???
Michelle / August 19, 2012 at 12:48 am
One step at a time, folks. I think this is great. Let this be a chance for business owners on the strip to see the value in this, and for drivers to think of other options for visiting downtown.
encyclopaedia / August 19, 2012 at 03:54 am
For anyone suggesting Toronto is copying New York's Times Square, if you want to get actual facts, New York got the idea of putting seating in their square from the fact that Dundas Square is an open spaces with seating and tables.
Jonathan / August 19, 2012 at 03:07 pm
It's not that uncommon. Nicollet Mall (actually it's not a 'mall' - it's an avenue; but in the 1970's there was this push in downtown Minneapolis to build a pedestrian-only avenue that stretches 15 blocks, and showcases the best stores/outdoor patios. Unfortunately, with the Salvation Army, City Jail and bus terminal all within about a 4 block walk from here, one can not sit down at any sidewalk cafe on Nicollet without the 'gotta smoke?', 'got any money?' 'hey, I'm carrying around an empty gas can because my car ran out just over there!'...every hooker, junkie and bag lady has a sob story and of course they hit up anyone trying to enjoy one of the few peaceful, sunny Minneapolis days. In order for these things to work, there has to be enforcement of existing laws on the books - otherwise your customers with money will never come back. The other problem with Minneapolis - and I'm not sure how Toronto would do this with Yonge - is that Metro Transit has to run it's buses down Nicollet Mall (so it's not exactly vehicle free - completely) because there are only so many north-south avenues downtown; with over 100,000 downtown workers and not much of an LRT it would take hours to coordinate getting all these people home without using Nicollet Mall. But yes, I would love to see Yonge Street mirror something more like this.

Using Minneapolis as an example, one of the things they've talked about with Nicollet Mall is the concept of either a heated sidewalk in the winter, or some sort of canopy (seriously) so that it's semi-encolsed to still attract shoppers who spend a lot of time downtown. Once again, as is the case in Toronto, there has to be some enforcement of laws on the books. When people are constantly bombarded for money, harassed by junkies and hookers, begged for money after 1) paying for parking and 2) paying for whatever they came downtown for, they're simply going to head for the malls in the suburbs. There also has to be more of a presence of making sure kids are in school because there is no excuse for 14-year-olds to be running wild around Eaton Centre during the school day when they're clearly supposed to be in school.
Stephen / August 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm
Why bother leaving the remaining lanes open? Just close the entire street to traffic. If Montreal can close Ste. Catherine for 4 months, Yonge can be closed for 1.
Seriously / August 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm
This is fail. What are those cars doing in the middle of a street festival?
Stock BlogTO Commenter / August 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm
[Insert bitching and whining here]
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Jonathan / August 20, 2012 at 04:36 am
Maybe kids are running around Yonge Street because schools are only 25 minutes subway ride from downtown, and there' a lot of places to eat? Why are people like you so hateful of kids being on the high street of a city, and why does it bug you?
I love a good Disney Store replying to a comment from skazzy / August 20, 2012 at 08:59 am
Times Square is "great" and "vibrant"?! Times Square is loud, tacky, phony and full of crappy chain restaurants and stores you can find in any mall in any town. It is only a "must-see" for tourists from Iowa or Torontonians with an inferiority complex. I think NYC is one of the greatest cities on Earth, but Times Square has very little to do with that. Ask any New Yorker how much time they spend there.
KP / August 20, 2012 at 11:01 am
Why do people constantly have to compare things to New York? New York is one thing, Toronto is another... Deal with it or move to Syracuse so you can be in the middle and whine about everything.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from I love a good Disney Store / August 20, 2012 at 05:41 pm
Many New Yorkers still go to Times Square to shop, eat, see plays and movies, and feel safe doing so, just like the Times Square of the 20's, 30's, and early-to-mid 40's; you can also bet that there were the equivalents of the detested chain stores and restaurants back then too. The ONLY reason people hate Times Square now is because they can't do the sexy stuff they used to do (watch porno, get hookers, or go up into a room above it all and have sex) and that's about it. I used to think that Times Square was just a Disneyfied heck hole, until I heard the story of my sister and my brother-in-law being mugged, which has now changed my attitude towards said changes for the positive; I'll bet that the native New Yorkers and visitors also feel the same way.
Alex / August 21, 2012 at 10:41 am
Walked by on the weekend and it was great. They may as well just close down Yonge during it completely though, traffic was barely moving and there were still so many pedestrians that the sidewalks were filled. This festival doesn't actually add any sidewalk space, since it all got filled up with booths/patios.

I loved the giant chess set and connect 4 set, those looked like a lot of fun and a bunch of people were gathered around the chess set watching the match. Stuff like this really brings people together.
Pissed off John replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / August 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm
Yeah, the "ONLY" reason people hate Times Square is because they can't get hookers or watch porn anymore. Seriously, WTF?
Chris / August 22, 2012 at 03:02 pm
Amazing - here's the city trying to do SOMETHING pedestrian friendly, which we all claim we want and all anyone on this site can do is bitch and complain that its not Time Square, or that you don't want to sit on a patio next to car fumes or in a "cage". What the hell do you expect for a one-month temporary experiment? Why not recognize that this is big friggin deal for a city like ours, to even consider restricting car access on Yonge St in favour of a more pedestrian friendly setup.

Seriously its "professional" complainers like you guys who are part of the reason this city is so conservative about trying anything different. You guys just sound like the lefty version of old cranks like Doug Holyday.

Why you don't you try contributing something to society other than your sad bitterness.
Sappho Mullins / August 23, 2012 at 10:52 am
How is that we take public funded streets and give them to American corporations!!!

There is absolutely no reason for noncommercial cars on Yonge St, as with most downtown streets, and they should be given back to the people but I have already paid to use that space and I sure am not going to pay again to use a street I have already paid for especially to a corporation...
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