A face lift for part of the world’s longest street is being talked about…!
A bold new plan is calling for a long overdue facelift for Yonge St.
The report, to be released today, proposes dramatic changes in the section between Dundas and Gerrard Sts., including widening sidewalks, reducing car traffic to two lanes, and making it pedestrian only for special festivals.
The Yonge Street Planning Framework, written by Ken Greenberg of Greenberg Consultants and Marianne McKenna of KPMB Architects, is a blueprint for turning around this tired area that includes historic buildings, a new 75-storey condo tower and Ryerson University.
It’s designed to improve the public space, make the area more welcoming for retailers and encourage small businesses, including high-tech ventures, to set up shop.
Owners have been reluctant to invest in building improvements, in part because they were unsure of the area’s future, said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. She pulled local residents, businesses and city officials to work together after January’s fire destroyed the Empress Hotel, saying Canada’s historic street needed a new vision.
Some ideas are obvious, such as encouraging cafes and restaurants at the ground level so patrons spill out to outdoor patios, creating a friendly neighbourhood. It also calls for more street vendors to draw people in. Small details such as garage-like doors or French doors can link the stores to the street in good weather.
But other suggestions break new ground, such as sending large-scale retail stores from ground-floor locations to upstairs or below-ground spots.
“Big box is welcome to Yonge but not at the street level,” said Wong-Tam. “The planning rationale we want to have as many doors at grade at possible. There is an appropriate place for large-format retail.”
The proposal calls for a better balance of retail including higher quality stores, though not necessarily high-end businesses. Wong-Tam argues there’s a place for dollar stores and strip clubs, but they can’t be the only businesses on Yonge St.
The report showcases innovative ideas like Montreal’s Rue Sainte Catherine, where pedestrians are ushered to events and venues through lighting on the pavement. New York City closed part of famed Broadway to cars, transforming the area for cyclists and pedestrians, with rocks, planters and some paint. The bistro tables and chairs are drawing locals and tourists alike.
Greenberg, co-author of the report, said this framework strikes a balance between preserving heritage buildings and balancing new development, including offices and condos such as the planned 75-storey Aura tower at the corner of Gerrard St. It calls for certain setbacks to ensure large towers don’t engulf Yonge St. and protects sunlight access to the low-rise heritage buildings.
“Yonge St. has gone through many changes as the city evolves. The downtown is more inhabited, and there’s so much potential here,” he said, adding residents suggested beautifying area laneways, creating green routes.
Similar changes are happening in cities across Canada including Montreal’s Sainte Catherine, Vancouver’s Granville St. and even Kitchener’s King St., he said.
“This is a great period for cities in which pedestrian life is being celebrated,” Greenberg said, noting that Yonge St. pedestrians outnumber drivers by more than two-to-one, and Yonge-Dundas square draws large crowds.
According to the city’s statistics in November 2006, 53,434 pedestrians were counted at Yonge and Dundas, compared with 22,038 drivers in an eight-hour period, long before the scramble intersection, which at times allows pedestrians to cross in any direction, was introduced.
Fewer drivers use Yonge St. as a main thoroughfare because of no-turning restrictions already in place at some intersections.
However, any move to restrict car traffic is likely to spark fireworks at Toronto city hall especially since Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on building a car-friendly city.
Wong-Tam argues the report is much more than just taking out traffic lanes.
“This began with a conversation on how we can bring economic prosperity to small- and medium-sized business,” she said, adding the pilot project will look for external funding for landscaping and changes. “It is a business-led initiative. It’s not just a conversation about whether to have road closures.”
City staff will bring their own recommendations based on this framework to community council likely in October, and then it would go to city council. Wong-Tam’s goal is to have a pilot project with temporary landscaping in place for next summer.
“It’s a smart idea of seeing at how it works,” said James Robinson, executive director of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, which helped finance the report.
Unlike an earlier effort for a pedestrian-only mall in the 1970s, this proposal will still allow for vehicle traffic, he said. As well, the plan will focus on how to ensure businesses can get their deliveries.
Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University, which is building its own $110 million Student Learning Centre on Yonge St., said he is pleased the busiest corner in Canada is finally being improved.
“The time has come. It’s too important location,” said Levy, adding he is confident the mayor and city council would see the value in these changes. “It does not mean we would take the eclectic or funky nature of the retail.”
As long as it doesn’t hurt any of the businesses, and traffic can still move freely; (during non-pedestrian-only-times) I think it’s a great idea! What do you think?