Toronto council considering potential changes to major thoroughfare

Toronto politicians are set to decide on measures that would redesign part of a major thoroughfare to better serve pedestrians and cyclists, a vote that comes as the city grapples with a spike in pedestrian deaths.

City staff have recommended councillors approve a proposal to widen sidewalks on a 2.7-kilometre section of Yonge Street in a northern part of the city.

Transform Yonge. Image via City of Toronto.
Transform Yonge. Image via City of Toronto.

A staff report said the road has inconsistent sidewalk widths, lacks pedestrian crossings or medians, and doesn’t have dedicated “cycling facilities.”

It also recommended adding bike lanes to the road, but Mayor John Tory said he supports an alternative measure that would see the bike lanes added to a parallel street — something the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee has also supported.

The staff report had further recommended reducing lanes of traffic on the stretch of road from six to four, though the public works committee and Tory support an option that leaves all six lanes intact.

The staff report suggested the changes be implemented as part of a complete overhaul of that stretch of road, which hasn’t been upgraded since 1975.

City council, which is meeting Monday through Wednesday, was set to vote on the proposed measures as Toronto police statistics show 11 pedestrians died this year by March 19, compared to seven at the same time the previous year.

Cherise Burda, director of Ryerson University’s City Building Institute, said adopting the proposed measures is the right move for the city.

“If you narrow a road and you put a number of different users on the road, you’re going to improve the safety because you’re making a street more of a shared opportunity and more of a complete street,” she said. “People are looking, people are slowing down, there’s more going on on the street.”

Burda added that the measures would be a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to change what happens at street-level on that stretch of road.

On Monday evening, a group of activists that supports the proposed changes to Yonge Street is expected to hold a “die-in” outside City Hall to protest traffic deaths in the city.

Kasia Briegmann-Samson, a spokeswoman for Friends and Families for Safe Streets, which is organizing the protest, said she’s disappointed the city hasn’t taken more action.

“Look how hard we have to fight to get one safe, complete street being built … The city should be falling over itself implementing complete and safe streets across the city,” she said. “The fact that it’s even being debated is appalling.”