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Toronto leaders want to think big on Yonge Street

Ryerson University and Downtown Yonge BIA officials urge transformation.

Rendering of a pedestrian-only Yonge and Gerrard provided by the Downtown Yonge BIA.

Rendering of a pedestrian-only Yonge and Gerrard provided by the Downtown Yonge BIA.

A group of experts is trying to generate some fresh love — and a bold vision — for Toronto’s main drag.

It’s time to think big about the future of Yonge Street in a whole new way, they say, and they’re rolling out the red carpet so everyone can have a voice.

Led by Ryerson City Building Institute, Wednesday’s Yonge Love meet-up is a chance for Torontonians to share their priorities for the city’s most-used street. It will also include key city officials — like chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat — and experts from other cities, like Vancouver landscape architect Derek Lee.

The event aims to gather more ideas about what Yonge Street could be and generate more momentum around fitting a broad-sweeping revitalization, something that’s long been talked about but never approved, into other city plans.

The time to act is now, said Mark Garner, executive director of the Downtown Yonge BIA.

The city plans to tear up parts of Yonge to replace water pipes that date back to the 19th century, and the repairs offer an opportunity to, among other things, widen sidewalks, add bike plans and plant more trees.

“This is Toronto’s street,” he said. “If there’s one street that we should kick up a notch, it’s Yonge.”

Cherise Burda, the executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute, agrees.

“Right now all the conditions are in place to do something great with Yonge,” she said. “The question is: how far will we go?”

Going for a complete street model on Yonge would be too timid, she said. The city should, for example, consider closing it off to cars between Grosvernor and Richmond as an option, she added.

“If you can’t do it on Yonge St., where can you do it?” she asked.

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