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'Fundamentally backwards:' Advocates disappointed in vote on Yonge transformation

Against staff recommendation to reduce lanes and use space for bike lanes and sidewalks, city committee opts to keep six lanes on Yonge Street.

A plan to transform Yonge between Sheppard and Finch, making it more bike and pedestrian friendly, has been nixed by the public works committee.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

A plan to transform Yonge between Sheppard and Finch, making it more bike and pedestrian friendly, has been nixed by the public works committee.

Active transportation advocates are appalled by a city committee's decision to reject an ambitious proposal to transform a section of Yonge Street into a more cycling and pedestrian friendly area.

The public works and infrastructure committee voted Wednesday to oppose the implementation of Re-Imagining Yonge — against the recommendations of a city staff report. The proposal would have completely revamped Yonge between Sheppard and Finch by creating separated bike lanes and widening sidewalks, among other things.

"Extremely disappointed. That decision is not good for the city, it's not good for North York and it's certainly not good for the more vulnerable road users on Yonge Street," said Amanda O'Rourke, executive director at 8 80 Cities. The organization was one of many that wrote to Mayor John Tory, urging him to support the project.

Staff sided with advocates and Ward 23 councillor John Fillion, who wanted to reduce the number of car lanes from six to four and use that space for bike lanes, sidewalks, outdoor cafes and even trees to help make the area more of a destination, rather than a highway to pass through.

Instead, the committee adopted an alternative: a compromise that keeps six lanes on Yonge with some modifications and creates cycle tracks and sharrows on nearby Beecroft Road. Proponents of this option, including Tory and Ward 24 councillor David Shiner, say reducing car lanes would increase congestion.

Shiner dismissed arguments that making two of the lanes for bikes is safer for crossing pedestrians, saying "a bicycle lane is still a lane, and it’s just as dangerous if not more so for pedestrians."

O'Rourke said the area has experienced significant growth since 1975, the last time the roadway was reconstructed. A more people-friendly street would increase public space and boost local businesses.

"There are now a lot of parents and kids and strollers and an older population," she said. "A six-lane corridor is not a very good option for them."

However, Ward 3 councillor Stephen Holyday felt there were greater concerns to take into account.

“I understand the local belief and needs and wants about how they see Yonge Street but I also have to think about it from a network perspective,” Holyday told colleagues. “It's extremely important to get people moving through this city.”

Cycle Toronto executive director Jared Kolb said it's "outrageous" to see politicians reject an idea that would have made it a lot safer for everyone, especially vulnerable road users.

"This is a really cynical approach rooted in the 1960s planning logic. It's fundamentally backwards and not appropriate," Kolb said, noting the project is about livability and making it safer for the people in the neighbourhood.

"The council has a bad habit of approving big and audacious plans and goals like Vision Zero and then doing a 180 and embracing projects that are going to lock us into the status quo."

Since 2010, city data shows, there have been more than 80 collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists on that specific stretch of Yonge. That's more than 10 collisions every year, said Jessica Spieker, member of Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

"There's a pedestrian safety crisis in that neighbourhood, and I've seen no data to indicate that the carnage is decreasing," Spieker said, expressing "a glimmer of hope" that city council as a whole will reverse the decision at the end of March and adopt the Re-Imagining Yonge proposal.

With files from Torstar News Service

By the numbers:

• The rejected option to reduce car lanes on Yonge would cost an estimated $51.1 million.

• The adopted alternative of keeping six lanes on Yonge and creating cycle tracks on Beecroft would cost approximately $71 million.

Source: City staff report

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