The case for protected bike lanes on Yonge Street

The small stores, noodle houses and theaters in the Sheppard to Finch corridor provide a good deal of street life, but the strip could be much for vibrant designed around the needs of cyclists and walkers



Author Michael Ondaatje made the Bloor viaduct a place of imagination when he set scenes from his novel In the Skin of a Lion there. His innovation was seeing the possibility of a novel in the bridge’s construction.

Transform Yonge, a $51 million plan to reimagine Yonge Street north of Sheppard to Finch, could create a place for similar artistry – wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, more trees and new public art. It would, in the words of city staff, bring about “safer travel conditions for all users” with “little change to travel time or average speed for drivers.”

The plan would make Yonge less congested, too, as we build more space for walkers and cyclists and make these modes of transportation more attractive for drivers to leave the car at home

Alas, that would necessitate the removal of two car lanes — from six to four – which has predictably made Transform controversial among some city politicians.

To be sure, Transform would require sacrifice in terms of cost, the inconvenience of construction and the challenge of transitioning from six car lanes to four.

But over time it would create a safer Yonge Street with more high-quality retail and an important cycling link to the Finch Hydro corridor recreational trail.

The small stores, noodle houses and theaters on the strip now provide a good deal of street life.

But think how much more vibrant it would designed primarily around the needs of cyclists and walkers, if the road were quieter so conversation didn’t require shouting if the sidewalks were more spacious if the tree canopy provided greater summertime shade?

During the First World War, debate around the Bloor viaduct centre around whether the bridge should have a lower deck capable of carrying a subway in the future. The deck meant additional costs, of course, and there were no immediate plans to run trains.

Nevertheless, forward-thinking public servants, including Toronto’s then-commissioner of public works, favoured inclusion of a deck in the project’s design. That was a good thing because it meant a considerable cost savings when the city launched the Bloor subway line 48 years later.

The City of Toronto website explains: “Having the subway deck already in place in the Don Section [of the viaduct] saved a great deal of money when the Bloor-Danforth subway line was built in the 1960s.”

We should show a similar inventiveness and transform the northern section of our most famous street into something magnificent.

Gideon Forman is a transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. Jared Kolb is executive director of Cycle Toronto.

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