NEWS

Yonge St. pedestrians get more room in pilot project

08/14/2012 01:16 EDT | Updated 10/14/2012 05:12 EDT
Shops and restaurants along a stretch of Yonge Street in downtown Toronto are gearing up for a pilot project that will open up two additional traffic lanes to pedestrians starting Friday.

Vehicular traffic on Yonge Street from Gerrard Street to Queen Street has already been reduced to one lane in each direction in portions for the Celebrate Yonge festival.

The closures will last until Sept. 19.

As a result of the changes, there will be approximately five metres of additional pedestrian space along Yonge Street in addition to the sidewalk. Those areas will be separated from vehicular traffic with planters, and organizers plan to feature increased patio space, games and buskers.

"We're hoping to get more people coming into the city," said Andreas Mavridis, the manager of the Three Brewers Pub just south of Dundas Street on Yonge Street.

"Our patio is going to be like 60 feet. It's going to be closed off here where the lane is," he said, gesturing towards the roadway.

"It's going to be barricaded all around."

"It's one of the busiest intersections in the country and we need space for people to enjoy the summer," said Abigail Gamble, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area as she stood at the corner of Yonge and Dundas streets.

She said there will 11 different theme areas throughout the street, but didn't reveal too much more because "we want to keep some of it a surprise."

It’s not the first time Yonge Street has been taken over.

In 1971, parts of Yonge Street were completely car-free for weeks. The street mall attracted 50,000 people a day.

The councillor for the area, Kristyn Wong-Tam, says discussions about the current project have been going on for more than a year.

"We've really been working with our stakeholders to create a whole new unique street experience that will open up the street for people and try to turn Yonge Street into a premier destination and enhance what we already have there," Wong-Tam said in a Tuesday interview with CBC's Metro Morning.

Yonge 'under capacity' when it comes to cars

The project is timed for August and September because that's when the area experiences its highest pedestrian traffic volume for the year, she said.

Children go back to school in September, and about 115 students make daily trips into the area, said Wong-Tam. And the Canadian National Exhibition, which opens this weekend, brings a lot of people to the city.

Wong-Tam acknowledged she's heard concerns about how the change will affect drivers in the area.

But she doesn't think congestion will be a big issue.

"There's a lot of data that has been collected regarding vehicular patterns. And what we're seeing is Yonge Street is under capacity when it comes to vehicle movement in traffic," she said.

As to whether the festival will come back in the future, Wong-Tam said she will take her cue from the BIA. There are a number of mechanisms that have been set up to monitor the event's success, she said, including traffic monitoring, pedestrian counts, and sales and media monitoring.

"We'd like it to be a success, we hope it will be a success, and I know in my heart it will be a success. We've seen other cities do this — Montreal and New York – and they've made big transformations in their downtown core."

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