Reimagining yonge

Is new Toronto BIA trying to upend the approved Reimagining Yonge plan?

Despite having an approved plan in place awaiting construction, a local BIA in Toronto is creating its own vision for Yonge Street at odds with the city’s REimagining Yonge project.

Plans for the redesign of Yonge between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue are evolving as the local business community works to create a new vision for public realm improvements.

Until noon on Aug. 4, the Yonge North York BIA, formerly the Willowdale BIA, is accepting submissions to its request for proposal for design firms to create a Placemaking and Streetscape Master Plan for the area. The Yonge North BIA’s master plan will focus on lighting, street furniture, possible parkets, and more along Yonge Street.

“We feel it is imperative to create a long-term vision that will be engaging for all workers, residents and visitors and attract businesses to our district,” said Laura Burnham, executive director of Yonge North York BIA.

It’s not uncommon for a BIA — which is short for business improvement area, an association of commercial property owners and their tenants — to create a streetscape master plan, suggests Burnham. Asked whether the public-realm plan would incorporate bike lanes, which are part of the contentious REimagining Yonge Street project, a separate plan that was approved by council in December 2020, Burnham acknowledged that the city has the final say. “Transportation planning is ultimately under the control of the city with regards to any suggestions made.”

According to the City of Toronto, an environmental assessment for REimagining Yonge was completed last year. 

“A detailed design will start next year with construction expected to begin in 2027,” a city spokesperson said. “Bike lanes are expected to be included in the reconstruction.”

The idea of adding bike lanes to Yonge Street was a hot button issue in the community. 

“People who are in the highrises on Yonge Street want that walkable, safe community — that hopefully is beautiful too — and the people in the suburbs who are car dependent are really worried that they’re going to lose access to the main strip in their own neighbourhood, so it’s very divisive,” said Lily Cheng, councillor for Ward 18 Willowdale. “I think in any neighbourhood where bike lanes come, there are the pro and the con people — it can become very emotional.” added Cheng, who said she wants to create a community liaison committee to provide feedback during the REimagining Yonge project. 

REimagining Yonge and the BIA’s Placemaking and Streetscape Master Plan are “two different pieces that will eventually have to be brought together,” Cheng explains. “I want to ensure that everyone who is impacted by this street has their voice heard and that the resulting design reflects that.”

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