City’s Medical Officer of Health stands behind both options for Yonge Street

12:05 p.m., March 2, 2018. Facing south on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue. When it comes to assessing the best design options for the future of Yonge Street, the city’s Medical Officer of Health says it’s details like the width of car lanes that will make the difference in drivers’ speed, and the overall vibrancy and safety of the streets.
12:05 p.m., March 2, 2018. Facing south on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue. When it comes to assessing the best design options for the future of Yonge Street, the city’s Medical Officer of Health says it’s details like the width of car lanes that will make the difference in drivers’ speed, and the overall vibrancy and safety of the streets.

March 5, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

The city’s top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, says she does not favour one design option over the other for the stretch of Yonge Street from south of Sheppard Avenue to north of Finch Avenue.

The Board of Health received a report on Monday in response to a request by Councillor Joe Cressy at its January meeting. The report is a public health assessment of the safest and healthiest options for the northern stretch of Yonge Street, studied and presented by transportation staff.

The item was approved at the beginning of the meeting with no public speakers or questions from councillors (Cressy was not in attendance).

What the future of this part of Yonge should look like has been a hot topic at Toronto City Hall lately. As of the time of publication, more than 450 people had written to council on the issue.

The first option (called ‘Transform Yonge”) envisions bike lanes on Yonge Street, with reduced vehicle lanes. The second option (called “Enhance Yonge and Transform Beecroft”) puts cycle tracks on Beecroft Road and/or Doris Avenue.

Asked if the two options are absolutely equal in terms of safety, de Villa endorsed both.

“From a public health perspective, we were actually quite satisfied that we could stand behind either one and that’s our official position on the issue,” de Villa told Signal Toronto on Monday.

However, the real factors that will contribute to residents’ health outcomes are in the details, she said.

“Slowing down larger vehicular traffic, for example. So car traffic, narrower lanes, does tend to promote slower speeds, which actually allows for the vibrancy of the other aspects of the streets, and safety in fact, whether we’re talking about cycle activity, pedestrian activity, etc.”

De Villa said the choice of businesses and tree types are also examples of what will make a difference to the nearby residents who travel in the neighbourhood often.

“What kinds of businesses are encouraged or fostered as a result of the kinds of changes that happen on either Yonge Street or its surrounding streets actually has an impact on how specifically people will use the street, and therefore has very specific health impact [and] effects,” de Villa said.

“Even something as simple as the kinds of trees that are chosen for lining the streets – whether they actually provide a certain amount of shade – impacts which businesses might come, how they’ll set up and how people will actually use the facility.”

Last week, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee moved to recommend that council put bike lanes on the streets adjacent to Yonge Street, but recommended against the city’s acquisition of property at the north end of the route that was going to be used for cycle tracks but instead use sharrows. Council will consider the issue at the end of the month.

De Villa says both options move the city in the right direction as they facilitate streets having commercial activity, active transportation and opportunities for people to connect socially.

“These are the kinds of [complete streets] that we need to increasingly develop in our city.”

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