Documents reveal consultant cost for the environmental assessment study for Yonge Street doubled to over $2 million during the process

March 26, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

Bid documents and purchase-order amendments surrounding the controversial REimagining Yonge Street study reveal that the cost of hiring consultants more than doubled from the initial procurement – exceeding $2 million for the report that has now finally come to council.

Back in February 2016 when the contract was awarded, the cost of the bid for the Environment Assessment for the north stretch of Yonge between Sheppard and Finch was $906,445.15 with a completion date of Nov.15, 2016.

However, no report on what was found went to committee or council. Instead, a request in May of 2017 from the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee extended the purchase order and expanding the scope of the study, raising the cost to $2,070,438.

The two-year study resulted in the recommendation of two options: one that reduces car lanes on Yonge Street to add bike lanes, and a second that would put bike lanes on the adjacent streets. Both options include plans for resurfacing and beautifying Yonge Street.

Mayor John Tory has made his position known that he supports the second option. “The mayor believes bike lanes running on neighbouring streets along with public realm improvements to Yonge would be a win-win for the area that wouldn’t increase congestion,” read a statement from Don Peat on behalf of Tory on Monday.

The option to put bike lanes on Beecroft Road and/or Doris Avenue mirrors the recommendation by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee last month.

The plan to put bike lanes on the parallel streets to Yonge will cost more than the plan to transform Yonge, but could have other benefits.

In addition to keeping the heavy traffic on Yonge where it currently exists, it would put protected bike lanes on the residential streets. This would provide a north-south route for cyclists in the area, but not as many paths to restaurants, groceries, bars and other amenities on Yonge Street.

Cycle Toronto’s Jared Kolb thinks that plan would be fine, but doesn’t make the best sense in terms of how the neighbourhood has built up. “All the shops, all the destinations are on Yonge Street. You build these lanes on Beecroft, that’s fine, but you have no useful way for people to get over to Yonge Street, which is again where people want to be, so why not build them as a part of a much bigger vision for what the streets should be? That, I think, is the reason why we’ve got city staff, the local councillor, and all these city building groups and safety groups all lining up and saying: it’s obvious. [Cycle tracks] should be on Yonge Street.”  

Urban designer and a consultant to the engineering firm who worked on the study, Ken Greenberg also supports the vision for bigger changes on Yonge Street out of the principle of not falling behind the times. “The opportunity to do the right thing is so clear, that it’s hard to imagine why it’s such a bone of contention in our city at this moment. It’s not about bicycle lanes – what it really is about is, do we want to build this stretch of Yonge Street for the 1960s, or do we want to build it for the 21st century?” Greenberg said, addressing a news conference on Monday.

“If we were to rebuild this, it’s primary purpose being carrying automobiles, in the way that was proposed by committee, we would simply be stepping back in time.”

The local councillor, John Filion, supports the major changes on Yonge, but told reporters on Monday he may not have the support from his fellow councillors when it comes time to vote.

“It’s very close, I have sort of approximately an equal number who are supporting Transform [Yonge]” – the name of the plan that would see bike lanes on Yonge – “as have said they won’t support it, but there are several people who aren’t saying how they’re voting. Usually that’s not good news, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Standing with Filion was David Crombie, mayor of Toronto from 1972 to 1978.

“You’re going to be digging the place up anyhow,” Crombie said, referring to the resurfacing of the road needed for Yonge. “This is a perfect time to reimagine that portion of Yonge Street. If we fail to seize the opportunity, and miss that opportunity, then I think people will say later on, we had that chance, and we didn’t take it.

“I might say by the way, I went to Earl Haig Collegiate, which is a block and a half away from that part of Yonge Street. There, the slogan for that school is still carpe diem – seize the day. I hope the city council does that.”

Asked if both options were studied equally through the environmental assessment process, designer Greenberg said they were and that the option to change Yonge was clearly found to be superior.

“I worked with WSP, the engineering firm. I think, in a very professional way, they took all the options very seriously. It was a very detailed analysis – traffic operations of the geometrics of the streets of all the service and utility implications, the costs – and at the end of the day, really, [it] was found that, all things considered, based on the criteria, based on the motion, based on the public, that Transform Yonge is the best option.”

Council is set to vote on the item first thing on Tuesday morning. The decision will result in costs ranging between $29 million and $71 million, depending on what option they choose, or if they decide to defer the item to next term of council.