An Environmental Assessment (EA) is currently underway for the Re-Imagining Yonge Street project. An EA is a fact-based examination of all alternatives – including doing nothing – to objectively evaluate the best course of action.
Among other things, the EA is evaluating the impact that removing two lanes of traffic might have on the already-congested traffic situation. Transportation staff have looked at anticipated traffic growth through 2031, with and without the proposed changes. The results so far show that removing lanes would have only a small impact on local residents. Commuters would be slightly more impacted. Detailed results can be found on the project website (see Open House #3 presentation under the “Consultation” tab)
If this seems counter-intuitive, here’s a simplified version of why the impact of lane closures would be minimal:
The curb lane is out of commission most of the time anyway. Except during the morning and evening rush hours, parking currently blocks the curb lane on Yonge between Sheppard and Finch. Even during rush hour, there’s often a stopped vehicle or construction of some type blocking traffic, causing backup when cars are forced to merge. If Yonge is reduced to two lanes in each direction, the two lanes should remain free at all times; traffic flow will be more efficiently managed.
We have service roads: When plans for a downtown North York were being developed 35 years ago, the residents and politicians wisely decided to build a “ring road” system, so that residents and businesses in the redevelopment area needn’t rely on Yonge Street alone. These roads, Doris and Beecroft, are now in place between Finch and Sheppard, and the connection from Doris through to Avondale and out to Yonge will be in place within the next few years. If traffic on Yonge is congested, local residents will increasingly be able to use alternatives.
Improved traffic management: The Yonge/Sheppard intersection currently operates inefficiently. Part of the Re-Imagining Yonge proposal is to move traffic through the intersection faster. This will include restricting some turn movements while encouraging others, making better use of signal timing and adding new traffic signals in key locations. A major component of any traffic management plan in the area is to improve the Yonge/401 intersection. Although the provincial government has been dragging its heals, the solution is obvious: create a new system for moving southbound Yonge traffic onto eastbound 401, thereby freeing up the lane of backed-up traffic trying to get into the turn lane. It’s also clear that we need a signalized intersection for cars coming off the 401 onto Yonge, so that traffic wanting to get onto Beecroft can get over onto the far right lane to prepare for a left turn.
Changing patterns of vehicle use: Studies have shown that millennials living in urban areas are much less likely than their parents or grandparents to want to own a car. Living close to where you work, taking public transit, using car sharing services, and summoning driverless vehicles on your smart phone will become far more common as this age group gets older. In our downtown areas, maybe we need to focus more on that future rather than on the travel patterns of the past.
If you don’t build it, they won’t come: Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between the space available to cars and the number of cars on the road. Adding lanes of traffic attracts more cars; removing lanes does the opposite. It’s called ‘induced demand.” Another way of stating it is that, at peak hours, you’ll have roughly the same level of congestion whether you have four lanes or six. If you were able to add two lanes of traffic, you could expect eight congested lanes. Nobody likes traffic congestion. But would you rather live next to six lanes of it or four? Then factor into the equation that the four lanes comes with a greatly improved main street.