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Toronto Toronto city-hall committee votes against REimagining Yonge proposal

A pedestrian on Yonge Street at Avondale Avenue in Toronto on Jan. 17, 2018.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

A key city-hall committee voted to retain six lanes of traffic on a northern stretch of Yonge Street, heading off a controversial plan to make the road more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.

The final decision will be made by the full city council, where advocates remain optimistic their views will prevail.

"We'll have to hope that there are some more open minds and that the decision will be overturned," said Councillor John Filion, who championed the staff plan called REimagining Yonge.

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"This isn't just about the future of this area, this is about city building and what kind of future you want for the city. So this debate doesn't end with a council decision, this is a debate that will carry forward into the municipal election and beyond."

Neither Mr. Filion nor Councillor David Shiner, the two representatives of the area, sit on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC), which dealt with the issue on Tuesday. But a motion by Mr. Shiner modifying the original plan, introduced on his behalf by a committee member, called for retaining the full six driving lanes on Yonge, with some bicycle infrastructure installed on a nearby road. It passed 3-1.

Mr. Shiner called his solution "a very reasonable proposal." He argued that it would be better to use the two lanes in question "for people with accessibility problems, for seniors that want to park to support the stores" instead of for cyclists, which he called a tiny percentage of people in the area.

This stretch of road, from south of Sheppard to north of Finch, dates to the 1970s and city staff say it is nearing the end of its lifespan. A full reconstruction will be needed in the next five to 10 years.

Instead of simply replacing the roadway, staff recommended a full revamp of it. Included in the staff plan was reducing the street from six driving lanes to four, plus adding bicycle lanes and improved facilities for pedestrians.

The reduction of driving lanes could cost drivers one or two minutes, staff said, affecting primarily people from outside the city. The prospect of the delay raised some red flags at city hall, including with Mayor John Tory, who has worked hard to associate his political brand with reducing traffic.

"I want increased cycling infrastructure across the city, pursuant to plans that we have approved as a council," the mayor told reporters before the vote. "I just want them done in a sensible balanced way that takes into account the fact that there are other interests, including the public realm, including, yes, car drivers, including transit vehicles that have to move along Yonge Street on the surface."

Cycle Toronto executive director Jared Kolb called Tuesday's vote "a travesty," saying part of the bicycle plan is "a fundamental waste of money" based on nothing more than painting share-the-road markings on the pavement.

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