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Bike lanes in North York Centre back in spotlight as businesses oppose idea

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Bike lanes in North York Centre back in spotlight
WATCH: Bike lanes in North York Centre back in spotlight – Nov 11, 2022

Whether you call it North York Centre, Koreatown North or any of the other names attributed to it, the six-lane, skyscraper, bar and restaurant-lined stretch of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues is seen as the downtown of uptown.

Much like Toronto’s downtown core, city officials have taken up efforts to make the area less car-centric, and friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists. Plans have been in the works since late last decade to widen the sidewalks, remove a lane of traffic, and create sidewalk-grade bike lanes from just south of Sheppard to just north of Finch.

The deal was done. After multiple debates and years of tinkering and re-tooling, Toronto City Council approved a plan, known as REimagining Yonge, in December 2020. Over the last couple weeks, though, residents of the neighbourhood have noticed a series of signs popping up in the storefront windows of several businesses along the stretch, urging Council to reconsider.

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“No Bike Lanes On Yonge St. between Sheppard and Finch,” they read in bold lettering.

“(The plan) will be a disaster and will have serious impact for small businesses.”

The signs, installed by the Korean-Canadian Business Association of Ontario, also contain a QR code linking to a petition for supporters to sign.

One of several signs posted along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues by the Korean-Canadian Business Association of Ontario. Mark Carcasole / Global News

The Association’s president, Hyun Joo Chae, is also the owner of two restaurants on Yonge Street; MeNami and Han Ba Tang. She says the plan doesn’t take into account just how much of local restaurant business comes from takeout and delivery service, requiring quick drop-ins.

On a typical afternoon, the curb lanes on either side of this span of Yonge are taken up by parked cars, leaving the left and middle lanes open to traffic. The city’s plan would not hamper that traffic flow, but would eliminate on-street parking in the area, which Chae says does not sit well with her and her counterparts.

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“Takeout restaurants, they need to have good access to parking spots to pick up the food,” she told Global News.

“And for using the Uber and Door Dash delivery companies.”

City Council’s plan would see additional parking created on adjacent service routes on Beecroft Road and Doris Avenue, but Chae said it’s not nearly as convenient.

“Do you think drivers or customers can walk for 10 minutes to pick up their food … and buy some ice cream and buy some bread? No way.”

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Chae would prefer the bike lanes to be moved to Beecroft Road, one block west of Yonge, rather than have parking spots there.

Long-serving local City Councillor John Filion has worked tirelessly on this item. It’s been a passion project for him and he led the way in pushing for its approval.

Set to retire next week, he characterized the resurgence of opposition to REimagining Yonge as “misinformation;” telling Global News it was a way for City Council candidates to make “election promises that were based on nothing. Promising to do things about things that Council’s already decided.”

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Filion believes the plan will revitalize Willowdale, making it a destination for people around the city as it grows and moves into the future. While pickup and delivery service might face some inconveniences, he said eatery owners will enjoy the added space for patios.

“The main purpose of this is to give big, wide boulevards which would be fantastic for restaurants in the area.”

With Filion retiring, the KCBA and its supporters are pinning their hopes on incoming Councillor-Elect Lily Cheng to reopen the issue.

Cheng told Global News she doesn’t feel local residents and businesses were engaged enough in the original planning. Her suggestion is to compromise with a one-year test run.

“My proposal, which I ran on, is to pilot the bike lanes,” she said outside a local coffee shop.

“I think it’s important that we have something to experience together, to bring people together, to consider each other’s perspectives.”

She realizes a pilot project would not be the most accurate representation of the real thing. It would not include the expansion of the sidewalk to create the same kind of bike lanes called for in REImagining Yonge; but she hopes it would at least give local stakeholders a taste of how it would work.

Cheng takes over Ward 18 – Willowdale as of November 15, but attempting to launch a pilot project is not as easy as it may sound. She would first have to move a motion to convince fellow Councillors to reopen the debate. When asked whether he thought Council would seriously consider the idea, Filion replied frankly.

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“No. This has been to Council three times, finally got decided, the vote was pretty overwhelming.”

Filion also notes that Mayor John Tory was among those in favour.

In response to that, a smiling Chae told Global News, “I believe it’s very hard, but nothing is impossible.”

Councillor-Elect Cheng notes that construction on REimagining Yonge is still several years away from starting and that the project is not yet fully funded.

“We will have a conversation,” she assured.

“There’s still some time for us to get more data, get a stronger community voice and engagement.”

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