More than a dozen urban thinkers have penned an open letter urging city council to reject Mayor John Tory’s preferred plan for the revitalization of Yonge Street in North York in favour of a more ambitious proposal that would remove two lanes of traffic.

City staff initially recommended that Yonge Street be reduced from six to four lanes between Sheppard and Finch avenues in order to accommodate a bike lane, wider sidewalks and a landscaped median.

Tory, however, pushed for a scaled-down version of the plan, wherein the bike lane would be put in along a parallel corridor on Beecroft Road, allowing the number of lanes of traffic along Yonge Street to stay the same.

That plan, which went against the wishes of staff and local councillor John Filion, was ultimately approved by the city’s public works committee last month but the final decision will rest with city council when they meet next week.

In an on open letter released Friday more than a dozen urban thinkers, including former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and author Richard Florida, warned the city not to pass up a “once in generation opportunity” to redesign “a six-lane thoroughfare into a truly urban main street.”

They said that the area surrounding Yonge Street in North York is already home to a combined 75,000 residents and jobs and needs “thoughtful and forward-thinking street design” to ensure the long-term livability of the neighbourhood.

“Reducing one lane of traffic in each direction allows for expanded sidewalks, greenery, and more space for patios and public life. Bike lanes are part of the package, but they aren’t the impetus,” the letter states.

Impact on traffic would be minimal

Traffic modelling data that was included in the initial staff report had suggested that commute times along Yonge Street would only be slowed by one or two minutes on average as a result of the removal of the two lanes but Tory said that even that type of delay along a traffic-clogged corridor would be unacceptable.

The open letter says that the debate at city council shouldn’t be about bike lanes or a small increase in commute times, though. Rather, the signatories say that it should revolve around what Yonge Street may look like 50 years from now.

“A planned road reconstruction to replace old underground infrastructure brings a 50-year opportunity to redesign Yonge Street at the surface. If we don’t seize this opportunity today, we will have to wait another half-century,” the letter says. “As you know, technology and urbanization will drastically change how we live and get around in our urban centres, and it behooves us to future-proof our streets. North York Centre will look very different in 50 years, and it deserves a vibrant, safe, pedestrian- and business-friendly street to help transform it into a true urban neighbourhood.

The rebuilding of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch avenues will be necessary over the next five to 10 years regardless of how the city chooses to proceed due to the age of the street.

The cost of rebuilding the street in the manner favoured by staff is $51 million while Tory’s plan could add another $20 million to that price tag though he has contended that the difference could be “substantially reduced.”