Forgotten laneways get second look from Downtown Yonge BIA

Dennis Hanagan —

With 42 million people walking north and south at Yonge and Dundas streets every year Toronto has to start looking at its often forgotten laneways as public thoroughfares.

“We have to start looking at laneways as public access points,” Downtown Yonge BIA executive director Mark Garner told a packed house at the Great Hall on Nov. 20.

He spoke at a forum called Toronto’s First Summit on Laneways. The city has more than 2,400 of them, and advocates say they could be turned into more vibrant, safe and people-friendly green spaces.

“Our (DYBIA) vision for Downtown Yonge is to turn our laneways into programmable space,” Garner said as he showed slides of laneways in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and the United Kingdom sporting beautiful umbrellas, art installations and patios.

His BIA has a team working on strategies for Downtown laneways. “Yonge St. has not changed. Those sidewalks have not increased, so we have to start looking at these thoroughfares. They need to be treated like sidewalks and roads,” said Garner.

“We don’t have all the answers as the BIA, but we’re trying to find the people that have like-minded desires and goals to be able to transition these laneways.”

The BIA wants to engage the community to help drive its laneway goals, he said, and it will take creative thinking to address “complex issues” regarding commercial lanes.

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His business group surveyed its members and met one-on-one asking them how they use their laneways and what the issues are that need to be dealt with. Garbage, congestion and safety turned out to be the three major issues.

“Then we moved to fix the immediate problems. Cleanliness was a major issue. We initiated a community clean of O’Keefe Lane,” Garner said showing before and after slides of the cleanup.

A challenge facing laneway transformation is finding ways to get retail-generated garbage out of them so pedestrians will be enticed to use them. The BIA will conduct a waste audit. “Doesn’t that sound like fun for our team to manage,” Garner said, rousing audience laughter.

Waste will be picked up and taken to a central location to determine what is being generated, what can be diverted and re-purposed and figure out the percentages of the poundage.

“The waste management companies are a little bit at odds with us because we want to clean and reduce the amount of waste but they want to increase poundage because that’s how they make money,” Garner explained.

Some solutions for reducing space-clogging waste include compaction and more frequent pickups. In Seattle, said Garner, businesses use a “tag-as-you-go” system and pickups, using smaller vehicles, are three or four times a day.
Garner said BIA members have to realize laneway transformation is in their interest. “We want to make sure that through the discussions we’re having with our membership that (they understand) the change is really for them. They have to see the vision.”

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