From the energetic core of Toronto, to the beautiful and placid shores of Lake Simcoe, Yonge Street is one of the longest streets in the world. In normal times, it is a vital connector for tens of thousands of GTA residents every day, and large sections of the street - particularly in downtown Toronto - are major destinations in their own right due to their plentiful options for shopping, entertainment, and dining. However, as Toronto has grown and evolved, the transportation needs on this busy thoroughfare have shifted. Indeed, between 1996-2016 there has been a massive 73% increase in the population, and a 43% increase in overall employment in downtown Toronto along the Yonge Street corridor.
It is for this reason that Lyft is excited to support the thoughtful and farsighted yongeTOmorrow plan being put forward by the City of Toronto. The plan would bring pedestrian plazas, bus and bike improvements, and a much needed road diet to the corridor, reorienting the built environment to better accommodate the multimodal transportation needs of today and future proof against the challenges of tomorrow. The plan passed the Infrastructure and Environment Committee in January, and will be put before the full council on February 2nd.
Lyft may be best known as a rideshare company but proposals to repurpose street space away from cars, and toward other uses–like bike lanes, bus improvements, outdoor dining, bikeshare stations, or pedestrian plazas–as the yongeTOmorrow plan does are actually central to our vision for the future of cities.
We take big picture societal level issues seriously: we know our cities and our communities cannot thrive if our transportation systems aren’t designed to accommodate the many ways that people get around in 2021. If the 1950s transportation policy status quo that assumes everyone must own their own car persists indefinitely, our cities will fail to achieve urgently needed climate change, public health, and quality-of-life goals. We have been actively partnering with cities and advocates across North America to promote the idea of resilient streets, because many of the future challenges our cities face have been laid bare by the events of the last year.
The positive “placemaking” powers of street redesigns similar to the Yonge TOmorrow plan that center pedestrians, transit users, and micro-mobility users actually generate more social and economic activity across the board. There are numerous studies to back this up. This boost in activity has positive impacts for all sorts of people, from pedestrians, transit riders, micro-mobility users, and local businesses, but also to drivers and passengers on the Lyft platform, as well.
It must also be said that Lyft isn’t just a ridesharing company: we are also one of North America’s largest micro-mobility companies. We operate a combined fleet of over 45,000 bikes and scooters, that collectively generated nearly 34 million trips in 2020.
We have seen enough of these types of redesigns in cities across the continent to know that the worst fears people sometimes have about how drivers will be impacted rarely come to pass, and we have also seen firsthand the benefits that street redesigns bring to the city as a whole.
For example, in New York City, after a transit corridor modelled after Toronto’s King Street was implemented on 14th Street, Lyft saw no negative impact on overall pick-ups and drop-offs along the street, even as bus times improved between 22-47%, bus ridership went up 24-30%, Citi Bike (New York’s bikeshare system that is operated by Lyft) use along the corridor skyrocketed by 17%, and injuries and fatalities due to vehicular crashes fell by a sharp 63%.
When it comes to reductions in traffic-related injuries, you need to look no further than the Bloor Street redesign, which saw a 55% reduction in car and pedestrian conflicts, to see similarly positive dynamics play out here. This is what happens when single-occupancy vehicles aren’t the only priority; more space is available for all sorts of other, more spatially efficient uses.
Nevertheless, when changes on the street do happen, people can rest assured that companies like Lyft have developed digital tools that help reinforce those changes, ensuring rideshare pickups and dropoffs are only happening in the right locations, helping to rationalize the entire process, while fighting congestion in sensitive areas, and ensuring accessibility for all.
We applaud the city of Toronto, and all the local officials and advocates, for all they are doing to build a more livable and resilient city. From expediting the construction of its protected bike lane network, to the various transit improvements that are being unveiled, to the amazing ActiveTO programming that gave Torontonians safe, socially distanced, outdoor space over the course of the summer and fall, Toronto has been a true leader among cities. We couldn’t be more excited to see this commitment to resilience also find form in the excellent yongeTOmorrow plan, and we hope it is approved on Feb. 2. Lyft is ready to support in any way we can.
Thomas De Vito is Lyft’s East Coast Policy Manager for Transit, Bikes, and Scooters. He is currently living in Toronto with his wife Danielle, and dog, Lennie. Thomas was previously the Senior Director of Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s leading advocacy organization for walking, biking, and mass transit.