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Torontonians get an early look at King Street's 'transit-first' future

The King streetcar is one of the busiest transit surface routes in the city, and all that mixed traffic isn't helping anybody get where they're going.

The City of Toronto is exploring ways to curb the congestion on King Street, where the streetcar alone carries 65,000 riders on the average workday.

Torstar News Service

The City of Toronto is exploring ways to curb the congestion on King Street, where the streetcar alone carries 65,000 riders on the average workday.

About 300 people attended a public consultation held Monday night by Toronto city staff involving a proposal to overhaul King St.

With standing room only, the Metro Hall* was packed, with some people being turned away at the door.

Among them was Jay Wall, who works nearby at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.

“King St. has become a huge mess in terms of traffic congestion, and also has so much more potential to be greater as a public space,” he said.

The Alternating Loops option would allow a single lane of one-way vehicle traffic for local access. However, that direction reverses at every block to prevent through traffic. This design would free up more space pedestrian and patio areas.

City of Toronto

The Alternating Loops option would allow a single lane of one-way vehicle traffic for local access. However, that direction reverses at every block to prevent through traffic. This design would free up more space pedestrian and patio areas.

As a cyclist, Wall said that his greatest frustration is riding down King St. next to “cars swerving in and out around street cars,” which made it dangerous.

Wall said he was excited about the possibilities that were being presented in terms of addressing traffic flow, making sure the street was used by vehicles and pedestrians alike.

King St., the east-west spine of the city, is one of the busiest surface transit routes, ferrying 65,000 people on a typical weekday. The streets share space with café seating, benches, pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars and cars.

The three options available are: alternate loops with separated lanes for eastbound and westbound streetcars, and on every other block vehicle access is limited to taxis, delivery vehicles and local traffic with space for pedestrians; separate lanes for streetcars but no additional space for pedestrians; a transit promenade that would double the sidewalk space for pedestrians.

The Separated Lanes option would dedicate King's centre lanes to the streetcar and give the remaining lanes to one direction of car traffic. Left turns and stopping would be forbidden, but through traffic would be permitted. Of the three options, this is the only one that does not include an expansion of pedestrian space.

The City of Toronto

The Separated Lanes option would dedicate King's centre lanes to the streetcar and give the remaining lanes to one direction of car traffic. Left turns and stopping would be forbidden, but through traffic would be permitted. Of the three options, this is the only one that does not include an expansion of pedestrian space.

Councillor Joe Cressy said that the most preferable options appeared to be the looping and promenade options, but there were concerns about the third option as that would mean maintaining vehicles on the north and south sides.

“The proposal is to put a ‘transit first’ approach to moving people on King St.” Cressy said. “King St. isn’t working today. It doesn’t work for drivers, it doesn’t work for people on the streetcar and it certainly doesn’t work for pedestrians.”

The city set up three stations to get feedback from residents. First was the evaluation stage, to find a way to calculate the success of the pilot. The second station was to figure to the geographical parameters of the project and to raise any concerns from locals on specific neighbourhood ideas. The third was a discussion of the three options presented with different models.

Related

The Transit Promenade would extend the sidewalk into the road on both sides while allowing local, right-turn-only vehicle access in both directions. However, cars will be forbidden from driving straight through intersections.

The City of Toronto

The Transit Promenade would extend the sidewalk into the road on both sides while allowing local, right-turn-only vehicle access in both directions. However, cars will be forbidden from driving straight through intersections.

“There’s a huge amount of public interest, a lot of people saying ‘when, when!’ ” said Ann-Marie Nasr of the city’s planning department. “It’s interesting and exciting.”

Nasr told Torstar News Service the department hopes to have a pilot project underway by the fall, after another public consultation in April, reporting to the committee in June, and a meeting with council in July.

“The pilot will give us a lot of feedback, to come back and say we’ve done some more thinking, and here are some further refinements,” she said.

Local resident Joerg Wittenbrinck is excited about the changes, especially because of safety concerns with his daughter’s school on King St.

Drivers stressed out by traffic make it unsafe, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a school downtown, and with so many services around and interesting places to go and being very accessible,” he said. “But with so much car traffic around it’s not very safe.”

*Correction, Feb. 15 2017: An earlier version of this story stated an incorrect venue. Metro regrets the error.

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