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It's time for city council to take real action and fix King Street: Josh Colle

When walking is faster than public transit on Toronto's busiest route, we know things have to change, says Josh Colle, TTC Chair and councillor for Ward 15.

Passengers board the 504 King streetcar in 2017.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Passengers board the 504 King streetcar in 2017.

King Street, the busiest surface transit route in the country, is not working.

This week city council will be asked to vote on the King Street Transit Pilot. The choice before us is the status quo, or an opportunity to rethink how this street works.

Only behind our two busiest subway lines, the 504 King streetcar moves 65,000 people every day through a crowded street in mixed traffic.

King Street is not working for the patient TTC customers that travel on a slow, unreliable, jam-packed streetcar, or those who cannot get on because it is already full when it reaches their stop. It is not working for pedestrians on the busy, narrow sidewalk, and it is not working for people in personal vehicles or taxis who are stuck in traffic.

The amount of space on King will always be limited, and we need to allocate that space efficiently to move as many people as possible.

Decisions will have to be made. When walking is faster than public transit, we know things have to change.

King Street has long been identified as a "transit priority corridor". Many attempts have been made to improve service on this street. Tweaks to parking and turning restrictions, increased fines for violations, all-door boarding, and adding supplemental buses to the streetcar service have helped — but they have not been enough.

King Street is still not reaching its potential to move people.

TTC and City staff have repeatedly identified the need for fundamental change to improve the reliability of service on this route. In the early 1990's, staff came forward with a plan to prevent general traffic from driving on King Street, but the concept failed to deter motorists from driving on streetcar tracks.

In 2001 and in 2007, staff again identified King Street as a concern and proposed the installation of a streetcar right-of-way to improve service quality and make transit faster.

Since these early proposals, the congestion on the street and the transit service has only gotten worse. There has been no way to effectively manage and ensure reliability of a transit route that operates in unrestricted mixed traffic.

We now have a plan before us this week at city council for a pilot project that will finally prioritize transit, by significantly reducing the congestion on King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis.

The proposed turning restrictions, local traffic provisions, loading areas, and taxi zones have been extensively studied and consulted on. The changes are expected to improve streetcar speed and reliability. Although I am confident that this pilot will be a success, it is important that we collect extensive data to evaluate, continue to engage with stakeholders, and make any required adjustments.

In the debate over King Street, we can't forget what and who this is really about.

It is about a street that moves more people on transit than any other mode yet is not given any priority, and the thousands of daily customers who rely on that streetcar to connect them to their jobs, families, and friends.

Over the years, there have been many plans, but only timid action. It is time to finally try something bold and embrace the opportunity of the pilot to get King Street moving.

Josh Colle is the TTC Chair and the councillor for Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence

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