Transit-friendly King Street overhaul set to launch this weekend
The 504 King streetcar carries 65,000 people every weekday, but is often stuck in traffic behind the 20,000 drivers. Weather-permitting, the overhaul is scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, Nov. 12.
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A bold plan to improve public transit is coming to King St. this month, and while city officials hope the overhaul will make it easier to move people through the congested downtown core, they acknowledge drivers and transit users are going to need some time to adapt.
In July, council approved a $1.5-million, one-year pilot project designed to give priority to streetcar traffic on King, between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts.
Work to install the pilot is already underway, and weather-permitting, it’s scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Once the project is operational motorists will be prohibited from driving straight through the length of the pilot area. Instead, drivers will be channelled into right turn lanes at most signalized intersections and be compelled to turn off of King. That should allow streetcars to pass through the centre lane uninhibited.
Additionally, on-street parking will be removed to make way for loading zones, taxi stands, and new public spaces.
City staff believe giving streetcars the right-of-way will allow for the more efficient movement of people downtown, because the majority of those who use King are transit riders. The 504 King streetcar carries 65,000 people every weekday, but is often stuck in traffic behind the 20,000 drivers who use the street.
“There’s a clear imbalance there that we need to correct,” said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.
“We have to try it. (King is) just not working right now.”
Detailed plans released by the city are, on their face, complex. There are 18 intersections in the pilot area and turn restrictions, transit stop configurations, and other features will be different depending on the location.
While drivers won’t be allowed to travel east-west through most major intersections, through traffic will be allowed at both Bay and John Sts. Officials say those two intersections have high pedestrian volumes, and forcing drivers to turn right off of King at those spots could cause conflicts.
Through traffic will also be allowed at Simcoe and York Streets, which are one-way and therefore not conducive to right turns off of King.
To complicate matters further, in July council overruled TTC and city staff advice and voted to allow taxis to travel through intersections between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Despite the features of the pilot varying from intersection to intersection and even time of day, the city’s acting director of transportation infrastructure Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati said the project’s “principles are consistent” and she expects road users will get used to the new rules in a matter of weeks.
“There’s no question it’s a big change. But on any street that anyone’s driving on, each intersection has different times of day where certain turns are allowed or not allowed,” she said.
Ross said the TTC and the city are using “every avenue you can think of” to educate the public about the impending changes. That includes a social media campaign, radio commercials, billboards, and newspaper ads. One of the TTC’s new streetcars has also been wrapped in an ad for the project and will serve as a moving signboard for the plan.
For the first two weeks of the pilot, there will be a dedicated police presence on King. Officers will spend the first week handing out informational brochures and informing drivers about the project, but in the second week will switch to enforcing the new rules.
Transit users will also have to adapt to the changes. Most streetcar stops will be moved from their current location on the near side of intersections and be placed instead in the curb lane on the far side. Passengers will board streetcars directly from a loading area on the street, which will be blocked off from traffic by barricades.
But because the project is a pilot and not yet a permanent installation, the existing transit shelters won’t be removed. Ross said signs will be erected in the shelters to inform passengers the stops have been relocated.
To ensure streetcars run smoothly, the TTC will assign a dedicated manager at its streetcar control centre to monitor the two main lines that run on King — the 504 King and 514 Cherry.
Four spare streetcars will be stationed at strategic locations and will be ready to enter into service on King in the event of a vehicle breakdown or other stoppage.
In order to monitor the pilot’s performance, data will be collected on a wide range of measures, including traffic volume, car travel time, pedestrian counts, local economic activity, air quality, collisions, and public opinion. City staff say the primary gauge of success will be whether streetcar ridership, reliability, and trip times improve.
Transportation director Barbary Gray said it’s typical for pilot projects to require adjustments, and the city will watch closely and make changes if “we find things aren’t working exactly as we envisioned.”
“My guess is there will be modifications and tweaks,” she said.
A report on whether to make the project permanent is expected to go to council in late 2018.
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