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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

King Street relief transit should be a foregone conclusion in Toronto

Yes, there are challenges. But what are the alternatives?

The King streetcar averages more than 60,000 daily riders, making it the TTC's busiest surface route.

Torstar News Service

The King streetcar averages more than 60,000 daily riders, making it the TTC's busiest surface route.

When Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and her team presented their transit plan to the TTC board in February, they showed a colourful map with four new rapid-transit lines planned within the next six years.

The map showed the Eglinton Crosstown, the Spadina subway extension, the Finch West LRT and the King transit priority corridor — a plan to greatly enhance downtown streetcar service across King Street, potentially by limiting or removing cars.

But when Keesmaat and her planning team gave the same presentation to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee last week, their map showed just three lines, none of them located downtown.

The King plan was deposed. It was knocked from its throne. It was invited to the Red Wedding. It was gone.

When asked about this, Hilary Holden, the city’s director of transit and sustainable transportation, told me not to worry. The plan for priority transit on King Street remains on the books, she explained via email, and is being studied as part of the planning department’s TOCore initiative.

As that study is just getting started, Holden wrote, “We can’t say it will be rapid transit within six years. In fact, it may never be rapid transit, depending on what comes out of the study and what is our definition of rapid transit.”

Fair enough. But this particular study should have a foregone conclusion — King Street must become a rapid transit corridor.

Consider the numbers. With 64,600 average weekday riders, the King streetcar is the TTC’s busiest surface route. It carries far more daily riders than the Sheppard Subway, and boasts higher ridership than every individual GO Transit corridor.

And yet all of those riders remain subject to one of the city’s great daily injustices: getting held up by one dude in a jalopy making a left turn.

By most measures, it would be relatively quick and easy to make a corridor like King into rapid transit. The TTC has new, high capacity, accessible streetcars it could deploy to the route. They are more than capable of running at the 30 km/h average speed achieved by the subway system.

And to avoid the challenges of operating rapid transit in mixed traffic, the traffic could simply be removed. Similar things have been done in urban centres worldwide.

Yes, there are political challenges that come with doing that. But what are the alternatives? Continuing with an unfair status quo? Waiting a decade until someone finally decides to pay for the relief-line subway? Magic?

I won’t accept that. Not when there are better and faster options. I’ll wait for the promised study, but on future versions of Toronto’s planned transit map, I expect to see a return of the King.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt