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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.

Three ways to make sure Toronto's King Street overhaul doesn't get screwed up

Right now, King Street is more than an inconvenience. It’s a daily injustice, Matt Elliott says.

The King streetcar line is one of the busiest in the city with and commutes are often delayed by congestion from cars and transit overcrowding.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

The King streetcar line is one of the busiest in the city with and commutes are often delayed by congestion from cars and transit overcrowding.

If you want to know why Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s push to transform King Street into a transit-focused corridor is necessary, you don’t need to understand lofty urbanist theory. You just need to understand the numbers.

The streetcar on King carries about 65,000 people each day, more passengers than the Sheppard Subway. Those 65,000 people face ridiculous traffic congestion, to the point where streetcars regularly move at walking speed.

The cause of virtually all of that congestion? People in cars. And yet those in cars make up just 16 per cent of the road users on King Street.

King Street is more than an inconvenience. It’s a daily injustice.

Addressing this is long overdue. So I was delighted last week to see Keesmaat and her team unveil three options for making King work better for the majority of users while still preserving access to private driveways.

If all goes well, the three options will be narrowed to one solution and approved this spring. A pilot project should be in place by the fall.

My enthusiasm for all this is tempered only by a nagging fear that the city will find some way to screw it up.

So, to help avoid that, here are some rules to govern the rest of this process – to ensure that this attempt to come fix the King does not miss.

This is one of three options for changes on King Street. Called

City of Toronto

This is one of three options for changes on King Street. Called "Separated Lanes," it gives cars one lane in each direction.

Rule 1: Do not try to make this plan do all things for all people

It would be awesome if King could become a true representation of what planners call a “complete street” – one that perfectly accommodates all road users.

But the truth is that King Street is a narrow corridor, and providing wide sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes and a fast transit corridor may be impossible. Don’t try to fight that reality.

The

City of Toronto

The "Alternating Loops" proposal gives two centre lanes to streetcars.

Rule 2: Get the data – and listen to it

One of the benefits of doing this transformation as a pilot project is the city will have ample ability to collect data on how the change affects everything from travel speeds to local business activity.

That data, not fearmongering about how this could destroy businesses or whatever, should be used to determine the right track forward.

Sidewalks extend into the road in the

City of Toronto

Sidewalks extend into the road in the "Transit Promenade" proposal.

Rule 3: Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

It’s fair to look at these plans for King Street and think they do not go far enough. Maybe the city should find a way to totally banish cars, for instance, or rearrange the streetcar tracks to allow for true dedicated bike lanes.

Those ideas are amazing, but neither cheap nor quick. Holding up an achievable pilot project to chase a more perfect solution is a losing strategy.

Keep the comprehensive plans on file, but let’s focus first on getting our King’s priorities straight.

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