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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.

Overhaul will have Toronto commuters crying 'long live the new King': Elliott

Each day, about 65,000 transit riders jam themselves into streetcars — only to see their commutes held up by the 20,000 people in cars. No longer!

Metro columnist Matt Elliott rode the King streetcar on the first day of the new transit-priority pilot and has some suggestions for making this work longterm.

Lance McMillan / For Metro

Metro columnist Matt Elliott rode the King streetcar on the first day of the new transit-priority pilot and has some suggestions for making this work longterm.

Board the King streetcar this morning and you might feel it: hope.

It’s a strange feeling for us riders of the 504 King. Usually, the streetcar route is a hopeless slog.

Unfair too. Each day, about 65,000 transit riders – King is the TTC’s busiest surface route – jam themselves into streetcars only to see their commutes held up by the 20,000 people in cars that use the street.

I’ve called it a daily injustice: packed-to-the-gills transit riders facing agonizing delays because one dude in a Honda needs to make a left turn.

While cars aren’t totally banned from the route, drivers are unable to proceed through most intersections, and must turn right. (Bicycles are exempt from the rule, and licensed taxicabs can ignore the restrictions between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.)

The pilot is, at the very least, a hopeful signal from the TTC and the politicians at City Hall that the status quo for streetcar riders is unacceptable, and that things need to get better.

Will it work? Well, it’s going to take some adjustment.

I rode the King streetcar yesterday, a few hours after the pilot began, from Jarvis to Bathurst – the pilot area – and back again. It’s hard to make any hard and fast conclusions based on a Sunday morning. But even a Sunday morning ride made it clear that some people are going to need some time to figure this out.

The biggest issue was driver behaviour. Despite clear pavement markings and lots of new signage indicating that cars are no longer able to proceed straight through intersections, many drivers were proceeding straight through anyway.

Pedestrians need a bit of training too. Too many of them were ignoring the new advanced right-turn signals installed at major intersections.

Some of the scofflaw driver problem can be remedied by enforcement. Where there were police officers posted along the route, traffic was better behaved. But there shouldn’t need to be cops at every intersection just to get drivers to follow the rules.

I’d like to see the TTC try stronger messaging. Don’t tell drivers they can continue to travel along King as long as they follow the new rules — tell them to stay away unless they have reason to be there.

Instead of instructing drivers to obey a complex series of signs, try first showing them signs indicating that King is now for “Local Traffic Only.” Or “Authorized Vehicles Only.” Or try “Drivers Beware – Here Be Dragons.”

Whatever it takes.

Because here’s the thing: failure is not an option. There is no scenario in which it would be acceptable for the TTC to conclude this pilot by dashing the hopes of streetcar riders and telling them the previous status quo is the best they can do.

That doesn’t mean the new street configuration is set in stone. Changes will need to be made. The data collected during this pilot should guide that process. But 65,000 King Street streetcar riders should not accept any process that ends with the city crowning the car again.

No, the old King is dead. Adjusting to the new King will be slow and challenging and chaotic. But at least now we’re finally getting somewhere.

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