All hail our new King

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Toronto - Matt El­liott

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

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

Un­fair too. Each day, about 65,000 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.

But now there’s rea­son to be­lieve. On Sun­day, the TTC of­fi­cially kicked off a one-year pi­lot de­signed to give street­cars pri­or­ity on King.

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 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.

Im­prov­ing things for street­car riders on King Street is go­ing to take some ad­just­ment, says colum­nist Matt El­liott. Lance MCMIL­LAN/FOR METRO

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