Make King work for all
By the glacial standards of transit planning in Toronto, the King St. pilot project is little short of a revolution.
Giving streetcars clear priority over all other forms of transportation — including cars — on the most heavily used part of a major east-west thoroughfare is a big step. It puts public transit ahead of private vehicles and challenges fundamental expectations about what a downtown street is for.
No wonder the yearlong project, which started on Nov. 12 between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts., is getting lots of pushback.
It’s coming mostly from restaurant owners who say business is down sharply since street parking was eliminated on King and restrictions were put on local car traffic (they must turn right at major intersections, opening space for streetcars). Measures announced on Tuesday by Mayor John Tory aren’t likely to make those business owners much happier. The city plans to attract more people to King St. by putting in warming stations, ice sculptures and art installations, as well as launching an “Eats on King” campaign to get more people into restaurants there.
Let’s hope all that works. But the fact is there’s little reason the pilot project should have much of a negative effect on businesses along King.
The street parking that has been eliminated was a tiny fraction of the parking spots available within easy walking distance of King. And at any rate, it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to park right outside a restaurant in the heart of a major city.
Nonetheless, there has clearly been confusion about access to the 2.6-kilometre stretch of King affected by the pilot project, as Tory acknowledged on Tuesday.
Some people may be staying away from the street, under the mistaken impression that cars are banned entirely or parking in the area is impossible. The city should do more to make clear that isn’t true.
At the same time, some of those opposed to the whole project have painted such a negative picture that they may well be scaring patrons away.
Take, for example, Doug Ford, the mayoral hopeful who unloaded on the project in an article for the Toronto Sun.
He labelled the part of King affected by the plan a “car exclusion zone,” which it isn’t. And he complained that “millions of motorists” are being affected, which they aren’t.
With scary rhetoric like that being tossed around, is it any wonder that some people are deciding to stay away from the whole area?
And, of course, it didn’t help that the city started the pilot project just as winter was setting in, with one of the nastiest cold spells ever seen. There’s been a chill on street life, in all senses of the word.
Still, it’s worth remembering that King St. wasn’t working before the project started. The busiest streetcar line in the city, carrying 65,000 people on an average weekday, was a textbook example of gridlock.
Only a radical move could unblock the street, and by all accounts that at least is working. Streetcar travel times are down; fewer commuters are being stranded in the cold, or forced to jump off their car and walk to work simply because it’s quicker.
That’s important progress toward getting the city moving, and it should continue. But King St. has to work for everyone, including the many businesses along the street, and the city has more work to do to ensure that happens.
It could, for example, give more serious consideration to a proposal to ease restrictions on car traffic in late evenings and on weekends. That might help local business while keeping King as an example of the future of urban transit.
Giving streetcars priority on King St. is a major shift. But the city can do more to ease the impact on local business