Mayor John Tory seeks ideas for new public space created by transit pilot project along King St.,
The city is stepping up efforts to help businesses who say they’re suffering as a result of the King St. streetcar pilot project, but some entrepreneurs say the measures don’t go far enough.
At a news conference in David Pecaut Square Tuesday, Mayor John Tory announced the launch of a design competition to solicit ideas to animate public spaces along King.
The successful submissions will be implemented by mid-April, with the goal of creating new public spaces and “destination parklets” in what is now the curb lane.
In the meantime, the city is setting up warming stations, ice sculptures and art installations, as well as inviting fire performers to ply their trade on King. A five-week program called “Eats on King,” which is aimed at promoting local restaurants, will start next month.
The city had already announced a $5 discount on parking in the area for drivers using the Green P app.
“We want to do more things to draw more people to King St.,” said Tory, who was joined by local Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) and Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre), who is chair of the economic development committee.
“This is an opportunity for everybody to contribute to that new thinking of how we use this space and ensure the success of King St.”
The one-year, $1.5-million pilot project began in November and is aimed at improving transit service for the King streetcar. With more than 65,000 daily streetcar riders, King is the TTC’s busiest surface route but was chronically hampered by car traffic. Prior to the launch of the pilot, just 20,000 drivers used the street each day.
In order to prevent streetcars from getting stuck in traffic, drivers are no longer allowed to travel straight through King, but must instead turn right at most major intersections between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts. All on-street parking along the 2.6-kilometre stretch has also been removed.
The project has reduced average travel times for streetcars by as much as14 per cent, according to city statistics, while an independent analysis by University of Toronto researchers suggests the gains are even greater. But some business owners say customers are staying away from the area as a result of the new driving restrictions.
The efforts announced Tuesday were designed to show that despite the traffic restrictions, “King St. is open for business,” Tory said.
As part of the design competition, dubbed “Everyone is King,” the city has identified 19 potential public spaces, two of which will be reserved as parklets that will include seating or green areas.
Local businesses will get first crack at making submissions for the spaces on their blocks, but spots that haven’t been claimed will be opened up to public submissions. Possible uses include outdoor cafés, street murals and small stages for musical performances.
According to a city spokesperson, businesses won’t be charged to use the public spaces unless they set up an on-street café or other for-profit initiative, in which case they would pay the same fees the city normally charges for sidewalk cafés.
The city had always planned to animate the public realm on King as part of the pilot, and the public space design initiative will be paid for out of the project’s existing budget. However, the “Eats on King” promotion and “winter activations” announced Tuesday are new items. A city spokesperson couldn’t immediately say how much they would cost.
Tuesday’s announcement came as pressure mounted on the mayor to respond to some local entrepreneurs who claim the project is killing business.
The Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA) says it is considering legal action against the city if the pilot isn’t altered, while at least one TTC board member, Councillor Vince Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North), has called for the pilot to be terminated immediately.
According to the ORHMA, credit card data shows revenues for 26 restaurants in the entertainment district on the western part of the pilot area were down roughly 41 per cent in December compared to the same month the previous year.
In a survey of business owners con- ducted by the organization, more than nine in10 respondents reported a drop in sales that ranged between 5 and 52 per cent compared to last year, and 95 per cent said they opposed the pilot. ORHMA president Tony Elenis said he welcomed the city’s attempts to attract people to King St., but his organization would push ahead with a proposal to suspend the traffic restrictions on weekends and after 7 p.m. on weekdays. He called that proposal a “happy compromise.”
Other business representatives say it’s still too soon to weigh in on the project. A spokesperson for the Financial District Business Improvement Association, which represents businesses that employ about 200,000 people in the downtown core, said the group is still getting feedback from members and “we have not taken a position.”
A meeting between the mayor and business owners is scheduled for Friday. Tory said the city is in “a constant listening and watching mode” and is prepared to tweak the project to improve it. But he said reverting to how the street used to operate was not on the table.
“What you have to do is make sure you maintain the integrity of what’s got the streetcars moving faster. And so that any change that you contemplate making at the request of business or anybody else is a change that can’t ruin or negatively affect the improvements that have come about,” he said.
“Going back to people walking faster than streetcars is not a serious option and it shouldn’t be taken seriously.” With files from David Rider
Revenues for 26 restaurants in the western part of the pilot area were down roughly 41 per cent in December compared to last year