Toronto council has decided to keep in place efforts to speed up transit vehicles on King Street, making permanent what staff called an “unprecedented” success.
The transit pilot – which prevented private vehicles from going straight through at most downtown intersections on King, most of the day – was implemented late in 2017. It was described by councillors Tuesday as a way to make tangible transit progress for the cost of some paint and new road signs.
Within a month of the pilot’s beginning, transit ridership on the King streetcar jumped by 16 per cent, to 84,000 daily boardings, with what staff characterized as minimal impact on vehicle travel times on nearby roads. Transit trip-time predictability also rose.
While some local businesses complained about reductions in sales, city-gathered data suggested this was less pronounced than critics had said.
“It’s been an overwhelming success,” said Councillor Joe Cressy, one of the local representatives of the part of the city through which the pilot runs.
“The next steps are to take the lessons from King and to apply them elsewhere,” he added later to reporters. “Do we look at bus corridors in parts of the city? Do we look at other streetcar priority zones? The opportunity here is to move people faster and move more of them. And so, yes, we absolutely should look to take this model and replicate it right across the city.”
Although keeping the pilot was approved Tuesday, councillors offered sharply divergent visions of Toronto’s transportation future. While supporting councillors lauded transit priority and spoke about rolling it out more broadly, opposing councillors were openly fearful of the possibility.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis said he was dreading such transit-first restrictions coming to other roads, a prospect that Councillor Stephen Holyday said “really scares me.”
In the end, council voted 22-3 to keep the traffic restrictions on King, with Councillor Michael Ford joining Mr. Holyday and Mr. Karygiannis in opposition. Councillors also voted down a series of attempts to create new exemptions to the King Street rules, which staff had warned could lead to less compliance more generally and undermine the point of the effort.
Staff will now look at improving the roadway, including by installing patios in the curb lane and possibly widening the sidewalks during King’s next round of capital repairs.