The TTC is planning to study reserving parts of King Street during morning rush hour for transit vehicles and bicycles, a bold attempt at speeding transportation on one of the city's most crowded downtown arteries.
A feasibility study of ways to improve efficiency on King, an idea floated last week by TTC CEO Andy Byford, was approved at Monday's meeting of the commission members who oversee the transit service. Although the motion only mentioned transit right-of-way during peak periods, commission chair Karen Stintz explained that the TTC is ready to go much farther.
"We're going to look at transit lanes and no [private] vehicles on King. We're going to look at both," she told the monthly commission meeting.
The idea was met with a frosty response from Mayor Rob Ford, who makes no secret of his dislike for above-ground rail transit, and it came amid criticism that the TTC is preparing to drop service standards as it rolls out its next generation of streetcars.
The new streetcars are larger but will run less often, leading to rebukes from some advocates and politicians.
On Monday, the TTC board agreed to defer an implementation report for the new streetcars. It will examine whether to refurbish again some of the existing vehicles, keeping them on the road a bit longer and maintaining the fleet at its current size. But keeping streetcar frequency constant in the longer run would require the purchase of more of the new streetcars.
Such a purchase is already pencilled into this year's draft capital budget, Mr. Byford said, but it's intended to meet ridership growth projections. It is not possible with the planned storage facilities to have enough streetcars to maintain current waiting periods between vehicles and also expand the fleet to meet growing ridership, Mr. Byford explained to reporters, noting that faster boarding of the new streetcars will lessen the impact of the reduced frequency.
Massive condo development has left the King streetcars struggling under an increasing burden. The cars on this line carried an average of slightly more than 57,000 people each weekday last year, more than any other surface route the TTC operates. They do this while mixing with traffic, regularly getting hung up behind left-turning vehicles.
"My view is, do nothing is not an option," Mr. Byford said after the monthly commission meeting, noting that the study could come up with any number of solutions. "The status quo, I don't think, works for anyone."
Ms. Stintz stressed that much remains to be studied about restrictions on King Street, including the traffic impacts on nearby routes and which parts of the road would be affected by ashutdown. In its most extreme form, she explained, the idea could involve banning all non-TTC vehicles from parts of the dow town artery during rush hour.
"I think we could reasonably pilot something within a year and a half, but there's still lots we don't know," Ms. Stintz told reporters after her motion was approved.
The study will need co-operation from the city's Public Works and Infrastructure committee, the support of which cannot be secured before its next meeting in September.
Any proposal for substantial changes to how citizens could access King Street would have to go to city council for approval.