King Street pilot project: new programs to be launched to help struggling businesses

Click to play video: 'John Tory: King Street is still open for business'
John Tory: King Street is still open for business
While discussing an update on the King Street streetcar pilot project Tuesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory reiterated that "King Street is open for business" despite the new transportation guidelines – Jan 9, 2018

City of Toronto officials say they’re looking at new ways of helping King Street businesses hurt by the pilot project that emphasizes streetcars over automobile.

They range from art installations to street performers and a new take on Winterlicious as well as an open competition to utilize public spaces. Officials hope they will help help bring people back on King Street following complaints from local businesses that the year-long pilot project has been hurting their bottom line.

“What we’re trying to do is one step at a time, try to make sure we do everything we can to make sure the streetcars keep moving much better, which we are. But also at the same time, that businesses can successfully make adjustments to a different use of King Street,” Mayor John Tory told reporters during a press conference on King Street Tuesday morning.

The pilot project – which was launched in November and will run for a year – aims to give priority to streetcars along what is the busiest surface transit route in the city and one that has been plagued by slow travel speeds and overcrowding.

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READ MORE: Toronto’s King St. pilot project data shows improvement of afternoon streetcar travel times

Vehicles are no longer allowed to drive straight through between Bathurst and Jarvis streets. Meanwhile, left-hand turns are also banned on that stretch of King Street.

Motorists are largely permitted to drive only one block before having to turn right, and there is no on-street parking in the pilot area. Parking is permitted on adjacent streets and public parking lots are still available.

However, the pilot project has drawn criticism from businesses in the area who say their revenues have dropped significantly as patrons have no place to park.

READ MORE: What you need to know about Toronto’s King Street pilot project

Milton Nunes, owner of the Portland Variety restaurant, said his business has seen a noticeable decline since this time last year.

“We’re down another 10 per cent since (last month), so we’re down about 30 per cent over the last year … no cars on King Street really has put a lot of people off of King Street,” Nunes told Global News.

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“A lot of people are afraid to come down here. I have a few friends that live out of town and they specifically told me that they’re trying to avoid King Street and coming downtown because they’ve heard of the pilot project.”

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Nunes said as a result of that decline, he is employing 10 less people this year and added he might have to take further steps.

READ MORE: King Street pilot project: ticketing begins for motorists who disobey traffic signs

“We’re considering closing on Mondays and Tuesdays because it’s a ghost town around here,” Nunes said.

Nunes said he would like to see the restrictions on vehicles reduced outside of rush hour.

“The number one solution would be to lift the ban from cars being on King Street from seven o’clock onwards and on weekends,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tory said new initiatives announced on Tuesday would help boost pedestrian traffic and bring people back to King Street.

One of those measures includes the launch of a design build competition to create new public spaces in the curb lane along King Street starting this spring.

“We have so many creative and talented people in this city and this is an opportunity for everybody to contribute into that rethinking of how we use this space and ensure the success of King Street,” Tory said.

WATCH: Mayor John Tory reaches out to you for ideas to ‘animate’ King Street. Mark Carcasole reports.

Click to play video: 'Mayor John Tory reaches out to you for ideas to ‘animate’ King Street'
Mayor John Tory reaches out to you for ideas to ‘animate’ King Street

Coun. Michael Thompson, who is the chair of the city’s Economic Development and Culture Committee, also announced the launch of a new food initiative – called “Eats on King” – to help restaurants along the corridor.

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“This will run from Feb. 19 to March 29 and will be in addition to the regular Winterlicious program which also features a variety of King Street establishments,” Thompson said.

In the coming weeks, the city plans to install mini-attractions in certain areas for the winter months such as warming stations, ice sculptures, fire performers and art installations.

“I urge people who support the King Street pilot project and support moving people better in the city, to themselves, visit the restaurants and businesses along King Street,” Tory said.

“Going back to people walking faster than streetcars is not a serious option and shouldn’t be taken seriously. We can’t go back to a situation where the streetcars move more slowly than people walking down the sidewalk.”

VIDEO: Mayor Tory says there’s no going back to ‘people walking faster than streetcars’

Click to play video: 'Tory: There’s no going back to ‘people walking faster than streetcars’'
Tory: There’s no going back to ‘people walking faster than streetcars’

Despite concerns from some businesses in the area, preliminary data released by city officials in early December found that afternoon rush hour travel times for streetcars improved by a couple of minutes during the first two weeks of the pilot project.

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On the other hand, drivers who travel along the route have not seen much of an impact, according to the data.

READ MORE: King Street pilot project leaves some confused, others see positive impact on transit

The average vehicle travel time on most streets in the area has been either sped up or slowed down by around a minute or less compared to before the pilot project.

The city said it will continue to monitor the pilot project through data collection and public feedback.

—With files from Mark Carcasole, Briana Carnegie and Nick Westoll


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