Spending in King Street pilot area on par with rest of Toronto: report

Click to play video: 'Business owners make case against King Street pilot project' Business owners make case against King Street pilot project
Mon, Jan 22: Downtown Toronto business owners are stepping up their campaign against restrictions for vehicles as a part of the King Street transit pilot project. But those same owners also got some pushback against their campaign. Kamil Karamali reports – Jan 22, 2018

A new City of Toronto report on the King Street pilot project suggests spending in the area has not declined, despite criticism that the initiative has weakened the restaurant industry.

Point-of-sale data obtained from Moneris shows the value of customer spending in the pilot area increased 21 per cent from October to the end of December, compared to 20 per cent growth for the city overall, according to the report.

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

“Preliminary findings indicate that customer spending since the pilot began is in line with seasonal spending patterns over the past three years,” the report stated.

The year-long project, which launched in November, was designed to speed up the 504 King streetcar, the Toronto Transit Commission‘s most popular surface route. It sees the Bathurst-to-Jarvis stretch of King Street prioritize streetcars by forcing car traffic to divert at most intersections. There is also no on-street parking.

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Some Entertainment District business owners, including Al Carbone of the Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill, have campaigned against the project, attributing a significant loss of sales to the lack of parking and people in the area.

“We lose 50 per cent a day. We can’t afford to lose every day,” Carbone told reporters during a press conference on Jan. 22. “They want to do a pilot project for a year, I’ll do a campaign for a year.”

An ice sculpture of a hand giving the middle finger was set up outside of his restaurant last month.

A Forum research poll released earlier this month found the percentage of those who support the project has slipped to 42 per cent from 50 per cent in November.

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Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of the transit activist group TTCriders, said she thinks the city’s latest numbers will boost public opinion.

The group is part of the “King For All” coalition of business improvement organizations, residents, transit riders and other groups in favour of the changes on King Street.

“We want to work with local businesses to make sure that the King Street pilot is a success for all,” Pizey-Allen told The John Oakley Show on Friday. “We know that the two-hour transfer that’s coming soon will help people shop on King and eat on King. They’ll be able to hop on and hop off,”

READ MORE: Toronto restaurant owner’s ice sculpture gives King Street pilot project middle finger

The report also found a significant uptick in the number of people using the King streetcar in January while travel times for the evening rush hour decreased  — all without a significant effect on traffic on surrounding routes.

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Daily ridership along the route — an average of 84,000 people — was up 16 per cent in January compared to before the pilot launched.

Coun. Joe Cressy said results show the pilot project amounts to “building a subway station on King at a fraction of the cost.”

Travel times were four to five minutes faster during the evening commute, the slowest time for travel. Travel times for the morning commute were mostly unchanged from baseline data collected in November.

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

There have been changes to the number of people circulating in the pilot area, however. On King, the number of pedestrians observed decreased between five and 33 per cent during the morning peak, and two and 17 per cent during the afternoon peak.

The report chalked that up to seasonal variation, saying similar decreases were seen on Queen Street.

In January, travel times on nearby streets have not changed beyond the range of plus or minus a minute.

“The downtown traffic network has been largely able to absorb and respond to the changes in routing that drivers have made,” the report stated.

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Another update on local spending data is expected in the second quarter.

With a file from David Shum

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