“I firmly believe that it is time to make this pilot project permanent so we can further build up King Street into the excellent dedicated transit corridor that our city needs,” said Mayor John Tory.
“By proceeding with this giant step forward and investing in King Street’s future, we are doing the right thing for our residents — especially those who use transit along the street. We are doing the right thing for King Street and we are doing the right thing for our city overall.”
The pilot project started on Nov. 12, 2017 with the goal of prioritizing streetcars along what is the busiest surface transit route in the city and one that has been plagued by slow travel speeds and overcrowding.
The King Street pilot project restricts vehicular traffic for improved streetcar access between Bathurst and Jarvis streets.
Motorists are largely permitted to drive only a block before having to turn right, and there is no on-street parking in the pilot area.
A City staff report said the 504 King streetcar now moves more than 84,000 riders on an average weekday, a jump of 16 per cent from 72,000.
The report also said transit travel times have decreased with about 30,000 minutes saved by streetcar customers daily.
The total of people moving east to west along the downtown core has increased three per cent during the morning and afternoon commutes.
The report said the volume of vehicles has been reduced. However, vehicular travel times in the area remain generally the same, even as drivers are dispersed to adjacent streets.
Coun. Joe Cressy said the move will now be to make signage more permanent so drivers will have an easier time getting around King Street
“We throw up some signs and put down some paint and we test it out. But now we have the chance to not just make it permanent but to make it into a true twenty-first century street.”
Many businesses in the area have been vocal in their opposition to the pilot project, after saying they lost revenue as a result of its implementation and City staff said customer spending “marginally decreased” (0.8 per cent) after the road restrictions were put in place, mainly in the restaurant sector.
“There are rumors going around that business is going well, but that simply is not true… We are hoping they will accept our recommendation of opening the street up after 7 p.m.,” said Ashley Tollins, operator of N’awlins Jazz Bar on King Street.
“We are in a tourist area and our demographic is people coming into the city – not just locally on these streets.”
Tory said he plans to keep working with the businesses on King Street.
“I will be absolutely pledged to sit down with them through the BIA and directly on a regular basis to monitor how things are going and we are going to continue to do things to promote King Street as a destination,” he said.
“Any decision you make … there are going to be people who disagree with it, but you have to do what you think is right in the broader public interest and that is what I think this recommendation does.”
The recommendations will be going to council for a final vote next week.
— With files from David Shum