King Street pilot project data shows faster streetcars, minimal traffic slowdowns

The King streetcar is slightly faster and far more reliable thanks to the city's new pilot project, new data released today shows.

Transportation staff's first report on pilot shows reliability improving on busy surface line

The King Street pilot project has sped up the streetcar service, although councillors say they'll be considering real-time improvements. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

The King streetcar is slightly faster and far more reliable thanks to the city's new pilot project, new data released today shows. 

Some 65,000 people ride the King streetcar every weekday, making it Toronto's busiest surface route. The pilot's aim is to prioritize that service on King between Bathurst and Jarvis streets by limiting vehicle traffic, while also reworking the street's design. 

Transportation staff released the first set of results Tuesday based on three weeks of operations. Among the highlights: 

  • Streetcars are up to 2.6 minutes faster during the rush hour periods.
  • Eighty per cent of eastbound streetcars are now meeting spacing targets, up from a dismal 37 per cent.
  • Vehicle travel times on most nearby streets haven't increased by more than a minute.

"The King Street pilot is working and it's going to get even better," Coun. Joe Cressy told CBC Toronto.

Cressy says the TTC is reworking its streetcar schedule to account for the improvements while city staff are aiming to improve traffic signalling on nearby streets. The goal is to speed both streetcars and vehicle traffic up.

"We're not going to wait for a year to make changes," he vowed.

An estimated 65,000 people take the King car every day, making it the TTC's busiest surface route. (John Rieti/CBC)

The city is also set to step up efforts to support local businesses that have complained the pilot is driving customers away. Cressy says there's a plan to offer discounted parking near the pilot zone, and the city's economic development department is aiming to bring more events to the area. The key message, Cressy says, is "King is open for business."

Business owner warns pilot may kill his kitchen

Milton Nunes, the restaurateur behind Portland Variety, isn't convinced that will help.

He and other business owners have met with Mayor John Tory in recent weeks to outline how the changes have hurt their bottom line.

Nunes says many of his clients prefer to drive to his restaurant, but don't want the hassle of figuring out a way around the city's new traffic rules.

"They tell me that they avoid the area altogether," he said.

Nunes says he's seen a "significant decrease" in sales, and he's worried about how business will fare once the holiday bookings end. He warns if the winter is as slow as the last month, he may have to close. 

Councillor open to relaxing parking rules

Coun. John Campbell, who sits on the TTC board, says he's pleased streetcars are speeding up but he's worried about businesses like Nunes's.

"I think the loss of on-street parking has to have a detrimental effect on some of those businesses," he said.

Campbell says business owners he spoke with ahead of the pilot told him many of their customers arrive on foot, by bike or on transit, but some rely more on people being able to drive. He says city council may need to quickly modify the plan to help those businesses out.

"I don't think people want to see businesses go under for the sake of moving people along King," he said, suggesting possibly relaxing some of the parking rules at night. 

Toronto police officers have handed out hundreds of tickets during the pilot. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Toronto police are set to provide an update on the number of tickets handed out at the end of this week. Officers handed out hundreds of tickets and warnings during the first weeks of the pilot, however that enforcement blitz has since ended.

Outgoing TTC CEO Andy Byford has called the pilot project the biggest change to happen to King Street in a generation. 

Last week, the transit agency added another new Bombardier streetcar to the line. There are now 14 of the larger, accessible vehicles serving King during peak periods along with many older streetcars.

The city plans to continue to release monthly results from the project.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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