Toronto

King Street plan good for transit, bad for families, Ryerson professor warns

While a recent City of Toronto planning study paints a positive picture of a future downtown core that’s more livable with fewer cars and better public transit, achieving it could be bad for business and families, a Ryerson professor warns.

A 'transit priority' King Street is part of comprehensive city planning study for downtown core

A new city report proposes a pilot project on King Street to provide a dedicated streetcar lane for transit vehicles. (CBC)

While a recent City of Toronto planning study paints a positive picture of a future downtown core that's more livable with fewer cars and better public transit, achieving it could be bad for businesses and families, a Ryerson professor warns.

"I think it's daydreaming," Murtaza Haider, an associate professor who specializes in urban economics and planning, told CBC Toronto in an interview.

The study, TOcore: Planning Toronto's Downtown, includes a vision of the city core in 2041: a place where most residents get around on foot, by bike or on a reliable public transit network that allows "so many of them to live without a car."

Murtaza Haider, an associate professor who specializes in urban economics and planning at Ryerson, says changes to King Street in favour of transit could be bad for families and businesses. (CBC)

The Toronto and East York community council is expected to consider the plan at its Nov. 15 meeting. It's expected to go to city council in December.

King Street 'transit priority'

One of the proposals in the document is a plan to transform King Street, between Dufferin Street in the west and River Street in the east, into a "transit priority street."

The designation could see some sort of restriction on vehicular traffic on King Street, but it isn't clear how much.

At earlier consultations about the study, a car-free King Street was proposed.

Haider has serious concerns about this proposal. He says restricting cars and trucks on a corridor that goes through the heart of Toronto's financial district could disrupt the logistics of many businesses.

"This is the economic hub of Canada and somehow we are determined to make doing business difficult here."

But urban planning expert Gil Peñalosa says it's the 65,000 streetcar passengers on King St. everyday who have a difficult time.

City officials say plans for King Street may include restricting cars. (Pembina Institute)

"This is about equity. This is about democracy," Peñalosa told CBC Toronto in an interview. "You don't have 65,000 cars. Very few people take up a lot of the space."

"It should be the whole distance of King. Walking, cycling and streetcars with no cars. It would be fantastic," Peñalosa said.

Childless downtown?

But Haider believes better streetcar service and fewer cars only works if the city wants the downtown's current demographic trend to continue.

"You're looking at a very partial cohort that has descended on downtown Toronto. These are single people or childless couples"

Haider says restricting cars on King Street would alienate families who wouldn't benefit from better transit and a pedestrian-friendly downtown because, he says, they need cars.

He says a "walkable" downtown works for young people without kids but "by the time you throw in trips for diapers, formula milk, hockey practice, then you realize there is no way you can manage all of this on the subway or streetcar."

"If the vision for 2041 to keep downtown Toronto childless, then go ahead," Haider said.

Livable downtown

That is not the city's vision for a 2041 downtown. In fact, one of the study's policy directives calls for a minimum number of two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments for families in new residential construction.

Haider sees an issue here, as well. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average price of a three-bedroom downtown condo is more than $1-million.

"Which family would opt for that?" Haider said. "You still don't have backyard for your children or a street that's friendly."

He believes that at current real estate prices, families will be more attracted to areas outside of the downtown core.

"I think suburbanization is a natural force. We are just not too excited about it."

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