Big box names join fight against King St. pilot project, but city not backing down

The never-ending King Street fight continues as over 50 businesses join forces demand changes to the pilot project.

Shoppers and Thompson Toronto join more than 50 businesses demanding changes to city’s King Street project

City Coun. Joe Cressy continues to defend the pilot project, saying 'results are getting better every single month.' (CBC)

Another day, another fight over the King Street pilot project.

But over 50 notable businesses have now joined that fight, including Shoppers Drug Mart and Thompson Toronto, which say they've been impacted by the project.

The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) released a letter from the businesses "fact checking" the city's data and requesting changes to the project.

The letter also alleges a 21 per cent decrease in restaurant reservations.

"We just don't understand why they think this is a win," said Todd Sherman, who is the resident of Gabby's Restaurant.

Sherman said he helped organize the group of businesses calling themselves 'King Street Matters.' The changes requested include eliminating daytime taxi restrictions, providing accessible parking and limiting all traffic restrictions between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The ORHMA also released a report that is critical of some key aspects of the King Street pilot. The report was compiled by Ryerson professor Murtaza Haider, who specializes in analytics of transportation and real estate.

"When you look at his notes and his numbers, it looks like the pilot project, contrary to what you hear, is not successful," said Tony Elenis, ORHMA President.

The study analyzed the city's preliminary data, and challenges the reported savings in travel time, automobile travel times and increase transit ridership. 

The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) released a study by Ryerson professor Murtaza Haider, which critically analyses the city's preliminary data. (Todd Sherman)

"Based on the review of data presented by the City, we conclude that the average transit travel time savings are modest at best. Furthermore, one fails to see any meaningful improvement in average transit travel times in the morning peak hours," the report says.

The study was also critical of data concerning automobile travel times, which varied by less than a minute according to the city's January update. But Haider's study said January "is not representative of travel activity in the downtown Toronto core."

Haider's work also pegged the increase in ridership to the additional streetcars, which increased carrying capacity by 41 per cent.

"There's going to be action taken...they can't be giving out data that's so, so wrong," Sherman said.

But Haider cautioned that his work is preliminary and only focuses on transportation issues. 

"The kind of research that I'm doing is not done yet," Haider said. "I would rather complete my work before I speak about it."

'A bigger move was needed'

"In recent years, the City and TTC have made several operational improvements to King Street ... but there are limits to what operational improvements can achieve. A bigger move was needed," said Bruce Hawkins, spokesperson for the city's planning department.

Hawkins said customer spending is in line with seasonal spending patterns from the past three years. He said he couldn't comment on data released by ORHMA, which was gathered from OpenTable, a restaurant reservation app, rather than data collection methods employed by the city.

A letter released Monday analyses the pilot project and requests several changes from King Street businesses, which include street access for taxis and accessible parking. (Todd Sherman)

"The City does not have access to the data provided by OpenTable, and hence can't comment on its accuracy or the analysis methodology applied," Hawkins said.

City Coun. Joe Cressy, who has been a continuing proponent of the pilot project, said the downturn in business is the result of the cold winter weather.

"That downturn mirrored the downturn in the rest of the city as well," Cressy said.

"What we've seen in the King Street Pilot, which is the most comprehensively evaluated transportation project in our city's history, that the results are getting better every single month…"

'This is speculative at best'

"We have both the numbers — improved travel times and reliability, and increased ridership — and the anecdotal feedback from our customers, to call the pilot a success to this point," said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green.

He said the study's conclusion, that stated increased ridership was a result of additional streetcars, "is speculative at best."

"Vehicles were added so that the increased demand we saw almost immediately could be addressed," Green said. "Streetcars in the early days were crowded and there were lines at many stops on King."

In regards to daytime access for taxis, Green said the pilot has to be tested more before adding time-based restrictions.

"Introducing time based restrictions would complicate the usability of the street and would certainly deteriorate user compliance ... this would compromise the objective of the pilot."

With files from Greg Ross.