Toronto

'Transit first' King Street redesign to be made public

City planners are set to unveil a “transformative” design for King Street that aims to improve transit service but won’t completely ban cars.

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat predicts major culture change on iconic downtown street

Getting the King streetcar moving quickly across the city is the prime objective of a pilot project planned for the major downtown street. (John Rieti/CBC)

City planners are set to unveil a "transformative" design for King Street that aims to improve transit service but won't completely ban cars.

Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says the public will get its first look at three options for a pilot project on part of King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets on Monday. Then, whoever wants a say can discuss the options at an evening meeting at Metro Hall.

Keesmaat says she has a clear favourite for the pilot, but wants to make sure everyone is ready for the cultural change that will come with making King Street unabashedly "transit first."

"No matter what we do, the key objective is transit," Keesmaat told CBC Toronto.

"And it's not about tweaking, it's not about some kind of marginal change. It's really about a transformational change along this corridor."

Keesmaat said that improvement will be measured based on access, reliability and speed on the city's third busiest transit route. Planners have already been working with the TTC and transportation services, she said, to make sure the project succeeds if it gets the green light.

'Hectic' intersections blocking streetcars

The city has already made some tweaks along the King Street route, including abandoning some under-used stops. (David Donnelly/CBC)

For Max Waters, the general manager of Quantum cafe at the corner of King Street West and Spadina Avenue, the change can't come soon enough. Waters said every day, like clockwork, the intersection is jammed with cars, and the King streetcars — which transport an estimated 60,000 people per day — are left blaring their horns.

"Hectic," is how she describes it.

"This is undoubtedly the most crazy intersection in the very core of Toronto."

Waters hasn't seen the city's designs, but she's heard rumblings about a pedestrian-friendly King Street since 2012 and is clearly on board. Waters said that's partly because it would benefit her business, as most of her customers arrive on foot or by bike, and partly because as a devout cyclist she wants a safe route.

Waters said she would even consider trading the Richmond and Adelaide cycle lanes for a car-free King, though Keesmaat said all of the designs will have some car traffic, if only to service businesses.

Grant Humes, the executive director of the Financial District's BIA, is taking a wait-and-see approach, though his organization has already been involved in a consultation process with the city.

"The ability for a greater number of people to get to and from their jobs with improved speed and reliability is a desirable outcome," he said in an email statement.

"We look forward to seeing what proposals come forward for further study."

Keesmaat says planners will use the public's input to modify their plans, and if they receive a hard "no," they may have to reconsider the plan altogether.

Work could begin by fall

City planners intend to make King more friendly for pedestrians, as well. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

If the public likes the work, planners will seek city council approval in July and work could begin by the fall. The pilot's goal is to quickly test ideas in a cost-effective way, the city says, while also gathering information.

The pilot project would run at the same time as a so-called "modelling study," to keep an eye on what traffic is building up on nearby routes.

"If our objective is to improve transit service across King Street but it results in gridlock in the rest of the downtown, then we're not any further ahead," Keesmaat said.

Eventually, Toronto hopes to overhaul six kilometres of King from the Distillery District to Liberty Village. The project is expected to cost $200,000.

Monday's public meeting takes place from 6:30-9 p.m. in rooms 308/309 Monday at Metro Hall — 55 John St.

People are also encouraged to tweet their feedback to #KingStreetPilot or email kingstreetpilot@toronto.ca. 

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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