Free parking coming to King Street to 'support local businesses,' city says

The city will offer free parking on King Street for up to two hours in response to local business owners who say the pilot transit project is hurting their bottom lines.

New pilot project data released Friday also showed 25 per cent bump in ridership on streetcar line

A police car is stopped as traffic moves along the street during the second day of the King Street Transit Pilot involving city streetcars on Monday, November 13, 2017. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

The city will offer free parking on King Street for up to two hours in response to local business owners who say the pilot transit project is hurting their bottom lines.

The city announced the new measure, among others, in a news release early Friday afternoon, shortly after Mayor John Tory met with business owners at city hall to discuss their concerns about the project. The year-long pilot gives priority to streetcars travelling between Bathurst and Jarvis streets. 

The changes announced Friday are aimed at not only helping businesses, but also improving traffic flow along the east-west artery. They are:

  • The Toronto Parking Authority will offer up to $10 (a minimum of two hours of free on-street parking) in the pilot area for drivers using the Green P app.
  • The addition of 90 parking spaces to side streets, which replaces 50 per cent of the spaces removed from King Street when the pilot began. Additional spaces are under review.
  • Additional loading zones for vehicles and trucks have been added in front of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Princess of Wales Theatre, First Canadian Place and between Yonge and Church Streets.
  • Adjustments have been made to signal timing at Bathurst, Church and Jarvis streets.
  • New and larger signs have been added at major intersections along the pilot route, while electronic signs will be brought in to make information more clear to drivers.
  • New low-floor streetcars will be deployed to the 504 and 514 routes "as they become available."
  • The eastbound streetcar stop at Yonge Street has been expanded to make more room for waiting riders.

"We are dedicated to making sure King Street works for everyone," Tory said in the statement.

"I believe these updates to the pilot will help transit riders, businesses and drivers. I remain committed to listening to everyone about this project and making changes where they make sense."

Ridership up 25 per cent

Earlier Friday, the latest data from the King project was released showing that streetcar ridership is up 25 per cent since the pilot began. The bump is causing some commuter headaches during peak travel times, a TTC report said.

The data shows the 25 per cent jump during the peak hour of the morning commute, which means riders are often left waiting for space on a streetcar, according to the TTC CEO's report.

"We are a bit of a victim of our own success, too, as we have also seen a ridership increase of some 25 per cent on King St., meaning some customers are unable to board their first or even second streetcar in the peak of the peak," the report said.

While some commuters have been left waiting at specific times, overall travel times have improved, according to a City of Toronto news release about the latest figures. The slowest streetcar travel times in the afternoon rush hour have improved by about four minutes in each direction, the release said. Vehicle travel times on nearby streets "remain only marginally affected," it said.

"Reliability of the streetcar continues to remain much higher as the variability of streetcar travel times through the pilot area has been reduced by up to 33 per cent."

Data from the year-long pilot is being released on the 12th day of every month by the city.

In December, the first set of data, which was based on the project's first three weeks of operation, showed that:

  • Streetcars were up to 2.6 minutes faster during rush-hour periods.
  • Eighty per cent of eastbound streetcars were meeting spacing targets, up from 37 per cent.
  • Vehicle travel times on most nearby streets had not increased by more than a minute.

'There is some confusion'

Despite some of benefits of the pilot, business owners along King have been outspoken critics, saying it has hurt their bottom line. Restaurateurs say the loss of on-street parking and the measures to reduce car traffic are keeping customers away.

Earlier this week, Tory responded to concerns about declining business by unveiling a new design competition to "animate" public spaces on King in an effort to draw people back to the street.

"Almost everyone does seem to agree that there is some confusion as to whether King Street is accessible to those who want to visit the area," Tory said earlier this week.

He had to clarify that cars are not banned from the street, and that parking is available on nearby streets, and in lots and garages. Taxis can also travel straight along King each day after 10 p.m.

For the competition, called "Everyone is King," the city is seeking submissions from local businesses, business improvement associations, design professionals, community groups and individuals to "bring life" to new curb lane public spaces.

The deadline for submissions is mid-February.

Meanwhile, the TTC and the city will release data on the pilot every month, and will use travel time, service reliability and ridership to gauge the project's success.

"We will continue to work with the City to monitor the pilot and do all we can to assist business in the corridor," the TTC report says, "but as of [this] writing, the TTC is extremely pleased with the positive impact the pilot is having for customers."

With files from Muriel Draaisma and John Rieti