Could King Street one day be closed to cars?

City officials told local businesses and residents on Thursday night that King Street, a historic street that runs through the heart of downtown Toronto, needs to catch up to the development all around it.

City launches 'visioning' study for King Street, which city staff say is overdue for a facelift

City officials outlined plans for King Street on Thursday night, telling local businesses and residents that the historic street is due for a makeover because it needs to catch up to the development all around it.

"Cities have moments," Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said at a panel discussion at the University of Toronto's Innis Town Hall.

"Rethinking King is about catching up to the redevelopment that we have seen."

Keesmaat said an estimated 65,000 streetcar riders and about 20,000 vehicles use King Street on a typical weekday. The congestion, along with much development, means the street is overdue for a facelift. And she said that makeover may include plans to restrict cars.

In an earlier interview, Keesmaat said a new "visioning" study launched by the city on Thursday will involve looking at how to move people more efficiently, how to create unique public places on the street and how the street design can be improved to create better transit and a better pedestrian street. It will also look how the street is used from the point of view of pedestrians, cyclists, streetcar riders and drivers 

The study will examine a six kilometre stretch of King Street from River Street in the east to Dufferin Street in the west. A pilot project, the details of which have yet to be worked out, is scheduled for mid-2017. 

"Well, the ideal King street, based on this plan, moves as many people as possible. Our goal isn't to move cars, our goal is to move people. And we can move significantly more people on transit, cycling and walking than we can in cars," said Keesmat. 

She said revitalizing King Street would cost about $200,000. Keesmat said it would likely involve new signs, an educational campaign and no cars on certain stretches.

"This is the cheapest way to improve transit service. It's not expensive at all. You can do this through almost operational measures alone. You don't have to build a tunnel. You don't have to lay down new track. This is actually really straightforward to implement, which is why it's a perfect for a candidate for a pilot project. This is the farthest thing from expensive."

At the meeting, officials talked about several possibilities for King Street, including bigger sidewalks to make room for more shops and patios, bike lanes and pedestrian hangouts.

King Street, a major east-west corridor, connects the Financial District with revitalized industrial areas, including Liberty Village, King-Spadina, King-Parliament, St. Lawrence and Corktown. 

The city will hold focus groups throughout the summer, with the public and interested parties. Officials say they hope to develop a plan after soliciting public feedback, with the hopes of launching the pilot project next year.

"Serving some of our most populated areas, King Street is a critical route in the downtown surface transit network," Keesmaat said.

"With job and housing growth continuing along the corridor, the time is now to rethink how King functions as a street. This study will look at optimizing transit, better pedestrian and retail experiences, and improving public spaces." 

TTC CEO Andy Byford told the meeting that a King Street without cars is music to his ears.

"King Street is the busiest surface transit route in the city, carrying 65,000 transit riders on an average weekday," Byford said.

"Those transit vehicles currently share the road with approximately 20,000 passenger vehicles, making it challenging to keep transit service running smoothly. The TTC will be working closely with the city as it commences a public conversation on moving people more efficiently along the corridor." 

The King Street study is part of a wider project the city is undertaking called TOCore, that's looking into ways in which the downtown core can grow in the years ahead.