City needs to solve King Street congestion, councillors say

A city staff report says the King streetcar route is the busiest surface transit route in the city and it suggests building sections of dedicated streetcar lanes to move people more efficiently.

Council will mull a revamp of busy King Street in December when it looks at downtown plan

Coun. Michael Thompson said a pilot project involving King Street is expected to begin early in the new year.

Two city councillors say King Street congestion is a significant problem that needs attention from council but solving the issue will require juggling the needs of transit riders, businesses and motorists.

Coun. Michael Thompson, who represents Ward 37, Scarborough Centre, said council is expected to look at a detailed plan for downtown before the holidays and is expected to approve a pilot project for King Street early in the new year.

That downtown plan includes a proposal to add a dedicated streetcar lane on sections of King Street.

The Toronto and East York Community Council is expected to consider the plan at its Nov.15 meeting. The plan is expected to go to the full city council on Dec. 13.

Details of the plan are contained in the TOcore: Planning Downtown, Proposals Report, which says the 504 King streetcar route is the busiest surface transit route in the city, "carrying over 65,000 riders on an average day." 

Thompson said the city has received many complaints about the King Street streetcar because the street is so congested.
Coun. Pam McConnell says the city plan for downtown, including King Street, is "very preliminary." (CBC)

"We need to figure out solutions in terms of new ideas, to be innovative in terms of how we can actually respond to the needs and challenges that are faced by transit riders, recognizing that there are other impacts as well. We need to study and review what those are," he said.

"I understand that we're late to the dance, so to speak, because of the congestion."

Coun. Pam McConnell, who represents Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, said the downtown plan is "very preliminary" and the public needs to be consulted before any decisions are made. The congestion on King Street downtown is "unbelievable," she said.

"It's most congested of any part of the city. So we want to be able to move people quick but we also want to make sure we don't impact businesses," she said.

The report says "significant" growth of pedestrians and new developments in the area have meant the TTC has struggled to provide reliable service along the mixed traffic route.

"Streetcar operations have suffered from slow travel speeds, delays caused by traffic signals and turning vehicles, unreliable headways leading to bunching, and long dwell times at busy transit stops," the report says.
A city staff report on the future of the downtown core includes a pilot project to create a dedicated streetcar lane on parts of King Street between Dufferin and River Streets. (CBC)

"The significant growth of pedestrian activity from the new developments around King Street coupled with the longer passenger service times required to serve the increasing ridership, has reduced the traffic capacity of King Street.

"Simply put, it has become difficult to provide reliable service with the current streetcars operating in a mixed traffic environment."

The report notes that any solution that would aid the King streetcar would involve "tradeoffs" between transit, car traffic and street parking. It says King Street could become what it calls a "transit-priority street."

"Transformed King Street will need to distinguish itself from its parallel companion streets, amplifying its qualities and role of primarily moving people by public transit," it says. 

The city has said it will study the King corridor between Dufferin Street in the west and River Street in the east with an aim to move people more efficiently.

Rapid growth threatens 'liveability'

At the November meeting, the community council will consider two recommendations from the city's planning division: one is to have public consultation on the downtown plan; the other is to have Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat develop a secondary plan for downtown.
The city's planning division is recommending that Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat develop a secondary plan for downtown that would update what the city calls its "downtown planning framework to shape future growth." (CBC)

"TOcore is a response to the rapid growth and intensification of downtown that is placing pressure on finite physical and social infrastructure assets and that is occurring in a pattern and at an intensity that is beginning to threaten the liveability of the heart of the city," reads the item to be considered. 

A secondary plan would update what the city calls its "downtown planning framework to shape future growth" and outline how infrastructure money will be needed to achieve the vision detailed in TOcore.

According to the King Street Visioning Study, a pilot project could create a dedicated right-of-way for streetcars on sections of King.

The city says about 10,000 new residents move into Toronto's downtown every year. That rate of growth means the city's downtown population could increase from 250,000 currently to 475,000 in 2041. 

With files from Muriel Draaisma


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