Mayor unveils plan to 'animate' King Street amid business complaints about pilot project

Mayor John Tory has announced a competition for public spaces on King Street to draw residents back now that the street is subject to a pilot project that does not allow parking and gives streetcars the right of way.

John Tory says businesses have reported a decline in revenue, city wants to draw residents back

Mayor John Tory announced on Tuesday a new competition for temporary creative installations on King Street to draw residents back to the downtown Toronto street now subject to a pilot project. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced a new design competition to "animate" public spaces on King Street amid a pilot project that does not allow parking on the downtown street and gives streetcars the right of way.

The aim of the competition is to draw residents back to the street, Tory told reporters on King Street across from the Royal Alexandra Theatre. 

Tory said some businesses on King Street have reported a decrease in business since the year-long pilot project began eight weeks ago.

"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.

"The first thing we want people to know from today is that King Street is open for business. And we intend to act so as to get past the confusion that does exist so we can get things going again for businesses which are temporarily hurting in some instances." 
Toronto Mayor John Tory said businesses on King Street have reported a decrease in business since the pilot project began eight weeks ago. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The mayor said he wants residents to know that King Street is still accessible to cars heading to local destinations. "There is no ban on cars," he added. 

As for parking, Tory said it is available on nearby side streets, lots and parking garages. Taxis can travel straight along King Street every day after 10 p.m.

Under the pilot project, transit has been given priority over cars. Preliminary data shows that it is having a "marked improvement" for transit riders, Tory said.

Tory said the competition is called "Everyone is King" and 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 on King.

The city wants to see ideas for temporary creative installations, he added. As part of the competition, local businesses will be able to ask the city if they can use the spaces along the curb as additional outdoor cafes. 
Under the pilot project, transit has been made a priority over cars. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

"I want to make sure that King Street remains a great place to eat, shop, gather and be entertained during this pilot. This program will encourage people to continue to come out to King Street," Tory said in a news release. 

People will be asked to submit ideas for temporary public space installations to be set up in the spring. The spaces range in length from 15 to 140 metres. A call for entries began on Tuesday. The deadline for applications is mid-February.

About 15 sites for public spaces and two sites for parkettes have been identified. Local businesses will have the "first crack" at these spaces. 

During the winter, the city plans to construct such installations as warming stations, ice sculptures and temporary public artworks and to hire fire performers in a bid to "animate" the public spaces.

King Street was 'broken'

Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, said King Street was not functioning well before the pilot project and it was faster to walk than to take a streetcar. But he said the city realizes that businesses need to thrive as well during the project.

"Streets themselves are places to visit and places to enjoy. And we all know, before the pilot, King Street — it didn't work. It was broken," he said. "As a city we had to fix it." 
Coun. Joe Cressy, right, and Mayor John Tory, left, talk to reporters on Tuesday about the impact on businesses of the King Street pilot project. (CBC)

Cressy said the city is aware that it needs to ensure that King Street continues to thrive.

"Listen, this is a pilot. Nobody said it was going to be perfect on day one. In fact, it's not supposed to be. But it is the direction our city must go, needs to go and together ... we are going to make sure it's a success for everybody."

Coun. Michael Thompson, who represents Ward 37 Scarborough Centre and chairs the city's economic development committee, said the city is also introducing a program to promote local restaurants called "Eats on King."

The program, which will run from Feb. 19 to March 29. is in addition to Winterlicious.

Streetcars now minutes faster

Under the pilot project, cars are not allowed to drive straight through King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. Drivers are forced to turn off King at most major intersections and parking is not allowed along the route. 
Toronto has decorated its concrete barriers along King Street to protect streetcar riders from traffic, with three distinct art pieces created by a local designer. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The project was implemented in November to test the efficiency of giving priority to 504 King streetcars on the city's busiest surface route. According to preliminary data, based on three weeks of the project, streetcars are up to 2.6 minutes faster during the rush hour periods.

Tory said the project will not end early and he continues to support it fully.