Car-free King St. proposal still faces a long battle

The most important TTC streetcar route has numerous problems causing delays

King Street's streetcars transport tens of thousands of Torontonians daily, but has some of the most serious issues that causes the route to be very slow.
King Street’s streetcars transport tens of thousands of Torontonians daily, but has some of the most serious issues that causes the route to be very slow. ( )

Some people would like King St. streetcars to operate more efficiently, and that eliminating transit is the solution.

To them, the ideal King Street will mostly see only streetcars on it, with some provisions for vehicles on business such as delivery trucks. But this vision has detractors too.

“If we could sort of get cars out of the way; the King streetcar can be a substantially busier and more reliable, and possibly a faster route into the downtown,” editor of Transit Toronto, a website about public transportation in Toronto for transit enthusiasts, James Bow said.

Bow points to the success of Calgary’s LRT line, which goes through the heart of its downtown and shows how a city can balance the interests of businesses while ameliorating transit service.

Just like Calgary’s LRT line, the King streetcar line goes through the heart of the city, mostly through Toronto’s financial centre. However, the Financial District business association’s policy analyst doesn’t believe in the viability of this idea.

“It can’t be all or nothing,” Evan Weinberg said. “We think that the more balanced approach is to first look at the inefficiencies within the system and then implement those improvements before going to a complete elimination of that.”

One of the problems Weinberg sees lies in the displacement of cars. According to the TTC, King Street sees 20,000 motor vehicles every weekday.

The TTC has studied this problem and noticed that the biggest delay for its 60,000 daily streetcar riders lie in systemic inefficiencies, rather than congestion. The biggest problem lies in the time passengers take to board and alight the streetcar. This stands as the main reason why delays happen about half of the time. Other reasons include traffic signal delays, such as red lights, the time it takes for traffic to clear, and other reasons.

“One of the areas that we’ve tend to focus on is access.” Weinberg said. “To eliminate a mode into an area is not necessarily an approach we look at, but rather, how do people access this district? How do we improve access to this district for all users?”

The calls for a “transit mall” made by Bow and other supporters, however, should not be dismissed too quickly. According to a 2013 survey by Forum Research, plans to ban cars from the busy King St. split opinion equally between Toronto’s downtown residents and those who live in the suburbs.

The poll shows that approval and disapproval ratings for the car-free proposal are neck and neck — 40 and 43 per cent respectively.

The debate on the car-free King St. proposal is still ongoing, and among the various challenges regarding transit, the new Toronto council may have to address this debate as well.