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TTC's streetcars want to rule King St.

Radical transit plan would ban cars from King Street

By Rob Granatstein
Toronto Sun

Traffic jams like this are a regular occurrence on King St. in the downtown core, making travel for the TTC’s streetcars a slow journey. The TTC is putting forward a plan to close the street to regular traffic during rush hour. The transit system hopes this action will speed up its most crowded streetcar route.

The TTC wants to be treated like royalty on King St. — and ban cars from the downtown route during rush hour.

It’s a radical plan to put the city’s most troubled, crowded and dismally slow streetcar — the 504 King — on the fast track.

“It doesn’t help to give me a lot more buses and streetcars if they’re caught in traffic and people can walk almost as fast,” TTC General Manager Rick Ducharme said.

“We have to have more exclusivity on the street so we can move the same number of streetcars faster.”

The idea the TTC wants to try — as early as this summer — is to eliminate cars from King St. between Spadina Rd. and Jarvis St. from 7-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.

That would enable jam-packed trolleys to move efficiently through downtown instead of being gridlocked.

“We have to prove our point and grab a street, like King St.,” Ducharme said. “Let’s prove once and for all what we can actually do on this street.”

Ducharme said surface routes are the TTC’s Achilles heel, and with 70% of its 1.4 million riders a day travelling on streetcars or buses, transit must be given priority to get through traffic jams.

Crowding on its streetcars and buses has been exacerbated by a problem the TTC is happy to have — increasing ridership.

Making things worse is the fact the TTC has almost 300 fewer buses and 30 fewer streetcars than in 1989 to do the job, and its low-floored buses carry fewer passengers. The result is more crowded vehicles and more grumpy passengers.

Taxis and delivery vehicles would still be allowed to travel on the street during rush hour under the proposed plan.

Richard Soberman prepared a report on the future of transportation in Toronto for the next 30 years as part of the city’s official plan called Toronto at a Crossroads: Shaping our Future.

He said parking restrictions must be expanded to more realistic times beyond the current 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. “But that’s not going to do enough,” said Soberman, who supports King St. becoming a transit mall during rush hour.

He said it wouldn’t cost the city anything to try the idea.

“If it doesn’t work, scrap it,” he said.

The fixes are needed to rectify a morning rush hour where TTC riders trying to jump on the streetcar between Dufferin and Bathurst Sts. are often unable to get on board because riders are already jammed nose-to-nose.

When the trolley hits Spadina Ave., it slows to a crawl. When a car is stopped on the tracks waiting to make a left-hand turn, streetcars can’t move. When a car is stuck in an intersection, streetcars can’t move. When a cab stops to let someone out in the centre lane because there are parked vehicles in the curb lane, streetcars can’t move.

The TTC has moved more double streetcars on to the route, but adding more vehicles to King St. would only lead to a “conga line” of Red Rockets, Ducharme said.

“You can’t buy your way out of this,” Ducharme said. “We can’t complain that it’s not working. We have to make it work.”

Naysayers such as councillor Joe Pantalone believe spending more money on expanding service, not removing cars from King or extending rush-hour parking restrictions, is the answer.


“I don’t think the city can wait for an incremental approach,” said Pantalone, who represents Trinity-Spadina. “We need big bucks to fix the problem.”

He said he’d support a pilot project on King St. but only if the TTC gives him the facts on how much it will help traffic.

The plan isn’t finished yet. The TTC is still working with the city on how to enforce the rules because it’s been proven that telling drivers to stay off the streetcar tracks isn’t enough.

Any progress would have to include fixing some of the TTC’s own flaws. Streetcars would have to load at both doors, not just the front doors, to decrease the amount of time at a halt.

Tom Mulligan, director of transportation programming and policy for the city, said removing cars from King St. is workable, but there are a number of technical issues to resolve, including on-street parking, deliveries and impact on other streets. Then there are the political issues.

Businesses and restaurants are split on the idea. Some like the idea of better pedestrian access to the street and don’t feel the loss of a few parking spots will hurt too badly.

Others, such as Sophia Arvanitis, said extending the afternoon rush hour will probably force her to keep her store, Marathon Outdoor Adventure, open longer to make up for lost customers.

The idea to ban cars from some TTC surface routes is also being championed in a report on the future direction of Toronto’s transportation for the city’s official plan. The transportation element of the plan will be presented for the first time on Tuesday.