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Plan to keep cars off King draws fire from merchants

TTC aims to add European flair

Joseph Hall and Jim Wilkes

Sid Dinetz has watched streetcars lumber past his King St. E. restaurant supply store for more than half a century.

Now he fears the rumbling Red Rockets will do what the competition couldn’t: destroy his business.

“This will kill me. It will crucify the whole area,” Dinetz said yesterday about a TTC plan that would force most cars off the major downtown artery.

“We’ve been in business since 1914 and in this location since 1946, but we won’t be in business much longer if this plan goes through.”

The plan, being reviewed today at a transit commission meeting, would allow cars on King St. to travel no more than a block along any segment of the roadway.

By alternately widening the north and south sidewalks on each block, the proposal would force cars to turn right at any oncoming intersection.

King’s two current centre lanes - from Dufferin St. in the west to Parliament St. in the east - would be reserved almost exclusively for streetcars.

And while cars and trucks would be allowed into the middle lanes to pass stopped delivery vehicles, they could not carry on through the intersection or make a left turn from the streetcar tracks.

Parking would also be prohibited along the entire section.

While this new configuration would allow for taxi pickups and truck deliveries, it would deter almost all through traffic from the street.

It would also deter potential customers from coming anywhere near the area, many King St. businesses fear.

“It’s ludicrous,” fumed restaurateur Aaron Barberian, chair of Yonge St. Business and Residents Association.

“We’re all carriage trade. Anything that impedes traffic will damage business. It’s proven.”

Talk that the plan might expand to other downtown streets if it is successful on King doesn’t sit well with Barberian.

“You’re paying lots of taxes to have a business on the street and then they go and restrict traffic,” he said.

“Think of traffic like you think of water,” he said. “Anytime you restrict the flow, it backs up and goes somewhere else.

“There won’t be fewer cars in the city - you’ll just force the cars on to Front St., Richmond, Adelaide and Queen St.”

Dinetz agreed.

“The city has already allowed all the parking lots around here to be turned into condos, so we’ve got a tremendous parking problem already,” said Dinetz, owner of the venerable Dinetz Restaurant Equipment shop near Sherbourne St.

“If they take away the little bit of street parking we have, we might as well close up our businesses. People come in here and buy 10 boxes of china, how are they going to take that on the streetcar?”

Mitch Stambler, head of the TTC’s service planning department, says people near any proposed project almost always worry the sky will fall.

Stambler points to the exclusive streetcar right of way that was pushed up the centre of Spadina Ave. in the 1990s, saying it has proven a benefit for both the TTC and area businesses.

“But before we did that there was all kinds of community concern that we were building the Berlin Wall, we would destroy the community and all the businesses would shut down and the world was going to end,” he said.

“But there was nothing. Nothing bad has happened.”

Stambler says wider sidewalks on King would give the area a European flair and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

Reaction on the street was mixed.

“It’s a good idea,” said Isako Shigekawa, 32, who uses the King streetcar to get to graphic design classes at George Brown College.

“Traffic has been a problem for a long time and it’s certainly not working now.”

But motorist George Kargov disagrees.

“You can’t do something like that downtown,” said Kargov, 46. “Traffic is bad enough as it is.

“I guess it’s just a way of forcing people to take the TTC or taxis.”

But Co-Op cabbie George Frimpong isn’t thrilled about it, either.

“It’s going to be worse than it is now,” he said. “It will kill our business down here and make it harder to get around and deliver our passengers.”

If the commission okays the plan, it would still have to go through the city planning committee before being considered by full council, possibly by fall.