King Street: Twenty Years of No Transit Priority

Today, the Toronto Transit Commission passed a motion asking for a report on reserved lanes for King Street.  Yes, you read that correctly: this is a street that, in theory, has had peak period transit lanes since 1993.

Here is the motion moved by Chair Karen Stintz and seconded by Commissioner John Parker:

1. That the Board request the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to direct Transportation Services to prepare a joint City-TTC report on the feasibility and merits of implementing morning rush hour reserved streetcar lanes on King Street, including details pertaining to extent/boundaries of the lanes, means of designation or separation of the lanes, means of enforcement, means of monitoring effectiveness of the lanes, cost of implementing such lanes, and effects on other traffic in the corridor, as well as study of traffic management measures to mitigate delays at other pinch-points on the King Street route. The report should also include recommendations for a trial implementation of such lanes, including the earliest practical date for undertaking such a trial. If appropriate, this reporting-back could be contained within the forthcoming Downtown Transportation Operations Study. (From Chair Stintz’ blog.)

This is a substantial step back from a desire to ban cars completely on King, a proposal with which Stintz appeared to agree, at least for a Pan Am Games trial period in 2015, in the media [CBC Star].  The pre-amalgamation Toronto Council implemented peak period transit lanes on King from Parliament to Dufferin in 1993, but these were a complete failure thanks to lack of enforcement.  The downtown section, from John to Jarvis, was removed in 1997.  Stintz’ position on timing has changed also with a shift from the Pan Am Games to the “earliest practical date”.

In March 2000, TTC staff reported on “Operational Improvements on 504 King Streetcar” [this report is not available online].  Among the actions taken or under investigation were:

  • Adding a second on-street Route Supervisor “to manage the line and obtain better schedule adherence”.
  • Use of rear-door loaders at major stops to reduce dwell time.
  • Expansion of Proof-of-Payment to the 504 route possibly including reassignment of the ALRVs from Queen to King Street, or the use of coupled CLRVs (this was not implemented).
  • Improved enforcement of parking regulations (occasional blitzes have taken place, but nothing lasting).
  • Restoration of the reserved lanes between Jarvis and John including overhead signs such as those used for the reversing lane on Jarvis.  “Staff believe that the lanes can be made to work effectively, but this will require the lanes to be much more clearly marked and vigourously enforced.”  (This was not implemented.)
  • Continued enforcement of turn restrictions and of the exclusive nature of the streetcar lanes.  (Almost non existent.)
  • Further assessment of problem locations.  (Judging by actions to date, little has been done beyond a study.)

This is not a new problem.  What is very old is a lack of political will to do anything about the situation.

Simply reserving the streetcar lanes during any period of the day is unworkable if the curb lanes are not guaranteed to be free of taxi stands, parking and loading, not to mention construction occupancy arrangements for new condos.  The effect on King will differ between the financial district (east of Yonge to Simcoe) and the entertainment district (Simcoe to west of Spadina), not to mention the Bathurst/Niagara condo district (Spadina to Shaw).  A one-size-fits-all configuration is unlikely to work or be acceptable.

As a four lane street, and with only a temporary reservation, physical barriers are impractical.  Traffic must be free to move between lanes both when the reservation is not active, and when a curb lane blockage requires movement into the streetcar lane.

I have already written about the limited benefit an AM peak reservation will have even if it is well-enforced.  Running times on the 504 King car show little sign of traffic congestion until around 9:00 am when parking is allowed and commercial activity begins on the street.  If the TTC were serious about “fixing” King Street, they would look at the issue on an all-day basis, but that’s not what the Stintz motion does.  She goes for the least controversial option while still attempting to give the impression of doing something for the riders.

(For more of the history on previous King Street and transit priority schemes, please see Transit Toronto and a 2001 TTC report.)

The most disheartening part of the debate at the Commission Meeting was that nobody in the room, no other Commissioners, none of Management, piped up to say “but we already have a reserved lane on part of King, and used to have more”.  This is all treated as if it is a brand new idea, not a 20-year old retread from the days when Jack Layton was a City Councillor.

Was everyone too embarrassed?  Was it an attack of Emperor’s-New-Clothes syndrome?

TTC meetings are turning into friendly gatherings where good news is the order of the day.  There’s nothing wrong with good news, but some decisions involve difficult choices and political battles.  You can’t be an advocate for the good of transit riders and expect everything to be smooth, quiet sailing, especially with an administration so hard set against anything but subways we cannot afford.

The whole matter will now wander through the City’s committee structure, first to Public Works and Infrastructure from which it might not emerge given the Mayor’s anti-streetcar rhetoric.  Will Chair Stintz ensure that even this modest study proposal survives, or is this an empty motion showing concern without action?

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18 Responses to King Street: Twenty Years of No Transit Priority

  1. hamish says:

    Thanks for following this, with the analysis and the perspectives on inactions. I doubt that it will fly very far given how carrupt and caraven this carowd really is eg. they can’t even manage a bit of direct user-pay for the mobile furnaces in the form of the Vehicle Registration Tax.

    While likely built upon and otherwise somewhat occluded, a Front St. transitway would still be a possibility for improved east-west service, but getting simple things – like a line of paint for bikes parallel to the B/D subway, thereby expanding it with paint – seems to take forever to get nothing done eg. Mr. Parker helped sideline a renewed effort to get that EA study of Bloor 7 years after the first study was Ok’ed.

    If there was actually a single, smooth, straight-ish, safe bike way/lane from Parkdale into the core, I wonder how many riders would soon give up the over-priced service in favour of direct control over travel etc.? The TTC wouldn’t help bring this into being though because it would mean direct competition, and the purpose of the crowded streetcars is actually to help subsidize suburban transit and cars.

    Car service review anyone?

  2. Andrew says:

    The downtown relief needs to be built as soon as possible. To properly relieve the King streetcar the western portion of the line from downtown to Dundas West needs to be built. This won’t come cheap, a full line which I believe should go from Finch/Don Mills to Dundas West would probably cost $15-20 billion but half measures like banning cars on King or installing streetcar only lanes will provide little benefit and make traffic congestion worse.

    Steve: And while we await the arrival of a few boatloads of gold to pay for this line, we need to deal with issues on King Street today.

  3. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:

    It’s too bad there was no one on the Commission willing to ask about the proposal to shift ALRVs to King and CLRVs to Queen. Or to reinstate the 507 but run it to Dundas West via Roncessvales to allow most of the King streetcars to short turn and head back (with the 507 covering Roncessvales for the short turned King cars).

    It does seem clear that the city was not interested in enforcing the existing lane restrictions in the past. I’m not sure if the current council will be any more supportive of restrictions or a greater ban (whether from belief or just for spite) … so this whole exercise makes it seem like the goal was to raise a trial balloon, watch it get shot down, then meekly say ‘well, we tried, but…’ and leave it until when/if the DRL … sorry, RL is built (assuming of course that the ‘relief line’ as it is now called will come close enough to make a difference on those contentious corridors).

    If nothing else is going to happen then at least build more platforms to funnel passengers to the intersections, and ban left turns during the peak-to-peak periods … 3 right turns will get drivers to where they want…to reduce traffic backups.

    Cheers, Moaz

    PS. Today I saw a streetcar turn left (SB-EB) from McCaul, blocking traffic on 3 lanes of Queen (2 WB, 1 EB including one WB ALRV) while the driver sprinted back to reset the switch. That needs to stop as quickly as possible.

    Steve: On the subject of the (D)RL, it is good to see that Metrolinx is looking at a package of solutions to demand in the Richmond Hill corridor including their own commuter rail network. Each segment has a part to play in “relieving” the Yonge line.

    South to east at McCaul and Queen is a standard move for a 502 Downtowner car. Why would the operator have to reset the switch?

  4. Isaac Morland says:

    “South to east at McCaul and Queen is a standard move for a 502 Downtowner car. Why would the operator have to reset the switch?”

    I was wondering that too. Isn’t there currently a rule in place that all cars have to stop at all switches to make sure they’re set correctly? Or is that only certain switches, or maybe I’m just making up stuff. But if so, it seems indisputable that each car should simply set the switch the way it needs it. In the event two consecutive cars need the same setting, no change needs to take place.

  5. Kevin Love says:

    Hamish touches upon an important point. A lot of the rhetoric around proper infra to boost cycle mode share is along the lines of “getting people out of cars.” But the reality is that a lot of people are going to switch from public transit.

    This not a bad thing when the public transit is over capacity, like the Yonge line and King streetcar. And cycling is so much faster and a more efficient use of road space that proper protected Dutch-style infra is a real congestion-buster to get Toronto moving again.

    A car-free King Street can be an important part of that. When vehicles on King are limited to streetcars and bicycles, the road capacity on King shoots through the roof. Suddenly the people of Toronto have a congestion-free East-West route to get around.

  6. Jackie says:

    Would King benefit from having a POP system and no left turns all day long (not just rush hour, which really goes beyond 9a.m.) like Queen. Also, could the TTC not trial a Richmond-Adelaide loop bus that stops only at major intersections to alleviate the crowding on King and Queen St cars.

    Steve: The primary locations where King cars are delayed by left turns would be difficult to eliminate, notably westbound at Jameson and at Queensway. The problem with the focus on downtown reserved lanes is that the riders on King originate further away. In the morning peak, cars are packed before they arrive at the eastern/western bounds of Adelaide and Richmond (Parliament and Bathurst). Supplementary service inside that area won’t attract peak riders who would still need to transfer to/from a streetcar to finish their journeys. In the morning, there is comparatively little traffic congestion, and in any event, the service originates and is filled up before the cars would reach a downtown reservation. The bigger problems are midday, the afternoon peak and the early evening, but they’re not part of the TTC’s proposed study.

  7. lister says:

    For those car-free King Street pushers, what about those of us that live on King St and use a car? Due to where my condo’s parking garage is located I *HAVE* to drive on King St briefly. Resident exemptions? I’d be okay with that. Tough to enforce though.

    I use my car once a week for groceries. Other uses are airport trips, occasional trips to the ‘burbs and summer treks. I use my car sparringly but my car isn’t going away.

    Oh BTW, I’m primarily a pedestrian in downtown Toronto. I’m not one of those “evil” pro-car people. I also use the TTC, rollerblade and bike around the city. A little more rounded perspective than I suspect [from] some of you.

    It’s not just rush hour that’s bad though. There are other times during the day and on weekends where it’s terrible. Before the city goes nuts and bans cars on King St I want to see the following happen first:

    1) no parking on King St (and Queen) 24/7 – immediate towing
    2) no standing on King St (and Queen) 24/7 – immediate towing
    3) no taxi stands
    4) no using the Charlotte loop other than for emergency rerouting (once Queen’s Quay is back in action)

    I want to see how that improves traffic during non-rush hour times.

    I’d support a dedicated tax for burying Queen St streetcars or make it a subway line.

  8. stoobiedood says:

    It’s not clear now whether the car-free trial is being proposed for prior to the Pan-Am games or during the games.

    If it is in fact during, then it’s idiotic. The city will be swarming with thousands of additional people driving and taking transit, unfamiliar with the streets and the transit routes. Out-of-town drivers will be clogging other streets, slowing to find their way, making illegal turns, and generally messing up traffic in the area. Local car advocates will be quick to blame the King St. ban and condemn the experiment as a failure.

    Streetcar riders adding to the already-full crush will block the entrance while they quiz the driver in broken English about how to get where they’re going, extending loading times and negating the benefit of eliminating vehicle traffic.

    How on earth can you evaluate a trial when the conditions are singularly abnormal? For any experiment to yield valid results, you can change only one variable at a time. Making King car-free and at the same time swamping the city with tourists will make it impossible to draw any valid conclusions, and you’ll never be able to convince people that the trial wasn’t a failure.

    Steve: It was originally proposed for the Games period, but now the study is to look at an experiment at the earliest opportunity. An amusing side note to your comment about tourists: the King car will still be operating with CLRVs by 2015 and tourists will be able to talk to the operator. Not so on the new LFLRVs. More generally, the city will need an army of ambassadors roaming around to answer whatever questions come up. This is far beyond what operators can handle while driving their buses and streetcars.

  9. Sharon says:

    I am fascinated by the fact that one of your facts you dug up suggests in the 60′s King had over 50 streetcars in one direction, where today there are about 30/hour/p/d. The extra 20 streetcars, is that simply due to the fact that there not many cars operating downtown?

    Steve: A big change has been the continuous occupation of the curb lanes by stopped and parked vehicles that reduce road capacity, coupled with the intensification of the core both for residential and commercial activity. There are also site-specific problems with long-term curb lane occupancy permits for building construction, and the snarl at Spadina where traffic management at the intersection has not been optimized for the high number of turning streetcars at that location (itself caused by the construction south of King). Some of these conditions will end of their own accord, but some will require the political will to dedicate road space to moving vehicles rather than to parked ones.

  10. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:

    Steve:

    South to east at McCaul and Queen is a standard move for a 502 Downtowner car. Why would the operator have to reset the switch?

    I certainly wish I’d taken a picture. I was at John St. I saw the streetcar nose out onto Queen, rear doors open, driver run out from the rear doors then run back. I didn’t see if there was a switch iron in hand.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve, further to my earlier reply … I now realize that I couldn’t see the back of the streetcar … so it could have de-wired while making the turn …which would explain the speed at which the driver ran out and the lack of a switch iron. Of course, I didn’t see any gloves … or paper towels (which I have seen used during rewiring in the past)…so I don’t really know.

    Cheers, Moaz

  11. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:

    Kevin Love said:

    A car-free King Street can be an important part of that. When vehicles on King are limited to streetcars and bicycles, the road capacity on King shoots through the roof. Suddenly the people of Toronto have a congestion-free East-West route to get around.

    Aside from the fact that Byford brought it up (and the current level of streetcar demand … which might change with a DRL… is highest on King) … why close King?

    When I compare King and Queen I see that Queen is far more friendly to small business, pedestrians, cyclists and transit users while King is less pedestrian, cycle and transit friendly. Queen serves the whole of Toronto while King only serves downtown between Parkdale and the river. Queen is straight while King curves south from Queen … etc.

    To me King feels more like Richmond, Wellington, and Adelaide do … except it has streetcars and runs two ways.

    So personally, given the choice I would close Queen St. to cars rather than King. Of course this would be in the long term after GO expansion, 2 DRLs (one under Eastern & Wellington to Exhibition, the other under Richmond), and HOT lanes or full tolling on the DVP and Gardiner east of the Humber Bridge.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: The difference is that King carries more riders in its central section than Queen, on much closer headways, and this will only become more pronounced as new condos in Liberty Village and the Don Lands fill up.

  12. NCarlson says:

    Particularly in response to lister’s comments about resident access, I’d like to mention the proposal from last time a King mall came up. I quite liked the version that was a full time transit mall but with one lane, one direction, alternating by block, remaining open for local traffic. No weird local restrictions, full transit priority, and it avoids the worst of the practical, if not political, problems with closing the street.

  13. Sanjay says:

    I think speeding up things are not going to work. so maybe it’s time to slow things down. My suggestion would be to keep through traffic off of King St and give it transit and pedestrian priority by any or all of :

    1. Ban ALL left turns on King St in the zone (maybe from Roncesvalles all the way to Broadview).
    2. Drop the speed limit to 20km/h. (TTC exempted.) 20km/h limit is suggested so that you get a ticket at 40+. I suggest doing the same on the residential streets off King St as well. Definitely time to slow down cars as well as bicycles.
    3. Put in speed humps (temporary ones to trial with) on the two side lanes every 50 metres or so. Emergency vehicles can speed through on streetcar lane.
    4. What about giving streetcars in the zone, emergency vehicle type of priority. Everyone has to pull over to let a street car through, or get a ticket! Easy to implement: maybe even fix a siren, and flashing light on top or front.

    Just fix a licence plate capture camera on the front of the streetcar, to mail a ticket (with photo proof) to any offenders.

  14. DavidAH_Ca says:

    Isaac Morland posted:

    “South to east at McCaul and Queen is a standard move for a 502 Downtowner car. Why would the operator have to reset the switch?”

    I was wondering that too. Isn’t there currently a rule in place that all cars have to stop at all switches to make sure they’re set correctly? Or is that only certain switches, or maybe I’m just making up stuff. But if so, it seems indisputable that each car should simply set the switch the way it needs it. In the event two consecutive cars need the same setting, no change needs to take place.

    One driver I was talking to complained about the rule requiring a stop at all facing point switches. He indicated that management could follow the driver on his route, and cite him if he didn’t come to a full stop at each switch. However, if he does follow that rule to the letter, he will take too long on the route and can be sanctioned for that. (I haven’t corroborated the latter part, but several other drivers have confirmed the ‘complete stop’ rule.)

    Steve: That is correct. Rather than fix the malfunctioning switches (for two decades or more), the TTC simply makes life more difficult for operators and riders in the name of “safety”. It’s a valid concern in many cases, and should not be used as yet another fig leaf for management inaction.

    Obviously the electronically controlled switches do not need to be reset. By the way, they do not change back to the default position once a turning car has passed, but wait until the next car arrives. If that car also wishes to follow the non-default route the switch is already in the correct position; only if the car is taking the default route will it switch back. This makes sense, particularly in places like the exit from St. Clair West, as two EB cars (the NA route) might well follow each other – and even more-so at the entrances to that station as the ‘default’ route is straight through, and the operator has to take the ‘Necessary Action’ to actually enter the station. Since virtually every car takes that route, an automatic reset to ‘default’ would create wear and tear on the switch for no purpose.

    Steve: Your description is incorrect. An “NA” switch, in the absence of an “action” by the operator, will reset to its standard position (the straight through route at normal intersections). Multiple cars making the turn must all request that the switch stay open. This is done from the dashboard on all vehicles from the PCCs onward, and with a foot treadle on the Peter Witts because they required two hands to operate.

    There used to be switches that reset all the time and would always have to be opened manually known as “SR” (self restoring) switches. They were cheaper to install that a full “NA” mechanism. Now all electric switches are “NA”, although there are many locations where there are empty cases for switch machines that have never been installed.

    In the case of a car taking a secondary route at a manual switch, the operator is required to reset it unless the following car is close enough to see that he has turned. In such a case, it is up to the following operator to switch it back.

    I have noticed that at the Lansdowne Loop, the switch on Lansdowne is never reset by the departing car. Obviously this is because there is no standard route: a short-turned 505 will be turning left onto College, while a 506 will be turning right.

    Since the revenue service out of McCaul is all eastbound, I too can’t see any reason for this to be reset.

    Steve: For the coming reconstruction of Queen and York, 501 Queen service will divert via Victoria, Dundas and McCaul. In this case, all service southbound at Queen will turn west as the eastbound track will be closed.

  15. L. Wall says:

    It’s not clear now whether the car-free trial is being proposed for prior to the Pan-Am games or during the games.

    If it is in fact during, then it’s idiotic. The city will be swarming with thousands of additional people driving and taking transit, unfamiliar with the streets and the transit routes. Out-of-town drivers will be clogging other streets, slowing to find their way, making illegal turns, and generally messing up traffic in the area. Local car advocates will be quick to blame the King St. ban and condemn the experiment as a failure.

    Those people need to get over it quite frankly. If the city needs to shut down the street to private autos during the event then they should do it. Toronto wouldn’t be the first city to do something like that for a major event and Toronto wouldn’t be the last.

    Steve: Except for one thing: This is only for the AM peak, a period when Games-related traffic will be quite low. There will be much more significant street closures for various purposes, but improving transit won’t be among them.

  16. William Paul says:

    Steve:

    A big change has been the continuous occupation of the curb lanes by stopped and parked vehicles that reduce road capacity, …

    Am I missing something here? How does this parking, whatever issue relate to the number of streetcars out on the route?

    Steve: By reducing overall road capacity, the street is more congested with autos competing for the one remaining lane with streetcars. This reduces the ability to operate closer headways.

    If they had the $$, and the will, why couldn’t the TTC add 20 more cars to the KING service right now? They could be all jammed up but the reason for less cars is not really congestion is it? Isn’t it the same old, replace PCC’s and cut the number of vehicles and lengthen the headways coupled with the odd 90′s & 00′s recession(or close to it) and we end up with 1/2 as many vehicles on route.

    Steve: If the city had the will, they could ban parking (including cab stands) on King right now too at no cost. Traffic would flow more smoothly, and the existing streetcars would make better time providing more reliable service with the same fleet. It’s that “efficiency” thing we hear so much about, except when implementing it pisses off the motorists.

  17. DavidAH_Ca says:

    I stated:

    If that car also wishes to follow the non-default route the switch is already in the correct position; only if the car is taking the default route will it switch back.

    Steve replied:

    Your description is incorrect. An “NA” switch, in the absence of an “action” by the operator, will reset to its standard position (the straight through route at normal intersections). Multiple cars making the turn must all request that the switch stay open.

    Actually, my statement was poorly worded, rather than incorrect. What I intended with my statement was : The switches do not change back to the default position once a turning car has passed, but wait until the next car arrives. If that car also wishes to follow the non-default route (as indicated by the operator pressing the NA button) the switch is already in the correct position; only if the car is taking the default route (as shown by a lack of operator action) will it move back to the default route.

    Steve: As an historic note, only a small number of switches in the system ever had a feature to close behind cars. These were at the entrance to Ronces Yard (south side). This allowed cars to proceed west along The Queensway without stopping to reset switches, a benefit lost when the TTC instituted its “stop and proceed” order for all switches.

  18. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:

    Steve:

    The difference is that King carries more riders in its central section than Queen, on much closer headways, and this will only become more pronounced as new condos in Liberty Village and the Don Lands fill up.

    I personally think that a few judicious changes by the TTC, coordinated planning for construction by the city (including sidewalk/street/parking space occupation fees) plus lots of enforcement by the police will be enough to resolve the current ‘congestion’ issues on King without needing to close the street.

    I am not sure about what the situation is going to be like with the full build out of the Liberty Village, Canary District and West Don Lands … but I can definitely say that running a branch of the King car down to Cherry without also having an East Bayfront / waterfront East ‘Lrt’ is really unwise.

    Either way the future of King is going to be interesting … by 2016 when the conversion to LFLRVs happens, this conversation will have gone many different ways, back and forth. Who knows if by then DRL construction will have just begun, as part of a rapid acceleration plan.

    Cheers, Moaz

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