King Street Redesign Project Goes to TTC/City for Approval

The proposal to redesign the central section of King Street with priority for transit and pedestrians moves into its approval phase with a report going to the TTC’s Board on June 15, and to the City’s Executive Committee on June 19, 2017. Details of the study behind this proposal are on the King Street Pilot page of the City of Toronto’s website.

For those who have been following this project closely, there is little new in the report which consolidates material that has been evolving through a series of public meetings and consultations with affected groups along the route.

In brief, King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets would be modified as below:

  • No through traffic would be permitted, only local access, and vehicles would be forced to turn off of King Street rather than continuing in a straight line across the core area.
  • Transit stops would be shifted to farside locations so that pedestrian activity from riders boarding and alighting would be separated from right turning traffic movements.
  • No parking would be permitted, but specific locations would be designated as loading zones for short-term use and for taxi stands.
  • In some areas, pedestrian space would extend into the curb lane, and would be protected with measures such as planters to prevent vehicle access.

A generic view of this arrangement is shown below.

Each block would have four basic types of use in the curb lanes:

  • Farside transit stop (red/orange in the diagram)
  • Pedestrian realm improvement (green)
  • Loading zone (blue)
  • Right turn lane (gray)

The details will vary from block to block. For example, not all blocks have transit stops. Both the length of blocks and the nature of uses along the blocks will affect how much room is available/required for each type in each location. Transit stops and turn lanes are clearly “hard” requirements that must be met, and whatever remains would be divided for other types of treatment. Fine details of this plan are not included in the report, but will be worked out in detailed design over the summer with a target for implementation in fall 2017 after TIFF and its street occupancy is over. (Some aspects may not be implemented until Spring 2018 as they would be seasonal in nature.)

The enforced turning pattern is summarized in the diagram below.

The City expects that once motorists adjust to the new arrangement, the amount of traffic attempting to use King will drop and that these drivers will shift to parallel approach routes. Without this shift, the backlog of traffic awaiting turns off of King westbound at Jarvis and eastbound at Bathurst will present a substantial barrier to transit. This shift is easier for motorists to achieve east of downtown where parallel westbound routes are available via Front/Wellington, Richmond and Queen. To the west, options are much more limited because neither Front nor Adelaide runs west of Bathurst. This could affect congestion on Queen which is already a difficult corridor.

Shifting traffic onto Richmond/Adelaide also begs the important question of redesign of those streets and the degree to which their designated lanes are already abused. These are cycling streets, and part of the grudging acceptance of the absence of bike lanes on King by some in the cycling community was the availability of parallel routes. If these are not both enforced and physically protected so that they remain available, conflicts between cyclist and cars will inevitably rise. Moreover, if these streets allow incursions by motorists into the cycling lanes, then the their true performance will not be measured because cars will have more capacity available in practice than in the design.

Improved transit performance and capacity are obvious goals of any “priority” scheme. This raises important issues about TTC service that will be familiar to readers of this site.

  • Speed alone does not provide more capacity for riders, it only moves them faster. Capacity is a combination of vehicle size and service frequency, and only by improving at least one of these will riders see a difference. If the TTC does not actually run more cars/hour and/or larger cars, then the capacity will not change. In this situation, the main benefit of the pilot will be to insulate transit from events that might disrupt service in the core area, and allow scheduled service to be better maintained. However, changes downtown will not have any effect on scheduled service in Parkdale and Liberty Village.
  • Service reliability is important to riders because it makes their wait time for a streetcar predictable and distributes demand evenly among vehicles. The report states that congestion downtown “leads to unreliable streetcar headways along with bunching and gapping of streetcars”. This is true up to a point, but bunching and gapping are issues along the entire route including the spacing of vehicles leaving terminals. Indeed, the TTC’s own Service Standards accept a variation of ±50% from the scheduled headway so that cars intended to arrive every 4 minutes can actually show up on a pattern of 6-2-6-2-6 and be considered “on time”. The acceptance of bunching is baked in to the standards.

The TTC plans to increase service on King, subject to vehicle availability, but how this will be allocated remains to be seen. An important consideration for any scheduled short turn service, such as the 514 Cherry overlay on 504 King, is that of proper spacing. Adding a short turn car onto a route that comes out immediately behind a through car creates a “bunch” right at the origin and does little to add to service capacity or convenience. During peak periods when scheduled service is frequent, this does not matter much except when there has been a disruption and service spacing needs active intervention, not a laissez-faire attitude. (Irregular spacing is a chronic problem on all TTC routes where there are “blended” services that work on paper, but not in practice.)

They also plan increased supervision, but this runs headlong into “TTC culture” and scheduling practices. In an attempt to reduce short turns, streetcar (and some bus) schedules have been adjusted in recent years to have more running time. The premise is that the schedule should match real-world conditions. The problem lies in the amount of extra time which tends to suit less-than-ideal circumstances, but which causes streetcars to have more time than they require under “typical” conditions. This leads to slow operation along the routes, and backlogs of vehicles at terminals. (A recently retired operator of long acquaintance quipped that he was leaving “because he could not drive that slowly”.)

In an attempt to fix one problem, the TTC created another. Indeed, if the pilot is successful in reducing travel times through the core, streetcar operators may have even more excess time and may be forced to dawdle even more simply to avoid running early. The fundamental issue here is whether there is a way to move major routes like King to headway-based management rather than schedule-based. This brings problems of crewing because vehicles would not be in “scheduled” locations. On the subway, the TTC deals with this by making crew changes between trains along the route to put operators back on time even though the trains are in the “wrong” place. This practice is much trickier for on street routes, and it is simpler to short turn both the vehicle and the operator.

Although the TTC plans to provide more supervision of King Street service, this could be counter-productive if “staying on time” includes slowing vehicles down to match the existing schedules. To add to this problem, the lead time for a schedule change is close to three months, not the sort of nimble response one would want in response to changing conditions with the pilot.

Because this is a pilot project, an important issue will be that as problems arise they are identified and fixed (or at least an alternate strategy tried) quickly. To that end, the report proposes that the process for changing the traffic rules on King and many adjacent streets be delegated to the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. Normally, any traffic regulation change goes through a process of staff reporting to the local Community Council (in this case the one for Toronto & East York) and because these are transit streets, the report must then be approved by Council. For the pilot, a quicker process giving the GM the ability to make changes “on the fly” will be in place until December 2018.

The full list of proposed changes to regulations on turns and parking is included in an appendix to the report.

The City and TTC plan to monitor the project to see just what happens both with the quality of transit service and with the effects on traffic flows in the study area. One important aspect of any review will be to look not just at “ordinary” days, but at the effect of special events such as nearby road closures (e.g. events at City Hall and other central locations, parades and construction). Also of interest will be the behaviour of traffic in the entertainment district between Simcoe and Bathurst, especially west of Spadina which is very congested on weekend evenings. A plan that works on Mondays will behave very differently on Fridays and Saturdays.

This pilot is a big change from the more timid approach to traffic management we usually see in Toronto. There is only so much to be achieved by tweaking traffic signal timings and adjusting regulated hours for parking and left turns. At some point, the more fundamental discussion – who is the road space for – must come forward.

[Full disclosure: I have worked on aspects of this project both on a paid and a pro bono basis providing analyses of TTC vehicle movements.]

19 thoughts on “King Street Redesign Project Goes to TTC/City for Approval

  1. Tram routes are generally the best places to put cycling tracks. The grade is gentle and relatively flat. Most do not like to ride hills. The Martin Goodman Trail is too far south as an east west route for cyclist. Using tram routes like Queen and King are much better as the stores are there. It is easier to pick up a loaf of bread when retail is right there as oppose to recreational trails.

    King Street should be made a car free zone along with Queen. By taking away the driving lanes, one can expand the sidewalk almost up to the tram tracks. Leave a meter or so on each side for cycling lanes and the street life improves. Some areas are meant to be walked. No one will ever offer a driving tour of downtown Toronto. Driving tours on the Cabot Trail is nice, but not inside cities. Toronto should be explored by a combination of foot, bicycle and transit.


  2. I believe the most important statement in this report is

    “The fundamental issue here is whether there is a way to move major routes like King to headway-based management rather than schedule-based.”

    Why not have an automated count down clock that accounts for all the variable factors like cars in line to leave and the incoming gap to space the cars leaving the end of the line?

    Steve: The same would be possible through a dashboard display, but all that operators have now is an indication of where they are relative to schedule, not to other vehicles.

    BTW, that quote is from my own text, not from the TTC’s report.


  3. Steve, for those not as intimately familiar with the route, could you provide the rationale for exempting some cross-streets from requiring right turns by private vehicles (John, Simcoe, York).

    Steve: Those are short blocks. For the purpose of defining the “right in, right in” blocks, longer stretches are needed. University to Simcoe, for example, is quite short, and of course both Simcoe and York one way streets to which a “right out” would be impossible without changing the operation of the street.

    #2: The curb lane ‘usage’, as demarcated in the diagram, is not the width of the curb lane. Is the remainder intended for dedicated cycling lanes, or is there an intention to at least allow cyclists to be further from other vehicles?

    Steve: Cycling is a “shared use” here, in that cyclists are permitted, but not encouraged by the provision of dedicated space. There simply is not enough room.


  4. Forgot one more question: For curb lanes that have a TTC stop, is there a barrier to vehicles at the ‘start’ of the stop area, to prevent private vehicles from entering the curb lane?

    Steve: The intent is to put something like a planter ahead of the stop to form a barrier, although initially this might be a bit more primitive like bollards.


  5. Bare minimum for the suburban single-occupant motorists.

    Steve: Yes. There were earlier designs that were more draconian, but they wouldn’t fly politically. A particular favourite of mine was the idea of a transit/pedestrian mall in the blocks from Yonge to Victoria and From University to York. This would have place the high volume subway transfers in a space with no vehicles other than streetcars, and formed a barrier to through movements. The idea was dropped in the final version of the plan, although I hope it might be resurrected some day.


  6. Benny C says “Tram routes are generally the best places to put cycling tracks.”

    I STRONGLY disagree: I avoid cycling on streets with tracks if I can as they are VERY dangerous for cyclists – streetcar routes may avoid major hills but the risk of getting a wheel caught in the track greatly out-weighs that advantage.


  7. DavidC, I agree that tram tracks are not the safest, but they will be around. In Portland, there are lines on the street, so that cyclists intersect tram tracks at a 90 degrees angle. For the most part, trams are predictable (they do not turn right or cut you off). Riding on Queen, my biggest fear is not trams, but people opening their car door and cabbies dashing to their next fare. Turning left at an intersection like King and Spadina on a bike is scary. I usually just push and walk my bike across the crossing. There are also tires that can help mitigate this somewhat. I saw some people use the Schwalbe Big Apple. Those tires are wide enough not to get caught inside the track.

    King Street connects the Distillery District, East Harbor, St Lawrence Market District, Entertainment District and Liberty Village. It is to everyone’s interest that the trams do not get stuck in traffic. There are some trips where the TTC is not convenient, so this is why there must be room for cyclists and pedestrians. For the trips where the TTC is ideal, we need to make sure that the travel and wait times are predictable.

    If the King tram is built today, it would be in a tunnel from Parliament to Dufferin in the same manner as Line 5. We have to be careful about the transit experience. If the trams are consistently late and over capacity, people will take other transportation. There is a reason why Uber Pool exists. If enough people use Uber in downtown Toronto, there will be traffic chaos.

    Steve: Intersecting tram tracks at a 90 degree angle is fine for crossings, but the issue on streetcar lines is that cyclists riding in the same direction of travel as the tracks can get forced onto the streetcar lane by events/vehicles in the curb lane.

    As for a King Street subway, we’re not building one, and most certainly not the DRL which is going along Queen. If there were a subway, its stations would be much further apart than the streetcar stops. Enjoy your walk.


  8. It’s nice to have other people than myself chiming in about bikes and safer travels. I am very glad that DavidC has observed the tracks being “VERY dangerous” for cyclists – and this goes beyond just how the tracks dictate lane positions thus preventing re-stripings for bike safety. Raising the dangers to cyclists from the civic/TTC infrastructure is not appreciated – I’ve been ruled out of order twice in c. 15 years for bringing up this topic, and the TTC kinda likes to have the competition kept dangerous because the system/city makes money from the core to help subsidize the suburbs. If we had a good, smooth, faster, safer route east-west to our core destinations in the west end beyond Bathurst St., I’m sure it’d be good congestion relief for less money than some other options.

    The true ‘fix’ I think lies with having a new corridor in place. Like Front St., and instead of a milk run, have minimal stops, except for in Liberty Village, which is under-served. If we’d done a new transitway instead of trying for a road extension over a decade ago, that would have been wise, and the outline of the west end DRL in 1985 shows the rough route. There is strong need for King, Queen, Lakeshore, Gardiner, and GO relief with a new corridor, that to be innovative and compromising from the get-go, why not make it a reversible RoW like Jarvis? The surge in demand is far more diurnal in nature, and return vehicles are pretty easily accommodated on either King or Queen, or both. We prefer to build roads in the core, and subways in the suburbs however, not always the fault of the suburban dominated-Council/Clowncil.

    The 1993 WWLRT EA analyzed King St. with some other transit options and King didn’t do too well in comparison with other more robust things. In some ways, it’s progress, in some ways it’s a feeble band-aid, with potentially harsh consequences for the areas it will go through.


  9. (This letter about closures of 504 King for TIFF and other events was also sent as a comment to Executive Committee and the Toronto Transit Commission Board.)

    Recently, the City of Toronto has announced plans to restrict car traffic on King Street between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street in order to reduce delays to the 504 King and 514 Cherry streetcar routes. The 504 King streetcar is the busiest surface route in Toronto and carries 64,579 passengers per day on average, and is the 3rd busiest TTC route after subway lines 1 and 2. I support this pilot project and I am encouraged by this effort to improve speed and reliability of the 504 King streetcar. I believe that the long-term solution is to replace the 504 King streetcar with the Downtown Relief Line subway line. However, in the short term, restrictions on car traffic on King Street are necessary to ensure that the King streetcar is reliable.

    Although I support this pilot project, I am seriously concerned that this effort will be defeated by road closures due to events. The City of Toronto is once again planning to shut down King Street and the 304/504 King and 514 Cherry streetcars between Peter Street and University Avenue for the Toronto International Film Festival between Thursday, September 7, 2017 and Sunday, September 10, 2017. Two of these days will be on weekdays and will affect rush hour commutes and two of these days will be on weekends while subway Line 1 is planned to be closed between Sheppard West (Downsview) and Lawrence West. I strongly urge City Council to prohibit all closures of the 504 King streetcar for TIFF and move all TIFF events to David Pecaut Square or minor side streets. I also strongly recommend that all other closures of the 504 King streetcar due to marathons or other events be prohibited.

    In 2016, the closure of King Street for TIFF took place between September 8 and September 11, 2016 and there was a scheduled subway closure on Line 1 between Downsview and Wilson on September 10-11. This forced the TTC to split the 504 King into two routes and supplement the streetcars with shuttle buses and caused major delays on the portions of the streetcar route which were not closed. Also, the section of Queen Street west of Spadina Avenue was closed due to construction, forcing the 501 Queen streetcar to divert via Queen, Spadina, and King. Furthermore, the 506 Carlton streetcar was detoured for “Cabbagetown Festival” and Bloor Street West was closed for “Taste of the Kingsway” on September 10-11. The disruption to TTC streetcar riders caused by TIFF in 2016 was unacceptable and should not be repeated.

    Furthermore, I strongly urge City Council to take strict measures to limit the number of road closures for events on weekends. This will reduce disruption to TTC bus and streetcar service and GO bus service and reduce traffic congestion. I recommend that an annual quota be implemented for road closures in Toronto, and that events that cause the most severe disruption, such as marathons, be prohibited. Most road closures for events should take place either along Yonge Street, Bloor Street or Danforth Avenue along the subway route where detours of bus routes are not required, or on minor side streets which are not used by bus or streetcar routes. Most road closures due to events should be prohibited at the same time as subway construction closures on Lines 1 and 2 and should be prohibited on weekdays. Closures of major TTC bus and streetcar routes, or roads with very high volumes of traffic such as Gardiner Expressway, Don Valley Parkway, Allen Road and Lake Shore Boulevard should be prohibited. Designated locations for road closures should be implemented in locations such as Downsview Park, Exhibition Place, High Park, Leslie Street Spit, Toronto Islands and off-road trails where events are permitted.

    I support the pilot project to restrict car traffic on King Street between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street. However, improvements to the 504 King streetcar will not be beneficial without restricting closures of busy TTC streetcar and bus routes and roads due to events. I strongly recommend that any planned closures of the 504 King streetcar due to TIFF be cancelled immediately, and that measures to restrict other road closures be implemented as soon as possible.


  10. Steve said: Those are short blocks.

    John to Peter and John to University are not as short as some of the other blocks, so length alone does not explain the through traffic at John. Could there be another reason?

    Other: A short transit mall at University and Yonge would have been interesting, but I’d rather have this rather than nothing. It’s a much, much easier sell.


  11. If the city is going to keep closing down sections of King and Queen Streets for different activities then it behooves the city to put in by-pass tracks from Spadina to King. Richmond westbound and Adelaide eastbound might work. It would keep from overloading King or Queen with traffic from the other street.

    Steve: Alas, no, and the unused track on Adelaide is due for removal as part of a repaving job in a few years.


  12. > Speed alone does not provide more capacity for riders, it only moves them faster.

    Same number of vehicles on the same loop moving faster == more capacity. Because they can do more cycles in a day.

    Steve: I said “speed alone”. If the TTC continues to schedule the route at the same headway leaving the terminal, then getting across downtown faster only gets them to the other terminal sooner, with no capacity increase. Only if enough streetcars are freed up by faster travel time and these are “reinvested” in shorter headways would there be an improvement. TTC history is to use such improvements as a chance to cut number of cars and operating costs, not to improve service, especially when they are chronically short of vehicles.


  13. Hi Steve – I’m wondering if there’s been any discussion on stoplight timing at each intersection? In my view, it would make sense to have each intersection’s stoplight stay red (on King St.) until a streetcar approaches. This would maximize through traffic on streets perpendicular to King, and may also discourage vehicles from staying on King when they’re supposed to make a right turn onto intersecting roads.

    Steve: I have not heard anything from the study about details of signal timing, but they are certainly aware that these must change. Remember, btw, that pedestrians still need to cross east-west even when there is no streetcar there to trigger a “streetcar” phase east-west.


  14. You cannot limit all cars, people live in condos in that stretch of king st and obviously need to drive out if they are going out of town/commuting to work outside of Toronto (it happens). However limiting non–local traffic should greatly improve things. I have also noticed a lot of the traffic in this area is caused by Taxi cabs making U-turns, Taxis/cars stopping suddenly and blocking a lane, a cyclist too far into the lane causing a backup (just give them a bike lane!) and people trying to turn left or right and again, blocking a lane.


  15. Is it fair to say that the expansion of farside stops along King will improve the efficacy of transit signal priority by ensuring that the extended green is not consumed by boarding and alighting?

    Steve: Yes, but only to the extent that the extended green is actually available at each intersection. Most on this part of King do not have it.


  16. In reply to Steve: Yes, but only to the extent that the extended green is actually available at each intersection. Most on this part of King do not have it.

    My understanding is that only Spadina, University Avenue, Bay and Yonge Streets lack TSP on a permanent basis (i.e. a sizeable portion of the pilot area). Is this correct? It would seem that the pilot would offer an excellent opportunity to try implementing TSP where it is presently disabled. Streetcars will be the only traffic transiting through the intersection in most cases (as opposed to turning). This should reduce the time needed for the green phase for vehicles on King, which would help offset the impacts of TSP. The more predictable dwell times and headways enabled by the pilot should also help reduce the impact of TSP on the thoroughfares crossing King. The TTC has previously stated they may consider this. Have you heard any discussion of this as part of the pilot?

    Steve: I have never seen any behaviour of signals at Church or York suggesting that they have TSP. There has been talk of changes to signal timings for the pilot, but I am not sure about additional functionality as this in part depends on the installed hardware/software (signal controllers and detection systems) at each location.


  17. Steve: I have never seen any behaviour of signals at Church or York suggesting that they have TSP.

    As a daily rider, I confirm there is no such behaviour between Parliament and Spadina at all. This frustratingly including streets like George, where there is no stop and eastbound cars always seem to get stopped at the red light, and at York, where there was a stop, but it was removed because… well I can’t actually figure out a reason why it was removed.

    Steve: There is green time extension for streetcars at Jarvis, Simcoe and John, and I have personally seen this on many occasions, and possibly at Sherbourne.

    Places where no TSP appears to be active, aside from all major intersections, include Berkeley (very annoying because it so often catches cars that have just left Parliament westbound), George and York. I’m not sure about Peter, but doubt that it’s working there either.

    The short blocks are very frustrating because detection of an approaching car is close enough to the signal that there isn’t much lead time to “catch” a possible green extension. There appears to be no co-ordination with nearby signals where the signals should “know” a streetcar is present. We keep hearing about “smart” signals coming to downtown, and this is an example of the need for “look ahead” capabilities stretching beyond one block.


  18. I have to agree with Jonathan: on my trips on King, I have not seen transit priority signals west of Yonge, other than at Bathurst. Never seen TP at Simcoe, or John, or Peter/BJ Way.

    Also, by “Beverly” I you must mean “Berkeley”.

    Steve: Yes, Berkeley. Thanks for catching that. I have fixed the reference.

    Simcoe and John both have green extension capabilities that the streetcars control. They are most in evidence when I am on the “wrong” side of the street to catch a car at John, and it speeds off thanks to the light not turning red against it. Simcoe works the same way, but no longer has a stop.


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