The King Street Pilot transit priority scheme was approved, with amendments, by Council on July 6, 2017. Changes to the street will begin to appear in early fall (once the shutdown for the film festival is out of the way), and they will last, with changes likely along the way, for at least a year with an evaluation report back to Council after the 2018 election.
This article is not intended to revisit the design (see King Street Redesign Goes to TTC/City for Approval), but as a commentary on the debate at Council.
Among the more bizarre positions taken by some Councillors was the concept that public consultation for this change should have explicitly reached out to suburban residents. In response to a question from Cllr Karygiannis, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat advised that about half of the responses to the study came from the core and half from surrounding areas. This is a bit of a fudge because, of course, a good deal of the catchment area of the King car is not in the core, per se, but is still in the old City of Toronto, not Karygiannis’ home turf of northern Scarborough. Although we know that a majority of Scarborough residents either commute downtown by transit, or do not work in the core, the restriction of auto traffic on King was portrayed as a burden deserving of consultation in northern Scarborough.
Much later in the meeting, Cllr Layton joked that he would hold a meeting in his ward to consult on the McNicoll bus garage project (which is in Karygiannis’ territory).
Cllr Holyday, from Etobicoke, spoke about the mix of trips now taken on King Street noting that 60% of road users are from outside of downtown. Again the issue of just what “outside downtown” means here was never clarified. Keesmaat and others observed that many who live within the pilot area already walk, cycle or take transit, and so the proportion of auto trips by “outsiders” will automatically be high.
TTC CEO Andy Byford noted that the King corridor is at 124% of capacity today, although no additional service is planned for the route. Some improvement, he expects, will come from better service once the pilot is operating, and some from the introduction of larger vehicles (the new Flexitys) on King starting in December 2017.
Cllr Bailão asked about the times when problems occur on King, and about the safety of bar patrons who might be seeking taxis late at night. Keesmaat replied that there is activity throughout the day and evening, and that pedestrian volumes on King are higher than in other parts of the city. Bailão asked whether the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Barbara Gray, would support allowing taxis to drive through the pilot area at night. Gray replied that this is a “transit first” project and its main goal is to improve transit. Andy Byford argued that it was his job to advocate for TTC customers, and he prefers to maintain the “purity” of the trial as proposed with no exemptions.
Cllr Pasternak complained about the high cost of the pilot, $1.5 million, and about its funding from City and Federal monies. He asked whether this would more appropriately be paid for with charges against developments along the area, especially considering that these developments must provide a transportation study to review their effects. Keesmaat replied that these charges are mainly for improvements at each development site, and there was never an assumption or intent that these payments would cover large scale capital projects. She further observed that King Street is “regional” infrastructure serving the core, whereas the buildings on King in the pilot area do not generally contribute to the transportation problems. It is growth outside the area that add traffic both to the road and the transit network.
Cllr Mihevc asked whether the scope from Bathurst to Jarvis is “bold enough” and whether the pilot should be extended further. Gray replied that the City might look at other corridors, but the pilot area is a good place to start. The evaluation report will also include analysis of extending the changes east and west on King, and to other downtown routes. Not mentioned, but quite important, is the fact that the pilot area has multiple parallel routes to which auto traffic can shift, and this is not true of either the western part of King nor of other east-west streetcar routes.
Cllr Kelly asked whether planners have looked at the effect on parallel streets. Gray replied that, yes, this has been taken into account and detailed modelling of the network is underway. By year end, the City will have a “more robust” model of travel downtown. Kelly asked whether there will be measurements in place to determine if the pilot is untenable. Gray replied that staff will be looking at trend lines such as travel times on King and parallel routes, and that the TTC Board has asked that concrete metrics be in place before the pilot is launched. There is a draft “dashboard” for reporting the pilot’s status included in the report.
Cllr Grimes asked whether data from the pilot will feed into the Waterfront West LRT study. The implication here is that parts of a future WWLRT might include creation of new reserved streetcar lanes, and that the King Street experience might inform proposals elsewhere. Byford replied that, yes, this would be done. (In fact, the “Waterfront Reset” study now underway will actually report to Council in fall 2017 when the pilot has barely started, but King Street’s experience could affect later discussions.)
Cllr De Baeremaeker asked if there is constant frequency of streetcars throughout 24 hours, or if this varies through the day. Byford replied that service is more intense in the peak periods, but is “pretty intense” throughout the day. Taxis are 25-33% of traffic during the day rising to 38% in the evening. Jacqueline Darwood, TTC’s Head of Strategy and Service Planning, noted that the AM and PM peak periods extend beyond the usual 7-9 and 4-6 windows. Barbara Gray noted that the midday period from 10-4 is as busy as the AM peak, and that King is a consistently busy street.
Here are the service levels scheduled as of May 7, 2017 (click to enlarge):
These schedules correspond to the point where bus trippers were removed from King with the conversion of 501 Queen to all-bus operation for summer 2017. As I have mentioned in previous articles, TTC claims that buses “supplemented” streetcar service on King are false. The bus trippers replaced streetcars (at lower capacity) to compensate for the streetcar shortage. They did not provide additional service. This is a fiction oft repeated by TTC management.
Cllr Campbell asked about improvements the TTC might have seen on the three right-of-way routes now in operation. Byford replied with the following:
- Queens Quay: Implemented 1990; ridership up from 2.5k to 15k per day (Note that this was a replacement of infrequent Spadina bus service by a frequent streetcar.)
- Spadina: Implemented 1997; ridership up from 26k to 40k
- St. Clair: Implemented 2010; ridership up from 28k to 37k
Campbell and Byford agreed that St. Clair was probably the most appropriate comparator for the King Street pilot, although of course King will receive a less exclusive “priority” treatment, and over only a portion of the route.
An important point worth mentioning here is that 504 King and its sister route, 514 Cherry, are unusual because of the mix of neighbourhoods they serve. There are 65k riders per day on this corridor, but unlike some routes, they serve multiple employment and academic districts and enjoy strong counter-peak demand. This allows a high number of riders to be carried relative to the level of service. Combined with the entertainment district and the growing residential density, there are multiple sources of demand travelling over different parts of the route throughout the day.
A common observation is that would-be riders can walk faster than taking the streetcar. That statement does not necessarily mean that the streetcar moves at less than walking pace, but that the combined delays inherent in waiting for one to show up and to have space to board add substantially to trip times. (Overcrowded cars also take longer to serve stops, and irregular or inadequate service capacity can compound travel times growth.) If streetcars arrived regularly and with capacity for would-be riders, travel times would be reduced even if actual travel speeds did not change much. Moreover, riders would have greater certainty about when or if they would reach their destinations.
The goal of a transit priority scheme is not just to make streetcars move more swiftly, but to show up frequently and predictably, not in randomly spaced bunches, and with room for all who wish to board.
Mayor Tory proposed that the staff recommendations be amended:
1. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to implement a late-night exemption from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for licensed taxicabs from through-movement prohibitions in the King Street Transit Pilot area to aid in safely and effectively dissipating people from nightlife activity on King Street West.
2. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to, as part of the detailed design process, work in consultation with the taxi industry to identify and implement approximately double the number of existing taxi stand spaces throughout the length of the pilot project.
3. City Council request the appropriate City officials to complete a review of all side streets in the area bound by Niagara Street, Queen Street West in the East, Front Street West and The Esplanade (East of Yonge Street to Lower Sherbourne Street), and Sherbourne Street to consider appropriate locations for on-street paid parking in association with the implementation of the proposed King Street Transit Pilot between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street, and report to Toronto and East York Community Council with any proposed amendments.
4. City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to request the Chief of Police to work with the General Manager, Transportation Services on a strategy for education and enforcement of the King Street Transit Pilot.
Tory argued that this pilot will “move greatest number of people in best way possible”. With respect to concerns about capacity on parallel roads, he claimed that there are no plans for work on parallel streets in 2018. (Both Tory and other City staff appear unaware that the eastern part of the Wellington reconstruction between Yonge and Church has been delayed to 2018 thanks to work planned by Toronto Hydro in fall 2017.) Tory observed that the City has allowed massive development west of downtown and must address the problems this creates. It is “something a 21st century city must do”.
Cllr Karygiannis asked whether Tory felt the taxi industry had been consulted properly, and Tory replied that the City “didn’t do as good a job as we should have”. Karygiannis moved an amendment to Tory’s motion that the start time for taxi exemptions be changed from 10 to 9 pm “for people catching dinner or a show”. For the record, shows in the entertainment district start at 8 pm or earlier, and people generally dine before. There is a separate demand to the club district primarily on Thursday through Saturday, and this traffic picks up mid-evening. Tory did not accept this as a friendly amendment arguing that the best balance between competing interests is a 10 pm start time. (Karygiannis’ amendment lost.)
In the discussion of available cab stand space, nobody mentioned how many existing spaces are actually designated. They are:
- North side
- between Yonge and Bay: 7
- west of Bay: 8
- east of York: 6
- east of Peter (at the hotel): 4
- South side
Doubling the number of official cab stands may not make much difference relative to the space taxis now occupy, but it is likely that the total number of spaces will be spread over a wider area than they are today. This decision will also affect available space for other curb lane uses such as pedestrian and loading zones. Until the detailed design is available later this year, we will not know just how this arrangement will look, or what effect the pro-taxi decision will have on the original goals for street redesign.
Cllr Holyday argued for “the guy from central Etobicoke” that there should be more provisions for left turns and for routes through the network using both a map of downtown and a chart of the human heart to illustrate his case.
Holyday proposed that City Transportation be asked to study a means of aiding these turns, but his motion was voted down.
(a) City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to develop a plan for timed left turn prohibitions which will improve streetcar and general traffic flow along King Street within the study area, and report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. (Lost)
Holyday also argued for a traffic bypass around King using Front Street.
(b) If motion a by Councillor Holyday fails, that City Council define Front Street as the motorist bypass for the King Street Pilot Study area and City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services, to take steps to optimize Front Street and the Bathurst Street road linkage between King Street and Front Street to reduce motorist encumbrances including signal timing and design, turn prohibitions, pedestrian signals and parking regulations. (Lost)
The Councillor appeared to be unaware that Front Street narrows between York and Bay Streets in front of Union Station where it has already been redesigned primarily for pedestrian and taxi use. Moreover, Front can be badly congested whenever there is an event at the Rogers Centre. It is hardly an arterial bypass of the sort he seeks.
Cllr Pasternak observed that there is always a concern when parking spaces are lost that there will be a decline in parking revenue. This begs the obvious question of whether the need for such revenue should preempt improvements in the design and usage of road space. In any event, the Toronto Parking Authority has already reported on this issue, and will propose that a number of currently free spaces on adjacent streets be converted to paid parking.
Cllr Ford thanked staff for their detailed reports, but is not convinced of the merit of this pilot from the perspective of residents of northwest Etobicoke where his ward is located. He bemoaned the added congestion brought on by the demolition of the York Street off ramp from the Gardiner Expressway, but appeared unaware that this capacity will be replaced by a new Harbour Street off ramp that has not yet been built.
Cllr Perks, responding to Holyday’s illustrated lecture, gave a short talk on the relationship between parking and prosperity noting that cities which have much parking (and by implication a lot of auto-based commuting) tend to have lower prosperity.
Cllr Wong-Tam urged that Council be “bold and ambitious – this is King Street”. She felt that over the years, Council has asked planners to “be meek”, but that there is a new generation who are not meek. Wong-Tam wants Council to support this ambition, including for the next big project downtown on Yonge Street, not be “meek with modest adjustments”.
Cllr Layton talked about people waiting for the streetcar, and how the City has not done much to improve their lot by addressing the capacity issue and bunching. He also mention the Waterfront LRT as an example of the City not doing what it could, of not increasing capacity to keep pace with population growth.
TTC Chair Colle wants Toronto to be “bold”, and felt that with streetcars operating at 13 km/h, the city is playing catch-up to its citizens’ desire for better transit. In fact, the scheduled speed of the King car over its entire route, never mind just the core area, is less than 13 km/h during many operating periods. The challenge will be to maintain consistency of running times and service.
In a future article, I will review actual travel time experiences on 504 King and in particular the variation in their behaviour by time of day and season. A related issue is the the pilot covers only part of the route, and there are service management, capacity and congestion issues outside of the pilot area. The Bathurst-to-Jarvis trial will be useful not just to show what can be done in that segment, but what remains to be done (and not necessarily through lane reservations) elsewhere on the route.