King Transit Priority Travel Times Update: 2016 to 2022

The priority transit lanes and other traffic measures have been in place on King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets since the fall of 2017, five years ago. This article updates past charts and observations with data to October 2022.

There are three quite separate areas on these charts:

  • 2016 to fall 2017: This is the pre-priority era in which travel times were longer and, during parts of the day, quite unpredictable.
  • Fall 2017 to March 2020: This is the era of transit priority pre-pandemic. There is a marked reduction in both the length and variation in average travel times during most periods.
  • March 2020 to October 2022: This is the pandemic era. A further drop in travel times occurred almost immediately as this period began, and values have only begun to climb upward in recent months.

A troubling question, difficult to answer this early in the “recovery” period, is how far up both average trip times and the variation in these values will climb. Motorist have had free rein on King Street for two and a half years, and the “priority” scheme is a shadow of its former self.

The situation will be further complicated when Queen Street closes for Ontario Line construction and traffic diverts onto Richmond and Adelaide with, no doubt, some spillover to King. There is no sense that robust priority measures will be in place for transit, but instead that the focus will be on moving traffic generally through downtown. Transit will benefit, to the extent it might, from the “rising tides lift all boats” philosophy that sees any benefit to auto traffic as having a spin-off value to transit. That is a false but commonly used analogy.

In the charts below, there two galleries, one with westbound and one with eastbound data. This allows a reader to open the gallery and step back and forth through different hours of the day to see how the data change.

All of the charts have the same layout.

  • The x-axis gives the date over the past five years.
  • The y-axis is time in minutes with the bottom of the axis at 10 and the top at 40. This gives more “breathing room” for the variations as there are “zero” values in the chart only where there are no data due to a diversion or missing data in the TTC feed. The upper value of 40 clips some of the very high peaks, but these are rare.
  • There are two lines showing the 50th percentile (mean, blue) and 85th percentile (yellow) for the travel times.
  • There are various vertical bars marking significant events including the start of the King Street pilot (green), the onset of Covid (brown) and the annual film festival (red, omitted for 2020 and 2021).

Westbound

An important point about these data, one which has been studiously missed by critics of the scheme from very early days, is that the benefits vary by time of day and direction. As the “before” data show clearly, travel times were lower, and less erratic in the AM peak than at other times of the day. This meant that there was less headroom to achieve better transit service during this period, but a common complaint was “look, you failed to reduce travel times” during a period when this was unlikely to happen.

The situation is very different in the afternoon peak and in the evening where the difference in transit conditions is quite clear.

Another important factor that comes into play is that if the street operates at less than saturated conditions under “normal” load, there is more headroom to handle surge demand from special events. It is this spare capacity that smooths out the “spiky” nature of pre-priority data.

The recovery period starting in about August shows a rise in travel times and an increase in their variation. In some periods, notably from 4pm onward into the evening, values are back to or even slightly above pre-covid levels. This shows the degree to which the actual “priority” on King Street has deteriorated as travel times edge up toward pre-pilot levels.

Eastbound

The eastbound data do not behave exactly like westbound for several reasons.

Both peak periods show the effect of reduced passenger load which would cut down stop service times. There would also be some benefit from reduced competition from other traffic.

Midday data show the same general form in both directions, an unsurprising situation given that demand and traffic conditions are roughly the same both ways.

The evening service eastbound has always been “better behaved” than westbound because the primary generators of traffic delay, the theatre district and the club district, primarily attract westbound traffic. Club district traffic varies considerably by the day of the week causing travel times to spike up and down. These charts include only weekday data and so these spikes occur primarily on Fridays.

Full Chart Sets

For those wishing a set of the above charts, they are available as PDFs linked below.

Methodology Notes and Caveats

These charts were produced from TTC vehicle tracking data with software developed by the author.

For the purpose of measurement, travel times are measured between two screenlines, one at the middle of Jarvis Street, and one at the middle of Bathurst Street. Cars which do not make a full trip between the two screenlines are not included.

There is a caveat about data from fall 2022 due to track work on King west of Bathurst. This caused the route of 504 King to be changed officially to run to Exhibition Loop via Bathurst, but in practice many cars short turned at Spadina. This had two effects:

  • Times westbound at Spadina for through cars could be affected by delays from 504 short turn cars making the turn onto Spadina.
  • Times both ways at Bathurst could be affected by delays in making the turn and from Bathurst rather than proceeding straight through the intersection.

When through service at least to Dufferin and King resumes in early December, we will see whether there is a drop in travel times because delays at Bathurst will no longer exist.

9 thoughts on “King Transit Priority Travel Times Update: 2016 to 2022

  1. Priority should be given to all streetcars and buses. However, Toronto’s Transportation Department continues to put the single-occupant automobile ahead of public transit, cyclists, and pedestrians.

    For the Queen Street streetcar diversions, they should put “temporary” right-of-ways for the streetcar tracks that they will have to use. Also ban right turns on red throughout the city. Maybe consider using a “congestion fee” for using the downtown streets for non-delivery motor vehicles.

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  2. King Street Transit Priority initiative is pretty weak. It hasn’t failed, it’s been murdered by drivers who have learned they can ignore the rules with no penalty. I live downtown and used to sometimes take the King car before KSTP and it was really unpredictable and unpleasant. Then KSTP transformed things. Travel was a bit faster but the real advantage was that it was much more predictable and less “lumpy” in how streetcars arrived. But about 4 years ago, I stopped commuting and work from home.

    I like much of wklis has suggested. True transit priority is a no-brainer, but even if they don’t program that on King Street, why doesn’t the city just station a few cops down there to write tickets for all the motorists who violate the one-block-and-turn-right rule? You think they’d be happy to do so. They could make their monthly quota in just a day.

    Congestion fees to drive in downtown as well as tolls on the city-funded DVP and Gardiner Expressway also make sense. But I suspect we won’t see those because, however cash-strapped Toronto will be because of his policies, John Tory things he’s mayor of the 905. And I’m sure his paymasters at Rogers wouldn’t like him inconveniencing suburbanites driving in for a game of some kind.

    Steve: Tory already asked about tolling the expressways and Doug Ford banned the idea.

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  3. To “SingaporeBill”, we must not forget that Doug Ford really wanted to be “Mayor of Toronto”, so anything that involves Toronto must go through him. Since Doug Ford is also an automobile disciple, anything that dares to upset his automobile gods, he will interfere with.

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  4. Though I certainly agree that there are more vehicles on King than there should be, there really are FAR FAR less than there used to be before the KSP project. When the street (and tracks) are rebuilt (in 2024??) it will be important to design the street to discourage through traffic. If Ontario allowed special transit signaling the streetcars could get the OK to move straight ahead while the regular signals would always be red for straight-through and a green arrow to turn right (only).

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  5. ” ….If Ontario allowed special transit signaling the streetcars could get the OK to move ….”

    There are already such signals on some lines. They are small and situated at close right hand position next to track.

    Steve: These are only at intersections and only activate when a request is made through an electric switch controller. There are *not* transit specific signals at intersections without electric switches (and when those switches are deactivated, so is the TSP). At some locations the detection point for a left turn switch is beyond the stop bar and a car waiting at an intersection cannot call its own transit phase. That is why, for examplee, there is no transit signal westbound on Queen at Spadina or eastbound on King even though these left turns are commonly used for diversions.

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  6. My impression is that the time for the eastbound 503 is much faster for destinations from downtown to destinations past Parliament on Queen as far east as Kingston Road and Queen because King Street avoids jams.

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  7. “Steve: Tory already asked about tolling the expressways and Doug Ford banned the idea.”

    I stand corrected. I remember Wynne putting the kibosh on it but didn’t know Tory had recently been talking about it. I didn’t pay much attention to his campaigning, given that he’s a Rosedale Rob Ford, dim-witted and venal and no urbanist. Having checked, I see Doug the Thug shot the idea down recently too.

    I wonder if I’m too cynical. I can’t help thinking that Wynne gave the city the power as an excuse to not provide additional funding, but had to backpedal when Tory threatened to actually do it, which she hadn’t expected. And I can’t help but think that’s what Tory expected/wanted to happen; I can’t imagine the Mayor of 905 would actually do anything against cars. This time, with Ford nixing the idea, we don’t even get anything, unlike getting a share of gas tax from Wynne.

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  8. There was a tweet that showed “faster” streetcar service on Spadina when the traffic signals were flashing red (4-way stops). Maybe for “faster” streetcar service we should get rid of the traffic signals and replace with 4-way stops?

    That is what REAL transit priority should do.

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  9. > If Ontario allowed special transit signaling the streetcars could get the OK to move straight ahead while the regular signals would always be red for straight-through and a green arrow to turn right (only).

    Kitchener-Waterloo LRT has transit-only signals (white bars). You can see them pretty well in Google’s Street View. Is there a distinction because their LRT is in its own right-of-way except where crossing roads? And could we not do the same by leading cars off the tracks before intersections on King – as done on westbound Queensway just west of Roncesvalles, or westbound St. Clair just east of Yonge?

    I suppose the signage/signalling for the taxi and bicycle exemption would be another problem. I like riding my bike on King now that it’s quieter, but would be willing to switch to Adelaide (hopefully soon to be improved) and Richmond if that meant better reliability for transit on King. I don’t know if I should expect that taxi drivers would be willing, though.

    Steve: “Leading” cars off the tracks is feasible at locations with more than two lanes. Where there is a streetcar lane plus a curb lane shared between bikes, CafeTO patios, and transit stops, this is more challenging. There is a major difference between KW and some of the locations in Toronto, especially on Spadina, in that cross streets are busy, and transit service is very frequent. Taking time out of the cycle for an occasional LRV is less intrusive than having an LRV one way or the other every two minutes when the signal cycle is 80-90 seconds. Also some of KW’s trackage is single track on adjacent streets thereby further reducing the frequency of crossings at each location.

    One thing we (the planners and community folk) who worked on the King Street project learned is that each intersection, each block, must be individually designed depending on what’s there and how traffic is expected to behave. That said, a more pro-transit stance would have helped notably with retention of three planned pedestrian mall blocks that would have prevented all through traffic except transit and emergency vehicles. There is also the tiny problem of enforcement, but, hey that’s an operating cost the City doesn’t want to bear.

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