Updated December 20, 2022: Detailed charts have been added for the segments between Jarvis and Yonge, and between Yonge and University. Click here to jump to the new part of the article.
This article continues a series looking at the travel times on King Street in the “transit priority” segment between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets with data to the end of November 2022.
With the resumption of commercial and social activities, the comparative calm on King has disappeared, and the street can be very busy in the Entertainment District especially in the evening. The laissez-faire approach to traffic management and enforcement on King did not matter much during the pandemic shutdowns, but the benefits of the priority area are slowly being lost.
This echoes other aspects of the transit system where as a City we seem to have forgotten how to run things well under “normal” conditions either because of permanent funding cuts, or because we have forgotten the effort needed to deal with heavier demand on our services and infrastructure.
The first set of charts in the article takes the long view starting in 2016 to show the evolution from before the transit priority zone was created, then the effect of that zone, the arrival of the pandemic and the return to pre-pandemic activity.
There are two distinct sections of King Street. East of University is the business district, and it is less affected, at least from a transit travel time point of view, because activity there is still below “normal”, pre-pandemic conditions. However, interference from north-south traffic backlogs at intersections is starting to have an effect, mainly in the PM peak. West of University is the Entertainment District and its high density residential neighbourhood where one might ask “what pandemic?” from the number of pedestrians and motorists on the streets.
Later in the article, I will review changes in travel times over short segments between Jarvis and Bathurst.
The situation on King with deterioration of the transit priority area’s benefit was the subject of a recent item by the CBC: What’s Happened to the King Street Transit Corridor?
The Long View: 2016 to 2022
These charts show the travel times each way for vehicles between Jarvis and Bathurst on weekdays at various times of the day:
- 8 to 9am: AM peak period. This is a period where the transit priority scheme had little effect because the street was not congested before the plan went into effect. This was mistakenly cited by some critics as an example of the plan’s failure without looking at data from later periods in the day.
- 1 to 2pm: Midday. This is a period where traffic has built up somewhat, but conditions can be affected by theatre district activity on matinee days, and by sporting events which add to the downtown traffic load.
- 4 to 7pm, in three hour increments: PM peak period. These charts show the evolution of travel times through the peak.
- 8 to 11pm, in three hour increments: Evening. Conditions during this period are affected by activity around the theatres and in the Entertainment District generally. In the period before the priority scheme, there are regular weekly spikes in travel times particularly after 10 pm corresponding almost entirely to Fridays with occasional interruptions for bad weather. (Note that the charts do not contain weekend data).
Another regular event that affects the King car is the Film Festival which either forces a diversion via Queen Street or presents both congestion and occasional blockages on King. This did not occur in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
In recent months, construction on Adelaide Street (water mains and new streetcar track) has spilled some eastbound traffic onto King Street. This work will cease for the winter and we will be able to gauge the effect of restoring Adelaide’s capacity when the January 2023 data are available.
As in all past articles, there are two lines on each chart:
- 50th percentile (blue): This shows the median value for travel times. Half of the trips were faster, and half were slower.
- 85th percentile (orange): This shows the close-to-peak values of travel times. About 1/7 (86th to 100th percentile) of trips took longer than this value, but this can represent a single trip because of the number of data points per hour in some periods.
In late 2022, there are several times where the values fall to zero. The reason for this is that during the King/Shaw reconstruction, many streetcars, sometimes all of them, turned back eastbound at Spadina even though at least some were to scheduled to operate to Bathurst Street. This meant that there are no Jarvis-Bathurst trips and no travel time measurements over the full span. Normal service was restored at King/Shaw in early December, and almost concurrently the loop via Charlotte Street at Spadina became unavailable due to construction. The effect of these changes should be visible once the December 2022 data are available.
An essential part of any review of King Street’s design and behaviour must include recognition of its very different character by location, day of the week and time of day.
The first two charts with the 8am and 1pm data show some changes from period to period, but are fairly flat. There is only a small rise in travel times in the latter part of 2022. However, for later periods in the day, both during the PM peak and through the evening, the change in the data for each major era is quite visible including the recent increases in travel times. They have return to and in some cases exceeded the pre-pandemic era, but are also pushing into the pre-transit priority territory as well.
An important difference between the pre- and post-transit priority eras is that the variation in values, notably the peaks shown by the 85th percentile line, were in most cases lopped off by the priority scheme, and this improved service reliability over the entire route. There appears to be some return of these peaks since summer 2022, although they are not yet as consistently bad as in 2016-17. This is a problem that must be addressed lest the street completely lose any benefit from the priority scheme.
The charts can be viewed full size in a scrollable gallery by clicking on any image.
The eastbound data behave similarly to westbound with an important difference: in the pre-transit priority era, the evening congestion was not as bad as westbound because the primary traffic flow for theatres and clubs ran more to the west than the east. Whether this continues to be the case in 2023 remains to be seen.
Data for Segments of the Transit Priority Area
The charts in this section differ from the ones above on two counts:
- The vertical axis of the charts runs from 0 to 20 minutes rather than 10 to 40 in the preceding charts in recognition of the shorter travel times over these segments.
- The data are shown only from January 2016 onward.
In the three segments, the amount of change is small, particularly in the median values as opposed to the 85th percentiles. However, the combined effect of the small changes shows up in the charts for the entire span from Jarvis to Bathurst as each segment makes its own small contribution.
Note that data for these segments includes buses operating on the 504C King West shuttle during the period when it came east to University Avenue from September 2022 onward.
University to John
This has been a fairly quiet part of the route for much of the day although in pre-pandemic times, it could be affected by congestion as the entrance to the club district. This pattern has not returned.
In December 2022, the curb lane was occupied for condo construction (the Mirvish/Gehry towers) for part of this segment. The effect of losing this traffic lane remains to be seen as much of King has been constrained by CafeTO installations already.
This is an uneventful area eastbound because the primary generators of congestion are on the north side of the street.
John to Spadina
Between John and Spadina, travel times have started to build in fall 2022, but moreso in the 85th percentile (orange) than in the median (blue). This implies that the consistency of travel is worsening with occasional long trips pushing up the 85th percentile.
Eastbound data for this segment in fall 2022 are clouded by the number of short turns westbound at Spadina which included very long layovers in Charlotte Loop. The 85th percentile is very high, but the median is hardly affected. This pattern should end in December 2022 when Charlotte Loop was no longer available.
Note that this problem does not affect the charts for the full Bathurst-to-Jarvis travel times as cars that short turned at Spadina are not included there.
Spadina to Bathurst
Travel times have been rising in the afternoon peak and late evening, but as with the segment east of Spadina, this shows up more in higher 85th percentiles than medians in some cases indicating more scatter in travel times. Medians rose through the summer but have now fallen back to earlier levels.
Update: Segments Between Jarvis and University Added
Although the portion of King Street east of University is generally not affected by the Entertainment District, it is subject to disruption from north-south traffic backing up through intersections. This effect occurs primarily in the PM peak, although it can also occur if there is a major sporting event or construction on the approaches to the Gardiner Expressway.
In some cases, the median travel time (blue) does not change very much, but the 85th percentile (orange) does jump around more from roughly May 2022 onward indicating less reliability of travel times.
Jarvis to Yonge
Although the median values of travel times have not changed much in 2022, there is a growth in the 85th percentile indicating a wider range of values mainly in the PM peak.
Yonge to University
Westbound travel times from Yonge to University have not changed much over 2022.
Travel times and particularly the 85th percentile values have been climbing through 2022 primarily in the PM peak starting at 4pm.