A year and a half ago, Toronto city officials decided to test out a pilot project on ever-busy King Street to finally address the traffic congestion issue on one of Toronto’s busiest routes. In a nutshell, the project envisioned a car-free stretch running from Bathurst to Jarvis allowing only streetcars, bicycles, emergency and street maintenance vehicles (and taxis after 10 pm) to use the street. The groundbreaking experiment has caused a lot of controversy among Torontonians resulting in the creation of both, support and protest groups. From residents’ support campaign “We Love King” to protestors placing ice sculptures of obscene hand gestures in front of businesses, residents have really showed their deep involvement. But, despite some efforts to stop the project, Toronto City Council voted to make the pilot project permanent as it proved very successful and popular especially with Downtown Toronto public transit commuters. Let’s see how the King Street Transit Pilot Project impacted people in the area and what changed on the usually busy King Street.
The King Street Project Benefits
Despite hefty opposition, the Toronto project was a huge success. Streetcar commuters are thrilled to be riding on King Street without any major slowdowns caused by cars at intersections. Now, they are enjoying faster and more reliable public transit just like city officials envisioned. Commute times have been cut down by 4-7 minutes. Data also indicates that the number of public transit users has increased, counting 12,000 more passengers on average per day. This is an encouraging good sign of the projects’ success due to the large increase in public transit riders.
Cyclists, for which King Street used to be hell due to the stop and go traffic full of cars, are finally given room to enjoy their rides on the designated stretch. Now, they can commute safer and faster along the streetcars and not having to worry about cars changing lanes or opening their doors.
Another restriction that has helped increase the flow along King Street is that there is no more on-street parking. This has made room for incredible street views, marvelous artistic creations and better walking experience for pedestrians. It certainly makes King Street look good, promoting a healthier lifestyle and green initiative activities.
The project is expected to benefit Downtown Condo owners and future condo buyers as well as it now offers a better infrastructure, more reliable transit and a nicer friendlier Downtown Toronto environment.
What Are The Issues And Who Is Against It?
City officials claim that the King Street Transit Pilot Project benefited businesses and that it will continue to do so, but businesses (mostly restaurant and retail store owners) claim otherwise. Businesses state that they have lost traffic and customers due to the on-street parking ban which was a convenience and essential to their customers travelling with their own vehicles. Finding parking when parking lots are disappearing to condo construction projects is a big concern. The city needs to address this by making sure to add more public parking to new condo developments in Downtown Toronto.
Car drivers are another protest group voicing their opinion as they are entirely forced off King Street. The confusion in street signs with restricted turning times onto King Street that do not coincide with the traffic restriction signs along King still bring many cars driving on King Street. As some of these drivers claim to be unaware of the restrictions or are tourist traffic, police have now moved from issuing warnings to ticketing to get serious with violators. The City of Toronto needs to make the signage clearer to ensure drivers know that more King Street is off limits.
Lastly, another shortcoming of the project is that keeping King Street car-free means redirecting the cars to other streets which in return increases congestions in those areas, especially on Queen Street. Drivers are adapting to new navigation routes in the downtown core and traffic on some streets is unbearable. As drivers are forced to find alternative routes or avoid driving downtown entirely, this may eventually make a push for a car-free core of Downtown Toronto.
The Overall Advantage And Future Outlook
The King Street Pilot Project has shown that the city is capable of adapting to new-age needs by finding and implementing a solution to a large modern-day problem. Car drivers have always been able to use any street they wanted and now there has been a shift where public transit riders, who are larger in number, are seeing adjustments made in their favor. King Street has a completely different vibe now, giving Downtown Toronto a more sophisticated 21st- century touch. Toronto has transportation and congestion issues all over, and experimenting with Pilot Projects like this to study their impacts and positive changes will help the City of Toronto to continue to be an amazing place to live. I am sure that this project will inspire many lookalike projects in the near future, not only in Toronto but in other highly populated cities as well.
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