In today’s Toronto Star, city columnist Ed Keenan reports on the “King Street Visioning Study,” a city planning project that will soon be available for public feedback. The study proposes improving streetcar operations along the King Street Corridor between Dufferin and Parliament Streets as well improving the public realm, making it a more pleasant place to walk. The 504 King Streetcar is the busiest surface route in the TTC’s system, and as I, and many others, have said before, the streetcar needs to be able to move more people more efficiently. But now City Planning is leading the study, not the TTC, making this a more holistic vision for King Street.
Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says that it’s “reasonable” that the initial pilot projects could be started in early 2017. Work has already been contracted to some of the same firms that were responsible for transforming Queen’s Quay (which despite some construction delays, and conflicts in a few places between pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, is a fantastic project).
Keesmaat echoes previous attempts at creating a King Street Transit Mall, suggesting a similar system of alternating one-way sections that would provide for taxis, deliveries and passenger drop-offs and pick-ups, but forcing through traffic onto parallel streets. Extending transit priority all the way from Dufferin to Parliament could do a lot to streetcar improve operations, especially as the TTC is planning a new 514 route on King between Dufferin and Cherry Streets to supplement the overburdened 504 line and better serve the West Donlands, Distillery District, and Liberty Village.
Yes, King Street improvements would start off as pilot projects, much like the bicycle lanes on nearby Richmond and Adelaide Streets, or the decade-old 2-hour transfer on St. Clair Avenue, or the Toronto Hydro ALAMP street lighting trials that should have concluded years ago. (Toronto seems to like permanent pilot projects.) That said, previous plans for a King Street transit mall never even got to the “pilot project” phase.
But hearing that pedestrians and transit will be getting priority is music to my ears. Knowing that City Planning, and not just the TTC, is looking at this gives me optimism that this could finally go ahead. There will be opposition from businesses along the corridor, taxi drivers, suburban politicians concerned about a non-existent “war on the car.” And it’s not clear if Mayor John Tory is in favour, or a majority of city councillors.
An improved public realm is especially appropriate on King Street, especially through historic Old York on the east and the cultural and tourist draws of the Entertainment District on the west. Sidewalks are often crowded, especially as the theatres get out in the evening, but with such diverse uses along the corridor, from bank towers to night clubs, King is one of Toronto’s most vibrant streets. Toronto often has trouble with attractive streetscaping (thanks to ugly wooden poles and overhead wires, cheap, grey street furniture, and ugly traffic signals), but it has recently managed to get Queen’s Quay (mostly) right.
As for design, I’m hoping for something interesting and something different. I’d do away with the Muskoka chairs mentioned in Keenan’s article. They’re wonderful on Toronto’s waterfront, but I’d like to see some imagination on King Street. What about seating shaped like director’s chairs in front of the TIFF Lightbox? (Oh, and on the subject of TIFF, could we tell film festival organizers to stuff it when they want to wreck the King Streetcar again in 2016?)
After years of talk about fixing King Street, there’s a very serious proposal to do something about it. Maybe the third time’s the charm.