Haven’t heard much recently about the once-hotly contested King Street Pilot project between Jarvis and Bathurst in Toronto, but as the weather heats up, it looks like the debate might too. In a letter to city council, more than 50 business owners are requesting modifications that would, they say, help them recover from their economic losses.
Changes to the King Street rules enacted at the end of November mean no through traffic along this traditionally super-clogged artery. Left turns at intersections were outlawed for bikes and cars, on-street parking was eliminated, streetcar stops were moved to the other side of the intersection, spaces were designated for passenger pick-up and deliveries, new public spaces were created, and taxis were permitted to travel through intersections only between 10 pm and 5 am.
The letter came from the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association and asked that restrictions be removed from 7 pm to 7 am, taxis be allowed to use the street regularly and that accessibility permits make parking options available for those who hold them.
The group supports its requests using the work of a Ryerson transit expert who claims any improvements are minimal compared to the successes reported by the city.
The TTC stood by its claims that the project was achieving its goal of improved travel times and reliability, and says they have “anecdotal” feedback from customers that call the pilot a success.
Ryerson’s Murtaza Haider issued an 11-page review that says average eastbound streetcar times in the morning rush have actually increased slightly and that higher ridership is the result of more streetcars being added to the route.
City data says weekday ridership has gone up 16% to as much as 27%, and that 85% westbound streetcars during the morning rush now arrive within four minutes, whereas only 77% did prior to the rule changes.
The letter from the restaurant group said reservations are down 21% year-over-year in the area, which includes King West’s restaurant row, and that people with mobility issues are being overlooked.
City data released in February suggested customer spending had not been affected. While they acknowledge that spending was down in the area in the early days of the project, but so was spending in the rest of the city, chalked up by Councilor Joe Cressy to the cold weather.
Haider, author of the report used to prop up the group’s claims, said his work was “not done yet,” according to CBC. The group’s reservations claims are based on the OpenTable app.
A representative from Shoppers Drug Mart, one business included in the letter, denies being involved, according to the Star. Thompson Toronto was another big name on the letter.
I’m withholding judgement until we see what fairer weather brings. I’d love to see the city become less car-dependent — downtown traffic these days is appalling — but I feel for the business owners whose once-prime location is now supposedly an inconvenience for their customers.
It’s hard to judge the supporting data when they’re from such different sources. While some claim that such changes will drive families out to the suburbs, I don’t agree. Families are increasingly finding that it’s possible to enjoy an urban lifestyle, and paying for cars and insurance they rarely use can hardly be expected to better their quality of life.
I sympathize with the restaurant and business owners, but I’m also happy to see city council taking some planning chances with the King Street Pilot. Here’s hoping patio season puts everyone in a happy frame of mind, so we at least can see what the new King Street rules might bring over the course of a full year.