Toronto’s King Street – A Template For Broadway?

The European light rail Renaissance in Toronto seems to be successful.

Active traffic calming will both improve transit service, while at the same time pull more people to transit, a lesson that TansLink and Vancouver traffic engineers refuses to learn. Putting transit underground, may make local improvements, but the high costs hurts transit operations elsewhere.

In Europe, the simple reserved rights-of-way for trams (LRT) gives a servcie comparable to a subway at a fraction of the cost. Unless traffic flows are in the order of 20,000 pphpd plus, there are far more befits for transit customers, local businesses, and the taxpayer, with light rail.

Unlike subways, modern light rail is both user friendly and non-user friendly and demonstrates the reason why LRT is the first choice of transit planners around the world.

Sadly, not in Metro Vancouver….pity.

Rush hour on Toronto’s King streetcar is usually hell on steel wheels. The packed streetcars that travel the city’s busiest above-ground public transit route trundle along at the pace of a Victorian landau, stuck in traffic like everyone else. Walking is often faster. Cyclists fly past.

So commuters who boarded the King car on Monday, the first weekday of a year-long experiment in getting the lead out, were amazed, even a little bewildered, when they looked out the front windshield and saw, well, nothing. No line of stop-and-go traffic. No big delivery truck blocking the road ahead. No old beater stopping to turn left, causing a mass transit vehicle with scores of people on board to shudder to a halt while waiting for a single car to get out of the way.

Just a long stretch of clear road, free of obstacles, even at the height of the afternoon rush. It was such an unfamiliar sight that it was hard not just to gawp, like a yokel seeing his first elevator.

Here was a vision of the future, and, you know, it seems to work. Freed of its four-wheeled competitors, the big red-and-white streetcars fairly sail along the open street, making that sweet electrical hum that they do when they get going.

Toronto transit riders never speak to each other ai??i?? the riders’ code forbids human interaction ai??i?? but on this day, a man in a fashion-forward version of one of those winter hats with the strings dangling past the ears couldn’t help turning to a couple of women beside him and remarking, “It’s almost like travelling at warp speed today.” He shook his head in wonder. “Toronto is putting on its big city pants and growing up.”That put it nicely. Finally, after years of chin stroking, the city has found the courage to do something bold about its commuting mess. Finally, it is coming to understand that cities that want to avoid strangling on their own growth have to change how they move people around. At last it has seen the sense in giving big vehicles with lots of people an advantage over small vehicles with one or two. At last it is struggling to loosen the tyranny of the car.

The King Street project gives streetcars precedence on the busy stretch of King between Bathurst Street in the west and Jarvis Street in the east. Motor vehicles won’t be able to drive through any more. They won’t be able to turn left, either. If they come onto that stretch of King, they must turn off at most intersections and get out of the way.

Vehicles operated by emergency services, road crews and the Toronto Transit Commission will get an exception, as will taxis after 10 at night. Cyclists can ride right through as before. Apart from that, streetcars will have the run of the road.

It is about time. This should have happened a decade, two decades ago. The King car is the third-busiest transit service in the city, trailing only the two main subway lines. It carries more than 65,000 people a day. That compares with the 20,000 vehicles that use the street. It is obvious who should get priority.

City leaders hesitated because they feared being accused of launching a “war on the car,” a familiar battle cry of the Rob Ford era. For years, nothing happened. The King car kept on trundling, full to the fogged-up windows with the thousands of new workers who are commuting to Toronto’s thriving downtown and the thousands of people who have moved to teeming condo communities such as Liberty Village. Change had to come. So Toronto bit the bullet. City council voted to authorize a pilot project. It started on Sunday.

Naturally, there have been problems. No one expected otherwise. That is what the pilot is for: to see how this can work. Some motorists are ignoring the signs forbidding them from driving straight into the streetcar zone. Cop cars with lights flashing were pulling many of them over on Monday and giving them a warning. Some commuters were confused when they found that their old streetcar stops have been moved. Instead of stopping at the traffic light at big intersections, the streetcars stop after the light. There are sure to be other hang-ups. This is all very new and it’s going to take time to get used to it.

But, at least at first, the streetcar zone seems to be making a real difference. With planters on the road at stops and colourful barriers at intersections, the King car seems not just faster, but safer. This looks and feels like a real transit zone, where transit riders are not battling for a space on the street and hoping to avoid getting knocked over by a car when they step out the streetcar door. For once, they are being treated as if they matter. For the battle-weary Toronto strap hanger, that is a delicious feeling.

The whole thing makes the city feel a little bit different, too. A little more sophisticated, a little more modern, a bit more like the international city that Toronto has come to be. Those big-boy pants look good.


6 Responses to “Toronto’s King Street – A Template For Broadway?”
  1. drum 118 says:

    Its been almost a week since King St was turned over to Streetcars and it has been a smashing success so far.

    Had my first look at it on Friday at Yonge and Bay intersection. A small ramp has been placed at the far side of the stops to make it an accessibility for strollers, walkers and scooters to gain access to the new car ramp. Platform edge material has been placed on the road to show where riders should be on the road so they aren’t being hit by anything.

    It was very eerie looking at an empty street of vehicles that was normally full in the past. The streetcar we were on was sailing, a lot faster than in the past to the point we were out of the test area in a matter of minute compared to a longer time frame in the past.

    People are saying they are saving 5-20 minutes travel time so far with this change.

    Not all shelters have been relocated due to a contract agreement, as well being on the local BIA sidewalk granite stone work. If this becomes permanent in 2019, then the shelters will be relocated, as well having a bump out sidewalk platform.

    More material is to be added as time goes on, including planters and stop painted areas.

    Both TTC personnel and police have been giving drivers warns about driving through various intersections in place of the require right turn. The next week or so, tickets will be issued in place of warns. Council has given extra money to enforce these non through intersections including pedestrians who disobey the no walk signs.

  2. Haveacow says:

    I remember being attacked on this website before because I made the audacious claim that the Broadway bus corridor didn’t need to be carved open to make a rapid transit tunnel. I argued that all you needed was better management of those buses. Some time in the future, yes, you will need a below grade rapid transit line however the current ridership just clears the level which warrants rapid transit. There are many techniques that can be used here, it really comes down to what TransLink has the patience and political capital to attempt. With the obvious assertion that drivers are going to loose lane space.

  3. l says:

    “why LRT is the first choice of transit planners around the world.”

    - Technology depends on ridership, financial constraints, actual conditions, and other factors. There’s no definitive “first-choice” when it comes to a particular transportation mode to transit planners around the world… Transportation technology is adaptive and path-dependent, so I’m not so sure where that conclusion comes from.

    ” Unless traffic flows are in the order of 20,000 pphpd plus, there are far more befits for transit customers, local businesses, and the taxpayer, with light rail.”

    - TransLink and former BC Transit had completed two studies, one pre-2000s, another in 2011, both preferring grade-separated rail to LRT or BRT based on a comprehensive cost-*benefit* analysis. Commuters and businesses / employers overall are better off with a subway. Also, TTC and the City of Toronto is in the planning for the Downtown relief line subway, which will route through King Street and will become part of the long-term solution to transit issues there.

    The underlying hope that any money not being used to fund a Broadway subway or Surrey LRT will or should be used for rapid transit extension out to the valley is plainly absurd. Within Metro Vancouver, there’re still plenty of places on the rapid transit wishlist… A line out to the valley will ultimately need to be largely funded by the valley, so you’re highly unlikely to succeed trying to squeeze money from the Metro Vancouver Transportation Plan.

    Zwei replies: A rather naive comment. LRT is the first choice of transit planners because of its inherent flexibility and cost effectiveness. Only 7 ICTS/ALRT/ART (they keep changing the names) have been built in almost 40 years and not one sold in a decade, demonstrates that no one really wants SkyTrain.

    TransLink’s and BC Transit’s studies are not worth the paper they are printed on as the analysis made are assumptions that are inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. That no SkyTrain system has been allowed to compete with LRT should tell the tale. TransLink claims that SkyTrain attracts more passenger than LRT yet has never produced a study to back up the claim.

    As tax monies for TransLink from areas outside the city of Vancouver id greater than transit taxes generate in the CoV, those areas will demand money spent where generated. Vancouver is not the centre of the universe, rather Vancouver is like 13 year old girl, being told by a senior jock that she is hot.

    Sadly our Vancouver centric planning may lead to the total collapse of TransLink as Valley cities bale on TransLink and form their own transit agency o deal with their problems.

  4. Haveacow says:

    The DRL in Toronto is primarily on Queen Street and is being planned because the Yonge-University-Spadina-York University-Vaughn Subway Line or Line #1 is presently at capacity during the morning and afternoon peak hours. The new signaling system will only add another 10-20 percent extra capacity. Thus when the line reaches regular peak hour passenger levels of 37-39,000 per direction the TTC will be back in the same problem they are in right now

  5. Haveacow says:

    Continued from before…

    they will be forced to build the Downtown Relief Line. This line is expected to have a peak hour demand of 16-17,000 passengers per hour per direction on opening day. That is why this line is a full Subway/Metro Line and not a LRT Line. Having worked with the TTC in the past, if they could have built a cheaper LRT Line instead, they would immediately!

  6. TCLT says:

    When you visit European countries and then compare them to Toronto, you would think that a city like Toronto would be able to somewhat compete but it is truly abysmal. And wasted tax dollars at that.

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