A green transportation thoroughfare is metamorphosing (some would say metastasizing) on King Street, and to some extent, all over the City of Toronto. Privately operated vehicles are now baaad, while bicycles and streetcars are good on this very central urban strip.

For those of you that don’t know about it, the King Street Transit Pilot was conceived with the intention of moving people more efficiently on public transit, improving public spaces, and supporting business and economic prosperity along King St. The pilot aims to improve the transit reliability, speed, and capacity on the busiest surface transit route in the city by giving streetcars and cyclists top priority from Bathurst to Jarvis St.

The city started the pilot in November 2017 to improve the travel times and reliability of streetcars on King, which is traditionally one of its most congested transit routes across the bottom the downtown core.

So why all the haters?

New traffic rules restrict drivers’ movements, forcing them to turn right off King at most major intersections. The city has also removed all 180 on-street parking spaces along King in the project area, which runs between Bathurst and Jarvis St.  These actions, enforced by police, infuriate drivers.

The #ReverseKingCarBan is a Twitter hashtag and activist group with many notable members and several local business owners.  The most vocal objectors are nightclub and restaurant owners on King between Spadina and University.  They strongly object to the ‘green-way’ and the manner in which it was foisted upon them, and they claim their revenues are down as much as fifty percent. They have taken to attacking Mayor Tory personally.

Sadly, their art is not as good as the art on the street. And their vitriol seems pretty short-sighted and misdirected.

The art on the street is terrific in some installations, but can be slightly underwhelming in other spots. At the time of this writing, 12 May 2018, almost all thirty activations have been installed along King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets, and there is no doubt these will help add to the vibrancy of the street.  Most of this art will remain for the duration of the transit pilot.

The monitoring and evaluation plan involves the collection of data before and during and after the pilot ends in order to assess the impacts and benefits of the program.  Data is collected through methods such as tracking TTC streetcars using GPS, monitoring car travel times using Bluetooth sensors, and by collecting pedestrian, cycling and car volumes using video analytics.  Monthly updates will provide the latest data on the City of Toronto website.

Is it working? Yes.

Both the city and many 3rd party media reporter estimate that the new thoroughfare can shave an average of eleven minutes off the trip across town at peak times. If you carry the time-savings across the thousands of people who use the route everyday, the effect is very substantial.

Drivers have to change their routes and maybe this will cause them to rethink their lifestyles?  We all feel sorry for the Bay St business executives who drive luxury automobiles, and will now have a much harder time getting to work, especially in hard-to-park SUVs, in difficult downtown traffic.  All other routes across the bottom of the city are sure to be at least 10% to 15% busier without King St taking the swell.

Pedestrians have to change too. Too many zombie-walkers must now adjust their Pavlovian response to green traffic lights too and learn to wait for the walking man signal-light at crosswalks. That’s because of the changes in signal phasing at many of the intersections within the Pilot Project area. New protected right turn phases have been added to the cycles, meaning that the pedestrian signals that used to switch to ‘walk’ a few seconds after the opposing traffic’s light turned red now have a small delay built in. Despite this new protected right turn phase, many pedestrians are simply ignoring the fact that the ‘walk’ sign hasn’t activated yet and begin crossing the intersection anyway, eliminating the ability for vehicles to make a protected right turn off of King. Like with drivers, this new timing will require a bit of adjustment for pedestrians as well.

With this being a Pilot Project, the TTC and the City have already stated that they plan to make adjustments and improvements to both the physical infrastructure and the vehicle/traffic signal timing as the project moves along.

One more thing the Pilot Project has exposed, like the clay bottom of a dry creek bed,  the reduction in vehicular traffic has show just how uninviting King Street has become; there is very little green space or human focused areas, mews or fancy shops.   With so much naked concrete space that was previously allocated to cars now sitting largely empty, the relatively small amount of space dedicated to pedestrians and streetscaping is in plain view.

This bold transit initiative has certainly changed people’s perceptions of King St, and although the Pilot Project is scheduled to run no later than December 31, 2018, the experiment has already, on some level, changed this thoroughfare, and this part of the city forever.

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