A new city report targets eight kilometres of King Street from Roncesvalles to the Don Valley Parkway, and the section of Queen running about 14 kilom...
Transit-priority measures like those installed for the King Street pilot project could be coming to a longer section of King and be applied to Queen Street as well under the city’s 10-year plan to improve service on busy bus and streetcar routes.
In a report headed to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee next Wednesday, city transportation staff lay out plans to boost TTC service on 20 corridors across Toronto using initiatives like signal priority, reserved or dedicated transit lanes, and the removal or restriction of on-street parking.
The first half of the Surface Transit Network Plan, scheduled for 2021 to 2024, is estimated to cost $62 million.
According to the report, the city’s primary goal is to use Toronto’s road network to move the most people possible during busy periods. It notes that because transit vehicles carry more people than cars, giving priority to buses and streetcars “contributes significantly to achieving the most efficient utilization of available roadway space.”
The city has already begun installing dedicated bus lanes on the first corridor, Eglinton Avenue East, between Brimley Road and the campus of the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Jane Street, Steeles Avenue West, Finch Avenue East, and Dufferin Street are next in line to get bus lanes in the coming years.
In later stages, the city intends to explore transit-boosting measures on King and Queen that could mirror the traffic restrictions installed on a 2.6-kilometre stretch of King between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets in 2017.
That project started as a $1.5-million pilot and despite opposition from some local business owners council voted in 2019 to make it permanent after staff reported it had increased transit ridership on King by 17 per cent.
In the new report, transportation staff write that given the success of that project, the city should explore “further extensions of transit priority along King” and examine “similar applications of transit priority on other streetcar corridors such as Queen.”
The section of King staff are targeting for new measures stretches nearly eight kilometres from Roncesvalles Avenue to the Don Valley Parkway, and the section of Queen runs about 14 kilometres from Roncesvalles to Victoria Park Avenue.
Exactly which measures would be installed on Queen, King, and other streets would be determined through further study. Detailed design for both Queen and King is scheduled for 2027, and installation for 2028.
Corridors scheduled to receive transit priority measures before then include Lawrence Avenue East, Finch Avenue West, Sheppard Avenue, Don Mills Road-Don Mills Boulevard-Pape Avenue, Victoria Park, and Keele Street.
David Cooper, a Toronto-based transit consultant with the firm Leading Mobility, praised the plan. “The city is so reliant on surface transit and it needs to start being an area of focus for investment,” he said.
The pandemic has caused a huge drop in TTC demand but ridership on bus and streetcar routes has remained closer to pre-COVID levels than that of the subway network.
Cooper said not only would surface transit improvements be relatively cheap to implement, but they would save the TTC money by allowing the agency to run service more efficiently. That will be important because as TTC is expected to face long-term revenue struggles as a result of COVID-19.
Improving surface routes is “one of the most cost-effective ways of building out transit in the city,” Cooper said.
Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of transit advocacy group TTCriders, said the city should move faster. She noted that while the TTC board voted in July to target 2021 for the implementation of bus lanes on Steeles, Finch, and Dufferin, the city report has them scheduled for 2023 or later.
“Transit priority lanes are supposed to be part of an urgent pandemic response. TTCriders is calling on city council to do everything possible to increase transit capacity and improve rider safety,” she said.
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the agency supports the city proposal, which builds on the TTC’s own service plans. “Anything that allows us to improve service to our customers is welcome,” he said.
Projects like the King pilot have faced opposition because they restrict car movement. Matt Davis, manager of capital projects for the transportation department, said the city will study each corridor to ensure any changes “consider the safe and efficient movement needs of all modes of transportation.”