Today is the fourth day that the King Street Transit Pilot has been in effect, and the early results have been quite positive. The project began on Sunday, November 12th, and saw its first day of 'full' action on Tuesday, November 14th (Monday the 13th was a holiday for many people, so traffic volumes weren't a typical weekday). This gradual ramp-up has allowed the City, the TTC, and the Toronto Police to make tweaks to their respective parts of the Pilot Project.
Approved by Council last July, the Pilot has transformed King Street from Bathurst to Jarvis into a transit priority corridor by eliminating straight throughs and/or left turns at major intersections, effectively removing the through movement capability for private vehicles. Transit users have taken to social media platforms such as Twitter, and our own UrbanToronto forums, with mostly positive reviews of the changes. Many of them commented on how much their commute time has dropped since the introduction of the Pilot Project. Twitter user @emmaschuetz commented "Seven minutes from University to Bathurst. SEVEN!", while UrbanToronto forum member soundmuseum noted "During rush hour, I went westbound from King and Parliament over to Bathurst in about 15 minutes!"
Toronto Star Reporter Edward Keenan took the opportunity to time a trip from Dundas West to King & Yonge along the 504 King, and he reported that the one-way time was 28 minutes. If this small sample size is extrapolated to a full trip, the total trip time would be about 60 minutes. By comparison, the average pre-Pilot scheduled time was 71 minutes.
When UrbanToronto first wrote about the Pilot Project back in January, we did the math on what an 11 minute trip savings would mean. We concluded that an 11 minute savings on the 504 King would be the equivalent of adding 3 new streetcars (CLRVs) to the route. However, unlike simply throwing more vehicles at the problem, this solution actually saves money, not spends it. By reducing the trip time of each vehicle, they're able to do more trips per hour, effectively increasing the frequency and capacity of the route with almost no additional cost (electricity being the only negligible cost increase).
We also concluded that an 11 minute time savings represent an increase in average trip speed from 12 km/h to 14 km/h, bringing the King corridor in line with other right-of-way streetcar corridors in the city, such as St Clair West. It's slightly lower than the Harbourfront corridor, which has relatively long stretches of 'clear sailing', but is slightly higher than the Spadina corridor, which is hampered by the lack of signal priority.
Another aspect of the Pilot Project that has been at the forefront of a lot of people's attention (including the media) has been the enforcement of the new turning restrictions for drivers. Many Twitter users have posted photos and videos of vehicles simply ignoring the new restrictions (see below), while some TPS officers have also taken to Twitter to get the message out about the Pilot Project and to share stories of their time educating the public.
The general consensus seems to be that there is a learning curve associated with these new restrictions, but that police need to continue enforcement measures so that drivers simply don't ignore the signage, like was the case with the transit rush hour only lanes along King, which actually existed until just this past weekend, but were never enforced.
Another change that will require an adjustment period are 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. The City did not wait long to put this into action, when just yesterday they installed yellow platform edge strips (the same kind currently in place at subway stations) at several new streetcar stops along King. As you can see below, even this minor adjustment has made a significant difference in helping demarcate the waiting area for streetcar passengers.
With the reduction in trip times seen in recent days, we should expect to see the TTC release an updated schedule for the 504 King and 514 Cherry routes, reflecting these new travel times. Even with the effective increase in capacity due to the reduced travel times, there have still been many reports of jam packed streetcars along the King corridor, so perhaps some reshuffling of the streetcar fleet to respond to the potential uptick in riders is in the cards as well.
One item that has lead to some confusion is the relocation of streetcar stops from the near side to the far side of many intersections within the Pilot Project area. To compound this confusion, the shelters for the now-defunct stops were left in place when the Pilot began, leaving some passengers who did not notice the stop relocation signs to wait at a stop that was no longer in service. Recent photos however have shown that some of these old shelters are now having their TTC information signs removed.
One of the things that the Pilot Project has exposed all too well is, with the drastic reduction in vehicular traffic along King, how poor (dare I say, ugly) the public realm on King actually is. With so much space being allocated to cars that is now sitting largely empty, the relatively small amount of space dedicated to pedestrians and streetscaping is in plain view. While this lop-sided allocation was always visible under the former configuration, it is now blindingly obvious under the new configuration.
One could also see this deficit as an opportunity, however. With the utilization shift towards transit, walking, and cycling now well underway, now is the perfect opportunity to begin discussing how this shift can be reflected in the way King Street is physically structured. With the Pilot Project being scheduled to run no later December 31, 2018, we should begin formulating a vision for how King could look after the Pilot is concluded, and more money can be made available for more 'permanent' changes. It would be ideal to have a formulated vision ready to be implemented by the time the Pilot expires, as to avoid the temptation of some Councillors to push to revert King back to its pre-Pilot, barely-functional state.
One stretch of King that is in particular need of a re-imaging is between Spadina Ave and University Ave. This is one of the busiest pedestrian sections of King St, and it is also the section with some of the narrowest sidewalks. Since there are no buildings along this stretch which have their only vehicular access off of King St, this stretch would be the perfect location to go 100% car-free, and re-allocate the two curbside lanes to a combination of wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and larger sidewalk patio space for the many restaurants and bars along this stretch. By closing off King completely to cars between University and Spadina, it would also eliminate the temptation, and ability, of drivers to disobey the turning restrictions and use King as a through street, increasing the effectiveness of these restrictions on other parts of the corridor.
Many Torontonians have had their eyes opened to what properly prioritizing transit on main urban arterials can accomplish. In addition, the fears of 'Carmageddon' on parallel streets has so far not materialized, despite what some Councillors would like to falsely proclaim. While it's still too early to declare the King Street Pilot Project a success, the grumblings of some frustrated drivers have been largely drowned out by the applause of the nearly 65,000 transit riders who use King on a daily basis. This project is a step in the right direction, so let's keep stepping.
You can join the discussion on the King Street Pilot Project by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space below.