Toronto Cleared Cars Off Its Biggest Transit Street, and Ridership Soared Almost Overnight

Using low-cost materials like this concrete divider, Toronto set up new streetcar stops on the far side of intersections on King Street, enabling safer boarding and cutting down on time stopped at red lights. Photo: Human Transit
Using low-cost materials like this concrete divider, Toronto set up new streetcar stops on the far side of intersections on King Street, enabling safer boarding and cutting down on time stopped at red lights. Photo: Human Transit

It’s been just a few short months since Toronto cleared most of the car traffic off King Street, giving the city’s busiest streetcar route an unimpeded path.

But already, the impact of the project is clearly transformative. Faster, more reliable service has helped boost ridership dramatically, report local transit officials.

Before Toronto banned through traffic on King Street, the streetcar carried 65,000 daily trips. Ridership is now up 25 percent at peak hours, according to the Toronto Transit Commission [PDF]. The city will have to run more streetcars to keep up with demand.

“The rationale to do this is to move transit more quickly and get people on transit, and this shows that in spades,” TTC chair Josh Colle told the Globe and Mail.

The new transit trips have not been siphoned from other routes. TTC told the Globe and Mail ridership has held steady on nearby Queen Street.

The redesigned street allows drivers to access King Street but compels them to make right turns after a short distance. The Globe and Mail reports that car traffic has declined more than expected.

Without car traffic getting in the way, transit is moving much faster, the city reports. Rush hour trips take about four minutes less from end to end, an improvement of about 16 percent. Reliability is up too — the number of trips with delays has fallen 33 percent.

The King Street project was built using temporary materials like painted concrete dividers for just $1.5 million. It’s a pilot that’s supposed to be evaluated after one year, but the drumbeat to make the changes permanent has already started.

To be sure, there’s also opposition. Some businesses are complaining that they’ve lost a significant share of customers and most say they’ve lost at least some. They are pushing the city to limit the vehicle restrictions to peak hours. Doug Ford, brother of the late mayor Rob Ford, has also been a prominent critic. The city has responded by adding free parking on side streets.

Overall public opinion seems to be firmly on the side of keeping the car restrictions in place. A recent poll showed strong public support for the pilot project.

The city is collecting data on pedestrian activity and sales data for nearby businesses, but that will not be released until later in the year.

  • gb52

    Businesses need people, not cars. With more people on transit, there are many if not even more customers that are passing by their businesses. Yes, there are instances where families or elderly and others who want/need to get to their destination by car, but perhaps businesses need to update their business models and recognize how to connect with the people outside. There is no reason that transit should be slowed down and made less reliable when people can see that transit is a better way to move around downtown. Also, removing cut through traffic on one street does not necessarily mean car traffic is worse, just different.

    One thing necessary is probably solving the ‘last-mile’ dilemma, but a closer look is needed to find out why specific businesses appear to be losing patronage. (Has better transit allowed people to go further, so they have more choice, or allowed them to get in and out of downtown that much faster that they dont have to wait for traffic to clear up?)

  • Eli

    FTFY

    Doug Ford, brother of the late-and-not-lamented, cocaine-addicted, drunkard Rob Ford

  • crazyvag

    You’re mostly right that most businesses need people, not cars. However, there night be some that sell things that really are easier with your in car. It is worth looking at what businesses are complaining.

  • Corvus Corax

    Thank you for your contribution so pertinent to the topic at hand. Geez!

  • Granger103

    Toronto has just cleared the traffic off its previously gridlocked main street to make way for much better public transit service. What a concept! San Francisco needs this kind of innovative thinking even more than Toronto does.

  • oceanstater

    this would seem to have widespread applicability to many other locations

  • How about Doug Ford, whose brother Rob ripped out bike lanes and also parked his SUV in one of the remaining bike lanes to smoke crack?

    Okay, perhaps not the highest road to take in this discussion.

  • Corvus Corax

    Rob Ford was a fascinating, if despicable, man. I didn’t know about his ripping out of bike lanes, only saw news reports on his flagrant and shocking behavior. I can think of one (semi-) politician in current news who makes Ford look like Mother Teresa.

  • John Murphy

    that politician is more powerful, not more despicable

  • Courtney

    Looking at you Chicago. More bus-only lanes, PLEASE!!

  • neroden

    Correction: based on what we know, this should say “Doug Ford, brother of the late *crack-smoking* mayor Rob Ford and leader of the Ford drug dealing family”.

  • neroden

    Rob Ford was also known for *driving while reading*. Yeesh.

  • neroden

    There aren’t any washing machine stores or other stores selling things you’d need a truck for on downtown King Street.

  • Andrew

    Wait, Rob Ford knew how to read?

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