Toronto Cleared Cars Off a Major Transit Corridor — And it Worked!

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

One year after Toronto turned King Street in a transit- and walking-priority street, streetcar ridership, biking and walking are way up.

The project, which cost just $1.5 million, has produced an 11-percent increase in average daily ridership, and as much as 34 percent at peak hours. Once the street was closed to cars, about 20,000 additional streetcar riders materialized practically overnight, the city reports.

Biking, meanwhile, is up by as much as an astounding 440 percent, according to city estimates [PDF].

Before the pilot launched one year ago, King Street streetcar’s 65,000 riders were mired in bumper-to-bumper traffic. “King St. wasn’t working for anyone,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said when the pilot was announced last summer.

Using painted jersey barriers and other low-cost materials, the pilot prohibited through car and truck traffic. The experiment shaved between four to seven minutes off evening commute times, saving riders about $11 million a year, according to a study by Ryerson University.

Local residents have been effusive about the improvements to transit trips.

Toronto will decide before the end of the year whether to make it permanent. There remains, however, a certain amount of discontent among some business owners. Toronto reports business receipts are up along the corridor as well, albeit a tiny 0.3 percent. The rest of the city was up 3.8 percent over the same period.

The city has tried free parking and other incentives as concessions to businesses who have complained about declining car traffic.

 

  • Mark Dowling

    The biggest impact of the pilot was an increase in the reliability of the service. Previously, congestion meant long waits between cars, so commuters were frustrated before they ever boarded.

  • scottld

    The street is not closed to cars. Cars can only go about 2 blocks before being forced to turn. As well, in the more downtown sections drivers are ignoring the turns as they know there is no enforcement. This project still needs some fine tuning. I take streetcars and I have a car.

  • wklis

    Some restaurateurs are upset that a (single) car cannot park in front of their business. Don’t think they can get a full restaurant out of a single automobile.

  • Won’t catch me walking 3 blocks to go shopping or dining but then again I am in my 60s and have a handicap tag too. Having to park somewhere else just to take a train then walk on the other end doesn’t work well for handicap riders either. It is so much easier just to drive to the closest handicap parking spot.

  • crazyvag

    I’ve always wondered why one would drive and park in a handicap stall in front of a giant target store only to walk around a giant 300ft x 300ft building. According to my fitbit, I get less steps driving to a store in the city even if I have to walk a block since stores are closer to the street and just much smaller. It seems counter-intuitive, but if you’re trying to minimize your step count, living in a city is a way to go.

    Additionally, you’re a lot more likely to have cheap delivery services available.

  • I’m surprised this is a difficult concept. But perhaps it’s because a lot of handicap people actually ride scooters or user wheel chairs. Or it’s just the fact that for an elderly person can walk (and need to walk). It is insanely pretentious to suggest that the handicap and elderly just sit at home and have stuff delivered. But for a handicap person a parking lot is a little more difficult and dangerous than the inside of a story. My 90 year old grandmother can walk around a store just fine, but the slightest incline wears her out after a few minutes, not to mention the heat where we live (and I’m sure the cold in the winter in many places). Plus you have to be able to move quickly in a parking lot or risk being backed over. There are a million good reasons as to why a handicap person might want to go to to the store, be perfectly fine walking around the store, and still need a park close to the door.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yes shopping malls are much too big. They should let cars drive in them.

  • Andrew

    It is insanely pretentious to suggest that the handicap and elderly just sit at come and have stuff delivered.

    That’s not what he suggested. (At all.)

  • Step count? What is that? Maybe the 15 steps from my house to its attached garage? Or maybe the 25 steps with great difficulty in-pain from a handicap parking space to get to one of those powered ride-on shopping carts that Kroger, Target, or Walmart all have?

    If I lived in a city it would be 100 steps in-pain each way from any stack-a-shack apartment just to get to the closest street. Then what? Maybe get mugged trying to hobble down to the bus stop? No thanks.

  • Perhaps you should read what was actually written as I never said anything about shopping at large department stores, now did I???

    It is rather common for some reason for younger urbanists to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with their position. Someday you won’t be young any longer and then hopefully some other young urbanist can give you a really hard time when you don’t need it.

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    Transit doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but getting transit to work results in more people taking it, which benefits drivers who now have less congestion and more parking available to them. Transit can also support a city by reducing air and noise pollution – also good for everyone, especially seniors.

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    Many businesses in the city I live ask for the car parking spaces in front of their businesses to be turned into on-street bicycle parking spaces or parklets for pepple to sit. It’s an economic decision that makes sense for many businesses – space for one car or for 10-12 bicycles or 10-15 seats for customers? Oftentimes car parking spaces in business districts are taken up by the business owners and employees anyway as they get to work before any customers show up.

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    Great results for people traveling along King. In the linked report though, it seems that pedestrians and business revenues have grown faster on Queen St than on King St. I wonder why that is? For this pilot to be even more of a success, people on foot are key to the vitality of the street life and commercial health.

  • markstos

    The increased use of transit/walk/bike should free up parking spots for those who really need them.

  • Erika Kathryn

    I’ve never understood why someone would get in their car to drive a block or 2 to shop. I’ve also never been a fan of the suburbs – everything worthwhile is too far away. For me it is either downtown or the country and the country is now out as I no longer maintain a car. I still like to walk where I can and if my packages are too heavy after an outing that’s what transit, or a taxi, is for. If I need a rest there’s always a coffee shop nearby.

  • Erika Kathryn

    When I lived in Ottawa many years ago Sparks St. was my favorite shopping area followd by Bytown. The one was pedestrian only and the other favoured pedestrians. Not to say I didn’t enjoy my car though my favourite drives were on twisty country roads.

  • keenplanner

    Hello Market St. SF. But on Market seems to lack the capacity to handle all the buses and streetcars that converge there. It already has transit-only lanes that, unfortunately, allow taxis, which sometimes delay buses. Throw hundreds of bike commuters into the equation and add poor traffic enforcement and, even without the cars that currently use parts of the street, it still isn’t a dream for transit vehicles.
    Perhaps if someone had the cojones to try congestion pricing things would start moving better.

  • Moving and grooving

    So, you won’t walk 3 blocks, but you will all around a shopping mall or store …ok. so, what we need massive lanes for some who apparently have to have parking everywhere?
    To your other point about scooters and wheelchairs, I fail to see how you need a massive amount of sports in front of a store when you can just roll from anywhere in the parking lot.

    We need a two level system. For level one, it would be for legitimate people with real injuries. War vets with amputees, shot at…etc. kids with debilitating diseases … adults with real debilitating diseases.

    One too many at golden coral or failure to take care of yourself is not a reason to dictate urban design around you. Nor is it a reason for you to take a war vets spot.

  • vonpursey

    Queen is fast becoming a very trendy shopping / dining district whereas King has little to offer – lots of offices, but not much else of interest. I suspect this slow growth is an issue completely independent of the transit corridor initiative.

  • Katarina_YYZ

    The street is not “closed to cars” — it’s just not a through street, you can access it for a block or two to pick up/drop off someone or get to a garage. Anyway the drivers who are complaining refuse to admit how bad traffic was before the Pilot. They’re now pretending everything was great and they weren’t sitting stuck forever. Torontonians also hate change and refuse to try alternate routes, even though the city has a simple grid-like network of streets that makes finding alternates very easy.

  • Brad Merrill

    I live on King Street and I now often use the streetcar because it is quicker and more reliable method of transportation. Previously the street was a mess of vehicles blocking lanes during rush hour and no-one in their right mind would use it to drive across the city anyway (when Richmond and Adelaide street were 3 lane one ways streets and moved quicker). I really hope this is not just a pilot and becomes the normal for the street.

  • Brandyn

    Meh. There’s a tricycle. Or a handcycle attachment if you have a wheel chair.

    You guys know that you can redesign your suburbs into mixed-use, right?

    Most yards are barely used, so plenty of space for healthy density. You can get rid of two yards and keep one for for three families to share. Kids negotiating with other kids and their parents to choose play areas is a big barrier to socialising during younger years.

    You could also do the same thing in the city. You can install community yards replacing excessive parking around apartments. You can pedestrianise the whole city centre with bollards. You could calm the streets way down using bollards to create quadrants to block through traffic from going through the city. You can get pretty close to suburb living in the city if your tried harder.

  • spatev

    You wouldn’t have had much luck on King street before either, as the street was constant gridlock with no parking ever.

    In fact, now that the street is not a thru street finding parking should be easier for those who choose to do so.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Any accessible spots that existed still exist and are still accessible.

  • You will do it once you can no longer walk 2 blocks carrying 8 bags of groceries, maybe by the time that you are in your 70s. Either that or if you have the money to you can pay someone extra to deliver everything you need but what happens if you don’t have the money by then?

  • Erika Kathryn

    My 70s are only a few months away. I’ve no plans to change my habbits.

  • Here is what the issue is in Denver. This condo is only 65% the square footage of our house out in the northwest suburbs.

    1133 14th St UNIT 3220, Denver, CO 80202. 3 beds 3.5 baths 3,067 sq ft. This condo is in Lower Downtown and has a very high walkscore. The asking price is $2.7 million and the HOA is $2809/month. Property tax is $12,559.

    https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Denver-CO/pmf,pf_pt/109683868_zpid/11093_rid/in-downtown-denver_att/globalrelevanceex_sort/39.748299,-104.994165,39.743911,-105.002319_rect/16_zm/

    Here is a house for-sale in my neighborhood. 3301 Traver Dr
    Broomfield, CO 80023, 5 beds 4 baths 3,868 sq ft.

    This house is within walking distance of several restaurants, a convenience store, a dry cleaner, a veterinarian, a couple of dentist’s offices, and two coffeehouses. A major grocery store is 1/2 mile away There is a hospital one mile away and two major malls, one inside of 2 miles away and the other within 3 miles.

    Both these places have very nice views of the Rocky Mountains. The condo has Denver’s hub train station within walking distance while the house in my neighborhood doesn’t have public transit within 4 miles. Our neighborhood has a nice resident clubhouse with a huge gym, more than 100 exercise machines, a bug Jacuzzi, and two swimming pools/

    The house in my neighborhood is asking $635K, the HOA is $133 month, and the property tax is $5,222.

    https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Broomfield-CO/pmf,pf_pt/82249130_zpid/10574_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/40.003301,-105.022334,39.994556,-105.038642_rect/15_zm/

    Which leaves a whole lot of money left over to buy cars, condos in the mountains, club memberships anywhere you desire, and plenty of other nice things.

    To each his own. My wife and I vastly prefer to live this way than cooped-up in some little tiny stack-a-shack apartment where everything costs twice as much as it does out here.

    You can live however you want to live. It doesn’t bother me.

  • neroden

    Queen has a streetcar too and there has been strong discussion of doing the same on Queen.

  • neroden

    What you’ve just discovered is that it’s much more popular to live near the train station. Other people willl pay $2.1 million for it. If you don’t want to, don’t ask us to subsidize your car trips — pay for your roads yourself.

  • Where does your food supply come from? It gets hauled on roads, not on street trolleys. How do consumer goods get to your stores? Those of us who own cars pay to register them every year up to $1000 annually, then we pay fuel tax, road tolls, and bridge tolls, and we also have to pay for insurance too.

    What do you trolley or bicycle riders pay for? Rail mass transit only pays an average of 20% of operating cost at the farebox. The NYC subway system only recovers 10% of operating cost from the farebox and the Port Authority Hudson (PATH) system that serves Manhattan from New Jersey only recovers 5% of operating cost from the farebox.

    Perhaps if transit riders had to pay enough to keep urban mass transit profitable there wouldn’t be nearly as many transit riders.

    I am well aware that in that period between the post US Civil War era when scheduled steam rail urban commuter service began and the 1920s before most US cities were overtaken by cars that the most-expensive residential and commercial property was close to train stations and rail mass transit stops, and that the most-expensive urban factory land was also along rail lines.

    However, that limited city development and urban revenue collection also as land further away from rail stops was worth less based on distance from those rail stations. The auto age was the great equalizer which made land value across urban areas nearly the same, with the lowest-value land then too close to railroad tracks and too close to polluting industry.

    So let me ask you? Why shouldn’t urban trolley riders pay full price to keep such rail systems profitable so that those of us who own and drive cars as well as those of us who haul food and consumer goods don’t have to pay lots extra to subsidize both urban mass transit riders and land value near rail stations and trolley stops?

  • 9b

    The short answer to your question is that neither drivers nor people who use public transit pay the full price of the cost to build and maintain that infrastructure through fares, fuel taxes, registration fees, etc., which makes sense, since the point of transportation networks isn’t just to get people and goods from point A to point B, but to make the economy more productive by making it easier to get people and goods from point A to point B. Assuming that you accept that the impact on the economy is the goal of the transportation network, that probably leads you to some sort of detailed analysis where it makes sense to spend money on roads, and mass transit, and things like sidewalks and bike lanes. It also probably leads you to an analysis where some, but not all of the costs of those things are recouped by things like tolls, congestion charges, fares, gasoline taxes, registration fees, etc., in part because each additional user of those roads, buses, etc. imposes a cost on the other users by slowing things down (and in the case of roads increases the wear and tear, especially freight trucks with heavy loads), and so it makes sense to use price to ration access to some extent, so that people don’t overuse roads and transit and by doing so destroy the economic value those networks create.

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