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COMMENTARY: Let's Move on the King Street Transit Mall, 15 Years Later

At Transit Toronto, we oftentimes get e-mails from our readers, asking questions, saying kind words, and generally responding to what we’ve written. One of the subjects that’s come up from time to time has been about changing King Street from an arterial road into a more pedestrian-friendly transit mall. A number of these letter-writers are responding to this Transit Toronto editorial here expressing support for a similar plan to give King streetcars priority on King Street.

The thing is, that editorial was written in 2001 — fifteen years ago — and it has been a source of great frustration to me and others that this detailed and apparently workable, effective and inexpensive solution to the King streetcar’s delays and overcrowding vanished from the political scene with barely a whimper. Mayor Mel Lastman wasn’t friendly to it, and while Mayor David Miller and TTC Chair Adam Giambrone tried to pull a pilot project together, it failed to materialize and when the transit-hostile mayor Rob Ford took over, nothing that benefitted Toronto’s streetcar riders was going to find a friendly ear at city council. With so much time having passed, I had no reason to believe that Mayor Tory could make anything happen.

Therefore, it’s with some surprise and delight that I hear Toronto planners at City Hall discussing the possibility of creating a transit-pedestrian space on King Street from Liberty Village to the Distillery District. Better yet, such an improvement could occur by spring of 2017. I sincerely hope that Toronto city council and Mayor John Tory carry through on this proposal. To those of you who are packed in like sardines on the King streetcar, waiting for some idiot driver to make an illegal left turn, I encourage you all to write to mayor Tory and your local city councillor telling them to get behind this project. It just makes sense.

Even in 2001, the 504 KING streetcar carried twice as many people along King Street as competing private automobiles. The route itself is so full, riders seeking to get on from the rapidly developing neighbourhoods of Liberty Village and the Distillery District find barely any room to squeeze aboard. Reports suggest that coming this September, the TTC will install a new streetcar route along King Street from Dufferin to Cherry, but its effectiveness will be limited while private automobiles are allowed to block streetcars with impunity. Real transit priority on King Street will make this route effective, and turn this stretch of King Street into a mini-subway running through Toronto’s downtown core, allowing ridership to increase significantly, and making the neighbourhoods around King Street much more livable.

Fifteen years ago, we at Transit Toronto said “Let’s Move on the King Transit Mall”. Our reasons for saying so are even more valid today than they were then. So let’s get on with it, already! Let’s move.

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