Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

No cars on King Street: What have we got to lose?

By: Metro Toronto Published on Mon Jun 24 2013

TTC CEO Andy Byford came forward with a big, radical idea last week. And Toronto, I’ve decided, is a city that needs big, radical ideas.

In this town, we need to at least be open to trying stuff.

Byford’s plan — also endorsed by TTC chair Karen Stintz — is to explore improving travel times on the transit agency’s busiest surface route by closing downtown King Street to cars in the morning rush hour. The idea, really, is to improve transit by removing traffic.

For some, this seems counterintuitive. It’s easy to dismiss the plan as a disaster in the making that will just lead to redirected traffic choking other east-west routes across downtown. But transit proponents can easily counter that by pointing out that King Street sees far more use as a transit corridor than it does as a route for vehicle traffic — those streetcars are carrying way more people than the cars.

Will it work? Who knows. There are more variables at play than just cars. Route management plays a big role in transit reliability, too, and it might be possible to see substantial improvements just by better enforcing parking restrictions.

But the real beauty of the Byford-Stintz idea is that they’re not looking at pushing through a major, permanent change to King Street. They’re looking only at a pilot project — something that might last for a couple of weeks in the summer during the Pan American Games. After that, the idea can be evaluated based on its real-world merits.

If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, kill it.

Pilot projects such as this are exactly the kind of thing Toronto needs more of. They should be initiated frequently and all over the city. In New York City, transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has used a variety of pilots over the past few years to expand public spaces, increase transit capacity and create more bike infrastructure.

The New York experience shows that pilot projects can bring about change very quickly — it’s way simpler to throw down some temporary barriers than it is to issue an RFP for a big capital-works project. And it also shows that it’s a lot easier to get the public on board when a project isn’t seen as a permanent change.

One of the bigger perception problems faced by the former municipal administration under Mayor David Miller was that people felt as if they were making permanent changes without consultation. The approach Byford and Stintz are proposing is different. Instead of pushing a permanent change to city streets, they’re asking if people want to take part in an experiment that just might make things better.

And that’s worth a shot.

This post was originally published at on 2013-06-24T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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