A $1.5-million pilot project that gives priority to streetcar traffic on King St. between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts. marks its one-year anniversary Monday with the city’s latest data showing a spike in transit ridership, cyclist and pedestrian travel and a slight improvement in customer spending in the busy downtown corridor.
City of Toronto data for July and August shows double-digit increases in streetcar ridership during the morning and evening commutes on King St. during the period compared to ridership before the project began last Nov. 12, with average all-day ridership jumping by 11 per cent to roughly 80,000 boardings per day.
The next “key metric” update, for September and October, is to be published on the city’s website soon while a decision on whether the pilot will be made permanent is expected by the end of the year.
Restricting car traffic and eliminating parking along a portion of King St., the project has reduced streetcar and car travel times while pumping up cycling volumes on King at Spadina Ave. by 440 per cent during the afternoon commute in July, with a similar trend observed in pedestrian traffic, the city data shows.
“King St. wasn’t working for anyone,” Mayor John Tory said during the summer.
“The King Street Transit Pilot demonstrates that we can move a larger number of people on the city’s busiest surface route, quickly and reliably, while managing the impact on drivers and local businesses,” Tory Tweeted in August.
“We believe the King St. pilot has been nothing short of transformational for the residents of Liberty Village,” added Todd Hofley, president of the Liberty Village Residents’ Association, representing about 10,000 condo dwellers. The group is among more than 15 organizations that launched a “We Love King” campaign to show support for the pilot project.
“We no longer have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for a streetcar and bunching has been substantially reduced,” he said in an email. “ We can now get downtown, reliably in 7-10 minutes and the significant increase in ridership is testament to this pilot’s effectiveness. We absolutely believe it should be made permanent and look forward to this becoming a reality — as Mayor Tory promised.”
Restaurant and other business owners in the area, however, have reported a big drop in customer traffic, with some taking part in a social media campaign that encourages people to use the hashtag #ReverseKingCarBan to protest the project.
Al Carbone, owner of the Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill, who placed a large ice sculpture of a hand showing the middle finger outside his restaurant earlier this year, told the Star on Saturday that his business has declined at least 30 per cent because of the pilot, which he wants reversed. He said several restaurants have closed since the launch and his business has been forced to function with a skeleton lunch time staff thanks to reduced car traffic, parking and the resulting loss of patrons.
The city’s data shows 0.3 per cent growth in customer spending in the pilot area in the first six months of the project versus average annual growth of 5.7 per cent for the area surrounding the pilot and 3.8 per cent for the city overall. Carbone said even if the city’s data is to believed, the growth rate is not enough.
“The time savings are paltry compared to the loss of parking revenues for the city, the increased congestion on neighbouring and parallel streets, and the loss of revenues for our establishments.”
After Tory met with business owners to discuss their concerns about the project, the city in January announced measures including free on street parking in the pilot area for up to two hours, additional parking spaces on side streets and additional loading zones for vehicles and trucks. That was followed by a promotion where diners could get $15 toward a meal that led to “significant sales increases and new customers” at enterprises near the contentious project.
Michael Lewis is a Toronto-based reporter covering business. Follow him on Twitter: @MLewisStar