Drivers may want to avoid King Street starting this weekend as a major redesign aimed at speeding up streetcars along the busy artery goes into effect.
In July, city council approved a $1.5 million pilot project to remake King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis street so streetcars will be able to move through the area more quickly.
The project, which goes into effect at 7 a.m. on Sunday, will remove all 180 on-street parking spaces between Bathurst and Jarvis streets and introduce several restrictions that are aimed at discouraging through-traffic.
Vehicles travelling eastbound on King Street will be forced to turn at Bathurst Street and vehicles traveling westbound will be required to turn on Jarvis Street.
Left turns at signalized intersections along King Street will also be forbidden during the project.
The restrictions apply to all vehicles with the exception of licensed taxis, which will be exempted from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and City of Toronto emergency and maintenance vehicles.
“At times sadly walking has become quicker than public transit and that needs to change. King Street is not working and making more modest changes just simply wasn’t an option anymore,” TTC Chair Josh Colle told reporters on Thursday. “The King pilot is about improving transit reliability, speed and capacity between Bathurst and Jarvis. It is about putting people and transit first.”
Work on installing the signage needed for the redesign of King Street has been ongoing since Oct. 30. The painting of new pavement markings, meanwhile, began on Wednesday.
The city says that one-street parking spaces will be officially removed from the pilot area on Friday and traffic lights will be retimed as of Saturday, paving the way for the start of the project the next day.
During the first two weeks of the pilot project, Colle said that there will be an enhanced police presence along King Street to remind drivers about the changes. Drivers will be given an initial grace period to adjust to the new rules but Colle said that “very strict” enforcement will be the norm after that.
He said the hope is that some drivers may opt to take the streetcar once it starts moving more efficiently, though he conceded that many vehicles will just move to alternate routes.
“We realize that there are adjacent and alternate routes that vehicles will move to and we will be looking at the impact of that. But it is also worth mentioning that we hope that by making transit reliable on King people may not feel the need to drive through this corridor,” he said. “There will always be vehicles on King Street, the pilot allows for local access, but we hope that as it gets more reliable with better service and better streetcars people will get out of their cars and use King Street that way.
About 65,000 people ride the King streetcar on an average weekday, making it the TTC’s busiest surface route. The stretch of King Street affected by the pilot project, meanwhile, is used by about 20,000 vehicles each weekday.
The pilot project will be in effect until no later than Dec. 31, 2018, though it could end earlier than that.
Speaking with reporters about the launch of the project on Thursday, Ward 19 Coun. Mike Layton said the city had to “try something.
Layton said the hope is that by speeding up the 504 streetcar, the city will be helping both transit riders and drivers, who do benefit from cars being taken off the roads.
“We should commend those taking transit because what they are doing is they are making the choice not to drive their cars and add additional congestion on the street but instead ride with some of their neighbours to work. We should be working to make their life and their ride in the morning better,” he said.
Here is what you need to know about the pilot project:
- Vehicles travelling eastbound on King Street must turn left or right at Bathurst Street. Vehicles travelling westbound must turn left or right at Jarvis Street.
- Through vehicular traffic should use other parallel east-west streets: Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, Front, Queens Quay, Lake Shore and the Gardiner Expressway, and then access King Street via north-south streets.
- TTC vehicles, City of Toronto emergency and maintenance vehicles, and cyclists are allowed to travel through the pilot area at all times of the day.
- Space for cyclists is provided in the curb lane but no dedicated bike lanes are provided.
- Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., City-licensed taxis are allowed to travel straight through the pilot area. At other times, taxis must follow the same rules as other traffic.
- There is no on-street parking on King Street in the pilot area. On-street parking is available on some nearby streets and there are several off-street parking lots near King Street.
- While travelling on King Street, left turns at signalized intersections (turning off King Street) are not allowed.
- Current turning restrictions for accessing King Street will remain in place (where left turns onto King Street were previously permitted, they will continue to be permitted).
- Existing permitted movements and restrictions on north-south streets will continue after the launch of the King Street Transit Pilot. For example, vehicle traffic on all north-south streets in the pilot area (such as Bathurst, Spadina, John, University and Yonge) can still cross King Street.