City council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of making the King Street pilot project permanent despite objections from some restaurant owners.

Following a two-hour debate on Tuesday morning, council voted 22-3 to make the initiative permanent. Council also voted unanimously in favour of a separate motion directing staff to continue monitoring and assessing the performance of the project.

The pilot project, which gave streetcars priority use of King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis, was first launched in November, 2017.

Since then, the average weekday ridership on the King streetcar has increased from 72,000 to 84,000. Streetcar commute times have also improved in every time period with the exception of late Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The King Street Pilot was not without controversy, though.

The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association has said that 17 restaurants in the area closed since the pilot began.

The city’s data also suggests that spending in restaurants along King Street declined by 1.2 per cent in the one-year period following the start of the pilot project when compared to the preceding year.

Spending in the retail and services sector, meanwhile, was up 1.7 per cent in the pilot area, effectively offsetting the drop in spending at restaurants.

“The bottom line is that the third busiest transit route in all of the city is now working much, much better, as intended,” Mayor John Tory said during the meeting. “It is not only working better for the people who were using it – 72,000 of them – but it is now working better for 84,000 people.”

City to spend $1.5M on public realm improvements

As part of the pilot project, about 180 on-street parking spaces along King Street have been removed and through traffic has been largely prohibited.

The removal of the parking spaces allowed the city to create 19 temporary public spaces along the curb lane on King Street and as part of making the pilot permanent the city will now spend $1.5 million on improving and enhancing those spaces as well as the infrastructure at streetcar stops.

Speaking with members of council at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, Tory called the project “an investment in King Street, an investment in the city and an investment in public transit.”

“If you look at one of the principal objectives we have as a council, as a city, which is to get people to use public transit more, we have facilitated that with this initiative,” he said.

Holyday wanted hours for pilot project curtailed

Both staff and Mayor John Tory supported making the pilot project permanent but a faction of restaurants in the area instead championed a “compromise” solution in which through traffic would have been allowed along the street between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 24/7 on the weekend.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Etobicoke Centre Coun. Stephen Holyday moved a motion in support of that idea, which he claimed would have “no downside.” That motion, however, was defeated 19-6.

“I really think that councillors need to take off their rose couloured glasses once in a while and filter out the fanfare,” Holyday said while wearing heart-shaped, rose-coloured glasses in an apparent effort to prove his point. “Not everything is always positive. The report itself admits that in the morning rush there wasn’t a lot of time savings (for streetcars), if any at all. The thing that surprised me the most is that by removing vehicles we actually didn’t do better than what we did, so I am a little dubious about how great all these things are.”

Holyday said that the benefits of the King Street pilot were overstated and were not enough to offset the losses he said were being incurred by some businesses in the area.

University-Rosedale Coun. Mike Layton, however, accused Holyday of ignoring the “irrefutable” evidence that the pilot is working. He quipped that Holyday should get the prescription checked for the rose-coloured glasses he was wearing in the council chambers.

“Maybe my dear colleague can get his prescription checked because obviously he is not reading this report,” he said. “Maybe he also needs to get his hearing checked because perhaps he didn’t hear the answers from staff when they said it was unprecedented the benefit from this pilot.”

It should be noted that staff have previously rejected the idea of altering the hours for the pilot project. In a report released earlier this month, they noted that “transit ridership continues to be high in off-peak periods” and said that any changes to the hours of the pilot project would make public realm improvements difficult to implement.