News Toronto

Executive committee votes to give streetcars right of way on King St.

Shawn Jeffords, Political Bureau Chief

By Shawn Jeffords, Political Bureau Chief

Streetcars on King St. (ERNEST DOROSZUK, Toronto Sun)

Streetcars on King St. (ERNEST DOROSZUK, Toronto Sun)

Mayor John Tory’s powerful executive committee proclaimed transit royalty on King St., approving a controversial trial project designed to speed up streetcars at the expense of motorists.

Tory and seven city councillors on the committee approved the year-long King Street Transit Pilot project Monday which would significantly restrict the flow of cars from Bathurst to Jarvis Sts.

If the proposal receives final approval from city council in July, left turns would be banned on the affected stretch of King, starting in the fall.

Motorists would only be able to access right-hand loops on each block, clearing the way for streetcars which are often stuck in traffic along the busy street.

Janice Soloman, of the Toronto Entertainment District Business Improvement Area, told councillors that area businesses are concerned about the impact the pilot will have on the two Mirvish theatres on King.

Soloman said some businesses fear those new rules may discourage theatre patrons — 46% rely on cars — from even making the trip downtown.

“It takes time for behaviour to change, but in the case of Mirvish patrons, there is a strong percentage of them who will only drive by car,” she said. “As a matter of fact, they will chose not to come downtown if it appears to be too complicated.”

Soloman said the city needs to get the word out to drivers that the street isn’t more complex to use. The city should measure the economic impact the project has on local businesses and use that when it considers the results of the pilot, she insisted.

“Everyone knows transit has to move and be more efficient, no one will deny that,” said Soloman. “But we want to make sure that the economic measurements are in place so that we can be monitoring everything.”

Mayor John Tory stressed that King St. currently isn’t working for anyone — transit riders, drivers or pedestrians. Something needs to be done to change the status quo, he said.

“You put it in, you see if it works and if it doesn’t work, you have the guts to take it out,” he said. “It takes guts to put it in. It takes guts to take it out if it doesn’t work ... but to do nothing would be irresponsible.”

The pilot will cost the city $2.1 million, including the $600,000 the TTC will have to spend on operational expenses attributed to the program.

Meanwhile, representatives from the taxi industry asked the city to consider exempting cabs from the strict car rules.

But Councillor Joe Cressy argued making the exception for cabs would defeat the purpose of the program.

“This isn’t a taxi- and transit-first approach, it’s a transit-first approach,” he insisted. “You can’t have a transit-first approach with taxis going straight through.”

sjeffords@postmedia.com