Saturday, April 05, 2008

Metronauts: Continuing the conversation (Part 1)

Metronauts (powered by Transit Camp) was a whirlwind of good ideas, interesting conversations and networking with industry professionals and transit advocates. Here, the first in a series of posts, I will try to continue some of the conversations started on that interesting day. In this post, I'll be taking about transit malls.

Essentially, a transit mall, in the Toronto context, is a street closed to all but transit vehicles. There are no examples in Toronto, but if European models were followed, we could see a lively pedestrian street, wide sidewalks and cycle lanes, and a transit right-of-way down the centre. There would be no cars permitted.

The city has planned to implement a project on King Street between Dufferin and Parliament which would result in a sort of transit mall (more info is available here), but local opposition to the notion of eliminating cars from the street has resulted in a pilot project between Yonge and University being postponed seemingly indefinitely. I'd like to see the pilot implemented, but there are a few questions I would love to ask.

Firstly, I've always wondered how much on-street parking contributes to the overall parking stock in an area. In the entertainment district, where the worst congestion is, there are many off-street lots. I know that there are traffic calming benefits to on-street parking, but I suspect that eliminating on-street parking and replacing it with less crowded, more frequent transit service would see an increase in customers. I'm not a business person, but isn't the bottom line to attract more customers?

Secondly, I think that half of a transit mall is to complement a pedestrian-friendly area, and not just to give transit an advantage over congestion. Based on this, why King and Bay for the pilot project? After dark, the area becomes deserted enough to play large games of urban capture-the-flag without even having to close down the streets. Why not King & Spadina or Queen & John? Those are two areas where adding transit malls will improve service and complement existing pedestrian areas. Obviously, we need to establish success through a pilot before we get too ambitious, and if we want the pilot to be successful, we should select a location where it will have a fighting chance. But, we can't take our eye of the prize.

Transit Malls have worked well in Europe, and do have a place in Toronto. But, before we can implement them, we have to have a culture shift from cars and on-street parking to transit and no-need-for parking. That, unfortunately, will take much more time than the construction ever will.

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