Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Service fit for a king

A comedian once said:

"I live at King and Dufferin. I take the Dufferin bus. I would take the King streetcar, but it is a myth. You have a greater chance of seeing a dragon than the King streetcar.

I once saw a dragon. I would have gladly climbed on his back and valiantly ridden him downtown... But he said he was turning at Bathurst."

Service on King is run as frequently as two minutes, which, according to the TTC, is unheard of for street railways operating in mixed traffic. Streetcars often get bunched up and crush loaded, to the point where the commission operates 30% more cars than necessary during the morning peak period. Yet, the problems continue. Something must be done, and a new TTC report poses some solutions and calls upon the TTC to get the city (who has jurisdiction over some of the proposals) on board. Here's what's on the table:

Approve a demonstration project for July and August 2008 which would temporarily implement a plan that was first proposed in 2001. This plan calls for a type of streetcar right-of-way where one curb lane would be converted to an extended sidewalk, alternating each block. Car traffic would only be allowed to make a right turn onto King, then would have to make a right turn off at the next intersection. Left turns would be banned, and streetcar tracks would only be used by cars to get around a stopped delivery truck. It's hard to visualize from the description, but here's a few images from Transit Toronto, which posted them from the original report:

Note in figure 2 how there is a car in front of the streetcar in the foreground. If that car is making a left turn then the streetcar will be delayed, likely for the entire traffic cycle. At two minute frequency, bunching is the end result.

I am in favour of this plan, but the business community is already (like they were in 2001) against it, citing the loss of parking among other things. Like some of the other proponents of the plan, I question how much on-street parking actually adds to the total parking along the King corridor. With Steve Munro saying that the 504 car has a 60% market share of transit between Strachan and Yonge, the argument that on-street parking is vital to allowing people to access the area doesn't seem as believable to me.

Here's what else is being proposed:
  • Rescind the bylaw that bans traffic from using the streetcar tracks on certain sections of King during the peak hours because it isn't being enforced.
  • Designate King between Dufferin and Parliament a "Transit Priority Zone", where traffic violations are more severely punished.
  • Expand the red light camera program to catch people who do illegal left turns and park and stop illegally.
  • Construct taxi bays in the business district to allow taxis to stop without blocking traffic.
  • Direct the police to arrange ongoing enforcement of the traffic laws.
I'm in favour of all of those proposals except for the first one. Simply because we don't enforce the bylaw doesn't mean we should repeal it. We should keep in on the books, just in case the political will to enforce it comes back. The TTC isn't considering a proof-of-payment system yet, but with the fare card likely allowing all-door boarding on the streetcars of the future, they might as well wait. Also, the extended sidewalks from the plan could allow for restaurants to increase the size of their patios, a peace offering they will no doubt appreciate.

King Street is synonymous with the entertainment district, an area on anyone's shortlist of what makes Toronto what it is. We need to ensure its success, but success has to be measured in how many people can access the neighborhood, not how many cars we can cram onto the road. Success of the 504 car helps the success of the neighborhood.

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At 3/24/2007 6:56 a.m. , Blogger Andy said...

If there is a bylaw that bans traffic from using the streetcar tracks why is not being enforced. It would save the city and TTC a ton of money. Also the service would be improved. It seems to me that city over ten years ago installed a traffic light control in the streetcars. What has happen to it?

At 3/30/2007 9:09 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

Steve Munro has said in the past that the TTC and the city works department are at odds over signal priority, which is why its not being used to its full potential. If we want to make a transit city, the mayor needs to coordinate the city departments.

As for why they're not enforcing the law, who knows. Witnessing traffic crimes like driving in the wrong lane, illegal turns and other stuff like that are so hit and miss to begin with.


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