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Did ambition hurt Smart Track?

A group of colleagues and I set up the Transit Alliance back in 2011 to educate the public on the need for dedicated transit funding and transit development. We believed that transit development was suffering because politicians used it to garner votes, but few bothered delivering on their promises. Our goal at the Alliance was to keep transit development in the public eye, so politicians couldn’t slink away from it. By keeping the level of discussion around transit constant, the public would demand development. We started the discussion on dedicated transit funding, we worked on building support on the use of tolls, and we advocated on the need to build the Relief Subway Line.

As I look back over our work, I realize that our biggest challenges came from politicians who tried to use transit as a stepping stone to power. Politicians, who created controversy over what and where transit lines should be built, were actually delaying the development of transit across Toronto. For example the Eglinton West subway line broke ground in 1994, but was cancelled with the tunnel filled in by Premier Mike Harris in 1995, to the horror of transit development experts around the world.

Political candidates (desperate for power) continually throw out transit plans that will garner the most votes. But transit is a complex issue and planning it properly to meet with population and density growth should be left to educated experts not campaign teams. Unfortunately, in Toronto few politicians listen to the experts.

In 2014 Mayor John Tory came out with a transit plan that was put together by some of the best transit experts in North America. Their focus was to create a transit plan that would help not just Toronto, but the entire region. And knowing the political road blocks likely to happen along the way, my guess is that they created a plan that asked for much more than what is essential, as politicians and public servants would invariably widdle down the plan over time. Mayor Tory’s Smart Track plan lived up to its name and was a smart plan for the entire region. Tory pointed out that the Relief Line was the highest priority subway line, but he also knew that the connections that moved people across the region were key to a strong transit network.

What many don’t realize is that politicians rely on public servants to deliver on their plans. Mayor Tory relied on his former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat to figure out how to deliver Smart Track efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to do it and seemed to have stalled the process. I’ve grown to admire and respect Mayor Tory. But I know him well enough to know that he would never point this out.

Today I learned that Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner, is now blaming Mayor Tory for her failure to deliver Smart Track. Her lack of willingness to take responsibility for her failures is shameful. But to blame Mayor Tory for her lack of success makes me wonder if she might have actually worked to hold it back? As chief planner, she could have added multiple layers of red tape, she could have delayed every aspect of the planning process around Smart Track and undermined the entire project.

I remember a dinner the Transit Alliance hosted with Jennifer Keesmaat as our guest of honour back in 2015 when she was Toronto’s chief planner. Keesmaat spoke about how great the Smart Track plan was and how it would help relieve gridlock in and out of the city. After dinner, I suggested that she should go into politics, that she might gain a lot of support. Her response – “Why do you think I’m here?”

Doug Ford receives backlash for plan to cut city council

After Premier Doug Ford announced that he would be introducing a bill to slash Toronto’s city council from 47 members to 25, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Mayor John Tory are criticizing the decision.

On Monday Ford introduced the Better Local Government Act at the provincial legislature. The plan would be to cut city council nearly in half, a move that brought forth criticism from city council, John Tory, and opposing leader Andrea Horwath.

The Premier’s office released further information last Friday on why they’re choosing to introduce such a controversial bill. “At 44 seats, growing to 47 seats, Toronto City Council has become increasingly dysfunctional and inefficient through a combination of entrenched incumbency and established special interests,” they wrote. A streamlined Toronto City Council would empower Toronto’s mayor and help ensure that Toronto taxpayers can count on an efficient and effective municipal government.” They added that the bill could help save Toronto taxpayers over $25.5 million over the next four years but didn’t provide any specifics.

The bill will also extend the nomination period for city council candidates to September 14, 2018, though the deadline for Mayor would remain the same.

Mayor John Tory told reporters that the bill was “absolutely not right” to introduce without consulting with Torontonians. “I’m angry at the process because I think it is disrespectful of the people, most of all, in that I think people, when there’s a major change being made to their civic democracy, deserve to be consulted in one way, shape or form,” he said. “It wasn’t put on the basis that he was planning to do it. He said that he’s talked about it before and I actually sort of dismissed it on the basis of saying, ‘Well, that’s not something that could be done. We’re in the middle of an election campaign,’” he added. “The matter dropped at that stage because I didn’t have the sense he was pursuing it, either.”

Tory also called for a referendum, which was approved by city council. “I will continue to advocate that the province pushes the pause button on this process and let the municipal election already underway proceed,” he added in a Twitter thread on July 30.

Ford received further criticism from opposing leader Andrea Horwath, who released a statement about the bill, saying that he didn’t announce these plans on the campaign trail or consult people. “It’s clear that Mr. Ford wants a smaller number of councillors to have more power, fewer checks and balances, and less accountability. This is obviously a move to make it easier for the premier to control Toronto City Hall. The actions we hear Mr. Ford plans to take not only mean less accountability and transparency at City Hall, but that each Torontonian will have less help and less access to their city councillor,” she said.

Horwath also tweeted about the bill, calling it something Ford “cooked up in a backroom.”

Ford is defending his decision at City Hall and on social media since July 27. “I promised to reduce the size and cost of government, and end the culture of waste and mismanagement. More politicians are not the answer. These changes will dramatically improve the decision making process, and help restore accountability and trust in local governments,” he wrote on Friday.

Ford posted a video of him yesterday addressing the concerns of his bill. “We’re gonna create jobs. We’re gonna create transit. We’re gonna fix the infrastructure and we’re gonna take care of the billion dollars backlogged of housing. People are sleeping on the streets cause too much money’s going to politicians,” he said. He accompanied the 0: 15-second clip with a tweet saying, “We’re going to make government work for the people. We can’t allow political gridlock and dysfunction at City Hall to keep delaying progress on critical issues. By streamlining City Council, we will help Toronto move forward on transit, infrastructure and housing.”

Progress Toronto, an advocacy group supporting democracy, started a petition to stop Ford’s bill called “Stop Ford’s takeover of Toronto politics.” They wrote that Ford is “abusing his power as premier and he is messing with our political system in the middle of an election to try to control Toronto City Hall from Queen’s Park.”

13 injured, 2 dead in Danforth shooting

Over a dozen people are injured and two victims have died following a Toronto shooting that took place on July 22 at approximately 10:00 p.m. in the Greektown neighbourhood.

An unnamed 29-year-old shooter was armed with a handgun and open fired on pedestrians in Toronto’s popular Danforth and Broadview area. The shooter was also pronounced dead in a nearby alleyway after an altercation with police, though reports have yet to confirm whether he died from police gunfire or if he took his own life.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke with reporters following the attack.

“Approximately 15 people have been hit with gunfire,” Saunders told reporters. “There are 15 in total. One is the alleged suspect, the other 14 are victims. I can tell you that one has succumb to their injuries at this point in time. A young girl is in critical state right now and the other 13 are in hospital and being treated.”

Regarding motive, Saunders told reporters that he’s keeping every option open. “I’m looking at absolutely every possible motive for this. When you have this many people that are struck by gunfire, it’s a grave concern. I certainly want to find out exactly what it is, so I’m not closing any doors or any chapters on this,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to speculate as well. Once we have a better concrete picture of exactly what happened and what the motivation was behind it, we definitely will be having a further conversation on that.”

He added that he didn’t believe the shooting was random. “I’m not calling it random. This person was here and he definitely shot. I don’t know why he did what he did,” he said.

Saunders also asked any witnesses to come forward, including those who may have dash cam footage.

Mayor Tory then spoke with reporters, saying that he wanted to reiterate a few points from Saunders. “First of all, people should not reach any conclusions because the police themselves have not drawn any conclusions as to exactly what happened here and why,” he said. He added that he also wanted to reiterate Saunders’ call for help from any witnesses who may have seen something.

“Please don’t draw any conclusions, please wait for the police to do their job,” he continued. “They have plenty of police resources here.”

He added that the families of the victims have the city’s thoughts and prayers.

The Danforth shooting comes just three months after Toronto’s deadly van attack. When reporters questioned what Tory had to say to those who were still recovering from the previous attack, he said, “It’s almost inconceivable these kinds of things can happen. We were too used to living in a city where these things didn’t happen and we saw them going on in the world around us we thought they didn’t happen here, or couldn’t, or shouldn’t.”

“I can just say to people that they should try to stay calm while the police do their job because we have to figure out what happened here. We don’t know.” he continued. “[…] Please just comfort your fellow Torontonian. These things, you can never brush them away and I’m angry about them. I’m angry when these kinds of things happen in the city and lots of people would be angry about it.”

Tory added that Toronto has a gun problem and that firearms are too readily available to people who aren’t the police. “We clearly have to do more about to because there are too many people who are carrying around guns and using them in whatever manner they use them in whatever connection,” he said. “That’s part of what we shouldn’t conclude, just that there was a gun used. We have a gun problem and I just hope every step is going to be taken by all those who have responsibility.”

Video footage of the shooter opening fire on civilians was posted to Twitter in a four-second clip.

Premier Doug Ford tweeted out as well saying that his heart went out to the victims and thanking the Toronto police for responding so quickly.

Toronto leaders speak out amidst current gun violence

After the weekend shooting in Toronto’s Kensington Market, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Premier Doug Ford, and Mayor John Tory have released statements on the current state of the city.

On Saturday evening around 8:00 p.m., shots rang out at Peter Street and Queen Street West and left two rappers dead and one woman in the hospital. The two rappers were identified as Smoke Dawg (Jahvante Smart), 21, and Koba Prime (Ernest Modekwe), 28.

The violence didn’t end on Saturday, however. On Sunday, police were called to the College Street and Augusta Avenue area when shots rang out around 10:30 p.m. Reports say that four people were injured during the crime. After the shooting, four suspects were seen fleeing the scene but police have yet to release a description of them.

Since the shootings took place on Canada Day, one of the busiest times in Toronto, Chief Saunders spoke with CP24 about the gun violence. “This is not the norm,” he told CP24. “Right in broad daylight on some of the busiest intersections of our city where there is gunplay. The gunplay usually occurs at night in particular neighbourhoods where there is not as much capacity of people. The brazenness is a concern.”

He added that the violence can be traced back to gang violence. “This is pointed to specific people. A random person walking down the street, it is highly unlikely that they are going to be in harm’s way,” he added.

A statement released by Tory read: “The unacceptable gun violence we’ve seen in the last few weeks has left me incredibly angry but resolved to work with the police to stamp it out. As Mayor, the safety of our city is my top priority and one that I share with Chief Mark Saunders and the men and women of the Toronto Police Service. That’s why we’re hiring 200 police officers this year, why I’ve always advocated for tougher gun control and tougher bail conditions for gun crime, and why we’re modernizing the police service to ensure there are more officers patrolling the streets.”

He added that he spoke with Chief Saunders who said that police are working to get to the bottom of the crimes. He also said that he plans to reach out to Premier Doug Ford and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss how they can better their efforts to combat gang violence.

“As I said at City Council last week, we need to toughen up bail guidelines for those caught committing gun crimes. Countless police officers – from constables to the Chief himself – have told me how frustrated they are by the fact someone they arrest for a gun crime can be back out on the street on bail quickly and ready to cause more mayhem. That is not right and that is something we can stop right now,” the statement also read.

Tory added that the city leaders need to work together to deploy more police and support law enforcement to keep criminals behind bars.

On Monday Ford released a statement on Twitter saying: “My heart goes out to the victims of the shootings in Toronto over the Canada Day long weekend. This has been a very difficult summer in our city, and thoughts and prayers just aren’t going to cut it anymore. We need action.” He added that Toronto is home to the greatest police officers and “we need to make sure they have the resources to round up these criminals, build relationships in communities, and prevent these shootings.” He concluded his statement by saying he looks forward to meeting with representatives from Toronto police forces to city leaders and law enforcement can work together to end “this senseless violence.”

Hopefully, Toronto’s leaders can band together to successfully get to the bottom of the gun violence currently happening in the city and make its citizens feel safe again.

 

Expanding urban revitalization across the GTA

In the last couple of years, Toronto has begun to transform the downtown core into a more liveable and walkable city. Beyond the King St. Pilot, which has increased transit use along the corridor, the city has also approved a bike lane pilot project, the revitalization of the Waterfront, the creation of a new skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, the proposal of a rail deck park, and the expansion of smart cities with Sidewalk Labs and (hopefully) Amazon.

And now, North York and Scarborough want in.

Residents and city councillors of North York have put together a plan called “REimagine Yonge” – now “Transform Yonge” – that would see the six-lane strip between Sheppard Ave. and Finch transform into a more walkable community. The original proposal approved by city staff suggests the removal of two lanes, the creation of a raised bike lane, and the widening of sidewalks for more public space and foliage, essentially copying the King Street vibe following the pilot study. The plan has the support of staff, local councillors, and residents who are looking forward to being able to safely walk in their neighbourhood; however, it does not have the support of the mayor.

Toronto mayor John Tory announced earlier this week an alternative plan that would include bike lanes on Beecroft Rd., which is parallel to Yonge. In this scenario, there would be no need to remove a lane of traffic on Yonge. According to reports, this “enhanced” plan will cost an extra $20 million. Tory told reporters he believes the area can be beautified without removing lanes in such a well-trafficked area.

“Transform Yonge” (City of Toronto)

North York isn’t the only neighbourhood that wants change. City councillor Paul Ainslie wants to expand the Bike Share program into Scarborough, as the 270 stations in Toronto are currently situated in the downtown core. With potential partners in GO Transit and the University of Toronto campus, Ainslie believes the program could thrive in that region.

It’s not surprising that these two areas want to change alongside downtown Toronto. Too often, the outskirt neighbourhoods are ignored when it comes to growth and development. Residents have indicated that they want connectivity. They want to live in a walkable city where commuters have the choice of walking or cycling safely, or where a sense of community exists beyond the household. They want the same level of investment as those who live in the downtown core.

No one wants to live in an area that doesn’t feel like a community — and if city hall is dedicated to this new transformation towards a sustainable and smart Toronto, it should be for all of it.

Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

What do you need to know about Toronto’s budget?

The 2018 city budget is set to go to city council on Monday. It is being described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “balanced” and “affordable”, focusing on low taxes and transit.

The $11 billion operating budget sets the tone for services and capital projects for the next year. The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

The budget will include $9 million for traffic initiatives, including $1.6 million for traffic wardens, $477,000 to fix temporary lane blockages on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway, and $2.7 million for smart traffic signals. “Over the last three years, people across the city have made it clear that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect City Hall to tackle,” said Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson, in a statement. “The 2018 budget builds upon work we have done each and every year on the City’s congestion plan to get Toronto moving.”

There will be a significant investment in transit this year, with over $50 million in new investments to the Toronto Transit Commission, including $4.8 million for the TTC Fair Pass, which will provide discounts for low-income riders, and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Tory. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Other highlights include $279 million in new funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation, $486 million for the George Street revitalization, the creation of 825 new child care and 20,000 new recreational spaces.

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”

Media personality uses his position to gain sex

The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are empowering women to step forward to try to stop sexual misconduct, and to shape a better world for our children. To do this it requires that guilty men fall.  The question that many are asking is do these men need to fall so harshly? The court of public opinion can ruin careers, it is unforgiving and the media stokes the flames with every dirty little secret uncovered. Is this public shaming a necessary part of the change our society is going through?

I hope we will get to a day when it isn’t needed, but think, as the beginning of social change sets in, the public shaming is a necessary part of the social change. And I say this as someone who has experienced public shaming. 

By taking on the Mayor of Toronto in 2013, and being the first to talk about his drug use and sexual misconduct, I became a target for Ford nation. And I admit that I wasn’t prepared to go up against a very savvy and strategic campaign (led by Rob’s brother Doug Ford) to bury the truth. From the moment the news hit social media, Doug Ford was on the phone with all the media personalities in Toronto, calling in favours and working to gain their support for his brother. His goal was to get them to discredit me, to turn the public against me and make the Mayor out to be the victim.  A friend of mine was, at the time, hosting a talk show on Newstalk 1010 and he warned me that Doug Ford was calling all the key commentators and trying to get them to discredit me. Doug was able to manipulate many of them. Even those who knew me to be a legitimate community advocate turned against me.  They spent a week questioning my background, my authenticity, and making Mayor Ford out to be the victim. Doug Ford succeeded at manipulating the media to work on his agenda, and for a time they were so busy attacking me, they ignored the legitimate stories swirling around the Mayor. Ford’s strategy to deceive the public through the media worked – until it didn’t.

But the public shaming was a terrible experience and I understand now why so few came to defend me. I am thankful to the men who did – Mayor John Tory and Greg Sorbara – were two men who stood up in a sea of accusations to suggest that I wasn’t one to exaggerate. But for a week or two I couldn’t get on the subway or walk through a grocery store without a Ford fanatic following behind me screaming that I was a lying bitch.  So I know very well what the court of public opinion can do to someone. And I also know that eventually the truth comes out – as it did on Mayor Ford.

Today women are finally uniting and using their voices to shine a spotlight on the sexual abuse and misconduct of some very powerful public figures. The guilty need to fall. And I for one believe that the truth will protect those who are wrongfully accused, as it did me. I went through hell, but I am stronger for it. The time has come for men who abuse their power to pay for their actions.  

There is still one man whose actions haunt me. In 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto, I was on a political talk show with the other top four candidates.  The show was widely watched and it helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes into the lunch the host asked me if I would sleep with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He was great at calming me down and  joked that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time. I hope he was just bragging, but I’ve always wondered if the women who are frequent guests on his show have slept with him.

Back in 2010 this meant that some of the male candidates had extra exposure on his show that I couldn’t get. They didn’t have to sleep with him to get on his show.  It was frustrating but in a busy campaign we didn’t have time to address it.  When I talk with younger women, they are shocked at the way the world was back then.  I realize that women of my generation were programmed to accept how it was. We had to joke about it because getting mad every other day wasn’t healthy. I remember a woman saying to me once when I complained about an editor who slept with interns that “boys will be boys.”  It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned that some boys turn into caring and compassionate men concerned about building a fair and just society. 

In 2010 the host  made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against, because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t. He didn’t give a damn about how he impacted my future.   In the years since he’s approached me several times, usually at political functions, to suggest we “sleep together” and he always laughs about it.  I wonder if he does this so that if he is ever held to account he can claim that he was only joking? I also wonder how he would explain why he has never had me on his show, in a climate where talk show hosts complain that they can’t get women to appear on their shows?  And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience I did with him? How many women have not been invited back to his show simply because they won’t sleep with him?

I wonder too what our next steps should be? My assistant who sat with me at the table when I was propositioned by this host, remembers the conversation well. But my gut tells me we will need to gather a few other women who have shared a similar experience in order for his CEO to take this seriously. With two elections coming up this year the host will have many opportunities to prey on women candidates. I hope my words will stop him from abusing his power. So I shout them and warn women to be careful – avoid lunching with the host of a talk show!  If you have experienced the same situation, and know whom I am writing about, please contact me – sarah@sarahthomson.ca. We will protect your identity. 

And I warn him: we are coming. We aren’t rushing, but we are slowly gathering our facts and we won’t let up.  Do the right thing, and step down from your job.

December data shows King St. pilot working

Ridership has increased on the King St. streetcar during the morning commute by 25 per cent, according to city data.

Last week, the City of Toronto released the December statistics for the King Street Pilot. It showed an increase in ridership and an improvement in traffic times. In total, reliability has increased by 33 per cent — a shocking statistics only two months into the study. Prior to the pilot, travel times varied at an average of 10 minutes. Throughout December, that average was reduced to 6.7 minutes.

Afternoon rush hour has also improved by about four minutes in each direction, therefore the city is adding more buses along the 504 and 514 routes to accommodate the increased ridership.

“The benefit of pilot projects is that they allow us to learn as we go,” said Councillor Joe Cressy. “We’re able to make improvements, adjust to fill gaps and continue to evaluate options and work together to ensure the pilot works better for everyone.”

For those concerned about traffic on parallel streets, the data shows vehicle travel time on neighbouring streets was only minimally affected. The city will now be offering up to two hours of discounted parking around the corridor to help support local businesses. Ninety parking spaces will be added to side streets in the area to replace the spaces that were removed.

Store owners have reported a decrease in sales since the pilot study began back in November, and have complained rather publicly about how the transit-first policy is impacting their finances. The city will now be measuring point of sale data and providing that information in February’s data set. This will allow staff to determine once and for all how businesses are being affected by the pilot.

“We are dedicated to making sure King Street works for everyone,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “I believe these updates to the Pilot will help transit riders, businesses and drivers. I remain committed to listening to everyone about this project and making changes where they make sense.”

The “Everyone is King” design competition will continue until spring 2018 in an attempt to introduce new and creative public art instillations to fill empty spaces along the corridor.

The King Street pilot runs from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor funnels drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.