This week King Street will be closed between Spadina and University for four days including two working days. Reason? Film festival! The many restaurants in this strip are to take over the road and expand their seating on to the street. The King streetcar service will be trashed for the duration and time consuming diversions are in order for all those using the City’s busiest streetcar line. This is Toronto giving the finger to all those riders.
My walk along King this morning showed very little paraphernalia in the way of the streetcar, and what was in the way could easily be repositioned a little to make way.
Quite obviously, and contrary to what we keep hearing, transit is not top priority, as this and many other instances attest. Put more bluntly, the many riders who are affected are treated as second class citizens, the ‘essential’ service on which they rely is trashed on a whim. And make no mistake, this is not just a film festival thing, it happens all the time, for cranes, for films, and events of all kinds.
Taking on the film festival will inevitably evoke a chorus of derision, reminding us how important TIFF is, its value to the city, none of which I disagree with. But to so fail to accommodate the daily 20,000 riders is beyond unreasonable.
It will take at least 15 years (2029 or later) to plan and build the Downtown Relief Line, which, depending on its location, might well relieve the King streetcar somewhat. But now, today, the service is stretched beyond capacity, and every stop should be pulled out to increase its capacity further, anticipating the still larger numbers who will want to use it. But the best we can do is facilitate events that trash it without a thought to the transit rider.
Council last week approved 750 stories of new office and condo construction. A building takes 3-4 years to build start to finish which means lots of it will be occupied about 2018. But the Relief Line is still 2029. That’s still 11 or more years before the Downtown Relief Line is ready.
One would hope the TTC would be the champion of the ‘rider’, it’s client, and fight tooth and nail for their interests. Not so unfortunately as instead they appear to acquiesce and remain silent, likely the manifestation the board’s unwillingness to properly serve the transit rider in favour of other agendas. Its sad too that the event sponsor, Tiff in this case, cannot itself figure out that trashing transit is not reasonable and not ask for it. Transit could very very easily have been accommodated with virtually no impact on the event, what is called a win win.
To me, compromise is entirely possible, but does not appear to have been considered. The streetcars could very well continue to operate, with the placement of intermittent temporary railing sections. These free standing railing sections could be placed every say 10m on both sides of the two tracks in the center of the road. The railing purpose is to remind and orient party goers of the active right of way, and the intermittent placement avoids a feeling of constriction and allows crossing with ease. Alternatively, several of the railing sections could be linked together, followed by a larger gap. Streetcar speed could be kept to about 30kph and the bell used in crowded sections. This leaves two sidewalks and two full traffic lanes for extra restaurant seating and pedestrian walking.
Further, streetcars could very well continue service during a great many other events, acknowledging their essential nature.
The King streetcar is one of several major east west transit routes, since there is not and will not soon be subways. It’s all we have got. It has to work ever better every day for 15 years. So it is time for one and all to adopt an ‘Essential Means Essential’ approach to transit.