Toronto’s King and Queen Streets — where packed streetcars stop and wait behind one left-turning driver or someone taking forever to parallel-park — is one of North America’s greatest monuments to the natural superiority of motorists over everyone else.
These streetcars are all Toronto has in the way of east-west transit through the very core of downtown, yet their operations are routinely strangled by quite small numbers of cars, running as slow as 6 km/hr (4 mi/hr) (!) during the peak in the most critical section. This for a service that carries the overwhelming majority of the people moving down the street.
We’re talking about the middle of downtown Toronto, the city’s densest and fastest densifying area. For such a place to function, transit just as to succeed.
Since this is Canada, you can be sure these are legacy streetcar lines. Almost nobody outside the US intentionally builds streetcars in mixed traffic, but many cities have inherited them. Long ago, they were reliable because there wasn’t much traffic. But things got worse in the usual boiling-frog manner, and now here we are.
Now, the city is attempting the first step to improve things, by banning through traffic on King Street, one of the two key arteries. Oliver Moore has the story, which sounds like almost every story about a city trying to pry a little space away from the motorist so that anyone else can move. In few places, though, are the motorist’s claims to dominion so indefensible.
The key change will be that cars will be forced right at every intersection, and left turns will be banned. There are still compromises: traffic is still in the streetcar’s lane, and refuges for passengers to board and alight will be marked only with paint.
Yet the plan will still be controversial at Council, with some Councilors arguing that they have a geometrically incoherent “right” or “need” to drive cars anywhere in the city. This plan is a critical step, and deserves enthusiastic support.