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Our Future King: Rethinking Toronto’s busiest surface transit corridor

Toronto’s King Street is a commercial and creative hub, and it has long acted as a critical artery for the thousands of daily commuters who move through the city’s downtown core. But as its surrounding population swells, and traffic slows to a standstill, how can we design a more functional, free-flowing King Street?

On June 16th, eight urban thinkers came together for “Our Future King: Rethinking Toronto’s busiest surface transit corridor,” a panel discussion presented by the Pembina Institute, the Pembina Foundation, and the City of Toronto with support from the Metcalf Foundation that accompanied the City’s ongoing King Street Visioning Study. 


Photo: Env: Our Future King Event: Holly Thomson

Photo: Holly Thomson, Pembina Institute


While the panelists offered diverse suggestions for improving King — including greater bike parking, transit-only lanes, and time-restricting car traffic — their analyses were linked by five major themes:

Rethinking urban streets requires two-tiered levels of thinking.
In his introductory remarks, Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks encouraged the audience to think “both big and small.” Thinking “big” requires us to question our existing infrastructure, and to determine whether it effectively supports the behaviours and lifestyles of its current users. “Small” thinking concerns the details of our proposed alternatives, in which we’re challenged to accommodate the alternatively overlapping and opposing needs of various groups. Perks raised the recent example of Roncesvalles, in which 37 public consultations were required to ensure that each element of the avenue’s redevelopment supported its larger vision.

Toronto is having a moment.
According to Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, cities experience “moments” when they embrace change in ways that they haven’t in the past. King Street has traditionally placed car and transit traffic on an equal footing despite the fact that 75% of downtown residents walk, cycle, or take transit for their daily commute. Rather than a leap forward, Keesmaat framed the King Street visioning study as an opportunity to “catch up” to the changing face of downtown Toronto, and to take advantage of this crucial moment.

King Street is at a crossroads.
Almost 70,000 riders rely on the King streetcar every weekday, making it the busiest surface transit route in the city. CEO Andy Byford explained how the TTC’s recent responses, such as all-door boarding on streetcars, an improved scheduling system, and more on-street supervisors, have reached their limits in expediting traffic and alleviating congestion. “Until we do something radical,” said Byford, “it will still not be satisfactory.”

We have the tools to build the street we want.
Thanks to transit corridor developments in cities like San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Vancouver, Toronto has a wealth of studies and strategies to draw from in determining King Street’s future development. If, for example, the City decides that improving pedestrian safety and shortening transit commute times are its two major priorities, they can look to cities that have implemented streetcar right-of-way policies and asses their suitability for King Street.

King Street could be a harbinger of things to come.
The King Street visioning study is part of TOcore, a broader planning initiative which is currently undergoing public consultations. The results of any strategies tested on King are likely to inform future development across the downtown core. Yonge Street, another major corridor, has often been tipped as a potential site for “rethinking.”

For more inspiration on rethinking King, read the Pembina Institute’s Let’s Get King Street Moving.


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The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
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