King streetcar travel times have dropped dramatically since traffic agents were deployed, city says

Deploying traffic agents at major intersections along the King Street Transit Priority Corridor has “dramatically” improved streetcar travel times and the city plans to expand the program as it works to improve the busy streetcar route, Mayor Olivia Chow said Friday.

“This streetcar is one of the busiest routes in the city. Thousands of people spend hours every day on King Street sitting in traffic,” Chow told reporters at the intersection of King Street and University Avenue.

Chow called it “infuriating” when a vehicle blocks an intersection, shutting down traffic.

The city started deploying traffic agents at major intersections along King Street during rush hour on weekdays to enforce the rules along the King Street Transit Priority Corridor in late November last year, following a couple of high-profile incidents where streetcar traffic was badly snarled.

“I am announcing today, the traffic agents on King Street make the traffic flow three times faster,” Chow said.

In November and December, eastbound travel times for the King streetcar ranged anywhere from 45 to 65 minutes between Bathurst and Jarvis streets when traffic agents were not deployed. According to the city, the time for the same trip dropped to 17-21 minutes in January when traffic agents were deployed.

While travel times spiked toward the end of the year, trip times had been getting longer for months.

The TTC said in November that streetcar trips along the busy route became slower last year than they were prior to the implementation of the right-of-way in 2017.

While a streetcar trip between Bathurst and Jarvis streets took just 16 minutes in 2018, a year after the King Street pilot project started, the same trip took an average of 26 minutes last year – three minutes longer than before the pilot started.

The slowdown has been blamed on an increase in regular vehicles flouting the rules by driving through intersections along the corridor.

The city measured 110 violations per hour at the intersection of King and Yonge streets in peak afternoon traffic in the last few months of 2023, a 57 per cent increase over the previous year. Staff also noted significant increases in violations during the morning peak period at University, Yonge and Jarvis.

Chow said traffic agents stop vehicles from blocking intersections 96 per cent of the time when they are deployed, and also make sure that pedestrians and cyclists are following the rules.

“We will continue to place these wonderful traffic agents where they are needed most,” Chow said.

The city currently has 27 traffic agents and is looking to add 13 more by March for a total of 40. Twelve of them are assigned to King Street.

The city did not list the total cost of the program Friday, but staff said traffic agents typically earn $45 per hour and work seven days a week.

“For me, transit is a high priority, so I’m willing to spend extra dollars to make sure the streetcars are moving and make sure there are no road blockers, that rules are being obeyed and the people are not so frustrated being stuck in traffic,” Chow said.

In addition to continuing to deploy traffic agents, the city is also upgrading signals to give streetcars priority, and improving signage.

Platforms along the route are also getting an upgrade.

“By mid-2024, temporary TTC platforms will be installed at 20 locations along King Street. These platforms will increase safety and help transit riders enter and exit streetcars more easily,” the city said in a release.

Barbara Gray, general manager of Transportation Services at the city, said that education and better signage for drivers will also be rolled out.

“In addition to the progress we’ve made in a short amount of time here with the traffic agents, we’re also going to be making permanent changes to some of the traffic signals to better reinforce What drivers need to do on this corridor, because the rules are quite unique,” Gray said.

Chow said she’s expecting several reports coming to committee to make the traffic agent program permanent.

In addition, the city is still studying the possibility of adding red light camera enforcement along the route to help deter drivers.

Coun. Chris Moise moved a motion which was adopted by city council on Nov. 8 asking staff to study the feasibility of implementing automated traffic enforcement along the King Street Transit Priority Corridor. He said at the time that the priority streetcar route “was just not working.”

Staff were asked to report back in the second quarter of this year with an update on streetcar performance over the past five years and possible improvements for the route.

“I look forward to receiving the report in the second quarter of this year and moving ahead to more consistent enforcement on King Street,” Mosie said, standing alongside Chow Friday. “With the sheer volume of daily users, the King Street Priority Corridor deserves investment and attention. It needs to serve everyone to the highest standard of efficiency. The results we see today prove just how much of an impact can be made when we make a concerted effort and allocate resources accordingly.”

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