Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for streetcars, and while this idea has a lot to do with streetcars, it’s really about how people get around in Toronto. My apologies for the essay, but then again, it’s been a while since I wrote about something that seemed like such common sense to me.
I work on King street in Toronto. King street is pretty typical of a downtown Toronto street. In the west, it runs to Roncesvalles, where it merges with Queen street and continues on as The Queensway. In the east it terminates just west of the Don Valley Parkway, again merging with Queen street and continuing on as Queen for quite a long way. King and Queen both feature non-dedicated streetcar tracks, that run on the inside lanes along with automobile traffic. Then there’s another lane of traffic outside that, and on-street parking. Sometimes the on-street parking makes the non-streetcar lanes pretty tight, but mostly they count as legitimate traffic lanes. Both streets, like virtually all streets in Toronto, also have pedestrian sidewalks on both sides.
That means that at any given time, on any cross-section of either street, one can find streetcars, cars, bicycles and pedestrians. That’s a lot going on in eight lanes of road, and a lot of potential for accidents and danger to cyclists and pedestrians.
I don’t remember when I first had the idea, but it’s been rolling around in my head a lot lately, and I wanted to get it out of my head and into the heads of others. What if King and Queen were made one-way?
Instead of being the two two-way streets they are now, what if traffic coming eastbound from the Queensway were to veer southward onto King street, and continue through the downtown core all the way to the merge at the Don Valley, where that eastbound traffic would then merge back onto Queen street and continue on eastward? Westbound traffic, on the other hand, would stay on Queen street from west of the Don Valley all the way into the west end at Roncesvalles, where the merge with King street turns Queen into the Queensway.
With the traffic rearranged like this, we would now only need a single streetcar track on each street. On Queen, this could be a dedicated streetcar track on the north side of the road, up close to the sidewalk. This would work well with Toronto’s existing streetcars. Newer ones, with doors on either side, could be on either edge of the street. No longer would people getting on and off the streetcar have to cross a lane of automotive traffic to get to the sidewalk.
Beside the dedicated streetcar track a dedicated cycling lane could be created, physically separated from the automobile traffic and safely away from parked cars and the infamous door-prize. This would encourange people to cycle more in the downtown core because they wouldn’t have to contend with automotive traffic in such an immediate way.
Then two lanes of automobile traffic south of the dedicated bicycle lane. These lanes of traffic would no longer have to contend with bicycles or the stop-and-go nature of the streetcar. These would be dedicated car-traffic lanes. If the city wanted, one lane could be a High Occupancy Vehicle lane. It is even possible that the streets might be wide enough for three lanes of traffic. This would require further attention to determine.
Last, the southmost lane on Queen street could be reserved for the ubiquitous pay-and-display parking we find everywhere else in the city. The city continues to collect its parking revenue, and the business owners still have parking near their shops and restaurants. Sidewalks would remain on both sides of the street.
King street would be identical, except a mirror image with the dedicated streetcar track on the south edge, and the parking on the north.
What would the city gain? Improved transit from dedicated streetcar lanes with the potential for priority signalling that are no longer as impacted by automotive traffic. Smoother flowing automotive traffic that is no longer subject to bicycle and streetcar slowdowns. Less accidents, less mix of traffic types. Easier and safer ingress and egress from streetcars to the sidewalk for pedestrians and transit users. A more enjoyable and encouraging experience for bicycles.
These last two might lower the barrier to entry for transit and bicycle use, both of which are orders of magnitude more economical and ecological than driving cars. Green and forward thinking ideas like this are the sort of things that make cities into leaders instead of followers.
Maybe the real question is: What does the city lose?