The TTC wants to experiment with banning through traffic and building dedicated transit lanes on a downtown stretch of King Street next year to try to improve the route's often-delayed streetcar line, the city's busiest.
The plan, which still needs city council approval, would see four or five blocks of King Street -- likely including the area west of John Street in the entertainment district -- radically transformed as part of a "demonstration project" for July and August, 2008.
The road would be reduced to three lanes from four, with two lanes reserved for streetcars. Sidewalks would be widened to allow for larger restaurant patios, and on-street parking would be banned.
Deliveries, pickups and drop-offs would be accommodated by allowing a lane of traffic in one direction that would alternate on the north and south sides of the street at each block. At all intersections, cars would be forced to turn right, making them unable to drive for more than a block along King Street.
The scheme revives an idea, rejected by some local businesses and city councillors in 2001, which would have redesigned King Street from Dufferin to Parliament Streets.
"I don't think it's going to be a disaster," TTC chairman Adam Giambrone said. "In all of these cases that we do these things, disaster does not occur."
TTC vice-chairman Joe Mihevc said if the pilot project went well, the idea could spread to most of King Street downtown and perhaps to Queen Street. But he acknowledged the TTC may have trouble convincing some on the route.
"It will be enough of a tough job selling it to the local businesses," he said.
Al Carbone, who owns the Kit Kat restaurant on King Street and is a co-founder of the Toronto Entertainment District Association, said he thought the idea would make traffic worse, and that's why it was rejected before.
"It was so stupid that it didn't go anywhere," Mr. Carbone said. But he added that he might be open to some temporary changes to the street, such as boardwalks to enlarge restaurant patios in the summer.
Mr. Giambrone stressed that the idea was only a test: "You have to start somewhere and show people the sky doesn't fall."
Commuters waiting last night for the King streetcar complained that service on their overcrowded route hasn't kept pace with development. And left-turning drivers regularly force the streetcar to a crawl.
"It's really bad from Yonge over to Spadina," said David Danylewich, who rides the streetcar into the downtown every day. "It's cars blocking the streetcar when they shouldn't be."
Others said that the streetcar is so slow at times that they see pedestrians passing them.
The TTC proposal on King Street was inspired by the Toronto Waterfront Redevelopment Corporation's temporary narrowing of Queens Quay last August, which was meant to give residents a taste of what a remade street would look like.
The King Street proposal comes just days after the TTC unveiled plans to build $6-billion worth of new light-rail lines in dedicated lanes across the city.
While the idea proved controversial on St. Clair Avenue, where streetcar lanes are still under construction, TTC engineers say a dedicated right-of-way is the only way to ensure King streetcars, which carry 48,000 people a day, stop getting bogged down in traffic jams.
According to a 2001 TTC report, there are often up to twice as many people travelling in streetcars on King Street as there are driving in cars.
The TTC also approved exploring other measures to improve service on the King streetcar in the shorter term, including: extending rush-hour parking restrictions, stiffening penalties for traffic and parking violations, using red-light cameras to catch illegal left turns and constructing taxi lay-bys between York and Bay Streets.