It’s ambitious, progressive and rational. And many people hate it. We are talking about Toronto’s King Street Pilot Project, a year-long public transit initiative that launched on November 12. Its aim is to help improve traffic along the major corridor, which connects various residential and commercial neighbourhoods with the downtown core.
The test project has already transformed the financial district by making the streetcar journey a much faster commute – according to a University of Toronto study, rush-hour trips through the district have been shortened by as much as 24 per cent heading westbound and 20 per cent heading eastbound. Its implementation has led to positive media coverage from some urban critics, including Toronto Star columnist Shawn Micallef, who described its launch as a victory for the city. Other critics, like former city councillor Doug Ford, have called it a war on the car. It has also resulted in the issuing of some 560 traffic violation tickets in just one week.
But the King Street Pilot Project isn’t without predecessors. Other cities in North America and Europe are recognizing that urban densification requires finding new ways to reduce the number of private car drivers. Here are five similar pilot projects that are aiming to make public transit the better option.
The project: Some 100,000 commuters work in Toronto’s financial district on weekdays and many of them reach the core via the King streetcar, the city’s busiest surface transit route, which moves an estimated 65,000 people daily.
This pilot aims to improve the experience of those who use the streetcar to get to work by making rides quicker and more predictable. Since November, private cars have been restricted from using the 2.5-kilometre stretch between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. Cars can still use the throughway, but only for a block at a time before they must exit the street via right turns.
The results: It’s early days, but a new study has shown the project is having an impact. One in five trips through the affected area used to take more than 25 minutes. Now, roughly one in 100 trips take that long.
The project: Built on preexisting infrastructure, Barcelona’s Superilles (superblocks) are nine-block clusters that route vehicular traffic, including buses, to each cluster’s perimeter. It’s meant to encourage pedestrian and cycling traffic, while decreasing air pollution and road accidents. Each grid isn’t car-free, however. Vehicles on local trips can enter each superille as long as they’re travelling less than 10 miles per hour.
The results: Definitive reporting hasn’t emerged yet, but its goals are ambitious. The project aims to free up 60 per cent of Barcelona’s streets by decreasing cars by 21 per cent. Five new superblocks will be implemented by 2019, and last year Barcelona’s government added $10 million in funding to the project. Nonetheless, many Barcelonians hate the plan, and neighbourhoods such as Poblenou have started protests, claiming it makes driving arduous and slow. On the up side, its does encourage people to walk, ride or use transit.
The project: Helsinki’s MaaS project, or Mobility as a Service, has been hailed as the Netflix of transport by breaking barriers between public and private transportation. MaaS uses an app called Whim that allows users to access public transport, bikes or door-to-door car shares on a whim, using a single fare or a monthly fee of €249. It’s an idea that’s meant to make it easy to ditch private vehicles – and MaaS Global, the startup which developed the idea, is looking to take the idea to other European cities.
The results: Promising. According to ABI Research, MaaS global could to be worth $1 trillion by 2030. Since its launch in October, Helsinki has seen the use of public transport increase by 25 per cent. That bodes well for MaaS’ aggressive targets, which include making Helsinki car-free by 2025.
The project: In 2016, Columbus, Ohio won US$50 million as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities Challenge. The city’s proposal included CMAX rapid-transit buses that can control traffic lights (thereby allowing them to stay on schedule) and driverless vehicles that connect to business districts. The plan also allows electric-car charging stations and kiosks to be used to refill universal-access transit passes. Smart City hinges primarily on providing better transportation to Linden, a low-income neighbourhood.
The results: Since winning the challenge, Columbus has turned its $50-million prize into $500 million through a series of private-public partnerships. It hopes to raise that number to $1 billion through private-sector funding. Meanwhile, the CMAX bus line is set to launch in January 2018, providing the first glimpse of Columbus’ transit future.
The project: Though less futuristic than Columbus’s transit plan, Bogota’s Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit system has been eyed by urban planners worldwide. Conceived to emulate subways or LRTs at the fraction of the cost, the Transmilenio, established in 2000, undeniably has problems: It’s overcrowded, many buses run on less-than-green diesel and riders argue that it’s insufficient to service a city of 8 million people. But it’s also fast in a way that other modes of transportation aren’t; its 12-line system runs articulated buses down dedicated lanes throughout the city.
The results: Actually impressive. Transmilenio has been widely adopted in the city, boasting 2.5 million riders every day. But while riders dislike the system, it’s undeniably a solution for city planners: as PRI notes, 200 kilometres of BRT costs the same as 30 kilometres of subway. We know which we’d choose.