More than 99.7 per cent of drivers who violate traffic rules on a stretch of King Street West downtown are not getting tickets from the Toronto police, a University of Toronto study has found.
In the study, released this week by the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, researchers used city data on vehicle movements at intersections and police data on traffic tickets from 2016 to mid-2023 to analyze how often drivers make illegal movements and how often they were receiving traffic tickets.
The researchers, Jeff Allen and Qi-Sheng Chen, found that there are about 6,800 illegal turns and through movements at intersections daily on the King Street transit priority corridor, which runs from Bathurst to Jarvis streets.
However, less than 0.3 per cent of drivers on average are being ticketed by the police.
“Thus more than 99.7% of drivers are not being fined for breaking the law on the King Street Transit Priority Corridor,” the researchers said in a new release.
Allen and Chen say in the study that automatic enforcement cameras could lead to revenue and the lack of enforcement is a “missed opportunity” for the cash-strapped city.
In statements on Wednesday, the City of Toronto says it remains committed to the project designed to give TTC streetcars the right of way, while the Toronto Police Service says there are many competing demands for its resources.
City staff to review study
In November 2017, the city launched a pilot project that prioritized streetcar traffic on a 2.6 kilometre stretch of King Street West to improve transit. In April 2019, city council voted to make the King Street transit pilot permanent. Private vehicles, while not banned, were supposed to be restricted at a majority of intersections.
“The King Street Transit Priority Corridor, launched in 2017, has demonstrated its effectiveness in improving transit reliability, speed and capacity. The City remains committed to this project because of its pivotal role in enhancing transportation efficiency and because it aligns with the City’s goal of prioritizing people and transit,” the city said in the statement on Wednesday.
The city said its transportation services staff are reviewing the study, and at its Nov. 8 meeting, city council directed the general manager of transportation services, with the help of the TTC, police and city solicitor, to review and report back to the executive committee in the second quarter of next year.
The general manager is expected to report on streetcar performance in the last five years, to provide suggestions on how to improve the streetscape along the route, and to outline the feasibility of automatic traffic enforcement in the transit priority corridor.
“The City recognizes the importance of enforcing traffic rules to ensure the corridor operates as intended,” the city said in the statement.
Toronto police contending with other priorities
Toronto police, meanwhile, said public safety tops the list of where it puts its resources.
“The movement of streetcars on King Street is important, but when the Service is determining where to direct our resources, we prioritize public safety,” police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said in the statement.
“This means prioritizing our response to urgent calls, and when it comes to traffic, enforcing the big four offences — speeding, distracted, aggressive and impaired driving — which are responsible for the most serious collisions in the city,”
Sayer said traffic congestion and gridlock downtown have also increased significantly in recent years, due to construction, fewer lanes on major roadways, more bike lanes and an increase in population. Given the increase, the King Street transit priority corridor is “just one piece” of traffic safety, she said.
Police also face “competing policing priorities” for its services as a whole, and in the downtown core, police have to deal with demonstrations and protests, people in crisis, property and retail crime and major sporting, entertainment and hospitality industry events.
“All this to say, traffic enforcement on the King Street Transit Corridor is important, but it does vary daily depending on the resources we have available and competing priority calls for service,” Sayer said.
“The corridor is just a one piece of a much bigger and complex policing situation in the City of Toronto.”
Councillor pushes for automated enforcement
Coun. Chris Moise, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, said enforcement went “off the rails” during the COVID-19 pandemic and police didn’t have the capacity to enforce the traffic rules in the corridor. Since then, traffic downtown has become mayhem, he said.
Moise, who said he believes in using technology to solve problems, moved the motion at council asking for staff to look into automated traffic enforcement.
“We can’t expect the police to be on duty enforcing traffic 24/7 on King Street,” Moise said. “We have speed cameras in the city. Why not look at automated traffic enforcement as well?”
Our data viz team looked at intersection-level vehicle movement from <a href=”https://twitter.com/cityoftoronto?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cityoftoronto</a> & ticket data from <a href=”https://twitter.com/TorontoPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TorontoPolice</a> to analyze how often drivers make illegal movements on TO’s King St Transit Priority Corridor & how often they receive traffic tickets: <a href=”https://t.co/R8siE4SjZF”>https://t.co/R8siE4SjZF</a> <a href=”https://t.co/xRpo9JSgPO”>pic.twitter.com/xRpo9JSgPO</a>
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said there are significant amounts of congestion on King Street West, particularly eastbound, during afternoon rush hour. Green said drivers are using King Street West to get around construction in the downtown core and there is an impact on TTC service.
Green said TTC operators are seeing “significant infractions” in the King corridor.
“Really the priority on King is for transit. I mean, that’s what it was built for. We really need to do a lot of work with the city, with Toronto police on the enforcement piece and make sure that the transit is getting the priority that it’s supposed to have,” Green said.
For Toronto resident Celina Campbell, the chaos on King Street West downtown means streetcar delays, with the streetcar not usually on time.
“Even this morning, I almost didn’t make it to work on time,” Campbell said.
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