Brenda Bent — wife of celebrity chef Susur Lee — came to the city’s executive committee last week to plead with Mayor John Tory and councillors to consider the negative impact the streetcar pilot has had on King St. eateries during the past 17 months.
She said Lee restaurant — at King St., east of Bathurst St. — experienced a 15% decline in sales last year, not the “cherry picked” 1.2% figure reported in the city’s 33-page report full of spun numbers and phony logic (the latter my words, not hers) .
Emphasizing she came to ask for a “compromise,” Bent said restaurateurs speaking out against the controversial project have been “demonized” by the media, the Twitter mob — and even politicians.
“The way social media was used to demonize us was shameful,” she said. “We are good people … we employ hundreds.”
Bent and other restaurateurs pleaded with the mayor to lift the restrictions on car access along the full study area of King St. from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to help bring customers back to their eateries.
“Surely to god a mayor like yourself would not throw us under the bus,” she said.
But proving once again that he has abandoned all reason and is ruled by the political left, Tory just kept asking those business owners who appeared whether they had a patio, instead of having the courage to address their request head-on.
His spokesman Don Peat confirmed Friday the mayor has no intention of compromising and believes the King St. pilot is “working well.”
That $1.5-million pilot, which commenced in mid-November of 2017, forced motorists to turn right off of King at each major intersection to allow streetcars to travel unimpeded. Some 180 parking spots were removed along King St., although the report to council this week says 100 parking spots have since been added along side streets.
Taxis and Uber vehicles were exempted from the turn restrictions off of King St., from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. daily.
Ashley Tollis, whose family has owned N’Awlins Jazz Barr for the last 20 years, said her business has suffered, too, and they are paying a premium to be in a tourist area that is “unfriendly to tourists.
“The project has turned into an unwanted conflict between business and transit riders,” she said.
Kit Kat owner Al Carbone, one of the most vocal about the impact of the pilot, said 17 restaurants along King St. have closed so far and three more will do the same at the end of August.
“It is a Ghost Town down there …the feel of the street has gone,” he said.
But you wouldn’t know that from the city report, which proposes that King St. continue to operate as a “transit priority corridor” throughout the 2.6-km stretch from Jarvis to Bathurst Sts. based on the many “benefits to transit” resulting from the pilot.
That report goes to council this week for approval.
Yet the benefits have been minimal — so minimal that it certainly appears the city’s transportation officials have been consigned for the past year to spinning the results to make them appear much more significant than they are.
Without fail, they have claimed month after month that the streetcars are travelling 4-5 minutes faster, repeatedly putting that figure in bold in their reports. If you read the fine print, however, that represents an improvement over the slowest recorded streetcar travel time and only during the afternoon peak period.
The bottom line is this: As of last December, average streetcar times improved only by 0.5 minutes heading eastbound and 0.8 minutes westbound during the morning rush hour. During the evening rush hour, streetcars are 3.1 minutes on average faster heading eastbound and 2.8 minutes faster westbound.
The average results were so ridiculously low that transportation general manager Barbara Gray insists in her report to council that 30,000 minutes of travel time are saved by King streetcar customers per day — perhaps thinking a big number would impress the public.
But if you consider that 84,000 riders are using the King streetcar per day — the increase in ridership from 72,000 pre-pilot being the only success — that’s on average of only 2.8 minutes saved per customer per day.
Transportation officials also claim that the “estimated time being saved” is more significant than the average travel time change actually recorded — meaning the streetcar travel times are more “predictable.”
What a bunch of bafflegab.
The real change, if you read between the lines of the results report, is that cars have almost entirely been driven off of King St.
For example, in December only 110 cars were counted heading east on King St. at Bathurst during the morning rush hour, down from a high of 1,450 pre-pilot.
Even at Bay St. car traffic heading eastbound in December during the evening rush hour was down to 480 from 1,320 pre-pilot.
City Hall seems to think that those restaurateurs, who just want to make a living, can go to hell.
King St. restaurateurs have asked Mayor John Tory and council for a compromise that would lift the restrictions imposed on drivers wanting to access King St. between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. to try to restore vibrancy to the street.
“City staff studied the suggested change to hours of the pilot and advised it isn’t feasible,” said Tory spokesman Don Peat. “The Mayor is confident that King St. will continue to be a magnet for residents, workers and tourists as this project becomes permanent and we work to further increase amenities along the street.” (The latter refers to more Muskoka chairs, ridiculous art, plantings and patios that restaurants can’t use from September to May.)
Here is the phony logic from Transportation GM Barbara Gray and her gang:
“The proposal has been carefully considered and is not recommended for several reasons: 1. Transit ridership continues to be high in off-peak periods … ; 2. There would be serious safety concerns with introducing significant volumes of traffic merging around far-side streetcar stops at intersections.” (In other words, businesses can die for the sake of a couple thousand streetcar riders after 7 p.m. As for the alleged safety concerns, that’s just a load of nonsense. The streetcar stops and drivers were compatible before the pilot and are compatible on the many other streets with streetcar routes.)