As I head over to the city's rapid transit public meeting at the Sheraton this afternoon, I'm still mulling the recent consultant report recommending LRT in the middle of King Street with both King and Main converted to two-way.
I got really excited about the proposal when I first saw it because I was so pleasantly surprised to see that two-way conversion, a long-time goal of mine, was included in the plan.
I still think two-way conversion for both streets is the right way to go, but having debated the configuration over the past month or so I find myself concluding that it makes more sense to put the LRT lines down the centre of Main Street, not King Street. Here's why:
For much of its downtown length, King Street already has a coherent two- to three-storey streetwall. There's certainly plenty of opportunity to increase the variety and density of use along that streetwall, particularly in the upper levels, but the built form is more or less intact.
Main Street, on the other hand, is a compositional disaster, full of big gaps where empty lots, deep setbacks, surface parking and strip plazas break up the streetwall.
Factor in empty large-frame buildings like the empty federal building at Main and Caroline, and the potential for new investment in higher density is much greater - without having to demolish the existing built form.
Since King Street would be inside the transit corridor of a Main Street LRT line (and vice-versa), both will benefit economically in either case, but land values and the value of density increases steadily as you approach LRT stations, so you want the biggest bang on the street with the most room for expansion.
King Street is already starting to benefit from a street reconfiguration a few years ago that has slowed through traffic - particularly along the International Village BIA - and the overall balance of road lanes, parking and sidewalk space is not bad.
With a two-way conversion, there would be room for one lane in each direction and one curbside parking lane. Echoing Donald Shoup I advocate charging a variable market-based parking rate at the right level to maintain about 15 percent occupancy (this maximizes the utility of the curbside parking at turning over drive-in shoppers).
With two-way conversion and LRT, there will be no room for any curbside parking at all. Now, ultimately that might not prove to be a big problem, but in the short term that will terrify local businesses and could frankly prove to be the catalyst for some kind of organized opposition to LRT itself.
I think it's important to pick our battles, and creating enemies of LRT over a lane of curbside parking strikes me as deeply counterproductive.
Again, Main Steet seems a better candidate, given that it consists of five full lanes running through the entire downtown core. That's plenty of room for two lanes of traffic (one each way), two lanes of LRT, and a lane for curbside parking / loading and unloading.
The question is whether there's room to include bike lanes anywhere in the mix on either street (or both). That would be ideal, but I haven't yet done the calculations to see if it's feasible.
One big benefit for cyclists in either case is that if this reconfiguration goes ahead, the traffic flow will be much slower than it is today, putting cyclists on more of an even footing with cars.
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