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Route 504 - The King streetcar

504

K I N G

TO BROADVIEW STN

504

K I N G

TO DUNDAS WEST STN

7 days a week, 18 hours a day

304

K I N G

TO BROADVIEW STN

304

K I N G

TO DUNDAS WEST STN

7 days a week, "owl" service

Text by James Bow.

See also:

The Route

The 504 King streetcar operates as a U-shaped route running from Dundas West station, south on Dundas Street. It parts company with the Dundas Streetcar at Dundas and Roncesvalles and runs down Roncesvalles, past East European restaurants and stores within a long-established neighbourhood to Queen Street. There the King Car runs onto King Street and heads southeast and east through Parkdale, the Fashion District, the Entertainment District and downtown Toronto, making connections with the University and Yonge Subways. After passing between some of the tallest buildings in Toronto, the streetcar enters the old Town of York, angling northeast to meet Queen Street again. After a short jog on Queen, the King car turns north onto Broadview Avenue, meeting the Dundas Streetcar at Dundas Street, passing through Chinatown East and alongside Riverdale Park before ending its journey at Broadview Station.

This routing takes the King streetcar through some of the busiest neighbourhoods in Toronto, with a strong mix of residential, commercial and industrial properties. Two of the neighbourhoods the King car passes are experiencing major revelopment, as they change from aging industrial sectors to hip locations filled with condominiums and upscale stores. All of these trips are connected to two busy Bloor-Danforth subway stations (Dundas West and Broadview) and two downtown stations on the Yonge-University line.

This arrangement has resulted in the King streetcar being one of the most frequent and well travelled surface routes on the system, especially during rush hours. Cars operate from as early as 5 a.m. in the morning until 1 a.m. at night, seven days a week. Night service was offered until February 15-16, 1992 before being cut, with the Broadview and Roncesvalles segments replaced by portions of other night bus routes. On September 6, 2015, night streetcar service -- named and numbered 304 KING -- was restored.

Early History of Streetcars on King Street

King Map

(Above) A map of the 504 KING streetcar and additional King services, circa 2012.

(Below) An official map of the 504 KING streetcar, effective December 2017.

504map20171217.png

When the Town of York became Toronto, King Street ran through the heart of the new city. Thus, when the streetcars arrived in 1861, it wasn't long before King received service. A separate King Car began operations in 1874, as the third streetcar route in the city. It ran from the Don River via King Street to Bathurst. It was soon extended to Niagara Street (1876) and Strachan Avenue (1879) and then south on Strachan to Wellington during the Exhibition season (1879). On May 27, 1891, every second car was operating on new track running beneath the CP railroad underpass, to Dufferin Street.

At the same time, two other routes with influence on King were building. The Belt Line began operations in 1891 operating both ways in a circle along by King, Spadina, Bloor and Sherbourne. This streetcar route would remain a significant player on King Street until 1923. Also, a new route started to the east end of the city in 1889. Labelled "Lee Avenue", this line started at the St. Lawrence Market and ran east on King and Queen to Lee Avenue in the Toronto Beach district. alternate cars turned back at Woodbine. On September 9, 1891, night car service started serving King and Queen Street from Yonge, east to Greenwood.

On September 21, 1891, the King, Lee Avenue and Woodbine streetcars were combined to produce a new King route that ran from King and Dufferin, via King and Queen to Woodbine Avenue. Every fourth streetcar continued on to Lee Avenue at first, but by May 18, 1892, all day service was operated east to Lee Avenue. The route was split again on September 5, 1892 when the portion from George Street west to Dufferin was electrified. Horse cars, again signed "Lee Avenue" continued to provide service on the remainder of the route until electrification arrived in phases (to the Don River on September 26, 1892, to Woodbine on April 4, 1893 and finally to Lee Avenue on May 15, 1893). On June 30, 1893, summer service was extended to Balsam Avenue.

On the west end, service was extended from Dufferin to Roncesvalles Avenue on October 28, 1892. Special service to the Exhibition was routed down Dufferin Street to the western entrance. This arrangement remained fairly constant (barring extensions on the east end) throughout most of the Toronto Railway Company's tenure. In 1897, there was a dispute with Beach residents over the extension into Munro Park, and this is covered in more detail in the History of the Queen Streetcar. Night service was extended west of Yonge in 1905.

By the end of the TRC era, King streetcars looked more like the current Queen route than the King streetcars of today, operating from a wye at Neville Park Boulevard, via Queen and King to Sunnyside Loop. Additional service was provided by the Belt Line operating both ways along King, Spadina, Bloor and Sherbourne. The Roncesvalles leg was being handled by, of all things, the Queen Streetcar, operating south for a wye at Boustead Avenue while, at the other end, Broadview Avenue was being served by the Broadview Streetcar, operating from a wye at Bloor Street.

The Toronto Transportation Commission Takes Over

When the Toronto Transportation Commission took over, King cars continued to operate into the Toronto Beach district for another two years. Alternate cars wyed at MacLean Avenue and Neville Park. This was changed to all cars operating to Neville Park on September 12, 1921 and then, on July 2, 1922, all cars looping through the new Neville Park Loop. On July 26, 1922, west end cars were extended over newly laid double track along Lakeshore Road to Humber Loop, increasing the line's similarity to today's Queen service.

Finally, on July 1, 1923, a general rerouting program took place that changed the King service into something that closely matched today's route. Through service was established on Queen Street and service on Roncesvalles was handed to the King streetcar. The Broadview streetcar route was merged into the King Car, giving it its classic U-Shape. Even the loops at each end of the line were close to their current locations. At the east end, King Cars turned around at Erindale loop, very close to today's Broadview Station. At the west, cars turned around at Vincent loop, located across the street from today's Dundas West station. Additional rush-hour service was extended north on Dundas to Runnymede Loop, or west on Bloor to Jane Loop, and these services continued until soon after the Yonge Subway opened.

King Car on Broadview

A 1969 King car heads northbound on Broadview, passing the Don Jail. Photo by R. Hill; donated by Rob Hutch.

From here, the King streetcar settled into a routing that has not seen significant changes to this day. King cars provided base service along the U-shaped route while other streetcars provided supplementary service. Dovercourt streetcars were often extended from their terminus at Shaw and King to run downtown. When the Dovercourt cars were replaced by Ossington trolley buses, the Kingston Road Tripper began a decades long relationship as a companion to the King car, providing additional service from the Broadview/Queen intersection west through the downtown core. More recently, a handful of Long Branch streetcars were extended east from Humber Loop, along the Queensway and King Street to loop through the downtown. When the Long Branch streetcar was absorbed by the Queen route, these tripper cars along King Street were formalized into their own service, named 508 Lake Shore.

Through all this, the King cars remained constant. When the Bloor subway opened between Keele and Woodbine stations in 1966, the King streetcar line operated into Broadview station and Dundas West station. Erindale Loop, which had been on the site of Broadview station's bus and streetcar terminal, had been replaced months before. Vincent loop had been located across the street from Dundas West station's streetcar terminal, and it too stopped seeing King cars months before the subway opened. Initially, the TTC cut service dramatically on King Street, believing that many passengers which had been transferring from the Bloor streetcar to King cars would use the subway to get downtown instead, but the TTC discovered that it had underestimated how many people would continue to use the line. Through 1966, streetcars were added back on the line until service returned to near pre-Bloor subway levels.

King Diagram

(Above) Exhibit 1: A TTC diagram showing the widened sidewalks, the lane arrangement and the free moving streetcars proposed for its King Street transit mall proposal

(Below) Exhibit 2: An artist's rendition of the current situation at King and John, looking west.

King and John Today King and John Tomorrow

(Above) Exhibit 3: Artist's rendition of how King and John could have looked under the transit mall proposal. The pubs and restaurants along King Street should benefit from the extra sidewalk space, and delivieries are not hampered.

Struggling With Congestion

The King streetcar may have been a stable service, but King Street itself has been changing. The properties along King Street between Dufferin and Strachan and around the King/Parliament intersection used to be industrial warehouses and factories. Through the 1970s, these warehouses and factories started to die out, reducing ridership on the line. Starting in the late 1980s and accelerating through the latter half of the 1990s, however, these old industrial lands along King were redeveloped into new housing and condominiums for a primarily young urban professional set. These gentrified neighbourhoods have been supplying the King streetcar with more and more riders, to the point that King Street and its streetcars are beginning to choke on the excess.

By 1999, the King streetcars moved 52200 passengers per weekday through a diverse cross-section of the city of Toronto. A more recent TTC study showed that the number of streetcar passengers outnumbered car passengers and drivers on the street to the tune of two to one. With these numbers, the need for streetcar service on King is hardly in doubt; however, the line is so heavily used, and traffic on King Street is so congested, that the TTC and its riders are growing very concerned about the reliability of service.

The TTC already schedules a streetcar to operate down King Street at two minute intervals during rush hours. At 30 streetcars per direction per hour, this is well below the 50 or so streetcars that used to operate on the line in its heyday before 1966, but with automobile traffic well above what it was in the 1960s, the streetcars are finding themselves caught in traffic, and the TTC is unable to schedule more streetcars down King Street with any hope of maintaining reliable service.

In 1993, the TTC attempted to establish streetcar-only lanes during rush-hours between Dufferin and Parliament Streets. These were not effectively enforced, with parked cars sending traffic onto the streetcar tracks and delaying service. In the year 2000, the TTC spent almost $100,000 to pay the Toronto police force to 'blitz' King Street and crack down on illegally parked cars and other obstructors to traffic. This venture failed as well, leading the TTC to conclude that far more drastic measures are required.

Looking for Solutions

In a 2000 report, the TTC identified a number of obstacles to providing reliable service on King Street. These included the narrow roadway the streetcars operated on (which precluded the construction of Spadina-style right-of-way), the lack of short turn loops on the line, and streetcar congestion at Broadview and Dundas West stations, where streetcars operating on 504 King and 505 Dundas often blocked each other, creating delays that could cascade across both lines.

With the attempt to enforce the painted-on streetcar-only lanes between Dufferin and Parliament proving to be a failure, the TTC proposed a number of solutions, ranging in scope from the cheap and possibly ineffective, to the ambitious but expensive, including:

  1. Removing two seats near the CLRVs' rear doors in order to increase the standee area and encourage more passengers to move to the back of the car.
  2. Expanding Dundas West station and Broadview Station Loops, adding passing tracks so that delays at these points don't delay both routes. This would require considerable construction.
  3. Restoring Parliament Loop on Parliament Street south of King, giving King Cars a quick short-turn loop in order to restore service. This loop was to have been re-installed in 1996, but the project was cut back due to budget cuts.
  4. Rerouting either the King or Dundas cars. King Cars might operate up Parliament and over new track north of Carlton into Castle Frank station (A new, less frequent, Broadview streetcar route might have to be created to serve the areas which would lose King service) or Dundas cars could be rerouted via Broadview and Gerrard and over new track on Carlaw, Riverdale and Pape into Pape Station in order to relieve congestion at Broadview Station. Either project would require a lot of new track and the cost would be into the millions.
  5. Removing automobile traffic from King Street, creating a transit mall.

The ALRVs were the easiest and quickest solution to implement. On March 1, 2001, the TTC changed weekday service on the 511 Bathurst route so that eleven CLRVs replaced seven ALRVs. These seven ALRVs were then pressed into service on King, replacing seven CLRVs and increasing the capacity of the line.

The King Street Transit Mall Proposal

In March 2001, a proposal came forward to close King Street to automobile traffic from Spadina to Church during rush-hours. One month later, the TTC approved in principle an even more dramatic idea: closing King Street permanently to automobiles between Dufferin and Parliament, constructing a transit mall through Toronto's downtown core.

Transit malls have been proposed before. In the late 1980s, Councillor Jack Layton suggested that Queen Street be closed to car traffic between Spadina and Sherbourne in order to create a "poor-man's subway" through the downtown. The idea never bore fruit as it ran into stiff opposition from local merchants upset at losing parking spaces and having deliveries made more difficult.

To address this, the TTC proposed leaving a single lane open to car traffic on King Street. This lane would be located at the curb and would alternate between the southern and northern sides of King Street from block to block. This lane would be entered from a side street via a right-turn only. Cars on the lane would have to depart King Street at the next intersection, again via a right-turn only. Cars would be allowed to pull into the streetcar lane to pass cars and taxis parked at the curb. On the other side of the street, the sidewalk would be extended out to the streetcar lane, preventing car traffic from running along King Street for more than one block.

Unfortunately, the plan could not mollify the concern of local businesses, and the idea was dropped. In 2004, it was proposed that a few blocks of King Street could be closed to car traffic in this fashion for a few weeks in the summertime, but the pilot project did not materialize. It would take another thirteen years before concrete action was taken.

New Loops at Dundas West and Broadview

The TTC was more successful in implementing its proposal to revamp the loops at Dundas West and Broadview stations, giving the King and Dundas cars separate loading platforms. Work on Dundas West loop began on Labour Day, 2002 and the loop was reopened to the public on Sunday, November 24, 2002. Work on Broadview station began in 2003, and was coupled with elevator work, and new stairwells to provide a second exit from the subway platform. This renovation took much longer, and residents complained about the loss of the local parkette next to the station, as the TTC used it as a staging ground for construction equipment. Although the streetcar loop quickly reopened for service, work on the rest of the station lingered until 2008.

As for the other proposals, Parliament loop never received its renewed streetcar tracks. In fact, the property was given up by the TTC for redevelopment, in exchange for a parking lot on Broadview Avenue just north of Queen Street. The TTC intends to place the short turn loop there although, for now, the property remains in use as a parking lot. Plans to reroute King cars to Castle Frank station or Dundas cars to Pape station have been quietly shelved.

As the TTC moved into the second decade of the 21st century, ridership increased to the highest level in the commission's history, and residential development in the Liberty Village area added tens of thousands of residents and jobs along the route. By 2015, the 504 KING streetcar was the most heavily used surface route on the TTC, carrying 65,000 passengers on an average weekday -- almost three times the number of people carried by competing automobile traffic. In spite of investments in tripper service, the line was operating beyond capacity during rush hours, and many riders reported that it was quicker to walk. The TTC and the City of Toronto knew they had to do something.

The first step was to implement streetcar service on Cherry Street. Starting in 2013, a stretch of track on private right-of-way had been built south from the King/Sumach intersection to just north of where Cherry Street passed beneath the railway tracks, serving the Distillery District. On June 19, 2016, service began on the 514 CHERRY streetcar. This route, operating from Distillery loop via north on Cherry, west on King and south on Dufferin to Dufferin loop, returning via the reverse route, would use Flexity streetcars (as they arrived) to bring accessible transit service to the busiest part of the King Street route. The TTC had hoped to implement this service in addition to the service currently on King, but the City of Toronto did not agree to increase the TTC's budget by the needed amount, so the TTC had to implement the changes by reducing 504 KING service slightly, effectively reducing service on the portion of the route that wasn't operated in common with 514 CHERRY.

King Gets its Transitway At Last (Temporarily)

Then, in 2017, the City of Toronto, backed by Toronto mayor John Tory, agreed to implement a pilot program to give streetcars priority on King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis. Rather than implement a full transit mall, the City of Toronto instead eliminated left turns, and made it illegal for car drivers to drive straight along the street. Cars could only turn right onto King between Bathurst and Jarvis, and had to turn right to leave King within a few blocks. In addition, streetcar stops were moved from the near-sides of their intersections across to the far-side of their intersections, and these stops were moved forward from the sidewalk to the streetcar lane and protected from traffic with the use of planters and concrete barriers. Special temporary wheelchair ramps from the roadway to the sidewalk were added at these stops to ensure accessibility. This way, cars could not pass in front of streetcars at these stops, ensuring that the streetcar had a clear road ahead of it when it started again.

The year-long pilot project launched on Sunday, November 12. Some car drivers and some business owners complained about the disruption to the street, but streetcar riders raved that their commutes were several minutes faster. Studies released by the City of Toronto a month into the project showed that the commute times had decreased by a clear amount, with only a small amount of increase to car travel times. Commuters also reported that while the rides were faster, the service was proving so popular that the streetcars got even more crowded. The TTC acknowledged that capacity problems remained an issue, especially with continuing delays to Bombardier's delivery of the Flexity streetcars, and that the space provided by new streetcars added to the route were quicklky taken up by new riders. They promised that more service would be added as soon as more streetcars became available.

The Future

As of the time of this writing (December 2017), the King Street transitway pilot project has another eleven months to run. If successful, it can be made permanent by building out the sidewalk at streetcar stops, and might be expanded to run from Parliament to Dufferin, if feasible. The development boom continues along what used to be the industrial areas that surrounded King Street. More and more people are flocking to these revitalizing areas that promise a vibrant urban lifestyle, and no auto dependence. This means that the demand for transit service along King Street is going to increase, even though the street itself is operating almost at capacity.

King Street will choke on its success unless steps like the transitway pilot project are taken and made permanent to increase its capacity. With 504 KING streetcars carrying more than three times the number of people than competing automobiles on average weekdays, it's obvious which mode of transportation requires more attention in order to move people more efficiently. The merchants' concerns over their business are understandible, but nothing short of a total disaster is going to keep the people away from King Street, and it is the streetcars, not the automobiles, which move the people along this street the best.


504 King Image Archive


Special thanks to Jack Knowles for supplying me information from the books Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921 and The Toronto Trolley Car Story, both by Louis H. Pursley. Special thanks also to John Bromley and Ray Corley for corrections to this web page and further information.


References

  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Filey, Mike, Not a One-Horse Town: 125 Years of Toronto and its Streetcars, Gagne Printing, Louiseville (Quebec), 1986.
  • Mallion, Godfrey, 'Operational Improvements on the 504 King', Transfer Points, April 2000, p4, The Toronto Transportation Society, Toronto (Ontario).
  • Pursley, Louis H., Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Ira Swett, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1958.
  • Pursley, Louis H., The Toronto Trolley Car Story, INTERURBANS, Los Angeles (California), 1961.