On day one of the King Street pilot project, onlookers called it everything from "scary" to a "disaster."

Throughout the sleepy Sunday, a far cry from weekday rush hour, cars and cabs plowed through intersections, even though they're now supposed to turn right — and police officers repeatedly informed drivers of the new rules, then watched people break them minutes later.

It's a scene one Toronto couple watched over and over from their condo overlooking the intersection of King and Bathurst streets.

"We've noticed cars basically either not knowing — or ignoring — the street signs and the police officers that have been trying to tell them they're not allowed in the intersections," said Dawn Bernstein.

Her husband, Barry, said they saw one police officer nearly hit by a car. "He was standing pretty much in the middle of the road and a car just zipped right by him, narrowly missing him... and the car just continued on," he said.

"It's a little scary to watch," echoed his wife, who said roughly 75 per cent of drivers flouted the new rules.

Josh Stuart, who also lives on King Street, pegged the compliance rate at the exact same based on his morning view of King and Spadina.

"It was reminiscent of impunity and entitlement that we see across the city when it comes to cars parking in bike lanes," he said. "Folks driving behave as though the rules don't apply to them and that they're entitled to any inch of the road they demand."

On the ground, one onlooker put it more simply: Day one was a "disaster."

"Everything's going straight through the intersection and it's a mess," said Judy Haines, fresh off a stroll along several blocks of King Street W.

king street pilot

For drivers on King Street, green lights now mean right turns, not going through intersections. But police and onlookers say most people are flouting the new rules. (Keith Burgess/CBC News)

But could that change? Transit officials and Toronto police hope so, since the project's ultimate goal is to clear the sluggish street of traffic so the city's busiest surface transit route, which carries 65,000 riders every weekday, moves more smoothly.

Red-vested TTC staff and police officers were out in full force on Sunday, alerting drivers, pedestrians and transit riders to the changes as part of an educational grace period — in which police are handing out pamphlets instead of tickets.

Still, it's not clear the warnings were sinking in.

While some people were correcting their behaviour, many others didn't, said Const. Gregory Manuel, who spent the morning on King Street for Toronto police's traffic services.

"I've seen a lot of vehicles where this is status quo for them, this is just the route they drive, they see the green light and they don't pay attention to the signage saying that they can't proceed through," he said.

The compliance, he added, "is not very high at all."