Mayor Tory Fights Congestion, Maybe

Updated December 8, 2014: This article has been updated with a list of the intersections where traffic signal retiming has been done in 2014 and where it is planned for 2015. See the end of the article.

Original article from December 5, 2014:

Mayor John Tory unveiled a six-point plan to tackle congestion problems in Toronto. The text of his remarks is not yet available on his city web page, but the points were tweeted from his account @johntoryTO:

  1. Strict Enforcement Of “No Stopping” Regulations On Major Roads
  2. Enhance Road Closure Reporting
  3. Launch A Multi-Organizational Traffic Enforcement Team – Deploy 40 additional cameras on arterial roads, Another 80 in 2016
  4. Accelerate The 2015 Traffic Signal Retiming Program From 250 Signals To 350 Signals
  5. Establish More Stringent Criteria & Higher Fees For The Closure Of Lanes And Boulevards By Private Development Projects
  6. Speed up Public Sector Construction Projects By Extending Work Hours And Reducing The Duration Of Construction On Major Roadways.

Mayor Tory will also head up a co-ordination committee to ensure that conflicts between construction projects, service closures (such as subway shutdowns), and major events are avoided.

This all sounds good, in the tub thumping way one might expect of a former radio talk show host for whom the details are always someone else’s problem. What are the likely benefits? Will people actually see an improvement in their travel times?

Noticeable by its absence is any reference to Transit Signal Priority. Reduced congestion will help all road users, including transit, but there are transit-specific improvements that should be addressed.

There are three vital points that must be acknowledged for any plan to address traffic:

  • Congestion is a GTHA-wide issue that extends deeply into both Toronto’s suburbs and into the 905 regions beyond. Tinkering with a few streets downtown will not address the vast majority of the problem, but too much of the discussion seems to focus on this small part of the road network.
  • Congestion does not affect only a few peak hours a day, but a much broader period including weekends. The trucking industry, for example, is an all day operation affected just as much, if not more, by “off-peak” congestion as it is during the official “rush hours”.
  • No congestion-fighting regime is possible without a clear philosophy regarding the use of street space. If every squeaky wheel gets an exception for their business, their attraction, then “congestion fighting” is little more than a quaint slogan.

Toronto must recognize that we cannot “fix” congestion with a few tweaks here, a bit of new technology there. Always there is the sense that we can get “something for nothing”, that our problems will go away without someone making a sacrifice. That’s the sort of dream world that brings us tax-free service improvements and rapid transit construction with mythical pots of other people’s money.

The solutions, such as they may be, to congestion downtown will be very different from those in the suburbs, and a one-size-fits-all approach transplanted between locations will not work.

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Posted in Service Cost and Quality, Transit, Urban Affairs | 36 Comments

Building the Connection to Leslie Barns (Updated December 8, 2014)

December 8, 2014

Progress continues, albeit slowly, on the Leslie Street connection. Much of the utility work is now completed, and a finished road, including streetcar track, is starting to appear in some blocks.

Looking north to the intersection of Eastern and Leslie with completed track in the foreground and work just beginning north of Eastern for the stretch to Queen.


Looking north to Eastern. The rails in the foreground will be installed in the Eastern to Queen block once the foundation is ready to receive them.


Looking south from Mosley Street to Lake Shore Boulevard. The northbound and southbound tracks diverge at this point for a left turn lane at Lake Shore.


Looking north at Lake Shore. The southbound track is behind the “Road Closed” sign.


Looking south from Lake Shore. This area is still very much in progress. Leslie Barns is to the left (east) of this  photo behind the row of poles and a high barrier.


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Posted in New Streetcars, Queen Car, Transit | 71 Comments

The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part I)

As I reported in a previous article, Mayor Tory has launched a study process for his SmartTrack scheme via Toronto’s Executive Committee.

One intriguing, if not surprising, admission to come out of this process was for Tory to admit that SmartTrack “was not his idea” and was simply a repackaging and rebranding of the provincial RER (Regional Express Rail) scheme. However, during the campaign, SmartTrack was regularly described as something that experts had studied, a solid proposal, not simply a line on a napkin.

The origins of a “Big U” looping from Markham through downtown and out to the northwest predates Tory’s campaign and can be found in three papers:

If we are to understand the claims made for SmartTrack, we need to understand its origins, and the degree to which campaign rhetoric and fantasy may have diverged from the earlier detailed planning. Also, of course, there is a basic question of whether the studies had the same goals for rapid transit network design as those that should inform the planning process in Toronto and the GTHA beyond.

This article reviews the 2011 paper on the changing location of office space in the GTA.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, GO Transit, Transit, Urban Affairs | 38 Comments

John Tory Launches SmartTrack Study

At the December 5 meeting of Toronto’s Executive Committee, Mayor Tory walked a motion onto the floor to launch a study process for SmartTrack in conjunction with various agencies and consultants. Of particular interest is paragraph 2:

2. City Council authorize the City Manager to retain the following specialized services to support the review of the SmartTrack plan:

a. the University of Toronto to support the planning analysis and required transit modeling;

b. Strategic Regional Research Associates for assessing development scenarios along the SmartTrack alignment; and

c. Third party peer reviewers of all SmartTrack analysis.

Paragraph 2.b refers to an organization, SRRA, which has been involved in proposals that evolved into SmartTrack before. Iain Dobson, a member of the Metrolinx Board, is listed as a co-founder of SRRA in his bio on their website. He is also listed as a member of the Advisory Board to the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute.

I wrote to Metrolinx asking whether Dobson has a conflict of interest with the consulting work contemplated by Tory’s motion and his position on the board. Here is their reply:

Metrolinx has strong policies guiding Board directors and employees on conflict of interest

• This matter has arisen today and discussions are underway to determine what is the appropriate course of action, after gathering and considering the facts

• In considering this, the most important factor is protecting the public interest

• While a final direction is being determined, the Board director will not be involved in discussions involving Regional Express Rail and SmartTrack

[Email from Anne Marie Aikens, Manager, Media Relations]

Background reports that led to SmartTrack can be found on the Canadian Urban Institute’s website and on the SRRA Research site.

What is striking, in brief, is that SmartTrack arose from a desire to link many potential development sites, some on the fringes of Toronto, while ignoring large spaces in between. Moreover, the claimed ridership is based on a high level of commuter market penetration and a level of service more akin to the core area subway system than to suburban nodes.

I will review these papers in a future article.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, GO Transit, Transit, Urban Affairs | 20 Comments

Presto Permutations

This article arises from a comment in a related thread by Richard White in which he reported a misinformed remark by a Presto passenger rep on car 4403:

I asked about the transfer situation and she said and I quote. “He (Steve Munro) is wrong. You don’t always need a transfer. You only need it when getting on buses” Then I asked her about transfer on streetcars.

She said “Oh yea.. you need it on the old cars too.. but not on the subways. He is wrong because he did not ask about the subways. You do not need a transfer if you are going to the subway!”

Well, for the benefit of people who don’t know Toronto’s transit system well, here are all of the permutations of when one might, or might not, require a transfer or fare receipt. The situation will change substantially if the TTC implements either of the proposed fare structure changes for 2015: a two hour timed-based fare and/or PoP across the entire system with all-door loading even on routes that are not Presto-equipped.

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Posted in Fares & Fare Collection, Transit | 44 Comments

Presto Comes to Spadina

With the beginning of service today (November 30, 2014), Presto is available on any of the new streetcars running on Spadina.

That said, the implementation is ill-conceived, and how this can possibly be rolled out successfully system-wide is a mystery.

At each doorway (and on both sides of the double-width doors) there is a Presto reader. So far so good — make it easy to tap on as people enter.

However, if you need a transfer (and lots of riders do), you have to go to one of the two TTC fare machines which are (a) on the other side of the car and (b) nowhere near two of the four doors. There, you tap again and the machine issues a transfer.  All this assumes it’s not busy serving customers paying with cash or tokens.

Anyone who has been on one of the new cars when Spadina is busy will know that internal circulation just doesn’t happen. It’s hard enough to move around within the module where one boards, let alone get to another module where there’s a fare machine.

On the subway, the TTC doesn’t have this problem because transfer machines are available for all riders inside the paid area of a station, and a Presto rider is no different from someone who paid with another medium. Not so on the streetcars.

There is no sign of Presto support at the on street fare machines.

Why, oh why, wasn’t the Presto reader integrated with the TTC machines?

Meanwhile, we see another cocked up implementation of technology, one that TTC will get most of the blame for. Fortunately, there is little market penetration of Presto on TTC beyond downtown commuters because that’s the only place their card works. Until the TTC provides Metropass functionality via Presto, there is no incentive for the most frequent users to convert, and then it will have to work on all vehicles.

This has more the smell of publicity — “look what we did” — for the Presto project than it does of a useful addition to the system.

Half-baked would be a generous overstatement.

Posted in Fares & Fare Collection, Transit | 43 Comments

At Last! 4404 Arrives (Updated)

Updated November 30, 2014 at 6:20 am:

Car 4404 entered revenue service on 510 Spadina just before 6:00 am today. This also marks the introduction of Presto! on the Toronto surface network. Later today, 4400 should join 4404 in service, and by Wednesday, December 3, 4403 is expected to be on the street as well.

Delivery of additional Flexities from Bombardier has been slow because the TTC is insisting that quality control at the plant be improved, and they will not accept cars only to have them fail in Toronto during testing. The TTC is also working with Bombardier to get the production and delivery rate up to a higher level so that the conversion of routes to Flexity operation can get underway properly.

Meanwhile, as already announced by CEO Andy Byford, the coming 2015 budget will include money for renewal work on the ALRV fleet (the articulated streetcars used mainly on King and Queen) to extend their lives and retain their higher capacity during the transition to Flexity operation.

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Posted in New Streetcars, Transit | 53 Comments

John Tory Discovers Buses

John Tory’s election campaign had a single focus: his SmartTrack plan for service on GO Transit lines to link Markham, Scarborough, Union Station, the Weston corridor and the Airport. With the election over, Tory has been briefed by senior staff in various agencies including the TTC, and to his credit is now looking beyond SmartTrack at the larger system.

In his State of the City address today (November 27), Tory spoke quite openly about the damage to the transit system through funding cuts imposed during the Ford era in 2011 and 2012. (Full video of Tory’s remarks is available from CP24.)

To his credit, he wants those cuts reversed, subject to the usual caveat of whether Toronto can afford to spend more. That, of course, is as much a question of what Toronto wants to afford as we have seen through both the elimination of the Vehicle Registration Tax and the levying of the Scarborough Subway Tax.

I wrote recently about the crisis in service capacity, but for the benefit of the Mayor Elect and the incoming Council, a refresher course about what might be done with transit service.

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Posted in Finance, Service Cost and Quality, Transit, Urban Affairs | 41 Comments

The Not So Speedy 509 Harbourfront Car

Streetcar service resumed on 509 Harbourfront on Sunday, October 12, after an absence of over two years. The Queens Quay reconstruction project started at the end of July, 2012, and was supposed to be complete in the spring of 2013. For many reasons, things didn’t quite work out that way (this has been discussed in other posts and I won’t repeat the chronology here).

Although the line re-opened for streetcar service, the operating speed was, putting it mildly, glacial thanks to a whole new set of traffic signals that gave a new meaning to the antithesis of “transit priority”. Even with relatively little demand for road traffic on Queens Quay, the vast majority of time was devoted to moving the few cars that showed up now and then, while the streetcars waited for occasional, and very brief, green windows, even at locations where the “traffic green” and “transit green” would not have produced conflicting movements. Despite over two years to plan how the signals might operate in the interim configuration for this stage of the project, the arrangement had all the earmarks of a last minute scheme with a one-size-fits-all approach to programming intersections.

This arrangement lasted until late in the first week of operation, but there is still no co-ordination between transit and signals, and there are now many more places where streetcars can be held waiting for their chance to proceed. Even with the fixes, streetcar service is slower than the bus route it replaced (which did not have to deal with anywhere near as many signals) and slower than the streetcar service operated before the reconstruction.

The TTC, City and Waterfront Toronto face an acid test in their combined commitment to transit as the primary mode of access to the waterfront — if they cannot manage at least to equal the performance of the streetcar route before construction started, what is the future for surface transit in general?

Because the final arrangement won’t be in place until Queens Quay reverts to two-way traffic in the spring of 2015, we will not know just how “intelligent” the traffic signals will be about transit. The worst outcome would be to open the finished street with a disastrous arrangement for traffic control.

In this article, I will review actual running times for 509 Harbourfront in October 2014 with both the bus replacement service and the return to streetcars, and will compare this to data from February 2010.

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Posted in Service Analysis, Transit, Waterfront | 23 Comments

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 4, 2015

The January 2015 schedules bring several changes, but no substantial additions to service due to the shortage of buses and streetcars.  Notable among them are:

  • The end of several construction projects, or at least their deferral until later in 2015.
  • Increased running time on the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina (Union) services to cope with conditions on Queens Quay, notably the absence of transit signal priority which will not be functional until the road assumes its final layout later in the year.
  • Extension of some 510 Spadina King trips south to Queens Quay Loop.
  • Introduction of articulated buses on the Finch West Humberwood service.
  • Replacement of some 12m buses by artics on the 320 Yonge Night bus for Saturday late night and Sunday early morning service.
  • Increase in the number of 504 King trippers operated by buses rather than streetcars, and the discontinuation of PM peak service on 508 Lake Shore.


Posted in Transit | 21 Comments