What Does Scarborough Transit Need?

At the risk of re-igniting the Scarborough subway debate, I am moving some comments that are becoming a thread in their own right out of the “Stop Spacing” article over here to keep the two conversations separated.

In response to the most recent entry in the thread, I wrote:

Steve: Probably the most annoying feature of “pro Scarborough subway” (as opposed to “pro Scarborough”) pitches is the disconnect with the travel demands within Scarborough. These are known from the every five year detailed survey of travel in the GTHA, and a point that sticks out is that many people, a sizeable minority if not a majority, of those who live in Scarborough are not commuting to downtown. Instead they are travelling within Scarborough, to York Region or to locations along the 401. Many of these trips, even internal to Scarborough, are badly served by transit. One might argue that the lower proportion of downtown trips is a chicken-and-egg situation — it is the absence of a fast route to downtown combined with the impracticality of driving that discourages travel there. That’s a fair point, but one I have often argued would be better served with the express services possible on the rail corridors were it not for the GO fare structure that penalizes inside-416 travel.

We now have three subways — one to Vaughan, one to Richmond Hill and one to Scarborough — in various stages of planning and construction in part because GO (and by extension Queen’s Park) did not recognize the benefit of providing much better service to the core from the outer 416 and near 905 at a fare that riders would consider “reasonable” relative to what they pay today. I would love to see service on the CPR line that runs diagonally through Scarborough, out through Malvern into North Pickering. This route has been fouled up in debates for years about restitution of service to Peterborough, a much grander, more expensive and less likely proposition with added layers of rivalry between federal Tory and provincial Liberal interests. Fitting something like that into the CPR is tricky enough without politicians scoring points off of each other.

The most common rejoinder I hear to proposals that GO could be a form of “subway relief” is that the service is too infrequent and too expensive. What is the capital cost of subway construction into the 905 plus the ongoing operating cost once lines open versus the cost of better service and lower fares on a much improved GO network? Nobody has ever worked this out because GO and subway advocates within the planning community work in silos, and the two options are never presented as one package.

With the RER studies, this may finally change, and thanks to the issues with the Yonge corridor, we may finally see numbers comparing the effects of improved service in all available corridors and modes serving traffic from York Region to the core. I would love to see a comparable study for Scarborough.

Meanwhile, we need to know more about “inside Scarborough” demand including to major centres such as academic sites that are not touched by the subway plan.

I will promote comments here that contribute to the conversation in a civil manner. As for the trolls (and you know who you are), don’t bother. Your “contributions” only make the Scarborough position much less palatable, and I won’t subject my readers to your drivel.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, GO Transit, Scarborough RT/LRT/Subway, Transit, York Region | 121 Comments

Stop Spacing: How Close is Too Close?

With debates swirling around various schemes to improve service on King Street, one disheartening thread is the fixation on pet solutions, on annoyances that don’t really contribute much to the overall behaviour of the route.

In comments here and elsewhere, the issue of stop spacing has come up from time to time. On King and on other routes (including many bus routes), there are locations where pairs of stops are closely spaced to the point one might ask “why is this stop here”. The TTC has proposed elimination of some stops, and this brought mixed reactions. Some “surplus” stops clearly are very close to others and might be eliminated. Others may appear to be close, but they may also have strong demand in their own right, riders who don’t take kindly to the idea that their stop isn’t needed.

For any discussion, it is quite useful to actually know what the whole route looks like — don’t just take one or two locations and presume that the whole route suffers from the same problem.

A very easy way to see where all of the stops are is with NextBus. Here is the URL to display the 504 King car:


I have shown this link as a URL (the hotlink under the text will take you to the page), and you can go to any other route simply by changing the “r=” parameter. All of the stops are displayed as small circles, and they are clickable to get the prediction for the next car at the location. Places where stops are close together (or not) are easy to spot.

Be careful not to confuse pairs of dots that are for each direction where the eastbound and westbound stops may not be directly adjacent. Some of these situation have historical background (buildings, etc that once dictated the best place to put a stop). Some stops are used only on Sundays, and if you click on one (and it’s not Sunday) you will get “no current prediction”.

Leaving aside the Sunday stops, yes, there are some closely spaced stops that probably made sense once upon a time, but might be dropped today.

Some stops exist because they are at traffic signals where there is a good chance a car will be held anyhow. In some cases there are double stops related to the way cars and buses actually operate with alternate routings.

However, these are exceptions and do not dominate the route overall.

Roncesvalles Avenue is an example of a revised route because this was totally rebuilt a few years back with a new design for stops where the sidewalk comes out to meet the streetcar track. All of the many Sunday stops were eliminated, and there are now stops at:

  • Dundas West Station
  • Bloor (northbound only, with an island)
  • Dundas & Roncesvalles
  • Howard Park Avenue
  • Grenadier
  • High Park / Fermanagh
  • Galley / Garden
  • Marion
  • Queensway (including two northbound stops, one nearside, one farside)

Over the two kilometres from Bloor to Queensway, that’s a 250m spacing, and one would be hard pressed to find a pair of stops to be eliminated (leaving aside the implications for the road geometry).

From Dufferin to Bathurst, the average spacing is the same, although the run from Atlantic to Sudbury through the railway underpass does push these stops a bit further apart. This is an area of very high population where removing a stop will only add to walking distances. The larger problem here is the time needed to board overcrowded cars, when they show up.

By contrast, between Yonge and Bathurst (also 2km), the spacing is 200m on average, a situation helped by three very closely spaced stops at York, University and Simcoe. However, this is a busier location on the route, and the stops are well used at various times of the day. General traffic congestion is the bigger problem here, not stop service time at a few stops.

On Broadview, the spacing is back to 250m (note that there are two Sunday stops on Broadview if you are counting them), and the operating speed is fairly high because there are few traffic signals.

The stop spacing in most neighbourhoods has evolved out of the street pattern, and that 250m average probably says something about block lengths in the “old” city.

The closest spacing on the subway lies between Bloor and Queen where the average spacing is 500m. This spacing grows as one moves away from downtown and reaches 1-2km in outer areas. That is not a mark of local convenience, but rather of the desire to limit the number of stations (capital and operating costs). Everyone “in between” just has to make do.

Getting back to King Street, there is more to be gained by making traffic generally, and transit in particular, move faster between the stops, however many there might be. A few stops here and there might be dropped, probably with local objections, and likely with no visible improvement in the line’s operation. There are so many other, larger factors at work that shaving off a few stops will hardly be noticed.

The basic and difficult issue is that “quick fixes”, “tweaks”, will not fix the King car. The road needs to be managed so that its capacity is available to move traffic. The service needs to operate with the largest possible vehicles at the closest scheduled and well-managed headway. These are not the stuff of quick press conferences and a few weeks of a traffic blitz, but of permanent change to the way we think about road space and about providing transit service.

Posted in King Car, Service Cost and Quality, Transit | 33 Comments

The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part III)

In the first part of this series, I discussed The New Geography of Office Location, 2011, and then in the second part, its successor A Region in Transition, 2013. Now, I will turn to The Business Case for the Regional Relief Line, October 2013. All three papers were produced by SRRA (Strategic Regional Research Associates), although the first two are also available through the Canadian Urban Institute’s website.

Only a 17 page summary version of the Relief Line report is available online, compared to the full versions of the first two. Considering the clear influence this series of reports has had on transit policy and the recent election campaign, the idea that

Detailed research is available to Investment Partners of SRRA [Page 1]

leaves a big hole in the range for public comment and review. I hope that Metrolinx will rectify this situation as part of whatever studies might take place.

My thanks to those of you who slogged through the first two articles.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, GO Transit, Transit, Urban Affairs | 48 Comments

The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part II)

In the first article of this series, I examined a 2011 report about the shifting location of office development in the GTHA. Here I will turn to a follow-up report, A Region in Transition, from January 2013.

These reports provided the underpinning for the SmartTrack campaign proposal from Mayor John Tory. It is important that we understand just where this scheme came from and what it was  intended to accomplish by authors who, in some cases, lent their support to the Tory campaign and the SmartTrack brand.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, GO Transit, Transit, Urban Affairs | 6 Comments

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 | 43 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