Centre Poles on St. Clair (A Follow-Up)

After my less than kind words about the TTC and their centre pole design for St. Clair, I received a question about why the poles take up so much space (one extra metre on the right-of-way).  The short answer is that emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks, need to be able to drive down the ROW at speed without hitting anything and without falling off of the six-inch curb.  This means that the lane (measured from the curb to the pole) needs to be wide enough to give enough dynamic clearance for a large truck that is not tethered to the tracks.

Here is the longer version taken from an email I sent back to various people who asked:

Just so you don’t think I am crazy, I have a set of construction drawings for the section from Yonge to Bathurst.  Where there are centre poles, the right-of-way is one metre wider that locations with side poles.  Note this is metres, not feet.

The reason for this is that you need to allow clearance for two things:

1.  People hanging out of the car (yes, they do that).  The pole has to be far enough away from both tracks to prevent absolutely the possibility of taking off someone’s head.  With no pole, the spacing is car-to-car.  This by itself does not require a metre, but …

2.  It is intended that the ROW be driveable by emergency vehicles (as well as bus fill ins for screwups).  If there is no pole, then a fire truck, bus, etc, does not have to worry about hitting it and can basically drive down the middle of the ROW except when passing a stopped transit vehicle headed in the opposite direction.  [Editorial note:  there is so little service on St. Clair at times that this is a remote possibility.]  With poles, you need extra room.  I believe that the Fire Department is not happy about the poles, but was told to shut up by the designers.

My complaint here is that the various design exercises did not deal with block-by-block impacts of various road design “standards” including ludicrous “requirements” regarding sidewalk curve radii at corners that take away a lot of space.  More of the influence of our friends in the road engineering department.  Too much time was spent on general aesthetics and on the Yonge to Spadina section, and no designs were done for the section around Dufferin where there is the greatest contention about impacts. 

Every inch (centimetre) counts over there, and an extra metre for the poles is a big design decision to make when, according to City Planning, they were prevented by the EA process from presenting detailed design alternatives.  I am not making this up.

Meanwhile, there will still be poles on the sidewalk to hold up the streetlights, and one scheme calls for the poles to be mounted flush to the buildings rather than at the curb.  This tells me they are hard up for space, something that would not be as much of a problem if they had not given away that metre in the first place.

For all that SOS was a pain in the ass, the TTC and City were less than forthcoming in what was supposed to be an exhaustive design process.  I remember seeing illustrations of centre versus side poles with a questionnaire asking which people preferred.  No indication was given of the impact of one choice or the other on other aspects of overall design.

At the same time, a photo montage which emphasized the old messy box-style hydro installation (side poles) was contrasted with light, airy centre poles and underground wiring.  This was not a fair comparison and was clearly designed to elicit unquestioned support for one outcome.  This is a classic technique in so-called public participation to force people to pick the desired outcome, and it is dishonest.

Finally, one point that needs mentioning is that the street west of the railway at Caledonia is not was wide as the section to the east.  That west end of St. Clair has some nasty curb cuts in the preliminary drawing on the City’s website, and the locals are understandably upset.  In some locations, very little space will be left in front of shops that now take up a metre or so with sidewalk displays.  This won’t be possible if the preliminary designs are actually built. 

I hope that I will not have to establish a separate section of this site for a discussion of poles.  That’s the sort of thing that belongs over on spacing.ca in the ongoing debates about street furniture and urban design.