The Sunday Star had an article by Christopher Hume called The Error of Our Subways.
While the rest of the world embraced the importance of transit, Toronto wasted time and money on momuments to egotistical politicians and technology boondoggles.
There are a few glitches in Hume’s article, but it’s good to see this whole debate getting an airing. If we are going to spend money on transit, let’s spend it in the right place.
Meanwhile, Jeff Gray writing in today’s Globe reports that the number crunchers at Queen’s Park have combed through recent Federal Budget papers, and have found not one penny to pay for the Spadina subway extension to York University.
How long will it take for someone at Queen’s Park to wake up to the fact that they could build a really great LRT network focussed on York U with the $1.3-billion represented by the provincial and municipal shares of the Spadina subway proposal?
The fact that York U and their supporters have wasted so much time and effort on a subway proposal shows how badly understood the real alternatives are. That’s the legacy of those wasted decades and the thinking that brought us the Sheppard subway.
I remember former mega-mayor Mel Lastman saying that “real cities don’t use streetcars”. Sorry Mel, but real cities built transit systems while Toronto argued where to put a few miles of track.
Can Dalton McGuinty and David Miller save us from this folly? Do we have to wait until both are safely re-elected before we start considering alternatives?
In the Star article transportation consultant Ed Levy said “Toronto is one of very few cities with streetcars in mixed traffic. It’s a killer.”
By “killer”, does he mean that auto traffic causes havoc with streetcar service?
Steve: That’s what Ed Levy is driving at. I hate to disagree with Ed, but this is more of the TTC’s old guff that without reserved lanes, all is chaos.
The remark “one of very few cities with streetcars in mixed traffic” seems exagerated. Last year I visited 6 German cities with streetcar/LRT lines. Potsdam and Bremen had quite a bit of mixed traffic running. For Dusseldorf and Berlin, I found it hard to tell which predominated (PROW or mixed traffic). Dresden had little mixed traffic and Cologne seemed to have none.
Brussels and Vienna also have much mixed traffic operation but also PROWs.
More than old guff. There is a preception that LRT and streetcars are slow by a lot the public as well. There is absolutely no education showing otherwise in the main stream. Every time the news comes on and they show a shot of TO all they see are streetcars stuck in traffic, streetcar stoped at a light. Never a shot of a street car rocketing along the Queensway.
We had a discussion at work about subway expansion. Some of the riders who take GO from the north Rutherford station indicated that they would probably take the subway from Hwy 7 if it were there today as opposed to GO. A couple in Aurora said they would even drive down to Hwy 7 as well instead of taking the GO from Aurora. The perception is that subway is fast and they have a greater option as to when they can start and end work as the subway schedule tends to be more flexible, the same as LRT.
When I mentioned that an LRT line to Downsview could do the same thing at a fraction of the cost, most of them thought it would not be as fast and would probably stop too frequently for their taste (extra stations, waiting for lights to change even if it is priority signalling) and said they would stay on the GO. (They didn’t even want to transfer between LRT and Downsview).
If you look at the website of some cityies in the US who have a new LRT network, they have a lot of media information regarding the ease and speed of their LRT systems. I thing that Minneapolis transit has some of their commercials on their website last time that I checked. The commercials were with riders (not politicians) indicating why they took the LRT. It was very nicely done. I almost felt like relocating just on the strength of the website and commercial alone.
Steve: The TTC often wonders why I accuse them of an anti-LRT/streetcar bias all of the time. The reason is that they do so poor a job of actually telling people what these modes can do that the clear message is that LRT is a distant second class to subways. Couple this with their endless rants on how they cannot possibly run decent service without reserved lanes everywhere and you have a recipe for ordinary folk thinking that LRT is just something for the railfans.
Until we get a real LRT line somewhere, nobody will know what we are talking about, and they will always want more of the same.
I think we will eventually get a real LRT if VIVA stays the course.
Steve: The question really is whether we wait until VIVA builds up to LRT load levels through incremental growth (something I doubt) or take the plunge and build the LRT network in anticipation of attracted ridership. Once I see VIVA actually taking lanes away from other road users for exclusive bus operations (in a pre-LRT configuration), then I will believe that VIVA is serious about going after ridership. Until then, it’s just a regular transit network with rather expensive equipment.
I’ve been doing an unhealthy amount of Google searching, and YouTube watching when it comes to light rail and LRT, and I have come across this old blog and would like you to elaborate a bit on Dwight’s second comment for me.
I really do like the idea of light rail. The fact that you can build an entire city wide network for the same cost as a single subway line just screams value and efficiency when it comes to transit spending. But most videos I’ve seen of light rail generally show it moving at best at the same speed as street traffic, with the exception of when it is blocked off from pedestrians and traffic (ie: rail corridor, highway median, etc). I was riding the 512 St. Clair this Sunday morning between SCW and SC stations, and while it did an admirable job keeping up with street traffic, I simply felt that a subway or even a bus in the median would have done a better job – especially since the tram didn’t have to stop at all the stops.
One of the most attractive points of subways is their excellent speeds even through dense areas. I believe this is one of the reasons why subways tend to gather so many choice riders.
Anyways, I was wondering if you could recommend to me some LRT systems that have some excellent performance through downtown and dense areas, where it is not realistic to separate the line from the traffic. I know I have been critical of light rail in the past, but you have to understand that I do want to support it 100%, but right now I just can’t from what I’ve seen 😦
PS: If possible, you can email your response to me too. Thanks.
Steve: I’m responding within the blog as this topic is of interest to many readers. A basic fact of life about operation in dense, downtown areas is that they will be slow. The technology does not have much to do with it. The main factors are stop spacing, intersection spacing and potential conflicts with other traffic and pedestrians.
For example, the Spadina line is slow not because LRT is ineffective, but because the stops and intersections are close together. Some improvements in traffic signal priority could shave two or three minutes off of the trip from Bloor to King, but the sheer number of stops has a lot to do with it.
The other point, compared with subways, is that the speed one can operate between stops is a function of safety in a congested environment and, again, stop spacing.
Putting this in context, the Yonge Subway from Bloor to Queen has 4 stops in a space of 2 km, or one stop every .5 km. There is no conflicting traffic or worries about pedestrians on the tracks. The Spadina car over the same distance has twice as many stops, and the right-of-way is regularly used by pedestrians. Elimination of the extra stops wouldn’t save a lot of time because (a) they are at intersections where there is little or no transit priority and (b) part of the loading delays from these stops would be transferred to the remaining locations. Unlike the subway with all-door loading, the streetcar line is constrained by pay-as-you-enter fare collection.
For a complete contrast, see the Riverside line in Boston which is entirely on private right-of-way (an old railway line), with wider stop spacing. This originally operated with three-car trains of PCCs. Pedestrians can cross the right-of-way only at stations (plus one footpath where the right to cross is preserved by a very old agreement with adjacent landowners).
Thanks Steve. I saw a video of the Green line on YouTube, and was pleasantly surprised to see a LRT move outside of tram like speeds through a fairly urban setting.
Also, would track quality play a role as well? Most times when I see light rail move fast, the tracks are very ‘rail’ like and cannot support pedestrians or traffic. But when it enters an area where the tracks are grooved into the pavement so vehicles can drive along them, the lrvs tend to see a reduction in velocity. Is this due to the rails, or because of them running on surfaces that are vehicle and pedestrian friendly?
Personally, I have no problem fencing off streetcar ROWs, turning the tracks into full rail tracks, adding railway crossing arms at open intersections, and reducing the stops where possible if it would mean faster, subway like service. Of course, the NIMBYs would unfortunately have a field day with that.
Steve: It’s the “pedestrian and vehicle friendly” nature that slows down the LRVs. Having said that, I have two observations.
First, in some implementations, we want the line to allow for easy crossing by pedestrians and motorists. This is especially important where a line runs through a pedestrian precinct. We have been operating Spadina and Harbourfront long enough now that the TTC doesn’t freak at the thought someone will walk in front of a speeding streetcar at every possible opportunity. Motorists, however, are not as well behaved and that’s why a lot of the original openings in the Spadina line were closed off.
Second, even though The Queensway is open track, the City still manages to screw it up with so-called transit priority signals. Before they were installed, the streetcars used the same green phase as everyone else, and the trip to Humber could be quite fast especially if there were not passengers to be served at every stop. Once transit is forced to wait, one can almost guarantee a stop at every traffic light. This will be a big issue for Transit City.
I live on The Queensway and the “so-called transit priority signals”, where only temporary during construction which was complete a year ago. I don’t think the TTC ever claimed they where transit priority to begin with.
The signals are now back they way they where, so the streetcars use the same green phase as other Queensway traffic, which is quite long.
Once thing they should do is make the red light for the left turn arrow into a red arrow so driver don’t turn in front of the streetcar.