Meanwhile in the Beach

In case everyone thought that this had turned into a blog about the Spadina Subway and intercity rail travel, let’s come back to the real world of the Queen Car with the following note.

Hi Steve
This is not really a comment, but rather a follow-up to my earlier comments re: service in the Beach.  It’s not getting any better.

Let’s start with a math quiz . What’s the next number in this sequence?

18,33,1,14,2,10,11 ______(??? )

Give up? Well the answer is “who knows, could be any number”.  It’s the 501 from Neville.

These were the 501 headways departing Neville westbound on a normal, dry road, no traffic, no accidents type middle of the weekday when all a person wanted to do was spend $10 on a streetcar going to Queen & Lee etc to do local errands. Can you believe it? Is anyone in charge of supervising this major streetcar route???

Walked down to the loop from Fallingbrook at 12:30 and saw 42xx departing westbound. 12:48 (run#7) finally came 18 minutes later. Thought I would hang around and see what followed:

  • The next car, 4244 departed at 1:21-33 minute gap!!!!
  • Then in a brilliant move, car 4250 left one whole minute later at 1:22 (came empty, left empty).
  • 4210 left 14 min later at 1:36.
  • Then run 14, 4230 left 2 minutes later at 1:38 (again empty)
  • 4225 left at 1:48, and finally
  • 4225 left at 1:57.

This is a very common situation, not unusual at all. What happens with this mess down the line? Where do the supervisors supervise from?  Do they know what is going on here????

This is sad and funny at the same time. Is anyone in control of this route??

Thought you may find this interesting Steve.

Yes, it is interesting and far, far too common.  The service at Neville Loop is supposed to run every 5’30”.

I am still mired in detailed analysis of the King route (which I hope to finish over Easter weekend) and have not had the heart to look at Queen Street yet.  The bottom line, however, is that service is quite irregular even on days, like Christmas, when it should run like a clock.

18 thoughts on “Meanwhile in the Beach

  1. How can anyone take the TTC seriosuly when they make proposals like the King St transit mall, when they can’t even manage the times that streetcars depart a loop in a very low traffic area?


  2. And to make matters worse, the 501 is frequently short turned. When this happens and you are a 15 minute walk from your destination you are faced with a choice – wait a completely random amount of time for the next street car or begin walking and risk confronting a driver 3 minutes later that won’t let you back on because you walked away from the stop where the car was short turned.


  3. As a Beaches resident, I’ve always wondered how streetcar service can be so far off schedule a mere 19 blocks after the start point when I wait for it at Woodbine. The fact that cars are leaving the loop at basically random intervals is disheartening. Is this more of the ‘within 3 minutes of scheduled service’ guideline you’ve mentioned before? If so I don’t see anything resembling a schedule.


  4. This is ridiculous. Since the headways are irregular when streetcars are leaving Neville Park, not just further along the route, this sounds like incompetent supervisors to me. However, this might be alleviated by splitting the route at Roncevalles – not Humber, which is a graveyard, and not conveniently located next to the streetcar yard – which, if CLRVs are used on the western portion of the route, might free up just enough ALRVs to run on Spadina (which desperately needs them).

    Steve: ALRVs cannot run on Spadina/Harbourfront because it is extremely difficult to push them out of the tunnel if they go disabled there.


  5. Which is exactly the reason, that although it would frequently be convenient to take the Queen car from tbe Beaches to downtown, that unless I’m actually standing on Queen street itself when I start my journey, that I always end up on either the Carlton car (and change to the much more reliable King service), or the Bloor-Danforth subway.

    Now I tend to travel off-peak, so perhaps my perception about King being reliable doesn’t apply at rush hour. But if the Queen service is typical of what we would get, if we replaced the CLRV’s with longer vehicles, on the 506 and 504 … then I’d say let’s buy some new low-floor single-unit vehicles.


  6. As a weekend getaway that costs nothing; I decided to take a li’l trip on the ol’ 501 from Long Branch Loop to Neville Park loop.

    Overall I enjoyed the experience; and met up randomly with some friends along the way, but that’s probably because I didn’t have anywhere specific to be/at a specific time.

    This is obviously not your average commuter’s purpose. Is there any analysis/insight into why the east end (east of the Don) is so consistently unreliable?

    Lower East York/The Beaches are practically a wasteland for service. Whereas in the predominantly industrial mini-town between RoYo and Roncy I can see several cars in front/behind and passing in the opposing direction.

    I believe the beaches have riders (there are loads of houses in East York) that want to take the 501 but don’t have the lifestyle that can afford to budget six hours for a commute, potentially waiting in vain for a streetcar that (almost) never comes.

    Months ago, I was on the Kingston Road branch (from Vic Pk, heading SE to Queen) and a man screamed right in the face of the streetcar driver that he was late for work. I personally chastised him for his ludicrous behaviour, but as a resident of Yorkville (the #6 is pretty damn frequent) I have little to ever complain about.

    Is this the “standard of service” for the portion of Toronto West of Scarborough, and South of the BD?


  7. Can anyone explain to us laypeople how something like this could happen? I mean, is there a single person that manages each streetcar line separately? Is that person in a central office watching it constantly, while a different person monitors King Street?

    This is a disturbing waste, to say the least. On the plus side, there’s lots of room for service improvement without spending any money!


  8. I tend to be the same as Nicholas above. I’ve had so many huge wait experiences with the Queen car (and I’m only at Coxwell!) is that I usually avoid it at most costs. I either take the Carlton car across, or take the Coxwell bus (which mercifully is usually really good with being on timeup to catch the BD subway and loop down on the YUS.

    I’d love to see 3 lines (I must be delusional with the late winter blast) – Neville to McCaul, Long Branch to Church and Humber to Parliament. Additionally flip the Kingston Rd to provide its service to Wellington & York St all day – rather than the day tripper to McCaul.

    I believe that the terrible line management of the Queen car is why so many people’s mantra is to “build more subways” and have a misconception of LRT.


  9. From my experience, going to and from the Beach to see friends or eat is always a problem in the evenings and at weekends (which is about the only time I try to do it). The 501 is terribly unreliable and some of the figures quoted above bear this out. (I hope someone at the TTC is reading these posts and saying “Why the hell is that happening?” If you are, the next step is to DO SOMETHING!)

    Even if there was perfect route supervision part of the problem is surely the length of the 501 route so, as has been discussed in this and other threads why not split it into two segments with an overlap in the centre. In my opinion the ideal routes would be ‘501 West’ going from Long Branch to Broadview and the ‘501 East’ going from Ronsesvalles to Neville Park but I admit there are other possibilities and turning at Broadview is clearly not easy – maybe if/when the west Don Lands line is built it will allow a looping possibility in the vicinity of River – the aim is to bring the 501 West to somewhere it meets the King car.


  10. At least with subways and the RT, the headways are uniform, and the service is regular and predictable.

    The current streetcar service is a total joke. On St. Clair, they should double the service when the ROW is complete. If you’re going to take a lane away from cars, then you should offer the equivalent capacity that you took away on that ROW lane. But will the TTC do that, NO!

    Why is the TTC hung up on regular headways underground but not on the surface? — I don’t get it. And yes, they’ve done a lousy job even defining what LRT is — that’s why there’s no buy-in on it. People just think … $6B for streetcars? — are they twisting their hair curlers too tight??

    Instead, if they had purchased new multiple unit low floor vehicles for Spadina with all-door loading, less frequent stops, and made the stops themselves look like actual stations (with enclosed waiting areas with seats and ticket machines), then people would buy into LRT. Make it look more like a subway train on the surface and less like a streetcar, and people will get the message psychologically. The TTC has failed on this from a marketing standpoint.


  11. I would recommend you mail this to the TTC. Unfortunately, since the TTC’s website is still stuck in 1997, when I say mail, I mean “snail mail.” They do give you the courtesy of providing you a complaint form for you to print off however. I can’t say anything for the TTC’s mail complaints, but I filed one with YRT’s website and the results seem to be much more positive than anything I’ve ever gotten from their phone reps.

    UPDATE: Apparently it seems you can submit a service complaint online, it is just if you have a complaint with an employee that you must mail it. I guess we can’t upset those unions and all…

    Steve: Many people at the TTC including those in the Service Planning Department read this blog quite regularly.


  12. I was wondering why the #502 streetcar stops at Victoria Park and Kingston instead of continuing up Victoria Park to the Victoria Park subway station. I was at a recent TTC meeting at city hall and they had an artist’s rendering of how the new Victoria Park subway station would look and it would be even better if they incorporated a streetcar stop. I know the road is narrow at one part before an underpass, but maybe the street could be widened to accomodate the streetcar route.

    Steve: The original line went out Kingston Road to West Hill, but it has not done that for a very long time. Going up Victoria Park would be tricky because it is so narrow. However, one option that is being considered for a Kingston Rd. LRT line is to come into Victoria Park via the Danforth. This study is still underway in Environmental Assessment, but the planners for the Victoria Park Station project have been asked to make provision for a streetcar/LRT interface should it be required.


  13. Instead, if they had purchased new multiple unit low floor vehicles for Spadina with all-door loading, less frequent stops, and made the stops themselves look like actual stations (with enclosed waiting areas with seats and ticket machines), then people would buy into LRT.

    Um… interesting story here. When the Spadina streetcar line was proposed in the early 1980s, the only way they could get the line to go forward with city council was to market it and the Harbourfront streetcar as an LRT. This was the era when Mel Lastman famously said “real cities don’t run streetcars”, but the LRT caught the politicians attention.

    But, the “LRT” term spooked local residents, and the Spadina LRT had a real hard time running up against local community groups who felt that their street was being taken away from them. They feared the following:

    – barrier effect (“a Berlin Wall down Spadina Avenue, with streetcars screaming along it at 70 mph”)
    – stations too far apart (“how dare they take those stops away from us. We’re old, we need them, we shouldn’t have to walk further to take transit”)
    – loss of parking (Spadina Avenue used to have angled parking, and the local shopkeepers were quite proud of that)
    – noise, especially around Spadina station.

    But the big thing was, the local residents didn’t know what LRTs were, and they feared them. It didn’t help that the local media, focusing on the “RT” of LRT, went and took film footage of the Scarborough RT in operation to illustrate their point. I have, somewhere, a panphlet opposing the Spadina LRT, with a Scarborough RT vehicle on an elevated guideway superimposed down the centre of Spadina Avenue.

    In 1986 (I think), Metropolitan Council approved the Harbourfront LRT, but sent the Spadina LRT back to the drawing board. What followed was one of the most intensive public consultation processes that I’ve seen. Every community group got involved, as did the University of Toronto — their objection: that rats in Knox College undergoing light deprivation experiments would learn to tell what time of day it was by the vibration of passing streetcars. At that point, the project manager in charge had a nervous breakdown.

    The concerns of local residents were assuaged with the following measures:

    – Stops added back in.
    – A new parking garage in Kensington Market to make up for the spaces lost (promised but not delivered, after it was discovered that it really wasn’t needed)
    – Spadina station loop placed underground at great expense.
    – Stops designed in scale with the neighbourhood.

    But by far the change that resulted in opposition to the project basically melting away was the decision to stop referring it as the Spadina LRT, but as the Spadina streetcar line. Streetcars the local community understood, and appreciated. The modified line was approved in 1992, with construction commencing soon after.

    Low floor vehicles were planned, early on, but at $5 million a pop, and with a surplus of streetcars materializing during the recessionary service cuts, it was an expense the city and the province quickly trimmed.

    So I think we’re arguing at cross purposes. There is a difference between a streetcar line serving a local neighbourhood, and an LRT line serving regional commuters. The streetcars do the latter, and thus the resistence in seeing the LRT as a regional carrier.

    But the LRT network proposed is primarily for the benefit of local travellers, supporting higher density neighbourhoods with a mixture of uses. These routes are not designed to take people downtown, they’re designed to take people to homes, jobs, schools and shops enroute. In short, these LRTs are designed to shorten the length of commutes in terms of distance, not in terms of time. This is an approach I can support.


    During the Spadina LRT debates, the author of the “barrier scare” was none other than Councillor Jack Layton. At the time, he was fighting the proposed Metro Centre development that was to be around Spadina and Front, and portrayed the Spadina car as an enabler of this development. It would provide fast service (infrequent stops) and high capacity needed to sustain a new mega-office park.

    His position was reinforced by the TTC. They described the Spadina car as existing primarily to serve Metro Centre and the neighbourhoods in between were not really on their radar.

    Jack also supported the Sheppard Subway because it would encourage growth in the burbs and lower demand for new office towers downtown. We all know how successful that was.

    This wasn’t the first time a Spadina barrier had been proposed. Among the publicity photos for the original GO Urban elevated network is a mockup of a guideway on Spadina at Harbord. The locals were already primed against another such intrusion even if Layton’s version was fictional.

    As for vibrations, there was also concern that delicate equipment in the brand new Earth Sciences building would be rattled by passing streetcars. That’s why there is no short-turn loop at Spadina Circle — cars rumbling through the special work would have jostled the experiments. To be fair, this was before the days of elastic trackbeds for special work.

    There was also concern about electromagnetic interference, despite the fact that streetcars had been passing along College Street for decades.

    The stops that were put back in were at Sussex, Willcocks and Sullivan. Sussex is a bit suspect, but Willcocks serves the UofT campus and is fairly well-used. Sullivan is half-way between Dundas and Queen, and keeps walking distances there to a reasonable level.

    The parking issue was one that Streetcars for Toronto ran into with the original Spadina streetcar proposal in the 70s. If nothing else, the construction of the parking garages and their low level of usage is a good lesson for future schemes.


  14. Geez, if there was that much opposition to Spadina, I’d hate to see what the TTC will have to go through with Transit City to even get one line off the ground.

    Just out of curiosity, do you think the merchants along that stretch of Spadina would have objected equally to a southward extension of the Spadina subway? Why is it nobody opposes subways, but everyone gets all fired up about on-street LRT?

    I’m just thinking about how we’ve changed. I remember all the residential properties that were expropriated and demolished when BD was built (a relative of mine lived in one) — “here’s the money, get out”. We would never be able to get away with something like that for, say, an off-street LRT on an alignment just north of an existing road (like Bloor).

    Steve: Part of the opposition to the Spadina LRT was blatantly political grandstanding by Jack Layton and part was due to the pre-sensitization of the neighbourhood by the Spadina Expressway and GO Urban proposals. The opposition by shopkeepers was based on the mistaken assumption that all of their trade arrived by automobile. This group was led by a furrier and contained many in the now-departed clothing trades who were already fearing for the decline of their industry.

    In Transit City, many neighbourhoods do not depend on street parking for their shopping access, and in the worst case (Eglinton), the line will not be on the surface.


  15. A fascinating history lesson pre-Spadina ROW re-opening… thanks James!

    I missed it as I was living in Thornhill and driving to work in Mississauga/Etobicoke during all these tortuous Spadina right-of-way approval shenanigans (St. Clair déjà vu).

    I did, however, have the pleasure of watching the opening of Spadina on Sunday July 27th, 1997. It was an amazing to see both Spadina and Bloor streets closed by TTC Marketing and Public Affairs Special Events Staff for an all-day street party.

    Once the grand avenue was re-opened, the TTC experienced a vehicle collision rate 4X that of its other streetcar routes as people acclimatized (the “hard” way) to the lumbering giants, leading to a plan to segregate traffic.

    I remember 4 years of hostile Trinity-Spadina community deputations, particularly merchants, in response to the TTC’s plan to first install temporary barriers (green bollards, or posts) to reduce collisions.

    It wasn’t enough that the bollards were effective in reducing collisions. They were then criticized as a design eye-sore by the community, who really, wanted the right-of-way to go away.

    The TTC plodded on doggedly and proposed the permanent separation we now have, but not until at least a year of determined opposition and angry deputations leading to many revisions and landscaping to beautiful the street.

    I was walking, TTCing up/down Spadina twice last week, checking out the stinky Durian, lichees, star fruit thinking what a dynamic street, pedestrians comfortably crossing back and forth across the right-of-way, cars turning left, and the streetcars packed with people out shopping or going to the U of T. To my eye, it’s an overwhelming success, just as St. Clair and Transit City will be to future generations.

    Mimmo… Howard Moscoe as Chair once summed up his long experience adding/subtracting TTC routes in neighbourhoods (circa 1999, in response to Joanne Flint’s deputations on behalf of her constituents opposing linking Silver Hills E/W service through one of her tony Hogg’s Hollow streets):

    “If a street doesn’t have a bus route… they oppose it going in (Moore Park); and if they have a bus route, it’s impossible to take it away!”

    I think the moral of the story is… “out of sight… out of mind!”

    Steve: Bob .. we need to put some of the TTC’s positions in context here. Originally, the TTC wanted a full barrier so that pedestrians could not intrude onto the sanctity of the right-of-way .. it’s a “safety” issue, don’t ya know? The TTC is often its own worst enemy antagonizing the community with heavy-handed, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. St. Clair was indeed a case of déjà vu.

    Oddly enough, pedestrians all over the world manage to wander across this type of right-of-way, occasionally annoying the operators, but generally safely. I am seeing the same behaviour on St. Clair where the right-of-way has become a gigantic safety island for people to cross with. The folks in Via Italia are in for a pleasant surprise.


  16. Just out of curiosity, do you think the merchants along that stretch of Spadina would have objected equally to a southward extension of the Spadina subway?

    It came up. Around the time that opposition to the Spadina LRT was at its height, a proposal came forward to extend the Spadina subway south to Front Street and west to connect to the Yonge line at Union. The University line would be rendered a spur of the Bloor-Danforth, somehow.

    Why is it nobody opposes subways, but everyone gets all fired up about on-street LRT?

    Well, the individual who put this idea forward was hurriedly shushed by the merchants of Spadina Avenue, who said that, whatever damage the LRT could do to the street, it wouldn’t completely alter its character, as a subway extension would have done. So your statement that nobody opposes subways is false.

    This was demonstrated again in 1994 when local merchants along Eglinton West objected strenuously to the effects construction of the Eglinton West subway was having on their businesses. They actually cheered when the hole was filled in.


  17. P.S. Regarding Layton; he received one of my first letters ever sent to a politician, when I castigated him for opposing the Spadina LRT (I was a big streetcar fan, even then). He wrote back a kind reply saying that his objections weren’t against streetcars per se, but that he felt that the Spadina line was being planned to get people down Spadina to the Railway Lands as quickly as possible, rather than serving the local residents themselves. He did say that the proposal was changing, and that he might soon be able to support the project. This was obviously in the late 1980s, during the redesign. I don’t know if he eventually voted in favour of the project or not.

    But looking back, I would say that the initial proposal did do harm to the neighbourhood, because the Toronto Roads department mucked about with the design. If I recall correctly, the original design called for a high speed LRT operating down the Spadina median, with no provisions for left turns or even road crossings except at College, Dundas, King and Queen streets. On either side of the median, there would have been three traffic lanes, plus space for parking, which would have been taken out of the sidewalks.

    Well, no wonder the local community went ape. One of the first redesigns reduced the traffic lanes from three to two on each side, with angled parking transformed to side parking, no reduction of the sidewalks and, indeed, concrete planters poking out into the parking lane, in order to reinforce that the lane was a *parking* lane, and never to be used for a third lane of traffic.

    Steve: Yes, this was an early example of how the road jocks took advantage of a transit project to convert a local, if busy, street into their vision of a suburban arterial (the expressway that never was), and the same thing happened again on St. Clair. For its part, the TTC too talked about the Spadina line almost as a surface subway with infrequent stops to serve the Metro Centre development. They seemed to miss the fact that even in their own projections, over half of the ridership did not originate in that development, but in the existing, densely travelled part of the line north of Queen.

    There is a huge difference in the way that the Waterfront East studies are being handled, and this is at least partly due to their being Toronto Waterfront projects, not TTC projects. You need only look at the far more restrictive approach taken on Waterfront West where the TTC is running the show and the study seems to be railroading through an already-chosen design.

    Note to Hamish Wilson: Yes I know it could be rerouted on the alignment of Front Street. I may turn to this issue in a separate post soon.

    The Transit City studies could be totally botched if every one of them proposes making their streets even more hostile to pedestrians than they already are in many places. We are supposed to be building an urban city, so says the Official Plan, not a network of mini-expressways.


  18. Why is it nobody opposes subways, but everyone gets all fired up about on-street LRT?

    Well Mimmo, I don’t know how old you are, but merchants on the Danforth bemoaned the loss of business when in 1966, the first stretch of the BD subway opened. I’m not positive if this opposition to the subway came before, with foresight, or as most people live their lives, with the unfortunate sense of loss and realization through hindsight. Rest assured, that if before or after, the BD subway was not universally embraced. The Danforth is very different in most of the neighbourhoods now, than it was then. Much of it imposed by the forced change in traffic patterns. It has taken many years to re-establish some of them, I’ll agree successfully, but those who were forced to move or close down at the time were not amused.

    Why you ask could this be? Well as a surface rider would pass a retail establishment promoting itself with a big sign that said SALE, folks on the cars would take note of it and break their trip, or maybe even drive back on the weekend to take advantage of the SALE. With those self same people now underground, they are now lost to those merchants, possibly forever.

    I’m not sure if you read my comments in another part of this site, I’m not sure that I can even remember which heading I put it under; but I had stated there about my teenaged thoughts about how much better the city would be if transit lines were underground than on the surface holding up traffic. I was having a tete a tete with a well respected, exceptionally knowledgeable and caring TTC transit planner. (No oxymoron when applied to this man I assure you.) He pointed out to me that when putting trains out of sight, security becomes much harder for both the rider and the neighbourhoods trough which the surface line no longer travels. Unless a nervous travller, riding alone, lucks into riding with the motorman or gaurd, and not in one of the unmonitored cars on the train, that individual could ride in a very nervous state for a goodly portion of the ride. Not as bad on a surface vehicle where the operator is really handy and where those on the sidewalks can look in and see what’s going on. Conversely,those on the sidewalk and those properties by where the cars pass are no longer able to count on the riders in the surface vehicles to monitor their well being. Point being, this individual, although not published, opposed subway construction in favour of enhanced surface routes, ie. streetcars.


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