Another View From The Beach [Updated]

I received the following comment from Tina R., and there are enough separate issues here that it deserves its own thread.  This deals with service to The Beach as well as general questions about buses versus streetcars and LRT, and express operations.

An update about running times on the Queen car, added on May 27, appears at the end of this post. 


Mr. Munro,

Your website certainly is busy. I came across this when looking for information about streetcars in general and the service in the Beaches (The Beach I guess now).

I’ve lived in Canada’s three largest cities – and have been a regular user of Vancouver’s trolley buses, Montreal’s buses and the Metro. I always found these excellent.

However, I can’t say the same of your streetcars. My experience with this service is the same as some of those who posted under the topic that discusses the service on Queen: i.e. that service on the Woodbine and Coxwell buses is excellent [I’ve never taken the Main bus because of where I live] – but the streetcar services – be it the 501 or the ones that run on Kingston Road are not.

When the streetcar service was replaced by buses during track construction few years ago, the bus service provided was noticeably faster and more reliable.

These days, I don’t take transit very otfen. My office and most assignments are now in the far flung suburbs. Nevertheless, I’m still interested in getting service improved. Maybe one day I’ll get on a project that’s a bit closer.

It seems that a great deal of thought is being put into this subject in general – and the Queen and King car in general. However, the focus is on solving a technical problem instead of looking at what is useful service.

As a Beach resident, I can safely say that I’m not alone in saying that even if the 501 service were ‘fixed’ – it isn’t a service I’d use.

Firstly, to go downtown, it’s faster for me to take the bus and subway. When my office was at Yonge & King, this combination would get me to work in between 28 and 35 minutes. The streetcar trip would be between 35 and 45 minutes. It would take a significant improvement in steetcar performance for this to be the choice route.

Second, for most other trips, the 501 doesn’t go where Beach people need to go. People tend to walk within the neighbourhood – that’s a big part of the reason for living here. In terms of frequent destinations that take people out of the neighbourhood, biggies are the Loblaws at Leslie and Eastern, and the St. Lawrence Market. Neither is really served by the Queen streetcar – especially if one is planning to haul back quite a few groceries.

As a Beach resident, if energy is going to be put into improving E-W service, I don’t think streetcars are the answer. I can clearly read between the lines that you don’t like buses. However, buses would solve the service problems and address our real needs. We could have a mix of local and express services – and some buses could swing south along Eastern and to Front.

The mix of local and express services is something I took advantage if in Montreal. I remember that the tranist system had a “Metrobus” along Decarie that stopped at major intersections (The Metro now runs on that route). I would take the Metrobus to get up the Ville St. Laurent – while the 17 would be for local trips.

I see the same type of thing has been implemented on Granville St (where I used to live in my Vancouver years). Residents can take the express bus or the trolleybus depending on their needs. In Markham, there are now bright blue Viva buses that are express – and local YRT buses. The Viva buses are comfortable, attractive and reasonably fast.

I think this concept could be applied within Toronto.

The Transit City proposal of streetcar/LRT (please transit folks make up your minds) seems to be a one size fits all solution. The problem is that with a rail based solution, you can’t have local and express services. If you stretch the distance between stops, you lose local passengers – but with too many stops – you have a service that’s not good for long distances. Remember than in the ‘burbs, many people already have a good walk just to get to the main street.


Tina R.

 Steve:  I will take various points here in the order they appear.

Replacement bus service during construction.

When the TTC replaces an ALRV streetcar route with buses, the number of vehicles in service is much larger and the frequency correspondingly shorter.  Moreover, the replacement service doesn’t have to fight its way across downtown and out to Long Branch.

This comes back to my basic points about Queen:  The route is too long, and better service could be provided if the ALRVs were replaced with CLRVs.  Streetcars get a bad rap because of the way the TTC schedules and manages their service.  They took disproportionatly large amounts of the service cuts in the mid-1990s, and then-surplus cars were eaten up by the new Spadina LRT.  Those cars were not “free” — they were raided from other services.

“Technical Problems”

The issues on King and Queen stem from a lot of technical problems including poor vehicle allocation, route structures and route management.   There is also very serious congestion in some parts of each route at certain times of the day that would affect whatever vehicles ran there.  Just ask riders of the Dufferin bus what they think about the way the TTC runs bus services.  It’s easy for the Main and Coxwell buses to provide reasonably reliable service because they are only 2km long each way and have little congestion most of the time. 

Comparing them to the Queen car is totally invalid because they have such different demands and operating environments.  As an aside, I have received complaints about severe overcrowing on the Coxwell bus in the evening when it may leave passengers at Coxwell Station.

Another “technical problem” is the appallingly bad service on the 502/503 on Kingston Road.  This arises directly from three factors:

  • During the off-peak period, the 20-minute scheduled headway is often ignored and there appears to be no attempt to regulate cars so that they provide an even service.  It is ironic that this is one of the few routes in Toronto where the daytime headway is much wider than the evening headway.  Apparently the TTC thinks that there is demand for a 10-minute service of Coxwell buses, but only for a 20-minute service of streetcars.  This is a clear example of driving away demand with poor service.  I am sure Beachers would be thrilled to have anything every 10 minutes on Kingston Road during the daytime, but that’s not a problem specific to streetcars.
  • Although the 502 and 503 services are scheduled to interleave and provide a uniform headway, this is meaningful only in the am peak (and even then it’s not always reliable).  In the pm peak, outbound riders must choose to wait on either King or Queen Street, and hope that there are no gaps in service.  However, the nature of rush-hour services is such that there are often cars missing (again not an issue of streetcars per se) and long gaps are common.  Once upon a time, the 502 and 503 services both ran frequently.  Now, there is a good argument for amalgamating them into one route so that whatever service operates is at least in a predictable location.
  • It is not uncommon for 502 cars to wait at McCaul eastbound or Kingston Road westbound for a through car from Humber or Neville on the 501, and then follow them across the city.  This makes light work for the 502, but means that the car really doesn’t pull its weight as part of the Queen service.  This is a line management issue, and the same thing happens on bus routes.  If anything, eastbound 502s should leave McCaul ahead of 501 cars to relieve the load on them.

Travel Time to Downtown

The claim is made that a trip to King & Yonge by bus and subway takes 28 to 35 minutes compared with 35 to 45 for streetcar.  From other comments, I assume that this is via the Woodbine South bus.  That service runs every 10 minutes and can be assumed to be on time much of the time.  Travel time to the subway is, therefore, about 12 minutes assuming that the rider times their arrival at the bus stop to match the expected schedule with a bit to spare.

Transferring to the subway takes about 3 minutes including the wait for a train, and the trip to Yonge is then about another 12 for a total of 15.  Transferring to a Yonge train including waiting for a train is another 2 minutes, and the ride to King Station about 7.  Walking out of the station adds at least 1 minute.

This gives a total of 35.  I am willing to credit this value, but not 28 minutes except in quite unusual circumstances (a fast bus and two razor-sharp connections in the subway).

By streetcar, there is allegedly a car every 5 minutes and there is no excuse for service being screwed up in the morning rush hour (although we all know this happens).  From Woodbine to Yonge via Queen is about 25 minutes’ running time.  Getting down to King is a reasonable walk and that is probably faster than going down into the subway and out again for a one-stop ride.   [See note at the end of this piece for an updated statement about running times.]

To me, this is a tie provided that the service runs reliably.  (An alternative route via King involves a transfer to a 503 or 504 westbound at Broadview, or more simply at the common stop one west of Broadview.)

The return trip home would be more of a challenge given the irregular headways and frequency of short-turns.

In any event, this is a problem of service management and adequacy, not something inherent to streetcars.

Local and Express

There already is an express bus on Queen from The Beach to downtown, although it is a premium fare service.  This route stops at all local stops from Neville to Kingston Road, and operates every 7 trips in the am peak.  It runs downtown via Eastern and Richmond, and in the evening, it returns via Adelaide.

I object to this type of service in principle because the message it sends is that the TTC will give you good service if you want to pay more.  This begs the question of why we have not fixed the problem with service adequacy years ago simply by raising all of the fares.  The secret, of course, is that this would only cover operating costs, at best, and capital costs of new vehicles and garages would have to be funded somehow.  I won’t even think about the cost of more subway service or extensions. 

Nobody has ever explained to me, adequately, why we should be running various premium fare express routes and using up both vehicles and operators that could carry far more riders if they were in regular service.  There are not enough of them that you would notice across the whole system, but the principle is all wrong.

On routes with longer trips, such as the service territory of GO buses and the VIVA network, there is some justification for express operation.  Part of this arises from the distribution of the origins and destinations of trips and the fact that it is relatively easy to concentrate some of the demand between express stops. 

Note that none of these services operates a frequency anywhere near the Queen car and they are organized so the people get to major terminals via feeder services or walking.  The rough analogy for the Downtown Beach Express is that riders should walk or take the Queen car to Woodbine Loop where they would transfer to the bus.  The Beach is in an unusual situation being so geographically isolated that the express bus can serve as its own feeder, but this is not the case in most neighbourhoods with many potential origins.

Problems come when the buses run frequently, when they serve many locations, and when the demand at stops blurs the distinction between express and local operations.  In many cases, the TTC found that it took more buses to provide both express and local services because of the way the loads were distributed.  Moreover, serving express stops gets complex because riders need to be sure to get on the right vehicle, and in some cases want to transfer between the express and local services.  This is difficult with frequent services on both branches.

On the Transit City network, there will be some long trips to be sure, but they will not be stuck in traffic as buses on many routes are today.  The choice of mode relates to capacity requirements, not to some religious fervour I might have for streetcars and LRT.  Subways in these corridors are not an option because the demands will never reach the level where the capital and operating costs can be justified.

Service to Eastern/Front

The Port Lands are a big problem for transit generally, not just for residents of The Beach.  Like much of the waterfront, this is an area where we risk creating a downtown suburb without transit if we dawdle while car-oriented developments fill up the space and transit-hostile travel patterns become entrenched.

Studies for transit to the Port Lands include several new routes (see the demand forecast report at page 13) including:

  • 523 Leslieville from Union Station to Bingham Loop via the Queen’s Quay east LRT, south on Cherry, east on Commissioners, north on Leslie, east on Queen and Kingston Road.
  • 524 Broadview from Broadview Station to the foot of Cherry Street via Broadview (extended over a new road), Commissioners, an extended Don Roadway and Unwin.

These may be a bit far-fetched and certainly won’t be in place to take you to the Loblaw’s superstore or the proposed Walmart, but most people would probably drive there anyhow.  Right now, there is little in the Port Lands to generate transit demand and the most we are likely to see in the short term is an extension of the bus network into that area.  Much depands on the timing of residential development along the Cherry Street corridor and the type of development (bix box retail, industrial, or office commercial) in the eastern Port Lands.


I know that I have not answered every point in Tina R’s note exhaustively and don’t really want to get into that level of detail here.  My positions are not 100% right and hers are not 100% wrong.  The evolution of our plans for the city depend on this sort of debate and an open discussion of alternatives. 

Once upon a time, the Gardiner was going to be extended right througth the intersection of Queen & Woodbine north to the CNR right of way and then east into Scarborough.  That would have made for a fast trip downtown too, but there wouldn’t be any neighbourhood to serve.

At least we are discussing transit plans, not expressways.

Update About Queen Car Running Times — May 27

In response to one of the feedbacks I received on this item, I had a preliminary look at the CIS data I have for the Queen route.  I have only now finished working on 504 King and was planning to turn my attention to Spadina, but Queen is an obvious next choice given this debate.

The running time from Woodbine to Yonge is indeed about 25 minutes until around 7:45 am.  At that point, things start to slow down and the inbound trip extends by about 10 minutes until about 8:45.  However, the “on time” information in the CIS data indicates that the schedule makes no allowance for this situation.  This may be a question of congestion or it could be stop service times or a combination of both.  A further analysis must await my detailed review of the CIS data. 

Therefore, I am willing to accept the 35-to-45 minute time for streetcar trips taken in this period when allowance is made both for the unpredictable headway and the walk from Queen down to King.

As others have noted, the bus-subway-subway trip works for people who live at or near the Woodbine bus.  For those living further east, there is no real alternative, and to the west, the streetcar will outrun the roundabout route because it is so much closer to Yonge.  (Also, riders can use the 502, 503 and short-turned 501 cars that are not available to riders from Woodbine east.)

33 thoughts on “Another View From The Beach [Updated]

  1. Again you’re underestimating the discomfort of TTC’s antiquated streetcars. By my calculation, 1/3 of ALRVs have no heat in the winter, and exactly one streetcar, a CLRV, has air conditioning.

    Let’s imagine that trip times downtown are “a tie” in this case. If you take the (modern) bus and subway, you get air conditioning in summer. You always get heat in winter. It’s no contest.

    Steve: The discussion here is not about the CURRENT state of TTC service and its fleet, but about the generic ability of an LRT network (including streetcars in mixed traffic downtown) to be a reasonable alternative to buses or subways. Obviously, if you have unheated, unairconditioned equipment on one mode, it will be perceived as inferior to other modes. We could still be running G trains on the subway, and on BD I get the dubious pleasure of riding non-AC H4 trains quite regularly.

    As for the bus fleet, AC was introduced some years ago as a way to win riders, but not without some debate over the extra pollution caused by the energy needed to run the AC unit. The rationale is that getting people on transit saves more energy than the AC consumes, and with Toronto’s summers becoming longer and hotter, this will be even more important.

    If you want to talk about bad design, remember that the original CLRVs had sealed windows because some whizbang designer thought that forced air ventillation was all that we needed in the cars. A former CGM of the TTC even said that the cool feeling you get when air blows over your sweaty body was just a psychological illusion. After leaving the TTC, he went on to a stellar career at Canada Post.

    We still have some buses and subway cars with no AC, and the AC units on the H5 trains (the first to receive this treatment) leave a lot to be desired both in capacity and in the aroma they lend to cars in the summer.

    As for the “tie” in a winter trip downtown: Yes, you will probably be able to get on a Bloor train westbound at Woodbine (I have not seen pass-ups much east of Pape), but don’t count on a fast or comfortable transfer and ride south from Bloor-Yonge station.

    Please don’t make comparisons between vehicles we know were poorly designed and whose heating/cooling leave a lot to be desired. We could put streetcars on Queen that will freeze you in the summer and roast you in the winter if we want. The “modern” bus and subway have an advantage only because their fleets were replaced while we dithered about new streetcars.


  2. I think that Queen should be shortened to improve service reliability. There are several ways this could be done:

    – Reintroduce the 507 Long Branch route. The 501 Queen and 507 Long Branch cars should terminate at Roncevalles, not Humber, because Roncevalles is a better location, a streetcar yard is located right nearby (eliminating deadheading on both routes), and a transfer is available to 504 King.

    – Make the 504 King go to Long Branch (assume that 1/2 of King cars are short turned at Roncevalles) and make the 501 Queen go to Dundas West.


  3. One of the problems with streetcars is they can’t pull over to the side of the road and stop to even out headway irregularities. How do you stop a streetcar in the middle of the street in mixed traffic for a few minutes when it’s running ahead of schedule?

    Then there’s the inability to leap-frog to even out passenger loads when one car gets backed up. Steve, you have to admit that streetcars on Queen just don’t work very well. If there was a ROW they would, but given that there isn’t and that the road isn’t wide enough, buses could do the job better.

    Having said that, the TTC isn’t trying as hard as they can to make this line work with streetcars. Maybe they could set up outside tracks in certain areas so that cars can pull over to the side and stop for headway adjustments or even passing (where one car can radio the other to pull over). The TTC needs to get a little more creative here.

    Steve: I have been on more streetcars than I can count that just sit at traffic lights and kill time, and kill time, and kill time …


  4. Mimmo Briganti said: One of the problems with streetcars is they can’t pull over to the side of the road and stop to even out headway irregularities. How do you stop a streetcar in the middle of the street in mixed traffic for a few minutes when it’s running ahead of schedule?

    They just go slower. I’ve been on streetcars where the operator has received a message to “ease back”, i.e. slow down to let the car ahead put some space between them, and the streetcar suddenly goes a lot slower, kills a couple of traffic lights, and then starts to pick it up again after a while. It’s line management, not anything inherent in the type of vehicle.

    Anyone remember when Queen St. had those big track jobs and buses were running from Roncesvalles to Church (with streetcars from McCaul to Neville only, and then a Lakeshore shuttle?), or the reverse when buses were running from Neville to Bathurst?. At rush hour, there were piles of buses running in pairs along Queen, all packed. There were buses at almost every intersection it seemed. Great for bus photography, but not so great for transit riders, and certainly not so great for the neighbourhood with dozens of old (because the streetcar shuttles were always assigned the oldest buses) exhaust-spewing buses crawling down the street. The buses may have been faster in the evenings when traffic was generally lighter, but at rush hour, I don’t think there was any improvement at all.


  5. Steve wrote “From Woodbine to Yonge via Queen is about 25 minutes’ running time.”

    Off-peak perhaps. I don’t think that’s true in rush-hour. I’m more often on the 506 than the 501, but rush-hour always seems to add another 5-10 minutes, simply from the number of extra stops, the number of passengers, and the traffic, to get from Woodbine to Yonge.

    Twelve minutes is a bit generous from Queen to Woodbine – at least northbound in morning rush, and southbound in the evening – the congestion is all in the other direction. It’s only 10 minutes from the Woodbine loop on Lakeshore to Woodbine Station. 7-8 from Queen.

    As for not being able ot use the streetcar to get to Loblaws at Leslie and Queen? The distance from there to Queen is only about the distance of one streetcar stop. Sure, not great if you’ve done a full weeks shop – but if you’ve got that many groceries, I expect most people will take a car or taxi, even if the streetcar or bus stopped ran into the store itself! There are plenty of other grocery stores right on a route, such as the one right at Woodbine Station.

    And personally I always use the streetcar to get to St. Lawrence market – I find it quite convenient on a Saturday morning, even though I have to change from the King car to either the Queen or Gerrard car.


  6. Okay, I think it’s time for another of my grand insane LRT schemes. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t involve stacked elevated lines.

    As a resident of the Beaches, I agree that long trips and irregular service on Queen would be a disincentive to me if I had a car. As the Beaches are one of Toronto’s densest residential districts, filled with homeowners with upscale incomes and cars, providing better service might get more of them out of their cars and improve traffic throughout the GTA. So, on to the plan.

    What I have in mind is a dedicated express LRT line on Lakeshore Blvd, going straight down to Union Station, with just 5 or 6 stops along its length. For the Beaches resident, the trip would begin as always on the Queen car, say getting on at Lee. The trip would be on a CLRV, possibly even one devoted to this end of the line, ferrying passengers from Neville Park to Kingston Road. At Kingston is where things get interesting, because here you would get off and transfer at a new LRT station near Kingston and Queen (most likely on the grounds of Woodbine Park – yes, an encroachment on established park land, but it’s just as likely that there will be pressure to expand parking on site if no additional transit is built). This station would also have connections with the main 501 queen line, the 502 and 503 from Kingston Road, the 22 Coxwell bus and the 92 Woodbine South.

    All of these services would feed the Lakeshore East LRT (or whatever the Nom du Jour winds up being), which would run on dedicated, separated tracks along Lakeshore. From Woodbine Park the LRT would travel along Lakeshore (either mid-median or along the side) with no stops between Kingston Road and Leslie. At Leslie there would be a station to serve industrial jobs in the neighbourhood, the Loblaws and other big box retail that Beachers apparently crave, and connect with the 31 Greenwood buses, the 83 Jones, and possibly the 72 Pape. From Leslie the line would continue West. There could possibly be a stop at Carlaw, but aside from a better connection to the 72 Pape I don’t know enough about that neighbourhood to know if there would be a draw to putting a station there. As LRT stations could be fairly cheap though, it’s a good possibility.

    The next stop would be in the new Waterfront developments at the mouth of the Don, and all the residential and commercial properties there. I’ll wait until the dust settles on those proposals before suggesting where. Connections here could be with the King car, the 65 Parliament and the 72 Pape (again). From here it would proceed along the rail corridor, and the next stop would be St. Lawrence, serving the Market and environs, just like proposals for the Downtown Relief Line. Connections with the 75 Sherbourne, the 6 Bay, etc. From here on it’s straight into Union, most likely into whatever they build for the Waterfront West LRT, and possibly continuing on as that route.

    The result of all this would be a much quicker commute from the Beach to downtown, an evening out of demand on North/South feeder routes for the Subway (a lot more trips would be Southbound in the morning and Northbound in the evening), some relief for the Bloor/Danforth Line, and a boost for neighbourhoods around the proposed stops. Also, greatly improved service for the Loblaws at Leslie and the St. Lawrence Market for Tina.

    Just Another Mad Scheme for your amusement.

    Steve: There are a few intriguing wrinkles here as always when someone tries to define a service for a specific riding pattern, not the network as a whole.

    First off, the Waterfront east LRT will almost certainly not enter Union via an express route west of the Don because we have not yet figured out where to put it (unless you want to close part of Lake Shore Blvd.) This line will enter from Queen’s Quay, and it will not be providing express service.

    Second, yes, there will eventually be an extension of the Waterfront line east through the Port Lands, but right now, there isn’t much there to generate ridership. There is a chicken and egg situation, and the ridiculously infrequent service the TTC runs to the Distillery District shows how they think — people can walk from the King car, so why run another service a few blocks away.

    Third, people do not shop at Big Box Stores (that really needed caps) by TTC — they drive. Someone who shops on the TTC probably is doing so locally, or buying little enough that they can carry it home easily. I have schlepped groceries from the St. Lawrence Market home on the King car many times, but I am not surrounded by shoppers riding all the way to the Danforth with their goodies. I also have to choose my purchases carefully to allow for weight and survivability — pies can be a challenge! I am mildly amused that folks in The Beach feel it is necessary for the TTC to run a bus so that they can shop outside of their own neighbourhood.

    Finally, despite appearances, everyone in The Beach does not want to go downtown via a sightseeing tour of the waterfront. There are many other demand patterns on Queen, and that’s why we have service that stays on this street. There should be more of it and it should be more reliable.

    Maybe a nice elevated railway east from Woodbine to Neville is just what the neighbourhood needs …


  7. In my experience, for travel from the Beach, the choice of mode is dependent on where one lives. If your near Woodbine, the bus + subway is faster. The 92 comes like clockwork – so if you keep an accurate clock/watch, you don’t have a great deal of wait time. This zips up the hill pretty quick – and has always had frequent service.

    For people who live nearer Queen and between the 92 and 64, I often see people check if there is a streetcar – and if not, walk to Woodbine. If you are toward the Neville Park end, you don’t have as many choices.

    For the trip home, the streetcar has the additional drawback of short turns – which the poster didn’t mention. For a while, the TTC took away the ‘FS’ on the evening rush 92 service. They restored this a couple of years ago. However, even with the non-FS service, the subway/bus combo was generally better – (and was not subject to the short turn problem.)

    Steve: Please see the updated information about running times that I have added to the main section of the post.

    In terms of alternate service possibilities mentioned, I read the point being made is that service needs evolve. The Loblaws at Eastern and Leslie is the closest full service supermarket. This has now been joined by the Price Chopper on the West side of Leslie. We’ll soon have a new Canadian Tire on the SW corner of Leslie and Lakeshore.

    Now, although most Beach residents are going to continue to drive to these shops, our transit system’s mission is to provide an alternative to the car. Having a bus that loops West of Lakeshore, North on Leslie, East on Eastern and back to the Beaches would provide a more useful service than any on Queen St.


  8. Buses leapfrogging can lead to a number of inconveniences. It only works if the bus stopped will make all the same stops as the bus passing, so it can’t be short turn or a different branch, and if everyone can get on it. There is little worse than the bus you need leapfrogging passed a bus you don’t need or can’t fit on at your stop.


  9. Hi Steve:-

    It appears that Tina R. has seen some dedicated transit folks overcoming great odds and supplying a service to their passengers. As you’ve pointed out the TTC could, but has opted not to, address this problem. Given an all bus system they’d no doubt get in a worse pickle as ridership here way surpasses these noted cities which no longer have the luxury of having streetcars, nor can they recall how much better their systems were when they had had them; 1959 is a long time ago. By doing little more than bemoaning the fact that the TTC does not have exclusive transit lanes will not do anything other than create more and more frustration. You supply the ‘for whom’ those frustrations grow! No try, means no positive change.

    As you have also stated by having trimmed the service on these core routes, the vicious cycle has been let out of the genie’s bottle. Service would be much better if the cars were there when they’re supposed to be. Obvious you say. Well yes, but here in lies the vicious cycle. Cars not there means more passengers waiting for the fewer cars. Those fewer cars then take longer to load and off load with more people at each stop. Those fewer cars then make every stop, for someone is there waiting for them. With cars more often than is the case now, (even as frequently as advertised) some stops could be bypassed, with nobody there of course, for the next car may pick up from the lighter stop, while this one catches a light stop that a car behind can then miss. Heavy rush times, this may be a dream, but not necessarily so, for when the cars are flowing, it is a reality I’ve witnessed.

    This is not quite a scheduled skip-stop-service as I’ve seen in the Philadelphia Subway, but being streetcars, if someone’s there you stop, if not you don’t, unlike the choiceless subway line at light travel times, thus Philly’s skip-stops. This simple fact would reverse the vicious cycle and create its own cycle of improved service.

    As to Mimmo B’s service adjusting of streetcars and not being able to pull over is true, but if they pulled off to the side of the self same two lane road, they’d still be blocking a lane. Streetcars will generally and frequently sit in front of the division office at Russell. If there are no Civilly disobedient motorists blocking the ‘No Standing’ stretch of roadway, sited at every car stop, then there is a traffic lane still open; for the Motormen as a rule do shut their doors to allow traffic to go around them.

    Letting one streetcar leap-frog another is impossible, true. As I noted about trolley coaches in Hamilton, also unable to leap frog, missing stops for the coach behind to make the pick up if the one ahead has no one alighting and needs to make up time, was practiced there. This is not allowed here in the Queen City. But the biggest problem here is Murphy’s Law # 14 of streetcar riding. The passenger waiting, seeing two cars coming is not willing to gamble that the car behind won’t be short-turned as soon as they get aboard it, even though initially signed for their hoped for destination, thus re-proving the scientifically immutable Murphy. They will thus crowd aboard the first car since it won’t likely be turned back early, thereby reinforcing my first points.

    For your consideration.

    Dennis Rankin


  10. Andrew MacKinnon said …

    I think that Queen should be shortened to improve service reliability. There are several ways this could be done:

    Reintroduce the 507 Long Branch route. The 501 Queen and 507 Long Branch cars should terminate at Roncevalles, not Humber, because Roncevalles is a better location, a streetcar yard is located right nearby (eliminating deadheading on both routes), and a transfer is available to 504 King.
    Make the 504 King go to Long Branch (assume that 1/2 of King cars are short turned at Roncevalles) and make the 501 Queen go to Dundas West.

    Your first proposal is basically what I said in reply to Steve’s plan to improve the service on King and Queen and what ran until the Gardiner expressway was built. I also proposed turning the Long Branch car at Roncevalles in the off peak, Queen at Sunnyside and send King to Dundas West and in at least the a. m. rush I would make Long Branch as part of the King service and send every third King car to Long Branch or run all Long Branch cars as 508’s. I am not sure if this could be done with the p. m. rush with the lower level of service. I don’t think that you want to run Queen up to Dundas West as this would lengthen the line and put an extra set of turns into its operation.

    Sunnyside is an easier turn for the Queen cars than Roncevalles and it provides a direct ride to St. Joe’s. Turning the Long Branch cars at Roncevalles requires a scenic tour of the car barns at the moment unless you could put a south bound track beside the division that exited onto the Queensway or an east to north turn into Roncevalles yard so you could make a quick exit to SB on Roncevalles.

    If you watch the service at this intersection there is a lot of transferring in all directions. It seems to me that less than half the passenger on King ride up Roncevalles or vice versa. In the off peak Steve’s idea of running Long Branch up to Dundas West probably makes the most sense but it might cause confusion if the rush hour services were switched. When the TTC decided to get rid of the transfer at Humber Loop they should have turned the Queen cars at Sunnyside and the Long Branch at Roncevalles. The through routing probably saved them one car and created a ton of headaches.


  11. It’s pretty amusing to hear all the pro-streetcar folks here from the Beaches actually take a bus north, a subway west, and then another subway south — three transfers with backtracking, instead of taking one streetcar and the more direct route. There’s something very wrong with this picture.

    Suppose I said we’re going to take the $2B from the Spadina subway, cancel it, and instead build a Queen East Subway from University to Woodbine, how many of you would object to this on principle?

    Steve: Don’t forget that there would probably be only a few stops in the Beach, and a subway out that way may just go up the Kingston Road the better to connect with a feeder service from Scarborough. Also, don’t count on having a stop at Woodbine as the more likely location is Queen & Kingston Road.

    We might even put in a crossover at that station so trains could short-turn lest Beachers get too spoiled with all the service!


  12. Actually, madness of my scheme aside, I feel I should answer a few points here.

    People without cars do shop at BigBoxStores(tm), often for the reason that for certain items they’re the only place to go, or the only affordable option. I’ve lived in Toronto for 17 years now (having emigrated from far off Ottawa), and while I see no point in having a car living south of the B/D line, as someone who works in theatre I occasionally count myself as one of those people who can only buy certain items if they’re on sale at Wal-Mart. I spent a few years living near Dufferin Mall, and while a real estate person would tell you that the W-M there is technically an ‘anchor department store’, if it walks like a BigBox and talks like a BigBox, it’s a BigBox. Plenty of people load up on cheap extruded plastic furniture and other bulky items there, and haul it onto the bus or to Dufferin Station. With the exception of really large furniture items, it’s entirely possible to shop there and use the TTC. For some people it’s a necessary fact of life. While most of the Beach is populated by people with much higher (and more stable) incomes than mine, there’s still plenty of people like me here, especially East of Woodbine or North of Kingston. I don’t mean to be starting a class war here, but some people do ride the TTC out of economic necessity, rather than public spiritedness (BTW, I have ridden the TTC all 17 years I’ve been here whether I’ve been riding high and low financially). As an aside, I too have ridden home with my share of pies before. It’s preferable to bring one on the TTC rather than on a bicycle.

    As for the ‘sight seeing tour of the waterfront’, as a beaches resident I’d be happier with just quicker and more reliable service. If the Queen car is only ever meant to be a local route, with so many people here working downtown and cramming the local service with just downtown in mind every morning, wouldn’t express service on Lakeshore take some of the pressure off of the Queen, and even King cars? Furthermore, with the new almost million dollar homes crammed onto the old racetrack lands south of Queen from Lakeshore to Kingston, with all of their New Urbainist stylings, but cleverly concealed two car garages in back (they stack cars using a lift), wouldn’t their owners be the right kind of well heeled individuals the TTC would love to pull out of their cars with visions of LRTs racing by them on a right of way while they’re stuck in Lakeshore traffic?

    I realize that we’re still years off from the Portlands developments and the demand that would fuel, and that in many ways my plan is a pipe dream. But it seems to me that in addition to poor transit management in the East end of old Toronto there is a developing problem of planning obsolescence south of Bloor/Danforth. Eventually density alone will make capacity increases a necessity, and if it doesn’t come in transit planning, people will be clamoring for expressways again. I see a plan like this as a hearts and minds issue, although I will admit that mine is probably at least a little mad.


  13. Hi Steve:-

    Nostalgia, mixed with a heavy dose of reality can be a wonderful, educational thing. After the destruction of the last of Manhattan’s els in 1956, the nostalgia bug, as well as the reality bug bit hard. The el’s replacement brand new diseasel buses were unable to make the same trip times. Nor could they come anywhere near to being as comfortable a ride as in a 5 car train of 50+ year old wooden bodied and motorized former steam trailers rolling along on 80+ year old infrastructure. Old, yes; dirty, yup; noisy, absolutely; cold in the winter, better bundle up; but my goodness, were they efficient at moving millions, you’d be safe to bet your bottom dollar on that one! Only extremely horrible weather, power grid failures or fires beside the lines would stop them. They’d keep on plugging along and get passengers from one end of the Island (129th Street) to the other (South Ferry) in about 45 minutes at the longest; much less if you were on an express train.

    Newspapers, which editorially insisted that the unsightly els come down, prior to their destruction, were afterwards printing cartoons, articles and human interest pieces about what a great transit jewel had been lost. Photographic artists made their names in the shadows of those els. If the ‘Beach El’ gets built, 50 years from now no one will want it to come down ’cause by then its a Beach tradition, and ya’ know, ya’ don’t mess with Beach traditions.

    And indeed, New York has been unable to fund an east side rapid transit line ever since. The Second Avenue Subway, that on again off again partially constructed but as yet not connected through, project has cost the city millions in unrecovered investment. Would LRT have worked here? Maybe, but of course New York has our problem too. How do you shoehorn in a necessary transit route with the neighbourhoods already built up and the roads inadequate for the present usage as they are, let alone adding a transit corridor, shared or not, into that mix too? In the 1870s New Yorkers solved it by going up!

    OK I can dream can’t I? After all you started it Steve! You know I like open deck Els! More fun to ride than a swan boat I’m a thinkin’.

    Yes, Queen Street can be fixed without swans or els or dirty old diesels; hybrid or not, they’re still polluters and being freewheeled, inadequate for the job. The debate is afoot!

    Steve: I should point out that the Queen Car is a Beach tradition, and the Easter Parade (and other events) loves to have the Peter Witt come out of hiding. What dismays me here is how we have gone from loving streetcars in the 1970s to hating them in the 2000s all because the service is such crap. People have been hating service on many bus routes for years, but they don’t have a magic alternative.


  14. About shopping for groceries or heavy items on the TTC, just use one of those old-lady buggies — with the new low floor fleet and elevators in the subway, it should be a breeze. If you’re buying a TV, you’re going to have it delivered anyway.

    And why is it taking the TTC so long to put elevators in all the stations? Couldn’t they get the job done in 2 years instead of 20? And, I read somewhere that all subway stations will need two entrances and stairwells down to the platform level to meet fire safety code, so I wonder what they’re going to do with stations like Christie. Steve, do you know anything about this?

    Steve: The point I was trying to make is that most people don’t go to big box stores by transit, especially in the bad weather. That’s why they are surrounded by acres of parking. If you can convince someone to build a big box with no parking, we will see how successful it is. Hmmm … a new use for those bicycle racks. Also, we don’t build major transit lines to handle shopping trips as their principal function.

    As for elevators, it’s a question of how much we want to spend in what length of time. People seem to have other priorities including new subway lines.

    The building code requirements for second entrances only kick in if you make a substantial change to a structure. There is no requirement to retrofit. Hence the Walmer Road exit from Spadina Station and the auxiliary stairways at Broadview (still under construction). I doubt there will ever be anything to trigger major changes at Christie, and therefore never a second exit.

    The secondary exit at Union (hiding in the middle of the streetcar loop) wasn’t in the original design because the tunnel was going to end at the south end of the railway viaduct and walking distance to open air was within code. When the tunnel was extended, and Queen’s Quay Station became the reference point, they missed that it was further away, but were forced to build the emergency exit once a building inspector walked down the tunnel, stopwatch in hand.


  15. I appreciate everyone’s feedback. I guess a few points to add on my part:

    a. Mix of services – In terms of a mix of limited stop/local stop being confusing – hmmm – most transit services take a little effort for users to understand. I never found that understanding ‘Express’ vs ‘Local’ was that difficult. It’s a lot clearer than the A,B,C etc. designations the TTC has on some routes. It took me years to figure out the “503 – York Via King”. (When I took it once, it didn’t end going along King the whole way!)

    b. Fares for express – in Montreal and Vancouver (I believe), the limited stop services are not like the 143 here (i.e. double fare). Having buses serve different purposes is just to recognize that people are taking journeys of different lengths. I see this a basic matching of services to needs.

    c. Big Boxes – I don’t consider the Leslie St Market a Big Box. It’s quite accessible from the street (either Leslie or Eastern) by foot. (I was on the 29 on Friday night on the way to a theatre – there were plenty of people getting on and off at the Dufferin Mall – many with Walmart bags. In fact, the bus was still busy on the way home at 9:00 pm).

    d. “Shopping outside the neighbourhood” – We have lots of shops in the Beach – but there are many things that are not available or don’t have good selection or favourable pricing. To me, one of the key reasons for living in a big city is having choices.

    e. Leapfrogging buses – Yes, this frequently happenned in Montreal – especially on the 17 Decarie if I remember the route # correctly. I’m guessing it still does. The emptier bus pulls up behind the full bus at a stop – but then pulls around and gets ahead. Initially this seems unfair to the riders in the 1st bus – but it actually speeds up both buses.


  16. Suppose I said we’re going to take the $2B from the Spadina subway, cancel it, and instead build a Queen East Subway from University to Woodbine, how many of you would object to this on principle?

    It’s a great idea and the problems faced in the Beach are totally relatable. I’m fed up with Toronto’s streetcar system in general. Last year when they halted the 512 on St Clair it was the best service I’d ever witnessed. Buses came like 90 every 90 seconds. I live close to Lansdowne & St Clair and usually to get to work in North York have to head all the way down to BD and across to Yonge because the 512 was so [un]reliable (every 20 mins on a good day) and sluggish. Now it’s even worse as most cars don’t even head east of St Clair West Stn.

    Steve: There are many who would claim that the St. Clair buses came substantially less frequently than 90 seconds. If indeed they were that frequent, then obviously the TTC should have been running much more streetcar service. The problem is the amount of service, not the technology.

    As for St. Clair West Station, in the morning peak, all of the service is now supposed to go through to Yonge Street, not turn at St. Clair West. I would be interested to hear from regular users of the line if this actually happens.

    Anyway back to the Beach(es). I can’t see how the area can continue like this. I know Steve said it’ll probably only have a few stops and head up Kingston but consider this…

    1. Could terminate at the Victoria Park subway, creating a bidirectional flow of traffic.

    2. Better service to Danforth-Vic Pk intersection (Shopper’s World, Danforth GO via walkway)

    3. Serves Kingston Rd. twice and feeder routes at Bingham would interface with the subway alot sooner than at Queen.

    4. Fallingbrook neighbourhood would finally recieve TTC service.

    5. Quantity over quality. The only reason I see not to build several stations is a lack of funds. What if the stations were designed very basically (Rosedale?) or at least completed over time i.e. once functional open it and worry about tiling later? Private-Public partnerships could also be looked into.

    6. Stoppage- In addition to the VP stops, all the major cross-streets east of Parliament gets their own stop i.e. River, Broadview, Carlaw, Jones, Greenwood, Coxwell, Woodbine, Lee-Hambly, Balsam-Beech, Neville Park and Fallingbrook. W of Parliament the line could serve the waterfront directly (Distillery+ St Lawrence) til Yonge St running underneath YUS back to Queen continuing west.

    I know the trend is to veer away from subway planning now but still underground rapid transit (not necessarily subway cars) seems to be the logical solution for alot of the transit system’s problems. That or scrap streetcars altogether and put BRT lanes along Queen.

    Steve: I have commented on subway and BRT schemes elsewhere and won’t repeat myself. The fundamental point is that there will never, ever, be enough people living in the Beach (including Kingston Road) who want to go downtown to justify a subway line. The cost of stations is primarily determined by the fact that you have to dig a big hole in the ground and then provide access to the surface. A Queen subway would probably run with 4-car trains and therefore only need 300-foot long stations, but these would still cost close to $100-million each. The more stations, the higher the cost of the line. There are no “Rosedale” opportunities in the Kingston Road and Queen corridor, and the disruption to existing buildings at stations would be severe.

    All this so that you can get downtown faster. There might be enough Beachers to make this line compete with the VCC Spadina Subway extension, but I doubt it.

    People have to look at making the service we could have (and did have once upon a time) improve. It is far, far cheaper to run more streetcars, reduce crowding and ensure that people can actually get to and from downtown on the streetcar line than to spend our time talking about subways (with or without Swan Boats, thank you, Dennis). We also need to remember that BRT is intended to whisk people from one place to another, not to all the places in between. Even the Beach Downtown Express bus makes local stops until it gets out of the Beach.


  17. In addition to the Woodbine bus – based on how many people are already on the Coxwell bus in morning rush-hour when I get on at Gerrard – and how few people I see standing along Coxwell between Gerrard and Queen on days when I drive south on Coxwell – I’d say a lot of potential Queen passengers are taking the Coxwell bus to the subway – instead of the Queen car downtown. It also is efficient like the Woodbine bus.

    In off-peak, taking the streetcar downtown is a no-brainer – but the sad truth is that the subway is a better alternative in peak periods – the period that most people travel. This is why many people are opposed to expanded streetcars, instead of subways.

    Obviously dedicated tracks should improve this – but again most people’s experience with the Harbourfront and Spadina lines, is that they really aren’t any faster (there’s been discussion before, that Bathurst is actually faster from Bloor to Queen that Spadina – despite the dedicated track).

    Surely before we go ahead and build the streecars everywhere – we should go and fix what we have. More traffic light controls, better located stops, POP loading through all doors, better vehicle restrictions, etc.

    Most people’s experience is that TTC can and does run a decent service on the subway – but a lousy service on the streetcars. Of course there is a desire for more subways over streetcars. So TTC must fix the streetcar service, and improve the perception!!

    Steve: Without digging up all of the arguments about Bathurst vs Spadina again, one important point. The Spadina car carries many, many more people than the Bathurst car with twice the service in the AM peak. Moreover, the predominant demand on Bathurst is northbound, while Spadina carries heavily southbound. This makes for longer stop service times. The traffic lights do the rest. Also, the point of reference was Nassau (one stop south of College), not Queen.


  18. I think that in the long term, the TTC should consider creating a streetcar ROW on Queen between Kingston Road and downtown, thus reducing the car lanes to 1 lane in each direction. Both Eastern Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard provide alternate car-friendly routes along this corridor, and there aren’t a lot of businesses along the route until at least Leslie, so I think that this is politically feasible. West of the Don Valley, Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington and the Gardiner provide alternate car-friendly routes through downtown.

    Also, to reduce the need for Beach(es) residents to drive when going shopping, a larger grocery store should be built in the neighbourhood. People shouldn’t have to drive to Eastern & Leslie to go shopping.


  19. Attention all you beachees, I mean beachers … here’s the solution for Queen — surface LRT on an off-street parallel ROW.

    We clear a parallel ROW 1/2 block north of the street (as was done for the BD line) and bulldoze down every house in its path into the Beaches … sorry, THE BEACH.

    Then we build a surface LRT line on that ROW. The expense of a full subway is avoided, and you get reliable rail service on the surface.

    I wonder how they were able to pull this off on Bloor without a major revolt. So are you beechees willing to make the supreme sacrifice for the greater good of all beachers? We’ll only need to demolish about 1000 houses (I think that was the count for BD).

    Steve: We have seen this proposal before. It was the original scheme for the Queen Street streetcar subway that would have run parallel to and north of Queen from somewhere around Trinity-Bellwoods park to University, and from about Jarvis to Degrassi Street. Housing didn’t count for much in the old days, although the number taken down for the subway was only a fraction of what would have been demolished to make room for the Spadina Expressway.


  20. Hi Steve:-

    Unless a major change in zoning happens along Queen east of the Don, it’s unlikely that the original reasoning to rethink the placement of Toronto’s first east west subway will ever be proven wrong, at least in our lifetimes. BD’s streetcars just kept carrying more and more passengers until this line became the most heavily used streetcar route, if not in the world, at least in North America. Thus the 500 feet of the embryonic Queen Subway became still-born as Queen’s ridership didn’t grow. If I remember numbers you quoted recently Steve, ridership counts are now slipping thanks to reduced service, helping to prove the Hollywood prophecy; “If you cancel it, they won’t come”! (With an apology to Kevin Costner)

    Without a major unpredicted shift in densities along this southerly paralell corridor, I really doubt one will ever see the BD phenomena repeated here, therefore not enough justification for subway costs. Queen Street’s counts can rebound if, sooner than later, the service is returned to pre-1990 levels while simultaneously addressing those issues that are causing the line to be held all too frequently. Ridership could conceivably surpass old post war levels when the newer higher capacity quicker boarding cars get introduced on a one for one replacement basis. Some of those impediment minimizing issues will take city and Commission co-operation of course and if implemented we should be able to see positive results fairly quickly without having to spend bushel baskets of money either, or even going to the ideal but costly option of private-right-of-waying it.

    All these ideas have been touched on already somewhere in this site. The ‘Green Millerites’ in our City’s government should be anxious to entice people out of their autos, by offering leadership assistance to these problems, thereby allowing measurably better trolley service which would then spawn measureably increased numbers of riders naturally. They wouldn’t even have to study it to death either; just read this site! (Hide the Swan Boat post though before they do, please Steve, I love it but…..)

    Steve: I have it on good authority that they LOVED the Swan Boats!

    It may not be quite as devastating in today’s society, but in the auto mad 50’s as streetcar lines, which were still reasonably well patronized, were bustituted, ridership counts immediately fell like rocks in a pool. People who were continuing to ride streetcars would not ride buses, opting instead to fill their arterials with their private guzzelers and then since they’re in their cars anyways, why not move out to the burbs too. Transit in general suffered, and neighbourhoods sufferd and declined. Downtowns withered, then died.

    Detroit is probably the worst case scenario of this urban decay. I know the arguments are out there that this is not the only reason for central city decline in big US cities, it was a very complex set of issues, but abandonment of carlines was definitely a major factor and those abandonments a symptom of their deeper problems. Canada’s experiences thankfully didn’t parallel our US Cousins, but ridership declines none the less occurred. In other words, what I’m saying here is that if a major artery like Queen, one of our Beach traditions, is to be bustituted, don’t expect any rebound in ridership, but some sort of a further loss of patronage should be expected.

    I recall chatting with a pro electric transit advocate in Chicago a number of years ago, who flatly refused to budge from his position that streetcars will never be able to be re-introduced to the Windy City, get this, due to Civil Disobedience from motorists. The city with the wide wide thoroughfares, which had had the largest, crowd swallowing non-articulated PCCs in the world on 90 second headways riding down the middle of those roads, shouldn’t even consider this efficient mode of transit anymore because nincompoops rule the road!? Oh,well.

    One of your writers was telling us about his witnessing similar behaviour from motorists here while he rode on the Carlton car. It’s a frustrating problem when the greedy few can inconvenience the innocent many, but that too is something that needs to be addressed by society. It would be and has proven to be, difficult to rein in these selfish boors by by-laws and trafiic control alone, but we’ll have to come to terms with this anti-social behaviour along with all of the other measures being bandied about to improve our transit woes.

    Oh, and do I prefer to have our black hole designated $2B reallocated to be spent on a Queen subway? Emphatically, NOPE! But equally emphatically, YES I would love to see it reallocated! Buy some more streetcars, make the traffic changes needed to sustain a reliable service, train more operators, add GPS, do similar improvements to the rest of the streetcar system, then with the core addressed, use the rest of the money to start our suburban LRT lines. At the same time while LRTs are replacing bus routes, retire the oldest polutingest diseasel buses, upgrade those that can economically be upgraded and then use them, not as trunk line vehicles as Finch East, but in the role that suits a low capacity vehicle like a freewheeling bus, as feeders to the LRT/subway system.



  21. OK Guys! Based on my comment that I ( and many Beachers or whoever we are now:-) have more transportation needs to go to places that are not on Queen (e.g. Leslie St. Market, St Lawrence Market) than we do along Queen, people have suggested:

    – building an elevated line on Queen
    – building a subway to the Beach
    – tearing up a bunch of houses to build a surface rail line
    – building a large supermarket in the Beach

    and last but not least the last comment that explains that people won’t ride buses – and blaming them for all the world’s ills.

    Steve: Many if not all of the suggestions were intended to send up the idea that routes should be put in place specifically to give a small group of people direct and semi-private access (by virtue of express service) to areas they want to travel to. There are parts of the city with far more pressing transit needs. References to the subways, of course, tie in with what is happening in York Region with the subway to VCC.

    Gosh – as far as I know, Toronto is the only Canadian city that kept it’s traditional streetcar lines. Despite this – to disprove Mr. Rankin’s theory:

    1. Toronto (old city) did lose a great deal of popultation in the 70’s. No different than other cities ini North America.
    2. Other Canadian cities managed to keep healthy downtowns despite no having streetcars. In fact, it is Toronto that seems to have the American style ‘lifeless after 5:00 pm’ state in a vast swath of the business district. You don’t see this in Montreal.
    3. As I already documented – and others have corroborated – people are chosing buses over streetcars to save a few minutes of riding time.

    You know – I hate to burst you guys’ bubble – sometimes transporation is just transportation (sacrilege I know on a transit blog.)

    If you ever go to Disneyworld with your families, you’ll see large numbers of quite wealthy families happily using Disney buses to get between the parks and on-site resorts. What are these people thinking? I guess no-one told them buses are bad.

    Steve: In fact, in the USA there has been a resurgence of streetcar/LRT technology, some good, some not so good, ever since the early 70s when we decided to keep our system. Calgary and Edmonton built successful systems, and in Calgary the problem now is that it’s too successful. They would never have built this network at the cost of subway technology. As for vibrant downtowns, don’t look to King Street, look to Queen, Dundas and College.

    I have never said that “buses are bad”. What I have said is that streetcars are not automatically the problem or the solution in every case. Toronto lost a third of its streetcar service in the 90s thanks to service cuts and very little has been restored. The lines went providing reasonably good service almost all of the time to being unreliable enough to discourage riding all of the time. This is a function of how the lines are run and the level of service, especially at the ends of lines.

    Believe me, if Queen were a bus, it would have short turns all over the place just like the streetcars.


  22. I like streetcars; let’s face it, they’re just way cooler than buses but I do share some of the concerns about the way they are operated in Toronto, not only in mixed traffic, but even on the dedicated lines we currently have.

    I work at Queens Quay and Bay, right beside a stop on the 509/510 QQ LRT. Every Monday, I have a regular appointment at Spadina and College in the evening so I take the streetcar, all dedicated ROW, in line with what Transit City foresees. The thing is, this trip takes, on average 40 minutes, which defies belief as this is only marginally faster than WALKING (about 50 mins).

    Why? Well I usually wait 10 – 15 mins for a 510 because the TTC short turns 3 of 4 cars at the Charlotte loop at King St. As such, I cannot take a 509 because I would have to walk all the way up Spadina to King and presumable pay another fare. When I get on the 510 the service and speed are okay until you get to Front Street then from there to about Dundas I would guess the streetcar is actually slower than walking, in fact you spend about 90% of your time fully stopped at lights, or waiting for boardings.

    I know it’s been said before, but running light rail on surface streets, even in their own ROW, across large distances suffers from a key problem of general slowness, and in a city that covers as much area as Toronto (let alone the GTA) this is a problem. This isn’t a plug for subways or more roads, but just to identify that with transit, optimizing the seeming zero sum variables of cost, service and speed can be extremely difficult for both planners and policy makers.

    I will say though that if transit regards itself as being in competition with the automobile (as it is), that speed sells, and it’s the perception (though often not true) that driving is faster, that gets people into their cars day after day.


  23. As a TTC bus Operator I have driven 3 of the 4 Premium Express routes on a regular basis. I am based out of Birchmount garage and have also driven 64 Main, 92 Woodbine South. and 22 Coxwell on a regular basis.

    Steve said:

    “There already is an express bus on Queen from The Beach to downtown, although it is a premium fare service. This route stops at all local stops from Neville to Kingston Road, and operates every 7 trips in the am peak. It runs downtown via Eastern and Richmond, and in the evening, it returns via Adelaide.

    I object to this type of service in principle because the message it sends is that the TTC will give you good service if you want to pay more. This begs the question of why we have not fixed the problem with service adequacy years ago simply by raising all of the fares. The secret, of course, is that this would only cover operating costs, at best, and capital costs of new vehicles and garages would have to be funded somehow. I won’t even think about the cost of more subway service or extensions.

    Nobody has ever explained to me, adequately, why we should be running various premium fare express routes and using up both vehicles and operators that could carry far more riders if they were in regular service. There are not enough of them that you would notice across the whole system, but the principle is all wrong.”

    I have spoken many times with the passengers on the 143 Downtown Beach Express as this is the Premium Express route that I have driven the most. These passengers are willing to pay extra for the speed and convenience of RELIABLE service. Unfortunately, the streetcar east of Queen/Kingston Road just doesn’t provide the service that these passengers require. Fix the problems on the 501/502/503 services and these passengers might just come back to riding the streetcar at regular fare.

    A number of 143 passengers enter the bus with 92 or 64 transfers and then pay the extra fare to ride downtown. This would tell me that they don’t want to put up with the crowded subway and extra transfers to get downtown and that they have given up on the streetcar. Queen Street to Main station via the 64 is the closest route for a lot of people on Queen St. East but they wait at Wineva for the 143. Passengers will ride the 64 and 92 south from Kingston Road to connect with the 143.

    This tells me a lot about how they feel about the streetcar service. I am pro streetcar, but TTC must do something about the problems on Queen St. East to win back these passengers.


  24. In Regards to Tom B’s comment. I wonder if it wouldn’t be quicker to take the 509/510 ‘into’ union station and take the subway to College and University (I don’t recall the station name). From there could you not take the College Streetcar or even walk to Spadina?


  25. Hi Steve and Tina R.:-

    Unfortunately Tina you have come to Toronto when we are at a low low ebb supplying quality streetcar service. Part of what I’ve been saying is verbalizing the fond remebrances of when this was not the case. As Steve says, it’s not the vehicle that’s at fault here, but the lack of the number required to make it reliable on a line as long as Queen. On Coxwell, Woodbine and Main Steet, 3 or 4 buses make a reasonable service. A few more in rush hour maybe. But on Queen, we’re talking a lot more, (see one of Steve’s earlier threads for car counts) for the line is at least 10 times longer. We’d be looking at many more than twice that in numbers of buses if attempting to merely offer the same space per passenger as the streetcars, at the same time substituting a vehicle that can’t handle that kind of trunk route assignment.

    But my comments still stand, that if you bustitute a major core line, you ‘will’ lose riders. The reverse is daily proving true in most cities that have put in LRTs and replaced buses, ridership grows. If the carlines in question are strangled by the limits of what management will allow them to do versus what would occur if the sky was the limit, then you will also discourage ridership. This is why this thread in Steve’s website exists. He has recognized that this reverse trend is happening here on Queen where it shouldn’t and didn’t in the recent past. Then folks like you, Mimmo B., Hamish, myself, et al write in with our two cents worth of comments about the problems we’ve been privy to too.

    We came close once to losing our streetcar system and it frightens me to see things occuring now that don’t bode well for it, therefore my defensiveness when someone asks; ‘Why not just substitute buses, they’ll do the job better surely!?’ I realize you’ve been able to ride well done bus services in other cities and I am sure that if you’d seen the streetcar system the way it once was here it would have been apparent that those bus services are approaching service levels that a well run carline can provide, but with a streetcar line there is potential to be able to increase said service, where service improvements would be nigh impossible without a technology change from buses.

    Somewhere else I mentioned the Bloor Danforth cars being the most heavily used streetcars in North America, if not in the world. It was at or near the capacity of what a streetcar line in shared traffic could provide. At the time that this was true, the TTC was determined to provide the service the passengers were demanding to the best of a streetcar’s ability. We all know that that demand was so great that the BD subway was the result. But what if the service were cut by 10 to 20% before committing to building the subway, as the Queen line was by 1990? Would the riders have abandoned the line and found other ways to get to where they wanted to travel? Would there still have been enough demand and therefore Civic and TTC will to build a subway? Queen will likely never see the need to build the subway envisaged for it in 1944, so unlike the BD of old, can its streetcar service be fiddled with? Yup! Should it have been? Well, we’re seeing the results of the fiddling in this website and these discussions.

    As far as buses being evil, well of course they’re not evil per say, but psychologically, when a carline, which exhibits permanence by its very existance, is abandoned, then the rider hasn’t got the same sense that the organization that junked it has the same committment to their needs, therefore, they’re not as interested in continuing to ride its freewheeling replacement, thus if all else remains equal, diminished ridership counts result.

    But then why didn’t the nastiness that happened in the US of A happen in Canada? In a nutshell we’re a different society here and distinctly different pressures affected streetcar systems and cities in the States. But another phenomenom that occurred in many medium sized Canadian cities that didn’t happen in parallel fashion in the US of A, was the success of the trolley coach salesman here. Carlines dissappeared fairly quickly after WWII, having been hammered to near death by the demands of wartime service levels and prior neglect from the lack of funds due to the depression. They desperately required new vehicles and track to upgrade what those eras had deprived streetcar systems of. Most core routes were replaced with modern overhead wire powered electric buses in those cities. That umbilical cord that tied the vehicle to its power source offered a similar sense of visual and psychological committment by the transit operator’s management to the rider as its streetcars once did, therefore ridership remained reasonably high in Canada. But ridership levels in these cities were and are no where near what Toronto needs to supply. Therefore the need for the next level up; streetcars.

    One other point that I’d like to address is the way that routes are aligned in TO. Yes sometimes the way that a route snakes its way through the city could and should be redirected, but the TTC’s past and reasonably successful practice has been its grid layout of routes. No matter where you lay out the lines, someone somewhere will have to transfer. Thus if the routes intersect frequently, passengers have many options of how they may access those lines. Therefore your ability to go north, west and then south. If one part of the grid box is faltering, as the Queen car is proving to be, then maybe the other round about (or is it squared about) route could be the way to go? Is it right? Nope! can it be corrected? It sure can. That’s why we’re all writing here, ’cause we know it can! It’s convincing the ‘Powers-that-be’ to make it so while at the same time knowing buckets of money aren’t available to use to find that solution either.


  26. Dennis Rankin’s theories are a speculative melange assembled to support his preference for street railways. However, there is scant if any evidence to corroborate. The preceding response by Tina R provides ample evidence to the contrary.

    I’d add the example of Philadelphia. Philly retained its steetcars (trolleys) in West Philadelphia. This area suffered the all-to-typical urban decay suffered by many US cities. In fact, the Philly green line offers better service than what you’ll find on the TTC streetcars.

    Parts of West Philly (Uinversity City) are being revitalized – but the driver is nothing to do with transit – but rather direct and indirect investments by the University of Pennsylvania.

    I can’t see any credence to the theory that riders shy away from vehicles that aren’t tied to an electrical hookup. Ridership in Montreal disproves this.

    Some cities have augemented their overall transit service by building rapid transit lines using light rail vehicles. The rapid transit services allow riders to have an overall trip that is faster than via standard surface transit for all legs – and in doing so, competitive with the autombobile.

    The argument of the merits of streetcar service based on the implementation of rapid transit systems in other cities is specious. Most people who’ve ridden the C-train would consider closer to the Montreal Metro than to Toronto streetcars.

    Steve: I really tire of rants on either side of the question of streetcars versus buses. Often, the concept of the “permanence” of LRT is used to somehow justify its implementation, but I think this is wrong. It is service that makes any transit system.

    People love subways because they run every five minutes until 2 am whether anyone is on them or not. Comparable bus routes would be down to half-hourly service.

    The TTC’s service standards are to be improved, subject as usual to availability of budget headroom, sufficient staff and vehicles, so that service will actually be improved to match the demand that is really on the street. The problem is that even if this is done, that is the theory, not the practice, as I will discuss in a separate post.


  27. Steve,

    It sounds like the problem with the Queen car is a scheduling one. If CIS is not “picking” up the extra time needed westbound from 7:45 – 8:45 AM, then perhaps the scheduler responsible for 501 is not doing their job by providing the correct running time during this period. In addition, although trippers and extra board runs are a fact of life on any line that provides much more service during the peaks than mid-day, if there is no manpower shortage than the scheduler could work around that. In L.A. a lot of our trippers are assigned to people that have full time runs, as long as the combination is ten hours or less of driving time.

    Adding mid day service should improve service in the peaks as it would cause some of the trippers to be converted to full day blocks.

    I would suspect that missing runs is a problem on busy bus routes as well – say 29 Dufferin, 25 Don Mills, or the Finches – but as it seems as though most readers of this blog live in the streetcar containment area, these problems may go unnoticed.

    Steve: CIS only tells us where the cars are (and then with various problems as you will learn when I write about it in detail), and it has nothing to do with the actual schedules. I won’t get into an esoteric discussion of how to stretch out running times at the end of the peak based on the knowledge that a longer headway can be operated on the return trip, but that’s for another day.

    I do agree that improvements in off-peak service would reduce the number of trippers and increase the likelihood of better peak reliability (as an side-effect of full crewing), but given the situation here, any increases in service are hard to come by. It would be fascinating to see what the marginal cost of lowering the ratio of peak:base service would be once all of the extra premiums for reporting allowances, minimum run values and dead-head time were recouped. This should actually make for happier operators too because there would be more straight-through shifts.

    I will let everyone know about the “missing run” situation on some bus routes when I get that far in my analysis. I have the data for Dufferin, Bathurst, Don Mills and Finch East, but for now I want to concentrate on the streetcar lines.


  28. I lived in the Beach for ten years and one of the main reasons I left (2006) was shoddy TTC service. People always accuse Beachers of being rich and powerful. If they were, I doubt the TTC would get away with the way they service the Beach.

    Getting downtown in the morning was never a real problem. Just leave by 0715 and I would be at work within 30 minutes or less (Queen & Spadina).

    However, getting home in the evenings was a massive PITA if I wasn’t able to leave by 1615. You would wait a long time for a Neville Park car. It often took 30 minutes just to get from Spadina to Yonge – entirely the fault of motorcar traffic.

    Then we get the streetcars short-turning. Leaving by 1615 getting back to the Beach would take about 40-45 minutes. Leaving between 1630 and 1800 it would frequently take 90 minutes to make it home. I could walk faster than that – 80 minutes from Spadina to Woodbine.

    Rather a lot of single mothers I knew either carpooled or bought a car to travel downtown because they couldn’t rely on the the streetcar to get them home in time to pick up their children from daycare.

    Short-turning a streetcar if it’s nearly empty isn’t an issue. But consistently dumping a full or nearly full streetcar was something that would frequently put people in the mood where it seemed one wrong comment by the driver would result in him getting lynched. Not his fault – transit control says who does and does not short turn.

    Now I ride the subway, and despite living much further away from downtown than when I Beached, my travel times are considerably more consistent and it’s the rare day that my trip either way takes more than 30 minutes.

    Someone should force Giambrone to ride the streetcar to the Beach from Spadina 5 days in a row during rush-hour. Or any streetcar supporter for that matter.

    I will never again live in a neighbourhood where streetcars are the only or main TTC option. If I do, I’m buying a car — and I loathe cars.

    Steve: This is a superb example of how the TTC has managed to destroy the former reputation of the streetcar system through cutbacks in service and ham-handed line management.


  29. I’m with Luke on this one — I specifically chose to live on the BD line for the exact same reason. What’s the point in living downtown on a streetcar line if a GO commuter can make it to the core in less time?

    The TTC and the City are always strapped for cash. Given that, is it worth spending millions on track, overhead, and expensive multi-million dollar vehicles for a very small improvement over articulated bus service? No offense to anyone here, but how much extra money do we have to spend because some “transit geeks” can’t get over their childhood nostalgia for streetcars?

    Steve: Up until now, I was willing to entertain your comments as a reasonable counterpoint to my own. However, when you reduce the whole discussion about various modes of transit to “childhood nostalgia”, you really have come to the bottom of the barrel.

    The whole point about retention of the streetcar system was that it can (and once did) carry a lot more people. Thanks to penny wise pound foolish TTC, the service was cut disproportionately on those lines through the 90s resulting in big drops in riding. Seeing the recently reported big jump in riding, things may finally be turning around. Now all we need is more streetcars and much better line management, although that will be easier to handle once there is actually enough service on the line.


  30. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend, but I just felt someone had to make that comment. Streetcars For Toronto, in my opinion, was a nostalgia-based movement in disguise, along the same lines as the Anti-Digit Dialing League (when Bell Canada converted phone numbers like LEnnox 6-1234 to 536-1234).

    Where were those same “pro-transit” activists when our trolleybus system was abandoned in the early 90s, or when our subway Y was abandoned in the 60s? Well, it seems they were pro-streetcar first, and pro-transit a distant second. Since the buses had no sentimental value to the rail fans (no rails you see), there was no drive to save them.

    Steve: Sorry to disillusion you, but what was left of Streetcars for Toronto fought hard to keep the trolleybus system, and I was one of the principals in that battle. However, TTC management together with a cabal of others whom I shall not name for legal reasons sacrificed the trolleybuses on the altar of “new technology”. The trolleybuses lasted years longer than expected including a brief revival with second hand equipment from Edmonton.

    Nobody ever wants to keep old technology because there’s no money in it — no research grants, no closed bids, no endless jobs that never need to actually produce something useful. We had it with the streetcars/LRT and GO Urban/RT, and it showed up again with the trolleybuses and natural gas. Hydrogen buses fall into the same league — something that will soak up lots of research dollars but never produce something workable. If someone tried this again and again in a portfolio that really mattered politically, they would be thrown out of the room as scoundrels. Transit, however, isn’t important for what it produces, but for its ability to harbour lots of grants with few questions. Building it is more important than running it.

    I wasn’t yet politically active when the “Y” was abandoned, and I’m still not convinced that it’s “the answer” especially with the northern shift of the demand in the core area. Moreover, that’s an operational decision quite different from the abandonment of an entire mode. The subway still works without it, and I might argue that those who cling to its reopening are themselves guilty of nostalgia.

    As for phone numbers, I was only mildly nostalgic about the conversion from Mayfair and Mohawk to Hudson when we changed from 6 to 7 digit dialing in the Eglinton Central Office, and likewise when Hudson became 48. Besides, any fool could see that they would need number combinations that didn’t produce handy alpha forms, although the need for four area codes in the Toronto area was beyond anyone’s dreams back then.


  31. M Briganti’s Comment #30 brings up an interesting discussion. He asks (and Steve answers) why there was no grassroots movement to save the trolley buses (or, more accurately, why the grassroots movement failed), and he asks why there was so little response to the proposal to eliminate the subway wye.

    The thing to note is, grassroots political activism really didn’t become an ‘in’ thing until the later sixties and into the seventies. The opposition to the Spadina Expressway was so remarkable because it was one of the first grassroots movements in Canada since the Second World War to speak out against urban planners and major municipal projects, and it was almost certainly one of the first grassroots movements to succeed.

    During this time, the City of Kitchener had a fight of its own, to try and protect a beautiful neo-classical city hall building that the mayor and council wanted demolished to make way for a mall. Unfortunately, the grassroots didn’t win that fight and reading through the commentary of the day, it’s interesting to see how the politicians and the planning old guard reacted to the movement. They were completely arrogant and absolutely offended by the idea that mere citizens could question their good planning sense. A neighbour of mine has a letter from chief planner Bill Thompson responding to her complaint about the demolition proposal, accusing her of being manipulated by “communists and hippies”. Unfortunately, in Kitchener, guys like him won the day. Old City Hall was demolished, signalling the start of a crushing downtown blight that Kitchener is only now clawing its way out of. I talk more about this incident and the arrogance of planners on my website.

    The arrogance of planners — rooted in a professional ethic and a sense that “we know best because of our education” is precisely what activists like Jane Jacobs and Steve Munro were fighting against, and the sea change only started happening after the whole wye issue took place.

    Reading between the lines, I get the strong sense that the wye arrangement was designed to fail. I happened to get a hold of the TTC’s 1966 annual report, which gives its full justification of turning away from interlining (I’ve posted it on the Transit Toronto website), and the statistician in me can see how they’re manipulating and spinning the data, there. For one thing, the TTC of 1966 is giving far, far less weight to the inconvenience of a transfer than they give now. Even in February 1966, the Headlights report on the new subway (which I’ll be posting to Transit Toronto soon) warns passengers about possible problems, laying the groundwork for segregation. Then there is the design of St. George and Bay stations, which make it inconvenient for passengers going west at St. George or east at Bay to pick the right platform to grab the next train. Why weren’t these stations designed in the same manner as Lionel-Groulx in Montreal, so that all eastbound service on Bay and all westbound service at St. George were on one platform? The way these two stations are designed makes most sense if you assume the two lines were going to operate separately in any event.

    It would not surprise me to learn that the designers of the Bloor-Danforth line had made their decision about how the operation would go, and that they bridled at suggestions to operate it differently. A lot of planners weren’t into public consultation in the 1960s. My own generation of planners are very much a reaction of that. Much of my education has been about the public consultation process. These days, bad planning decisions get fought (though, not always successfully). The drawback is, all planning decisions seem to take longer nowadays.

    Steve: At one point in the debate over bus technology, I had the temerity to suggest that someone other than Ontario Bus Industries might be a suitable alternative supplier of vehicles. Then Metro Chairman Alan Tonks lit into me as if I were some sort of traitor. I reminded him (a) OBI was not the only bus builder in Canada the last time anyone had checked, and (b) making such a statement while the west (defined as the USA) was going to war had very serious overtones. He did not apologize, a typical behaviour to this day when pols can attack deputations from the great unwashed public who have no recourse to parliamentary privilege to challenge the abuse.

    With respect to the wye, we got a good example of the way the TTC tried to operate things with the Bay Lower diversion. Trains waited for interminable periods at the approaches to the wye waiting for something else to come into its slot or get out of the way. The service design, with a two-minute headway through Museum both ways, was tighter than even the intergrated service in 1966 and guaranteed to be a total mess with very little effort. You would almost think someone wanted it to work like that lest anyone resurrect the idea.

    An alternative proposal — running Spadina as an isolated line so that only two services needed to merge at Museum — was killed internally by TTC management.

    As for know-it-all planners, you don’t have to look too far these days to find one or two still plying their trade.


  32. As far as know-it-all planners go, for an analysis of how planners (and other forces) pushed for suburbanization in Canada (and the US), pick up “Toronto Sprawls” by Lawrence Solomon. This book just came out recently, and provides an interesting overview of the ideas which resulted in the suburban expansion of Toronto, creating the vast swaths of low-density development. Planners and social engineers decided that suburbanization was their goal, and did everything they needed to do create it as a matter of government policy. To tie this in with service in the Beach, the long list of suburban TTC expansions in the 1960s had to be heavily subsidized at the expense of city service, which has got us to the situation we’re in where the Queen streetcar is so unreliable that people like Luke could walk home from downtown faster.


  33. James – the system was designed to work both ways (w/ integrated service during rush hours and segregated service at all other times).

    Yes Steve, I am guilty of nostalgia as well, but I openly admit it. I would love to walk along Harbord St. and see a streetcar on it. My Dad rammed into two Harbord cars by accident, and then a Wellesley bus when they were removed!

    But, I can put those feelings aside and be objective about the practical reality of streetcars in 2007.

    Very strong arguments could be made about converting all of our streetcar routes to articulated trolley bus operation with temporary off-wire capability — lower capital costs (no track), lower vehicle costs, more flexibility in routing around accidents, and still zero emissions.

    Two of the biggest downsides of streetcars, which you fail to mention are:

    – the longer vehicles coming will mean longer wait times for passengers

    – the number of people hit and injured by motorists as they exit streetcars every year

    When you weigh all the advantages and disadvantages, streetcars lose. I suppose if they were a tourist attraction, a very strong case could be made to keep them, but heck, we got rid of all our PCCs. We could have kept some and operated one route as a tourist line.

    Steve: This is in reply both to Mimmo’s comment above and to unpublished remarks from others.

    Well, I don’t have any intention of turning this into a board about why we should build lots of subways and a few LRT lines on oddball alignments where there are no rights-of-way available. The whole business about the proposed closing of the Sheppard line seems to have brought all of the subway defenders out of the woodwork. I don’t think it’s useful to turn the clock back to the 1980s with the “subway in every borough” style of planning.

    As for streetcar lines, we will have to agree to disagree. The whole fight to retain them dates from an era before the relentless service cuts drove riders away, and now we are seeing a resurgence of demand. I don’t agree that trolleybuses will solve the problem. Recent high-impact track projects are a direct result of disinvestment and shoddy construction in past years. That work is nearly completed and we will have a robust infrastructure.


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