Mysteries of Poles on St. Clair

No, this is not a commentary about immigration, but about the seemingly mundane issue of street lighting, hydro and TTC poles on St. Clair Avenue.

Regular readers here will know that I am not impressed by designs including centre poles because:

  • they take up an extra metre of road space that could be used at the sidewalks,
  • they interfere with emergency vehicles (or even TTC buses) using the streetcar right-of-way, and
  • they are just not very attractive.

People involved with the project from both the City and the TTC have steadfastly maintained that these poles are essential to the project and that they were “selected” by public participation.  This is complete nonsense on both counts.

The public was not given any alternative to this design, and indeed the “old” style using span wires across the street was deliberatly made to look bad by including photos with forests of hydro wiring.  On most streets where there still is old “box construction” hydro as well as streetcar overhead, the visual offence, such as it is, of the streetcar overhead is trivial compared with hydro.  With the undergrounding of hydro services, almost all of the visual clutter disappears.

The “essential” nature of the new poles, however, is the heart of the story.  Part of the new design for St. Clair Avenue was a new light fixture replacing the traditional Toronto “acorn”.  Moreover, the initial design had lighting poles further apart — fewer but more powerful street lights supplemented by pedestrian lighting.

The original design proposed high poles with street lighting at the top and pedestrian lighting at the half-way point.  This design also presumed that a short pole would be sited between each tall pole and would hold only pedestrian lighting.   The spacing of the lighting poles was different from that of the TTC poles in the middle of the street.  Indeed, the designers hoped to save on sidewalk space by having fewer street lighting poles.

The design for this year’s work from Dufferin to Caledonia quite clearly shows that the lighting poles are on the same spacing as the TTC poles and could, therefore, be used to hold up the overhead with span wires as has been the case for decades.  No sidewalk space is preserved.  The pole spacing is such that separate pedestrian fixtures at the midpoint would be overkill both for lighting and for the number of poles this would introduce to the street.

At a recent Community Liaison Committee meeting, the City presented a new version of the luminaire.  This will be used not only on all new construction this year, but will be retrofitted to the roughly 50% of the phase 1 work where it has already been installed.  This change is for “technical reasons”.

Not long after the CLC meeting, I learned that the “technical” problem is that the lamps are burning out in the luminaires, likely due to overheating.  Was this luninaire actually designed for these lamps?  A related issue is the wattage of the lamps.

I understand that the new luminaires have 250W lamps in them, but the acorn fixtures they replaced only had 150W lamps.  Since we are not decreasing the total number of fixtures, indeed we may have more if the pedestrian lighting is included, the actual wattage of lighting on St. Clair will go up substantially.

Street space is at a premium on St. Clair and this has been hotly debated in the community.  All through this process, both the TTC and the City have remained firm in their commitment to centre poles for the overhead with separate lighting poles.  The underpinning for this design decision is no longer valid, and we need a serious re-evaluation of alternatives.

The opportunity to do this for the 2007 construction has likely passed, and I can already hear the bleating from Urban Design that we need to maintain a consistent look to the whole project.  Hogwash.  The communities on St. Clair need to see what their street will look like with conventional sidewalk poles supporting both lighting and TTC overhead. 

Giving people a real choice is what public participation is all about.

18 thoughts on “Mysteries of Poles on St. Clair

  1. I recall a cartoon in an urban planning text showing how not to conduct public consultation:

    A fellow in a suit is facing a group of citizens, with three diagrams marked A, B, C behind him.

    He says, ‘Plan A costs too much and Plan B won’t work. Which one do you like?’

    Steve: Are you sure that this wasn’t the recommended way to hold “consultations”? It is so common, planning schools everywhere must be teaching their students this technique!


  2. I’m a semi-regular user of the 512, and not infrequently I see fire trucks trying to use the ROW around Avenue Rd heading westbound.

    Many times they have to slow right down to probably around 20 km/hr to swerve to the “wrong side” to dodge around streetcars while avoiding poles spaced that closely, which would be difficult enough in a car let alone a full-sized ladder truck in a hurry.

    Perhaps when designing the ROW, they thought that this wasn’t difficult enough, because once they get by the streetcar the fire trucks are faced with generously small clearances between bashing off the mirror on the pole and falling off the ROW’s curb. Such an exciting, fun challenge when you’re an emergency vehicle rushing to save someone’s life.

    How many precious seconds does this “reduction in visual clutter” cost on the emergency response over, say, an uncluttered ROW that allows for “sloppier” but faster streetcar dodging and having more allowance for faster driving between mobile obstacles?

    Thankfully these “mobile obstacles” seem to spend most of their time parked at St Clair station out of the way and out of the reach of passengers, who would just get them dirty anyways.


  3. I have not made up my mind completely yet about St. Clair but I tend to agree with you.

    The thing that amazes me is the lack of comment by anyone one the redoing of the Queensway. I like what they have done with it. They got rid of the three lanes and made it a two lane road in each direction with left turn lanes, wider side walk, though I am not sure who uses them and what appear to be planter boxes on either side of the right of way.

    There are centre poles but as the right of way has tracks in ballast it does not appear to be [a roadway for emergency vehicles]. I am only sorry that there is not a possibility of having more of this type of reservation. It sure is a lot easier to do a track job when you do not have to dig up the road and open track with gravel ballast is a lot less inviting for cars than a concrete centre reservation.

    Steve: One of the many uses of the streetcar right-of-ways on St. Clair, Spadina and Queen’s Quay is to act as a pedestrian crossing. With open track and ballast this is not practical. The Queensway is not Spadina, and the desire to J-walk across it is quite low.


  4. Steve,

    Centre poles are better, stronger and easier to maintain. They don’t get hit by cars and trucks as often as poles on the sidewalk. (The top of trucks hit poles frequently.) Centre poles look better (to some) too.

    The transit agency can design and specify suitable poles for transit use and not have to compromise for streetscape and dual use.

    Side poles on a wider street must be taller and extra heavy duty to support the weight.

    Hydro poles will generally use down guys to anchor side loads but TTC is unable to install down guys and anchors at every pole. So the poles need to be big, strong, tall and raked (they lean over the sidewalk a few degrees). Yet there is limited tension that can be placed on the poles so they can’t pull the spans too tight or the poles will bend. The longer the span, the more weight and the greater the tension.

    Normally the contact wire is 18′ above the top of rail and the support for the span is mounted much higher about 22’to 24′. Wider streets need taller poles.
    The arrangement of side poles generally means the transit agency owns the poles on one side of the road and the hydro agency owns the poles on the other side.

    Toronto Hydro could care less about TTC and continually place hydro equipment and high voltage wires adjacent to TTC support wires so that TTC can’t maintain their own equipment. Toronto Hydro often installs weak poles or poles that are too short or just not suitable (smaller concrete poles are not suitable.)
    Meanwhile parked cars interfere with overhead line maintenance at side poles at all hours.

    The TTC overhead group desires their own equipment on their own poles on the transit agency’s right of way. It leads to Care, Custody and Control!

    Harold let’s hear from you!


    Steve: All of the above are valid observations but for one basic fact: The overhead on St. Clair has been supported from side poles ever since the right-of-way was torn up 75 years ago. They are holding up the overhead today from Vaughan west to Keele right through an area where designs will be fought over saving a foot here, a few inches there. When decisions about lane widths come down to whether you count the white stripe as part of a lane or not, then the extra metre that we gain with side poles is vital.

    Also, I would not have minded the way the design was imposed on everyone if the TTC and City had been less obnoxious about defending this as an unchangeble part of their design.

    The street design has already been modified to reflect experience with the Yonge to Bathurst section — block pavers at crosswalks are out, and painted zebra stripes are in. Nobody asked the community if they accepted this change, it just happened for “technical reasons”. Amazing how designs can be updated when the designers want to.

    Somebody really wanted centre poles, and nobody, not even the Fire Department (who generally want as much open space as possible) could change their minds. The options were misrepresented, and that’s the issue. We are still facing design exercises for about half of the line, and we should be prepared to entertain alternatives if they will eliminate problems.

    Unless, of course, someone already has a warehouse full of new poles and lights that would be an embarrassment if they were not actually used.


  5. Steve

    Is it feasible to have the ROW poles to one side rather than in the middle, supporting both wires? This would at least allow wide emergency vehicles to use the ROW more easily.

    For the Transit City lines the whole urban design process must be revisited.

    Could it be that the Roads Department may have wanted to eliminate overhead wires to reduce the risk of outsized road vehicles (cranes maybe?) touching the wire in the non-ROW portion?

    Steve: Side poles with cantilevered support over both tracks are possible and this has been done at some locations on St. Clair. However, this requires a fairly strong pole to handle the load cantilevered so far out from the pole base. I will be intrigued to see how the poles on St. Clair hold up.

    There are many, many places in the city where wires other than the TTC’s cross roads. On arterials, the hydro feeds are underground in many places, but not all, and unless the street is quite wide, it’s not uncommon to see buildings on one side fed with drops from the main hydro service on the other. There is a brand new hydro installation on Broadview just outside of the subway station (my local neighbourhood) where the hydro line is on the east side of the street with feeds hung across Broadview higher up than the streetcar overhead to power buildings on the west side.

    As for Transit City, yes, we need to revisit the urban design, and we must not take a one-size-fits all approach that rams a common design, warts and all, into every neighbourhood whether it fits or not.


  6. WELL DONE! Were acorns 125 or 150 watts on arterials? I know they were 75 on residentials.

    Steve: You may be correct that the arterials were generally 125 watts, but with the width of St. Clair, they may have used 150’s. I know this happened on Spadina. More research is needed.


  7. I heard there are new streetcars that can pull their power from under the street through a slit between the rails, and there’s no danger to pedestrains walking over it.

    Has any thought been given to this type of system for the new streetcars? All that overhead could be phased out.

    Steve: Streetcars using slot rails existed decades ago with Washington DC being a notable example. This eliminated overhead wires in an already wire-free city. Note that Toronto is most definitely not free of such things and never will be. Complete undergrounding of hydro services is quite rare.

    Slot rails (in effect, an underground third rail) also pose difficulties for cold climates due to the effects of melted water and salt un the electrics in the channel. The complexities at intersections are mind-boggling because the “plough” (the device that picks up the power) somehow has to cross over all of the intervening tracks. Definitely a requirement for “off wire” battery capability here, and an expensive option for a fully-loaded 30m streetcar.


  8. Ed Drass said …

    I recall a cartoon in an urban planning text showing how not to conduct public consultation:

    A fellow in a suit is facing a group of citizens, with three diagrams marked A, B, C behind him.

    He says, ‘Plan A costs too much and Plan B won’t work. Which one do you like?’

    This is why maybe planners should be elected? The Planners hire the consultants, who’s vision is it that ends up being chosen? Not the people’s.

    Not to go to the extreme of US style where even a dog catcher can be elected but the mistakes of a policy maybe can be reversed and rectified but mistakes of planning — usually stuck with it for life. Maybe the Chief Planner should have a platform and a vision that he is accountable for and must stay to it.

    Steve: The problem is that the real decisions are made by the councillors, not the planners. If you have a good council, you might get a good plan, but every developer in town will try to water it down or gain exemptions.

    Also, developers are great at waiting for the pendulum to swing in their favour — usually during a recession when anyone opposing a new scheme is ridiculed for being against the best economic interests of the city. This gives us grandfathered approvals for developments we would never approve today, Official Plan or no.

    An elected planner would point to decisions of yesteryear and say “I am powerless”.

    The problem, as in so many political and social areas, is that the people responsible for bad decisions don’t have to accept the consequences. They got their election contributions, and the voters of the day got what they thought were “good” councillors and mayors. After all, someone elected Mel Lastman and Mike Harris even though we will live with the fallout from their terms for decades. Should we fine all those who voted for them?


  9. The St Clair project also seems, to me anyway, to show that the TTC needs to look far more closely at how track and overhead repairs or replacement affect service and plan things to reduce the streetcar “down time” as much as possible.

    St Clair streetcars were replaced by buses last summer and fall and now they are again being replaced – for 12 weeks – because the St Clair West station’s tracks need replacement. Surely all work on St Clair from Bathurst to Yonge could have been scheduled in 2006 – even if it prolonged the work. Bus replacement could thus have been avoided this year (except for the area west of Bathurst which is to be reconstructed this fall and in 2008)?

    In 2009 the track from Bathurst Station to St Clair will be replaced – as this is the only way to get streetcars onto St Clair this will mean another bus replacement service then. Maybe this should have been scheduled in 2006 or 2007 during the St Clair West Station work or the work on St Clair from Bathurst to Yonge so that streetcar service east of Bathurst would have been interrupted less? I agree that the TTC cannot do everything at once but….

    Steve: St. Clair is a masterpiece of political and planning screwups. The work was supposed to start in 2005, but only got underway in 2006 because of legal challenges. Continued public participation, with all its faults, held off start of construction until mid-2006.

    Meanwhile, the TTC discovered that rebuilding St. Clair West Station would be something of a challenge both because of the way the trackbed had been built originally and because the station’s expansion joints also needed serious work. Both of these meant that there wasn’t time in 2006 to finish the loop, and the TTC decided to hold off on that section.

    Now we come to 2007 and our friends at Hydro. They had been unable to start the undergrounding work east of Dufferin until this year claiming regulatory problems (they can’t charge the rate base for new infrastructure if the old infrastructure isn’t fully depreciated). Personally, I think that’s a lot of crap and simply meant they didn’t want to do the work early and either eat the value of the undepreciated infrastructure, or ask the city to include this as a project cost.

    Anyhow, this meant that the original plan, to continue west from Vaughan Road, for which full design work was already complete, could not proceed in 2007. The TTC was then forced to advance design and consultation work on the section from Dufferin to Caledonia, where the hydro lines are already underground, from 2008 to 2007. Because of the lead time for this, work will not actually begin until the fall and that’s why the section for 2007 is so short.

    TTC claims that they will do all of the remaining St. Clair work in 2008 (Vaughan to Dufferin, Caledonia to Keele). I hope that they actually start public participation in fall 2007 so that there is a fighting chance of actually beginning construction early in 2008.

    Meanwhile, we have the little matter of the transit shelters that may actually appear in the July/August timeframe. All of the design for this was done early in the public participation, and if the project had gone ahead as planned, shelters would have been needed in 2005. The fact that they are only now at the point of prototyping tells me a lot about the way this project is managed.

    Nobody has asked how these shelters fit in with the city’s new Street Furniture contract. I hope that we don’t get one or two of them installed only to find that they violate the contract and that we’re back to square one.

    Finally, the traffic signals give no hint of actually being in “transit priority” mode, and I have on several occasions watched a left-turn phase operate when there is no traffic sitting on the detector that should activate it. In mid-July, we will come to the 10th anniversary of the Spadina line without transit priority in place there either.

    For a city that claims to care about transit, Toronto is sending a horrible message with this project, one that neighbourhoods through which Transit City will pass one day regard with concern.


  10. Hi Steve and Ray Bateman too:-

    I understand emphatically why the TTC would not want to have to share their poles with anyone else and at the same time be able to access them at the drop of a hat when that hat dictates its attention is required immediately! But surely to goodness, two associated City Agencies should be able to get along and if they can’t, someone in a higher authority should be putting a boot up their backsides to demand that they co-operate. There is only one sandbox and one source of their paypackets. Play nice or we’ll find someone who can, should be the mantra of a prudent, responsible and caring overseer who has the whole City and all of its agencies as its dependants! Hydro has seemingly been putting the TTC behind the 8 ball at a number of city sites and Ray B. has pointed out other frustrating examples of their pompousness. WHY is somebody not jumping in on our and their behalf and saying, ENOUGH ALREADY!?

    In a neighbourhood where there has been a lot of bickering, NIMBYism, concern for asctetics, extremely poor PR from the ‘Powers-that-be’, frustrations and fears for livelihoods and quality of life; whether rationally justifiable or not; we should not be heavyhanded and jackbooting those worried about their futures. Again, surely to goodness, where one of the biggest concerns above all of the others as I understand it is a factor that affects most of the other concerns in one issue; it’s sidewalk widths. Can’t we as a modern, caring society come up with a solution that will not be pitting everyone against everyone else and work towards maximizing those widths instead of turning our backs on the topic as not worth any further attentiion? Can the TTC not find a way to help sidewalk widths and still access their physical plant? Will hydro not share their ball?

    I also remember 20 or so years ago, Harold Mc’s frustrations in attempting to convince a staid old TTC that single poles and bracket arms really do exist and can work as an overhead support system! He obviously convinced them. Now it’s time to re-convince them that other options are and can still be viable if and when the situation may require it as a compromise. Minimizing the effectiveness of Emergency services when not essential to do so by insisting on leaving optionally positionable poles in said vehicle’s path is, well, bad wouldn’t one think? Cannot firetrucks, indeed any Emergency Service’s vehicle, be allowed the same luxury enjoyed on Spadina, on St. Clair? Shouldn’t this have been a major selling point to St. Clairites for the potential life and property saving benefits a ROW can bring? Won’t quicker response times for those vehicles potentially help us all?

    Let’s find a solution that works for everyone please. It may be impossible, but then again, with a little rethink, another look at the drawing board and then, just maybe, a compromise can prove to be that elusive solution!


  11. Hi Steve:-

    Not such a far fetched idea technologically as one might think, conduit street railways. New York City (Manhattan) had had a very heavily used streetcar system. Its fleet served their lives with never having carried a trolley pole on their rooves, only ploughs (as that style of current collector is called) on the underside of their trucks. As you’re aware New York can and does get devastating winter weather, as bad, if not sometimes far worse, than old TO. Those cars carried on giving reliable service under those weather conditions for almost 50 years. Washington as you’ve mentioned was the other example in NA and they could get some really nasty heavy wet snowfalls too. True, in this day and age, road salt use is probably far more prevalent in all cities that get snow and this may be an insurmountable problem to overcome with a conduit system, but it could be investigated.

    The other weather extreme, heat, could cause the roadway and steel track and slot structure to expand and thus close the slot. Snow not withstanding as a problem onto itself, extreme cold could cause the roadway and track structure to freeze and any water in it would expand and close the slot. Cold with no water and the structure shrinks and the slot opens dangerously wide. Expansion would pinch the plough’s sides and stop the service. A very great expense was required to build a massive enough track structure to not allow this slot opening or closure to occur. I understand that San Francisco, albeit on their cable cars not electric cars, has recently had some slot closures on their lines causing pinched grips and subsequent service disruptions. Even 130 years of experience with slotted track construction can’t overcome this thorny problem. The technology to propel the cars is different in almost all respects, but from the surface, except for technologically necessary details, cable and conduit track slots appear indistinguishable from each other.

    One last major conduit system was London England. Weather, while the trams were running, was fairly mild, but extremes occurred infrequently and the cars soldiered on for about 50 years there too.

    As for the gaps in the power bar. There had to be some, yes, but the cars were able to coast through with little apparent problem. I don’t believe that the gaps were ever very long. The expense of building and maintaining track switches was quite great compared to conventional streetcar track though and overall, without those City’s insistences on no overhead wires for any utilities anywhere in their fair burgs, streetcar operators would unlikely have opted for conduit track use for other than the rare experimental try. London and Washington had plough/pole change points at boundaries with Suburbs whose ordinances allowed overhead. Manhattan no, but the same streetcar company operated in the Bronx, the Third Avenue Railway and there ran the cars with poles.

    Steve; proposals for els, swans and conduit railways in Toronto? Who could ask for anything more, eh?


  12. With regard to center “slots” I believe Mimmo was actually referring to the new system in one of the French cities that requires not a slot but a strip down the center with sections that are energized ONLY when a car passes over that particular section (each section of which is just over a car length). It is safe for pedestrians as anyone crossing the strip that close to a passing car would probably be dead, not from electrocution but from the full force of being hit by a moving mass of tonnage!

    As for replacement of streetcars durring the work on St Clair West Station the latest plan that I’ve just seen is to continue streetcar operation but bypass the station. This should be announced publicly when the next board period summary is produced.


  13. Steve

    Centre poles on St Clair—I like them. I think they are an efficient means of support and distribution of power and certainly offer the transit company a little more control of their own plant. I think they look quite presentable and certainly do the job that they are there for. Could problems arise? Certainly they could, but to a much lesser extent than other support systems. The only problem with the centre poles on St. Clair, that I can see, is that they are direct burial (7 ½’ down in a lot of concrete), instead of surface mounted. Replacement, down the road, I’m sure will come back to bite them.

    The “difference” on the devilstrip width, where the poles are as to where it narrows at the intersections and passenger loading areas are, does not seem to me to be a meter more. I haven’t measured it, nor do I know the widths, but it just doesn’t look that much. If side poles were used, then the pole and the pole base would be larger than the present new lighting poles and bases. That would then be infringing on sidewalk space. (Avenue Rd, Bathurst and Vaughan intersections have sidewalk-mounted poles supporting the overhead)

    While standing at the corner of St. Clair and Yonge I watched “responding” fire apparatus proceed west on St Clair on the P/R/W until it went over the crest, past Dear Park, and he seemed to have no problems from what I could see! If, in fact they did have to slow down, they will still be going at a quicker rate of speed than the vehicular traffic is! If buses are to use the P/R/W and must slow down, then all the buses will be slowed down, but the same dependable service should be maintained, would it not? These people driving emergency vehicles and transit buses are “professional drivers” and should be able to adapt to whatever road conditions they encounter.

    It would be my preference that any new P/R/W that are constructed, that the installation of centre poles be a part of it.


    Steve: I have a set of construction drawings for phase 1, and the right-of-way is a metre wider where there are centre poles. As for side poles, please explain why the overhead has managed to stay up all these years with standard TTC poles on at least one side of the street and we now need behemoths to hold up the overhead? Also, the drawings for the section this year clearly show lighting poles on the same spacing as and directly opposite to the TTC centre poles. That’s my gripe: the rationale for centre poles — lighting poles on a wider spacing — has been abandoned in the current design.

    If there is room, I have no problem with centre poles per se, but when we’re tight for space and the side poles will be there taking up space on the curb anyhow, then let them do the job.


  14. Hi Steve and Mimmo Briganti:-

    After writing the note above re conduit street railways, my enthusiasm on reporting the historical aspects of this formerly costly but extremely interesting technology used to power streetcars, caused me to lose sight of your first question Mimmo and merely respond to Steve’s comments, sorry.

    I am not sure if there is indeed anywhere left in the world that still uses the conduit system, thereby necessitating a slot in the centre of the track structure for the plough to contact the power bar. I don’t even think that any of the operating museums have recreated this form of traction power distribution. But your question reminded me of recently coming across some photos on the web site of one of France’s newest LRTs. It is in Bordeaux and it uses a brand old idea but in a brand new way to get traction power to the cars.

    Bordeaux is employing a centre of the track third rail. Brand old, for most subway systems use a 3rd rail as a power rail, but not many use a centre one. As subways usually do not allow public pedestrian access for obvious reasons, the power rail can be safely activated all of the time. But Bordeaux, in concert with Alstom, their tram car provider, has also had them supply an extremely innovative power distribution system, (brand new and called ‘Innorail’) whereby the cars, although set up to run from conventional overhead too, can pick up their power from the surface of the track/roadway structure via a skate riding the top of a centre power rail. Electronic devices detect the proximity of the streetcar and allow only that portion immediately under the car to be energized, thus keeping pedestrians, animals and vehicular traffic safe from electrocution.

    I quickly Googled ‘Alstom’, ‘Bordeaux’, ‘nycsubway’, and ‘Innorail’ and got a number of hits that are easy to understand and they all show off an extremely attractive new 3 line streetcar system (er, excuse me, LRT?). I found out too, that Bordeaux, on the Southwest coast, is quite mild all year with highs usually no greater than the 80s F and lows seldom below freezing. I’m not sure if this power distribution system’s success in a mild climate could prove impractical for us less moderate types, I’m guessing probably impractical. But if eliminating trolley wire over the street were to prove a necessity, maybe this system’s possible adoption and use with climate specific changes/additions might prove worth a go. Personally I am not completely sold that a failure of the detection devices cannot occur and therefore then allow a dangerous power rail activation. After all, Mr. Murphy and his rules run deviously rampant on any type of system more technologically advanced than an animal hauled sledge.

    By the way Steve; are you aware that there is a very short piece of conduit track in Toronto. It’s only about 15 feet long and is built as a patio/walkway in a downtown backyard. The 122 lb. girder rails came from the underpass on St. Clair West west of Old Weston Rd. and have blacksmith hammered down lip to accomodate track drains. The granite setts came from Bloor Street near Bathurst when the roadway was renewed 20 some odd years ago and the slot, just a representation but it’s two pieces of heavy angle iron. Neat eh?


  15. I always thought that the centre poles on the pre-built section of the Spadina LRT circa 1989 over the CN tracks near the Domed stadium looked nice. Unlike all the other centre poles in the streetcar system they have a more old fashioned look to them. Living in Hamilton in the early 1990s as a child, I would ride on the GO bus to Toronto and pass by that part of Spadina thinking the LRT was finished only to go to Chinatown and say, “what?”)

    -Jordan Kerim


  16. [Sorry if this was submitted twice, I had some problems earlier.]

    I think this is a very useful discussion. I’m sure not everyone was aware of all the pros and cons when some of these decisions about poles were made. However, I feel there’s some important information to add at this point.

    I do not think that the St. Clair centre poles are leading to any reduction in sidewalk width. Sidewalks are being impacted, and lane widths are being reduced to the minimums, only at signalized intersections, to make space for wider streetcar platforms and left-turn bays. At those locations, centre poles are not being used anyway in order to save space. Instead, there are poles on one side in most cases, supporting both wires. These poles are located at the outer edge of the streetcar platforms, in line with streetcar shelters and railings, and therefore have minimal impact on useable space.

    This is what I understood from the detailed drawings (where both old and new curb lines are shown). I also took a look while construction was happening east of Spadina Rd, and noticed where extra asphalt was poured to push the roadway & sidewalks outwards: this was only at the stops & intersections with signals as described above. Where we have the centre poles, this was not the case. Lane widths were simply reduced a bit in those areas, but are still far above the minimums. After travelling frequently along this stretch in the past months, using every common mode of transportation, I feel that those mid-block lane widths are still more than adequate. There does not seem to be a major downside in this respect.

    One might perhaps argue that the sidewalks could instead be widened to more than their original width at mid-block, rather than using centre poles. But I don’t think anyone ever suggested that, at least during the earlier phases of consultation, and it might have been a tough sell (given the pre-existing, above-average sidewalk widths along most portions of St. Clair with street retail).

    There may be some limited exceptions to the above, and I would be interested to hear about them. In the western portion, from Laughton Ave. to Old Weston Rd., the situation will definitely be different, as the pre-existing roadway is narrower. Bathurst to Vaughan is another exception with lots of complications; here the poles are situated on the sidewalks.

    I personally like the centre poles east of the St. Clair West station much better, although I welcome a careful study of possible disadvantages. BTW, centre poles, poles on one side, and poles at both edges of a ROW, are all designs that are common around the world, even on streets that are narrower than St. Clair — as are poles on the sidewalks of course. Why should centre poles not be possible here? I’m not saying that centre poles are definitely the best choice; but I also don’t think it was unreasonable to consider them. Plus, there _was_ a genuine community interest to reduce the amount of wire clutter this way.

    BTW, I’ve been told that the ROW only needs to be 60 cm wider specifically for centre poles, not 1 metre. Using drawings to compare the width with other locations w/o centre poles (near intersections) may be problematic, as the ROW does not need to be as wide there anyway. For example, streetcar platforms can (and have to) be located much closer to the streetcar tracks, and therefore protrude into the clearance space that would be reserved around streetcar tracks at mid-block.

    Regarding signals: I have personally seen transit signal priority in action at many of the new signals between Vaughan Rd. and Yonge St. This includes Vaughan, Bathurst and Yonge themselves. That’s a big victory in itself, as it was previously stated that TSP wasn’t possible at those locations. (Yonge St. because of heavy pedestrian traffic in all directions, and heavy north-south traffic on Yonge with other signals close by. Bathurst & Vaughan because they’re close together, with fears of traffic blocking back if the signals are out-of-synch due to TSP; also because of heavy pedestrian and north-south vehicle traffic.) At Spadina Rd., we only had limited TSP in one direction beforehand, and it’s now been fully implemented in both directions.

    So I’m very happy that these locations were possible after all. I don’t know if TSP is on 24/7 everywhere, and I don’t know if the final timings have been programmed. For example, I think a new, more aggressive and flexible TSP algorithm has been proposed for some of the major intersections, both on St. Clair and elsewhere. (Using the traditional signal extensions normally allowed at major cross-roads may not always work well WB at Vaughan and EB at Bathurst, as the streetcar may have been delayed too long at the upstream stop with lots of passengers.) I’m sure they will need to tweak this more. However, I have already seen streetcars take advantage of TSP very frequently, as the EW green is extended, and the streetcar can slip through, with the signal immediately changing after it passes the cancel loop. EB TSP at Vaughan is probably not yet activated, as the request loop would be located in the track area that will be rebuilt in the coming years. What I really don’t understand: why are the track switches at Vaughan Rd still not operating electronically?

    Regarding unnecessary left-turn signals, with no vehicles on the detector: I have seen them recently at Avenue Rd. Are the detectors perhaps not yet activated? Or have the detectors been made too sensitive, so that traffic in the neighbouring lane is triggering them? (For example, I know that the traffic signal folks are often being pushed to make the detectors more sensitive, so that bikes will be consistently detected — maybe that’s a problem here.) Somebody should check it out in the middle of the night and let us all know — or ask the appropriate folks at the City.

    Westbound at Bathurst used to also give left-turn signals when no cars were in the lane. Perhaps the detectors were not yet connected, or was this to facilitate left-turns of buses, out of St. Clair West station onto Bathurst southbound, which was needed for some time? (The replacement bus service to Yonge St had to use the west portal at St. Clair West until construction was completed to the east.) That’s now fixed, and WB lefts at Bathurst are only called when needed.

    There’s also more to consider wrt. Emergency Services, especially the fire department: they have at times been quite vocal with concerns about dedicated rights-of-way, and other elements of the new Official Plan. In any case, the St. Clair ROW design was tested with Toronto Fire Services, using real vehicles on Queens Quay for example. We should also consider: has the fire department perhaps been too “efficient” in some cases, especially since amalgamation? Most Toronto fire stations (especially near downtown) now have less engines stationed than they could accommodate. If you get one or two multiple-alarm fires or other emergencies, this leads to a ripple effect, where vehicles have to be pulled from a wider area to provide backup. That leads to emergency vehicles having to race around longer distances than might otherwise be necessary. Toronto’s Offical Plan realizes that congestion cannot be avoided, and that alternatives to cars nead to be provided. If congestion is here to stay (and will likely increase), and new ROWs perhaps create some disadvantages, at least for certain emergency vehicle movements, shouldn’t we be putting more fire engines in those stations? Shouldn’t we be collecting more than enough development fees from condos and other new construction to pay for them?

    Wasn’t there also a recent discussion about getting slightly narrower fire trucks, especially for downtown: more European dimensions, rather than the standard North- American width? AFAIK, Toronto Fire Services nixed that idea. Will we be forced to make decisions in the areas of urban design and transportation planning due to some overly-conservative (or even obstinate) thinking in this area? Just asking; maybe Toronto Hydro and/or TTC aren’t the only ones being difficult at times…


  17. Steve, you keep mentioning how you want signal priority on Spadina. In my opinion, I don’t see how that would be possible. If you have streetcars running every minute in each direction, signal priority – in its extreme – would mean that automobile traffic would never get a green light from 6 AM to 7 PM. In fact, in L.A. they argue that if the Orange Line bus rapid transit runs more than every five minutes signal priority will no longer be possible.

    Service on Spadina could be sped up two ways:

    1) Removal of excessive stops. Example: there’s a stop at Harbord and Spadina and then one at the next street north. There’s no need for that extra stop.

    2) POP. Perhaps when it gets to Spadina Station you could make passengers physically show this to a collector.

    This is a little off topic…perhaps Spadina needs its own thread?

    Steve: I agree about the stop at Sussex, but it’s the exception. There is a strong demand for all of the stops that were added to the original design — Willcocks, Baldwin/Nassau and Sullivan. Interestingly, these are at locations where there is not a strong demand for cross-street green time, and these traffic lights tend not to hold up the streetcars much. However, places like College, Dundas, Queen, King and especially Lake Shore can be quite annoying.

    As to the problems of close headways and signal priority: We run a two-minute headway on 504 King in the morning peak (when it works properly) today, and have signal priority there. The difference is that we are not trying to handle hordes of left turns at every intersection, nor do we need to ensure enough green time for pedestrians to make a full crossing.

    My concerns are, basically, that we need a way for the streetcar to get the first of the green time without waiting for the left turns, and possibly the left turn should not occur on every cycle. Yes, people would have to pay attention to the sequence of the signals, but isn’t that what they are supposed to do already?

    Also, there is no green time extension for the streetcars and a car just coming up to an intersection can be caught. This commonly happens because it is out of synch with the green wave (designed for the auto traffic). If the streetcar could extend the green time a bit, it would not have the long delay of waiting for the cross-traffic plus a left turn phase (close to 60 seconds). The cumulative effect is substantial.

    Finally, at Lake Shore, the cycle time is immense because the lights are timed to serve traffic coming off of the Gardiner and along Lake Shore. Streetcars can wait an eternity for a green cycle and this is not transit priority by any stretch of the imagination.


  18. Good news! For urban design, anyway. The remaining hydro overhead is down between Yonge and Avenue Road, so I can only assume that the remaining poles will be gone soon too (hopefully including the ridiculous temp wooden poles at some of the intersections).

    However, still no shelters, or streetcars for that matter. Steve, any word on when shelters are finally going to show up?

    Steve: I will try to find out because this is getting really embarrassing — a prototype was supposed to appear in August, with full installation in the fall. Well, to be fair, fall is still a few days away, but considering that the entire project was originally to be finished by now, the amount of things still to be done is disgusting. This kind of “project management” gives the TTC a very bad name, and bodes ill for Transit City.


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