Where Did “Transit City” Come From?

From time to time, the question arises of where the TTC got the name Transit City and I have quietly claimed authorship for this in various conversations.  Now the truth will be revealed!

Back in December 2004, the TTC was working on a response to the new Official Plan showing the potential role of surface rapid transit.  The report didn’t have a name yet, and although many ideas had been floated within the TTC, none had hit the mark. Continue reading

Analysis of Transit Operations: Massaging the CIS Data

In a previous post, I introduced the subject of analysing route operations using data from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system called CIS.

Before I get into comments about any routes, this post is intended as an overview of how the data from CIS works (or doesn’t) and the limitations of any analysis based on it.  In a way, this is a gigantic footnote, but the information here is common to everything that will follow in this series, and I don’t want to spend my time answering questions about how the analysis was actually conducted.

For those of you who just want the gory details on the King car, wait for the next post. Continue reading

Ride The Dundas Bus While You Can

Track construction on Dundas Street, a long overdue project to replace decrepit rails and roadbed, has diverted the Dundas car for much of its length up to the Carlton route.

One particularly hard-hit area is Regent Park where streetcar service was removed long before road work actually started, and where streetcars will not return until late fall after completion of work on the bridge at the Don River.

In early May, at ward Councillor McConnell’s request, the TTC approved a shuttle bus to provide a clockwise loop via Broadview, Queen, River, Dundas, Parliament and Gerrard.  The problem with this scheme is that the bus runs every 15 minutes, and there is not much point in waiting for it unless you happen to be at the stop when the bus comes by.  Walking from a nearby route on Queen, Broadview, Gerrard or Parliament is generally faster and these routes, unlike the shuttle, actually go to real destinations like the subway or downtown.

The bus was implemented at a projected, unbudgeted cost of $350,000 to run through to November when the bridge will re-open and streetcars will return to Dundas between Parliament and Broadview. 

According to the staff report, this bus has carried an average of two passengers per trip and often runs empty.  The most I have ever seen is one.

Today, despite an attempt by Chair Giambrone to advocate on behalf of Councillor McConnell, the Commission had the good sense to kill off this waste of service.  The last day of operation will be Sunday, July 15. 

St. Clair & Dufferin: Public Meeting

On Thursday evening, July 12, at 7:00 pm, there will be a special meeting of Etobicoke-York Community Council at York Council Chambers to discuss the design of the St. Clair and Dufferin intersection. 

Please note that erroneous information has appeared elsewhere stating that this meeting will be at the Etobicoke Civic Centre.  This is incorrect, and if you schlepp out to Burnhamthorpe and The West Mall, you won’t find any meeting.

The background for this meeting is that the proposed configuration for this year’s construction on St. Clair is opposed by “Save Our St. Clair” for the elimination of the east to north left turn lane at Dufferin.  The TTC/City proposal uses this space for an eastbound nearside safety island and, by doing so, avoids a major curb cut on the southeast corner. Continue reading

Signage at Eglinton Station [Updated Again]

[Updated Monday, July 9 at 10:45 pm]

I have been advised this evening by Adam Giambrone’s office that the Paul Arthur signage will not be removed at St. George Station.  This will not be considered again until this station comes up for modernization, something that is not in the cards for the near future.

The removal had been planned as part of a general cleanup of the station, something that was long overdue. 

[Updated Monday, July 9 at 1:10 pm] 

The proposed work at Eglinton Station does not involve moving the outer walls of the station back two feet.  What is proposed is that safety alcoves 5 x 7 feet will be cut into the walls to provide refuges for workers when trains come through the station.  With some careful placement, the existing signage should not be disturbed at all.

As for other stations, there is a press conference later this week that will cover already approved changes at various locations.

[Original post follows] 

Earlier today, a reader asked me to comment on the proposed redesign of Eglinton Station and the need to preserve original signs.  In writing this, I hope not to engender a slugfest among the design mavens of this town, but we shall see.  Worthwhile comments will be posted, repetitive rants will not.  If you must rant, at least be original about it.

First, it’s worthwhile asking just what we are asked to preserve, and to that end I visited Eglinton Station earlier tonight.  The only original signage still in place is the repeated word “Eglinton” on the station walls in large letters, and along the banner at the top of the wall in a smaller version of the same typeface.

For those who remember the original signs, there were not many, and they disappeared one by one from the station.  They included the “Way Out” signs to Duplex and to Yonge Street (pre Canada Square building) as well as the signs at the washroom entrances.

Completely separate from this debate (and the subject of previous threads here — please don’t post again) is the matter of hand-written signs and tattered, out of date announcements.  That is a different issue affecting the entire system including surface routes.  With luck, nobody will find a service change sign so antique that it qualifies for historic preservation.

Continue reading

When Is A New Tax Not A New Tax?

The Ontario Tories have decided that they want to fund transit and roads through gas taxes!

Cue the cheering peasants dancing in the streets … well, er, um, ah … maybe not yet.

John Tory has discovered that about a third of the tax collected on fuel does not actually go to funding roads and transit.  His solution to transit’s funding problems?  Just redirect that missing third to transportation (a little over $1-billion per year).  However …

We will have to wait up to five years for this to actually happen (beyond the 2011 election) as the provincial budget digests that level of hit on programs that use the “missing” billion.  I wonder how John Tory plans to pay for this while delivering on the usual Tory promises to cut taxes and reduce overall government spending?  This is almost as bad as waiting forever for Greg Sorbara to figure out that the province had money to spend on transit beyond his pet subway scheme.

So what do we have?  “New” funding for transit based on gas taxes, but no new gas taxes.  Efficiencies will be found elsewhere in government.  A billion a year is a lot of efficiency, and over five years, the Tories would no doubt find their own boondoggles to spend on.  With that kind of money, you could bury an “adscam”-sized project in the paperclip budget.  Maybe something like changing the provincial colours to Tory Blue to match their Ottawa cousins.

Analysis of Transit Route Operations

Over the next month or so, I will be posting a series of articles here about the operation of surface routes and will concentrate on lines in the King and Queen corridors.  This analysis will look at the way the line actually operates — how the vehicles move around (or not) — as opposed to the question of whether service is adequate to demand.  These topics are related by the long-standing question of why service is so bad:  congestion, number of vehicles, operational screwups, or some other factors.

This work arises from the TTC’s oft-cited claim that they can only improve transit service with exclusive lanes.  That is a self-defeating position because the TTC will never get reserved lanes on most transit routes.  Rather than figuring out how a route might be improved, the TTC claims its hands are tied.  This is not a useful stance, but it’s sadly typical of an organization whose first response to criticism is (a) you’re wrong and (b)  someone else is responsible.

I remember the initial reaction to the Transit’s Lost Decade report that I did with Gord Perks (then at TEA).  The TTC huffed and puffed and said that service had not been cut so badly and how dare we say things like that … then there was a little pause … and finally they realized that this was just the ammunition they needed to beat the drum for better funding.  Suddenly then-CGM Rick Ducharme was quoting our figures as an example of how badly the system had deteriorated.

Service on major routes was cut through the 1990s by from 25 to 40 percent, and only recently have we seen some of this restored despite ongoing ridership growth.  One major constraint is the size of bus and streetcar fleets that declined to match the lower levels of service.  This only affects peak service capabilities.  Another change has been in the operator workforce through a combination of re-sizing to current service levels and of work rules restricting the length of the work day.  (This is due both to Provincial labour standards and revisions to the collective agreement.)

Traffic congestion is a problem in many areas, and the length of the peak period has definitely grown longer over past decades.  However, is congestion the only reason service is bad, or are other factors at work?  Are there problems with regularity of service and line management?  How often is scheduled service cancelled?  How often are there major blockages (especially a problem for streetcars) as opposed to random events, delays at busy stops for overcrowded vehicles and general congestion?

How effective is the TTC’s current vehicle monitoring system, CIS (Communications & Information System), in tracking vehicles and how well is the service managed?  The TTC is seeking information for a possible “next bus” announcement system.  Will this be compromised by an attempt to recycle decades-old CIS technology?  Will it include features needed to properly manage and report on actual service and operations?

In Setember 2006, I asked the TTC for sample data from CIS in an attempt to learn how vehicles actually behaved on various routes with the hope of identifying problem areas both for congestion, where it really exists, and in line management.  CIS is incapable of reporting on vehicle loads, and its data are not fine-grained enough to allow reporting on stop service times in most cases.  Therefore, my analysis has to concentrate on vehicle movements.

Through the fall, I worked through various sample sets of data refining the process of converting it to various usable formats, and by the end of the year had a workable version.  Based on this, I have obtained CIS data for all streetcar routes plus a number of major bus routes for December 2006.  This month contains a variety of days with good and bad weather, pre-Christmas shopping and a holiday week.

The King route received the first detailed analysis, and I will present excerpts from this here over the next few weeks.  I have begun work on the Queen line (and related routes Lake Shore, Downtowner and Kingston Road) and will comment on these as well.

All of the posts will be linked via their own topic “Service Analysis”.

Please stay tuned.

We Get Complaints

From time to time, I get notes asking why someone’s comments have been trimmed or deleted.

This is not a blog intended to be a wide-open forum for anything someone posts.  If you write to the Globe and Mail, you can’t demand that your letter be printed.

From time to time, someone gets repetitive and there is no point in publishing this sort of material.  Other times, people say things that deserve a new thread and I hold onto the comments as a starting point for that discussion.

On many, many occasions, I fix up the layout of comments, the atrocious spelling and grammar by some writers who have good things to say, but whose text would put off some readers by its style. 

That’s what editors do.

A Strange View of Transit Priority

At last night’s Community Liaison Committee meeting on the West Don LRT project (aka Cherry Street streetcar), I heard a rather bizarre definition for “transit priority” that will be used to evaluate various design options:

“Transit Priority” means that transit will get at least as much green time as the through auto traffic at an intersection.

Hmmm.  Let’s compare this with what we have today.

On the Harbourfront line, the streetcar has to wait for its own green cycle which is much shorter than the green time for traffic, and is so short that it sometimes prevents more than one car from getting through on a cycle.  Clearly not a model for transit priority.

On St. Clair, the detectors don’t seem to be working everywhere, and there are left turn phases blocking the streetcars (and through traffic) even when there is nothing waiting to make the turn.  If this blockage occurs in only one direction, then one of the through road movements gets more green time than the streetcar.

On Spadina, the detectors actually work, and if there is traffic waiting in the queue only for one direction, the other one gets a green for the cars before the green for the streetcar.  If there are left turns both ways, the streetcar and other traffic get the same green time.

On a regular street in mixed traffic, everybody gets the same green time although left turns can block the movement of both through traffic and streetcars equally.

Nowhere in this list is there a model where the streetcar pre-empts the left-turning movements and is able to cross the intersection for the majority of the cycle.  Instead, the emerging standard appears to be that left turns pre-empt everything in their path.

Maybe we should call it “left turn priority” since these are the only moves that really benefit from this scheme.

“Transit priority” means “transit first”, not transit in the five seconds we grudgingly spare from everyone else.

I Told You: Swan Boats Are The Answer!

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, reported to be off at his cottage, may be getting too much fresh air for his own good.  The National Post reports that our fearless leader has asked newly-minted Chief General Manager Gary Webster to investigate setting up commuter ferries to downtown from Etobicoke and Scarborough.

In a related story Mayor Miller is less than ecstatic.  Maybe the air is different where he is today.

The idea is to run fast ferries from two locations — Bluffers Park in Scarborough and Humber Bay Park in Etobicoke — to downtown.  I am not going to waste time on a clever jokes about this idea, much as the idea of putting swan figureheads on the new craft and getting one of them named after me has its merits.

Here are the reasons this is a cockeyed scheme:

  • This is a commuter service requiring a parking lot at both terminals.  Aside from my feelings about park-and-ride services which have been discussed elsewhere, this would require lots of all-day parking in locations where we want to encourage pedestrians to congregate on sand and grass, not asphalt.
  • Bluffers Park is at the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs at the end of a long road which may not be negotiable in winter.  This would definitely be a terminal only accessible by auto.  Unlike Humber Bay Park at Lake Shore West, Bluffers Park is nowhere near Kingston Road.
  • I believe that the beaches at both locations are shallow.  Unless we plan to build new quays out into the lake, the ferries won’t just pull up to the shore as they do at the foot of Bay Street.
  • Someone travelling to downtown must (a) get to the ferry terminal, (b) wait for the scheduled departure, (c) travel to the downtown terminal, (d) walk over to Queen’s Quay Station, (e) wait for the 509/510 service to appear, (f) ride one stop to Union and then (g) get to their office.  Commuter ferries make sense where there is a comparatively large body of water to cross, and if the time saved by the ferry trip is substantial compared to other routes.
  • The length of time for these trips will easily exceed the time that even a lumbering CLRV would take to get from Park Lawn and Lake Shore to downtown.  To the east, we won’t provide a direct service from Brimley and Kingston Road to downtown on the TTC, but there is a GO station nearby.  If the TTC really wants to provide an express service, all they need to do is run an express bus.
  • The service would not be able to operate frequently, and GO transit will almost certainly have better headways.
  • This would be a completely new mode for today’s TTC.  Experience from over 50 years ago of running the Island Ferries does not translate to this type of commuter ferry operation.

The TTC has two Environmental Assessments in progress, one for Kingston Road and one for Waterfront West, addressing travel from exactly the same locations as the proposed ferries.  Maybe we should have towed the Trillium up from Queen’s Quay to Dundas Square last week instead of the Bombardier mockup!  A network of canals in place of Transit City would make Toronto a tourist paradise.

Part of me really wants to see a marine division in the TTC if only to see how badly they would screw it up.  Common sense, however, has a shorter answer: 

The Transit Commission, when formally asked to approve a study of this plan next week, should tell Adam Giambrone to figure out how to run his streetcar network before he branches out to ferries.

If you want to get people from the lakeshore to downtown, run better service on the system you’ve got.

For more information about potential marine services:

Swans on the Don

More Swans on the Don

In another thread, Dennis Rankin wrote:

Hi Sarah and Steve:-

If today’s CFMX Radio news report was real and not part of my awaking dreams, then I will suspect a high level of collusion between you two and Adam Giambrone if any of those proposed Scarborough and/or Etobicoke to the Downtown Ferry Terminal high speed ferries have swan figure heads.

Could the first one launched be christianed ‘Hans C. Andersson’? Which of the two of you will be appointed Admiral? Will the Trillium be retrofitted with ultra high pressure boilers and after burners? Possibilities worth pondering? Maybe not!

[Note:  Sarah and I were co-authors of Swans on the Don.]