Too Much Transit Priority?

The Public Works & Infrastructure Committee will consider a report on October 3 entitled Sustainable Transportation Initiatives:  Short-term Proposals.  This report includes a discussion of bike lanes and pedestrian improvements, but the parts that caught my eye deal with transit.

There is no question that we need to improve transit’s priority on our road system, but some of the recommendations show a mixed feeling toward this task.

  1. Extend peak period parking restrictions. 
  2. Introduce or extend left turn prohibitions, or create exclusive left turn phases, in the interest of clearing traffic in front of streetcars.
  3. Revise the transit priority signals so that they would only apply to transit vehicles that are behind schedule or to maintain headways.
  4. Implement queue jump lanes and far side bus bays where feasible.
  5. Implement shoulder bus lanes on the DVP from York Mills to Lawrence.
  6. Investigate automated camera technology to enforce stopping, turning and parking prohibitions.
  7. Ensure that all new light rail vehicles (streetcars) be equipped to handle some form of Proof of Payment (POP).

The report states that downtown peak parking and stopping restrictions are generally from 7:30 to 9:30 am, and 3:30 to 6:30 pm, and suggests that these hours be extended throughout the city where practical.  A good argument can be made that, for the downtown area, these hours need further extension, but the report is silent on this topic.

The proposal for transit priority signals depends on full integration with a GPS-based scheduling system that could decide whether a transit vehicle is early or not, or whether some sort of headway regulation is needed.  While this is technically possible, I can’t help thinking this is yet another example of technology overkill — a nice project for a consulting company, but not something that will have significant benefits for transit.

The underlying assumption is that there are actually times when transit priority is not needed, and that by providing it we are robbing hapless motorists of green time they would otherwise get on cross streets.  Somehow, the basic fact — that transit vehicles will tend to be early when there is no congestion — seems to have escaped the authors of this proposal.  Moreover, the many instances now in place where so-called priority signals either do not work, or actually impede transit movements, are not addressed at all.

As for automated camera technology, I am all for better enforcement but have to ask how we will possibly read licence plates in a row of parked cars.  What is missing is any discussion of enhanced powers for ticketing and towing by TTC itself.  Cameras can easily monitor illegal turns, but these are a minor problem compared with the loss of road space through illegal parking.  Towing is far more effective in discouraging commercial vehicles than fines which are treated as a business expense.

A vital observation is buried in the report, but omitted from the recommendations.  A section on the Ridership Growth Strategy states that failure to implement RGS “will result in lost opportunities to increase transit ridership in Toronto, and to promote sustainable transportation”.   We can nibble around the edges of traffic management all we want, but unless we substantially improve service (either with more vehicles or much better utilization of those we have), everything else is small change.

Cherry Street: Small Beginning to a Great Project

The Community Liaison Committee (CLC) for the West Don Lands transit Environmental Assessment wound up with its last formal meeting yesterday evening (Sept 27).  To our delight [I am a member of the CLC], we learned that the recommended scheme incorporates changes in street design that many of us had wanted to see in this small, but important link in the transit system.

A Public Information Centre will be held on Thursday, October 11 at the Enoch Turner School House (behind Little Trinity Church on King St. east of Parliament) from 4 to 8 pm.  This will be a drop in centre for people to review the design before it goes to the TTC and Council for final approval.

In the early days of this study, many of us despaired that we would see an “urban” street on Cherry which was to be 35 metres wide (almost twice the width of King Street, 20 metres) and with all of the charm of a suburban arterial.  Things have changed a lot through hard work both by the community and by the technical project staff. 

Three options made the short list for final evaluation:

  • the conventional centre transit right of way as we know it from St. Clair, Spadina and Queen’s Quay West
  • transit in the curb lanes with other traffic in the middle of the street
  • a transit/pedestrian precinct on the east side of the street with cars and cyclists on the west side, separated by a generous median.

The last of these won out.  Detailed drawings are not yet available online, but they will eventually appear on the project’s public meeting page. Continue reading

In Case You Have A Spare Billion or Two

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that a maglev train would be installed linking Munich, Germany, with its airport, a distance of 37 km.  This will use a modern incarnation of the magnetic levitation technology originally proposed for a stillborn Toronto network.  Our only legacy from that fiasco is the Scarborough RT.

The line will cost a cool $2.63-billion (although this is expected to rise because the estimate is out of date), or a mere $71-million/km.  Of course, it won’t have to worry about pesky, expensive things like stations, except at the termini, and we all know that the demand to and from airports is not what anyone would call rush hour rapid transit levels.

The article also reports considerable opposition to this scheme, and this is clearly a vanity project for Germany where hopes for the Transrapid system were stuck on the drawing boards for four decades.

The whole idea is to cut the travel time in a quarter, from 40 to 10 minutes.   Hmmm … that means an average speed of 222 km/hr, very impressive and probably quicker than the average of the airborne trips it will connect with once terminal delays are factored in.

As high-speed rail networks grow, the market for fast airport links evaporates, unless, of course, the whole purpose is to sell a technology project regardless of the need.

A National Transit Strategy?

The Toronto Star reports that, despite bold promises from Prime Minister Harper, no money has flowed from Ottawa’s pledge to aid transit in the GTA.  Everything appears to be mired in writing the details of contracts between the federal government and the recipients of their largesse.

Alas, this continues a pattern seen in previous federal hand-outs where Ottawa wants a complex arrangement to ensure that money is spent only in a way it approves.

Ottawa just doesn’t get it:  a real national strategy needs to operate as a standing arrangement between governments with annual support flowing to provinces and cities.  Project-by-project funding adds a huge level of negotiations and legal wrangling to a vital public service. 

Imagine if every time Toronto wanted to fund a project it had to write a separate agreement with Queen’s Park.  Project costs would go through the roof on contract negotiation and management, and the public sector would rightly be accused of wasting money on bureaucracy.  Strange to see a “conservative” government entangled in this way.

If Ottawa really wants to be part of a transit strategy, it needs to decide on a general level of spending, set broad guidelines for the type of project that constitutes “transit” and then get out of the way.  Transit programs are delivered at the local level, and decisions about details and priorities belong there.  We have enough meddling from Queen’s Park without Ottawa adding another layer.

TIFF 2007 Day 2

Yes, folks, I am starting to push out the reviews now that there’s a lull in events at the TTC.  If you comment here, please make it relevant to the film, not to the problems you had on the TTC getting to the theatre.

Reviewed here:

  • The Mourning Forest by Naomi Kawase 
  • Le voyage du ballon rouge by Hou Hsiao-hsien
  • Captain Mike Across America by Michael Moore
  • The Visitor by Thomas McCarthy

Continue reading

Bicycles on the TTC

In honour of Car Free Day, a post about bicycles.

Let me state my outlook right up front:  I am a pedestrian, and I do not own, let alone ride, a bicycle.  My relationship with these two-wheeled vehicles often consists of nearly being run down by them.

Having said this, I accept the premise that bicycles should be viewed as an important part of our transportation repertoire.  The question is this:  how can we meaningfully integrate them with the transit system?

Efforts to date have attracted a lot of discussion — bike racks on buses, off-peak carriage on surface and subway vehicles — but frankly I don’t think these contribute much to creating a workable culture for bikes on the TTC.

Bike racks have a limited capacity, and the number of travellers, especially in peak periods, whose trips could be carried partly via bike rack is a very small proportion of system ridership.  Moreover, since most trips involve at least some subway travel, and bikes cannot enter the subway during peak periods, many trips simply cannot be made with a bike/TTC combination.

Recently, the City has begun to install bicycle lockers around town.  Indeed, there are three down on the mall in front of Scarborough Civic Centre where I work (not for the City).  Three lockers compared with the acres of parking around here are nothing in anyone’s grand scheme.  They may give a few politicians a photo op, but they make no real contribution to regional transportation capacity.

Regular readers here will know there has been some debate about TTC parking lots.  Why, one might ask, doesn’t the TTC and its pro-bike Chair concentrate on providing capacity for bicycle storage at parking lots beside subway stations?  This would allow cyclists to ride to the subway, stash their bike and continue on via transit.  (Yes, if they wanted to bike at the other end of the trip, this is not much help, but their bike isn’t going on the subway anyhow.)

Maybe we could even let Metropass holders use the bicycle storage facilities free of charge just like motorists.  (You have to imagine a Machiavellian grin here which no collection of punctuation can duplicate.)

If the TTC and its pro-bicycle Commissioners want to do something useful for cyclists, why don’t they look at the big picture?  Make it easy for people to have a cycle/TTC trip and put them on the same footing (yes, I couldn’t resist that one) as motorists.  If cycling is going to be an alternative for cars, it needs to have comparable facilities to be integrated with transit travel.

Meanwhile on St. Clair: A Fall Update

While I was at the TTC today, I took the oppurtunity to find out what is going on with this endless project.  Here’s an update.

The Ramps at St. Clair West

Due to problems with the contractor (no specifics), the work has been on hold.  However, the impasse is now resolved, work has (or will shortly) resume and completion is planned for the end of October.

The New Shelters

The now-and-forever project to install new shelters on the completed portion of the line is getting rather comic.  They were supposed to come in August, then in September and now they might get here this month, but don’t hold your breath.  October, maybe.  Considering how long ago this line was designed, the idea that we are only now getting delivery of the shelters is a huge joke.

Why Are The Buses Not On The Right Of Way?

It seems that the buses are afraid of falling off because of clearance problems.  Of course, if they hadn’t put those dumb centre poles on the right-of-way, this would not be an issue.

I cannot help thinking that all of these and similar problems are rooted in what passes for design and project management.  The TTC can run an efficient project (just look at the recent reconstruction at Kennedy Station), but some on some projects everything that can go wrong does.  They can’t blame it all on SOS or Hydro.