Joe Mihevc Visits St. Clair West Station

There is a post on youtube by Joe Mihevc, Vice-Chair of the TTC, showing the situation at St. Clair West Station that has kept streetcars out of the loop for months.

When the contractor started to excavate to install a new expansion joint, they found electrical cables buried in the concrete that were not on the station plans. These are being rerouted.

I talked to the Vice-Chair last week, and the TTC hopes to have the streetcars fully back into the station in about a month.

Some Things You Just Have To Say

I received a comment from Roger Bal in the thread about Trams to the Airport, and this really deserves a post all of its own.

Roger comments:

Steve, I believe you are too one sided and political and you failed to see the proposal of LRT I mentioned via the rail corridor. It seems to me it’s either your way or the highway with every proposal and idea that is put forward by anyone.

gettorontomoving is just an idea like other ideas brought forward time and time again through out the years. Why does someone’s political affiliation have to do with an idea. Anytime a new road is mentioned or brought forward your underwear becomes fouled. Remember that we all share the roads and that’s the way it should be. Cars and our population is going up and nothing you say will change that. The ideas of roads being added to vacant land beside railway tracks shouldn’t be political. Those ideas are valid and they benefit everyone and it eliminates a lot of unused lands in our city. I don’t view the world as everything being political.

I dissed the gettorontomoving scheme not for its LRT to the airport, but for its expressway extensions as shown on their map, specifically:

  • The Weston Corridor expressway as a southerly extension of Highway 400 to the Gardiner
  • The Spadina expressway extension to St. Clair
  • The DVP branch through East York and Scarborough via the hydro corridor

These roads are overwhelmingly designed to funnel traffic into the core, but it’s unclear where it will go when it gets there. They will do little or nothing to relieve congestion on the outer 416 and 905 road networks. I might have greater faith that someone was genuinely interested in road problems if they concentrated their efforts in those regions. Continue reading

Two Years

January 31, 2006 saw the first post on this blog, a retrospective of my Film Festival reviews from years past. That was something just to get the wheels turning, and the reviews took a back seat to transit right from the start.

Over two years, this site became an important venue for discussions about many aspects of transit planning, operations and funding, not to mention the odd flight of fancy. All of this could not happen without the readers and contributors to the site.

We don’t always agree, some have even marched away in a huff, but overall the level of conversation here is worth the effort of writing the original material and editing the comments as they come in. Thanks to all the regular contributors for keeping me on my toes and taking discussions down unexpected pathways.

Special thanks go to my friend Trevor who hosts this site on his system. Technology has its challenges, and regulars here have probably noticed that after a period of instability, things are more or less back to normal. It’s a long story. Let’s just say that the past few months have been challenging.

Yes, there will be more posts with oddles of charts about service even though I am now working with year-old data. The situation on the ground hasn’t changed all that much and it’s worth looking at other routes.

Yes, I will continue to argue from a position that we should consider LRT first and move to other technologies only when they are appropriate. I am sure that the definition of “appropriate” will fill many comments.

Yes, I will maintain my belief that transit really can make a difference even if it will take decades to see the effect on parts of the GTA. Doing nothing is easy, but unproductive. We have wasted far too long on bad projects that have more to do with political favouritism and support for the engineering and construction industries than with useful development of the Toronto region.

To the staff of transit and planning agencies around town who yearn for better days, don’t give up yet. I may be a feisty opponent when we disagree, but good plans that can make Toronto’s transit great will (almost) always have my support.

To the politicians, learn how to get things done. Announcements won’t make service on the Queen car any better, and won’t build a millimeter of rapid transit, whatever technology you may prefer.

Thanks to everyone who has sent supporting messages, with a special salute to the professional media for their compliments. I’m not a working writer, but enjoy both the act of putting my ideas “on paper” and the cut and thrust of moderating all those comments.

Waterfront West January 2008 Update — Part I

The presentation materials from last week’s public meetings on the Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessments are now online.

Several new and interesting aspects of the proposals appear in this round including:

  • Additional alternative routes between the Queensway and Dufferin Street
  • Preliminary information about the Exhibition to Union Station components of the line

I will summarize each of options, but for all of the gory details, please visit the project site.

In response to issues raised at previous public meetings, several additional aligments or variations have been examined for the section of the line west from Dufferin Street to The Queensway. These are shown in maps and in textual descriptions.
Continue reading

The Construction Industry Discovers Transit

Today, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) released a study called “Transportation Opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area — Building on Transit City and Move Ontario 2020”.

Dr. Richard Soberman, author of the study, is the grand old man of transportation planning in these parts. I first met him at the offices of the Metro Toronto Transportation Plan Review up under the rafters of Old City Hall in the early 1970s. We go back a long way. Richard gives humourous public presentations, but more than jokes are needed in planning something as complex as the GTA’s future transit network.

As I read through the RCCAO Report making copious notes, I couldn’t help seeing many places where Soberman advocates what is already happening, or can easily be melded into current plans. However, he writes with a tone suggesting that his 99 pages are miraculous pearls, revelations dropped from the heavens for the adoration of we poor mortals. Soberman sets up a field full of straw men: short-sighted fools, politicians dominated by boundaries rather than embracing regions, advocates, planners and even fellow engineers with vested interests in the status quo.

As I started to write this post, my thought was “where can I begin”? Let’s start with the basic premises. My apologies if I misrepresent something, and for definitive info I refer you to the website.
Continue reading

What Does Building a Subway Cost?

In the previous item here, I wrote about the Metrolinx study tour including a visit to Madrid. A report reviewing that tour was on yesterday’s Metrolinx Board agenda.

The “Madrid Miracle” is always an issue for discussion. How could a city build so much rapid transit so quickly? Part of the answer lies in the political climate where just getting the work done takes priority over endless political posturing, announcements, jurisdictional wrangling and little action. Part of the answer lies in the money lavished on Madrid by other governments. But part is the much lower cost of building subway tunnels in Madrid compared to other cities thereby making subway expansion much more affordable regardless of who pays for it.

The TTC produced a complementary report examining the differences between Madrid and Toronto to determine just where the cost differences lie. The material that follows is a paraphrase from the TTC’s material with a few of my own observations. Continue reading

Metrolinx Looks to Europe

The January 25th agenda for Metrolinx contains a number of reports well worth reading. Metrolinx has the advantage, for now, that it is a planning agency and doesn’t have to worry about keeping the wheels turning on a large fleet. The focus is on reviewing conditions in the GTA and, to its credit, Metrolinx is not simply rehashing business-as-usual models.

I have not had a chance to read and digest all of these documents in detail, but will post more commentaries as I get the chance.

A long report reviews findings from a study tour in November 2007 to England, Scotland and Madrid. This covers many issues including the evolution of service delivery models in the UK, financing schemes and facility design. Madrid’s experiences get a lot of coverage because that city region has built so much rapid transit so quickly at such a low cost.

I expect that many future studies and directions in Metrolinx will flow from this review of European practices and, no doubt, from the long-overdue recognition that other cities and regions have much to teach the GTA. Continue reading

Mind the Doors! (Updated)

In today’s Metro, Ed Drass writes about the problem of subway car doors closing before people have a chance to get on and off. (The article is not yet online except in the full PDF version of the paper.)

Updated: This item has been clarified to show that Ed is paraphrasing the TTC’s remarks rather than directly quoting them. My apologies if the earlier version of this piece misrepresented the situation.
Drass paraphrases the TTC as saying:

… the TTC has not changed its policy, but ridership has definitely grown across the system. Train guards are given about 15 seconds at each station, typically opening the doors for shorter periods at quiet stops and longer at busy ones.

When asked why trains wouldn’t take longer at busy stations, the TTC replies:

If you extend it too long you’re going to develop gaps in your service.

Drass notes that the TTC has asked for help with expanding capacity on the subway, but it is unclear from his article whether this is his own comment or a paraphrase from the TTC itself. Such relief, in the form of new trains and signal systems, won’t be here for years and only affects the Yonge line.

Moreover, they won’t address problems with jackrabbit behaviour at stations. Although the TTC worries about keeping the service properly spaced, the signal system (anqituated though it may be) does that today unless, of course, the service is late. Like other TTC systems, it focuses on schedule maintenance, not headways. When trains are late, operators are free to make as brief stops as possible in an attempt to get back on time again.

There is no excuse for ultra-brief station stops, trapping people in trains before they can get off, or catching people in the doors. All have happened to me, and not during the peak of the rush hour when we can blame the problem on rising demand.

Once again, the TTC needs to get its own house in order before blaming those pesky passengers who insist on getting on and off the trains for their problems.

Has The Queen Car Report Been Short-Turned? (Update 3)

Update 3: Here are preliminary comments on the report which is now available (see link below). I have left this as a single item so that the comment thread is kept together.

What is most striking about this report is the sound of multiple authors. One intently defends the status quo, while the other airs various problems at the TTC that have contributed to poor service.

We begin with the usual excuses about running streetcars in mixed traffic “where the TTC has no control over the multitude of factors which delay or obstruct service”. Later on, we hear about the difficulties of running a two-minute streetcar service even though (a) this has not been the case on Queen Street for decades and (b) the only place it does happen in mixed traffic is for the 45-minute eastbound wave on King in the am peak. These excuses are getting quite tiresome as anyone who has read my analyses of vehicle monitoring data for these routes will know.

There are all sorts of blockages, but true stoppage of service is rare. Yes, left turns can be a pain in the butt, but they are there every day, and the schedule can make provision for them. They are a chronic delay, not an unpredictable source of gaps in service.

The TTC’s actions over past years concentrated on on-time performance to the detriment of reliable service frequency, and the TTC acknowledges this. However, management tools (the CIS vehicle monitor) support schedule-based, not headway-based goals. Moreover, on-street route supervisors have no way of seeing the CIS data and must resort to the time-honoured tradition of peering into the fog to see where the next car might be.

CIS, as I have discussed elsewhere, does not yet use GPS technology and often errs in locating vehicles, especially when they are in an unexpected location such as a short turn or diversion. This makes line management more difficult at the precise time when it is so important.

Irregular departure times and the lack of headway management are big problems with off peak service even when there is no congestion or other interfering effects. The report is nearly silent on this issue, and speaks only of changes in route management and in the measures used to assess the quality of service.

We learn that vehicle reliability is not what it might be, and this affects both the number of cars available and the mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on the route. This is the first time the TTC has acknowledged that there are problems maintaining service due to vehicles. If the ALRV fleet is not reliable, why has the schedule not been adjusted to match the characteristics of the available fleet?

The TTC plans to split the route apart in the fall of 2008, and they now allow that service is worse on Lake Shore than it was before the 501/507 amalgamation in 1995. Why has it taken 13 years for the TTC to admit this?

As for workforce problems, we know that there are two issues. First, the number of operators available in December 2006 was not always enough to ensure that all scheduled runs left the carhouse, or at least did so on time. This may have improved in the intervening year and I hope this will be revealed when I get the CIS data for December and January. Oddly, the TTC blames workforce problems on growing demand on the system. That’s a strange tactic considering that service improvements planned for 2007 didn’t actually materialize, and moreover, what did come was mainly on the bus network.

I think that we are finally seeing some of the TTC’s dirty laundry coming out. Yes, running a streetcar system is no picnic, but there are several changes the TTC could implement to improve things. There is a strong culture in the TTC of blaming problems on external factors, but now they acknowledge that some are internal too.

How long has the TTC claimed that service problems are all beyond its control? How long have they advocated nothing less than a fully segregated lane for transit, something that is physically impossible on most streetcar routes?

It’s good to see this shift, but we need co-ordinated changes in operating practices, route management tools and organizational attitude.

I will add to this post later this evening. Continue reading

B.C. Announces Major Support for Transit

The government of British Columbia has announced funding for major expansion of transit especially in the Greater Vancouver area. This was covered in yesterday’s Globe & Mail and the full details are available on the government’s site.

There is a glossy brochure (4MB) with maps and other info.

Looking at all this, I am reminded of Move Ontario and similar announcements. They look great on paper, but there are problems in the details. As with so many plans, this one depends on money from various levels of government. The total is $14-billion, but it comes from:

  • $2.9-billion in existing commitments
  • $4.75-billion in new money from the province
  • $3.1-billion from Ottawa
  • $2.75-billion from Translink (the Vancouver equivalent of Metrolinx)
  • $500-million from local governments

The major components of the announcement are:

  • The Canada Line (now under construction) linking the airport and Richmond to downtown.
  • The UBC (University of British Columbia) Line which will serve the heavy crosstown Broadway corridor and run into the UBC campus where there is already a large bus and trolleybus terminal.
  • The Expo Line (the original SkyTrain) will be extended and will receive additional cars to boost capacity.
  • The Evergreen LRT Line will connect Coquitlam Centre to Lougheed Town Centre SkyTrain station
  • A network of rapid bus routes will provide BRT service primarily in outlying areas.
  • 1,500 new “clean buses” of various technologies will green the fleet.

Like the Canada Line, a good chunk of the UBC Line will likely be underground as an elevated down the middle of Broadway would not do wonders for the character of the street with stations posing a particular problem. Unlike existing SkyTrain routes, the UBC Line runs along a main street rather than through back lanes, industrial districts and railway corridors.

The Evergreen line is the odd-man-out in this plan as the only true LRT line. Support and funding for the line has been slow to come, and I would not be surprised to see it fall victim either to funding constraints or to a change of heart in the interest of standardizing rapid transit technology.

The clean bus plan involves hydrogen, hybrid, electric, natural gas and low emmision diesel options. The announcement is rather vague on the actual mix, and one only learns that these technologies are under consideration in the glossy. The hydrogen bus project is a rather sad reminder of the dreams for Ballard fuel cell technology. The company itself has decided to get out of the vehicle market and concentrate on smaller stationary plants such as emergency power supplies, but dreams of large-scale fuel cell applications die hard.

When the 20 hydrogen buses arrive in 2008, BC claims it will have the largest fleet of such vehicles in the world. At a cost of $89-million, that’s an expensive demonstration.

Notable as part of a rapid transit announcement are plans to improve bus services. This is a welcome change from the capital rich, capacity poor, transit announcements so popular in Toronto for decades.

As for fare collection, BC will move completely to Smart Cards which will include on-the-spot fines for scofflaws.

Probably the saddest part of this announcement is a chart showing the hoped-for market share by transit (page 5 in the brochure). By 2020, Vancouver will move up from 12% to 17%, and then to 22% by 2030. Percentages are lower in other parts of the province. I can’t help wondering what that other 78% of the trips will be, and why they won’t be on transit.

All-in-all, there may be good times for transit planners, builders and riders on the west coast. Tactically, an important role for such announcements (like Transit City) is to have something on the table. Someday, someone may want to get elected, and they may want to spread some money around. We hear that times are tight in Ottawa, but strange things happen in elections.

If there are enough plans from enough cities looking for funding, this may scare off the Feds, but alternately it makes the basis for a truly national transit investment program. We can dream.