Getting From Union to the CNE — How Fast Is Our “LRT”?

Last week, as I was polishing up my comments on the Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessment, I started to wonder about the comparative running times between the CNE grounds, the comparable location on King Street, and the core. How much time does one route save over another? What benefits do we see from the “LRT” operation on the 509 compared with mixed traffic on the 504?

We have already seen service analysis data from the King car in the original series of posts last year, and the Harbourfront line was in my sights as a companion analysis to the Spadina car. I will turn to the 509 in a separate post, but for now, let’s look at the two routes between roughly Strachan Avenue (the east end of the CNE) and downtown.

In my previous analysis of the King route, I used Crawford Street as a “time point”. This is one block west of Strachan and stands in for the “CNE” on King Street. The downtown time point is Yonge Street.

On the Harbourfront route, the CIS times at Exhibition Loop are not reliable for departures, but the arrival times are. At Union, the times are reliable. Therefore, I have used the link from Union to CNE westbound, but from the Bathurst/Fleet intersection to Union eastbound.

[“CIS” is the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system. Data from this system for December 2006 has appeared in many other posts here. In this analysis, for reasons I will detail in the Harbourfront post to follow, all points at Exhibition Loop from Strachan through the loop are considered as one location because of data limitations.]

509 Westbound from Union to CNE
509 Eastbound from Bathurst to Union

504 Westbound from Yonge to Crawford
504 Eastbound from Crawford to Yonge

In the Union to CNE charts for the Harbourfront route, there are consistent running times in a band 4-5 minutes wide clustered around the 15-minute line with a slight rise in the late afternoon on weekdays. Saturday data is flat at the 15-minute line, and Sundays have a bit more scatter possibly due to slightly longer layovers that have not been eliminated from the data.

The Bathurst to Union charts show a bit more scatter as well as evidence of a morning peak that slightly extends the running times. Running times cluster fairly reliably around the 13-minute line.

On the King route, the westbound times from Yonge to Crawford show a greater scatter as well as the clear effects of peak period congestion and stop dwell times. On Friday, December 22, the early rush hour before peak period traffic restrictions are in effect causes running times to more than double the usual values.

The band of data ranges from five to over ten minutes in width and lies generally around the 15-minute line with a rise and fall through the pm peak.

The eastbound times from Crawford to Yonge show strong effects in the peaks, especially the afternoon when congestion through the financial district causes much delay to service. The width and location of the band of data is roughly the same as for westbound trips, but with a much worse pm peak spike in times.

Comparing the two routes, the broad averages in times are in the 15-minute range for both lines. King is much more affected by peak conditions, but outside the peak its behaviour is similar to Harbourfront. Any benefit in speed the 509 might get from its right-of-way is negated by the close stop spacing, winding route and traffic signal delays. The big difference between the routes is that the 509 does not have to deal with traffic congestion, only with unfriendly traffic signals.

Indeed, this is one reason the WWLRT proposes to take an alternate route to Union via Fort York and Bremner Boulevards. This will save some time, but even a 1/3 reduction would only get the average time from the CNE to Union down to about 10 minutes. Considering that the Bremner service will handle demand from the many condos lining the route, such a reduction may depend as much on all-door loading with new vehicles as on the “faster” alignment.

13 thoughts on “Getting From Union to the CNE — How Fast Is Our “LRT”?

  1. Interesting.

    Have you done a similiar Bathurst versus Spadina comparison? I rarely take Spadina, and every time I do, I’m shocked at how much of the time you spend waiting at traffic signals and stops, compared to actually moving … seems that rear-door loading could save more time than dedicated ROWs much of the day – and probably a lot cheaper to institute 🙂

    Steve: I am planning to do Bathurst after I finish on Spadina and, yes, comparative times will be part of the analysis.


  2. The “comparative running time” on Bloor subway, from Christie to Yonge, is 5 – 6 min. TTC should try really hard to ensure that the new planned TC lines are substantially faster that plain streetcars or buses. Street-median LRT lines will never be as fast as subways, but a goal of being slower by no more than 20 or 25 % should be set.

    Traffic signal priority is a must, and perhaps there should be wide LRT stop spacing with complementary local bus. The latter might not be so good for customers at minor stops, but decent speed is needed to make the TC lines anything more than just a premium local service.


  3. Steve –

    You say Bremner will be better because traffic signals won’t be as big an issue, there will be fewer stops and there will be all door loading… how big a gap would there between 509 and WWLRT if 509 got all of those things?

    Steve: I should clarify that I am not advocating the Bremner Plan, but was echoing the claimed advantages it has. For ages, the WWLRT has been going to connect to Union via the existing 509 route — that’s why we built the connection to Bathurst in the first place — but finally the boffins realized that it’s a rather leisurely way to get to Union Station. All door loading will be a de facto standard with the new fleet. Now all we have to do is to fix the traffic lights.


  4. Thanks for the detailed efforts at comparative times. It would seem that there isn’t that much improvement in the timing eh? So it begins to beg the ? – is it really worth that $500 to $700M?

    In my EA comments, I was negative about what is up for construction, and the 1993 EA itself is stunningly condemning as well. That said it “is not considered cost effective to construct an LRT in this section unless it is constructed as part of a new transit line along the Front St./Railway corridor between the downtown and The Queensway. (ex. Summ 14). Fig 7-17 projected a time in from the Humber Loop to c. Yonge St. via Front St. as abouyt 2/3 better with minimal difference between the Queen route and the WWLRT route.

    They also say “more than one rapid transit line is required to meet the objectives of this project” (6-31) these objectives being better transit in from Etobicoke and also to serve the Waterfront area better.

    What’s now proposed flunks on both these counts – ie. it won’t do very much for faster competitive with the car travel from Etobicoke, and it quite misses doing anything for Ontario Place.

    As for the TTC’s declared preference for Bremner – the fix was in at the “open” houses – within the WWLRT EA p. 5-14 there’s a condemnation of Bremner as being “located too close (100m) to the existing Harbourfront LRT”., though it could serve future development.

    As officialdumb still has not managed to analyze Front St seriously for transit despite the good efforts 14 years ago – I suspect the politricks of the Pantalone Parkway – we should suspend this grossly flawed EA and the add-ons in favour of a comprehensive corridor study, as has occurred with the Don Valley – and this included GO transit boosts.

    As there’s apparently been a $50,000,000 trust fund set up for the Dumb Growth of the Front St. Extension, the interest on that money should be used to fund such a corridor study – and I have no idea what offices it is renting out now.


  5. perhaps the submitted comments were eaten?
    c. 4:40 Sun.

    Steve: Patience is a virtue. I’m not always sitting here to approve and edit them immediately.


  6. A bit of further content comment – the adjustments to Union Station for more capacity are not included the WWLRT cost – so what’s the total for the WWLRT? $700M?

    Could we get a surface Front St. ROW with more spaced out stops for $400M?

    $300M could buy a batch of streetcars or buses, or GO trains…

    Steve: A Front Street alignment would end near Dufferin and would have to connect with whatever went from there west (assuming we build that part of the line). Actually, on the south route via the CNE, there would probably be fewer stops than on a north route that actually served some residential areas west of Strachan.

    The real question in all this is what could they possibly be spending $700-million on?


  7. Steve, I’m curious, do you have any estimates of what travel time COULD look like on the right-of-ways we have if their was sane traffic light priority? (i.e. timed so streetcars almost never encounterng a red light) Or is this too hard to guess at?

    I would have to guess all those little 45 second delays really add up to the total running time.

    Steve: I expect that on Spadina, there would be about a two-minute saving from Bloor to King. More would be available if the long delay at Lake Shore could be eliminated, but this would only affect the service going to Union.

    Some have commented in this thread about the problems at the King/Charlotte loop with congestion westbound on King. If this is eliminated by going south to Queen’s Quay Loop, then the frequency of service at Lake Shore would completely overwhelm the transit capacity of the two intersections as they are now configured.


  8. RE: Two Minute time saving from Bloor to King.

    Roadsguy from Roads Department has asked me to forward this comment: a two minute saving on Spadina could mean delays of up to 10 minutes on King, Queen, Dundas. College would not be affected as while it has transit priority, that intersection has been properly negotiated, with College cars getting the edge than Spadina cars so that the intersection is properly optimized.

    Two minutes is a small price to pay to prevent a lot of headaches for users of these cross streets, be it transit user or driver.


  9. I would think a fairly straightforward solution to the issue of transit priority on Spadina would be to reset the progression of signals traveling north and south along Spadina so that it favours transit travel times rather than vehicle travel times. Voila… streetcars still arrive on green lights more often, but you don’t run into the problems Stephen’s Roads Dept. friend warns about.

    I don’t see how you reconcile the time requirements at an intersection like College, where you need a good deal of east/west time for pedestrian movements, you want to keep the signal cycle reasonable (currently 90 seconds) to avoid delaying cross traffic too much (not just cars, but also streetcars and pedestrians, including pedestrians crossing to the Spadina car stops), and you have such a high frequency of service on Spadina that you would have nearly continuous priority demands. Has this ever been successfully done anywhere else with comparable transit frequencies (both N/S and E/W at once, at that)?

    Steve: A lot of the complaints about the signals on Spadina fall into two broad categories.

    At intersections with left turns, the turns always get first priority. Transit vehicles cross after the left turns are cleared, then they stop to handle passengers, and finally they leave — completely out of sync with the traffic wave so that they are held at the next intersection and the pattern repeats.

    At certain intersections (notably those with Lake Shore Boulevard), green times for the E-W flow are interminable because, it is alleged, changing them would block traffic on Lake Shore. Sigh. The result is that a frequent service crossing Lake Shore is impossible to operate.


  10. “I would think a fairly straightforward solution to the issue of transit priority on Spadina would be to reset the progression of signals traveling north and south along Spadina so that it favours transit travel times rather than vehicle travel times. Voila… streetcars still arrive on green lights more often, but you don’t run into the problems Stephen’s Roads Dept. friend warns about.”

    If it were that easy, then all of our problems on every major surface route would be solved. Unfortunately that is not the case.

    The way I see it, the Roads Department is responsible for ALL traffic, not just transit vehicles. It has a responsibility to ensure that traffic is always moving normally without delay. In an earlier post, I had stated that traffic light priority is determined by calculations taken based on vehicle traffic (that’s why you see those counting boxes on roadways) as well as green time at other intersections. The idea here is that each intersection must be analyzed carefully as to minimize interference to other cross streets. Bad timing means that traffic going in any one of 4 directions would see serious delays which in turn could lead into delays for public transit vehicles.

    In the case of Spadina, it is not simply an issue of having green lights favour transit travel times rather than vehicular travel times. Whenever traffic light priority is favoured to go one way, the other will likely get screwed over. In this case, it would not only be vehicular traffic on Spadina that would get screwed, but also cross street traffic as well for two reasons.

    Firstly, the signals are timed to allow for cross street traffic to empty itself so that the glut of cars does not become a traffic jam. If you impose signal priority to favour Spadina streetcars, the street will not be able to empty itself of vehicular traffic and therefore delays will result.

    Secondly, if you revise timings to favour transit vehicles rather than cars, vehicular traffic on Spadina would be significantly slowed and knowing the human factor, there will always be vehicles on Spadina stuck in the middle of the intersection as they try to waddle their way through the lights. Obviously this is going to cause problems with cross street traffic as well, and to an extention, other streetcars.

    My friend at the Roads Department says the intersection of College and Spadina works for two reasons:
    1) There is significantly less traffic in that intersection compared to Dundas, Queen, or King, in all four directions.
    2) The Transit Priority in that intersection was properly negotiated with the TTC, given that both Spadina and College have transit priority.

    Suppose we were to switch transit priority to always favour Spadina Streetcars. The best way to do this is to relegate the Left Turn phase of Spadina traffic to last in the cycle, that is it goes after the main phase of Spadina Traffic rather than before. Considering the human factor, which states that people would think that left turn traffic would be before Transit traffic and thus “predict a green” and move would end up crashing head-on to a streetcar with whom it did not know had priority. These are the problems that the Roads department face and I apologize if I appear sympathetic, but I am trying to present the “other side” of the opinion. You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too.


  11. I hate that argument that transit has to cooperate with other motorised vehicles to facilitate traffic movement. It’s a bull- argument. The writer is invariably a driver, and disingenuously self-interested like the rest of us. If two personal/work vehicles are delayed, that’s three people. If one streetcar is delayed, that’s an average of thirty people. In other words, cars would have to suffer ten times the delay of transit for things to come out even; they’ll never have to sacrifice a fifth of that, so suck it up!


  12. Yes, I am a driver. I drive to work everyday because my residence and my destination are not properly serviced by any form of public transportation. However, unlike you, I do not have a “self-interest”, but rather an interest in making sure that everyone benefits from any road-related initiative, be it transit or vehicular traffic related.

    The reason why I agree with Roadsguy on his take on Transit Priority is very simple: Spadina has a ROW while the other streets do not. Cross street interference is especially important as if this is not dealt with properly, you will get a glut of cars stuck trying to go somewhere with a streetcar or bus somewhere stuck behind. Let’s put it to you this way: if every major street had some sort of ROW for all transit vehicles, I could care less about screwing vehicular traffic in order to favour transit. Unfortunately, the reality is that we have buses and streetcars operating in mixed traffic, and in order to get the transit vehicles moving, we need to get the cars moving as well.

    I need not mention any more than to reiterate the case of Eglinton West, at Bathurst and Dufferin. Due to transit priority not properly negotiated at these intersections, Bathurst and Dufferin get their desired priority, whereas Eglinton West suffers from constant delays as cars are unable to clear the intersection as a result. Of course this means that the Eglinton West buses are also horribly affected as a result.

    Unless 50% of all cars in Toronto were to dissappear overnight, this problem will not go away. Like it or not, the Transit commission needs to work with the Roads Department in order to ensure that ALL vehicles, not just Buses or Cars, can run smoothly without delay. So Suck it up. This problem is here to stay, and we have no choice but to work with it.


  13. I have been taking the TTC for 21 years now. I loved it once. Now I hate it. The Lakeshore West LRT has been endlessly discussed since the early 90s. I am sure endless discussion will continue for several years yet, if we ever see shovels in the ground. I don’t understand why we can’t afford subways? The Chinese are building them. Chengdu has a plan to build several subway lines over 7 years that will put our entire transit system to shame. All, we get in Toronto is blah blah blah. It takes me 45 minutes to get from Swansea on the TTC to Bay and King on a good day in a dirty streetcar with an unfriendly driver. (That is if I can get on one of the overcrowded cars.) Taking the Go train from Oakville is faster, more comfortable and more reliable. Why does the government not allow private competition? I am sure someone would run a bus service down Queen Street to alleviate congestion on the streetcar during rush hour. Some companies and condominiums offer their own services to shuttle people to and from Union station. Why is that allowed but competition is not. I wish my company moved its headquarters to Seoul, where they have an amazing subway system. I am so feed up.


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