Kingston Road LRT Update

The Environmental Assessment for the proposed Kingston Road LRT will hold three open houses on March 26, 27 and April 2.

The project’s March 2008 Newsletter includes the meeting locations, a map of various proposals and a breakdown of travel in the corridor.

There are two primary options depending on whether the line stays on Kingston Road all the way west to the existing streetcar network at Bingham Loop (Victoria Park & Kingston Rd.), or if it travels west along Danforth Avenue. Sub-options include connections to the subway at Victoria Park or Main Station.

At the risk of prejudging the evaluation, the route north from Kingston Road either to Main or to Victoria Park would be quite difficult. Victoria Park is a narrow, 3-lane residential street south of Gerrard. Main is a narrow, 4-lane residential street, and has a curved alignment (not shown on the map) and a grade down to Kingston Road. I believe that a connection north to either station from Kingston Road is not practical. (Anyone who wants to argue this point is urged to actually visit the neighbourhood or at least look at Google Maps before taking on this issue.)

The Danforth alignment is more straightforward, and also provides a better connection to the rapid transit network. In the origin-destination survey, only about 1/4 of the respondents showed their AM peak trip as going “downtown”.

Planning for the revised Victoria Park Station (warning – 10MB file) does not show a possible streetcar service, but could accommodate it.

Finally, the Walk 21 conference last fall included a paper about redesigning Kingston Road into a strong shopping and pedestrian community in the Cliffside area. This neighbourhood is now dominated by strip commercial and parking lots, but its transformation is supported by the business community with the new LRT line as a catalyst.

This project is in an odd state of existing in theory, but never appearing on maps showing our bold new Transit City network. This very strange situation makes many wonder whether there is any hope of the project actually being funded and built.

Fleet Street Overhead and Other News of Changing Streetcar Infrastructure

The TTC plans to resume streetcar service on Fleet west of Bathurst with the 509 Harbourfront and 511 Bathurst routes on March 30. Trackwork, except for Fleet Loop, is in place, and the overhead construction is underway working west from Bathurst Street.

One of my regular readers, Harold McMann, sent me a few photos of overhead installation on Fleet Street and I am including one of them here because it shows a very recent change in the TTC’s standards for streetcar overhead.

Look closely at the hangers and you will see they are different from those commonly seen on Toronto’s system. These hangers are designed so that the contact wire will be held below the span wire and so that both pantographs and trolley poles can navigate them. If you look closely, you will see that hangers on alternate spans face in opposite directions so that there will be a slight meander to the overhead to avoid groove wear on pantographs.

Another change not as obvious from a photo is that the TTC is now using 4/0 gauge wire rather than 2/0. This is a larger cross section, but not twice as big even though the number might imply this. You can read about the arcane world of wire on Wikipedia. The larger cross section allows more current to be delivered by the wire in anticipation of the power demands of the new larger streetcars planned for Toronto.

The TTC Capital Budget contains a project to convert the entire overhead system by 2012, but it’s sad to note how long it took the TTC to accept that this would be necessary.

Further west on Fleet beyond the loop we find a forest of closely spaced poles marching down the centre of the right-of-way. These appear to be much closer together than the normal span wire spacing. This design leaves a lot to be desired if it is an indication of what we will see on future routes because the poles will dominate the visual landscape. I have already written here extensively about the shortcomings of centre poles on downtown streets and will not belabour the point.

Another project in the works is the complete replacement of the automatic track switch system. The current switch machines and their electronics date from the arrival of the ALRV fleet when the distance from the trolley shoe to the front of a car ceased to be constant. This meant that the old contactor-based switching had to be replaced, and a new system with pavement loops was installed.

This has been no end of trouble to the extent that some switches on the Spadina project have switch machines, but have never been activated. Many regularly used switches around the city sport “out of service” signs because they are no longer reliable or their parts have been raided for other more important locations. Because these switches are so unreliable, streetcars must come to a full stop at all facing point switches (including, amusingly, manual switches that cannot leap open in front of a car).

This practice makes for slow and jerky operation at intersections, and the TTC has not bothered to deal with this problem of reliability for quite a long time. Design of a new track switch system is underway and is expected to complete this year with procurement and installation to follow in future years.

Over the next four years, we will see a gradual transformation of the streetcar infrastructure in anticipation of the new fleet. Let’s hope the TTC gets it right this time. We cannot afford another fiasco like the CLRVs and their inability to deal with a system that PCCs had navigated for decades.