When I contemplated a title for this article, I felt compelled to include the year simply because this project has gone on for, it seems, forever. The Environmental Assessment started formally in September 2003. Detailed community consultation on the approved project began in February 2005. By way of an attempted legal derailing and reordering of project priorities, we come now to almost the last year of construction. I say “almost” because the 2009 project will almost certainly spill over into 2010 if past experience is any evidence.
For the benefit of readers who don’t get a chance to visit the line regularly, here is the status as seen on a field trip by your interpid reporter yesterday, March 16.
Phase 1 (Yonge Street to Vaughan Road): This section is officially finished although it’s still rough around the edges. The platforms don’t have their decorations, and I’m not convinced that transit priority signalling is really operating here.
Phase 2 (Vaughan Road to east of Dufferin): This section is now under construction. Excavation is completed west to Arlington, but the track slab is not down for the entire distance. New intersection track was laid at Christie over the past weekend, and this work is expected to complete later this week. West of Arligton, utilities work is underway. Traffic is a mess, and there are many buses, usually running in packs.
Phase 3 (East of Dufferin to west of Lansdowne): This section is largely complete, and preliminary signs of overhead installation are visible. Although the right-of-way may be intact, no streetcars will run here until phase 2 is done late this year. Traffic here is also a mess, and I had the dubious pleasure of being on a bus that tried, with some difficulty, to pass another, disabled bus within the two available lanes beside the right-of-way.
Phase 4 (West of Lansdowne to Gunn’s Loop): Work has just begun on replacing water services in this stretch of St. Clair, and other utility work is to follow. The detailed street design, presented at a recent public meeting, is available online. As on other parts of St. Clair, the almighty left turn lane takes its toll on the street design, but this part of the street, known as St. Clair Gardens, has wide sidewalks and a narrower road than the section from Caledonia to Yonge. Here the curb cuts take up to half of the existing sidewalks and many trees that happen to be in the wrong place.
It is distressing to see the city destroy in the name of transit progress the very street layout that was championed on College Street west of Spadina. Indeed Council, in approving this project, included a proviso:
“that the preservation of the current sidewalk width on St. Clair Avenue West be made a key guiding principle in the detailed design work to be undertaken; and that the Commissioner of Works and Emergency Services be requested to investigate further possibilities to minimize and eliminate cuts to sidewalks and to add sidewalk space where possible.”
The detailed design shows the existing sidewalk line in outline, and also list in tabular format the curb cuts proposed for each intersection. This design completely ignores Council’s instruction.
If all of this were in the name of good traffic management, I might, might grit my teeth and say “well, it’s for the greater good”, but that’s far from the case here. Claude Bergeron, an active local merchant who supports the right-of-way, provided that it does not destroy the community, has proposed that left turn lanes be eliminated at two intersections: Laughton and Silverthorn/Hounslow Heath. These locations are in the existing commercial area as compared with locations further west, notably at Old Weston Road, where parking lots face onto St. Clair and there is lots of room for widening.
One might ask whether forcing through traffic to share a lane with left turns will be bad for congestion, but the actual volumes on the street are low. Mr. Bergeron quotes Jim Sinikas, a senior Project Engineer for the TTC and their resident expert on traffic management:
“given that less than one vehicle typically turns left at these intersections each cycle on average, the median lanes would hardly ever be blocked because one or two left/U-turning vehicles, waiting of [sic] a gap in opposing traffic to make the turn, could wait on the right-of-way and not block traffic flow in the centre lane.”
And he continues:
“Even if left turn lanes were not available, eastbound and westbound traffic could be given a green display simultaneously, as is done on Queens Quay West … Under this signal operating strategy, traffic would operate at a very good level of service.”
The TTC has yet to explain why it supports the unneeded widening of these intersections. Eliminating the turn lanes allows other changes to the intersection designs, stop locations and parking, but as long as the city and TTC hold firm to one plan, one standard intersection treatment, these alternatives won’t get a fair shake.
With utilities work already underway, any changes to road layouts must be decided quite soon, and it wouldn’t surprise me to watch the project simply run out the clock and claim they couldn’t make the changes within the time available. Possibly if they had produced detailed plans for community review more than a few weeks before construction, the reception might have been less frosty and opportunity for meaningful change could have been entertained.
This does not bode well for the Transit City projects where opponents are already using the St. Clair designs, tactics and construction screw-ups as examples of why Transit City should be stopped.
Further west, the design at Old Weston Road is quite odd with a single lane westbound. Yesterday I watched several Keele buses making the turn south to west, and will be intrigued to see this accomplished with the new layout. They could turn onto the right-of-way, of course, but I’m not sure that the TTC has really thought through how buses will work here running in either the curb or centre lanes.
Gunn’s Road Loop will be redesigned to give a bit more room for streetcars and some attractive plantings. All of this won’t show up, of course, until the project is completed and plantings can be installed sometime in 2010.
Late this year, the TTC will be faced with reopening the line to streetcars to Lansdowne although there is some doubt they have enough cars to run the system as it exists, let alone with more cars on St. Clair. The problem will only get worse once service to Keele goes in.
Vehicle availability is a serious problem on both the streetcar and bus networks, and a detailed report on the situation has not yet appeared on the TTC”s agenda. I believe that one was planned for April, but reports have been delayed before. We shall see.
The long delay in reopening the St. Clair streetcar line puts any memory of a “before” condition so far in the past that the communities, the riders, the supporters and the opponents, won’t have any basis of comparison. Will the TTC actually run frequent, well-spaced service, or will we see a handful of cars in the offpeak speeding across the line only to take extended layovers at terminals, and operating on a schedule of their own invention?
I have “before” data from the vehicle monitoring system taken during the period after phase 1 completed but before the west end of the line closed down. It may be sometime in 2010 before I get “after” data, but there will be a basis for comparison.