This article presents information on the proposed Waterfront West connection at Sunnyside and its relationship to the Waterfront West Master Plan, as well as the proposed design for the section west of Humber Loop.
Due to the article’s length, I have placed the break here.
Dufferin to Humber Section
Current TTC designs for this section have produced much debate in Parkdale because of possible intrusion on properties, and also because of a proposed link from the existing Queensway right-of-way to the new WWLRT line at Sunnyside.
Among the alternatives are:
- A connection somewhere east of Roncesvalles. This is not favoured because all of the WWLRT service would need to pass through the Queen / King / Roncesvalles intersection and would produce severe congestion.
- A new streetcar intersection just west of Roncesvalles where the WWLRT would connect into the Queensway. This design would create a difficult traffic arrangement with two signalled crossings quite close together. Indeed, the new crossing conflicts with an east-to-north left turn lane planned for this location.
- A connection at Colborne Lodge Road (the middle of High Park). This would route the WWLRT around the intersection, provide transit service to the beach area, and greatly speed operation of the line as a faster route into downtown from southern Etobicoke. This appears to be the City’s preferred choice.
One version of the plans (6MB pdf) shows both the Roncesvalles and Colborne Lodge routes. Note that the layout shown for Queen & Roncesvalles does not include the planned redesign at this location. One wonders how a TTC proposal does not even acknowledge related plans already in the works, and this left hand, right hand problem afflicts the credibility of too many projects.
The Waterfront West Master Plan is before Toronto’s Executive Committee on June 2. From that report, it is clear that the City does not favour the TTC’s proposed connection.
The Waterfront West Light Rail Transit (LRT) EA is addressing a series of alignment options which would locate the LRT either north of the Gardiner/rail corridor or along Lake Shore Boulevard. Although the Master Plan can accommodate these various options, a Lake Shore Boulevard alignment would provide the best transit access to the waterfront parks and attractions in the Western Waterfront. The Lake Shore alignment, however, would create a “pinch point” at the Legion building near Dowling Avenue that would require further analysis. Its connection to the existing LRT line on The Queensway via Colborne Lodge Drive or its eventual continuation west along Lake Shore Boulevard across the Humber River is consistent with the Master Plan objectives.
Construction of a new LRT ramp and bridge structure from Lake Shore Boulevard near the Boulevard Club across the Gardiner and rail corridor to existing transit facilities at Roncesvalles is incompatible with the vision of the Master Plan to create an open, unobstructed waterfront. If a LRT alignment north of the Gardiner to Roncesvalles is pursued, it should cross at Dowling Avenue or further east to reduce its impact on the Western Waterfront.
(See the linked report at page 9)
Humber to Long Branch Section
A few weeks ago, the City and TTC held two open houses along the Lake Shore West route of the Waterfront West LRT. After less-than-successful public consultation in late 2008, the intention was to “restart” the process with a fresh look at the line. In particular, the idea was to find out what the community wants, not just what the TTC proposes to build.
I attended the session on May 12th, and was interested as much in the dynamics of the meeting — what issues people raised, how were these considered and addressed — as by the displays on view. There’s not a lot new in those displays, and they were a mixture of the panels from December 2008 (parts 1 and 2) and the updated May 2009 presentation.
The TTC did not present any updated design information, and that probably disappointed many who attended. After the December round, many left with the impression that the TTC would stamp its standard 36-meter design all over Lake Shore (which is considerably narrower in many locations), and the community was hoping for an alternative. That will not come until the next round after a report summarizing the community’s input. The cutoff for feedback is June 5. Realistically, this means that we won’t see any new proposals until the fall given the need to digest the comments and incorporate them in the plans.
Several questions came up about the travel and demand characteristics in the Lake Shore area. GO comes up regularly as a high-speed alternative way to travel downtown even though that system does its best to discourage inside-416 riders. Of the demand at Long Branch and Mimico Stations, 25% and 40% respectively originate in the Lake Shore area. There is clearly a market for a faster, even if more expensive way to get downtown. However, commuting trips are not the entire story. Half of the riding on the Lake Shore streetcar services is local — between Humber and Long Branch Loops — on an all day basis, and one third of the traffic is local during the peak period. This demand is not well-served by the irregular and unreliable service that comes through on the Queen car.
The TTC fudges demand numbers on Lake Shore at 12,000 per day, although the TTC’s actual counts most recently from 2006 are much lower at about 8,000. The discrepancy is explained by the fact that the WWLRT project talks about total ons and offs, but of these, there are 4,000 local riders who get counted twice. A basic mistake one would not expect to see from transit planners.
The projected peak point demand on Lake Shore for 2031 is 1,100 passengers per hour, but the actual count today is only 430 just west of Humber Loop. This is far from LRT territory.
Total daily ridership on Lake Shore is comparable to that on several of the north-south bus routes into Kipling, Islington and Royal York Stations, and the projected demand is lower than that anticipated for the Kingston Road BRT project. I’m not advocating that we get rid of the Lake Shore streetcar — the infrastructure is already there and in good shape — but that an upgrade to fully reserved right-of-way is very hard to justify.
Over the years, the Lake Shore has seen a decline in employment as southern Etobicoke lost its industrial base, and this affects riding. The population west of Humber loop has remained relatively constant (around 20K) from 1991 to 2001 (census years), but the employment fell from almost 18K to under 14K jobs during the same period.
Ever since the Bloor Subway was extended to Kipling, trips north to the subway have provided an attractive alternative route to downtown especially for those with destinations closer to the subway line. That effect, however, has been underway for decades, long before the deindustrialization of the Lake Shore neighbourhoods.
The characteristics of local demand are obvious even on the riding counts for the 508 Lake Shore service. Between 1995 and 2005, demand on this line has dropped almost by half. To what degree this is caused by 508s shadowing 501s eastbound from Long Branch and doing very little work, I don’t know, but the drop in eastbound counts is much more severe than westbound. This suggests a problem with headway management eastbound from Long Branch Loop where, no doubt, the generous layovers for 501 cars tend to trap 508 cars immediately behind them.
Of those who board the 508 cars eastbound, at least a third have departed before the cars reach Humber Loop. This is in line with the overall percentage of local traffic described above. Similarly, more people get off the 508 westbound on Lake Shore than are on the cars westbound at Humber. These are local trips in the pm peak.
The TTC acknowledges that there are problems with short turns on the Queen car, but this is primarily an issue in the afternoon (or should be), not on an all day basis as I showed in a recent analysis of service to Lake Shore.
Without question, the big issue on the Lake Shore is the claimed need for a private transit right-of-way from Long Branch to Park Lawn. The level of service and the congestion, such as it is, on Lake Shore simply do not justify this level of intervention. The TTC is projecting that the WWLRT will have a headway between 6 and 10 minutes at peak, and it is simply not credible that so much road space would be dedicated to so little service.
The TTC made no friends at the public meeting by the repeated insistence that without a right-of-way they could not guarantee good service. That is complete hogwash, and the TTC should know better. Service reliability west of Roncesvalles is directly related to problems on the narrow, heavily used part of Queen Street east to Yonge, and on short-turning of Queen cars (even though the well-larded schedules are supposed to provide ample time for everything to reach Long Branch Loop).
The TTC claims that with the right-of-way, five minutes will be saved on the trip from Long Branch to Humber Loop. This is extremely hard to believe. The running time between these points has consistently been in the 25-minute range for decades, and as my review of actual vehicle operating data shows, there is little variation due to congestion along the route. A 20% reduction in trip time will have to come almost entirely out of stop service times, and this would be most likely if stops that do not now have safety islands gained them. However, that requires redesign of the road in locations where this is not feasible due to right-of-way constraints, as well as removal of some exiting closely-spaced stops.
A further saving of up to 15 minutes is expected between Humber and downtown. That, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the right-of-way on Lake Shore, but of whatever new route is built east of the Humber River.
The biggest single “delay” to passengers on Lake Shore is caused by unreliable service. With a scheduled service that never gets any better than 10 minutes, and gaps of 20 minutes common, the variation in waiting time greatly exceeds the proposed saving in travel time. Moreover, that saving only applies to riders from the western end of the route at Long Branch even though much of the growth in demand will come at the east end with new condos in Mimico.
During the Q&A at the May meeting, one question forcefully put to the TTC was to distinguish between those changes that required the right-of-way and those that could be made separately. For example, revised streetscaping could be implemented without changing the arrangement of the streetcar lanes. Similarly, if so much time is spent serving closely-spaced stops, these could be eliminated with no other changes to the road.
The TTC made a pitch that an LRT service would improve mobility on the Lake Shore. No. Better service improves mobility, and an upgrade to LRT is only one of the ways in which that service might be provided.
Comparisons with the St. Clair project were inevitable. To be fair, much of that line is still under construction and some congestion is caused by the herds of buses making their way, sometimes with difficulty, through the traffic lanes. However, east of Bathurst, we can already see some effects of the attempt to keep too many people happy. There is simply not enough room for the sidewalk space, parking, turn lanes let alone through lanes for cyclists and autos that everyone wanted. This is a caution to other projects that we cannot please everyone, and we should not try. On Lake Shore, any change means that compromise is needed, and the TTC is one party that needs to understand the limitations on the space they can claim on roads.
In response to concerns about business impacts, the TTC sited the Spadina car as an example of a major improvement to a commercial area. This is simply not applicable to Lake Shore where the service is, at best, one fifth of the level on Spadina and the transit contribution correspondingly smaller.
Some speakers asked why Lake Shore could not have a timed transfer, like St. Clair, that would allow people to make round trips for shopping cheaply. The TTC argued that this would cut into revenue, but missed the point that the trip might never be taken by transit without some incentive to wait for an infrequent service to show up.
Some asked that the streetcars be replaced by buses. This is a classic problem that arises with the way TTC manages service. From time to time, for construction or some other upheaval, a portion of a route will be converted to bus operation. Usually there are far more buses on the route than the streetcar service they replaced, and as a shuttle, they tend to run more frequently and reliably. Buses are quickly seen as better than streetcars. However, if the entire 501 were run with buses, service on Lake Shore would be (a) just as spotty and (b) as minimal as the TTC could get away with.
Many would like to see something like the old 507 Long Branch service restored to provide at least reliable local service. This has been tried occasionally by the TTC, but on an unmanaged basis where cars tended to take generous layovers and shadow the 501 cars that made it west of Humber Loop. As always, proper line management is essential to providing good service. There is also the question of a reasonable overlap between the 501 and 507 services so that through trips don’t languish thanks to short turns of Humber cars at Sunnyside.
Finally, in an insult to the intelligence of the audience, the TTC made the bold statement that the TTC is a world-leader in transit signal priority. We may have a lot of signals, but “priority” is not what I would call the way they treat transit vehicles. The principal function of many signals is to keep pesky streetcars out of the way of autos. Combined with farside placement of stops on new rights-of-way, the “double stop” problem at traffic lights adds considerably to trip times. Signal priority on Lake Shore will make, at best, a trivial contribution to the line’s operation.
The TTC needs major changes in its approach:
- Recognize that “LRT” does not mean right-of-way everywhere. That is one of the strengths of this mode, that it can become simply a streetcar where traffic segregation isn’t needed.
- Stop trying to apply arguments for busy bus routes that will become a future Transit City lines to a route that has embarrassingly poor service for a street the City of Toronto has designated as an “Avenue” for considerable growth.
- Operate good, reliable service to the Lake Shore communities today rather than giving transit an even worse reputation with a poorly considered design for the indefinite future.
- Address all of the transit needs in southern Etobicoke as a group rather than only looking at the Lake Shore corridor.
I will return to these issues when the TTC updates its proposal or calls another public meeting.