Metrolinx Speaks With A New Voice

For the past few months, Metrolinx has been rather quiet as Queen’s Park worked through the legislation abolishing the old board and merging GO Transit into Metrolinx.  How is “Metrolinx 2” going to work?  What are its priorities?  The transitional board has been meeting informally, and signs of change have been obvious in recent announcements such as the GO Electrification Study.

On June 9 and 10, the new President and CEO of Metrolinx, J. Robert S. Prichard, more commonly known simply as “Rob”, gave similar speeches to the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and the Building Industry and Land Development Association.  These are available from the Presentations page on the Metrolinx site in both text and Powerpoint versions.  (Both are saved as PDFs.)

Much of the content is in the “rah rah, we’re a new agency with a new mandate” cheerleading vein, but some points are worth noting.

Metrolinx has a mandate to actually do things, and do them quickly.  In times past, this took on an aggressive, negative tone attacking NIMBYism and suggesting that anyone perceived to get in the way would be pushed aside.  Today, the need for action remains, but it is presented as a widely supported, long overdue program to reverse the damage of lost decades of underinvestment in transit infrastructure.

Prichard cites priorities he has received from Premier McGuinty, and the focus is on results, not on process. 

  • Get it done.  Residents … are tired of announcements.
  • Improve the quality, reliability and availability of GO Transit.
  • Develop an investment strategy to fund programs beyond the initial $10-billion already allocated.

That list implies things were not happening under the old Metrolinx, and we’ve heard rumblings about unco-operative, foot-dragging politicians.  More about them later.

Yes, we are all tired of announcements, and it’s refreshing to know that not only will money be pledged, it will actually be spent.  (Earth to Ottawa: Are you listening?)  I have shelves full of plans, but I can’t actually visit the sites or ride the lines because they remain only on paper.  In a few cases, this is a blessing in disguise. Continue reading

Safety for Lake Shore Streetcar Riders

As a followup to the Waterfront West thread, “Ed” left a long comment which really belongs in a post of its own.  My own comments follow at the bottom.

I’ve been thinking about safety for riders on Lake Shore Blvd.

Currently, there are safety islands west of Humber loop through Louisa, and east of Long Branch loop through Thirtieth. The long central part of Lake Shore has no safety islands.

It’s been my experience that motor vehicles speeding by the open doors of a streetcar is a regular occurence on Lake Shore; I suspect that it’s a likely occurence *every* run. Why?

  • suburban area; drivers not really familiar with streetcars and the door laws
  • fast traffic on Lake Shore
  • wide road

This [last point] deserves attention: drivers seem to feel that the further they are from the streetcar, the more they’re allowed to pass. On Queen itself, the prime points for cars zipping past open doors seems to be eastbound and Shaw and westbound at Ossington, where there are clear additional right-turn lanes. This is the same behaviour that leads MTO to put signs up saying “Stop for School Bus with Signals flashing BOTH DIRECTIONS” on four-lane highways.)

Note that St. Clair had safety islands for just about every stop along its wider part (roughly east of Old Weston Rd.), and the width of St. Clair is quite similar to the width of Lake Shore, taking the varying widths of both roads into account.

Finally, the long and potentially dangerous walk to and from the curb makes stops slower along Lake Shore than they would be on central-city routes with equal numbers of embarking/disembarking passengers (outer ends of the Carlton car, for example).

Is the answer putting in safety islands all along Lake Shore?

Unfortunately, the speed of motor vehicles on Lake Shore, and again a general unfamiliarity with street railways, results in safety islands being struck (delaying streetcar service!), and also the safety islands distracting drivers who then run the red light (or so I suppose — for some reason, I see a lot of red-light running on Lake Shore at intersections where there’s also a safety island, for example at Long Branch Ave.).

With go-around-either-side safety islands disappearing on St. Clair due to the ROW, they will remain only in a few scattered locations in the city (offhand: Dundas at Bloor, Bathurst at Queen, Main and Gerrard, Queen at Kingston) prompting motorists to hit the remaining ones as things they just don’t understand or are unfamiliar with.

Also, I just went and measured the lane width inside a safety island; it’s 3.0 metres from the edge of the island to the centre line. This isn’t too much of a problem with cars (though you get splashed in rain and snowy conditions) but Lake Shore also has a lot of truck traffic, particularly in the west end. Trucks are allowed a width of 2.60 metres; so two trucks meeting at 39th where there are safety islands facing each other have 80 cm *total* to miss each other and also the safety island. This is one reason I often wait at the curb, instead of on the safety island.

And I’ve seen a semi-trailer sideswipe a streetcar going in the opposite direction at 39th. Maybe significantly, the tractor had western Canadian plates. After a 6 or 8 hour shift on the 401, he made it down Brown’s Line and then just couldn’t place the rig properly when faced with an oncoming ALRV in a safety island gap?

So, what are the potential solutions?

1) Status quo/do nothing (not attractive).
2) Put in safety islands all along the route (still a problem with auto/island collisions and trucks passing centimetres from your face as you wait for the car).
3) Drastically narrow Lake Shore through lanes so safety islands aren’t necessary.
4) LRT so there is no traffic passing by the safety islands and less chance of a motor vehicle getting confused and trying to split the sides of an island, thus running into it.
5) Move to bus operations on Lake Shore.

Of these choices, I expect the locals will be in favour of:

1) These are the ones who don’t ride the TTC at all, and I have confirmation from WWLRT planning that they haven’t looked at safety issues on Lake Shore yet; certainly safety wasn’t a significant part of the LRT presentations.
5) Hey, buses are “superior, quicker” technology, right?

Personally, I’m in favour of 4) or 3). I bet the anti-LRT crowd dislikes these choices equally — even though 3) would solve a number of other issues raised in Lake Shore transportation planning workshops.

This all begs the interesting question of whether issues with access to streetcars — the walk from the curb, the vertical height to board, the width of the “safety island” and the comfort of riders on that island — can be addressed without going for a full-blown right-of-way.  (At the risk of beating a worn-out drum, better service would also shorten the length of time would-be riders have to wait on an island.)

The recent charette held by the Lake Shore Planning Council produced a lot of concerns and ideas, and although this happened after the formal cutoff for feedback to the TTC’s study, I hope that this material finds its way into the hopper.  The TTC was represented at the charette, and that’s a good sign.

Now we await an updated set of design options and, one hopes, more sensitivity and less lecturing from the TTC at public meetings.