Wandering Rails on St. Clair (Update 2)

Updated December 15 at 1:00 am:

Car 4165 made two test runs on the western section of the St. Clair route on Monday, December 14.  The first pass was done slowly to check clearances, and the second was done at speed without incident.  Testing will continue through the week.

On Saturday, December 19 from 11 am to 3 pm, there will be charter service using PCCs 4500 and 4549.  Here is Councillor Joe Mihevc’s announcement of this event.

Save Saturday, December 19 for a fun shop local event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. when there will be free rides on two TTC heritage streetcars between Bathurst and Lansdowne. The heritage streetcars are the red-maroon and yellow “Presidents’ Conference Committee” streetcars that first operated in Toronto in the late 1930s and ended in the mid-1980s. These PCC streetcars are a real treat that will take you down memory lane to Toronto’s past.

The Hillcrest Village Choir will be performing for much of the day on one streetcar, and Toronto historian Mike Filey will be speaking about local history on the other. This is a great opportunity to come to St. Clair to enjoy a rare ride and support local businesses by finishing some last minute holiday shopping or enjoying a St Clair meal with friends and family.

The basic idea is have local residents support local businesses along the strip and use the PCC streetcars to jump on and off at your pleasure. So you may want to have a brunch or lunch at a local eatery, and then catch the streetcar as it comes by, make a big loop and return to where you began, perhaps jumping off at a store that you always wanted to check out. Boarding the streetcar will be from the new passenger islands.

I will be at World Class Bakers at Christie for most of the time. Feel free to come by and say hello.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The free ride only extends between Bathurst and the Earlscourt loop at Lansdowne. There will be no free transfers to other lines. The streetcar will only use the St Clair West subway station to turn around (no passengers will be permitted to exit into the subway. If you want to go to the subway, you will need to use the buses which will continue on the road and pickup passengers from the sidewalk.)

Joe Mihevc

The original December 5 post follows the break below.

There is a post over on UrbanToronto showing the wandering track installed on St. Clair near Oakwood.  The pictures have been picked up by the National Post with an article quoting former TTC Chair Howard Moscoe saying that the tracks will have to be fixed.  Comments in the UrbanToronto thread, and elsewhere on this site echo these sentiments.

[Note:  I have moved the comments regarding St. Clair from the Finch LRT thread where they were posted to this thread for continuity.]

For its part, the TTC says that the curves on the western portion of St. Clair are comparable to what we already have on the eastern portion, and this is not an issue.

My suspicion was that the photos made the worst of the situation by the focal length of the shots — a long telephoto shot that compresses distances and accentuates the wobbles.  However, I wanted to be sure and spent a few hours making my way from Yonge to Lansdowne photographing the line.

Update:  The particular location of interest, east from Dufferin, includes left turn lanes at Westmount that were not part of the original design as shown in the EA document.  Similarly the eastbound left turn at Dufferin was an add-on.  Some of the peculiarities in this particular section arise from those late changes, but this specific issue should not be used to attack the entire line.

The photos here were all taken at the same focal lengths — 70mm for the “conventional” view and 200mm for the “telescopic” view — and none of them has been cropped.  They were taken from the same positions. The only editing done has been to compress the images for online use and, in one case, to correct an overexposure.  (To those who bother to look at the properties of the images and see minor variations like “194mm”, it’s a zoom lens and I was positioning it reasonably close to the desired setting.  Don’t kvetch.)

My overall impression was that, yes, the western part of the line is curvier than the eastern part, but this is due to the greater number of intersections and left turn lanes.  The curves are comparable and generally follow both the layout of turn lanes and the narrowing of the right-of-way where the centre poles vanish at intersections.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for the TTC, the situation on St. Clair has been misrepresented by the choice and composition of the photos.  There are many problems with the St. Clair design (not the least of which is those darned centre poles to which the TTC clings adamantly), but the track does not wobble to the point that this will compromise operating speed or passenger comfort.  I believe that the shots that have been published suit the agenda of the anti-St. Clair and, by extension, anti-Transit City factions who seek to discredit what the TTC is doing by any means possible.
West from Yonge. The track here curves back to the middle of the road around the eastbound left turn lane.

East from Dunvegan. Note the change in track spacing at the transition from side to centre poles. The meander at Avenue Road in the distance is a function of the street alignment. When the same view is shown as a telephoto shot, the curves are more pronounced.

West from Dunvegan. Note the meander of the westbound track at the Russell Hill intersection in the distance. This is much more pronounced in the telephoto version.

West from Spadina. This shows clearly the meanders for the left turn bays in each direction, but the track looks much worse in the telephoto view.

East and West from Wychwood. I have presented these views only in the standard format as the telephoto version adds nothing to the overall argument. The track meanders, but no differently than on the eastern section of the line.

East and West from Arlington. As at Wychwood, there are some meanders, but nothing untoward.

East from Atlas. This is a particularly good example of the effect of a telephoto view which makes the track look quite odd. As it comes to the intersection at Arlington, the right-of-way shifts to the north to make room for a left turn bay at the same time as the width of the right-of-way narrows by 1m due to the absence of centre poles. This requires the eastbound track to shift further north than its westbound counterpart, then back again to align with the westbound left turn bay, and finally to make room for the centre poles east of Arlington.

West from Atlas toward Winona. This section of the line has no centre poles and includes special ramps to allow fire trucks to cross the right-of-way from the station out of frame to the left (south). Note that this requires the line to level out for the street crossing, an effect particularly visible in the telephoto shot. As the line continues west up the hill to Oakwood, it is unusually straight because at that location both platforms are on the east side of the intersection and a left turn meander is not required.

East and West from Oakwood. These are among the longest clear views of the wandering track because of the high vantage point. A track crew working west of Oakwood blocks the full effect of the view west to Dufferin. Note that the overhead special work has not yet been installed to access Oakwood Loop, and some of the overhead is still attached to spans only by temporary ropes.  Also, note the openness of the view without any centre poles on both sides of the intersection.

East from Dufferin. This view shows clearly the effect of the meander when seen in telephoto, but also the visual blight of the centre poles (which has been obvious in preceding photos). Urban design is not the TTC’s strong suit.

This shows the eastbound stop at Dufferin and the recent modification needed to make the traffic lane wide enough to better handle north-to-east turns.

A closeup of the comparable fix to the westbound stop. This work was completed quite recently after the original design was found to be unworkable.

West from Dufferin. Fairly straight track, but a lot of unattractive poles. This is a “normal” shot, not a telephoto view. Shame on the TTC for forcing this design on St. Clair.

East from Via Italia toward Dufferin. The gentle meander of the normal view changes substantially in the telephoto version.

West from Earlscourt toward Lansdowne where the line will end, temporarily until the Gunn’s Road section opens in 2010.

71 thoughts on “Wandering Rails on St. Clair (Update 2)

  1. Steve’s Note: The following comments were originally posted in the Finch LRT thread and were edited before I had a chance to photograph the line. Although my “disgust” (see below) is tempered slightly by seeing that the track is not as bad as portrayed, my opinion of the overall design including the centre poles, the additional meanders they trigger, and the extra space they occupy remains less than enthusiastic. If this is what passes for “urban design” in Toronto, we are in big trouble.

    Chris, here’s how we build light rail in Toronto.

    That’s why Transit City is doomed.

    Steve: Although this (and related shots) emphasizes the effect with a telephoto lens, yes, this is really embarrassing. The TTC claims that it is comparable to what’s already in place between Yonge and Bathurst. I plan to photograph both sections at the same focal length.

    I am disgusted at the fact that the TTC and the City have built something like this.


  2. Jon … yep, it’s true. The same guys that worked on the ceilings and walls in my condo built that section of track. That ROW has completely decimated St. Clair W. from both a functional and aesthetic perspective, and we’re going to build more of these damn things on Finch W. and Sheppard E.? Not surprisingly, the LRT advocates and pro-Transit City crowd are silent. And, we can expect to see more zig-zags like that up in the ‘burbs with the longer left turn lanes and the center platforms. Think about it — if you can’t have a straight centre left turn lane that’s shared by traffic in both directions, how can you avoid those twists?

    Steve: At the risk of sounding just a bit testy, if you have been following the comment thread, you will see that I and others are not at all pleased by what we see in those photos. If you want to trash the TC lovers and LRT advocates, get your facts straight. (I’m sure the subway jocks will find a way to screw up the Spadina extension and go way over budget too, but their work will be largely out of view.)

    However, I want to go out and take my own set comparing track east from Spadina to Yonge with the new section, all taken at the same focal length, so that we have an apples-to-apples view. The TTC claims that the track on the eastern part was criticised for its meanders, but works just fine, and that the west part should too.

    I don’t agree considering the way many more left turn lanes were shoe-horned into the new section, but I want proof before I start railing (sorry about that) against the TTC and the City.

    The suburban lines should not have meanders because many of them are starting with three lanes in each direction and are not trying to retain oodles of parking, provide for street furniture, placate merchants who want to take over half of the sidewalk, or any of the other mutually exclusive goals that St. Clair was stuck with. Note that I said “should”, and I am sure the City road designers will find a way to screw up the TC lines too.


  3. Steve said: At the risk of sounding just a bit testy, if you have been following the comment thread, you will see that I and others are not at all pleased by what we see in those photos. If you want to trash the TC lovers and LRT advocates, get your facts straight. (I’m sure the subway jocks will find a way to screw up the Spadina extension and go way over budget too, but their work will be largely out of view.)

    Not to mention the stations are like airports in the middle of no where.

    This is not about subway advocates vs lrt advocates … it’s the fact that the TTC does not know how to build good transit. Our subways are overbuilt and our lrt/streetcars are poorly designed, and for lack of better wording … look ugly!!


  4. I have seen the western portion, and it would seem that the vast majority of left-turn lanes there force the roadway to meander, not the ROW.


  5. Kevin … I’m not saying LRT is bad. In principle, it’s actually quite good. What I’m saying is the TTC couldn’t build a proper LRT line if their life depended on it. What we should have heard the LRT advocates say was, “Too much compromise is being done here on left turns, sidewalk width, and parking. St. Clair just isn’t wide enough for a ROW like Spadina, so let’s rebuild the tracks as they are in mixed traffic”.

    On the other hand, the TTC DOES know how to build and operate subways properly (except for Russell Hill and “that multi-million dollar letter of the alphabet between X and Z).

    And, yes, it would be nice if all the new subways stations were built like Christie or Chester, but we’re in an era of grand architecture — it’s not just subway stations that are overbuilt, it’s everything.


  6. And it’s with these pictures where we can see the comparable difference between the center pole and side poles at the streetcar stops. The side poles are far more attractive. If TC is built with center poles we can get ready for what I call TH (or Transit Hell) in Toronto.

    When part of a line has to be shut down due to an emergency, buses won’t be able to run in the ROW and therefore they will be forced to use their old methods (the methods we see on Finch and Steeles) with buses slugging their way through the city. But of course the TTC doesn’t like to admit their past mistakes so we will probably see this in the next 10 years.


  7. Not to mention the streetlights. These grey things were okay in the Forest Hill area, but in Corso Italia, the acorn is what clearly belongs.

    Steve: But the acorn was not a pet project of the project designer. The new Darth Vadar lights are even showing up elsewhere in the city. Yet another urban design disaster, but nobody seems to care.


  8. The sections without centre poles look a fair bit better. It’s ironic: to “fix” the visual clutter of thin overhead wires, the TTC has installed thick poles that are much more prominent.

    As for the curves, since they occur mostly around stops, streetcars in one direction — if not in both directions — wouldn’t be passing through at full speed anyway.

    What the TTC can still fix is the transit priority system. Yesterday, I took the 512 from St. Clair to St. Clair West to dodge a subway delay. I wished I’d timed it, but I can say it was about as fast as a bus in light mixed traffic. All-door loading will help, but something still has to be done about the lights. If you’re going to rip up the street and dedicate so much space to streetcars, people have a right to expect they’ll get higher-order transit service as a result. Especially before the Eglinton line gets built, a higher quality east-west link along St. Clair is a useful piece of the network.

    (BTW, the Transit Control announcements for the subway delay — which had Union to Bloor out of service — were made frequently and wisely emphasized using the University line and east-west streetcar routes, with only a quick mention of shuttle buses at the end.)

    Steve: Another big problem on St. Clair is that the cars have vastly too much time to get from Yonge to St. Clair West and they dawdle all the way along the line. This will change with the new scheduled for the opening to Lansdowne, and it will be interesting to see how the operators (and the traffic signals) react.


  9. Not like there’s much to lose. Dare I say that Finch West lacks much of a streetscape to begin with, so we are definitely passing up the opportunity to inject some life into it, but hardly making it worse. If anything, any ROW in the middle of the road, centre poles or not, will serve to break up the visual mass of a wide suburban artery, and probably give it a slightly less hostile appearance.


  10. None of the old LRT Lines (Spadina, Queen’s Quay) that were built in years past have these centre poles. The only LRT lines that have them other than St. Clair is on Queen’s Quay between Spadina and Bathurst Spadina south of Front, and the tracks along Fleet into Exhibition Loop. So the TTC could have just looked at THEIR OWN SYSTEM to figure out whether it would work or not. And yet they didn’t. (In fairness, the sections I talked about don’t have exactly the same problems as what we’re discussing on St. Clair, but they could have still looked at them for examples).

    Every day lately I’m finding a new little nugget somewhere on the system that makes me even more astonished at just how clueless the TTC really is. This is just the latest in a long list.


  11. Wot? No mention of the completely unnecessary surface undulations shown in your pictures? No mention that the design of the shelters makes them look like they are about to fall on top of waiting passengers, and that this makes them appear to be poorly constructed?

    I’m shocked.

    Steve: The surface undulations (vertical) at intersections may be odd, but they don’t compromise the ability of the line to operate as we see every day on the eastern section of St. Clair and on other lines. Those “shelters” on the other hand are not attractive, and look really odd whenever they are at a location where the street isn’t dead level. Just one more of the bad pieces of “design” visited on this project. The word “amateur” comes to mind, but this would insult many fine folk like me who don’t do this sort of thing for a living.


  12. I’m starting to think my dad was right when frustrated and stuck in traffic on St. Clair he said “in twenty years they’re going to rip this up and rebuild it like before”.


  13. It’s amazing how much better the section without centre poles looks, compared to the section with them, I will never understand the TTC’s insistence on using them.

    Thanks for your detective work on the case of the wandering rails, I think the original photos are a gross exaggeration of the issue and distract from the many valid criticism regarding the St Clair project.


  14. The media using specific photo angles and zoom levels to turn nothing into a story in order to sell more papers?! Say it isn’t so!?


  15. Steve said: “I believe that the shots that have been published suit the agenda of the anti-St. Clair and, by extension, anti-Transit City factions who seek to discredit what the TTC is doing by any means possible.”

    At the same time, I think many of your ideas and numbers raised suit the TTC’s agenda and everyone south of Bloor Street that every transit project in Toronto needs to be an LRT!

    Steve: Many but not all. Indeed, the TTC has only recently embraced, if even that term can be used, LRT as a viable option in our transit system. You may have noticed that I support the DRL as a subway line, and you may also notice that the Eglinton “LRT” spends a lot of its time underground but takes advantage of LRT’s flexibility to move to grade level when there is a wide enough right-of-way. I have also been a strong advocate of improved bus service on the many routes where we will never see demand at a high enough level to justify anything else.

    It’s easy to slag those who live “south of Bloor” (I happen to live slightly north of it, and grew up in North Toronto), just as it’s easy to dis the “folks from the burbs” as car-lovers. The situation is much more complex, and much of what we have to deal with today in the transit system is the product of decades of the city’s evolution. Folks “south of Bloor” don’t want suburban values and development patterns rammed down their throats any more than the suburbanites want a pedestrian/cycling dominated streetscape forced onto their neighbourhoods.


  16. Aside from visual effects, what is it about the centre poles that qualifies as a design flaw? I personally like centre poples for a change although I might have chosen a more graceful design.

    As for M. Briganti, if you think that Chester and Christie qualify as desirable stations you would really love a communal, as in a gym or public swimming pool, shower.

    Steve: The street operated for decades with side poles holding up the overhead. Adding centre poles took roughly a metre out of the available space to fit everything in on a street where every inch counts, and also created the need to wiggle back and forth from side to centre pole alignment at every stop (and a few other places where the centre poles end too). The TTC claims that the side poles represent a service reliability problem because someone might hit them and knock down the overhead. For those who have not been keeping track, this is a rare event.

    The real reason was that the original city design had the lighting poles further apart, but it turned out that the spiffy new light fixtures don’t throw enough light on the street at the proposed spacing, and so the lighting poles are roughly the same spacing as the old combined overhead and lighting poles. This was clear from the first phase from Yonge to Spadina, but the TTC adamantly continued the design further west where problems with available space were more critical.

    The TTC has not been entirely honest about the reasoning behind centre poles, but they are always good at cooking up “operational” justifications for whatever they do. From a design point of view, even if there were an issue, the question is one of tradeoffs. How often will a pole be knocked down versus the benefit of having more space to work with and a less cluttered street design?


  17. I have in my possession a picture taken July 19, 2009 of the tracks just west of Glenholme avenue that shows an unusual hook.

    The tracks across Glenhome had received the final concrete. The tracks to the west had concrete to the bottom of the rails only. The picture clearly shows the gentle shift in the tracks as they cross Glenholme. This is normal at most stations.

    When the eastbound track west of Glenholme straightens up following the shift , the curve appears to have been carried slightly too far then corrected to form a slight hook to the south by a couple of inches.

    I will revisit the site and determine if it still exists in the finished right of way.


  18. Obviously the TTC never thought of operating anything else than streetcars on the ROW. The curves are probably fine since streetcars could only operate at slower speeds with all those traffic signals.

    The ROW could still be used by buses, but they must pass through carefully. Being raised 6 inches from the road, this will posed some problem with bus operation at higher speed. I don’t know how firetrucks would use the ROW.

    Why does the city still design transit projects in the name of traffic?

    Steve: Partly because the local Councillors can’t say “no” to their constituents, and partly because Toronto, for all its pattling on about being “green” has yet to really address taking away privileges and priorities from cars.


  19. David said …

    “As for M. Briganti, if you think that Chester and Christie qualify as desirable stations you would really love a communal, as in a gym or public swimming pool, shower.”

    If you were paying attention, the point was that those two stations are not overbuilt. If we built all the stations on the Spadina extension like that, we’d save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. We don’t need subway stations that are airport terminals filled with fancy art.

    Steve: Although I have not had time to comment in detail here, one thing I have noticed is that the stations are designed much more for their looks than for functionality. At Steeles West, for example, there are several changes in level needed to get from the platform to the surface, but because the station has a long diagonal approach at both ends, this cannot be achieved in a single vertical rise. The number of separate elevators and escalators is much higher than would be the case for a “conventional” design, and the probability than all of them will be working on any given day is correspondingly low. So much for accessibility.


  20. The thing about those shelters that I never understood is why they weren’t standardized. Instead of this cobbled-together design (talk about that crappy piece of pre-cast at the bottom of each one) why not use the relatively attractive shelter design that is fast becoming a standard across the GTA? Although, the subway-font stop names are a nice touch.

    Steve: Yes, a nice touch, but it doesn’t feel like part of an integrated design standard, just an idea someone had in the face of the gradual loss of this font in its original home.

    You may also notice that when streetcars are in a rush on the east portion, a rare occurence, they do indeed take advantage of the transit priority, whether purposeful or not.


  21. The track wander is one thing. The Dufferin shots really highlight the visual clutter though, I haven’t been out that way in a while. All you can see through that little valley is poles, wires, and traffic light fixtures – they’ve also multiplied substantially. It’s awful.

    The dawdling streetcars is an interesting issue. Something I’ve noticed is that when the streetcars cruise down the ROW at 25kph when passenger loads are light is that they almost never stop at a red light, the operators seem to have timing the lights down to an art. Oh, for real priority…


  22. And I heard one of the stations at York is going to have overhead lighting a la Yorkdale 1978. They’re really going all out for this line.


  23. One question I have wondered about is with the 126 Christie bus and will it use the ROW between Christie Street and St. Clair West station? Will there be room for the bus to bypass the car traffic, by using the ROW?

    Steve: This should be possible. The stretch east of Christie doesn’t wander much, and buses are already using the right-of-way east of Vaughan.


  24. Who pays the piper calls the tune, City wants turning lanes, City gets turning lanes. City not concerned that they should not be allowed on main arterials.

    Left turns mean four phases at traffic lights – delay to traffic. No left turns, only two phases required, reduced delay. Get rid of them.

    If you must have left turns, there are two alternatives. (1) Allow left turning traffic to line up on tram track. This requires absolute tram priority, with a green filter arrow to clear the left turning vehicles off the tram track when a tram approaches, so the tram gets a clear run to the stop on the FAR side.

    (2) If you have space for a wide median, put the left turning traffic into a centre turn lane, clear of the tram tracks which pass it on the kerb side. Then the trams can pass the queued turning traffic and get a clear run to the stop on the FAR side. Absolute tram priority not essential in this case, but still desirable.

    Does tram priority affect other traffic? Yes – trams normally operate on streets with the major traffic flow – if a tram approaches it catches a green – no change – or the existing red is curtailed, good for major street traffic, or the green is continued till the tram passes, good for major street traffic. And the cross traffic can get catch up time after the tram has passed. If the trams are on the minor street, there is normally a much longer red, so priority will mean that the minor street traffic has a chance of getting a reduced red. It benefits, main street traffic is stopped but will catch up after the tram has passed.

    Centre poles – no problem but make sure that where changes from centre poles to side poles occur the tracks do not have to deviate – extra clearance for emergency traffic. If you use centre poles use catenary overhead, poles can be spaced up to about 300 ft, cheaper than centre poles at 120 ft spacing, and much cheaper than side poles at 120 ft spacing. A single span at 300 ft spacing can clear an awful lot of obstacles!


    Dudley Horscroft


  25. The wanders east of St. Clair West station haven’t affected the ride in any way I’ve noticed. Apart from that, I agree with pretty well every criticism here. The design of the project is abominable, for all the reasons given. And why is the shelter at Yonge at the wrong end of the platform?


  26. There are two curious right-of-way curb cuts on the soon-to-open portion of the 512 St.Clair carline.

    The cut at Atlas Avenue to serve the firehall is being used regularly by motorists both entering and leaving Atlas Avenue. It seems that signage must be more prominent to be at least moderately successful in reducing/eliminating cross-over vehicular traffic onto the dedicated tramway.

    An additional cut of about 4 meters is located east of Dufferin Street that lines -up with the Jerrett Funeral Home on the south side of St.Clair Avenue and Saint Clare Catholic Church on the north side of the street. Could this connection have anything to do with a pedestrian funerial procession between the two entities?

    Steve: Yes.


  27. I can’t see why they’d use centre poles at all, they’re in the way of emergency vehicles, replacement buses and snow plows.

    Same with the stepped up right-of-way, it wasn’t needed. and created the main expense. If you want to keep cars off the tracks is this the only method available?


  28. I don’t think the 126 will be using the right of way after all. Cuts have been made into the curbs of the ROW just past Vaughan, and the curbside night bus stops til Christie are also marked for the 126.


  29. Buses should be able to get on the right-of-way between Old Weston Road and Keele Street, as well as between Christie Street and the St. Clair West station. However, it looks like there will be very limited use of it by buses.

    After all, the 312 night bus boards at curbside and not on the right-of-way in the finished portion of the right-of-way.


  30. A clever design, actually. The track design is a *feature* to accommodate motorists and the disabled.

    The complainers don’t use the TTC, otherwise they would have noticed the track design months ago.

    Q: What happens at streetcar stops? A:Streetcars slow down and stop.

    Slight bends in the track are mostly at intersections.

    The TTC was just trying to be nice to motorists, using the near side space for left-turns, and by designing far-side wide platforms (for the disabled).

    Good work, TTC!

    Now the newspapers can go back to sleep and continue to sell cars.


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