After a few days’ operation, observations about the new St. Clair streetcar right-of-way from Bathurst to Lansdowne are accumulating (see comments in the previous post in this series).
On Sunday, service was a shambles because in general the operators could not achieve the faster scheduled speeds in the new timetables. Part of this was due to unfamiliarity, part to the operation of the traffic signals, part due to passenger behaviour and part to what I can only call “operator style”. For anyone used to dawdling back and forth on the old shuttle east of St. Clair West Station, the new timetables are quite a change.
The scheduled speed for the shuttle was 11.3km/h on weekdays and 11.9km/h on weekends. Headways were supposed to be 3’30” and 4’00” respectively. All who rode the line know that the cars spent most of their time sitting at terminals, and the schedule was complete fiction. This operating style established the idea that there was lots of time for layovers.
The scheduled speed for weekday operations on the new route ranges from 12.8km/h (am peak) up to 15.9km/h (late evening). On weekends the scheduled speeds are higher than comparable periods on weekdays.
It is worth looking at the the 510 Spadina service (also shown in the linked summaries above). The segment from Bloor to King ranges from 10.5 to 12.6km/h with service to Union at a higher average speed because of fast running south of King.
St. Clair suffers from a variety of problems. Some will pass with experience, some can be fixed, and others are inherent in the operation.
- Operators are new to the line, and they don’t yet have a good sense of how the traffic signals behave. I have noticed that cars running at a good speed down the right-of-way tend to make the green signals, but dawdlers who are unsure will get caught by a red. This may be due to an arrangement of detectors that extend green time, but only for a fixed period. If a car approaches an intersection slowly, there is a good chance it will miss the light. I have seen a few cars run the just-turning-red light eastbound at Vaughan in frustration. The green extension periods may have to be lengthened.
- The arrangement at Earlscourt Loop does not give streetcars a dedicated left turn phase, nor is there any provision for a protected exit from the loop. This operation works only when traffic is uncongested. The signal head westbound has a transit call-on aspect, but this is not activated. I suspect it is tied to the electric switch controls (similar to Spadina and Adelaide southbound) and that switch is still manually operated.
- Some of the left/U turn phases appear to cycle whether there is any traffic present to use them or not, or to remain green for the turn movement after waiting traffic has cleared. This is either a problem with detectors or a programming issue with traffic signals. In any event, time that could be given to the transit green is wasted on unnecessary or too-long turn phases.
- Between the initial design and the final construction, two stops were added at Wychwood and Northcliffe, and a traffic signal was inserted at Alberta. This creates a few additional locations where service might be held.
- With a mix of high and low floor buses operating on the 512 bus, passengers have become accustomed to bringing strollers and shopping buggies on board in larger numbers than one sees on other streetcar routes, and to parking them at the front of the vehicle. The high-floor CLRVs, especially those where the centre stanchion has not yet been removed from the front vestibule, are particularly affected by this. Long boarding/alighting times and onboard congestion affect operators’ ability to move quickly down the line, and an affected car quickly causes bunching with following vehicles.
- There does not appear to be an “official” transfer point for westbound streetcar riders wishing to board the 512 Keele bus. Generally, this is happening at Earlscourt, the last stop before the turn into the loop at Lansdowne. This is a convenient location where the buses and streetcars stop side by side, as compared to Oakwood where streetcar passengers must cross from the nearside island to a bus stop on the northwest corner of the intersection.
Many cars are short-turning eastbound at St. Clair West Station to get back on time. That’s fine for people who are transferring to the subway, but it’s annoying to those who want to ride through. Depending on whether running times improve generally over coming weeks, an “ad hoc” schedule may have to be adopted. In any event, bunching of cars still does occur, despite the absence of “traffic congestion”, showing that this is only one contributing factor to service irregularity.
An “own goal” in that regard happened Monday at Earlscourt Loop where a car (that had been followed at low speed by the emergency truck all the way from Bathurst to Lansdowne) had its front air vent taped shut. A common problem on CLRVs is that this vent does not seal properly, and cars running at speed blow a strong, cold draft onto the operator’s legs and feet. This fix took several minutes during which six, yes six, streetcars and several buses accumulated and the intersection became gridlocked.
Possibly the TTC might pre-apply this “repair” to all cars to save on future delays. They could do this while fixing the heating (I was actually on one warm CLRV on Monday).
I have noticed that the “don’t drive here” barrier on the right-of-way west of Lansdowne has been moved far enough west to allow that area to be a tail track, one of the few places on the route a dead car can be stored easily.
Other issues on the line needing attention include:
- The automated stop announcements are programmed to assume that all stops are nearside, and they announce the next stop as a car crosses the intersection. This puts the announcement one stop ahead of the platform at which the car is actually located. Regulars know where they are, but visitors might get off prematurely. An adjustment to the tables in the GPS unit is required so that it calls “next” stops after vehicles have passed the farside platforms.
- Although there are pole cards showing the new route details, the information in the InfoPosts is not up to date. (Yes, I know, expecting these to be current could be deemed a sign of mental derangement, or at least a belief in the paranormal.)
- There is an inconsistency in the use of a green aspect or green arrow for the transit signal. Some locations have one, some have the other. This is a source of potential confusion for motorists.
- The signage for the left turn signals is, in places, very confusing. At Northcliffe westbound, there is a sign between two heads identifying them as the U-turn signal. At Alberta eastbound, where the left turn heads are not beside each other, the “Left Turn Signal” sign sits between a left turn and through head which can show opposite indications. This is a very bad, confusing design.
- At Hendrick, there is an opening in the right-of-way for fire truck access. Despite the presence of two “No Left Turn” signs at the north curb of St. Clair, westbound autos make the turn across the path of the streetcars. There is no sign directly in a turning motorist’s line of sight saying “don’t do this”.
There are rumours that Oakwood Loop awaits its overhead fixtures. Dare we speculate on why these are not already in Toronto considering the many years of delay in completion of the project? This should be off-the-shelf material. On the bright side, the absence of overhead at Oakwood will ensure that all service reaches Lansdowne.
The next major challenge for St. Clair will be snow. Will the right-of-way be cleared properly for transit vehicles? How will traffic behave in its own lanes once parking areas are clogged with piles of snow? I will update this post as operations on our newest streetcar route evolve.