The 512 Rocket

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.

November/December 2009

January 2010

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.

27 thoughts on “The 512 Rocket

  1. There was a minor accident at St. Clair Station Monday evening. A streetcar collided with a car as it was turning into the station. Neither vehicle appeared to have any visible damage, however the car driver refused to move out of the path of the streetcar until the police came. As a result the line was essentially closed east of St. Clair West for about 30 minutes. The bunching that ensued afterwards did not appear to sort itself out for the rest of the night.


  2. Thanks for taking the time to collect this information and put pressure on the TTC, Steve! We will have a better transit system as a result.

    I hope Transit City designers are taking notes. With three LRT lines already under their belts, the TTC should be expert now at building and opening new lines, so Sheppard will be flawless, right?


  3. I agree with all your suggestions. I am sure that I witnessed non-locals run off the bus at incorrect far side stop due to premature announcements. I don’t know what they will end up doing at Hendrick. Cars have been using the turn since construction was completed there. There will be an accident at some point no ifs about it.

    Just one fussy point. Those two stops that were not added to the plans as much as put back in. Those stops had been there before the project. Their removal were presented by the TTC as a fait accompli to the communities affected and were only put back due to considerable ressistance. We may agree that they were superfluous (like Tweedsmuir stop IMHO), but I think that the planners should have expected pushback and had something in their back pocket.

    Steve: I agree that the stops were restored, but especially at Northcliffe, the way everything is built gives the feel of very much a last minute thing.


  4. I hope I am not the only one wondering why the TTC still insists on keeping schedules for routes as frequent as St Clair. Just control the headways at terminals and let the cars run as fast as they can.

    Thanks as well for collecting this information, I really hope the all the time and effort spent on improving St Clair is not squandered by running crappy service.


  5. I expect that there will be some teething and fine tuning problems to get the signals set up correctly, especially seeing that Guild Electric was still installing equipment Saturday morning before and between the PCC’s. When I drove the Line last Thursday evening it seemed that every light was timed to turn red from Christie to Caledonia just as cars got to them in both directions. After Caledonia I got three green signals in a row.

    I also noticed the proliferation of strollers, walkers and shopping buggies on Saturday. This line needs to get the CLRV’s without the extra posts in the front. It also needs LFLRV’s ASAP. I have to go into Toronto on Jan. 11 so I will try and ride it then. They should have most of the fine tuning done and a week of heavy rush hour service under their belt.


  6. I’m not sure that other City agencies have received the message that the right-of-way is open. On Sunday afternoon, my streetcar was blocked by an ambulance parked on the ROW just west of the Dufferin stop. The ambulance did not appear to be on call (i.e. no flashing lights or activity on the street). I counted at least four streetcars behind us when we all got booted off by the operator.


  7. @Andrew Clarkson

    There is a 50% chance that the line will be flawless.

    Can’t wait for the Sheppard LRT to be done. Hope they have side poles.


  8. I think some retractable bollards in the center of the row would solve the Hendrick Ave situation.

    Steve: The fire department would likely complain about the time needed to “retract” and replace them. Then there’s the problem of them freezing in place with snow and ice.


  9. The roads department seems to be deliberately trying to sabotage public transit in Toronto. The non-use of semaphore-like transit signals like they have in Europe, the non-transit priority of signals (left turns first), and requiring left turn lanes on St. Clair (which weren’t there before) shows how out of touch they are.

    Why doesn’t the roads department start by painted a dash stop line in the eastbound lanes just before the Lansdowne loop, along with a do not block intersection sign? Same with the westbound lanes at Robina Avenue (1 block east of Oakwood).


  10. I’m not a bollard shill but they do make them automatic and heated now. Mind you, a left-turn camera like our red-light cameras could be a revenue generator.


  11. Neil says:
    December 22, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    “I think some retractable bollards in the center of the row would solve the Hendrick Ave situation.”

    Steve: “The fire department would likely complain about the time needed to ‘retract’ and replace them. Then there’s the problem of them freezing in place with snow and ice.”

    Why don’t they put some southward facing no left turn signs on some of the many centre poles and on the north side of the road. Make it 1.5 m square. Also put in speed bumps with gaps cut that are a suitable spacing for fire truck tires. That would help discourage the drivers.


  12. Last night: Ma, grandma, and four, count ’em, four kids, with oldschool useless shopping cart and no fewer than five extra “environment-friendly” shopping bags.

    Now imagine getting these people on and off a CLRV. The kids did nothing, everybody spoke only Russian, bags were moved off one at a time (in two stages down the stairs sometimes), and everybody went a distance of exactly one stop. Oh, and they asked for transfers after it was all done.

    Who was the person who yelled out “Are we finally ready to go?” several minutes into this endless process, you might wonder?


  13. Steve:

    I hope it doesn’t take as long to fix the lights on St. Clair has it has taken to fix the lights on Spadina… oh right Spadina isn’t fixed yet, never mind.


  14. I was at the front of the streetcar on the passenger side when the “collision'”at St. Clair station occurred. There was no contact between the two vehicles but the car had driven up so close to the streetcar that the latter couldn’t enter the loop.

    The driver of the car was a jerk. He swore and was abusive towards the operator and would not back up to allow the streetcar to clear, even when passengers tried to persuade him to. I was asked by the police and by a man from the TTC to give a statement since I had seen everything from close range.

    The streetcar driver was a good fast driver (and a friendly guy) and, as Steve observed with fast drivers, seemed to get mostly green lights.


  15. It’s ridiculous how bad the signal priority is right now on St. Clair right now. At least Spadina has the excuse of having intersections with four busy east-west streetcar lines, plus extremely frequent service, very high usage and heavy pedestrian traffic, which make signal priority very difficult to implement effectively (however Spadina does have reasonably effective priority at most of the minor cross streets, which have left turn restrictions).

    St. Clair has no excuse: it is a much more lightly used line and the only really busy bus route that crosses it is Dufferin, yet the streetcars constantly get stopped at red lights because there are left/U-turn lanes even at many minor intersections which get priority. With proper signal priority, St. Clair streetcars should be able to get a green light 90% of the time, stopping only when a bus is approaching on one of the north-south cross streets.


  16. The driver of the car who refused to yield to the streetcar turning into the St. Clair station, is one of my pet peeves in the battle between automobiles and streetcars. What I would like to know, did the car driver get charged with anything? And if he did, was it just a slap on the wrist?

    We see that same sort of problem in other parts of the system. Cars turning left in a no left turn intersection, passing open doors, parking so far from a snowbank so as to block the streetcar, and so on.

    Steve: Actually, I think that the streetcar making the turn legally must yield to the through traffic unless there is a specific signal controlling the movement, or a “yield” sign for the auto traffic.


  17. I noticed in one of the St Clair streetcar that when the light is red for forward traffic and the streetcar is sitting waiting for a green, that there is a green left advance light for cars first rather than allowing the streetcar to go straight first.

    Do you think the TTC/Roads Management would change this practice?

    Steve: They seem to be quite adamant that the left turns go first. The claim is that the streetcars get the same amount of green time no matter what, but they seem to miss the point that getting it sooner means streetcars can be crossing to the pickup point for passengers sooner. All of those ten seconds at a time mount up.


  18. So much interesting commentary, thanks Steve for documenting all this. It’s a shame the TTC doesn’t have engineers out there making similar observations and fixing the problems — I suspect a couple of days of ad-hoc fixes could turn into some more long-term corrections and/or policies to solve these issues, complete with notes on how to resolve them on future line development.

    I wonder if speed is the issue on some of the other lines like the Harbourfront – from my amateur observations on the last few times I’ve been down there, I’ve seen cars zoom by straight through green lights, but those that hesitated stopped. Over. And over. And over. Perhaps it’s just a driver training issue?

    On the issue with turning left through the ROW – are there not “Do Not Enter” signs facing traffic that could turn into there, in addition to the No Left Turn signs? Isn’t that a simpler solution, and a more obvious one?


  19. Did anyone care to notice that majority of the westbound St. Clair streetcars were signed 512 Keele as opposed to 512 Lansdowne which they are also capable of displaying?

    Would it not make more sense to properly sign the cars as opposed to signing them for the point at which the tracks end? Life is confusing enough on St. Clair West without having to deal with two terminals for the westbound service. I can see this incorrect signage causing issues for those less informed as they will think the streetcar goes all the way to Keele and not turning back at Lansdowne and therefore not need to get on the 512 replacement bus at Oakwood.

    When will the TTC learn that letting the operators sign their vehicles at their own discretion is not always the best idea and in fact leads to more confusion? There should be a uniform policy in these situations which states that all cars should be signed for the point at which they terminate if possible not at the point where the line ends to avoid confusion.

    I mean if I got a streetcar without ever having heard of the mess on St. Clair and saw a streetcar signed as 512 Keele and I had to go to Old Weston Road I would get on it thinking it would take me there not knowing I had to get off and take a bus.

    Now that my rant is over.. I would just like to say if the TTC wants to make life easier for those taking the 512 streetcar, start with signing the vehicles properly. It would go a long way for people who are never out that way.

    Steve: Actually, it is common for vehicles to display their “standard” terminal destination so that riders going beyond the cutback point will get on. A good example is the 504 King service westbound which displays “Dundas West Station” most of the time. I have seen a number of riders who bypassed a “Lansdowne” car even though it would connect with a “Keele” bus. What the TTC needs to do is to set a standard for this that all westbound 512 cars display “Keele”.


  20. The TTC and the passengers needs to get creative with respect to transit priority … in much the same way they have at Yonge/Bloor with respect to platform efficiency, and in the same way that the biking community is getting creative with the parking in bike lanes issues.

    I see it as a number of issues…

    1) Stoplights – Steve you’ve tried for x number of years to get a report from them, I think it’s not going to happen. I suggest instead that the community start to take videos of the bad situations and put them on youtube. It shouldn’t be hard to find a streetcar waiting for 2 minutes at a light, but it will be amazing when there are 100’s of videos … the media will be our friend, they love an easy story like that.

    2) Taxis – Honestly the police will never clear the no-stopping locations on King that taxis sit at … what the TTC (or the public) should do is sit a guy out the front of First Canadian Place with a video camera. The video should be indexed and cataloged and sent to Toronto’s taxi licensing office. One of the requirements of taxi licenses is:

    The conduct of the applicant affords reasonable grounds for belief that the applicant has carried on, or will not carry on, his or her trade, business or occupation in accordance with law and with integrity and honesty;

    (Corporations are covered later, and might be a better target).

    In any case, after a few cabbies (or companies) are denied licenses due to video evidence of their lack of integrity … it seems to me that they would stop stopping in no stopping locations.

    3) Left turns – as with number 1, someone needs to calculate the amount of time spent waiting for left turns by all TTC vehicles, and calculate the amount of money wasted … the TTC should also encourage the roads department to do a “test” of late left turns on a line or two for a few weeks to determine the effects.

    A lot of money can be saved by making the current system work more smoothly.

    Steve: The TTC can “encourage” all it likes, but it’s City Council that directs changes to be made. Even then, I am sure that there are ways to guarantee the experiment would fail.


  21. Even with its own right-of-way the scheduled speed is less than 16 km/hr? I presume that most of that is due to embus/debus time and traffic signals.

    In terms of transportation, I am much faster on my bicycle. Which underlines the importance of having proper separated bicycle lanes on roads that are being rebuilt for the new TC lines.

    I will refrain from commenting on the lack of proper cycle infrastructure on St. Clair. It would require extensive use of my vocabulary of profanity, blasphemy and obscenity to adequately describe my opinion of the greed, selfishness and irresponsibility that led to the present outcome.


  22. The speeds of this thing definitely suggest “keep riding the bike”. Ah well, at least we gave people jobs to build it.


  23. I was in Don Mills today to drop my wife at the Don Mills Centre, it is still a mall. While she was shopping I drove into look at St. Clair and ride it in service. A problem had been cleared at Christie just before I got there so service was a bit screwed up, but not bad. My observations:

    1) There is a new no left turn sign on the north side of St. Clair at the street with the fire station.

    2) Most of the traffic lights are not synchronized for cars so hopefully they are not bad for the street cars.

    3) The street cars seemed to have learned how to push their way into traffic at Lansdowne loop and the autos seem to expect them again.

    4) Has anyone at the TTC considered the problems that are going to be created with 28 m long LFLRV’s trying to use Lansdowne loop or St. Clair West Station? When we turned south we could not enter the loop because a 47 bus was laying over at the curb and blocked the curve. Our tail end was blocking part of the pedestrian lanes. I hate to think where the tail end of an LFLRV would have been.

    5) What are they going to do at St. Clair West; use the spare track for eastbound and the normal track for westbound loading or have everyone load the one platform?

    6) The on street running east of Yonge plus entering and exiting the station is going to be fun. If the car cannot get all the way in or out it is going to block a lot of traffic. They need to abolish all parking, loading and unloading east bound between Yonge and the entrance to the loop and west bound from the loop exit until St. Clair widens out.

    There are a few other loops that could be problems for longer cars; McCaul, Kipling, Coxwell and especially Wolseley come to mind where it will be difficult to clear the sidewalks let alone park two LFLRV’s. Spadina Station also comes to mind. I assume that something will be done at Union. Maybe the east end short turns for Carlton could go to Woodbine loop as it has lots of room. Fortunately most of the terminal loops are fairly large, especially if they are in a subway station. Nevertheless, Neville and Bathurst Station will be tight for two LFLRV’s

    I rode 8 run from Lansdowne to St. Clair West and X1 back. The cars seemed to get most of the lights green or with a short wait for the turn cycle. The times when they had to wait were after stops with no one getting on or off.

    Steve: I too was on St. Clair today. The problems with traffic lights tend to occur where they are close together, especially at those that are between stops. The TTC and the City traffic folks have still not figured out how to handle transit priority spanning more than one “block” between signals, and when they are close together, there isn’t enough lead time for detection of an oncoming car to extend transit green time. Also, the signal at Vaughan was inexplicably giving a transit white bar call on westbound even though the cars were not turning. This was totally lost time in the cycle.

    I was on a car westbound from Yonge that was in a bit of a gap, stopped at every stop, but otherwise made as good time as it could. The running time from St. Clair Station to Earlscourt was 23 minutes including 2 minutes within St. Clair West Station, but not including terminal time at either end. Given that the scheduled trip time is at best 47 minutes round trip, it appears to be impossible for cars to make the schedule whenever they have to serve all the stops.


  24. Mitch: The speeds of this thing definitely suggest “keep riding the bike”.

    Not on St. Clair you won’t, especially in the winter. I live at St. Clair and Keele and like to shop along St. Clair as much as possible. I can go anywhere else in the city and bring back some very solid loads on my panniers, and generally beat transit times going downtown and back. But I can’t do this in my own neighbourhood without either taking my life in my hands on the street (which, because of street parking, has only one workable lane in each direction for cars, trucks, the 512 buses and suicidal cyclists), or breaking the law by riding on the nice, wide sidewalks, even though I’m slow and careful and give full priority to pedestrians. I’ve never used St. Clair as a throughway to downtown — I have Davenport for that — and I can partially work around this mess by going north or south to parallel streets, then sneaking in through side streets, but what used to be a livable neighbourhood street now feels more like a dedicated highway.

    I can see why repairing the road surfaces and burying overhead wires made sense for the neighbourhood. But the old streetcar system worked well enough that effectively narrowing the street with the ROW has made it unworkable for the rest of us. Spadina has handled the ROW beautifully because it’s very wide and has those tucked-in parking lanes. St. Clair is just too narrow now. It’s a shame the money couldn’t have been used elsewhere in the system.


  25. I was away for a few weeks so today was my first regular commute between Arlington Ave and St. Clair W Station via streetcar. Morning trip ~8:30am was fairly uneventful although cars were very bunched leading to an abnormally long wait that seemed very familiar.

    My return trip was a fiasco and left me with very dismal hopes for my use of this line. Lineups in St. Clair West stretched from the curb back past the escalators almost to the turnstiles with no cars in sight. When the first westbound car appeared after 10+ minutes more than half the passengers remained on-board to continue west. It became clear to me the end of split 512 service will benefit rush-hour passengers continuing through the station but will likely delay those boarding in the station far longer than any elusive time gained on the dedicated right-away.

    During split service, all incoming 512 passengers were forced to disembark in the station and join the back of the next line behind those already waiting there. Without split service, these ongoing passengers simply ride on, with the result that this evening 2-3 cars worth of continuing passengers had passed through the station before some waiting in the station line were able to board. While average passenger commute times may not have changed, the disparity in commute times increases substantially and it is the boarding passengers like me who are worse off.

    If service is frequent enough, this boarding issue is of little concern. But with delays the lines can grow very quickly as they did today. My negative experience was exacerbated by a number of related factors:

    1. Despite being such a large station, the boarding areas for 512 east and west are immediately alongside each other which led to increased congestion for passengers as lineups grew.

    2. The absence of any visible TTC personnel to explain the delay or manage capacity when the streetcars boarded caused tensions to rise dramatically. Boarding passengers overloaded each car to the point of discomfort while drivers checked their cell phone or sat silently.

    3. Our car experienced a long delay at each stop as the driver said nothing to boarding passengers until the doors were closed, when she insisted they all move completely behind the white line before she would start, leading to pushing and heckling between the passengers of an already full bus that I would have preferred my three-year old not witness. Exiting at Arlington with him in my arms was a physical challenge as we burrowed our way to the nearest exit.

    4. There was no visible evidence of transit signal priority.

    5. Stop announcements had clearly not been calibrated to the new boarding points, causing some upcoming stops such as Winona to be announced before the vehicle had reached the prior one. This is an embarrassment for the TTC for which I can see no reasonable excuse.

    6. Real-time schedule displays at St. Clair West would have allowed a portion of riders to strategically divert to the 90 Vaughan (in my case) or 126 Christie service based on arrival timing. Without this information most riders were hesitant to abandon one long wait when there was the potential for another. (In contrast the real-time displays on the subway platform seem to provide no actionable information to their captive audience).

    Although I suspect that today was a particularly bad one for the service the experience gives me little optimism for the future. I believe I saw Joe Mihevc behind me in the streetcar lineup busily using his cell phone but any confidence I had that he could spur immediate improvement in such matters has waned in recent years.


  26. I think the first fatality has just happened at Hendrick. Five police cars, fire, and ambulance crews. Yellow tape. They are having buses turn around at Arlington to be rerouted somewhere.

    It was only a matter of time.

    Steve: I was not impressed by the lack of signage and warnings about “no left turn” at this location. Given that the design was one of those “on the fly” things during construction, I can’t help wondering if the intersection ever had a proper design review for traffic controls.


Comments are closed.