A Post Mortem for St. Clair’s Construction

The January TTC agenda includes a report about the lessons learned from the St. Clair construction project and their implications for work on Transit City.

While it is refreshing to see anything the TTC does held up to the cold light of review, I can’t help feeling that the tone avoids the question of why this project ran out of control for so long.  The covering report states:

TTC considers the St. Clair Streetcar experience as an important stepping stone in the evolution of LRT in Toronto which began with the Spadina LRT, then Harbourfront LRT to the St. Clair project. This invaluable experience is an important guide in the delivery of the Transit City program.

That’s not saying much.  Toronto has now built three pseudo-LRT lines over two decades.  The first, Harbourfront, is due for a major redesign with the reconstruction of Queen’s Quay.  That line also features a connection at Union that was woefully inadequate for the demands placed on it, despite claims to the contrary by TTC engineers.

The Spadina LRT, a scheme that took 25 years from proposal to implementation, was a bit better, but like Harbourfront, still suffered from traffic signal timings that favoured road over transit operations.  This has still not been fully addressed even though the line opened in 1997.

Much was expected for St. Clair, a chance to “get it right”, but this project was plagued by:

  • conflicting and changing demands for the use of road space
  • a design process that produced detailed plans too late for proper public review (they appeared while the work was already out to tender), and that inevitably led to construction periods spanning winter months
  • a construction process involving multiple agencies and contractors with nobody in overall control

St. Clair did not “get it right”.  Now that the line is open to Lansdowne, we can see just how appallingly the TTC manages service on a route where there is no excuse for chronic bunching, wide gaps and short turns.  This comes just as the TTC attempts to gain credibility for Transit City as an improvement in suburban transit services.  St. Clair is not a shining example.

The bulk of the report was written by Les Kelman and Richard Soberman.  In their introductory letter, they state:

This report is not intended as an exhaustive assessment of all issues, problems, or accomplishments of the St. Clair project.

The main objective is to extract valuable lessons learned from the actual experience of implementing St. Clair streetcar improvements with the view to indicating how these lessons have affected and continue to guide the overall program for project management, budget, and schedule control for individual projects included in the Transit City LRT program.

The lack of thoroughness, of digging up the past, may come from a desire to look ahead to what can be better.  This is unfortunate, particularly given some language in the report itself.

The Environmental Assessment process began in 2003 with Council approval.  This was the “old EA” process including a substantial amount of work just to agree on a formal Terms of Reference.  This step was eliminated from the new Transit Project Assessment process now available to the Transit City projects.  Project approval followed late in 2004.

Some design elements have been discussed elsewhere on this site at length and I won’t belabour them here.  However, the Kelman/Soberman report talks about scope changes during construction.

… following the commencement of both the detailed design and construction phases, debate on project scope, including street enhancements, continued with the result that additional features were added. In other words, the project scope changed while the project was under construction.

Changes in the St. Clair budget included decisions to replace existing hydro service with underground services and expand project scope (including escalation) for enhanced street lighting, relocation of hydrants, and sidewalk and roadway enhancements.

I beg to differ.  Many changes including lighting and hydro undergrounding were already present in the proposal drawings shown to the public in early stages of the project.  Indeed, the undergrounding was used to show how attractive the street would be without its then-existing tangle of Hydro box construction on tall poles.

As for the lighting, that is bound up in the whole debate about centre poles for TTC overhead support.  Originally, the proposed light standards would have been roughly 50% further apart than the spacing needed for TTC overhead, and new luminaires would replace the standard teardrop design used in the old City of Toronto.  However, the new luminaires (which I cannot help calling “Darth Vadar” lights because of their shape) did not provide anywhere near the illumination level required on the street, and the pole spacing was changed back to the old layout.  None of this was the subject of any public review.  It was presented as a fait accompli in the public meetings.

During 2005, work was halted by a Judicial Review of the project and claims of inadequate public consultation, and construction was delayed for eight months.  Kelman/Soberman characterize the situation thus:

The domino effect initiated by the Minister of the Environment’s decision to grant special standing to the main complainant, followed by the Judicial Review, essentially introduced significant construction delay which was one of the main causes of considerable criticism by, and hardship for, affected residents and businesses.

Complaints from residents and businesses about hardship on the western section of St. Clair have nothing at all to to with the Judicial Review or the Minister’s intervention as work there did not get underway until 2007.  Streetcars were still operating to Keele Street in April of that year.  A significant source of delay arose from the City’s design and tendering of work with projects starting in the fall rather than the spring with the result that neighbourhoods were in the throes of construction when the snow came.

Kelman/Soberman talk about “scope creep”, and there were certainly a number of changes made to the project along the way.  However, these changes were brought on, in part, by the last-minute availability of detailed designs and the fact that work was tendered before fine tuning could be completed.  Some changes were instituted by local Councillors responding to the squeakiest of the wheels among their constituents rather than as part of a formal public review process.

Problems during construction came from an absence of a proper management structure:

Responsibility for managing all components of the project is distributed among several agencies, each with their own procedures for project management, procurement, budgeting, and schedule control.

Under conditions where there is no single entity responsible for the entire project, coordination is complicated by the lack of clear lines of authority and it is more difficult to ensure effective schedule control.

In addition, time and space conflicts arise when, for example, one contractor attempts to mobilize equipment and material deliveries during the same time period required by another contractor in the same general location.

The contracting strategy itself, notably, the large number of relative small individual contracts, introduced a number of barriers to efficient project coordination and delivery.

Probably viewed originally as a means of expediting construction, overall project control was complicated by awarding contracts to small firms with insufficient resources to provide effective project management of their own forces as well as those performed by electrical and mechanical sub-contractors. Delays resulted from the complexity of co-ordinating a large number of independent, yet inter-dependent, activities.

One casualty of Toronto’s amalgamation was the rise of major departments each of which operated as a fiefdom, and the loss of overall co-ordination between the many departments and utilities of the pre-amalgamation city.  Only recently has this been addressed by the creation of a Major Infrastructure Co-ordinating Office at the City.

An important change for the Transit City projects is the integration of all construction activities into Transit City itself.  If utility work is needed, that will be contracted by the project, not by individual departments and utilities, so that the work can designed, managed and built as an integral part of the transit project.

As for the contracting strategy, there is a desire in some political circles to support small businesses, and I remember presentations at the TTC where smaller firms complained they could not possibly bid on large TTC projects.  However, subdividing projects brings management and co-ordination issues as we have seen on St. Clair.  This practice will not be repeated for the Transit City lines.

Kelman/Soberman really run aground with comments on Community Consultation:

Community consultation was carried out through the normal practices of the City of Toronto and the TTC in accordance with requirements of the day embedded in the Class Environmental Assessment process. Though well intended, these procedures led to a Ministerial order to step back and pay special attention to the objections of a group of individuals, the majority of whom were diametrically opposed to the very basic concept of an exclusive transit right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue.

The Ontario Minister of the Environment was simply far too accommodating of matters raised by those opposed to the project, matters that, with some degree of resolve, should have been addressed directly. As a result, inordinate attention and resources were devoted to dealing with individuals whose main interest was to ensure that the project would not proceed. Extension of the public debate in this manner really meant that ‘closure’ of the consultation process was never really achieved.

They go on to talk about the relative success of the construction liaison committees and conclude:

Community stakeholders should be credited for taking a positive approach at the CLC and their input was certainly valuable in helping to reduce construction disruption.

This contrast — project opponents bad, community liaison good — is far too simplistic.  Many supporters of the project, myself included, raised many issues about the design and construction of the St. Clair line, but far too often all objections were treated the same way, as nuisances to be ignored.

Transit City won’t make everyone happy, but a big improvement will be avoidance of “it’s already been decided” and “we know what’s best for you”.  We shall see.  It’s easy to be accommodating during the early days of preliminary design, but the real challenges come with detailed design and construction.

Each project will include a public consultation arm, and this will include responsibility for resolution of problems as they arise during construction.  In effect, the public should have “one stop shopping” when dealing with any aspect of works in their communities.  I hope that this will actually work given the past year’s experience with communication efforts on the Operations side of the TTC (discussed elsewhere on this site).  If “communications” don’t work, the TTC must fix the problem directly, not simply add another layer and confuse responsibility.

Transit City is not a “chance to get it right” on LRT construction.  Imagine if the TTC had botched a major subway project.  We are long past the point where we send a few guys out into the middle of the street with shovels and hope that an LRT line appears sometime in the next decade.

We cannot afford another St. Clair.  Credibility for LRT, both in construction and operation, is vital to our ability to embrace it as a valid mode for transit expansion.  “Getting it wrong” is not an option.

40 thoughts on “A Post Mortem for St. Clair’s Construction

  1. Great, great report – that will likely never be seen by enough people to correct things in the future.

    One project that worked out great was the Queensway project. It provides a row as well as 4 lanes of traffic. It works because there was lots of room – not the case in most of the city.

    Steve: And the Queensway was built in the 1950s as part of the Gardiner Expressway project. Previously, the link was via Lake Shore.


  2. “Imagine if the TTC had botched a major subway project.”

    Are you suggesting they haven’t?

    Steve: Subways are so overbuilt that even when they’re not done particularly well, they still work. Look at that monstrous station at Yonge and Sheppard for starters, and the Vaughan extension that has full-scale $100-million-a-copy stations to serve some very small demands. People object to Transit City because it’s not a subway, and so far the only thing they know the TTC can build and operate is a subway. Lots of money for construction and for operating service way in excess of demand. Things would be harder if people asked questions about all those nearly empty trains and stations. There is a double standard for transit.


  3. Was an Environmental Assessment ever carried out for the removal of streetcar tracks on Mt. Pleasant and Rogers Road. Or was that before Environmental Assessment became a requirement?

    Steve: That was in the early 70s before EAs were heard of. It’s likely they would have succeeded because the replacement service was another electric mode, the trolley bus. Only later, when the TB system was sabotaged in the name of natural gas buses, did we lose electric operation for good on those routes.


  4. Well let’s hope they get it right this time. Though I’m not a subway advocate I can certainly understand why most resident of Toronto would be skeptical of the TTC’s ability to create effective LRT systems. To be honest, it wasn’t till I saw the Gold line in LA that I realized LRT is a valid technology.

    To some degree I feel like the TTC is sabotaging their own project. Just look at the EA for the Eglinton lrt — a lot of tweaking needs to be done, if this line is going to be a success!


  5. This seems to be a classic case of “not made here” syndrome. The TTC seems to be utterly incapable of learning from other transit systems where LRT is actually implemented properly. The TTC needs to bring some consultants who have worked on other LRT systems to Toronto to read the riot act to them.


  6. The TTC has botched subways (wye operation comes to mind), but the other day I was driving along St. Clair and saw four streetcars in a pack going eastbound around 8pm — all were in service. I just don’t see any benefit to this ROW at all — the traffic on St. Clair was never really that bad that it interfered with streetcar operation, but now, with St. Clair down to one traffic lane, the backups are quite noticeable. Add in the center poles (which wouldn’t have happened if we had rebuilt the tracks in mixed traffic), and people should have just pushed to rebuild what was there.

    Steve: The right-of-way did not mandate centre poles. That was a stupid design decision made partly by the TTC and partly by the City because of the original scheme to change the street lighting pole spacing. There are sections of the line with no centre poles, and the overhead is not falling down. After all, St. Clair had side poles for decades. This is a pig-headed design cockup, but you will never get the TTC to admit it.

    The bunching of cars is caused by mismanagement of the line which is still being run to a schedule than is impractical rather than to a set headway.


  7. Not adding much, just a story… I biked down Bathurst from Lawrence yesterday, then across St Clair to Keele…

    I stayed pretty much side-by-side a bus going down Bathurst (I was doing an easy pace after being pretty lazy for most of the winter), and thought I’d see how I’d do against a streetcar. I passed four streetcars, all stuck at red lights, before hitting Lansdowne.

    It was almost hard to watch the streetcars, after 5 years of construction and a shiny new ROW, travel at a crawl. Something has to be done about the operation of this line.

    Looking towards transit city, my personal definition of rapid transit is that I shouldn’t be able to beat a train on my bicycle…


  8. I was the City’s Project Design Lead for the preparation of the Contracts [on the] St Clair project and coordinated the various disciplines that were Consulted out by the City to deliver the seven Contracts, including coordinating with utility companies, various BIA’s, public, etc.

    First, I just want to clear something up [about] statements in the media with regards to the meandering nature of the track and why it widens and narrows between intersection. At quite a few intersections the curves were implemented to ensure that we had (as close as possible) to equal widths of sidewalk on all four sides. Furthermore, at the intersection we narrowed the track right of way to the minimum to gain as much sidewalk space as possible. So in essence we had a wide track right of way with centre poles between intersections (mid-block areas) and a narrow right of way with left turns and platforms at the intersections.

    Then, right off the bat in 2006 and after the court injuction / Judicial review was completed we had to retender the first Contract at Yonge St. to Avenue Rd. because the Contractor and the City could not come to a deal [about] the over one year delay after the Contract was awarded. The Contractor wanted to be compensated for the delay so it was decided that it was more economically prudent to cancel the first Contract and retender.

    The Contracts were also split up because of the Hydro relocations, specifically the portion of Hydro that was undergrounded between Westmount and Wychwood. This Hydro relocation did not start until early 2007 because of budget was not approved until late 2006, to underground this portion. That is why we jumped to the area west of Dufferin and then came back to this area afterwards. Also, the Hydro undergrounding was further delayed in 2009 from Keele to Gunns because Hydro pulled their forces off the job due to the shocking of two dogs from the street lighting handholes, so they could complete City wide handhole inspection and replacement. The City does not and should not tender Contracts if there are other Contractors working the same area (Specifically within the City’s ROW). The Contractor that is awarded the Contract is the “Constructor” and when another Contractor enters the Contract limits to work in the same vicinity there are legal and finnacial implications to the City.

    Then the Construction schedule was futher complicated by the requirement to add the reconstruction the watermains in the remaining phases including the replacement of the lead services and was not identified until late 2007 to be included in all subsequent Contracts.

    With regards to the aesthetics of the poles that was decided by the Urban Design Consultants, TTC, Toronto Hydro Street ligting and City. WRT to your comment, “did not provide anywhere near the illumination level required on the street, and the pole spacing was changed back to the old layout.”, the pole spacing for streetlighting was designed in accordance to applicable standards, based on wattage of luminaire that Toronto Hydro Street lighting will accept. This is based on the future maintenance.

    The spacing for the catenary poles for TTC overhead are based on tensile forces of the overhead wire. The centre pole design was used because the we wanted to minimize the diameter of the poles on the side poles that are in the sidewalk possible, so a centre pole design was used where possible. This is also better for TTC maintenace crews.

    With regards to tendering process and procurement of the Contracts, the City has a process in place to tender Construction Contracts and there is no by-passing this system. One need only be reminded about the MFP scandal. We did not pre-qualify Contractors to get the “larger Contractors” because we this would definitely cause the overall cost of the project to increase. Having said there was one large GTA Contractor that had three of the seven Contracts, and believe me for the size of this Oginization, they were not more productive than the smaller Contractors.

    The report completely understates the political interference and “scope creep” on this project. There was considerable amount of scope creep prior to tendering of all the Contracts and most of all during Construction by Councillors. One councillor in particular seemed to want to sabatoge our efforts whenever he could. The statement “by the last-minute availability of detailed designs and the fact that work was tendered before fine tuning could be complete” is not correct. I always was in contact with stakeholders, sending them PDF’s, hard copy plans, etc. The amount of paper consumption on this project was quite large and we were constantly sending plans out for review and comments.


    Guilty by association

    Steve: Thanks for your inside view of the process. I must make a few comments are necessary about the poles.

    Hydro undergrounding was clearly implied in the designs shown to the public in the earliest of open houses by the absence from the drawings of any above-grade hydro infrastructure. The funding issue for this work was that Hydro is not allowed to charge the capital cost of replacing undepreciated infrastructure to its rate base, and would have to eat this cost from their own budget. However, the undergrounding does vastly improve the look of the street and should have been planned for from the outset. I don’t object to the work, only that it was not seen as an integral part of the plan from the outset.

    As to the size of poles required, you might get away with claims about pole size if we had never seen streetcars on St. Clair, but that line had operated with them for decades using side poles of modest dimensions. These poles rarely were the cause of interruptions to transit service. As for saving sidewalk space, the street lighting poles occupy the same space as the hydro/transit poles they replaced and no sidewalk room was gained. However, the use of centre poles took one metre out of the right-of-way to accommodate clearance for streetcars on both sides of these poles. This design also makes it harder for free-wheeling vehicles to use the right-of-way than if side poles had been used.

    A side pole configuration was used to accommodate Fire Services near Winona with the result that there is an extended stretch east from Oakwood with no centre poles. Aesthetically it is vastly superior to the forest of poles marching down the street on either side of Dufferin. I cannot help thinking that arguments about sidewalk space and ease of maintenance for the TTC were trotted out when it was convenient to do so, but that the larger design issues of the look of the street were ignored.

    Without question, the addition of work by Toronto Water further complicated the project, although it was interesting to see that Phase 4 west from Caledonia seemed to go much faster through all stages of construction than earlier portions.


  9. Subway stations were built with the anticipation that there would be more. Like the Viaduct was built to accept a subway 40 years in advance.

    Steve: The parallel you cite is inexact. The Viaduct was built with two levels because, at the time, there was an active proposal for a subway into downtown bringing “radial cars” from the suburbs into the city. This was not a case of building on spec for some distant future option.

    Subway stations are large structures by virtue of their need to hold 450-ft long subway trains, even if the station only serves a few hundred passengers daily. Similarly, the subway running structure is required to run these trains even if they are only partly full. In effect, when you build a subway, you prebuild the capacity for much higher demand, and except on the major parts of the line, that demand may never appear. Each of the stations on the Spadina extension will cost over $100-million.

    By contrast, surface construction for LRT is much less expensive per km, stations are vastly cheaper. It is easy to have more stations on the surface and this simplifies access to service. Up to the point where surface stations and the surrounding streets can handle the pedestrian activity, the capacity of LRT is adjusted with the service level just as it would be for a subway line, but with far less pre-built infrastructure.


  10. Though temporary, I don’t wish the constructon chaos upon anyone, and the TTC shouldn’t need a wide suburban steet to solve its design challenges. But I’m most troubled by the comments about streetcars bunching on the newly opened St. Clair ROW.

    The TTC is investing literally billions of dollars in middle-of-street private ROWs with claims that it will make service faster and more reliable, yet that benefit has failed to materialize on St. Clair. You’ve suggested it’s a question of poor line management — while that’s certainly a reasonable explanation, what if that’s not the whole answer? What if the line is, for some reason we don’t yet understand, unmanageable?

    The TTC should be moving mountains to fix St. Clair service in case they discover fundamental design flaws. I mostly like Transit City in theory, but if in practice riders are going to get slow-moving extra-long LRVs in bunches, it’ll be a total waste of money. Don’t the Commissioners have a duty to get this figured out before pouring so much more money into new Transit City lines?

    Steve: I have not yet published an analysis of operations for St. Clair because I am awaiting data for the full month of January. However, I already have one day’s worth (Saturday, January 9), and what is quite apparent is that the problems are all due to line mismanagement. The running time is too tight, and cars are constantly being short turned to get them “on time”. However, packs of cars form regularly and no attempt is made to space out the service. This is exactly the same pattern we see on other routes. The day in question was clear, there were no disabled cars and no other events blocking service.

    Until the TTC moves to a model where they manage service to a headway that adjusts to suit prevailing conditions (slightly wider, but regularly spaced, under heavy load, bad weather, etc) service will be a mess. That is already how the subway is operated in practice, and the TTC needs to find a way to do this with surface routes.


  11. Actually looking at Transit City, my definition of rapid transit is that it can compete as an alternative to jumping into a car. That’s why people understand subways in my opinion – they actually can compete with taking a car, and for most of the day are actually faster then a car in the downtown core. They not only feel like they are going at a fast speed, but they can be faster then a car. If Transit City can compete on a similar scale, people may well accept them more.

    Steve, let’s not also forget that an almost empty subway can look good to people as well – it means people get a choice of seats. And once the extension into Vaughan is complete, we will start seeing higher density along the line. Sheppard was like that, there is more density now then before the subway went in.

    Steve: The main advantage subways have, aside from speed, is that they have vastly better service in many areas and times of day than the demand would justify. On surface routes, the TTC goes out of its way to balance service and demand, and during budget crunches this leads to crowded, unattractive service. On the subway, we spend a fortune to build the infrastructure (thereby pushing up public debt and unavoidable interest charges) and another fortune to operate and maintain it. There needs to be a balance, and a recognition that surface transit must not be starved for resources. An obvious starting point is the provision of reliable, frequent service so that wait times are kept to a minimum as on the subway.

    The net addition to the TTC’s operating budget, after new revenues, for opening the Spadina line will be over $10-million annually. On top of this, various governments will carry the debt on the capital investment. Meanwhile, we nickle-and-dime surface operations and transit’s opponents complain about seeing half-empty buses roaming the streets. We never hear about empty subway trains.


  12. Many organizations, when starting a new projecty that have never undertaken before, or trying to fix something they have gotten wrong in the past, will hire experienced people from outside the organization — people who have already done the job elsewhere.

    Does the TTC hire employees from outside its organization? People from LA, Houston or Calgary who already know how to run a LRT project?


  13. Steve, you may be right about the location of poles (centre vs side) and it was discussed many times but this was the design concept that was developed during the EA and prelim design stages and is documented in the Urban Design Summary (2004) and Executive Summary of the EA. This decision was prior to me starting on the detailed design so I had to go by the recommendations of the Subject Matter Experts (SME). So the TTC centre poles (that are spaced at an maximum avg of 30 m) carry a far greater tension on the new lines than the exisiting lines today and have been designed . This also required large foundations. You can seee the of the poles on Spadina for some reference. Again for the TTC poles, I had to go by the recommendations of the Subject Matter Experts (SME).

    We did accomodate Fire Services at Hendricks and because of the proximity of Winona, then the Oakwood Loop we decided to keep the track ROW to the minimum width, as this would prevent additional curves, keep the main tracks tangent at the Loop, which is mandatory, and provide a little more sidewalk space. So we may have been lucky in this area.

    WRT to Hydro and other utilities relocations, when a Municipality is proceeding with Capital Works and the utility has to be relocated the Municipality typically pays “50% of the Cost of Labour and Labour Saving Devices”. I believe in the case of St Clair because the Hydro was overhead and they were told to underground, this was considered an upgrade, so I believe there was an agreement between Toronto Hydro and the City that the City would pay for a percentage of this “upgrade”. You may have to check Council minutes to confirm this.

    This centre pole scheme will be also be utilized on Sheppard Ave LRT route but the TTC will using a different catenary pole system that spaces the poles at a greater distance apart (approx. 50m±) and I belive the wires will be slack and not tensioned the way the streetcar lines are. However, street light poles will be on the side boulevard areas at a spacing that is designed for proper illumination levels, so don’t be surprised of you see light poles spaced at 30 to 40 m spacing and TTC centre poles at 50 to 60 m.

    Steve: If you look at the page for the EA itself, you will see an illustration of the intersection of St. Clair and Dufferin looking east. In this drawing, there are no overhead Hydro wires despite the fact that they were present at the time. This was well before the point at which the direction to underground was taken, and this shows how the information presented to the public in the EA did not match what, at the time, was actually part of the project scope. Conversely, if undergrounding was in the EA, then it was “in scope” and to claim that this was a change after the fact misrepresents history.

    Page 12 of the Urban Design Study shows a before and after view at Dufferin where, quite clearly, the ugly Hydro infrastructure disappears in the “after” version of the scene. A similar change is shown at Earlscourt Avenue, but not at Avenue Road nor at Vaughan Road. The report states that the Via Italia section of St. Clair has (present tense) undergrounding, but that had clearly not yet occured further east. If anything, what was changed was the scope of the undergrounding (more of the route), but not the concept of undergrounding itself.

    This report is dated September 2004, but many elements of the Urban Design Study were presented at earlier public meetings as a fait accompli. Elements such as pole placement and lighting were simply not open for discussion. I was at the very first public meeting, and that design decision was already frozen. Nobody wanted to talk to me about it, and I had the sense that there had been some internal disagreements that were being kept under wraps. This is hardly how to run an EA.

    For the Transit City lines, certainly the overhead structure will be completely new to Toronto as these will operate with pantograph-equipped cars rather than trolley poles, and the suspension for this type of power feed is quite different.


  14. I decided to take a ride on St. Clair on saturday from St. Clair West. I could of cycled faster than this streetcar. There was bunching going east but I was going west to Lansdowne. At Dufferin, I got off and I told the driver that I am not impressed with this scam of a line. I told him why travel at 20 km hr when you have a complete ROW without obstructions. He gave me a blank stare. I then gave him the bird. Steve, I am sorry but this line is also badly managed. What a waste.

    Steve: I agree. Sadly, the TTC has many excuses for why service is bad on its major routes, and they always involve problems that are external and uncontrollable (eg “congestion”). On St. Clair there is absolutely no excuse for what is going on, but the TTC’s internal mythology is strong.

    I will be presenting an analysis of St. Clair operations once I get the vehicle monitoring data for the entire month of January. Some changes are in the works, including fixes to some “transit priority” signals that were not correctly configured, and we should be able to see the improvement of any changes over the month’s operation.


  15. I think that St Claire and Spadina, should be managed more like a subway line then a streetcar line, and this should extend to TC when it gets going. In other words these lines should be treated like Subway light.

    Subways used a mostly fixed headway, in other words a train every so many seconds. LRT on a private ROW should be treated the same way, it wouldn’t be hard to put a supervisor at each end of the line, with a stop watch. When a car leaves they start the watch, the next car is held until the time expires, then is released. By doing this continually at each end of the line, you end up with no bunching and no short turning because you are continually reseting the spacing.

    Steve: It’s ironic that for just this reason, the streetcar network was merged with the subway under a common management. The idea was to transfer some of the subway strategies to the surface. So far, there’s not a lot to show above ground.

    Absolutely, when the TC lines open, they must be operated and managed like the subway — to a headway. Otherwise people will make the obvious conclusion that only subways are an acceptable way to expand transit service, and we simply cannot afford subway construction or operation on that scale.


  16. Does the anticipated re-design of Queens Quay include the major work in the tunnels and the station loop not to mention the additional lines down there? When is this project to begin?

    Steve: The Queen’s Quay work is planned for 2011. At this point, I believe that changes to Union Station Loop should be happening at the same time (ie: while the line is shut down), but that may be asking a lot.

    The Waterfront East line doesn’t have a firm date yet although the Pan Am Games may accelerate both this and the Cherry Street schemes. The TTC and Waterfront Toronto are still haggling about closely spaced intersections and traffic signals. This brings me to the issue elsewhere on Harbourfront and on St. Clair where the traffic signals are not designed to operate with a green “wave” for transit through multiple signals between stops.

    The connection between the Waterfront East and Cherry lines is bound up in the Don Mouth revitalization project and the reconfiguration of the Lake Shore, Parliament, Cherry, Queen’s Quay junction. This project does not yet have funding. A related issue here will be work on the Gardiner teardown, if that proceeds.

    The Waterfront West and Bremner LRT proposals would both trigger a further expansion of Union Loop, but there is no money in anyone’s budget for these projects in the near future.


  17. I’m not sure what I dislike the most.

    1. The constant 15 minute waits – at rush hour no less – at St. Clair West waiting for a streetcar while the line for westbound service extends so far back it reaches the other side of the fare paid zone

    2. The arrival of cars only to go out of service while the operators have a grand old time catching up in plain view of several hundred fed up commuters.

    3. The absurd plan to have the line terminate at Lansdowne, but have shuttle bus service begin at Oakwood. Now we have packed-to-the-gills streetcars leaving from St. Clair West, and a bunch of dirty, 50 year old buses with 4 people on them running three or four kilometres back and forth. Would it have been that difficult to run both services out of St. Clair West, making it clear the buses are suited for those disembarking west of Lansdowne?

    4. The operators. I’ve never seen a group of them so miserable, so lacking in basic abilities. Several times they have left a platform while people are STILL TRYING TO LEAVE THE TRAIN. Other times they drive far too fast and brake far too hard at lights. It’s terrible.

    Steve: I think it would be rather embarrassing to have the Keele-bound buses making better time in the curb lane in mixed traffic than the streetcars on their right-of-way (as the Oakwood shuttles sometimes do now). Part of the problem here is that the buses are not delayed by left turn traffic as often as streetcars, and of course, they have fewer riders and so spend less time at stops.

    The operators may try for fast getaways from stops both to “make” the so-called priority signals, but also to “make” the unrealistic tight schedules. As I have said before, if the TTC just threw the schedule away and ran the line to a headway, there would be better service for everyone.


  18. I recently moved, so that St. Clair is part of my daily TTC commute. I second Andrew M’s comments; to say that the 512 is a bummer is to put it mildly.

    At some point, one has to conclude that the TTC is congenitally incapable of operating a world-class light rail transit system. I’m going to suggest that point should come after two separate trial projects, St. Clair and Spadina, have both turned out to be profoundly mediocre; and BEFORE spending an additional $8 billion to find out that, no sir, the TTC really doesn’t have any idea how to design, build, and operate street-level rail.

    To anyone who says, “But THIS time it’s going to be different”, I have two words: farside stops — the bane of St. Clair and Spadina, and already part of the Sheppard plan.

    Meanwhile, the downtown transit system is in crisis, and is only going to get worse as the core rapidly intensifies. That’s where the $8 billion should be spent.


  19. The subway does actually experience bunching sometimes. You know when you see two, sometimes even three trains passing your station in the opposite direction while waiting for your direction? That’s bunching in the subway. It happens outside rush hour, and the only reason why it doesn’t happen during rush hour is because of the block system, which obviously doesn’t apply to streetcars. In rush hour, the subway is running about as tightly as the block system allows, making bunching impossible at that peak frequency.

    I’m not suggesting that streetcars run on a block system, I just want people to stop thinking that subways never bunch; off-peak, they bunch.

    Steve: There is one other mechanism in the subway you don’t mention, the Intermediate Point Headway Control (IPHC). This has been in place for decades at various stations, all of which have associated interlockings where there are double-aspect signals under central control. IPHC is responsible for the short holds you experience at various locations such as Bloor (both ways), Yonge (westbound), St. George (eastbound on BD, both ways on YUS), Broadview (eastbound), Chester (westbound), and so on.

    IPHC is headway based. Left to its own devices, and assuming that all trains are operating, it will despatch trains on their scheduled times. However, it doesn’t care about run numbers, only headways, and the tower at Transit Control can have it “drop trains” (in effect getting back in sync with service that is late by “n” headways). The system may even be more sophisticated than this (it’s been a while since I got a detailed explanation of how it works), but the basic point is that it does not care whether operators are on time, only that trains are properly spaced.

    Bunching is possible only if the tower doesn’t prevent IPHC from letting trains proceed past dispatch points as fast as they arrive when they are late. That would typically be done for a small delay where the assumption is that things will be sorted out at the terminal, or with a few near-terminal short turns. For major delays, the whole line simply runs late, but on a regular headway.


  20. Steve, you should request the TTC to study headway-style scheduling. We might get it acknowledged at a commissioners meeting sometime around 2015.


  21. Steve: I think it would be rather embarrassing to have the Keele-bound buses making better time in the curb lane in mixed traffic than the streetcars on their right-of-way (as the Oakwood shuttles sometimes do now). Part of the problem here is that the buses are not delayed by left turn traffic as often as streetcars, and of course, they have fewer riders and so spend less time at stops.

    And the TTC certainly cares more about its own embarrassment than it does about the optics of asking its patrons, many of whom on this route are elderly, not fluent in English, or weighed down with packages, to switch vehicles in the middle of its route at a busy intersection during a Canadian winter. Brad Ross, if you are out there reading this, you should know that people on St. Clair are just as unhappy now as they were during construction. And as a loyal TTC customer since I moved to Toronto 10 years ago, I’m tired of defending the system to friends and co-workers.


  22. The side poles on St. Clair that don’t support overhead are about the same diameter as the poles on Lake Shore W. that do support the streetcar overhead. I suspect that Lake Shore west of Kipling is easily as wide as St. Clair.

    To prove that side poles holding streetcar overhead are ugly, extra-bonus-fat poles are used on St. Clair for this purpose. The difference in diameter is very in-your-face, as I discovered just idly gazing out of the streetcar window.

    I suppose I could go measure the girths of poles on Lake Shore vs. St. Clair, and also figure out the span distances involved. But common sense says that the St. Clair side support poles are grossly oversized; either they’re overkill, or they’re some kind of flimsy thin-skin pole. I am certain that the St. Clair design could have made extra-beefy poles of the standard diameter to support the overhead from the sides. Why they didn’t is probably a design decision.

    Spadina uses larger-than-normal poles for the overhead and light fixtures, however the poles are not as ugly as the grey things on St. Clair with the Kaiser’s-hat-spike; and Spadina’s built context is much kinder to oversized poles than St. Clair’s.


  23. The main problem with the entire system, noted indirectly in a previous report, is that the operators or crews still have to remain on schedule no matter what system of vehicle spacing management is used. The work-around on the headway-based subway is to have crews trade trains running in opposite directions at some mid-way station. This often causes a delay of more than five minutes while one train waits at the trade point for the other arranged train to arrive. There are never any PA announcements to the passengers on the waiting train about the delay. This is really annoying when it occurs on still-full trains near the end of the PM rush. Now imagine this method used on a new LRT line with a wider headway.

    I understand that it is important to have the operators arrive at change-off points on a schedule so that replacement drivers know when and where to be. If not for that the system would immediately break down. But until some significantly different alternative methodology is conceived, no form of line management is likely to make a major difference.


  24. I think you’ve got part of it wrong Steve. First, the subway IS managed to a precise schedule, not a headway, and it’s always been that way. Go look at the subway timetable from 1966 and you’ll notice that the trains were scheduled down to the nearest 6th or 10th second (can’t remember which).

    Second, IPHC operates on a schedule as well, exactly as the old ATDs did. It does not examine the headways of the trains. If a train arrives at an intermediate point BEFORE its scheduled departure time, it’s held until that time, otherwise it is dispatched immediately. The old ATDs worked in the exact same way.

    This is the core flaw with LRT — the technology itself does not force the operators to behave. When IPHC came out, subway operators hated it because they couldn’t run ahead of schedule for a longer break anymore. Now, if the SRT gets downgraded to LRT and the operators are free to do as they wish (as the system won’t stop them), I can guarantee that you’ll see bunches and gaps which simply can’t happen with automated SRT control and cab signalling.

    Steve: The 1966 schedule is to 10ths of minutes I think (ie to 6 second resolution). A bit of overkill. Yes, the IPHC/ATDs dispatch to the scheduled times, but they do not know that the train at a dispatch point is run “x”, only that it’s the next train. Transit control can add or drop trains from the schedule to get the IPHC in sync with whatever is going.

    For example, if it’s five minute headway, and trains are due at 7:00, 7:05, 7:10 etc, then trains arriving will be sent out on those times regardless of what their run numbers are. If service is botched up and, say, 20 minutes late, then by dropping four trains, the “next” train would be due out at 7:20. I agree that if Transit Control does not stay on top of things, the IPHC will just push out trains as fast as they arrive until it catches up to the schedule. However, if Transit Control does intervene, then IPHC can push trains out on a headway. Similar considerations occur if a train is short turned and is out of place because IPHC has no knowledge of this, only of the scheduled headway.

    I certainly agree about the way that IPHC prevents subway operators from running early with fast in-and-out station stops. A similar mechanism needs to be built into Transit City LRT lines, not the free-for-all we see on the streetcar system.


  25. Did I just read that a passenger flipped off a streetcar operator for apparently driving too slowly or not taking any interest in discussing urban planning or the specifics of transit infrastructure? This is absolutely disgusting and infantile, not to mention cowardly! I wonder if the next step is to throw eggs at the streetcar? Or maybe spit on the operator? Try flipping off someone who is not at work, driving a streetcar full of people.

    How did this passenger know the operator was only going 20? Maybe the operator was experienced enough to know that racing to timed lights makes no sense and only needlessly endangers passengers, pedestrians and motorists? If the lights at every intersection are autofiring, then you can only cover (i.e., only need to cover) a given block at a given speed, ESPECIALLY in the case of a ROW!


  26. My first reaction to this project so long ago was, what’s the point? Very few minutes were going to be shaved off the trip, businesses would be disrupted, some fatally, cars would be bunched up and idling more than they did before, and there was no room for bikes

    Having experienced the construction for half a decade and being maddened by the fact that most of the time I saw very few workers around on long, long stretches of dug-up road, and now reading this thread, I can see my initial reaction was correct. What I’m leading to here is not that I feel good about being right, but that some people should be held accountable for this mess.

    I nominate Adam Giambrone. He’s both of the TTC and the City, loves to talk about his great work improving public transit, hopes to run for Mayor on the basis of his work on public transit, calls drawings of bikes on the road “bike lanes” and as far as I can tell has done virtually nothing to improve TTC service in Toronto. Yes, there are great plans in Transit City, but for the everyday schmo riding to work downtown, there has been no improvement in service during his tenure. The new buses are spectacularly uncomfortable, operators are no happier than in the last century and concern for riders is often second to saving face or hoarding tokens. And the roads in his riding and mine next door are falling apart, to boot.

    It’s of course unfair to blame one person for St. Clair, but the buck should stop somewhere. Giambrone is loathe to genuinely accept any criticism for his poor work as TTC Chair. He always has an excuse. G-d save Toronto if he brings his management skills to the Mayor’s Chair.

    Steve: While there are some points I agree with here, some corrections are needed. As Chair of the TTC, Adam Giambrone has advocated a round of service improvements (on the bus routes) that have reduced crowding, although I am sure that there are some riders who would wonder exactly where this is. Why only buses? Because the TTC has so few spare streetcars. That said, far too often TTC management gets away with underdelivering on projects or even screwing them up (the recent debacle with tokens, tickets and the fare hike comes to mind), but nothing happens. On St. Clair, the very thing that was promised to everyone — reliable service — is specifically what was not delivered, and this comes back to the way the TTC manages (or not) service on its routes. All the usual excuses about weather, traffic, etc., simply don’t apply here.

    For Transit City, all of the construction co-ordination problems may be fixed, but unless there is a complete change in the way service is managed, we will see the same problems.


  27. For Transit City, all of the construction co-ordination problems may be fixed, but unless there is a complete change in the way service is managed, we will see the same problems.

    This may be way off base, but depending on the results of the municipal election, what’s to say Transit City will end up being implemented in anything close to its present form? What’s to stop a “fiscally responsible” candidate from dropping the hammer like O’Brien did in Ottawa in canceling their LRT program? Or a Hudak-led provincial government from pulling a Harris-Lastman deal to cancel some lines in favour of others? I think this experience, piled on to the SRT, Spadina, and Harbourfront lines are not giving me much hope that Transit City is the right solution.


  28. I think if the TTC wants TC to be successful, they have a perfect testbed for getting things right and that is Spadina and St Clair. Nothing is going to open on TC until 2014 or 2015, so they have that time to get it right. Perhaps they should try IPHC type control, could easily be tested using a half dozen supervisors. You put a supervisor on a corner with a paper schedule and a synchronized watch, he/she will stop and hold streetcars based on the schedule. They make notes as to when they are holding and releasing streetcars. If it works, then you implement this within the traffic signals, for example a streetcar that is on time, arrives to only green signals, or if the stop is before the signal, it arrives to a red signal that goes green a few seconds after.

    If that is too hard, then use the radio system, gives the operator a message to hold at the next stop for so much time, even if the operator is already technically behind schedule. Operators that ignore the messages, get written up.

    Another option, if an operator comes up behind another vehicle, they call control, control then tells them what to do, for example wait at the next stop for so much time.


  29. To the above poster, how do you trip a light rail vehicle that disobeys a red signal? I’ve never seen a light rail system with trip arms or automated control.


  30. The report appears to focus mainly on implementation (which obviously needs improvement), but are you aware of any “post-mortem” review by the TTC of the DESIGN of the St. Clair LRT?

    For example, evaluating decisions that were made, like centre-pole v.s. side-pole, reducing sidewalk dimensions at Yonge while adding additional car-turning lanes, signal timings, etc.

    It seems like many of the same design choices and trade-offs are being made on the Transit City LRT routes, seemingly ignoring how poorly they impacted the St. Clair LRT final product.

    Steve: This is a major failing of the TTC’s report. It ignores the fact that a lot of the contention with the neighbourhood arose from design decisions that were imposed such as the centre poles (about which I have written at length).

    Having said that, the Transit City routes are on very different streets where, for example, parking is not generally an issue and where the total right-of-way for te “standard” design is somewhat more generous than on St. Clair.


  31. It’s true there are no trip arms for streetcars, you could however use a red light camera at points where you hold cars, when the camera is tripped it takes a picture of the car including the car number with the date and time. You can bet that the TTC knows who is driving what car when. This would get the operator a disciplinary letter on his/her file, most union shops allow only so many offences before you are terminated.


  32. M. Briganti says:
    January 20, 2010 at 1:21 am

    “To the above poster, how do you trip a light rail vehicle that disobeys a red signal? I’ve never seen a light rail system with trip arms or automated control.”

    You do not need mechanical trip arms to stop a vehicle and automated stops can be placed on any type of system. Radio signals or magnetic trips placed in loops in the road way can induce an emergency brake application, a speed limit of a normal service stop. These exist on many systems in the world. Mechanical trip arms like the TTC uses are quite primitive. Many passenger rail systems in the US north east had cab signalling and automated train control starting in the 30’s.


  33. LRT is NOT the future for Toronto…we need more subways!!! St.Clair West is proof enough! The old busses were quicker and they didn’t take up two lanes of traffic that sit idle when the streetcar is not there. The traffic congestion on St.Clair West has become unbearable, the avenue can only be crossed at major intersections and the ‘LRT’ has caused massive queues to make u-turns…personally I just avoid St.Clair West like the plague…for now I use Eglinton or Davenport to get across town…I think the city really needs to ask itself is these LRT lines really increase overall utility for Torontonians? They must consider those riding the TTC and those in cars…the point of spending money on infrastructure should be to reduce the overall travel times for as many people as possible…this is what saves Torontonians time and money…so far it only seems like the subways are actually benefitting everyone…faster service for riders and less cars on the road…it’s a win/win situation…It’s obvious that Torontonians prefer subways…that’s why population density around subway stations has skyrocketed despite the cost…just look at the Sheppard line…look at how many people are willing to pay a premium to live in that previously sleepy corner of the city…I think there is so much proof that what we want are subways…when will city hall wake up to this fact?

    Steve: I suggest that TTC management, who have done a stellar job of screwing up management of a simple line that should have had excellent service from day one, need to read comments like the one above. Every time they foul something up, and compound the problem with lame excuses, it sends more people into the political camp of wanting expensive infrastructure and, oddly enough, an end to the “waste” at the TTC.

    Make your system work TTC because good service is the only thing you have got to sell.


  34. St Clair, Spadina, Queens Quay, etc are not LRT lines they are streetcar lines on dedicated rights of way. There are significant fundamental design and operating differences between design of LRT lines and street car lines that begin first with the horizontal and vertical alignment parameters that are allowed.

    I prefer subways, however, for a proposed 14km line (which is the length of Sheppard) the cost would be possibly ten times greater to construct.

    Also, Rocco Rossi wants to stop the Transit City lines for Eglinton and Finch even though 66% of the funding is coming from outside sources and the City is funding 33%. The only reason Sheppard is not on the chopping block is because construction has already started. This man is dangerous for the City. Sheppard Ave LRT will revitalize a pretty bleak looking neighbourhood of strip plazas and car sales lots. Go to Portland, Dallas or Austin to see what the LRT lines have done for those Cities.

    Steve: Actually 100% of Eglinton and Finch is coming from Queen’s Park.


  35. I can’t speak for every operator, and there are a few bad apple operators who knowingly break the rules, but most of us are here to do our jobs to the best of our ability. This TTC and the City make it difficult for the majority of us who actually try with bad signal timing, schedules that are too tight, or too padded, unreliable equipment (especially the hybrid buses), malfunctioning equipment, etc.

    I find it disheartening the amount of dissent toward the operators. I would have thought that the readers of a this transportation blog would be well informed when it comes to issues like that, but I guess I am thinking wrong. Not everyone is anti-operator, but those who are and make public the fact they “flipped the bird” or think we are the worse lot of.. (insert your own expletives) ..need to realise that there are bad apples in every group of employees of every company (having a degree in planning is not a requirement for an operator job), and that this kind of dissent is very discouraging for the few operators, like myself, who have studied transportation/urban planning/issues for quite some time. It is difficult to have an educated discussion of transportation issues in an environment that allows this dissent to fester.

    Steve: I let comments that are anti-union through, within reason, because I want to have the debate. Some of the positions taken are reasonable — expecting people to do their jobs — and some are just beyond the pale — fire everyone and higher cheaper labour. Far too many people attack the front line staff and ignore problems with the management, a problem the Commissioners compound by patting management on the back every chance they get.


  36. CLVR @ Jan.22 at 4:13 pm

    There is a cultural problem within the TTC. At the management level and at the Union Level. It has to change.

    These cultural problems creep into all corporations or government bodies. There is Lehman Borthers, GM, Enron, etc.

    I have used the TTC for many years time every day, but now just occasionally and I have never had a problem. Maybe I am resilient.

    The cultural problem within TTC has to change. At all levels.

    I have driven down St. Clair (West to East) on many occasions (minimum once a week) in 2009 and I was shaking my head.

    Please note that I have been in the construction industry for close to 40 years and have worked on TTC projects (3).

    On one of these West to East drives I observed streetcars running on St. Clair was again shaking my head when I saw one steetcar, heading west, at close to 50 kmh and the further east (say 2 km) I saw three (3) heading west bumper to bumper.

    This action was deliberate.

    Steve: Probably the most deeply ingrained part of TTC culture is that whatever problems there are, they are always someone else’s fault. Line management focuses on what they “cannot do” rather than on making things work properly. On a line that is all private right-of-way, cars should not be running in packs. Period.


  37. @Guilty by association: I agree that St Clair, Spadina, etc are not LRT lines, they are streetcar lines on ROWs. However, how is anyone in Toronto supposed to believe that the TTC will be able to manage service properly on Sheppard, Finch or Eglinton when they can’t even run reasonably spaced streetcars on a line like St Clair? Given the huge amount of media attention on that line, one would think that the TTC would go out of their way to ensure the line runs as smoothly as possible, with route supervisors at Yonge, St Clair W and Lansdowne to ensure that no cars leave in bunches. Like it or not, St Clair is what people are using as a reference point for Transit City, and so far, it is receiving a failing grade.


  38. In regards to the design… how about an alternative. I will couch this by saying I am a engineer so I am aware of the amount of proof required to get this approved. I am not also fully convinced it would work.

    Design the street for just one auto lane. Give the local businesses the parking in the curb lane full time. They would love this!

    The policy would be: the street car is for through movements, autos and trucks for delivery, heavy shopping, and residents. SO then you need to provide a really functional single lane of road travel.

    At the intersections instead of providing left and right turn lanes, use a urban roundabout. This would allow for somebody to double back to parking, a side street, or a store they just saw at every intersection with ease. Many of the side streets could then not have an intersection as one could easily make a quick U -turn at the next roundabout.

    The streetcar would be given exclusive priority in the roundabout junction by stop signals at the entrance to the roundabout junction but the rest of the time the road traffic would live by the yield to those in the junction rule of a roundabout.

    This would allow for random spacings of streetcars to be accommodated with exclusive priority much more easily than trying to fit their arrival into a complicated traffic light sequence. There would still be a traffic light but it would have a yellow slant arrow and a red light. This same traffic light would be used to provide a pedestrian phase occasionally.

    Just a thought. Roundabouts with transit priority have been successfully implemented on French LRT systems but the traffic is more suburban typically. There may be backup problems within much more urban areas.

    Steve: The real issue with roundabouts is the minimum curve radius for reasonable traffic speed and large vehicle manoeuvrability, and the space needed to fit one of these into the existing built structure of Toronto. Locations where parking is an issue (e.g. St. Clair) are tightly constrained, while suburban arterials tend not to have either stores or parking in many locations. Also, your design does not address the extra road width needed for transit platforms.


  39. With regard to fitting the roundabout in the urban form, given the existing 100’/30.5m right of way, a 75’/23m diameter could easily be accommodated as this is the existing paved width. For a single lane of traffic this is more than enough as single lane mini-roundabouts (UK term) are often quite a bit smaller, down to 14m. Both would include an over-runnable central island raised 4 in/100 mm. In this instance the tracks would run through this area, maybe without an elevation change if there is a selective raised treatment.

    The tractor of a semi-trailer combination typically needs 40′-50’/12 – 15 m to turn. If it can off track the trailer over the central island it should be able to perform a full u-turn in the intersection which cannot be done currently if you start the truck at a left turn lane near the center of the road. This would help deliveries.

    [The following correction came in a later comment.]

    Whoops, I switched to radius when describing the truck tractor turns. So that would be 80′ to 100′ in a turning diameter, though many of the city tractor cabs can turn in 70′ while the upper number would be for a sleeper tractor cab.

    The whole point of a roundabout is to slow traffic as it approaches the roundabout, hence the need for deflection islands so that drivers slow to merge.

    As to the transit platforms, they would occur on the far side as per the current design, at which point the parking would not exist. The one through road lane would jog to clear the platform but since it just went through a roundabout the speed of the auto would be much slower, allowing a tighter jog. In contrast the streetcar line would be arrow straight.


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