Analysis of 512 St. Clair, January 2010 (Part 4: Intersections)

When I started the analysis of the TTC’s vehicle monitoring data some years ago, my great hope was to be able to analyze behaviour at stops and intersections.  Alas, the quality of data on the “old” version of the TTC’s system was utterly incapable of this type of use for two reasons:

  • Although vehicle position was polled every 20 seconds, vehicle location was resolved to a nearby intersection, and reported only sporadically.  This made fine grained location analysis impossible.
  • A location, such as a major stop, might not be reported at all for a vehicle’s trip, only the vehicle’s appearance at two nearby locations on either side of the point of interest.

With the new GPS-based data, position information is available for almost all vehicles every 20 seconds.  Anything that causes a vehicle to stop for some amount of time will be registered by a failure to change location in two or more succeeding data points.  (I say “almost” because some GPS units are a tad unreliable, and they report rogue data points causing missing samples in otherwise clean data.)

A great debate about St. Clair (and other routes with the same arrangement for left turns and farside stops) focuses on the following sequence of events:

  • Streetcar approaches an intersection and is caught and held by a red signal.
  • Streetcar waits for the red phase, and the following left-only phase to complete.
  • Streetcar moves through the intersection, serves a farside stop, and then departs.

In some cases, there is no stop associated with a traffic signal, but streetcar service may be held by it in any event.  In theory, approaching streetcars are supposed to extend their own green time, or to shorten the cross-street’s red, but empirical observation suggests that this does not always happen.

This article reviews several intersections on St. Clair to determine how transit-friendly the traffic signals actually are, and whether any change in their behaviour was visible over the month of January 2010 while many aspects of the line’s operation were still being adjusted.

An obvious and troubling observation from these data is that in general, streetcars spend more time waiting for green lights than they do serving the farside stops at the same locations.  This shows the frustration and inefficiency from an arrangement where cars must stop twice because they do not get the so-called transit priority they are supposed to receive at major, and even some minor, locations.

General Approach

Readers familiar with these analyses will know that one element of them is “link time”, the time taken to get from one point to another on a route.  To review intersections which included stops, I created three time points quite close together which would define two links.

  • Just east of a farside eastbound stop
  • Middle of the intersection
  • Just west of a farside westbound stop

In cases such as Oakwood where a nearside stop exists (e.g. Oakwood westbound), the time point is just west of the intersection.

This creates two links which viewed from the direction of travel are:

  • Near an intersection to its midpoint.  If a streetcar has a clear signal, it will traverse this link quickly.  However, if it has a red signal, it will not reach the middle of the intersection until after it is able to proceed on its next green phase.
  • Midpoint of an intersection to the point just beyond a farside stop.  This link measures the time needed to come to rest at a stop, serve passengers, and pull away.  If nobody wants to use the stop, the link time will be quite short.

For intersections which do not have associated stops (e.g. Via Italia and Alberta), only one link, defined from just west to just east of the intersection is needed.  If a streetcar is not held by the traffic signal, it will cross this link in a very short time.  Otherwise, the link time will demonstrate the traffic signal delay.

I have included one intersection from the original part of the 512 route, Avenue Road, as this shows up both in the service charts as a delay point, and has been mentioned by some comments to earlier posts.

Limitations of the Data

For the most part, there is a report of a vehicle’s location every 20 seconds, and the GPS values are usually very accurate.  (Those of you who have watched the animated version of these data will know that the location of vehicles on the route is quite well-behaved.)  All the same, the 20-second cycle requires certain assumptions.

  • If two successive reports show a vehicle on either side of a timepoint, it is assumed to be at the timepoint haldway between the two data.  For example, if at 12:00:00 a car has not yet reached a timepoint, but at 12:00:20 it has gone past it, it is assumed to be at the timepoint at 12:00:10.
  • For closely spaced timepoints such as are used here, it is possible for a car to pass several of them in one interval.  In these cases, the link times will be calculated as zero because the car was “at” the timepoints all at the same instant within the accuracy of the data.  I prefer to use “zero” which is recognizably from this type of situation rather than interpolating values over a 20-second range.

Avenue Road & St. Clair

2010.01 WB Avenue Road Nearside
2010.01 WB Avenue Road Farside
2010.01 EB Avenue Road Nearside
2010.01 EB Avenue Road Farside

The “Nearside” charts show the time taken from a point just beyond the end of the farside stop in the opposite direction to the middle of the intersection.  Westbound, the trend line sits at about 30 seconds although the data are scattered up to the 2 minute line.  Eastbound, the trend lines are lower, at about 20 seconds, but several data points still lie in the 1 to 2 minute band.  Clearly this is an intersection where the streetcars are often held in the interest of flow on the north-south street.

The “Farside” charts show the time from the middle of the intersection to the far end of the stop, where the car would have served its passengers and begun to move off.  Note that the westbound values show PM peak effects probably from longer stop service time (there is also some extension of  times on Saturdays at midday).  A comparable effect is not seen eastbound.

Bathurst to Vaughan

2010.01 Westbound Bathurst Nearside
2010.01 Westbound Bathurst Farside
2010.01 Westbound Vaughan Nearside
2010.01 Westbound Vaughan Farside

2010.01 Eastbound Vaughan Nearside
2010.01 Eastbound Vaughan Farside
2010.01 Eastbound Bathurst Nearside
2010.01 Eastbound Bathurst Farside

Anyone who rides the 512 knows that it spends an eternity getting through the intersections at Bathurst and at Vaughan.  Again, this is a clear sign that the traffic signals make little or no provision for “transit priority”.

Westbound approaching Bathurst, the trend line lies around the 1-minute line, but there is a great deal of scatter in the data.  This shows that a delay westbound here is quite likely, and some of these will be well over a minute long.  Some of the particularly long delays may be due to conversations with Route Supervisors (a comparable effect is visible eastbound farside).

Crossing Bathurst and serving the carstop shows better-behaved data, and the values are fairly consistent throughout the month.

Approaching Vaughan, the trend lines lie at the 30-second level, but many data points lie above 1 minute especially on weekdays.  The signal westbound at Vaughan often catches streetcars.  Crossing Vaughan and serving the carstop shows better times, although they are more scattered on weekends.

Eastbound approaching Vaughan shows a similar pattern to westbound with many times in the 1-2 minute range, while the time needed to handle the stop itself are shorter and less scattered.

Eastbound approaching Bathurst shows the familiar story with many times between 60 and 90 seconds, but the real surprise is on the east side of the intersection.  This is not a stop where very long dwell times should be common, and I can only conclude that it is a place where cars are held up for chats with a Route Supervisor.

Crossing Alberta

Alberta is one block west of the Winona Drive Stop, and had a traffic signal added as part of the St. Clair project.  This signal spends a great deal of time whenever I have seen it green for traffic into a shopping mall.  The signal is green, but there is often little or no traffic, and the signal delays westbound streetcars.

This is a good example of the problem with closely spaced signals and the inability of operators to request a green wave when they need it.

2010.01 Westbound Alberta
2010.01 Eastbound Alberta

The trendline for Alberta westbound lies at about 30 seconds for weeks 1-3 of the month, but drops to 20 seconds for week 4 suggesting that some adjustments were made here.  However, there is still a fair number of data points at the 1-minute line indicating that this signal interferes with streetcars quite regularly.

From riding the line, the typical pattern is:

  • Streetcar pulls westbound through Winona drive on a green phase shared with other traffic.
  • While the streetcar is serving the westbound stop, the signal at Alberta, probably timed to fit in with the gap that will come west from Winona (or a wave eastbound from Oakwood), turns red in front of the streetcar just as it is leaving the stop.
  • The streetcar waits for the red phase plus the eastbound left turn (even when there is no traffic waiting in the turn queue).

By contrast, the eastbound times at Alberta indicate that holds for the signal are quite rare.


2010.01 Westbound Oakwood Nearside
2010.01 Westbound Oakwood Farside
2010.01 Eastbound Oakwood Nearside
2010.01 Eastbound Oakwood Farside

The westbound stop at Oakwood is nearside, and times for this link show the combined effect of stop service and traffic signal delays.  A small amount of peak period effect can be seen on weekdays, while Saturdays tend to have longer times at midday.  The farside times are very short as there is no stop beyond the middle of the intersection.

Eastbound, there are short delays at the traffic signal, but generally cars are held here only briefly.  Most of the delay here is consumed by stop service time.  This is the transfer point between eastbound St. Clair shuttle buses and the streetcars.


2010.01 Westbound Dufferin Nearside
2010.01 Westbound Dufferin Farside
2010.01 Eastbound Dufferin Nearside
2010.01 Eastbound Dufferin Farside

Westbound cars on Dufferin spend longer waiting for traffic signals than serving the farside stop.  This is primarily an offloading stop because cars are near the end of the line, and that activity is faster than boarding passengers eastbound.  Eastbound cars on Dufferin spend roughly similar times waiting for the traffic signal and serving the stop.

The length of some signal delays show that this intersection is organized to avoid interference with the north-south flow on Dufferin.

Via Italia

2010.01 Westbound Via Italia
2010.01 Eastbound Via Italia

Via Italia has a traffic signal between the stops at Dufferin and Earlscourt.  The trend lines both ways lie in the 15-20 second range, but some values up to 1 minute are seen.  Westbound times are slightly longer.


Although St. Clair is a “transit priority” route, many of its traffic signals do not give preferential treatment to transit vehicles.  This is quite noticeable where the streetcar route crosses major north-south streets.

The farside stops compound rather than reduce delays at such locations.  The stop configuration is designed to allow room for a nearside left turn bay, and this brings a “catch 22” situation for transit rights-of-way as they are implemented in Toronto.

Unfortunately, the “before” data for St. Clair comes from the “old” monitoring system where location resolution for vehicles does not allow this type of fine grained analysis.

26 thoughts on “Analysis of 512 St. Clair, January 2010 (Part 4: Intersections)

  1. 1. Why are the powers-that-be still using regular traffic signals for the streetcars, when the rest of the world is using different looking transit signals? Even the U.S. cities are using them.

    2. Why are the left-turners given priority over streetcars? In Québec, I have seen traffic signals where the left-turn signal is after the general green signal. And they currently have no streetcar, trams, or tramways.

    Steve: Toronto uses only the vertical bar as a “transit only green”. Addition of more aspects requires amendment to the Highway Traffic Act. For the historically minded, this display (and the horizontal bar) derive from railway semaphores where a horizontal position meant “stop” and a vertical position meant “clear”.

    As for left turns coming after the through green: The argument is that in this arrangement, the pedestrian crossings will still be occupied when the left turn phase begins and this will block cars and create a safety hazard for the pedestrians. (This does not hold for situations where only a U turn is permitted, but that applies in a minority of cases.) The distinction is probably as much a case of what people are used to, and in Ontario, exclusive left phases come at the start of a cycle. Having said all that, the farside stop arrangement plus the left-turns-first signals and the absence of green extension at many locations (typically major intersections won’t have green extensions for transit) combine to work against “transit priority”.


  2. Good Analysis.

    I’ve noticed while riding that even small intersections like Deer Park Crescent wouldn’t even hold a green for a fast approaching streetcar (which is very frustrating).

    Are there other Signal Priority Systems used in Toronto? I’ve noticed that King streetcars can actually hold a Green Light for quite some time, even while stopped to load passengers, which is a very noticeable effect (since the pedestrian crossings in the same direction have long stopped by then). Why have different types of systems when one works well but the other doesn’t?

    Steve: The scheme used varies from intersection to intersection. As you noted, there are several places on King where the streetcars will hold a green signal, but there are different implementations. At some places, the flashing hand countdown is triggered by the streetcar’s departure; in other cases, the countdown finishes, but the solid hand stays up with a green signal until the streetcar departs. In some places, the streetcar triggers or extends an advanced green. Eastbound at Queen and Broadview, for example, there is a streetcar-only signal (similarly at Queen’s Quay and Spadina, and at Bathurst and Fleet). Northbound at Broadview and Danforth, an approaching streetcar will extend the advanced green phase to clear left turning traffic out of its way.

    One problem with the multiplicity of approaches is that one has to know the intersection really well to figure out whether the transit priority is simply broken, or is misbehaving, or whatever.


  3. Steve, I agree with your conclusions but I feel that far-side stops are getting a bad rap. Its true that with poorly executed transit-priority they will make the situation worse. However, I believe that its with this design that an efficient line can best be implemented, since it removes the random dwell time from the priority logic. That fact this line was not working on day 1 makes wonder of the competence of those designing and programming these systems. Did they model it? Was the system tested in a synthetic or actual environment? It doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy for the future.

    Steve: In fact some of the intersections were found to be mis-programmed, and this shows up in week 4 of the data where trip times go down a bit. However, there is no change at major locations showing that there is little, if any, transit “priority” at work, only a cycling to let the left turns through. When the times for a nearside segment are distributed fairly well through the range of possible values, this indicates that the traffic signals and the streetcars don’t interact.

    A farside stop does remove random dwell time provided that there isn’t a nearside hold imposed by a traffic signal on many trips. My complaint is with the implementation. If Toronto is not prepared to give better and true priority to transit, then the farside design is a recipe for more delays, exactly the experience riders notice. (This is partly offset by the benefits of the right-of-way itself, but as any transit planner knows, riders feel time that they are waiting more than time that they are moving.)


  4. Would the other Transit Signal Priority systems you’ve mentioned earlier on Queen/Broadway, King, etc. be of any use or make any difference on St Clair?

    Steve: Several of the signals on St. Clair have the schemes mentioned before, but there are problems with the point at which an approaching streetcar “requests” priority. The city traffic folks have yet to implement a scheme where the signals, especially those at crossings with no transit stops, look far enough ahead to stay green for an approaching streetcar (which itself may be serving a nearby stop). The scheme now in use at Queen and Broadview eastbound is also in place at St. Clair and Lansdowne westbound.

    On a related note, I’ve always noticed that some 512 operators have managed to avoid the red lights by driving aggressively through yellow lights. Sometimes a streetcar can meet several consecutive traffic lights just turning yellow as the streetcar enters the intersection (as if the Traffic light system would work properly if the streetcar were to be a few metres ahead). Thankfully, no operator actually stopped for them.


  5. I don’t understand why advanced traffic signaling – i.e., if no car wants to turn left the left turn light is not activated – was not installed on St. Clair. As I said before, I believe a three phase signal would greatly benefit streetcars on any route. Example: phase 1: Queen westbound gets a green can go west, turn right, or turn left; phase 2: Queen eastbound gets a green and traffic can go east, turn right, or turn left; phase 3: the cross street gets a normal signal. Whether Queen westbound or Queen eastbound gets the phase first can depend on whether a streetcar is at the intersection. This wouldn’t work on St Clair, but a left turn at the end phase would work. Signal research seems to indicate that not having both left turn lights active at the same time improves intersection operation. Los Angeles makes extensive use of both 3 phase signals and left turn light separation, and drivers here are much worse than drivers in Toronto, so I think it would work.

    Steve: You have not mentioned where pedestrian signals fit into this scheme. Also, in order for this to work, the total cycle time winds up being longer than at present especially if you allow pedestrians to cross at the same time as the traffic flows. An all-walk could solve the problem, but this would mainly work for smaller intersections where the time to cross is relatively short.


  6. I think that the problem of signal prioritizing is compounded by a few small problems that combine to make a big one:

    1 The width of St. Clair I believe is about 24 m. Traffic standards require that pedestrians be give enough time to clear the intersection when walking at a speed of 1.6 m/s. This means that the green time has to be 15 seconds AFTER the hand starts flashing.

    2 The transit sensor is not far enough back from the intersection. At 50 km/h an LRV will travel just under 200 m in 15 s. If you allow 6 – 8 seconds for Amber and left turn phase the car goes another 100 m. The sensor should be just after the end of the previous stop. This would give the computer enough time to set up the signal for the next intersection.

    3 The narrowness of the station platforms does not allow them to be used as “Islands of Refuge” where slow moving pedestrians could wait for the next light. This happens on University Ave. It is almost impossible to get all the way across University without encountering a flashing hand before you make it to the centre median. This does not stop a lot of pedestrians from continuing to cross and finishing on University Avenue’s green phase.

    I was in Toronto for a conference from Friday until 6:00 p.m. Monday. I drove home by going up Spadina and out St. Clair. Street cars made better time up Spadina than I did and most did not have long waits at lights. Some had to wait for the cars ahead to clear the platforms though. On St. Clair most of the street cars arrived at the light as the left turn phase started or just after the light turned green. The sequencing for autos seemed a little better than during the off peak but it still took two lights to get across Dufferin and Lansdowne. Two Street cars went through Lansdowne on consecutive lights and both got the “trolley only phase” before the left turn U turn phase started so maybe they can also do it at most other intersections to speed up transit.

    I realize that my anecdotal comments are only a “snapshot” at one point in time but the systems seems to be improving each time that I go by it. One can only hope that transit wins out over autos.


  7. The width of St. Clair I believe is about 24 m. Traffic standards require that pedestrians be give enough time to clear the intersection when walking at a speed of 1.6 m/s. This means that the green time has to be 15 seconds AFTER the hand starts flashing.

    I’ve heard something a little different from Transportation Services; the speed of 1.6m/s is what it used to be, but this has been revised for a graying society, and is now 1.0m/s. IIRC, the minimum green time for any intersection is a total of around 15 seconds, with a minimum flashing hand of no less than 7 seconds.

    Now in St. Clair’s case, where the Avenue Study from Keele to Glenholme has the road surface at about 22m at its widest (sidewalks at least 3.5m wide, not necessarily symmetrical), would require a minimum 22-second green phase with the flashing hand starting starting no later than 7 seconds before the green ends. There’s additional 5 seconds for transition to red via amber, and an additional 5 seconds minimum for the advance green (at some intersections, this may be 10 seconds). The north-south street green time will vary by its width, of course, but if the same as St. Clair for the sake of an example, streetcars can experience 37-47 seconds of delay (depending on advance left duration) when just missing the green.


  8. Regarding transit signals that look different from traffic lights, Is there any reason that the necessary amendments to the Highway Traffic Act cannot be passed and fairly quickly at that? I can’t see who would oppose such an amendment.


  9. Steve wrote:

    Toronto uses only the vertical bar as a “transit only green”. Addition of more aspects requires amendment to the Highway Traffic Act……

    In the 50’s. The Queensway ROW was built. Since then, Queens Quay, Spadina, Fleet streets have had ROW’s built and at present the St. Clair ROW is somewhere between built and the twilight zone. Has the TTC ever, to anyone’s knowledge, applied for changes in the Highway Traffic Act to accommodate transit vehicles? The “bar” signals system, would seem to me, to be the correct way to go for signaling transit vehicle movements on ROW’s, at intersections where transit vehicles regularly turn and throughout the city where an advanced movement of transit vehicles is desired. Baltimore, Tampa, Seattle, Portland to name a few in North America, seem to have been able to use this type of signal system with their light rail/streetcar systems. The use of the “bar” signals in this city, at the present time, seems like such a half-hearted effort to solve a problem that should have been correctly implemented years ago.


  10. @ Richard : Is there any reason that the necessary amendments to the Highway Traffic Act cannot be passed and fairly quickly at that? I can’t see who would oppose such an amendment.

    Small town MPPs who object to Toronto-centric laws? 😉


  11. Chris asks:
    “I don’t understand why advanced traffic signaling – i.e., if no car wants to turn left the left turn light is not activated – was not installed on St. Clair.”

    The detector loops are certainly installed for this, but it’s likely not working properly. Either the detector is giving spurious information to the light controller, or the feature has been disabled. I see this on the Queensway where quite often you see green turn arrows even though there are absolutely no cars waiting in the left turn lane. On the other hand, sometimes the signals work properly and the green arrow does not come on if there are no vehicles waiting.

    Because all these left turns are allowed to turn on the arrow only, I expect that traffic services sets their sensitivity and failure modes so as to give possibly unnecessary green arrows, while avoiding any possibility of failure to trigger a green arrow when required. (Without the green arrow, a vehicle in the left turn lane won’t ever get to go.)

    On the Queensway, it would be good for the TTC to report excess turn arrow triggering to the roads department. TTC operators see those intersections many, many times a day, and their observations should be sufficient evidence for a problem.

    For example, unneeded arrows often show at Colborne Lodge Drive, slowing the Queen car (and possibly all through traffic if both directions get unneeded green arrows). These problems seem to persist for a while, then get fixed for a while, then come back (possibly when someone didn’t get their arrow for a couple of cycles and complained).

    And speaking of “cycles”, there’s a whole other can of worms trying to trigger traffic light phases on your bicycle….

    Steve: Now that I am more or less done with the St. Clair analysis for a while, I will start crunching through Queen data from last fall. Problem intersections on the Queensway should stick out like sore thumbs. As always, my dual goals are to improve transit, but leave those who make excuses for bad or botched setups no place to hide. Maybe this will even inspire the TTC to do their own analyses!


  12. Can we just add a short extra phase for transit?

    1) Transit vehicles cross, everybody else waits; 2) Left turns; 3) Main through phase, for both general traffic and transit.

    The extra transit phase should take no more than 5-6 s, plus 2 s to clear the intersection. It only needs to let through one vehicle each way (if two are bunched at the intersection, it is actually good to space them out). And if the transit vehicle is not present in the beginning of the cycle, the first phase can be skipped.


  13. I think the loops have to be sensitive enough to be triggered by bicycles. That is what those 3 white dots are for, so the bicycles can trigger the turns. (Too bad the bicyclist weren’t told about them, but there are no bicyclist manuals like the motorcyclist manuals.) Most likely the vehicles in the through lanes are also triggering the left turn signal.


  14. Karl Junkin says:
    March 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    “I’ve heard something a little different from Transportation Services; the speed of 1.6m/s is what it used to be, but this has been revised for a graying society, and is now 1.0m/s. IIRC, the minimum green time for any intersection is a total of around 15 seconds, with a minimum flashing hand of no less than 7 seconds. “

    What I was told was that they use 1.0 m/s for the total crossing time and 1.6 m/s for the length of the flashing cycle, so the street would get 24 s of walk time, 8 with a walker and 16 with a flashing hand. I liked the animated ones in Asia that started out with a slow walk and the person gradually got faster and faster until he broke into a sprint just before the hand. I have seen green times of just over 5 seconds but those were in the evening with no pedestrian phase.

    I rode St. Clair both ways twice today and timed the amount of lost time for red lights. My first trip west bound left on time and only lost about 30 seconds until St. Clair West Station. In the station the operator lost about 40 seconds waiting for a car that was parked on the switch into the spare track while the operator used the washroom. When he came out a Vaughan Bus was in front of him that was too late to activate the white bar to go North on Vaughan. We had to wait for an entire cycle which was almost 2 minutes. We picked up a lady in a walker the stop before Dufferin and she got of at Earlscourt. She caused us to miss the light at Dufferin and Earlscourt. The car was 5 minutes 30 seconds down at Lansdowne and none of it was the operator’s fault. The lady was very nice and thanked him profusely in English and Italian.

    My first trip eastbound lost 4 minutes and 40 seconds because of red light delays, none of which could be blamed on the operator. The second westbound trip lost 4 minutes and 30 seconds while the second eastbound trip lost 4 minutes and 20 seconds. The lights at Bathurst, Vaughan, Oakwood and Dufferin all had a red time of just over 1 minute for St. Clair cars. There are a lot of senior citizens on this line who have trouble getting up the stairs on the street cars. Low floor cars will improve the service as will all door loading. I rode a Spadina car from Spadina Station to Union and it lost 3 minutes and 30 seconds going to King and just over 4 minutes from King to Union. The King short turn service seemed to have lights that operated well but Front and Lake Shore light took forever. The length of the red phase on Spadina at major cross streets was around 30 to 35 seconds.

    The operators and supervisors all complained about the redesigned loops at Lansdowne and Oakwood as it is no longer possible for a bus and a street car to pass. I can attest to the fact that 3 CLRV’s, a hybrid bus and a cargo van can fit into Lansdowne loop at the same time, but it is tight. The other problem is that there are no tail or spare tracks at St. Clair Station, Gunn’s loop, Lansdowne or Oakwood. The supervisor backs the gap car onto the eastbound track on St. Clair west of Lansdowne and keeps it there until he needs it. He also had a car stored on the through track at St. Clair West Station between the entrance and exit to the loop on the eastbound track. A number of operators and supervisors also though that the direction of Gunn’s loop was to be reversed and they did not like that idea.

    Two supervisors said that the extension to Gunn’s loop is supposed to open for the June board period but that they would believe it when they saw it. They also said that the traffic lights were supposed to be re-timed in the next two or three weeks. The over head truck was installing span wires in Oakwood loop today. According to the supervisor St. Clair usually has 1 gap car after 12:00 everyday. The line seems doable if everything goes right. If you get a couple of little old ladies or men or a Vaughan Bus that misses a light and you are screwed. The line needs more recovery time to allow for the above problems.

    Today seemed to be the day to stick stuff in the tail, spare or not yet in service track. There was a train at Davisville on the southbound build up track when I went north. At Eglinton there was a train in the tail track. There was also one at York Mills and at Union. There were street car at Queen’s Quay and in the tail track at Spadina Station as well as the two on St Clair. Broadview was also closed for a while around 2:00 o’clock between Queen and Dundas so King ran via Parliament and Dundas both ways. ALRV 4201 was also on King all day.

    The temper of passengers seems to be on a shorter fuse these days and they are blaming operators for things that aren’t his fault; in most occasions they were their own fault. Two women complained that the operator did not stop at the Queen’s Quay Terminal stop for them but no one pulled the chord. They then complained that he would not let them off at the next light but there was no stop there. When they finally got to the underground station they did not get off but blocked the door so that the two passengers who pulled the chord and wanted to get off could not. Someone else tried to get on near side at Dufferin and would not get out off the rode until I told them that the driver would get fired if he opened the doors there. This was a major problem on Spadina when it first started because people are used to near side stops.

    Another problem is pedestrians using the right of way on St. Clair to aid in crossing the street. On Spadina for most of the street there is enough room for pedestrians to stand between the trees while waiting to cross the street. On St. Clair there is not enough room and they stand on the tracks totally oblivious to the on coming street car. Aside from all the problems it was a wonderful spring day to enjoy in Toronto along with all the crazy transit operations.

    Steve: The narrowed transit right-of-way through Earlscourt Loop was part of the redesign to enhance the front of the Picininni Centre and placate the locals. I never heard one word from the TTC while this was going on about concerns re the size of the loop. Of course, they expected to open all the way to Keele in one go. Yes, the loop at Gunn’s Road will reverse direction, and that change apparently is part of the reason the opening was delayed.


  15. I just put in a request to because the lights at Windermere and Colborne Lodge were definitely giving unnecessary green arrows this morning.

    Hopefully this will get some action. There’s a “mode control for TCS” on the web site issue tracking system.

    Someone seeing unnecessary green arrows on St. Clair could send in a similar request.


  16. Robert

    I enjoy your “state of the service” posts very much, they help to colour Steve’s analytical summaries (although, as an engineer/number guy I find them equally fascinating).

    Steve: Both types of post are useful — snapshots of specific points in time and overviews that show the patterns.


  17. Not only is Toronto behind the rest of the world in using specific transit signals, but parts of the world are now using animated pedestrian signals showing a stick figure actually walking until the last few seconds when the figure starts running.


  18. W. K. Lis says:
    March 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    “Not only is Toronto behind the rest of the world in using specific transit signals, but parts of the world are now using animated pedestrian signals showing a stick figure actually walking until the last few seconds when the figure starts running.”

    Thanks for the link. Those are the ones that I have been talking about.


  19. In a city where “Walk left / Stand right” is apparently too confusing and dangerous, a sprinting stick figure would surely be rejected as encouraging people to run in the streets.


  20. ED said:

    The detector loops are certainly installed for this, but it’s likely not working properly. Either the detector is giving spurious information to the light controller, or the feature has been disabled. I see this on the Queensway where quite often you see green turn arrows even though there are absolutely no cars waiting in the left turn lane. On the other hand, sometimes the signals work properly and the green arrow does not come on if there are no vehicles waiting.

    I would like to add the following:

    Getting detector loops to work properly is tricky. You want it sensitive enough that a small vehicle like a bicycle or scooter will trigger it, but not so sensitive that a vehicle in the next lane will trigger it. In the case of a left turn out green arrow, you would rather set it a little too sensitive, rather then not sensitive enough….

    For the whole thing, the TTC should be really interested in Steve’s data, this stuff is gold, because it shows where the issues are.

    Steve: There are a number of ways to detect a transit vehicle separately from other passing objects. One is to have a transmitter on the vehicle. That’s how the bus detectors work, I believe, so that they do not depend on the vehicle being positioned accurately in the detection lane. Another is to use the “signature” of the mass of the vehicle passing over the loop to distinguish transit vehicles from other traffic. This scheme was used in Edmonton over two decades ago. Still another, more recent, is to use the GPS information although this requires frequent, real-time updates from the GPS monitoring out to the signals. Toronto seems to be trapped in using the most primitive system of vehicle detection and signal priority control available.


  21. At least the driver does not have to press a button to trigger a left turn signal. Not so for pedestrians.

    They have to consciously press a button to trigger a pedestrian signal, even if the pedestrian signal at right-angles is counting down. It may count down to 0 and return to walk because the pedestrian signal button at right-angle to it was not pressed. The 905 is notorious for this, but some 416 intersections require this.

    There are pedestrian signals that get activated just by their presence, but not where I ever been.

    Steve: Actually, the left turn transit signals are tied into the electric switches. When the switch is not active (as was the case for the past weekend at Queen and Broadview where all eastbound service was diverting), the advanced transit signal is not activated. Also, if there is a bus on the 504, it doesn’t get an advanced green.


  22. What about moving the stop line back for streetcars a bit?

    The left turn detector is set to detect a car/bicycle at the very front of the left turn lane. If a streetcar stops right beside this point it usually sets off the left turn phase even if there is no car there.

    Could a simple solution be to move the Streetcar’s stop line back 1 car length, so it doesn’t accidentally activate the left phase? This could also give the streetcar driver more time to react if somebody runs the red light.

    It’s still primitive, but judging by the city’s stance on new technology it may be the only way help to cut down on unneeded left phases.


  23. Curious why the highway traffic act comes in to the question anyway. The signals in question are Transit signals not vehicle signals. It is probably better if the signals do not conform and cannot be confused with highway traffic signals so they have no meaning to drivers. This way they cannot be confused with left turn signals etc.

    Steve: Any signal, including the transit signals we have now, must be defined in the HTA. This prevents someone inventing and installing their own system that is not part of a standard.


  24. I drove along St. Clair today and the walk lights at the 3 cross streets that I could see all seem to start the flashing countdown around 22 seconds so with a minimum walk phase of 6 seconds, an amber all red phase of 6 seconds and a left turn phase on St. Clair of 10 seconds that light for the street cars would have to be red for a minimum of 44 seconds. Vaughan, Dufferin and Oakwood seem to be about 60 seconds. At 50 km/h the car would travel almost 600 m which, I think, is greater than the stop spacing. The traffic computer has to be tied into the programme that shows the streetcar location in order for it to have a true transit priority. It almost needs a system than can learn and be self optimizing.


  25. Street cars should be one of the easiest things to detect, simply drill a hole in the track, add a depression switch, when the car runs over the switch, you know you have a car, voltage across a small gap that is crossed by the steel wheel is another option, a detector based on grounding car voltage is also possible. Detecting a car beside the loop could be done many ways, on a private ROW it’s fairly easy. This could then desensitize the loop for the left turn lane. Other then loops you can use cameras, the camera recognizes a vehicle in the lane, and is narrow enough in it’s image that it can ignore a street car in the next lane.


  26. I rode St. Clair this morning one round trip. I had an operator who new how to work the line and was running at over 50 km/h for much of the time. He completed the run within the scheduled time but still lost 4 minutes and 30 seconds because of red lights. One red light at Alberta was caused by a construction crew at the entrance to Oakwood loop. An operator not as familiar with the line would not have operated as fast as he did and would have lost more time. The shortest flashing hand sign time for a cross street on St. Clair was 19 seconds and the largest was 22. I do not think that it is possible to get a green light at both Vaughan and Bathurst in any direction as I have never seen this happen.


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