No Priority for Transit Priority Report

In June 2005, I appeared at the TTC meeting and spoke about problems with transit signal priority on the Spadina-Harbourfront line.  At that time, then Vice-Chair Olivia Chow request a report from TTC and City staff addressing, among other things, the issues I had raised.

This report has appeared on the list of outstanding Commission requests ever since.  It was supposed to be on the March agenda, but was nowhere to be seen.  Now, we learn it will be on the September 30, 2010 agenda.

With the amount of flak the TTC and City have taken about the design of LRT lines and signal operations particularly, one might think this issue was of some interest and priority.

Place your bets now on whether we see anything by September 30, and enjoy your ride on our “priority” transit routes.

22 thoughts on “No Priority for Transit Priority Report

  1. I guess not having transit priority for the 510 at College, Dundas, Queen, and King is understandable, as that may affect streetcar operations on those streets. But there should be no reason not to have transit priority at all other streets, like Richmond, Adelaide, and Front, as those streets mainly carry cars and not very much transit.


  2. Out of all of the little things that drive me crazy with the TTC, this is right at the top of the list. Anyone who has ever rode the 509/510 would be able to see how efficiency could improve if the signalling was done properly. ARGH!

    Why has this taken 5 years to be resolved? I’d like to hear something from the TTC and I’m not holding my breath for September.


  3. Priority signaling would be great, but banning left turns on streets with streetcars would be a start! 100 people crammed into the College car last night with me waited for two or three cycles of the lights at each intersection for cars with one to two people in each? This makes any kind of sense? When your can walk do a destination under 4km faster than your transit, your transit is broken.

    I’m not so miffed that Transit City is another broken promise… probably. Blah, blah, they are LRTs: prove to me they will be faster than riding a bike or walking, unlike our streetcars, and I may care.


  4. We also need red light cameras, whatever the stupid lawyers say, since @$$hat Torontonians think yellow means go, and red enter to block the intersection. A little policing, maybe?

    Steve: Toronto is long on passing traffic control bylaws, but they won’t fight to get traffic policing taken away from the cops who are often too busy with real crime. If you want aggressive traffic policing, it needs a dedicated force and the political will to take on motorists.


  5. I think Torontonians should look at the fact that on 3 LRT lines we have spent considerable money to install segregated transit signals but yet we don’t use them. This would get the right wingers in a tisy if they put two and two together and realized the waste of tax payer money.

    What the hell is the point in building a right of way when you only get 50% of its potential used?


  6. There are committee and commission meetings in September? I would of thought there would be no committee meetings and no commission meetings at City Hall due to being a month away from elections.

    P.S. I will have the same bear as you by the time you are speaking on that item.


  7. Transit priority signals, just like all of the other signals in the city are under the control of the City’s Transportation Services and not the TTC. This department has shown in the past that they are not interested in co-operating with the TTC nor are they interested in setting traffic signals to improve the flow of traffic, even if this adversely effects transit vehicles. There are many examples of poor traffic signal programming that directly affect transit service.

    I am a big fan of functioning transit priority, it greatly improves the flow of transit service and should be expanded to many other routes and intersections. With that said the TTC should try, where possible, to move stops to the far side of the intersection when priority is installed, this should reduce the length of time a signal has to hold.


  8. We need to stop pretending that the city gives a crap about anything other then private motor vehicle traffic. The problem with traffic priority is that it slows down PMV traffic, even if only by a few seconds, and we all know that only driver’s votes count.

    Transit riders and other potential road users (other then those in private motor vehicles) do not count. Council knows this, and probably were hoping that the issue would have been forgotten by now, so it could have been quietly dropped. As for September, it will probably be held over for the next council to deal with. They will then bury it at the bottom of the priority list, and hope it doesn’t surface before the next election.


  9. Should something like this be brought up at city council instead of at the ttc? Why is it taking half a decade to get a report done? Is it resources, staffing issues, management, infighting? If the report were to be requested by council would it be a higher priority? Are there other reports in other departments that are taking this long?

    Maybe they need to move some stuff out of the ttc, biking, pedestrian and roads departments and put it in a shared services department so there can be no claims of bias.

    Steve: What you want to create would be worse than what we have now — a department big enough to force any proposal to grind to a halt. The real problem is that the TTC (and the Commissioners) should be making a lot of noise about this, but they don’t. Criticize staff? Never!


  10. “I think Torontonians should look at the fact that on 3 LRT lines we have spent considerable money to install segregated transit signals but yet we don’t use them. This would get the right wingers in a tisy if they put two and two together and realized the waste of tax payer money.”

    Another problem with this theory is that there is a pretty big overlap in the people who get worked up by this kind of thing and those who shout about a “war on cars”.


  11. I spoke with TTC and City officials on this topic in February and was told “most of the key intersections [on Spadina] should be equipped by the end of 2010.”

    City staff ought to know by September 30 whether this schedule is going to be met.

    Steve, if the transit priority report is not tabled on the promised date, would you like to meet with me that week? I can formally invite representatives of the TTC and the City to sit down with us and describe the status of transit priority in Toronto.

    Steve: As you know, I will meet with anyone. However, why is it that you have status info on the progress of TSP on Spadina, but TTC staff cannot bring themselves to at least provide an update to the Commission on work in progress? As things stand, the work you claim to be going on is not acknowledged at the political level, and if it doesn’t happen, nobody knows or cares to demand an explanation.


  12. “most of the key intersections [on Spadina] should be equipped by the end of 2010.”

    With so many NA switches on Spadina (and throughout the network) “out of service electrically” and others which have never been energized, the potential of TSP is marginalized. Both these issues must be addressed together.

    Given the 510 route’s transitway status, I’m continually amazed at lengthy delays in repairs & maintenance. There’s no priority of keeping this route operating at maximum efficiency.

    Steve: The signal priority is not just for turns off of Spadina, but for straight through movements.


  13. Why do we assume that Transit Signal Priority (TSP) is going to work here? Much of the research on TSP demonstrates that the technology is flawed and benefits are most typically observed only in single-intersection simulations.

    In other words, benefits were viewed in a computer model, but not within the real world.

    One high profile study out of Portland showed that TSP actually had a negative impact on vehicles’ on-time performance. The authors of the study state emphatically that “a considerable amount of work needs to be done with respect to signal priority programs before the expected benefits of TSP are fully realized.”

    Maybe bullying the TTC into using a flawed technology isn’t the right solution?

    Steve: I agree that signal priority may be counterproductive, and you can see this in the design at some intersections on the TTC. The whole point is to understand how it works on a case by case basis, and ensure that the setup is optimal. As I have already shown for St. Clair, the initial setup did not provide the “priority” one would expect and actually interfered with the line. You imply that TSP, per se, is a bad idea based on one implementation.

    It is outrageous that a Commission request for a staff report on Spadina/Harbourfront has produced no response for over five years, not even a status report on updates, if any, and their effect. This whole issue began with a widely-quoted article in the Star about how the Bathurst car, running in mixed traffic, provided a faster service than the Spadina car running on its own right-of-way with “priority”.

    The TTC takes a lot of flak over the Transit City plans and their effects on traffic operations, and existing lines are often cited as examples of how things work (or not). It is in their interest to address the situation and demonstrate that what they have already built has been fine tuned and improved.


  14. Patrick says: “Transit priority signals, just like all of the other signals in the city are under the control of the City’s Transportation Services and not the TTC”

    … because transit doesn’t count as transportation.

    Steve, do you think it would be better for transit to be run as part of the transportation deptartment?

    Steve: No. The problem is that the politicians have to stop letting staff both at TTC and at the City get away with presenting misleading information, when they present it at all. There is too much of the “how dare you reproach our professional staff” attitude, and it makes lots of room for self-serving reports that don’t challenge accepted practices. There are some very good staff in our government agencies, just as there are very good staff anywhere, but this does not mean that they’re all perfect.


  15. My only concern with it being with transportation department is that their focus is on getting cars running quickly, and not getting people moving quickly…I’m not saying it would be a good idea to move all services in to one large department, but to move the ones related to optimizing the speed at which people move around all the systems into one…

    Call it the Network Optimization Group, they can generate and unify the type of reports that we do, as well as the ones that transportation, GO, PATH, bike network and pedestrian services do. A unified look at the best way to optimize the speed at which people get around the city.

    They can then make suggestions, which would have hard data to back it up, at which point the politicians have something to act on. Obviously some of the suggestions are going to be unfavourable, so they will have to say no….but at least they have the data.

    Currently it looks like the group that does the changes is not providing the data, and the politicians can’t do anything until they get the data…so just have a data group that deals with it. It would be alot easier to keep them accountable.


  16. I guess I am unsure as to the effect that transit signal priority will have on Spadina, where for most of the day streetcars are scheduled to arrive every 2 minutes in both directions. Regardless of cars or even of transit, the lights have to allow pedestrians 1 minute to cross the street every 2 minutes. I think we see the limits of non-segregated right of ways on Spadina as we speak. Eliminating left turns from Spadina would have a lot more of an effect on running time, assuming all the left turn signal time would be reinvested in the through/right turn time. I can even imagine having two platforms at intersections: near side for passenger drop off and far side for passenger loading.

    Steve: There are more serious problems at the south end of the line where the signals run into problems with frequent service. During the summer extension of the 510 short turns from King to Queen’s Quay, it is possible to get more streetcars going south of King than the signals can handle. Similarly, on Queen’s Quay, the transit phase is extremely short, and the intersections can be overwhelmed by very frequent service.


  17. I also cannot understand the reticence to report on this topic, which is why I asked for official comment regarding the Spadina signals, and put it in print.

    I spoke by phone to City and TTC staff earlier this year — separately, despite originally requesting a joint interview. The reference to Spadina, as published in Metro at that time — and linked via my name above and here was:

    “However, both TTC and City of Toronto officials tell In Transit that things are finally moving. The city’s Bruce Zvaniga reports that most of the key intersections should be equipped by the end of 2010.”

    If the TTC report is postponed again in September, we can request a joint interview with TTC and/or City officials about the status of transit priority — in general and on Spadina. And again put their responses on the record.


  18. Anyone ever notice that there’s almost as many drivers working on the Spadina line as there are on the Queen Street line?

    Of course, Queen Street runs the ALRV which allows for double the occupancy of Spadina’s CLRV vehicles, but the Queen Streetcar line is 4 times longer than the Spadina line.

    Any idea what the motivation is behind this? Or is it just a way to mask the problems with the Spadina line?

    Steve: I’m not sure quite what you are arguing here, but the reason Spadina runs with CLRVs is that if an ALRV gets stuck in the Harbourfront tunnel on Bay Street, it cannot be pushed up the ramp by another CLRV or ALRV. Yes, it would be an ideal route for larger cars, and is a prime candidate for the new Flexitys when they arrive. Meanwhile, on Queen, the issues are the line’s length and the spotty service on the outer part of the route while line management concentrates on service downtown.


  19. Transit Priority is problematic with the Spadina, Queen’s Quay and St. Clair lines because of the street width, close signal spacing and short headways. Short blocks and closes signal Spacing, especially on St. Clair with Oakwood, Alberta and Winona means that cycle times need to be short to keep cars being stopped in one intersection by a red light at the next. Wide streets require long crossing ties so that pedestrians don’t get caught in the middle of the road. This does not leave much flexibility for transit priority That being true there can still be room for improvement by change the traffic light cycles to minimize transit time rather than auto time. I think that this has been done to some extent on St. Clair and Spadina. Every time I drive those streets, once a week on Thursdays, the light cycles seem to be different, especially St. Clair.

    All intersections where street cars can make a left or right turn should have the ability to give the street car a turn signal. This should be at the start or end of the green phase depending on which is needed by the LRV. The newer cars with all door boarding and low floors should make the service run faster, especially on the right of way lines.

    It is impossible to keep transit vehicles on an even headway when the headway is not a multiple of the cycle time though it should be possible to do better than 11 and 1 then 11 and 1. The problem on Spadina worse south of King because the road is so wide and there is no “Island of Refuge” in the middle except at Bremner so pedestrians can be forced to take it in 2 steps as occurs on University Ave. Spadina and Front is especially bad because the predominate p.m. movement is west to south which results in a long left turn phase for Front street which has to followed by a long pedestrian phase for pedestrians on the south side to cross Spadina. Queens Quay is disaster of planning from the word go but hopefully things will improve when the street is rebuilt. I have seen times when the signals appear to change for the street cars just before they arrive and stay green long enough for 2 cars to go through, then there are the other days when a cross street light stays green forever and there are no cars or pedestrians crossing. Perhaps these lights should only turn green when a vehicle is detected at the intersection or a pedestrian pushes the button. The length of the green could be shortened to what is needed rather than 30 seconds when there is only 1 car present. In the summer months there is a lot more people and cars in the area and traffic would be a problem but it would help the rest of the time.

    Transit Priority Signalling is not going to be able to:

    1) turn a light green as an LRV approaches without endangering pedestrians.
    2) keep a signal green at a major intersection for much longer without throwing the entire network into confusion. It is a vast grid of streets and not just one road that is affected.

    Traffic signals can:

    1) provide turn phases for streetcars and buses.
    2) have their timing adjusted to maximize the flow of transit instead of autos. Especially if those routes get low floor LRV’s with all door loadings.


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