Back on June 22, 2005, the matter of transit priority signalling was discussed at the TTC meeting. Arising from that discussion, then Vice-Chair Olivia Chow moved the following motion:
1. That staff be requested to take the necessary action to implement transit priority signalling on Spadina by September 2005 at all locations where it is not already active, with a report back in the Fall of 2006 on the impact.
2. That recommendations 2 to 6 embodied in Mr. Munro’s submission be forwarded to TTC staff and City Transportation staff, with a joint report back to the fall meetings of the TTC and Planning and Transportation Committee.
This item has sat on the list of outstanding Commission requests ever since, but on the recent agenda, it was closed with the notation:
Memorandum dated September 2, 2010 forwarded to Commissioners.
It took a motion of the Commission and a bit of harassment on my part to get this memorandum. It was not exactly worth the wait.
Transit Priority — Signal priority on St. Clair is complete. Signal priority on Spadina will be completed by the City in December, 2010. Signal priority on Harbourfront will be upgraded when the Queen’s Quay Revitalization Project is undertaken by Waterfront Toronto (date unknown). Recommended comments and action: Mark complete, and remove from list.
With respect to item 1, it has always been the City’s position that the width of Spadina coupled with the service frequency preclude more aggressive priority for transit vehicles. Where the 2010 response speaks of completing transit priority on Spadina, this refers to complete integration of automatic track switches and traffic signals.
There has never been a report as requested in item 2 of Commissioner Chow’s motion, and it is worth reviewing what was involved in points 2 to 6 of my original presentation.
2. The operation of transit priority signaling at intersections with long cross-street green times should be reviewed, and transit vehicles should be given more frequent access to green time in the cycle.
This remains a major problem at the crossings at the south end of the Spadina route where transit service waits quite a long time to get through intersections between Front and Queen’s Quay. There are also problems at Bathurst and Lake Shore, although these have been reduced somewhat over the years.
3. The TTC and Planning & Transportation should integrate transit priority signaling with any new traffic signal installations on routes which already have priority signals. Activation of the new signals should not be permitted unless the transit priority component is operational.
4. All road and track reconstruction projects should include replacement of priority signaling detectors as an integral part of the projects so that priority signals are available when service resumes.
Both of these points refer to situations where transit priority is lost through the installation of new signals or reconstruction of the roadway. Intersections such as those on Parliament at King and at Queen, and on Roncesvalles at Dundas, Howard Park and High Park have recently received completely new track. How long will it take for transit priority signalling to be reinstalled at these locations?
5. The TTC and Planning & Transportation should determine a method to allow closely spaced priority signals to be activated as a group so that signals that are not at transit stops can give transit vehicles a coordinated green wave.
6. The TTC should investigate the provision of technology allowing operators to request transit priority when they are at nearside stops to allow signals to cycle to green while the transit vehicle completes loading.
With the addition of more signals in the central area (sometimes as replacements for pedestrian crossings), and with the close signal spacing on the Harbourfront line (existing and planned), there are locations where signals lie between rather than at carstops. Much of the debate between TTC, Waterfront Toronto and the City’s technical staff turns on the issue of how closely spaced signals will interact with transit.
It is essential that all parties find a way to create “green waves” through such areas so that transit vehicles are not repeatedly delayed. Where between-stop signals exist (e.g. King at Frederick between Sherbourne and Jarvis), the in between signal should be integrated with nearby intersections so that transit vehicles are not held by it.
For nearside stops, there are cases where a car will be loading for an extended period, but the traffic signal stays green attempting to give the car priority it cannot use. Conversely, operators should be able to identify that they are ready to leave so that a signal can react appropriately. This is particularly important where a signal is located near but not at a stop (eastbound from the York Street stop on Queen’s Quay). It should not be necessary for a car to pull forward onto a detector loop to signal that it requires clearance. Streetcars already have antennae that are used to operate the track switches at intersections, and these could also be used to interact with the traffic signal system.
Having watched service diversions around numerous construction projects, I have noticed one other shortcoming in priority signals. There is no provision for transit-only turn phases at locations commonly used for diversions and short turns. Examples include:
- Queen at Parliament, Church and Shaw
- King at Parliament, Church, Shaw and Dufferin
- Dundas at Church and Parliament
Judging by the new installation at Parliament, the TTC is now electrifying all switches, although at this intersection they are not yet active. One can only speculate about the TTC paying a pointman to operate the switch westbound at Church and Queen for the 504 diversion when repairing the existing (but out of service) electric switch might have been a lot cheaper. The pointman was not responsible for any traffic management (that would have taken a paid duty policeman), and the absence of a transit priority phase slowed transit operations here.
We talk a good line in Toronto about transit priority, but do a half-assed job of implementing it where it is most critical to operations.