Forged in Steel

Over the past week, CBC’s Metro Morning looked at the relationship between Toronto and its streetcars, its transit system and the Provincial GO/Metrolinx system.

On Monday, Nov. 22, Matt Galloway spoke with a retired streetcar operator about the problems of sharing the road.

Mary Wiens’ series began on Nov. 23:

  1. Should we get rid of streetcars?
  2. What will the new streetcar fleet bring us?
  3. Crusty old engineer Ed Levy talks about a city that’s great at doing studies, but not so good at building.
  4. Leslie Woo talks about the relationship between Metrolinx and the TTC, briefly mentioning Transit City, but says nothing definitive (this episode will be available sometime on Nov. 26)

Little in these pieces will be new to regular readers here, but I wanted to alert those who don’t listen to Metro Morning (or are outside of its territory) of how Toronto’s top-rated morning show is handling this issue.

Streetcar routes are on the front line of a much bigger problem of improving transit service.  At a time when the political winds are shifting behind those who drive, and for whom transit is a necessary but expensive service used by others, the evolution of support for real transit improvements will be interesting to watch.

12 thoughts on “Forged in Steel

  1. As both a TTC rider and commuter cyclists I’ve things from both sides (I should add while on bike I always stop well back of the rear-most door and never proceed until all doors have closed, but have seen plenty of other cyclists and more than a few drivers who don’t). I certainly understand the frustration, given that where streetcar stops have no island, all traffic must stop behind the tram. And when one is trying to get on or off the tram there is the apprehension about getting hit by a bike or car.

    However if I had a choice of bus or streetcar, the latter would win by a long shot (it holds more and is quieter and smoother running). I’ve experienced riding low-floor cars in Staussburg, so I know the new cars we’ve been promised could make that ride even better. I’ve seen a lot of rebuilding of track, so it be wasteful to then scrap all of part of of the streetcar network. Not to mention far more buses would be required to provide the same level of service, and would likely not reduce the congestion that motivated our mayor-elect to campaign to replace streetcars with buses. There are enough alternate roads for motorist (or cyclists) who don’t want to deal with streetcars (and if one chooses to use it, be patient).

    I’m hoping most of what was said during the campaign was mostly rhetoric and saner heads will prevail, but so far I’m not so optimistic.


  2. I too hope that saner heads will prevail. Yes, we cannot eliminate the car, but we do need a transit system that can provide a reliable alternative. As long as people see transit as “the slower way” then the car will always be the viable option.

    I hope that work will continue to make transit, both in Toronto and in the GTA, much better. An improved transit system will assist everyone. The health benefits alone (one vehicle carrying many people is more efficient than a one person vehicle) are important, let alone as a way to deal with congestion, and transportation in general (not everyone wants a car, nor can afford a car.)


  3. There are hundreds of reasons not to take transit for the people who spend way too much money they don’t actually have maintaining their imaginary golden mile lifestyle and car. These scattered and weak journalistic depictions only serve to allay the guilt of these debt ridden car folk, desperate to feel like the car will make a moral and rational comeback and that they are not in fact “part of problem.” (However, an “Ideas” series on streetcars or perhaps transit would be fairly excellent!) I hope that at least our current fleet of aging trams survives until peak oil, and for a brief time reign high along with bicycles and the humble hikers.

    The streetcar is too slow? Really? Try adding the time it takes to earn the money to have a car into your commuting time: using an honest accounting of the actual costs of ownership, operation and depreciation. The streetcar holds up traffic? Those eighty people on any given Queen car in any given block will always outnumber the same privileged enough to share that same block in their auto, why are they never counted as “traffic?” I’d love to see King replaced by buses: they’d travel in rotating five packs, alternately filling up and falling back like dumptrucks in an open pit mine. The full buses would hold back and block traffic while fresh ones come up from behind, and struggle to get in between illegally parked hybrid landrovers so that they can kneel at the curb and admit a wheelchair or stroller — holding up two lanes of traffic and four full buses containing perhaps the equivalent of two and a half streetcars in the process. The operators would go mental every six hours, but the union will have been busted so they will be efficiently replaced from the temp agency’s endless pool of aspiring garbage truck drivers.


  4. “Those eighty people on any given Queen car in any given block will always outnumber the same privileged enough to share that same block in their auto,”

    MGM, wild hyperbole like this damages your credibility. Every Queen car is not constantly stuffed with 80 riders on the entire route. Even if they were and they did indeed carry more people than the cars in the same “given” block how about all the cars in the 10 blocks between streetcars, do their drivers and passengers count?

    Steve: The “shadow” of a streetcar in traffic does not extend back 10 blocks. If it did, you would not be in a position to perceive faster movement of traffic up to the point where a streetcar is immediately ahead.

    One problem on many streetcar routes is that peak period parking restrictions last for too short a period, and traffic congestion instantly appears the moment the curb lane, 50% of the potential street capacity, is lost to parking. It’s not hard to find examples of streets plugged with cars where there isn’t a streetcar anywhere in sight. When the streetcar does appear, it sits in the same traffic jam, and a bus would do the same.

    A more important issue is that people tend to think of buses pulling out of their way because most bus routes operate on wide streets and bus bays may be available at busy stops. This is not physically possible on the four-lane streets used by streetcars. Another wrinkle is that on such streets, a longer space around a stop is required to provide room for buses to pull in to and align with the curb. This is not always provided or available thanks to illegal parking.

    As someone whose knees have seen better days, I am well aware of this problem. Using the front door isn’t practical if I have to fight my way through the bus to reach it after discovering that the bus isn’t going to pull in to the curb properly.


  5. Link to Bing Maps

    I hope this link works, if so, scroll west from Neville and count the blocks between streetcars. Yes, some blocks are obscured and may be hiding streetcars.

    Steve: The link does not work but I can zoom in to the street manually. What area are you trying to point to? When I look at the Beach, it’s hard to even find a streetcar.


  6. Very weird. I agree it is hard to find a streetcar which was my point. However the website views appear to be a composite effort as the surface details change with the options chosen and the viewing direction chosen as well. Cars appear and disappear in parking lots as do streetcars on the road. Shadows cast by buildings are all over the place. The site is only a curiosity, not admissible in court I suspect.

    Steve: If you look at the NextBus tracking maps, you can see where all of the streetcars are, and the huge amounts of streetcar-free street on any route. This info is in real time and does not depend on when the satellite happened to fly over Toronto snapping pix.


  7. I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make with the satellite maps. Those maps are constructed out of many separate photographs, many not taken at the same time of day and many not taken on the same day at all. This doesn’t represent an instantaneous snapshot of the service on an entire route. I’ve seen many cases of vehicles overlapping each other at photo-tile boundaries, blended together by the photo-stitching algorithm. Perhaps since our cars cannot couple in service they simply merge to become one with each other – might explain the crush-loading. (Or maybe it’s the magical Queen Cars finally caught in the act of disappearing into temporal rifts.)


  8. I’ll just throw in that for an even nicer way of tracking where your favourite streetcar is, we’ve got an app in the works.

    The next iteration tracks delays and headways too, so stats should be even easier to come by.

    Steve: Very nice. It’s getting to the point I am going to have to maintain a directory here of apps based on real time tracking info.


  9. It is not surprising that Don Hamilton does not (or did not) know about the very useful real-time NextBus maps. There is no mention of them (or of the NextBus text pages) on the TTC website and no link between the text screens and the map ones.

    The map of the 501 is online. It is truly bizarre (even for the TTC) that ‘we’ have invested $$ in NextBus and now that it seems to work quite well it is still hidden from users. I have discussed this with Adam G on several occasions and he has tried (unsuccessfully, of course) to get the TTC management to properly publicise both. The Trip planner is useful but, for some things, NextBus is far better and from my experience quite accurate too. NextBus should be a direct link from the TTC main page — in the same part of the screen as the Trip Planner and the Schedules) and there should be links to and from Map to Text.

    Steve: Although the maps are publicly visible, the links that once existed to jump to the map from the text display no longer appear. I have removed a link David provided to the text display for NextBus because it was only the base site, not a specific stop. NextBus remembers where you last asked for info, and will take you directly to that page on your next visit provided that it can leave a cookie on your browser. If you have several favourite stops, it is best to bookmark these pages while looking at them.

    For some reason, the TTC is ever so proud of the SMS capability with numbers on stops, but this is useless if you don’t happen to be standing at the stop for which you want info. I have to lay some of the blame for bad marketing of NextBus at Adam G’s feet because he let staff get away with only announcing half of the capabilities — the media event was more important for him than the content.


  10. “Steve: If you look at the NextBus tracking maps, you can see where all of the streetcars are, and the huge amounts of streetcar-free street on any route. This info is in real time and does not depend on when the satellite happened to fly over Toronto snapping pix.”

    Thanks for the tip, I visited the site at 10:19 this morning. The Queen St line showed 3 streetcars at the Neville loop, the closest W/B car was at Coxwell and the nearest E/B car was further west of that. Apparently 10 or even 20 block gaps between cars is not that unusual.

    “Steve: The “shadow” of a streetcar in traffic does not extend back 10 blocks. If it did, you would not be in a position to perceive faster movement of traffic up to the point where a streetcar is immediately ahead.”


  11. The “whereismystreetcar” app generated an error in my up-to-date version of Firefox. It did, however, work correctly in a much older IE6.

    Steve: It works on my up-to-date Firefox. If you can reproduce the problem, you should send an email to the authors with details.


  12. This nextbus thing is addictive. At 10:52 this AM the next streetcar due at the Neville loop is 28 minutes away at Jarvis St.(how many blocks is that?), there are 5 E/B streetcars between York and Jarvis. On the positive side the W/B cars seem to be well spaced.

    Steve: This sounds like an echo of the delay due to broken overhead on Lake Shore at Louisa. The delay cleared at about 10:30. One wonders, however, why there is a parade with a big gap when, in theory, at least the Humber cars should have remained vaguely on time, and no service went west of Humber starting at 9:00.

    This is an example of a case where being able to plot the day’s service retrospectively would have shown how quickly the TTC reacted to the problem and rearranged the route, and how well they sorted things out afterwards. This isn’t just a matter of TTC bashing, but of the TTC itself looking at how it handles delays and whether they could improve their strategies. It’s that “customer service” thing we’re hearing a lot about these days.


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