The City of Toronto is studying transportation in the downtown. The study area is bounded roughly by Lake Shore Boulevard/Harbour Street, Queen Street, Jarvis Street, and Bathurst Street. The scope extends just north of Dundas between University and Yonge.
The intent is to find short-to-medium term improvements that are possible:
… getting more out of the existing transportation infrastructure, in an attempt to make travel in the downtown less challenging and more efficient for all road users.
There will be an Open House for this study in the rotunda of Metro Hall (John Street south of King) on Wednesday, March 27 from noon to 9:30pm. The study’s website includes a link to a short survey of travel patterns.
This post will be used as a repository for updates on the study as well as comments from readers.
The survey is a bit on the weak side.
I might not be able drop by the open house but did respond to the online survey.
I could not help but notice that the study area includes two of the heaviest used TTC line (Queen and King streetcar routes) and also included sections of three others (Dundas, Spadina and Bathurst). The study area also includes the Yonge-Dundas scramble, which has received some negative criticism for causing delays along Dundas, especially westbound in the afternoon/evening commute (I should know – my office is at the southwest corner and if on bike will usually walk it east past the scramble – the safest way to bypass the delay). Not sure what impact it has on the Dundas line, as a lot of passenger board at that stop.
Steve: Although the boundary of the study area appears to exclude Victoria Street, I really hope that they don’t take a narrow view and look only at Yonge. The whole area operates with difficulty because of the close spacing of the two signals and the fact that Victoria now ends northbound at Dundas. It has a long north-south green time that seems to have little purpose. An interesting test of Victoria’s contribution to traffic flow will occur when the street is closed for reconstruction sometime in the next few years.
I wonder what such consultations achieve. You put a dot on a vertical map to indicate some problem spot with separate maps for each type of problem but without a specific description. Then there are maps on tables where you can describe the problem on a post-it and cross-reference it to a dot on the map. This seems to be more useful. However, if there is a new problem unknown to city staff, there might not be enough info to investigate.
Or is the consultation just to collect general statistics? There was a multiple-choice questionnaire with no space for comments.
I wonder what the consultants learn.
How do we get motorists to keep their cars off the streetcar tracks? Bring back cobblestones, or some other rough surface, that give cars a bouncing as they cruise over them. Start downtown, where there is, allegedly, no parking.
No, the area they are looking at runs from Bathurst to Jarvis Street and from the Gardiner to Queen with a jog to Dundas.
Steve: At Dundas, the boundary of the study is between Victoria and Yonge. It’s wider only further south. Originally the study wasn’t going to look at Dundas Street, but the terms were amended to pick up the “scramble” intersections.
I did attend the open house and was not very impressed by the consultation — which seemed to consist of sticking dots into maps to show places where you thought a particular kind of congestion was happening. The online survey is little better, but worth doing.
At the TTC meeting yesterday there was a motion on the agenda (from “civilian Commissioner” Heisey) about fines for blocking TTC vehicles.
He is, of course, right but unless they can get the police to enforce existing rules forbidding parking and blocking intersections (or unless the City or Province will allow Parking Control Officers to ticket “moving offenses”) that is a losing battle.
If you take the ridership and divide by the route miles the street car lines, except 502 and 503, generate twice as many riders as the best bus line. While some of the bus lines generate 50,000 rides per day they do it over a much longer distance. Ridership by itself does not give an true indication of how busy a line is. Spadina is the best generator of riders per route km.
If you want to do something about traffic congestion downtown on narrow streetcar corridors, they should limit on-street parking to drivers with valid disability parking permits. Anyone who parks there without one should be slapped with a big ticket (as you would for parking in any other disabled parking space) or even towed. Everyone else should park in a parking garage or surface lot. In San Francisco I believe, there was a lot of disabled parking permit fraud since disabled persons can park on-street for free there. A lot of people were able to get disabled permits for very dubious reasons and worked the system.
We also have the technology to do GPS pay per kilometre billing for roads. A corridor like Queen Street West should be like $1/km (maybe way more depending on how badly people insist on driving there) to reduce congestion. It’s a fantastic idea to combat traffic congestion and raise revenues for public transit and roads. But I have my concerns about privacy rights. Having the government make it mandatory for people in the GTHA to install transponders in their vehicle and being able to keep a paper trail of where they are driving at what time.
I was also disappointed by the study, which is very vague in its goals and covers a huge area – all the way to the corner of Lake Shore and Fort York Blvds. I didn’t feel very engaged at the open-house yesterday, either, and not sure how getting a biased sample (those who bothered to show up to Metro Hall) sticking stickers on maps will guide the results. A lot of the focus seemed to be getting car traffic to the Gardiner faster.
I can see the Dundas/Yonge scramble eliminated as a result of this study. After all, Denzil Minnan-Wong, who hasn’t yet found a downtown street project not to interfere with, wants it gone.
I find it interesting that vehicles with disabled parking permits are not only allowed to park for free, but they can also park in any no-parking zone, provided that there isn’t a superseding stopping or standing restriction (or in front of a driveway or fire hydrant, of course). It’s interesting because those permits are notoriously abused. Where I work there are some very expensive flashy cars with these permits parked by individuals who don’t seem to have any trouble getting in our out of their Ferraris and BMWs and walking down the street.
Steve: When I look at Dundas & Yonge, it almost feels as if it is set up to fail. One problem with the Toronto scrambles is that they still allow pedestrians to cross with through traffic. This can work provided that the intersection has no turns permitted (ie there is no conflict between pedestrians and cars), but there is still the problem of stragglers in the intersection at the end of the phase. Conversely, if pedestrians could only cross on the all walk phase, then there might be problems with sidewalk capacity. This sort of thing is specific to each location. The fact that this is also a streetcar line with busy stops complicates things a lot because typically a streetcar eats two cycles: one to reach the stop, and another one to serve it.
The Dundas & Yonge intersection seems to cause a lot of problems with streetcars too. With the short green phase on Dundas, most streetcar arriving on the green phase cannot finish boarding that phase. The Dundas car can only start boarding on green because usually cars are blocking the way on red. That means streetcars would hold up traffic for up to a minute for a complete traffic light cycle. I would really like to see transit priority implemented but I am doubting it.
Even the new streetcar’s all door boarding won’t help if the streetcar can’t load on red phases. This applies for both east and westbound. Maybe shifting the stop a few meters back might help? I don’t think they can introduce platform islands at that location (especially the westbound stop) to keep traffic moving and increase safety. Occasionally, the right lane is blocked by trucks/police cars westbound towards Yonge doesn’t help the situation either.
They also disable the transit priority at Bay & Dundas a couple years back which adds more delays to the Dundas car with traffic behind it.
I hope the downtown study actually would look at surface transit as an important factor. I don’t see any special mentioning on the online survey for public transit. They can’t just assume everyone will enter the core and get around by subways.
Then went on to write:
That second point is reason enough to forget allowing only disabled permit vehicles to park on streets. Doing so might very well open a black market in fake permits, more so than already exists, by making them even more valuable.
Then Sean Marshall wrote:
I was astounded to find out this was true, however it only applies within the City of Toronto. Permit holders have been known to get a rude awakening when they venture into another part of the GTA and continue these practices only to find a ticket on their vehicle.
Since there’s very little transit traffic on Yonge Street, would you support longer green phases for Dundas Street?
Steve: Probably yes, but I would want to see the stats first. This also needs to be examined in the context of operations at Bay and at Victoria because the whole thing is one unit.
I am not yet convinced that the extra pedestrian crossing time is of greater value than the loss of green time for transit service. However, the frequency of the Dundas car is such that one isn’t always at the intersection. This could give the impression that Dundas does not “need” more time, but the streetcars can spend a while stuck in the backlog of auto traffic waiting to get through at Yonge.
A related problem is the frequency with which curb lanes are impassible east and west of Yonge. This funnels all of the traffic single file through the shortened green time. I have a “take no prisoners” attitude to a lot of downtown traffic — either roads are for storing cars or they are for moving them, and we can’t do both. A fleet of tow trucks should remove vehicles, especially those making deliveries complete with their contents, as often as possible to drive home the message.
The city should declare high priority transit/traffic zones (areas that need to always be moving for the sake of the city)…
With a few main features:
– no parking/stopping, with tow trucks able to quickly remove vehicles from those locations, either with or without police being on the scene (camera’s could help verify that the tow trucks are towing who they say they are).
– these zones should be “no-pickup/drop-off” zones for taxis, with strict enforcement and or suspension of licenses
– well signed alternate parking locations
– automated notices/tickets to people who stop
– on street presto machines
I’d also add pay parking lots which include free unlimited transit use for a period of time with payment located outside the zone. If you want to get people out of cars, allowing them to complete all of their tasks on a single fare before returning to their car will be a good incentive. Of course, you need to ensure that commuters don’t take over those lots.
Steve: There is always a challenge that demand for parking will always exceed the supply, especially if it is free. Time of day and length of stay fees could be imposed if admission to the lots were controlled by a fare card, but this could cut out casual parkers until GO moves to open systems rather than insisting on Presto for every transaction.
Isn’t this the problem in a nutshell – there are literally dozens of ‘losing battles’, the same ones over and over, which we all know about and write about, and raise in discussion time and time again, but which the powers that be will, despite all the talk, do nothing about.
What about a new study, a public consultation like those recently for transit funding and congestion taxes, titled ‘Should Transit have Priority’. Should a jam packed bus not have a bus lane; should the Queen car with 100+ passengers not warrant traffic restrictions. Will the powers that be pose the question, present the facts and act on the answers. We need to make the case for ‘Priority’.
I too believe that the survey is somewhat weak. In particular, there was no option for people to indicate their preference for a car-free downtown. I did hit the “other” button and say that I wanted downtown car-free, but that should be an explicit option.
@ George Bell
I agree with almost all of your points. There needs to be a fundamental change in attitude in society that downtown is a high density business/commercial/residential area with limited traffic space, so that public transit must have priority in this area to thrive. How to get to this though is the $1B question…
It involves political realization, police or transit officer enforcement buy-in, shifting of business deliveries to after hours (as done in London UK and other large cities), effective ways to ‘store’ taxis on streets, among other changes.
Surely other large world cities have devised effective means to store taxis, such as thru indented taxi bays (but by losing busy sidewalk space), off arterial taxi stands. Taxis are a form of public transport, and need to effectively managed to leave priority road space and lanes for public transit.
I rather liked the survey. Although I feel that the map function wasn’t very well thought out (there’s a problem with illegal stopping on every block, prohibited turns on ever third block, etc.), I found the comments section that place where I could really get to the heart of the matter, as I see it. For instance, I noted the disregard for prohibited turns, which are just as disruptive as illegal stopping/parking. I also raised the politically incorrect issue of pedestrian-caused congestion by those who cross intersection against a solid or flashing hand, thereby blocking turning vehicles and those behind them, including buses (especially on Bay St.).
Steve: There is a huge problem with the pedestrian signals and the fact that they “work” differently from traffic lights for cars. Imagine if an amber aspect came on less than ten seconds after the green what the reaction of drivers would be.
The premise of the countdown is that it is supposed to be long enough for even a slow walker to get across the street while the white walking man is lit, but people are not supposed to enter the intersection once the countdown starts. At some locations this makes the “green time” for pedestrians very short, and most people know that they can get across the street within the countdown. The attitude seems to be that pedestrians can get the fragments of time we don’t want to allocate to everyone else.
For which reason I have always been opposed to the countdowns: they only encourage pedestrians to cross unlawfully and they do nothing to speed-up those who can only move slowly.
And how! And it is the worse the wider the street. In some cases it’s absurd. University Ave, where the median is in place, is practically an offense to freedom of movement with its two-stage crossing, and this is where thousands of pedestrians emerge from subway stations and perpendicular streetcar lines.
This might be an argument for narrowing streets and/or making them one-way. Alas (well, not really alas), Toronto has bi-directional streetcars which guarantee bi-directional streets. So we may better adopt Philadelphia’s approach in Center City: very few pedestrian signals, virtually no left turns for vehicles from bi-directional streets, and parking enforcement so rigid that it got its own TV show.
That said, I routinely walk five kilometers to work and five kilometers back, into and out of the traffic study area, and I frankly don’t see the difficulty in obeying pedestrian signals any more than not rushing the subway train doors at the chime’s sound.
I always wonder why innovative ideas never appear. For instance Richmond and Adelaide are screaming out for the addition (relocation?) of a streetcar track to the right curb lane of the roadway. Downtown relief while we wait for an industrial sized downtown relief. Every day we witness a tragic waste of public resources and passenger time while streetcars are stranded along Queen and King. Certainly the small pain of crossing at Bathurst/Portland and Parliament would pay off with a quick trip across the core. Make it rush hour only and you don’t impact parking… There’s got to be other ideas that can solve the daily tragedy where “rapid transit” can be easily be passed on foot.
Steve: That “innovation” is not as simple as it sounds. Putting the tracks in the curb lane requires a complete rebuild of intersections, and would create even tighter curves than the system now has. As for “rush hour only” use of the lanes to leave them free for parking, this would make them unavailable for short turns and diversions. Ask anyone who has tried to use the supposed reserved bike lanes on Sherbourne how well these are respected by all manner of vehicles including official public ones.