King Street: Twenty Years of No Transit Priority

Today, the Toronto Transit Commission passed a motion asking for a report on reserved lanes for King Street.  Yes, you read that correctly: this is a street that, in theory, has had peak period transit lanes since 1993.

Here is the motion moved by Chair Karen Stintz and seconded by Commissioner John Parker:

1. That the Board request the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to direct Transportation Services to prepare a joint City-TTC report on the feasibility and merits of implementing morning rush hour reserved streetcar lanes on King Street, including details pertaining to extent/boundaries of the lanes, means of designation or separation of the lanes, means of enforcement, means of monitoring effectiveness of the lanes, cost of implementing such lanes, and effects on other traffic in the corridor, as well as study of traffic management measures to mitigate delays at other pinch-points on the King Street route. The report should also include recommendations for a trial implementation of such lanes, including the earliest practical date for undertaking such a trial. If appropriate, this reporting-back could be contained within the forthcoming Downtown Transportation Operations Study. (From Chair Stintz’ blog.)

This is a substantial step back from a desire to ban cars completely on King, a proposal with which Stintz appeared to agree, at least for a Pan Am Games trial period in 2015, in the media [CBC Star].  The pre-amalgamation Toronto Council implemented peak period transit lanes on King from Parliament to Dufferin in 1993, but these were a complete failure thanks to lack of enforcement.  The downtown section, from John to Jarvis, was removed in 1997.  Stintz’ position on timing has changed also with a shift from the Pan Am Games to the “earliest practical date”.

In March 2000, TTC staff reported on “Operational Improvements on 504 King Streetcar” [this report is not available online].  Among the actions taken or under investigation were:

  • Adding a second on-street Route Supervisor “to manage the line and obtain better schedule adherence”.
  • Use of rear-door loaders at major stops to reduce dwell time.
  • Expansion of Proof-of-Payment to the 504 route possibly including reassignment of the ALRVs from Queen to King Street, or the use of coupled CLRVs (this was not implemented).
  • Improved enforcement of parking regulations (occasional blitzes have taken place, but nothing lasting).
  • Restoration of the reserved lanes between Jarvis and John including overhead signs such as those used for the reversing lane on Jarvis.  “Staff believe that the lanes can be made to work effectively, but this will require the lanes to be much more clearly marked and vigourously enforced.”  (This was not implemented.)
  • Continued enforcement of turn restrictions and of the exclusive nature of the streetcar lanes.  (Almost non existent.)
  • Further assessment of problem locations.  (Judging by actions to date, little has been done beyond a study.)

This is not a new problem.  What is very old is a lack of political will to do anything about the situation.

Simply reserving the streetcar lanes during any period of the day is unworkable if the curb lanes are not guaranteed to be free of taxi stands, parking and loading, not to mention construction occupancy arrangements for new condos.  The effect on King will differ between the financial district (east of Yonge to Simcoe) and the entertainment district (Simcoe to west of Spadina), not to mention the Bathurst/Niagara condo district (Spadina to Shaw).  A one-size-fits-all configuration is unlikely to work or be acceptable.

As a four lane street, and with only a temporary reservation, physical barriers are impractical.  Traffic must be free to move between lanes both when the reservation is not active, and when a curb lane blockage requires movement into the streetcar lane.

I have already written about the limited benefit an AM peak reservation will have even if it is well-enforced.  Running times on the 504 King car show little sign of traffic congestion until around 9:00 am when parking is allowed and commercial activity begins on the street.  If the TTC were serious about “fixing” King Street, they would look at the issue on an all-day basis, but that’s not what the Stintz motion does.  She goes for the least controversial option while still attempting to give the impression of doing something for the riders.

(For more of the history on previous King Street and transit priority schemes, please see Transit Toronto and a 2001 TTC report.)

The most disheartening part of the debate at the Commission Meeting was that nobody in the room, no other Commissioners, none of Management, piped up to say “but we already have a reserved lane on part of King, and used to have more”.  This is all treated as if it is a brand new idea, not a 20-year old retread from the days when Jack Layton was a City Councillor.

Was everyone too embarrassed?  Was it an attack of Emperor’s-New-Clothes syndrome?

TTC meetings are turning into friendly gatherings where good news is the order of the day.  There’s nothing wrong with good news, but some decisions involve difficult choices and political battles.  You can’t be an advocate for the good of transit riders and expect everything to be smooth, quiet sailing, especially with an administration so hard set against anything but subways we cannot afford.

The whole matter will now wander through the City’s committee structure, first to Public Works and Infrastructure from which it might not emerge given the Mayor’s anti-streetcar rhetoric.  Will Chair Stintz ensure that even this modest study proposal survives, or is this an empty motion showing concern without action?

Preliminary Analysis of King Car Operations AM Peak Downtown (Updated)

Updated June 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm:  In the original version of this article, I mentioned that charts for March 2012 would be added in an update.  These charts are now included, and there are minor changes to the text to reflect this.

Recently TTC Chair Karen Stintz and CEO Andy Byford proposed a trial operation of King Street between Shaw and Parliament as a reserved zone for transit vehicles and taxis during the AM peak period.  Their concern and claim is that they cannot provide better service without exclusivity over this area.

I believe that this proposal suffers from a lack of detailed knowledge both of the way the line actually operates and the causes of systemic delays (aka “congestion”) to service.  The AM peak is much less of a problem than midday, PM peak, evening and weekend operations on the King route.  The TTC would do well to concentrate its proposals on areas and problems where there would actually be some benefit.  Asking for a total ban on cars rubs motorists (and their political supporters) the wrong way, and needs to be justified by solid data showing how transit would be improved.  The TTC has not done this.

Normally when I write a post with analysis of a route’s operations, I prefer to wait until I have more of the data formatted for presentation.  In this case, the debate is already underway in the press and in social media.  To contribute some technical background, I have started analysis of route 504 King for the months of November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013.

As with past analyses, the information is taken from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system known as “CIS” which uses GPS to track the location of all vehicles every 20 seconds.  The GPS data are converted to a “flattened” view of a route which is a straight line (think of a piece of string pulled out taut).  Once this is done, plotting vehicle movements, headways at points and running times between points is greatly simplified.  (I plan to publish a separate article in coming weeks for those interest in the details of this process.)

Note that vehicles on 508 Lake Shore are not included in this analysis.  Only three inbound trips are scheduled during the AM peak.

Because the proposal addresses a reduction in running time and reduction of congestion in the central area, I will concentrate in this first article on movement of streetcars over the proposed exclusive area.  Other sections of the route and aspects of operation (e.g. headway reliability, short turns, time spent serving stops) will be the subject of future articles.

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