How Many Streetcars Will Fit at King & Spadina? (Update 2)

Updated July 4, 2013 at 7:50pm:  Observations of actual operations at the intersection for one hour today have been added.  These reveal that the level of service actually operated on all routes (except 508 Lake Shore) is less than advertised.  Although traffic congestion causes some backlogs of westbound cars, the number of movements, especially the west-to-north turn, is low enough to fit within the available traffic signal cycles.  This would not be the case if 100% of the service were operated.

See the end of the article for details.

Updated June 28, 2013 at 6:30pm:  Information on traffic signal timings has been added to this article.

The original article follows the break below.

Starting June 29 and continuing until July 15 (or whenever the street re-opens), 501 Queen cars will divert around construction at York Street via Church, King and Spadina.  Problems at King & Spadina have already been discussed on this site, and one big issue is the number of cars that can physically get through the intersection per hour.

Currently, the peak hour transit vehicle movements include:

  • Eastbound 504 King and 508 Lake Shore cars (about 33 between the two routes in the AM, about 24 in the PM)
  • 510 Spadina cars turning west to north (24 AM, 30 PM) and the same number turning south to west out of Charlotte Street and merging into the King Street traffic

There are already long traffic and streetcar queues extending east on King from Spadina thanks to the volume of auto and transit traffic, and interference from pedestrians.  They both board streetcars at the westbound stop and cross the north side of the King & Spadina intersection where there is no transit priority phase for the turning streetcars.

To this will be added:

  • Westbound 501 Queen cars on diversion turning north on Spadina (about 12/hour in both peak periods)
  • Eastbound 501 Queen cars on diversion turning south to east from Spadina to King (same volume)

The 501 cars will increase the volume of westbound turns by over 1/3.  The south-to-east turns are a net new movement at this location.  Although there is a transit priority signal, it is unlikely to be activated because the electric switch controlling it is out of service.  Bulling their way around the corner, a 501 car could consume a good deal of green time that otherwise would be used by northbound traffic (already badly congested) on Spadina.

Signalled intersections impose certain limits on the number of cars per hour, especially if only one can pass through per direction per cycle (not unusual if they all stop to handle passengers and/or wait for a clear path to turn).  Typical city traffic signals operate at or near an 80 second cycle which gives only 45 cycles per hour.


At King & Spadina, the AM peak cycle (as of June 27) is 100 seconds divided 60/40 between Spadina and King.  The PM peak cycle (as of June 28) is 90 seconds divided 50/40 between Spadina and King, and including a 15 second northbound only phase for left turns.  This gives 36 cycles/hour in the AM, and 40 cycles/hour in the PM.

That is less than the peak scheduled frequency westbound on King without the addition of the Queen cars.

In some cases, two cars can get through on one cycle but this depends on low interference from pedestrians crossing east-west on the north side of the intersection and/or on westbound cars serving the stop wherever they happen to be during the red phase for King rather than pulling right up to the stop.  This is a general problem where TTC official practices cause transit vehicles to consume one green phase just to reach their stop, and another to finally cross an intersection.

[End of Update]

One possible alternative would be to send the Queen cars south to King via Shaw rather than Spadina both to get them out of the more congested section of Queen Street, and to shift the turning moves away from Spadina.  This will not lessen the number of cars approaching the intersection from the east, but will reduce the number which attempt to turn.

We will not see full peak service including the diversion operated until July 2.  It will be intriguing to watch a combined headway of less than 60 seconds, if only for one block.

Update 2: Observations from July 4, 2013

Between 5:00 and 6:00 pm, I clocked the actual operation of streetcar service through the King & Spadina intersection.  The attached chart shows which movements occurred on which portions of the traffic signal cycles during the hour.

The full cycle takes 90 seconds, and so there is a fresh “green” for King 40 times per hour.  Westbound streetcar traffic is the heaviest with the combined service of 504, 508, 501 and 510 lines all coming through the intersection.

If all of the scheduled service operated, there would be a total of 67 cars in the hour westbound, of which 42 would be turning west to north.  This would require one car to turn on every cycle, an unlikely event given traffic and pedestrian congestion at the location.

In fact, only 85% of the King service, 77% of the Spadina service and 51% of the Queen service actually appeared during my observations.  This reduced the total movements westbound to 51 of which 29 were turning.

During the hour, no service alerts were issued by the TTC for any route.

It should be noted that some Queen cars are being turned back westbound from McCaul Loop, and possibly eastbound from points downtown.  Until I see route monitoring data from the TTC for this period, I won’t know exactly how the complete service on Queen was being managed.  All I know is that only half as much as scheduled actually appeared where I was watching it.

In the table linked below, the time period is broken up into 90-second blocks based on when the signal for King turned green.  In those cases when an eastbound Queen car appeared, I have included the time for the Spadina green phase.  This includes a north-to-west advanced green for autos, but does not include a south-to-east transit-only phase for streetcars which must bull their way through traffic and pedestrians to make the turn.  In some cases, they don’t make it on the first attempt.  Each “X” in the chart represents one car.

There was a paid duty officer managing the intersection until shortly after 5:00pm.  He was doing a good job keeping pedestrians and autos clear of turning streetcars, and preventing the intersection from locking up with (mainly) southbound traffic that could not clear on the green.  Shortly after I arrived, he left, and the service was left to its own devices with a noticeable increase in the time needed for cars to get through.  Had all of the scheduled service actually operated, this would have been a severe problem because getting it all through depends on multiple cars clearing the intersection on most east-west cycles.

This will all be over, or at least reduced with the Queen cars back on their home turf on or about July 15.  However, this shows how there is more to operating a diversion through busy streets than posting notices on stops.  The quality of service on affected routes, even on King which is simply sideswiped with the extra streetcar traffic, touches riders, the customers we hear so much about from the TTC.  Those who are on surface routes are just as important and long-suffering as those on the subway.


27 thoughts on “How Many Streetcars Will Fit at King & Spadina? (Update 2)

  1. Is McCaul/Dundas/Church an option? There are problems with it like streetcars being stuck in traffic around Eaton Centre and longer connections to come back south to Queen/King but it might prevent bottleneck on King/Spadina.

    Steve: See my response to another similar comment in this thread. Also, there are no curves either way in the northeast quadrant at Queen & Church, nor is there a north to west curve at Dundas & Church. Victoria Street must be used for this type of diversion.


  2. Why not use McCaul, Dundas & Victoria?

    Steve: This was the originally proposed diversion, but there are a number of problems (some reported in another comment):

    Two pointmen would be required, one eastbound at Dundas and Victoria, one westbound at McCaul where the electric switch is out of service.
    The diversion would have to operate through the Dundas/Yonge pedestrian scramble which is badly congested.
    Pride and Canada Day celebrations will close Dundas Square for various festivities making Dundas unavailable for streetcar service.
    The overhead at Dundas and McCaul is in very bad shape for the west to south turn.


  3. Hi Steve!

    1) What about sending EB cars through Charlotte, thereby eliminating the South to East turn at King. One police officer could regulate traffic at King/Charlotte and stop traffic to clear the intersection for streetcar movements. My only concern would be the need to ensure the switch is automatic.

    Steve: There is often a queue of multiple cars waiting to get around the loop. The Queen cars would be trapped in this.

    2) What about breaking the line into 2 branches with one branch running from LB/Humber to McCaul and the other Neville to Charlotte via King and Spadina for the duration of construction. If the 502 were replaced with buses for the construction period with increased frequency, a quasi replacement bus service between McCaul and Kingston Road is established.

    Steve: This would require a completely new schedule, something the TTC did not provide for. Also Charlotte Loop would then become more congested than it is already, especially if a Queen operator wanted a layover or, perish the thought, was early.


  4. It all goes to show that the TTC infrastructure is only barely (as the English say) “fit for purpose”. Poor track (why it is being replaced); insufficient curves, overhead in poor shape, automatic switches broken. Add to all this we have the chronic problem of poor (non-existent?) route management and the constant blaming others (traffic, lights, passengers) for delays.


  5. It’s a shame that another eastbound alternative route doesn’t exist along, oh, say, Adelaide that could accept revenue service along non-revenue track. I hope this is the disaster it will take to push them to reactivate Adelaide…


  6. In addition to the main routes, the TTC has also been doing work on track work on the ‘diversionary streets’ as well. Church and McCaul come to mind in recent years. (Though I was cycling on Adelaide the other day, and it was atrocious.)

    Besides fixing up the remaining tracks, how good of an idea would it be to try to add more diversion points on streets that do not currently have diversion track infrastructure? Are there any more places that these can be practically added, or is whatever possible already done?


  7. Besides fixing up the remaining tracks, how good of an idea would it be to try to add more diversion points on streets that do not currently have diversion track infrastructure? Are there any more places that these can be practically added, or is whatever possible already done?

    There was a report on this a few years ago. It mentioned track on east end streets like Jones Avenue amongst other things. The east end needs diversion track far more than the west end does. However some additional curves at downtown intersections would come in handy.


  8. To be fair, the west end (west of Roncesvalles) only has Bloor Street as a possible place to put diversion track down.

    I think I might drop by King & Spadina to watch this spectacle go down.


  9. @Grzegorz Radziwonowski:

    To be fair, the west end (west of Roncesvalles) only has Bloor Street as a possible place to put diversion track down.

    I suppose that a connection to St. Clair via Dundas and Keele is possible but unlikely?

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: There were proposals to build a connection via Runnymede back in the 20s for a carhouse on St. Clair that was never built. Only the track under the CPR underpass was installed, and this was removed many years ago.

    Diversions are nice, but there are limits, and they should not “divert” from the real issue which is line management and service regularity. Something that is quite evident when one looks at many service charts is that major cock ups due to line blockage is comparatively rare, but irregular service due to erratic terminal departures and lack of headway enforcement where short turns merge into through service are visible on any day, time, and location one looks at.


  10. I am guessing that the wiring has been upgraded in the sections to handle the LFLRVs, so that the extra streetcars going through there should not put too much a strain on the power. Allegedly.

    Too bad some sort of “tripper” service couldn’t be implemented to combine some of the routes being diverted.

    Steve: That section of wire has seen heavy service for decades. I suspect that the problem with the LFLRVs is that they are operating near the lower limited of their rated voltage (new systems like the Metrolinx lines use a higher voltage than the TTC streetcar system). All previous generations of cars were designed for 550 VDC. I remember riding out of the CNE in a parade of PCCs with rather dim lighting. The voltage may have been low, but they worked because they were designed to do so.


  11. While discussing the lack of diversionary routes we should not forget this 2010 TTC document that looks at possible additional curves.

    Do we know if they are actually planning to do any of these in upcoming track upgrades? The report recommends doing #1 – #5. Among the non-recommended is the proposed new loop on Broadview @ Queen (supposed to replace the Parliament loop I think) and I suspect it is dead. Any ideas?

    Steve: The land swap between the Toronto Parking Authority, the City and the TTC did take place with the result that the TTC now owns the land occupied by the TPA lot on the east side of Broadview north of Queen. It is unclear when a loop may be built on this lot.

    As for new curves, the “next construction date” of 2015 for some intersections is no longer accurate. According to the plans in the 2013 Capital Budget, Bathurst & College is scheduled for 2017. Other intersections are beyond the scope of the 5-year plan. It is odd that the proposal includes only a west-to-south curve at Church & Carlton, not its matching east-to-north.


  12. “It is odd that the proposal includes only a west-to-south curve at Church & Carlton, not its matching east-to-north.”

    East-to-north at Church and Carlton? There aren’t even tracks north of Carlton. Can you clarify what you meant here?

    Steve: Sorry, north-to-east.


  13. I think it is time to give up using Charlotte except for emergency short turns. There are too many pedestrians for the right turns. If they still need a short turn near King use Peter and Richmond to get back to Spadina or perhaps Clarence square, ( I can hear the howls now.) All turns off King should be banned, at least during the daytime. Also with the new equipment they should only turn every second car, not 2 out of 3.


  14. Today I was walking west on Queen from Spadina to Yonge and saw people waiting for the streetcar at every single stop, except westbound at University (where it was pretty clear that no streetcars were coming, given the construction right in the middle of the street). Most gave me that well known deer-in-the-headlights look when I advised them that no streetcars were coming.

    Memo to Chris Upfold (I know he is reading this blog): There is clearly lots of room for improvement in Customer Communications. Maybe have standard announcements in the subway — as it is being done for even minor subway delays — reminding passengers of this diversion would be a start.


  15. Before the 501 diversion and before the policeman was present to direct traffic there was gridlock at King and Spadina in midday causing a 10 minute delay for westbound streetcars. Northbound autos failed to clear the intersection before the light changed blocking the streetcar tracks. (I even saw a northbound 510 bus caught in the intersection.) It seemed that northbound Spadina Avenue has inadequate holding capacity for stopped vehicles between King and Adelaide.

    I suspect that eliminating on-street parking northbound on Spadina between King and Adelaide would provide more holding capacity for stopped vehicles so that they don’t overflow into the intersection.

    My question is: Did this problem occur before the short-turning of all 510 cars at King? That is: Is this a permanent problem?

    Steve: There was a problem, but not as serious a one as today. If you look at King tracking data from 2011 and 2012, there were periods with some slowdowns westbound to Spadina, but not as severe in length or duration.


  16. There is a serious problem with signage at stops that are temporarily out of service. The existing cardboard sign looks too much like the normal stop sign. People simply do not see the sign. It should be bright fluorescent green or yellow not standard TTC red and white.


  17. Timur Urakov said:

    There is clearly lots of room for improvement in Customer Communications. Maybe have standard announcements in the subway — as it is being done for even minor subway delays — reminding passengers of this diversion would be a start.

    Considering the massive closure of parts of the Yonge-University subway line in October the TTC had better mobilize a large number of staff, maybe even look for volunteers to help out with direction and updates.

    It would be great if TTC could put LED signage up at station entrances to let people know that service is disrupted or stations are closed … I’m afraid of seeing hand-written signs on 8.5 × 11″ paper.

    It would also be nice if they can take advantage of the planned closure and accelerate the work at Union during that period when the subway is closed.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: The work at Union is not constrained by the trains, but by the scope of the work behind the walls.

    As for paper signage, we shall have to wait and see.


  18. If Andy Byford got an earful for the delays earlier this week, he doesn’t know what’s coming with the upcoming October shut-down. One can only hope they push out the message as much as they possibly can, using whatever mediums possible. I know they (used to) advertise on billboards about Transit City, and sometimes just the TTC logo with website & phone number.

    Will we at least have a portion of Nova’s artics by then? Possibly Front Street reopened, or Yonge and Wellington Streets made transit-only?

    Steve: The artics will only barely have started to arrive. Front Street will still be closed.

    As for “mediums”, I think you mean “media”, although there are days when a crystal ball is required to figure out when the next TTC vehicle will show up.


  19. The artics are not coming this year, due to delays in production. There will be one bus here for testing by December, but the production vehicles will not roll out until early next year.


  20. Whenever there is a planned daytime shutdown of the subway for construction or maintenance, there seems to be an abundant supply of TTC workers on hand to offer direction to bewildered passengers.

    If the TTC has money for such staffing, perhaps it could assign a few helpers to each monitor a short portion (e.g. Victoria to Bay), or a few key stops, of the temporarily closed section of the Queen line.

    Also, there should be regular announcements to subway passengers to transfer at King instead of Queen.

    I don’t recall the One-Stop displays mentioning the Queen diversion which they should.

    Steve: All of the normal planning one would expect for this sort of thing fall completely through the cracks. This is a major “own goal” for TTC service and communication policy, and riders are owed as much of an explanation for it as for the subway signalling issues.


  21. I noticed today at the eastbound streetcar stop at Church and Victoria there is a NextBus sign. It still gave the time but had no word of when the next streetcar would arrive. It’s a pity that when there is a planned period of disruption these signs can’t be programed (or the TTC won’t program them) to say “NO SERVICE” or something that might give customers a hint. There was one of the usual TTC handwritten signs taped to a wall not likely to be easily seen – we directed a potential passenger to Church.


  22. Westbound traffic on King approaching Spadina has gone from bad to worse during the 501 diversion. Why doesn’t the TTC/city temporarily ban on-street parking on King between John and Spadina during the diversion? This would help keep traffic (and streetcars) moving during “off-peak” hours & weekends.

    Steve: The lack of advanced planning for special traffic restrictions on this diversion shows just how badly the TTC fails on some of its basic service quality and care for the customer issues. Yes, there should have been a temporary ban, but I’m sure there would have been howls of outrage from the merchants whose restaurants depend on the one or two parking spaces they have out front. It’s total BS, but the TTC would have done better to fight for this than the unlikely scheme to take full control of King Street in the AM peak, when they least need it, and only in three years, not tomorrow.


  23. On July 6, on this thread, I made 3 suggestions on how the TTC could better inform customers of the 501 diversion. Since that date, I noticed that 2 of the ideas have been implemented. Is that coincidence? Or is someone in TTC public relations reading this blog?

    The 2 implemented ideas are: (1) putting information helpers at key stops. (There were 2 yesterday at Yonge & Queen.) (2) Make announcements about the diversion on the subway. (I heard the announcement for the first time this morning.)


  24. Yesterday, I had to travel between Queen and Yonge and Queen and Bathurst around lunch time.

    At Spadina and King, after a 20-minute trip, I stood there while two or three 504 SPADINA cars turned. The next car was a 504 BATHURST. It was followed by a 501 BATHURST.

    It took at least 15 minutes to travel by streetcar, in either direction, between Simcoe and Spadina. (This is why I was standing at Spadina and King: I got off at John and walked by all those streetcars.)

    What this means is that King and Queen cars were being short-turned, after they had managed to crawl through a 15-minute lineup of streetcars in one direction, just so they could then rejoin a 15-minute crawl of streetcars in the other direction. This has the logical endpoint of all King and Queen cars lined up on King somewhere between Spadina and Church, and no cars elsewhere on the route.

    Well, later on I did see an eastbound 501 McCAUL, so that car at least might have serviced the west end, avoiding the mess on King.


  25. Very Messy situation. I don’t know how they can improve this.

    Is it possible to short turn streetcars at Church – Richmond – Victoria – EB Queen
    And Spadina – King Loop – North Spadina – WB Queen

    This would split the route, but this isn’t the first time they have done this.

    Steve: Better to send the west end Queen cars to McCaul Loop (as some are doing already) to avoid getting trapped in King/Spadina snarl and eliminate turns at busy intersections. The main problem with this is that it’s a bit of a hike for some from McCaul to University

    Now, I know this means no service to connect the route, but riders can be informed to transfer at 504 Carroll Street (1 Stop west at Broadview and Queen) to go westbound and connect again at Spadina at King to transfer. To go east, they can do the same just in reverse.

    Would this reduce the amount congestion and save riders travel time? Also, most importantly, reduce the huge overload at Spadina and King.

    Steve: It’s really important to avoid sending vehicles or passengers through King/Spadina unless King is unsnarled by aggressive traffic regulations (temporary if necessary) and enforcement. We do this sort of thing for special events all the time, why not for major construction diversions?


  26. On a related note, the TTC diverted the 505 and 506 cars onto Queen Street due to a fire that closed the Gerrard/Broadview intersection. There are now 6 streetcar lines passing through or turning left at the Queen/Broadview intersection during rush hour. I suppose the traffic may be messier there than at King/Spadina.

    Steve: Yes it is rather busy down there, but at least there is signal priority (and it works) for the east-to-north turn. The services are:

    Westbound through: 501-502-503-506
    West to north: Switch plugged due to derailments. Reconstruction scheduled for later in 2013.
    Eastbound through: 501-502-503-506
    East to north: 504-505

    What is not present is the frequent 510 service trying to get around the Charlotte Street Loop with little assistance.


Comments are closed.