TTC Harvey Shops Open House

The TTC has announced an Open House at Harvey Shops on Bathurst Street:

The Toronto Transit Commission is holding an open house at its historic Harvey Shop facility on Sat., Nov. 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. All proceeds from the open house will go to the United Way.

Located at the TTC’s Hillcrest Complex, 1138 Bathurst St., Harvey Shop is the major maintenance facility for the streetcar fleet and component manufacturer for subway cars and buses.

Visitors to the Harvey Shop open house can climb aboard the vintage PCC and Peter Witt streetcars, as well as the new low-floor accessible streetcar, the new 60-foot accessible articulated bus and the TTC Command bus. Volunteers will be on hand to provide a guided tour.

Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children.


TTC Board Meeting November 18, 2013 (Updated)

Updated November 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm:  The continued Board meeting will occur on Wednesday, November 20 at TTC Head Office in the old board room, 7th floor, 1900 Yonge Street above Davisville Station.

Updated November 18, 2013 at 10:20pm:  Because of the long special meeting of City Countil and the large number of people registered to give deputations at the TTC meeting, the Board was unable to complete its agenda today.  The meeting will resume on Wednesday, November 20 at 1:00 pm.

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Analysis of Route 501 Queen May to October 2013: Part I Headways

Updated November 18, 2013 at 6:15am:  Broken links/filenames corrected.

Route 501 Queen is the longest of the TTC’s streetcar routes, and among the longest in the entire system (54 Lawrence East is longer as a surface route, and the Yonge-University-Spadina subway is longer than both of them).

The Queen car is the subject of unending complaints about service quality.  It suffers the compounding effects of its length, its passage through some very busy sections of Toronto, and the fact that it operates with two nominally interleaved services.

During 2013, this route was subject to a number of disruptions through one-day events and from long-running diversions, but the operating schedule for the route was not changed except recently when construction on Lake Shore Blvd. required that streetcars turn back from Humber Loop.  This provided a series of views of operations on one route under various conditions.


The table linked here shows the headways and running times for various periods of operation for the 501 Queen car during 2013.

The only schedule changes during 2013 were:

  • April 1:  Midday, early evening and late evening services improved to address overcrowding.
  • September 3:  Humber-Connaught AM peak trippers changed to operate only to Parliament.
  • October 15:  Service split at Humber Loop with buses running west to Long Branch.

No adjustments were made to running times throughout the period to allow for the effects of construction and numerous special events affecting the route during 2013 including:

  • May 1:  A protest march required a diversion of service in the early evening via King between Church and Shaw
  • May 5:  Goodlife Marathon
  • May 20:  Victoria Day (fireworks in The Beach)
  • June 29 to July 28:  Reconstruction of the intersection at Queen & York.  Queen service diverted via King between Church and Spadina.
  • July 1:  Canada Day (celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square)
  • July 8:  Major storm and flooding
  • July 25-27:  Beaches Jazz Festival
  • August 6 to 20:  Reconstruction of the intersection of King & Spadina.  King service diverted onto Queen, and spillover road traffic from King affected Queen and other neighbouring streets.
  • June 23 onward:  Reconstruction of Kingston Road.  Depending on the state of open and closed sections, Queen east of Woodbine suffered from extra traffic diverted south from Kingston Road.
  • October 5:  Nuit Blanche
  • October 20:  Waterfront Marathon

One-day events are handled with diversions, extra service and ad hoc management.  Construction effects should result in schedule changes, but nothing was implemented.

In this article, I will review the headways actually provided at various points along the route.  This information is derived from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system (the same data that feed the NextBus system and other web applications) for the months of:

  • May (as a “before” reference),
  • July (service diverted off of Queen),
  • August (service diverted onto Queen from King),
  • September (return to quasi-normal), and
  • October (split service at Humber starting on Thanksgiving weekend).

This is an unusually long article with many linked charts because I am covering a lot of territory and want to give readers who are interested lots of material to see what is happening on the route.  What is evident is that 501 Queen does not suffer from occasional upsets, but that it provides chronically poor service under a wide variety of conditions.

This article focuses on headways.  In a separate article I will turn to running times and the degree to which insufficient schedule time contributes to erratic service.

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Crosstown LRT Interchanges with the Yonge-University-Spadina Subway

The TTC meeting agenda for November 18 includes a report on the proposed designs for the connections at Eglinton and at Eglinton West Stations between the existing subway line and the Crosstown LRT now under construction.

Eglinton is a particularly complex station because the location is constrained by nearby buildings, the platform space is already at a premium with four existing links between the subway and mezzanine levels, and this is expected to be a busy transfer location.

Eglinton West is somewhat simpler in part because the existing station is offset from Eglinton Avenue and the link between the two stations will occur at the south end of the existing structure.

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Yonge Subway Shutdown Between Eglinton and St. Clair Postponed to 2016

TTC CEO Andy Byford has issued a letter to members of the Commission and to Council advising that a planned shutdown of the subway for major reconstruction in the vicinity of Davisville Station has been put off until 2016.  In the meantime, sufficient repairs will be done to keep trains moving at a reasonable speed through this section.

The underlying problem, quite literally, is that the foundation and drainage below the track have failed causing the track to be unstable.  The condition has been addressed off-and-on for a few years with slow orders, but this does not solve the problem.

This and other areas of the subway system with wood tie/stone ballast track will be 60 years old in 2014. This is well past the normal operating life for such systems.

Detailed investigations have determined that in addition to normal wear and tear, the area below the stone ballast and the associated subgrade drainage systems have both failed, allowing enough movement of the track system to cause abnormal track movement which, in turn, can cause the signal system to fail safe. Subway service in the area is safe, but reliability on our busiest line is not where it needs to be.

The TTC will have to dig down substantially below track level, and this is the sort of maintenance that cannot be carried out overnight of on a weekend.  The number of buses and operators needed to bridge this section of the line is well into the hundreds, and the TTC does not have these resources.  Short shutdowns may be attempted and these will be co-ordinated with other work in the same section of the route.

If ever there were a need to demonstrate that subways do not last 100 years, as some short-sighted advocates claim, this is a perfect example.  The Yonge line is now 60 years old and parts of it are showing their age.  Indeed, another  section at Lawrence Station also requires major repairs even though it is barely 40 years old.

Read the full memo.

Construction That Never Ends (Update 4)

Updated November 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm:

According to the TTC CEO’s report for November, the date for resumption of streetcar service on Queens Quay has been changed to June 21, 2014.  Brad Ross of the TTC advises that their website will be updated to reflect this new target date.

Updated October 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm:

According to the TTC CEO’s report for October (at page 20), service will not resume on Queens Quay until August 2014, not the end of June as previously reported.  I have asked the TTC to verify this date and explain why completion has slipped yet again.

The TTC memo listing service changes for the November and December schedule periods came out today, and it contains a few startling items:

  • The Yonge Subway tunnel liner program, originally expected to wrap up at the end of 2013, will now run an additional year to the end of 2014.
  • The loop at the foot of Queens Quay will not be available for service as expected in November, and service on the 510 streetcar will not resume until mid-February 2014.
  • The track on Queens Quay itself will not be available for service as expected in December/January, and service on the 509/510 streetcar will not resume until the end of June 2014.

Updated October 2, 2013 at 10:25 am:

Waterfront Toronto has posted a Construction Update for the Queens Quay project.

Updated October 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm:

Yonge Subway Tunnel Liners

I have received a note from Brad Ross at the TTC explaining the current situation.  The work has proven more extensive both in complexity and scope than originally thought.  In reply to one comment in this thread, I gave the opinion that all of the asbestos had been removed from the tunnels, but according to Ross, there is still some present and this adds to the slowness of the work.

The tunnel liner project involves the inspection of some 10,000 tunnel liners. To date, 4,000 liners have been inspected, 950 identified in need of repair, and 850 of them repaired. The process is not a speedy one as many of the liners are covered in material, including asbestos, which needs to be removed before a liner can be inspected. Add to that the time it takes for crews to get to the work location, set up, clean up, and return to the yard. As we examine liners, we’re identifying more and more that need to be repaired, mostly due to water damage. In short, the project timeline increases as the work involved increases. We are now working to determine what a reasonable completion date might look like and what the overall impact to subway service north of Eglinton will be over the next 12-18 months. Once we have that, we’ll communicate it widely.

[Email from Brad Ross, Executive Director, Corporate Communications, TTC, October 1, 2013]

Waterfront Toronto Queens Quay Project

I met with Waterfront Toronto staff to discuss the status of the project.  They have issued a construction update detailing the current situation.

Because the lanes occupied by the TTC right-of-way are essential as extra space into which construction or temporary road lanes can be shifted for utility work, the new trackbed cannot be laid down until all utility work requiring traffic diversions in an area is completed.

This work has been affected by a number of factors notably:

  • A late start by Toronto Hydro who did not receive funding approval for their Capital Program from the Ontario Energy Board in time to meet the original schedule.
  • Ground water conditions that at some locations were more challenging than expected.
  • Subsidence and resulting damage to existing utilities when areas were de-watered for construction access.  This was anticipated, but the extent of the problem is hard to gauge before the work is actually done.

The area around Spadina and Queens Quay has many utilities competing for space and for construction access.  Some planned work has been complicated by new, more stringent provincial labour safety standards for work near live hydro lines.

Most of the splicing chambers for the new track are complete, but one critical one that will feed Queens Quay Loop is inaccessible at present due to competing work in the same area.  This has slowed installation of the grounding cables for the loop which will tie back to that chamber.

The intent is to have the trackwork in the loop finished by yearend.  TTC would then install its overhead in preparation for service at the start of the February 2014 schedule period which will fall in the middle of the month.  The track installation will likely be done mainly in November, and partial shutdowns of the streets around the loop will be required.

There are three sets of special work (loop entrance from Queens Quay, loop exit to Spadina and the Spadina & Queens Quay intersection).  A preliminary plan for this might have broken the work into three stages, but Waterfront Toronto hopes to consolidate this into two.

A further complication will be the partial closing of Lake Shore Blvd. to complete the track connection south from new rails on Spadina.

Waterfront Toronto expects to publish details of the work schedule soon.

As for the tangent track on Queens Quay, the major constraint is that the space cannot be given up until utility work in a section is clear.  The intention is to build the foundation slab in pieces as various sections of the roadway become available.  Track installation would be completed in spring 2014, followed by overhead catenary, with a target date for streetcar service in late June.  (If the schedule periods for 2014 follow the same pattern as in 2013, this would be Sunday, June 22, 2014.)

Waterfront Toronto’s work plan for summer-fall 2014 will concentrate on the area south of the streetcar right-of-way which will contain the new cycling path, an expanded pedestrian area, and many trees.  Some finishing work will occur in early 2015 in advance of the Pan Am Games.

What is frustrating about all of this is that the delay in Hydro’s approval at the OEB was well known a year ago, and Waterfront Toronto has maintained rather hopeful dates for resumption of service that strained credibility as the construction wore on and on and on.

The Big U and the little u

The Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel has ventured off its supposed path of looking at ways to fund transit growth in the GTHA to at least one proposal for a change to the Metrolinx Big Move plan.  This showed up at recent open houses in a handout that is not yet available online.


[The image above was posted on Twitter by Rishi L (@CdnEnginerd).  Click for full size version.]

The purpose of this map is to show how office employment is not sited along existing or proposed rapid transit lines.  With this as a jumping off point, the Panel suggests there is a need for a “Big U”, a much enhanced GO Transit route from Meadowvale, through Union Station and then north via the Uxbridge Subdivision (Stouffville line) to Markham.

A related factoid (one of those handy bits of information whose presence is supposed to silence critics) is that employment concentrations generate far more transit usage than residential ones.  It is certainly true that it is much easier to serve a place like downtown Toronto with a transit network that acts like a big funnel, but this does not eliminate the need to serve the residential ends of those trips.

Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth subway and GO’s commuter lines, for example, spend much of their time running through comparatively low-density neighbourhoods, collecting passengers as walk-ins, park-and-rides, and transfers from the surface transit network.  Every time a new transit route is proposed, we hear how it will only be viable if stations are surrounded by huge condo developments.  This is utter nonsense because any transit route has a catchment area.  The problem is to ensure that transit, sidewalks and bike lanes serve that area and deliver riders to a network that will take them where they want to go.

What is missing from the chart above is any indication of where the people who work in those centres actually live.  Looking at the Meadowvale end of the line, how many people come from the area that would be served by the GO corridor and a feeder network to it?  There is a lot of territory north, west and south of Meadowvale for which a rapid transit line to the east will do absolutely nothing.  Similarly, many who work in Markham live west, north and east of the employment centres.  Indeed, most of the red dots on that map are well west of the rail corridor.

Much as I sympathize with the Panel’s desire to get people talking about how parts of any network proposal might actually serve the region, I fear that we are seeing a classic example of someone who got out their crayons and drew a map.  The job will quickly change from discussing the philosophy of transit planning (and, don’t forget, funding) to defending the specifics of a proposal.

That is precisely why I have been so restrained about getting out my own crayons except in special circumstances.  The recent Don Mills Subway discussion needed a line on a map to illustrate how the “downtown” focus needed to change.  Well over half of the debate this triggered became a matter of dueling proposals between “my” line and “your” line that added little to the real issue — the need to see what such a line could connect and serve beyond simply diverting trips away from Bloor-Yonge Station.

People would even argue that there wasn’t “enough” development in some locations to justify such a route ignoring what is there today, what is in the pipeline for tomorrow and what could occur with planning and political encouragement.  Meanwhile, we build a subway to land that was recently the middle of nowhere, and propose one through miles of low density residential development as a vote-buyer claiming that only with a subway will Scarborough reap the development it “deserves”.

There is one big problem with the “Big U” — it diverts attention from the “little u” otherwise known as the “Downtown Relief Line”.  It doesn’t help one bit that the version of the “little u” shown on the map is the Pape-Queen-Roncesvalles alignment, one that is guaranteed to be very expensive and fails to recognize shifting development patterns (ironically, one of the goals of the “Big U”).  It ignores the southerly shift of population and jobs, avoids the available Weston rail corridor where we are spending a fortune to intensify transit infrastructure for a Toonerville Trolley to the airport, and it stops at the Bloor-Danforth subway missing the opportunity to reach further north to be more than a “downtown” line.

“Alternatives analysis” is a fine art in many projects, but the real art for many agencies is to ensure that what you always wanted to build is the “preferred” choice.  This is often guaranteed by setting up straw man comparisons so that the one you want shines out as the best of breed.  Such may be the situation with the DRL where, on darker days, I suspect that the whole idea is to paint as grim a picture as possible so that it will never be built.  Remember that the TTC for decades claimed we didn’t need a DRL, that they could stuff everyone into an upgraded Yonge-University line.  Expanding YUS capacity on a heroic scale was their “preferred alternative”.

With the Big and little U’s, we risk being trapped into specifics of route designs that looked good on a napkin in a bar, but which need much more thorough discussion as to purpose and specifics.  They are good as starting points for discussion, but are most definitely not the final answer in their respective fields.  Moreover, they are not alternatives to each other, a point that is often lost as the political imperative says “build in the suburbs, not downtown”.

The Big Move and the Investment Strategy that supports it have one gaping hole.  Very little attention is paid to the role of or funding for the feeder network to a regional system.  Moreover, the plethora of lines on the map hides the fact that many of them will not have the most frequent service on the planet.  Not all “rapid transit” lines are created equal.  As a recent Metrolinx report noted, the growth in “rapid transit” recently has mainly been in “BRT Light” for which the infrastructure requirements are minimal along with the service levels.  Crowing about progress in bringing transit to the millions ignores the question of how attractive that transit will be and how people will connect from the trunk routes, such as they may be, to their homes, work and other destinations.

This will be an important issue for network design on both the Big and little U’s.  One would serve rail corridors and be totally dependent on local service to deliver riders from homes and to employment locations.  The other would serve established and growing neighbourhoods and would enjoy an existing, well-developed set of local transit services as feeders.  These are not trivial differences, but they show the problems that will arise if the study does not look beyond the edges of station platforms.

This is the real debate the Transit Panel should engage — does The Big Move really serve the market it claims to address?  How useful will it be in attracting trips out of cars and onto transit?  Can developers and owners of residential and employment properties expect a real improvement in travel to and from their developments, or will their value be strangled by poor access?  Underlying all this is the basic question of whether we are spending all of those billions in the “right” place and what benefit each component of the proposed network will achieve.  That speaks directly to the concept of spending wisely, not just for the sake of generating construction jobs and photo ops for the next generation of politicians.

Returning to the “little u”, there will be a motion before Council from Councillor Josh Matlow, seconded by Cllr. John Parker (also a member of the TTC Board), to accelerate work on the EA for a “Relief Subway Line”.  Moreover, it asks that Council confirm such a route as “Toronto’s next subway expansion priority”.  It will be intriguing to see how this motion fares amid the current circus at City Hall, the recent battle over the Scarborough Subway and a faction claiming that downtown “has enough subways” already.

If this proceeds, it will be vital that it not be hamstrung with narrow terms of reference that filter out options before they are even discussed.  A major shortcoming of the new “Transit Project Assessment” protocol is that there is no consideration of alternatives because the decision that something is a “good project” is already assumed.  Debating alternatives just gums up the works in what is supposed to be an expedited process, but actually winds up as an exercise in selling an already-determined choice.  This is precisely the criticism many had of Transit City that compounded the process with less than stellar detailed planning and “sales”.  (Moreover, once a project is approved, it can be amended beyond all recognition, even though the original design was the one that “justified” the project in the first place.)

There is no point in doing a study if the underlying desire at the political and staff level is to sell a “Big U” as a replacement for the “Relief” line, whatever we call it.  The terms of reference must ensure that all options are reviewed, including cross-jurisdictional issues such as repurposing the Weston corridor’s UPX trackage for rapid transit.  We must not prejudge the outcome by requiring one continuous line to serve both legs of the U/u, especially considering that in some variants both western legs run in the same corridor.

Will Toronto Council, Metrolinx and Queen’s Park embrace the need for a full study of these routes without prejudice toward any preconceived doodlings on maps?