The Not So Speedy 509 Harbourfront Car

Streetcar service resumed on 509 Harbourfront on Sunday, October 12, after an absence of over two years. The Queens Quay reconstruction project started at the end of July, 2012, and was supposed to be complete in the spring of 2013. For many reasons, things didn’t quite work out that way (this has been discussed in other posts and I won’t repeat the chronology here).

Although the line re-opened for streetcar service, the operating speed was, putting it mildly, glacial thanks to a whole new set of traffic signals that gave a new meaning to the antithesis of “transit priority”. Even with relatively little demand for road traffic on Queens Quay, the vast majority of time was devoted to moving the few cars that showed up now and then, while the streetcars waited for occasional, and very brief, green windows, even at locations where the “traffic green” and “transit green” would not have produced conflicting movements. Despite over two years to plan how the signals might operate in the interim configuration for this stage of the project, the arrangement had all the earmarks of a last minute scheme with a one-size-fits-all approach to programming intersections.

This arrangement lasted until late in the first week of operation, but there is still no co-ordination between transit and signals, and there are now many more places where streetcars can be held waiting for their chance to proceed. Even with the fixes, streetcar service is slower than the bus route it replaced (which did not have to deal with anywhere near as many signals) and slower than the streetcar service operated before the reconstruction.

The TTC, City and Waterfront Toronto face an acid test in their combined commitment to transit as the primary mode of access to the waterfront — if they cannot manage at least to equal the performance of the streetcar route before construction started, what is the future for surface transit in general?

Because the final arrangement won’t be in place until Queens Quay reverts to two-way traffic in the spring of 2015, we will not know just how “intelligent” the traffic signals will be about transit. The worst outcome would be to open the finished street with a disastrous arrangement for traffic control.

In this article, I will review actual running times for 509 Harbourfront in October 2014 with both the bus replacement service and the return to streetcars, and will compare this to data from February 2010.

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