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.
From Bay Street to Bathurst & Fleet
The first two sets of charts present October 2014 data for trips westbound and eastbound between Bay & Queens Quay and Fleet Street just west of Bathurst. This includes all of the route that has been shut down and all of the traffic signals, new or old.
Pages 1 to 5 of each set show the weekday data, while Saturdays and Sundays are on pages 6 and 7. Each dot on a chart represents one vehicle’s trip and the lines show the overall trend in each day’s data.
- The first two pages cover weekday bus operation. Note both the scatter in the values around the trend lines and the large increase through the afternoon and PM peak periods.
- The third page covers the first weekdays of streetcar operation (Thanksgiving Day was on Monday of this week, and so there are only four sets of data). The green line (Friday) is at a lower value than that of other days because changes in the traffic signal programming were implemented on the previous evening.
- Pages four and five show the remaining weekdays with the trend lines at roughly the same value as on Friday October 17. In other words, there was one set of changes implemented and nothing thereafter.
- Page six shows Saturday operation. Note that the red and yellow lines (October 4 & 11) are for bus operation while the green and blue lines (October 18 & 25) are for streetcars.
- Page seven shows Sunday/Holiday operation. The red line (October 5) is the only day of bus operation, while all other data are for streetcars. There is a marked difference between the first weekend (October 12/13) and following Sundays (October 19 & 26) that benefited from the changed signal timings. However, the October 4 bus still wins out.
- The eastbound data show the same general pattern as westbound, but the buses had an even greater advantage running via a comparatively fast route on Lake Shore. They had few stops to serve, and the traffic signals on Lake Shore (the diversion route eastbound) favour east-west traffic.Congestion effects during certain periods are obvious, but otherwise the buses made reasonably good time.
- For the first week of streetcar operation, the running times are much worse than the bus service, although this is improved somewhat on October 17. Of particular note is the considerable variation in streetcar running times showing how unpredictable the trips could be with the original signal programming.
- For the last two weeks of October, the trend line sits at roughly the same level as it did on October 17 showing, as with westbound operation, that only one programming change was made with no follow-up adjustments.
- Saturday and Sunday running times are a bit shorter than for weekdays, but the Sunday charts show dramatically the difference between buses on Lake Shore (red), streetcars before the signal changes (yellow and green), and after (blue and purple).
Before I turn to the fine details, it is worth looking back an operations before the street was rebuilt.
These charts containing February 2010 data are in the same format except that there are only four weekday pages because of the shorter month. Family Day (February 15) is included with the Sunday data.
What is quite striking about these data in comparison to the 2014 values is the consistency across the month and the types of day. To be fair, February is not prime time on Queens Quay, but the values are quite consistent. For both directions, the trend lines sit in the 8-to-10 minute range with westbound values being slightly lower than eastbound.
Even after the signals were reprogrammed, the values in October 2014 are roughly 1/3 higher than the corresponding values in February 2010.
To avoid publishing a huge amount of detail here, I have consolidated a comparison of running times by route segment and day of the week in one set of charts.
There are seven charts:
- The first shows the ratio of running times in October 2014 (the period from October 17 onward when traffic signals had been reprogrammed) to February 2010 for the section between Bay Street and Fleet Street west of Bathurst. Separate lines show westbound and eastbound values, as well as weekday, Saturday and Sunday numbers. The values are quite consistently around 1.2 for all times and periods. Spikes, which occur mainly on weekends, are due to unusual events that have not been filtered out and the relatively small number of data points involved.
- The next six show the ratios for each route segment in each direction for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Westbound, the consistently highest ratio is for the segment between York Street and east of Queens Quay Loop with values falling generally between 1.4 and 1.6. In other words, over this section cars are taking 50% longer today than they were in 2010. This is a very serious problem that must be addressed.
The segments crossing Spadina (from east of the loop to west of the intersection) and from west of Spadina to south of Bathurst/Fleet also show consistent ratios around 1.2 or a 20% premium on running time for 2014.
The eastbound situation is similar with the notable exception of shorter running times from York to Bay because the stop that existed in 2010 has been eliminated. This is, in any event, a minor segment of the route.
Note also that running times for route segments unaffected by construction have also gone up. This begs the question of what signal timings may have changed in these areas in the 2½ years the line was operating (over a different route) with buses.
The attitude at the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto runs roughly that “this is an interim arrangement and everything will be fixed next spring”. No, I don’t think that is a valid answer, especially with so much improvement to be made in the central part of Queens Quay just to get back to 2010 performance.
Will this be another half-baked Toronto project that shows how we cannot bother to get the details right, or will it be fixed so that Harbourfront (and Spadina) cars really will glide along the rebuilt Queens Quay as a true example of “transit priority”?