Kvetching About 512 St. Clair

The opponents of the 512 St. Clair streetcar right-of-way don’t miss any opportunity to slag the line. The TTC doesn’t help when it does not fully explain what is going on with this summer’s construction projects, and paints the work primarily as “accessibility” and “new streetcar” related.

A common complaint in Toronto is that nobody co-ordinates construction projects. Well, for those who bother to pay attention to the announcements of such things, co-ordination on a large scale is happening, and St. Clair is part of it. Many projects fit together like a jigsaw puzzle this summer.

  • St. Clair Station bus and streetcar loops require structural repairs that will take from now until late in the year. This has nothing to do with accessibility (the station already is accessible), nor with overhead changes for new streetcars (new pantograph-friendly overhead has been in place since 2011).
  • The ramps leading into St. Clair West Station Loop were not rebuilt during the line’s shutdown a few years ago (this is the only part that was, for some reason, omitted). They are the original installation from the Spadina subway opening and require reconstruction.
  • St. Clair West Station is not accessible, and work on this will begin this summer. However, that has nothing to do with the shutdown for all bus and streetcar routes serving the loop.
  • The overhead within St. Clair West Station must be converted for pantograph operation, but this is work that would typically be done overnight, or at most over a weekend.
  • Presto conversion of St. Clair West Station can be conveniently done while the station is closed, but did not strictly require it.
  • Reconstruction of small sections of the islands on St. Clair is required for proper operation of the low floor cars’ boarding ramps, but these island also require electrical fit-outs for Presto. This work is similar to that was done on Spadina.
  • Track construction at College & Bathurst prevents streetcar operation including access to St. Clair (although if this were the only issue, it would be handled by storing cars at Hillcrest or on the line as has been done in the past). The controlling factor is the ramp construction at St. Clair West. The Bathurst trackage will re-open in mid-July.
  • Work on College Street West by Toronto Water and as part of local street improvements for the BIA requires partial street closures. This has been co-ordinated with TTC trackwork at Bathurst and at Lansdowne.

In all of this, if one wants to knock the TTC, one might ask “why were the islands not done sooner” and “why were the ramps at St. Clair West left so long”. As for the islands, that’s partly a head-scratcher for accessibility, but Presto is a net new requirement. I suspect that the work could be done in under two months, but co-ordination with the other projects makes for one shutdown, not two. The ramps are another matter, and I have never heard an explanation of why this work was not done during the previous shutdown.

As for the replacement bus service running in mixed traffic, yes, that is going to be annoying. TTC does not want to use the streetcar right-of-way understandably because of narrow clearances with the overhead poles and the meandering path the lanes take. Those poles (notably absent on Spadina) were put in despite many questions to the TTC (including from emergency services) about the need for this design. What was really happening was that there was a boffin in the consulting firm working on the new streetscape who wanted the street lighting poles (which traditionally held up the TTC’s overhead) to be spaced further apart than TTC requirements. In the fullness of time, this wasn’t how the street was built (because the illumination level would not have been adequate), but meanwhile the TTC insisted on its own centre median poles except where buses share the right-of-way west of Bathurst.

It wasn’t a technical requirement, it was the combined stupidity of the street designer and the TTC’s sticking with a design that they no longer required. The result we have is a streetcar right-of-way that cannot host temporary bus service.

There is a lot to complain about with the TTC, and I am often criticized for writing more about the negatives than the positives. However, this is a case where a great deal of work has been collected into one set of shutdowns, and that is precisely the sort of thing the TTC and City should be doing.

11 thoughts on “Kvetching About 512 St. Clair

  1. Are we to presume, given the inaccessability of Hillcrest Shops during the work at College, that any new delivery from Bombardier of LFLRVs will sit, comatose, at Hillcrest for the duration? Sort of makes it hard to run up the ‘burn in’ mileage, although I suppose they could run up and down between Hillcrest Shops and Bathurst Station.


  2. Was at St. Clair & Keele today (Sunday). The shelter/islands had notices and placards (most in fluorescent pink) with information that the streetcars were not running and to board the buses at the curb at the side of the road.

    Totally ignored. And it was on the news yesterday.

    That’s why they do changes like this on the weekend, especially on Sundays. Even if no construction is happening on this day.

    I’ll expect the reverse to happen when the streetcars return. Makes me think the closing credits to the “Airplane” movie.


  3. What is the hurry for islands etc. when there are NO new streetcars anyways? Why not wait until all are in service and make St.Clair last line to get new cars.

    The only thing I think about all this is those poor people (small business especially) that will have to put up with more disruption.

    Steve: Well, if there were another shutdown say next year, the complaint would be “why didn’t you do this in 2016 when the line was closed anyhow”?


  4. About the only good thing about having buses on the 512 route was that they were air-conditioned. Especially today.


  5. Lots of complaints in my neighbourhood (I’m in Corso Italia) primarily about the replacement buses, which are obviously much slower than the streetcars due to running in mixed traffic.

    The City could have mitigated this issue by restricting street parking on St Clair to keep traffic moving, but the deep attachment to arterial street parking in this city would have made it political suicide for any councillors involved. So instead everyone gets to sit in traffic while parked cars take up a full lane of road space and neighbourhood Green P lots sit empty.


  6. While I certainly supported the restoration of the St Clair line to a private right of way, I’ve been disappointed at the small improvement in running times. The original layout looked very straight, and fast; almost like an LRT. Do you happen to know the average speed of St Clair in the early twenties? Why does the present layout wander in so many places?

    Steve: As it happens, the scheduled service information appears in a long out-of-print book “TTC ’28” by John F. Bromley. In 1928, the St. Clair car ran from Caledonia Loop (northwest corner, east of what was then a level crossing with the railway) to Mt. Pleasant Loop at Eglinton. The round trip time was 60 minutes off-peak, 64 minutes peak, with scheduled speeds of 10.20 and 9.61 mph (16.42 and 15.47 km/h respectively) over a route that was 10.2m (16.42km) long (round trip).

    The round trip times from Yonge to Keele for the May 2016 schedules were 58 minutes off peak, 64 minutes peak (PM), plus 10 minutes recovery time for a route that is 13.99 km round-trip. This gives off-peak speeds of 14.5 km/h and 13.1 PM peak. The service today is definitely slower than it was in 1928, but there was no auto traffic to speak of then, and far fewer traffic signals.

    The meander in the track layout was a compromise to fit the right-of-way including safety islands, left turn bays and parking into the street. Although it is wider than a typical Toronto street, it is not wide enough to hold all of the things various groups wanted.


  7. Thank you for your prompt answer, and for all the work that you do in connection with this expert, in a good way, work of art. ‘Blog’ doesn’t really cover it.


  8. In 1928 St. Clair would have been operated by Witts (not sure if “small” or “large”). They weren’t racehorses (particularly the large, which were geared for trailer towing). I wonder if the speeds went up when the PCC cars were introduced to the city on the St. Clair route in 1938. (Possibly no, since there would still be Witts on Bay runs, etc.)

    There are few things faster than a PCC car in a hurry!

    Steve: According to Bromley’s book, Bay ran with small Witts and St. Clair with TRC equipment as of January 1928. The PCCs came a decade later and were definitely faster than the Witts having been designed for quick acceleation in stop-and-go traffic, something we lost again with “modern” equipment, and management who are afraid of any vehicle travelling above walking speed.

    While diesel buses have improved in performance over the years — though they may have plateaued in the 1990s with the Orion V — what today’s riders don’t remember (or remember with fond regret) are the speedy PCCs, trolley coaches, and high rate operation on the Bloor-Danforth subway. You’d probably have to be over 40 years of age to remember the latter — the high-rate operation ceased some time around 1980 or 1981. In my memory, it was shortly after the extension to Kipling/Kennedy.

    Steve: High rate ended because the motors on the H1s had a vibration problem that damaged the commutators at higher speed. This excuse became embedded in TTC practice even long after the H1s retired. Indeed, there was a near panic when I suggested a return to it as a way to reduce the fleet size and operating costs because this would have cut the size of an order to Bombardier, and that simply was not a done thing. Trains run in the equivalent performance characteristics of “low rate” to this day.

    I have been on a train in high rate on the Yonge line, and it cuts about 2 minutes off of the trip from Eglinton to Finch, the equivalent of two trainsets round trip. The benefits are greatest where there are steep grades and where stations are further apart. However, it would contribute little to the long run from St. Clair West to Eglinton West because of the grade timing signals.


  9. I certainly remember high rate on Bloor-Danforth. It ‘felt’ better, but I don’t understand why a revival would decrease the number of trainsets in rush hour.

    Speaking of speed, I have a friend who grew up in Willowdale in the thirties and forties. He rode the North Yonge many times and insists to this day that those beautiful, old double enders hit 50 MPH [80K] while going down the hills at Hogg’s Hollow. The track was in poor condition at the end, so I can accept that the swaying motion of the car was pretty wild, and gave the impression of speed, but 50 seems excessive. Any ideas?

    Steve: The total trains required is equal to the round trip time divided by the headway. If the trip time goes down because of faster trains, so does the number of trains. Alternately, a shorter headway can be operated with the same number of trains provided there are no physical restrictions to doing this. BD is already running at the minimum headway the signal system permits, and so the only effect of faster trains is that fewer of them are required. For system planning, this reduces capital costs and the size of yards, as well as crew and maintenance costs with some offsets depending on the wear and tear effects of higher speed.

    As for the North Yonge Railway, it is conceivable that with a downgrade they could get up to high speed. On the level, it depends on what they were built to do. Very high speed is unlikely, but with a wider stop spacing than “city” routes, higher speeds would be possible. Looking at the timetable, it took 75 minutes to get from Newmarket Station to Glen Echo, a distance of 36.6km, for an average speed of 29km/h, comparable to the subway in its faster sections. The speed from Sutton to Toronto was slightly higher at 32km/h.

    There is always a tradeoff between stop spacing (and dwell time), acceleration, top speed and infrastructure cost. I rode cars on the Philadelphia Suburban back in the 60s that were built for and hit over 80mph (about 130km/h) on express trips in the peak period. In the later days of their operation, their speed was restricted because the aging power supply system could not handle the load.


  10. Speaking of vehicles travelling above walking speed, signs have reappeared at the various intersections on The Queensway: Streetcars 10 km/h through intersection. That’s a bit faster than the previous 7 km/h — or barely above a fast walk; streetcars couldn’t begin to cross if the countdown was going because their tail wouldn’t clear in time.

    I wonder if TTC will operate any of the Metrolinx LRTs with the same 10 km/h through intersection operating rules.

    Steve: Yet another example of transit making sacrifices to avoid stupid motorists.


  11. Anybody know when streetcar service will be restored west of the St. Clair West station? The timing, now in the final period (maybe), seems to be closely held piece of information.

    Steve: It is scheduled to occur on Sunday, September 4, although the TTC’s construction notice uses the more vague “early September”.

    And speaking of speed and PCCs, the most interesting aspect of PCC development (at least to me, at least when working on GO Urban mag-lev long ago) was their testing by shaking volunteers on a vibrating table. It led to evidence-based criteria for vehicle movements and rider supports. Keeping riders upright in transit vehicles always seems an after-thought, at best left to the folks* who do the final superficial cosmetics.

    *and like TTC historically, these folks probably live in the suburbs and aren’t experienced “strap hangers”


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