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.