At a recent TTC Board meeting, the question arose of just how well Queens Quay operated as a transit street and how long it took the streetcars to navigate through the new setup.
Staff claimed that they had added six minutes to the schedule to compensate for problems, but this really didn’t give the full picture. Not to miss a chance to carp, Councillor Minnan-Wong latched onto this number and worked it into the debate at Council when the “Waterfront Reset” report was up for debate. The report passed without amendment, but the seeds of disinformation have been planted.
In the interest of clarity and accuracy, rare commodities at City Hall, here is a review of what has actually been happening.
First off, here are scheduled round trip times from Union to Exhibition (mostly) from January 2010 to July 2016. Values are given for four representative periods:
- Weekdays midday and PM peak
- Weekend afternoons
The history is broken into segment divided by the vertical lines:
- Up to May 2012: the scheduled running times are consistent with only slight variations, usually a minute here or there to make the headway come out to an even value.
- May to July 2012: Because of continued deterioration of the track, there was a slow order from Bay to Spadina for which additional time was provided in the schedule.
- July 2012 to October 2014: Route under construction. Streetcars replaced with buses.
- October 2014: Streetcars return on the original schedules, but due to problems with traffic signals and some continuing construction interference, additional time was allocated starting in January 2015.
- July 2015: Extra time for Pan Am Games.
- January 2016: Service cut back to Fleet Loop fo construction at Exhibition Loop. The running time was further reduced in March.
- July-August 2016: Service restored to Exhibition Loop.
From this history, we can see that the scheduled round trip for Union to Exhibition and return was set at about six minutes above the pre-construction values. Note that this is for a round trip, and so the difference is three minutes each way. This was erroneously quoted by some as the change in the one-way trip time from Bay to Spadina.
Next comes the question of the actual length of trips over portions of the route. For this we turn to the TTC’s vehicle tracking data.
These charts take a bit of explanation, and for convenience I have included one page below.
- Route “519” is a dummy route number in which I have consolidated data from both 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina trips. The latter are meaningful only for the portion of the route east of Spadina. No, the TTC is not proposing a new route.
- The segment presented here runs from Bay to west of Bathurst Street. These bounds are chosen because:
- GPS problems limit the amount of valid data from cars in the tunnel to Union Loop.
- Service from January 2016 onward ended at Fleet Loop.
- The section of the route that was rebuilt lies between Bay and Bathurst.
- Data are presented from two pre-construction periods in the winter (February 2010) and early summer (June 2011) to show seasonal differences if any.
- Data from May 2015 onwards give the status from “more or less complete” through to early fall of 2015.
- Data from December 2015 and January 2016 show winter conditions, as well as before/after values for the cut back to Fleet Loop.
- Data from May and June 2016 show current conditions.
- Each page presents averages of weekday running times (as well as standard deviations of these values) broken down by half-hourly intervals. The full set of charts covers the day from 6:00 am to midnight. Spikes in the values are (with a few exceptions noted below) caused by delays that pull up the average and increase the scatter in the values (hence a larger SD).
The history of westbound running times shows the severe effect of the original signal implementation on Queens Quay operations. Even at 6:00 am when there is absolutely no traffic conflict, the running times jumped by up to four minutes in May 2015 compared with June 2011. The numbers improved by July with the implementation of the final version of the traffic signal controllers and software, but running times have never returned to the pre-construction level. Values for midday and afternoon show a similar pattern, but the pre/post difference is smaller.
Eastbound times show a similar pattern, although one anomaly requires explanation. During 2015, Harbourfront cars were stored at Exhibition Loop, and in some cases would leave early (possibly to get out of the way of cars on other routes also stored there). These cars would take a layover once they were clear of Fleet Street, and so their eastbound trips to Union are unusually long. This only shows up for trips starting before 6:30 am.
Through the day, travel times both ways are about two minutes greater today than they were in 2010/11 for an overall increase of four minutes in the required schedule time. These charts give a view over the central portion of the route, but a look at smaller segments shows that the change is confined to certain parts of the route.
Bay to York
Westbound times from Bay to York are quite short, and slightly improved from pre-construction by the elimination of the traffic signal controlling movements to a former parking lot on the north side of Queens Quay. Eastbound times show an improvement of almost one minute thanks to the elimination of the eastbound stop and traffic signal.
York to East of Queens Quay Loop
This section of the route saw many changes both in stop layout and traffic signalling.
Westbound trips went up by about two minutes (half of the total increase from Bay to Bathurst) in this section immediately post-construction, although much of this has been clawed back through improvements in signal timing. Eastbound trips showed a much larger jump in travel times post-construction, although as with westbound, the difference today is much smaller than in May 2015.
Across the Intersection at Spadina & Queens Quay
The signalling at Queens Quay Loop has been changed substantially to manage streetcars, autos, cyclists and pedestrians through the area. Travel times from east of Queens Quay Loop (the first signal encountered westbound) to west of Spadina (the first signal encountered eastbound) have gone up by about a third, or 30 seconds, over pre-construction values. The effect was worse immediately after the line re-opened because the intersection was running on a fixed cycle with no ability to recognize and adjust for the presence of streetcars.
Spadina to Bathurst/Fleet/Lake Shore
The section from Spadina to Bathurst contains no fewer than three traffic signals, any of which can interfere with transit service. One is the “crossover” where the eastbound auto lanes move to the north side of the streetcar right-of-way, one is at Dan Leckie Blvd., and one is at Bathurst itself. The crossover signal did not exist, of course, before the reconstruction of Queens Quay.
Westbound running times were about two minutes higher after reconstruction, and the problem has only worsened since then notably in late 2015 during some periods. This implies a change to the operation of at least one traffic signal. The situation is similar eastbound, although the change in late 2015 is not as pronounced.
Over this section of the route, there has been a gain of 1-2 minutes running time compared with pre-construction.
Through the Bathurst/Fleet/Lake Shore Intersection
At this intersection, the signals must sort out traffic on Bathurst Street, Fleet Street, Lake Shore Boulevard and the three legs of the streetcar network. This is not a location affected by the reconstruction, and one would expect to see similar times from the point on Bathurst south of the intersection to a point on Fleet west of the intersection. Westbound, this is the case – travel times are the same pre- and post-construction. However, eastbound times are about half a minute longer indicating that something in the operation of the traffic signals has changed.
An even more fine-grained view can be obtained by comparing the speed of vehicles all along the route. The two sets of charts linked below contain:
- One page for each hour beginning at 6:00 am and running through to midnight.
- On each page, the average speed of vehicles along the route is plotted for the first two weeks of June 2011 (blue) and of May 2016 (orange).
The orange line (current data) is consistently below the blue line, although the degree to which this occurs varies by time and location. Changes in the stop locations can be seen where dips in speed have shifted from 2011 to 2016. New sources of delay show up as a dip in 2016 with no corresponding dip in 2011 (for example, eastbound at the “crossover” between Dan Leckie and Spadina).
The charts show clearly that service overall is slower in 2016, but the degree to which this is true varies quite a bit along the route. Locations where efforts should be made to improve operations, notably at signals, are self-evident.
Although the TTC speaks of the added running time as being on the best-known section of Queens Quay from Bay to Spadina, in fact the lion’s share of the extra running time is contributed on the west end from the entrance of Queens Quay Loop to Bathurst/Fleet. Problems with signals in the central portion east of Spadina have been fixed at least to the point where running times are roughly the same as before reconstruction. It is difficult to say how much extra is contributed by the TTC’s preference that streetcars drive slowly here, and the interference by cycling and pedestrian traffic is affected by seasons, day of the week, time of day and weather. Interference by motorists tends to show up more as spikes in travel time caused by an errant vehicle whereas slower operation to avoid pedestrians and cyclists shows up as a general reduction in speed.
The TTC plans to revise the schedules on 509 Harbourfront once the route is operating fully with new cars, and I will update this review once that changeover is completed.
Information on the process by which TTC vehicle tracking data are converted for the charts above is available in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.