512 St. Clair: Construction Effects on Travel Time

Through the summer, the 512 St. Clair route will be under construction for various projects:

  • Modification of loading islands,
  • Reconstruction of the portal ramps and track at St. Clair West Station,
  • Reconstruction of overhead wiring at St. Clair West Station,
  • Reconstruction of the roofs at St. Clair Station streetcar and bus levels.

Buses are now operating over the entire route and this will continue until the Labour Day weekend when streetcars will return from St. Clair West Station to Keele. The work at St. Clair Station will not complete until late fall 2016, and buses will remain on the eastern section of the route.

The buses share the road lanes with auto traffic and generally do not make the trip as quickly as the streetcars. This article shows comparative data from early June 2016 when streetcars were still operating and late June after the buses took over.

Travel Times over the Route

This is an update of charts presented in previous articles:

The periods covered by the charts include:

  • April 2007: A right-of-way only on the eastern portion of the route
  • July 2010: Full right-of-way
  • Fall 2014: Degraded running times thought to be due to loss of working transit priority at some traffic signals
  • April 2015: Repaired transit priority at most locations
  • June 2016: Buses replaced streetcars effective June 19

The charts below show the travel times between Yonge and Keele subdivided by hours of the day for selected periods. (Each hour’s data contains times for vehicles leaving from Yonge or Keele during that hour, and so “6:00” contains trips leaving Yonge or Keele between 6:00 and 6:59 am.)

Westbound bus service at the beginning of the day takes the same time to operate from Yonge to Keele as the streetcars did because there is ample capacity in the road lanes. This does not last long, however, and by 7:00 am an uptick in travel times for the bus weeks appears. This grows through the day and is most pronounced in the PM peak period before falling back in the evening.

Eastbound times show the highest change in the AM peak, stay high through the day, and then fall off through the PM peak and evening.

The scheduled travel times were extended in anticipation of slower operation by 7 minutes each way. The actual change in travel times exceeds this during peak periods, and so the buses cannot keep on schedule. Additional time is required for the on-street loop at St. Clair Station, although this may be slightly offset by straight through operation without looping through St. Clair West Station.

Travel times across the route are shown in detail in the following charts:

The charts below show the travel time through the loops at St. Clair Station and at Keele in detail.

At Yonge Street, the bus travel times after June 19 are much longer, and the values are scattered over a wider range, than the streetcar period June 1-18. This reflects the longer trip via a large on-street loop, but also on the edges of days (early morning, late evening),  particularly on weekends the fact that buses make their trip across the route in close to streetcar times, but with a more generous schedule.

This effect is particularly pronounced at Keele where the time taken west of Keele Street can exceed twenty minutes even during the PM peak period. Buses may take longer crossing the route, but they manage to fit in quite generous layovers at the western terminus. This can be seen in a chart of bus movements where, notably in the PM peak, buses accumulate at Gunn’s Loop. June 22 was chosen because it has some particularly long terminal times at Gunn’s Loop that appear to have been used as a tactic for getting very late buses back on time.

Short turns at various locations and directions are also evident in this chart, including a situation just after 10:00 am where two buses short turn westbound at Oakwood creating a large gap in service to Keele.

The difference in running times, including these layovers, between the streetcar and bus service can be seen by looking at round trips from Yonge west to Keele and return. Note that the stats in this set of charts only include trips that covered the full route, not those short turning east of Keele, or originating west of Yonge.

The first five pages show Monday-Friday data for weeks 1-3 when streetcars operated. Trip times are quite consistent with little variation over the day. Outliers in the values are the result of cars taking layovers at St. Clair West Station and at Oakwood Loop, but these are rare compared to bus layovers at Gunn’s Loop later in the month. Weeks 4-5 show data for buses which have both longer trips and a greater scatter in the values.

Page 6 shows data for all weekdays on one page. The band of data points for streetcar weeks is quite obviously clustered across the chart, while the bus data lie in a cloud of higher values. Weekend values are on pages 7-8 where the longer bus times are particularly evident on Saturday, June 25, and to a lesser extent on Sundays June 19 and 26.

From a rider’s point of view, service quality is a combination of travel time and headway (the time between vehicles), not to mention actual capacity if vehicles are crowded. Tracking information cannot report on crowding levels or pass-ups at stops, but it does show the spacing of vehicles. The next two sets of charts show headways westbound from Yonge and eastbound from Keele. Note that these times are not measured right at the terminal to ensure that they represent streetcars and buses that are truly “on their way”.

The scheduled headways are:

Period         Streetcar      Bus

AM Peak           2'50"      2'00"
Midday            4'30"      3'20"
PM Peak           3'20"      2'20"
Early Evening     6'15"      4'45"
Late Evening      6'00"      6'00"

Two issues are quite evident in the headway charts.

  • Headways are scattered over a wide range of values during both streetcar and bus operations. This has been an ongoing issue for St. Clair where, even with a reserved right-of-way, the service does not always operate on a reliable headway. Streetcar travel times (shown above) may be consistent indicating that the route suffers relatively little from ongoing delays, and especially has only small increases during the peak period. This does not, however, automatically result in evenly spaced vehicles.
  • The difference between streetcar and bus headways as actually operated is less than that implied by the scheduled values. Not only are buses (smaller vehicles) replacing streetcars, they are not providing the advertised level of service and so the capacity of the bus service is below the expected level.

Breaking the headways down week-by-week, we can see the degree to which (or not) the bus service actually achieved the lower scheduled headways compared to streetcars. The following charts show the average headways and standard deviation of values by week and hour.

Westbound from Yonge, the bus headways are slightly shorter than the streetcar headways (compare weeks 4-5 to 1-3), but the values are not as low as the scheduled headways and SD values are higher indicating a wider scatter of values (more bunching and gapping).

The situation is more pronounced eastbound from Keele where midday service is actually less frequent with buses than streetcars, and PM peak service is roughly at the same level.

The service and capacity actually provided on St. Clair are worse than the advertised schedules, and the primary culprit appears to be that running times are below what is actually required, buses run on wider headways than planned, and unscheduled layovers consume what might otherwise be productive service time.

Operating speeds vary along the route, and the difference between bus and streetcar speeds is concentrated in certain areas. The following charts compare hour by hour speeds for each vehicle type along the route. Note that the eastbound charts should be read right to left.

Early morning and late evening speeds are generally similar for both modes even though the buses are in “mixed traffic”. At those hours there is not enough “traffic” to delay the buses.

A location where streetcars are often slower on average than buses is through the underpass between Old Weston Road and Keele Street.

These comparisons are not intended to be a measure of the inherent “superiority” of one mode over another, but as a comparison of two very different implementations of service on St. Clair. The bus service is even worse than in might otherwise be because it has not been scheduled to match actual conditions, and line management appears to concentrate on keeping buses on time at the expense of providing the scheduled service.

11 thoughts on “512 St. Clair: Construction Effects on Travel Time

  1. They could have spent the downtime, moving the center posts for the overhead wires to the sides of the roads, if they were that concerned that the center posts were messing up the use for emergency vehicles.

    If the center posts are staying, and yet not used by emergency vehicles, then they could have replaced the concrete in those sections with some sort of plant materials, not necessarily “grass”. Sorry, had to jab that in. I know they’re not going to do that… for 50 years, at least.


  2. I live on St. Clair, it used to take 10 minutes max to get between Oakwood and Bathurst … it can take an actual hour now. Having said that, the Vaughan bus diversion to Bathurst Station has proven timely and useful.


  3. St Clair has the potential to be replaced with articulated BRT due to streetcar shortage.

    Steve: Even if you removed the centre poles holding up the overhead, the right-of-way would be tight for bus operation, especially with the meandering lanes.


  4. Yet another lengthy shutdown of a ROW line, this time only a decade after opening! Surely in 2006 the TTC could have anticipated it was getting accessible streetcars.

    Steve: Actually most of the shutdown has nothing to do with the new streetcars, but the TTC does not talk about the project that way. The biggest job is the reconstruction of St. Clair Station’s roofs at both the bus and streetcar level (that’s why the buses are looping on street, not in the station), and this will run until late fall. At St. Clair West Station, the ramps into the station are being rebuilt, work that should have been done, but was not, the last time the line was shut down. Overhead within the station will be changed to pantograph-friendly fixtures, but this type of work could be done on an overnight or weekend basis and does not require a lengthy absence of streetcars. Finally there is work on the platforms along the route.


  5. Oh Henry:

    St Clair has the potential to be replaced with articulated BRT due to streetcar shortage.

    I am from Scarborough and I don’t think that it would be wise to waste time and money by re-opening the already settled streetcar debate. Streetcars are here to stay and they are not as bad as some like to portray them. Steve, don’t assume that anti-streetcar Henry is from Scarborough and I know that a lot of people in the St Clair West area bitterly oppose streetcars to this day. Please don’t assume that all anti-streetcar comments you get are from Scarborough and while I personally don’t approve of streetcars, I am also strongly OPPOSED to removing them on the routes where they already exist and I think that any debate about streetcars should only have to do with new routes and it’s counter-productive to oppose them on the routes they already exist. I also support my tax dollars going towards any additional streetcars that need to be purchased to reduce crowding on existing routes as long as they are not from the highly incompetent Bombardier.

    I would also like to add to my comment that not every opponent of DRL is from Scarborough. In fact, most opposition to DRL I assume would come from the western parts of the city who get no benefit from it (other than paying higher taxes of course to pay for the said DRL) and Scarborough actually benefits from a DRL and so a lot of people in Scarborough (including myself) support a DRL but NOT at the cost of cancelling the much needed Scarborough subway.


  6. I also live near St Clair. The City could have mitigated the effects of the ROW shutdown by restricting street parking and changing light timings, but decided not to (except for a few small segments of the route). So instead we have a slow 512 route for the summer with one effective lane of traffic (due to parked cars in the curb lane) and poorly marked Green P lots sitting mostly empty.


  7. St. Clair is such a frustration of a route. Why has the city never utilized the transit priority signals. Why, when a streetcar is present at the intersection are cars in the left turn lane permitted to turn ahead of the streetcar. Why did the city cave to NIMBY protests over parking, and allow on street parking, Even though the city built several parking lots all along St. Clair. Because had St. Clair not been hobbled by drivers, who think they are more important then the 70 people on a streetcar that have to wait for them to turn. Or the 100 cars which are slowed down, because they ‘need’ parking in front of their favorite bar. Because they’re too lazy to park 20 meters away. It’s a shame because had parking not been allowed and were signals utilized then St. Clair could be really fast.

    Steve: Once the streetcars are back on St. Clair, I will have another look at the vehicle tracking data on a fine-grained level to see how often streetcars have to stop twice at intersections — once for the traffic signal, once to serve the farside stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Once all of the current construction is over on St. Clair Avenue West, expect even worse congestion between Keele Street and Old Weston Road in the coming years. That’s when they start to work on the railway underpass to widen it.


  9. Steve, I remember reading somewhere (on your site, I presume) that the Tweedsmuir stop just outside St. Clair West station was being removed. If that is correct, is that happening during this closure and if not, why not?

    Steve: I have not seen any plans to remove stops on St. Clair.



    For 30 years or so, transit vehicles passing through the St. Clair West station had to wait for the timed traffic signal to change. Even at midnight and all night long with nobody else in sight. Eventually, some bright soul at the TTC said, “Say, why don’t we have the traffic signal change in response to a vehicle showing up at the intersection”. Gosh, I wonder if they’ll remember to install treadle-like activation or will we have to wait 30 years for another bright soul to notice.



  11. Maybe late for this but I have seen 8-9 buses lined up on Gunns Rd at times and the Supervisor has told some of them to go around EB St Clair NB Weston Wb/SB on Gunns again. Drivers have told me this could take 15-20 Min to do.


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