501 Queen: Construction Effects on Service (Updated)

Since May 8, 2016 and continuing until Thanksgiving weekend, route 501 Queen is diverting around water main construction on Queen west of Spadina. The westbound diversion takes streetcars south to King at Spadina, west to Shaw and back north to Queen, and eastbound service follows the same route in reverse.

This article compares the line’s operation before and after the diversion took effect.

Updated July 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm: A chart has been added shown the delaying effect on King Street service eastbound at Spadina caused by queues for left turning eastbound Queen cars.

Schedule Changes

New schedules were implemented for this change, and the table below compares round trip times (RTT) for the normal and diversion routes. The magnitude of the change is, in general, dictated by the length of two headways because two cars were added to the route. Thus, if the scheduled service ran every 5 minutes, two more cars would extend the RTT by 10 minutes.

These are round trip values, and so the added running time one-way is half of the change in the RTT.

Neville-Humber RTT     Normal     Diversion

AM Peak                  150         160
Midday                   165         176
PM Peak                  171         181
Early Evening            149         160
Late Evening             126         135

Travel Times Through the Diversion Area

The following charts show the running times from University Avenue to Dufferin Street for streetcars on a weekly and hourly basis for the months of April to June 2016.

Westbound travel times increased by varying amounts starting in Week 2 of May 2016. The amount of change is only within the 5-6 minute range contemplated by the schedules on the very outer ends of the day (for example, trips between 6:00 and 6:30 am). In the worst case, the trips are over 15 minutes longer during the PM peak. Eastbound travel times also increase by more than the 5-6 minute range except early in the morning.

Note also the higher times during early April for westbound travel. These are caused by the 504 King diversion via Queen during track work at Charlotte Loop. Very frequent 504 King service (outnumbering the 501 Queens by 2:1 or better) caused delays westbound at Spadina for 504s making the west to south turn unassisted by any transit priority signals. This drove up times for the 501 service. Some of the change is also due to traffic congestion on Queen caused by autos diverted from King.

The effect is not as marked eastbound because 501 Queen streetcars did not have to queue waiting for 504 King cars within the segment between Spadina and University.

What is quite clear here is that the schedule adjustments for the diversion do not come close to matching the actual requirement for greater travel time. This affected service elsewhere on the route.

Headways at Neville and Humber

Headways are measured inbound near the terminals to avoid confusion where a vehicle leaves the loop, but does not move far away from the terminal area immediately. Westbound, the point is at Silver Birch, the first stop west of Neville Loop. Eastbound, the point is on The Queensway between the exit from Humber Loop and the Humber River bridge.

Westbound from Silver Birch:

  • During the period from 6:00 to 10:00 am, average headways and the standard deviation of the values are unchanged from March through June.
  • From 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, average headways rise beginning with the diversion period (Week 2 of May) by 1-2 minutes, and the SD values also jump indicating a less regularly spaced service.
  • From 3:00 pm onward, the rise is pronounced for the final two hours of the peak period, and continues right through to late evening.

Eastbound from Humber:

  • As with the westbound service, average headways during the morning period are roughly the same before and after the diversion is in place.
  • Beginning in mid-afternoon, the average rises with the effect being worse later through the peak period.
  • Wider headways and SD values continue through the evening as at Neville.

The data show that although service is scheduled to operate at the same frequency on the diversion as it did on the “regular” schedule, in fact service to the terminals is less frequent and less reliable particularly during the periods when the added running time does not compensate for actual route conditions. The problem of short turning which was “fixed” with new schedules at the beginning of 2016 has returned and will likely plague 501 Queen riders until the diversion ends in early October.

Meanwhile on Lake Shore Boulevard West

Service west of Humber Loop operates independently of the main 501 Queen route, and is also now part of the 10-minute network. The combined effect is that this portion of 501 Queen retains reliable headways and service at a level that has not been seen since the Long Branch car was amalgamated with the Queen route decades ago. Ironically that move was a response to budget problems of the mid-1990s, and the TTC has never accepted that the joint route was a failure from the point of view of service quality. There is still a possibility that they will revert to a unified route at a future date without addressing the basic problem that service beyond Humber Loop was often an afterthought thanks to short turns.

For this section of the route, headways are measured on Lake Shore just west of the exit from Humber Loop westbound, and on Lake Shore east of Brown’s Line eastbound. History going back to 2013 is included to show the effect of the separate streetcar service in 2016 (this benefit also appears during a period of bus operation during Gardiner Expressway construction at Humber Loop).

For both directions throughout the day, but particularly notable in the midday, afternoon and early evening, the SD values are much lower in 2016 showing that service operated on a more reliable headway. There is no change in service frequency or quality during the downtown construction period because the service operates independently from the Humber-Neville cars.

Running times on Lake Shore have been quite consistent over recent years with the notable exception of a buildup eastbound toward Humber Loop in the AM peak that began in 2015.

The severity of the delay near Park Lawn is evident in a chart from June 16, 2016 (selected as a typical example). Each line represents one vehicle’s movement, and the slope of the line depends on the speed with faster operations being more on the vertical while slower operations tip toward the horizontal. From about 7:15 until 9:30, eastbound cars operate much more slowly west of Park Lawn taking as much as half an hour to cover a short distance.

Updated July 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm:

The operation of Queen cars making the left turn east to north at King & Spadina also caused backlogs of service at that location. There is no transit priority signal for turns east-west, only for north-south, and even these only actually work when the electric switches are active. The TTC has many out of service switches and resorts to pointmen to handle them for diversions. Unfortunately this scheme may deal with the switch, but it does not activate the priority signalling where it is available.

In the following charts (which should be read right-to-left for eastbound travel), note how the “post” change data show slower operation eastbound from Brant to Spadina during the peak periods and into the mid evening.


5 thoughts on “501 Queen: Construction Effects on Service (Updated)

  1. The city and the TTC really missed out on their opportunity to construct a ROW between the underpass to Humber Loop and Legion Rd. Almost every property on both sides of the road there was being redeveloped (or was already city land) and it would have been trivial to widen the road to accommodate a ROW without removing any (oh-so-important) car lanes.

    Then again, is it a surprise?

    Steve: You might want to ask the Councillors who have so well represented the area and ignored the needs of transit while, despite the forest of high-rise condos, a demand grew unmet by TTC and GO, and throttled by the lack of transit priority. Suddenly, transit improvements beyond an “express” bus are in demand. Where were Etobicoke’s defenders?


  2. Steve said:

    “Suddenly, transit improvements beyond an “express” bus are in demand. Where were Etobicoke’s defenders?”

    The sad thing of course is that while the waited, and would have been easy to address, later it will grow into an unwarranted demand for subway.


  3. Work being done appears to take up the north side curb lane, with regular traffic using the two center lanes and parking in south side curb lane; at least that is what I saw a couple of weeks ago. I saw no physical restriction, tracks were clear as traffic was using those lanes. Why then were the streetcars re-routed?

    The re-route significantly delays two major routes as you have said. I wonder who makes these decisions – and what say the TTC have? Some analysis of management dynamics would be interesting. Once again in September, King will close for TIFF’s ‘latte on the tracks’, council’s annual middle finger salute to Liberty Village and beyond.


  4. Service on Lake Shore is indeed better, though not exactly flawless (and hardly a streetcar always in sight). However, for riders travelling through, it’s worse. In addition to spending time on Lake Shore for the streetcar, there’s a layover at Humber loop that can be two minutes, or ten minutes or more. One Saturday afternoon, I spent 25 minutes at Humber, waiting for a car to take me eastward. As a result, I missed Fanfare for the Common Man and the first couple of movements of Rodeo, which is pretty vexing.

    I’ve overheard a number of conversations on the streetcar between riders discussing the split. Invariably, they wonder why they have to put up with it, because it’s so inconvenient. In talking to someone who takes the streetcar only from Mimico to Long Branch, she said it’s working better for her, but worse for her co-workers who come east of the Humber.

    With the integrated through service, once we boarded an eastbound car on Lake Shore, or a westbound LONG BRANCH car on Queen, we were reasonably assured that we were on our way and there wouldn’t be any interruptions (short-turns were pretty rare in the last days of through service). Now, in either direction, there’s the random wait at Humber loop. The transfers certainly aren’t timed. If there’s a streetcar already present, that’s great, but chances are it’s taking its layover so you might as well settle in, because you may not be moving for five or ten minutes.

    Steve: With the inadequate schedules for the diversion at Spadina/Shaw, this pretty much guarantees the same type of short turn activity at Humber as existed before the new “fixed” scheds went into effect over the winter, and also guarantees that people will “remember” the crappy connections at Humber when asked about the split service. In effect, TTC split it, then wrecked it again. One might almost think it was a plot to ensure people will demand a return to the way TTC always claimed was best. Very stubborn folks.


  5. It will be interesting to see how well the timing for connections at the Humber Loop works once the routing goes back to normal. Overall I’ve had pretty good connections travelling through Humber Loop from the Lakeshore West, the caveat being I mostly travel at off-peak times. Late evening and night service do switch back to through service after 22:30 (if I’m remembering the time correctly.) Around the time of the switch over there is often a through car and a 501 Long Branch that starts at the loop present at the same time.

    Steve: The schedule for the “through” and “local” service late at night is not well-coordinated during the changeover from one service plan to the other. I have not yet seen the details for the October schedules to see whether this has been fixed.


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