How Fast Can The King Car Run? (Updated)

Updated January 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm:

Additional charts:

  • Saturday vs Sunday travel speeds
  • Detailed bus and streetcar speeds
  • Terminal layover times

As part of its TOCore studies, the City of Toronto is contemplating changes to King Street to alter the way it serves many users: cyclists, pedestrians, cars, taxis, delivery vehicles and, of course, transit. Recent media coverage latched on to a scheme to remove at least private automobiles from the street completely. This is only one option, but the focus on the “no cars” scheme, probably the most extreme of possibilities, leads to a polarized debate, hardly the way to launch into a proper study.

The primary beneficiary of a “new” King Street is supposed to be the transit service, but a vital part of any proposals and analysis is the understanding of just how the street and its transit work today.

Recent articles related to this post contain background information that I will only touch on briefly here:

The basic premise behind improving transit on King is that with less traffic in the way, streetcars (and buses) on the route will move faster, and this will allow better service to be provided without additional resources (vehicles, operators) that the TTC does not have, nor have budget headroom to operate even if they were available.

This sounds good, but it presumes that a large portion of the route is mired in traffic congestion throughout at least the peak periods, and, therefore, there are substantial “efficiencies” to be had by speeding up the service.

Looking at King from Parliament to The Queensway

The study area runs from River to The Queensway, but there is little congestion east of downtown. Moreover, the King route operated via Parliament and Queen for an extended period, and this makes comparisons to past years difficult east of Parliament.

The article on travel times includes links to four charts showing the evolution of travel times on this part of the route over several years, subdivided by week and hour of the day.

For an explanation of these charts, please see the related article.

Note that these charts do not include data for trips operated by buses. I will turn to a comparison of these operations later in the article, but for long-term analysis they have been omitted because:

  • Buses are not present in the schedule for all months over the period for which data are presented. Including them could, if they had substantially different characteristics, create variations in the values that did not reflect changes in street conditions.
  • Some bus trips do not necessarily serve all stops, especially on outer parts of the route, and this “semi express” operation does not reflect normal “local” trips.

The best case trip westbound across the city occur first thing in the morning when cars crossing Parliament westbound between 6:00 and 6:30 am arrive at Roncesvalles less than half an hour later. This is thanks to very light competition from other road traffic and low passenger demand. Eastbound trips beginning during this period take slightly longer on average, a bit over half an hour.

The worst case occurs in the PM peak when the same trip can take 45-50 minutes, on average, with a considerable number of trips taking longer (as shown by standard deviation values of 5 minutes or more).

This “best case” cannot be achieved under all-day operating conditions, but the “worst case” does not represent typical conditions either. Somewhere in between is a base value to be aimed at.

The late morning (9:00 am to noon) is probably the best one can hope for – a period of moderate demand and without chronic traffic congestion across the route. Travel times during this period are about 35 minutes. This translates to a one-way time saving of 10 to at best 15 minutes, and then only during the PM peak period where trips are now quite long. Putting this in the context of the route as a whole, a 20 minute round trip saving must be compared to the 149 minute scheduled time in the PM peak.

In the morning, the average peak trip is shorter than the afternoon with a scheduled time of 132 minutes, but the potential time saving is also lower because the average trip between Parliament and Roncesvalles differs from midday times by a lower amount than in the PM peak.

In brief, any pro-transit moves implemented on King will have benefits in certain locations, but other parts of the route would either not be affected or have little scope for improvement. A big saving in one location will help there both for speed and reliability, but the effect across the whole route will be smaller.

Looking at Daily Variations

The weekly averages presented in the charts above masks a considerable variation in day-to-day route behaviour that is affected by several factors:

  • Weather
  • Entertainment District activity and other special events
  • Short term delays from construction or loading activities
  • Collisions and breakdowns

The detailed data for December 2016 appears in the following sets of charts:

These charts show all of the individual data by hour and day (including data for bus trips). Note that the scale for the “average” pages (the last three in each set) is set with a maximum of 50 while the detail pages use a maximum of 100 to show the higher values.

There is a considerable difference in the values on many accounts:

  • Early weekdays (e.g. Monday) tend to have much better conditions than days later in the week.
  • Thursday December 15 was a snow day starting in the PM peak.
  • Wednesday December 21 was a heavy pre-Christmas shopping day triggering congestion at midday.
  • Days from Thursday to Saturday tend to have worse congestion during the evening in the Entertainment District.
  • Point delays (typically collisions, disabled vehicles, illness) show up as a short spike in values on one day at a specific time. Congestion and other long-lived problems show up as a “wave” of values rising and then falling during peaks on most days unless the factor causing them (e.g. construction) did not stay in place for an extended period.

An important issue that is not yet fully explored is the degree to which these delays are caused by interference with transit vehicle movement (congestion) or by time spend handling heavy passenger loads and boarding delays. The City is reviewing this as part of their study.

Modifying the Street

Changes to the street layout and operation can affect transit in many ways:

  • Removing some types of traffic can reduce total demand on the street and improve travel speeds. This can occur through reduced demand for turning movements at intersections, and fewer delays for parking, not to mention collisions that could block transit service.
  • Stop service times can be improved by allowing transit vehicles to reach the stop faster (rather than sitting in a queue of traffic) and, possibly, to handle passengers more quickly if they board from extended sidewalks. That design, however, has implications for other potential road users, notably cyclists.
  • Traffic signals can be timed to give benefits to transit, but there are “Catch 22s” depending on the local conditions and priorities, such as:
    • Transit vehicles can “waste” green time while serving stops. The question is whether having a nearly-certain “green” when a vehicle is ready to leave is worth the side-effects on other traffic.
    • Some locations have traffic signals, but no transit stop. If these are in areas where signals are closely spaced, the “look ahead” capability of transit priority may not achieve its goal because transit vehicles are not detected long enough in advance to ensure priority at a location where they would not stop.
    • Some locations have regular transit turns left or right, but no signal priority to assist their moves. “Regular” need not be a scheduled move, but rather one that is commonly made thanks to short turns and diversions.
    • Some locations have relatively little cross-traffic, and interrupting it for transit on the main street poses no capacity problem. Other locations are very busy, and there can be capacity problems if the cross street does not get enough green time.
    • Transit signals can operate to throttle flow where only one vehicle gets through on a single green cycle. This is a particular problem when service is bunched (and generally late), and it is a design issue if service is scheduled more frequently that the traffic signals will permit.
  • Removing parking can allow other traffic to flow around transit vehicles and/or provide space for other uses including taxis, commercial loading, or cycling. However, a free-flowing curb lane can encourage motorists to speed past streetcars at stops in an attempt to leapfrog past them and their pesky passengers. The role of parking is different in commercial areas compared with residential ones.
  • Expanding pedestrian and cycling space can produce “friction” with transit operations depending on the degree to which the street layout does not clearly set out and limit access to the transit lanes. Queens Quay West is an example of a situation where the distinction between areas for each type of user is very “porous”, and streetcars cannot operate at full speed when the area is busy with pedestrians wandering onto the tracks. This consideration is more important if buses will operate in semi-reserved streetcar lanes because they are not tethered by the tracks and generally require wider lanes (not to mention more alert pedestrians) in close quarters.

These and other considerations must inform any study and pilot program, with the additional caveat that King Street is far from uniform over its length. A “solution” for the financial district at Bay Street will not work among the condos of Liberty Village or the low-rise districts further from the core.

Comparing Weekdays to Sundays

Another way to examine where and when there are potentials for faster transit service is to compare operating speeds for a series of weekdays with “typical” conditions and speeds on Sundays. (For the purpose of this, Boxing Day Monday was treated as a Sunday.)

The charts that follow compare the average speed over the entire route in each direction.

  • Each set of charts has 19 pages, one for each hour from 6:00 am to midnight.
  • The data show the average speeds of streetcars at each point along the route (at a resolution of 10m increments). The vertical scale is in kilometres/hour.
  • The blue lines show the speed for vehicles from Monday, December 5 to Friday, December 9, 2016.
  • The orange lines show the speed for vehicles on the four Sundays in December plus Monday, December 26.
  • The “East” charts cover from Broadview Station to west of Spadina, while the “West” charts cover from York to Dundas West Station.
  • Eastbound charts should be read from right to left, the direction of travel.

The weekday data (blue) sits below the Sunday data at many locations, but certainly not all of the route. In other words, the places where the blue line hangs below the orange are targets for improvement, although getting all the way to Sunday conditions could be a challenge simply because of differences in demand.

Although it is not part of the study area, the section on Broadview Avenue shows effects in both directions (southbound to the core and northbound to the Danforth subway) during the AM peak. A similar pattern shows up on Roncesvalles southbound in the AM peak, and within the study area through Parkdale and points east .

Where the problem is general congestion, travel speeds are lower over the distance between stops. Where it is primarily stop service time, the difference shows up as a sharp downward peak at the stop itself.

There is a particularly striking location of congestion west of Spadina in the evening periods. This is an example of an area that has become extremely busy both with residents and with the restaurants and clubs in the area. Daytime patterns are completely different, and this will be a challenging section of King to redesign while keeping competing groups of users happy.

During peak periods, eastbound traffic to Spadina was also affected by Queen cars making the turn northward on Spadina without benefit of any transit priority. Depending on how badly bunched service might be, this could trigger delays to several streetcars, not to mention other traffic.

Another notable area of congestion lies east of The Queensway where traffic queuing for the left turn holds up transit service, sometimes severely.

Probably the most important aspect of these charts is the degree to which weekday and Sunday travel speeds are very close to each other. This implies that there is little to gain in many locations without changes that will speed up transit vehicles at all times of the day. Equally important, if changes have a negative effect for transit in some locations, the combined effect over the route could be at best a break even situation as occurred on Queens Quay.

Saturdays Versus Sundays (added January 31, 2017)

Saturdays are much less congested on King than Sundays, but where this does occur, notably in the Entertainment District, any new street design should take this into account. The following charts are in the same format as the weekday comparisons in the section above.

Buses Versus Streetcars (Updated January 31)

A question often comes up about the speed of buses operating on King mixed in with the streetcars. The following charts show bus and streetcar data separately for the period of December 5-9, 2016. The streetcar data are the same as in the “Weekday vs Sunday” charts above. Only the periods when buses operate are shown, and only the central part of the route where they overlap with streetcars.

The buses and streetcars have similar speeds westbound except as they approach The Queensway. Two factors are likely at play here:

  • Buses can scoot into the curb lane and bypass left-turning traffic queues, provided the lane is available.
  • The buses are near the end of their trips, and therefore lightly loaded. The streetcars by contrast begin to pick up riders destined for points north of Queen as they pass through Parkdale.

Eastbound, the buses manage a faster speed in some locations, but notably not in the most congested areas.

A particular note is that the buses may achieve a higher top speed at times, but this is not sustained for long because they will reach another stopping location.


The following sets of charts compare the average speed of buses and streetcars between Parliament and The Queensway. In each set, the first page shows the average and standard deviation values for each mode on an hourly basis through the day. There is only a small difference between the two modes over most periods and directions with neither having a clear advantage. Eastbound bus trips in the AM peak do show an advantage for the earlier part of the period. The locations where speeds are different can be seen in the charts above.

The remaining pages show granular detail for operations over the month. These are subdivided into pairs of pages with bus and streetcar data, for the AM and PM peak periods, for each of the five weeks of December 2016. The format has been chosen to allow comparison by flipping back and forth between pairs of pages.

Linear trendlines are included as a general guide but they should be viewed with care because the streetcar data has more points especially at the edges of the peak periods. This affects the slope of the trendlines. Curved lines (moving averages or polynomial interpolations) have not been used because these are not well behaved when the number of data points is low and a small number of values away from the average can have a big effect on the shape of the curves.

The point of these detailed charts is to show that the relative “advantage” of one mode over the other is not consistent from day to day or hour to hour, and both are subject to the varying conditions found along King Street. Note that Thursday, December 16 was a snow day in the PM peak.

The Effect of Schedules

A fairly well-known problem to transit riders and streetcar operators is the effect of schedule changes intended to reduce short turns. This has been achieved (to some extent) by giving streetcars more running time for their trips. They are less likely to be late, and therefore less likely to require a short turn. However, this is a mixed blessing because:

  • Under benign conditions (good weather, modest loads, no unusual traffic events), streetcars will tend to run early. The typical response, indeed the one enforced by Transit Control, is that they will dawdle and take occasional siestas along the route. This is very frustrating to everyone. (A friend of mine now retired from the TTC claimed that he simply could not drive that slowly.)
  • Queues of streetcars pile up at the terminals because they arrive early and have scheduled layovers. It is not unusual to see streetcars waiting on the street to get into a station that is already full of cars waiting to depart.

If the King Street Pilot proceeds and does reduce travel times, this will only make the “running early” problem worse. The benefits may not be fully realized if operators must drag their way across the now-speedy King Street just to stay on schedule. Conversely, if schedules are changed to reduce travel times in anticipation of benefits from the pilot, and these do not materialize, then the service will be chronically late just as it was before the running times were padded.

If a true reduction does materialize, the benefit of any streetcars released will be limited. (A shorter round trip requires fewer cars to provide the same level of service.) The problem is that any headway improvements apply over the entire route (or at least to a major short-working portion such as Dufferin to Parliament), and so a large benefit in a problem area is stretched out over a much longer piece of the route.

For example, if a service now operates every 2’30”, a 130 minute round trip will require 52 vehicles. Saving 10 minutes each way (20 minutes total) is a big challenge, but it would reduce the vehicle requirement only by 8. Factoring the 52 vehicles into the shorter trip would bring the headway down to 2’07”. That’s a reasonable improvement, but it depends on a substantial saving in trip time that could be difficult to achieve.

If the saving is only 5 minutes each way, 10 in total, then the 52 cars would appear every 2’18”. This is a small enough change that it is unlikely to be noticed especially if service remains erratic. The question of irregularly spaced vehicles has been examined many times on this site, and it remains a chronic problem that the TTC has not addressed in spite of many fine words on improved service quality.

Terminal Layovers (Added January 31, 2017)

In an attempt to reduce short turns, the TTC has added running time to the 504 King schedules so that even if they are delayed, they have sufficient time to recover from this for their next trips. However, the offsetting effect is that if trips are not delayed, operators must either dawdle along the route, or they arrive well ahead of schedule at terminals causing backlogs of cars. This is a common sight at both Broadview and Dundas West Stations.

The following charts show the time taken at terminals for the month of December, 2016. These periods are measured from the intersection just south of the stations (Danforth and Broadview in the east, Bloor and Dundas in the west) so that queuing time on street when the loop is full is counted. The lowest values of observed times indicate situations where cars arrived and left as quickly as possible with almost no layover. Many observed values are well beyond the level that would allow a reasonable period at the terminal for a short break for the operator. Where these times are consistently high, this shows an opportunity for recovering time in the schedule. However, these periods do not correspond to the peaks when possible headway reductions could improve capacity.


Redesigning King Street for a new hierarchy of users has many implications for everyone on that street (not to mention the network of streets nearby). Some benefits are possible for transit, but these must be clearly understood and not oversold as if to claim that streetcars will now truly “rocket” across the city.

21 thoughts on “How Fast Can The King Car Run? (Updated)

  1. Thanks for this Steve; it is complex. However, my stronger feeling is that the better solution is a NEW corridor, and that the chance of a Right-of-Way for sub-regional/faster transit a bit south on Front St. and its extension (as a transitway) with new linkage to the Parkdale area and the Queensway via Liberty Village is what we should finally be doing, the DRL West plan of 1985 showing the approximate route, and the modelling in the 1993 WWLRT EA of such a route showing really significant time savings.

    The volume of passengers is very high, and making a milk run go faster is a good idea, but given the densities and projected densities, and at least a half century of real plans for more robust transit etc., it’s time for a new corridor here. This would be a very big shift from subway-in-sprawl and roads-in-core ‘transit’ of City Wall; but having a Front St. transitway serving the Liberty Village, Parkdale, and Etobicoke is needed given all the intensifying. We can’t do the digging for a robust subway for both money and time (ignoring the disasters of subway doings that we’ve done/propose), and Front St. is as close to King as King is to Queen, ie. a rather short walk, but Front is both wider, and laden with destinations. And it has the same great connectivity with most major core roads eg. Bathurst, Spadina, and grazes Union Station, but off-track.

    The King St. RoW idea was also analyzed in the 1993 WWLRT EA and it got a pretty low score compared to Front etc.; hope that image/chart could be shared maybe.

    And it’s not entirely clear to me just for how long a time there’s been talk (and at times a bit of doing effort) for King St. transit improvements, but maybe it’s a less-good ‘fix’, compared to a new surface RoW using Front St., though of course that would be costing bigger money, but it’s the core and this massive east-west travel demand (including the car traffic on Gardiner and Lakeshore) that should have a superior transit option beyond GO (which is also getting a bit brittle, and needs a back-up route out to Etobicoke correct?)

    It’d also be helpful to ensure that we have a safe east-west bike route parallel to (including on) King St., as I think if something was long, safe, and maintained, there’d be massive uptake to biking for this shorter (relatively) distance. Increasingly, I’m thinking that the City and TTC are content to leave biking dangerous because it/we are the competition, and as the TTC makes money in the core, and this helps support the suburban operations, that’s why it remains so nasty/dangerous for bikes, and why the City is soo slow at actually doing things (though the streetcar tracks are not only hazards to cyclists, but they also dictate lane positions). Crash map here shows consistent harms on main E/W roads over a long time.

    The Richmond/Adelaide bike lanes have surged in popularity, but they don’t go far enough to really be the transit relief that they could be, and should be. Sadly, I’m less confident that the City will have better biking facility provision as a key ‘driver’ for change – Bloor has been very obvious for decades ie. 1992 study, and no streetcar tracks, and plenty of parking atop the subway, etc., – but only now do we have about a third of what was to be studied a decade ago, and it’s in the Annex area which has Harbord, and it’s ward-by-ward bike safety, not planning. That is, we cyclists really really need safety west of Ossington where Harbord ends, and the side streets fade, so Bloor is best, and it has the subway under it already for fast transit. Ms. Bailao isn’t so good on bikes and transit though, being polite, though some change has been done, and sometimes it’s less easy.


  2. The fundamental problem appears to be trying to fit a variable situation (Day to day operation) into a fixed framework (Schedule). An alternative might be to scrap the schedule and meter the time that vehicles leave the end points. In this way headway would be based on the time of departure of the previous vehicle.

    With Transit Control overrides for unusual conditions (like large gaps), this would mean that normally the headway at least starts out properly.

    Steve: This can get tricky when it comes to managing crew changes. Operators have to be more or less in the right place at the right time. Dispatching to a headway would work to provide some amount of vehicle spacing, but a completely dynamic schedule would require a new approach to crew management. A middle ground must exist, difficult thought it might be to get there.


  3. Anecdotally, I’ve observed great variability (my normal ride is Roncesvalles to University) but I’ve never gone fast enough for a run all the way to Parliament to end up taking just 35 minutes. Last Wednesday, just that segment took nearly 45 minutes by itself! For no apparent reason, the approach to Dufferin was slow, in addition to the “normal” slow-downs at Bathurst and University.

    Removal of the Simcoe (eastbound) stop was a mistake, IMO. Hitting stopped traffic just north of Roy Thomson Hall, it took 2 lights at University before we could finally approach the stop. And then the combined unloading/loading operation took long enough that the 3rd light was missed, causing that car to miss the light and holding up the car behind it. If the Simcoe stop still existed, all the passengers exiting for University would have disembarked there – saving them all several minutes – and cutting the stop time at University in half.

    Steve: One note — the screenline I use is on King southeast of Roncesvalles to avoid confusion caused by all of the traffic at Ronces itself. That probably accounts for a few minutes right there given the time between your boarding an eastbound car and it actually moving across the intersection. If you look at the charts for 2016, you will see that trips eastbound starting between 8 and 9 am (purple and brown lines, page 4 of the eastbound charts) averaged over 40 minutes except during Christmas week.

    The values drop back to around 35 minutes in following hours (four pages later), and that’s my reference point for the likely level of improvement that could best be hoped for in the peak.

    I agree with your comments about Simcoe. It was a dumb move. The same problem happens westbound at Yonge with the loss of the Victoria stop.

    But some bright spark in TTC Planning thinks that getting rid of stops is a great idea. Of course it turned out that it made no difference in travel times at all.


  4. There are only two options to speed up transit through the core. A tunnel 1 KM under King St or a ROW. I know it would be a royal pain in the a** to build but only a dedicated ROW would speed up service.

    I am not talking a ROW over the entire line just the sections in the core. No matter how much you restrict parking or manage traffic you still run into a wall of cars unless you have a dedicated lane.

    Once vehicles get out of Downtown they begin to hit less traffic.


  5. If one looks at the King/Jarvis intersection you can see (quite faint) yellow hatch-marks on the road. These were painted there about a decade ago to indicate that it is illegal to enter a road junction you can’t reasonably expect to leave before the traffic light changes. (Highway Traffic Act s.145). This intersection gets blocked virtually every evening but there is no enforcement and I was told by City Transportation that they have given up painting these lines as the police were not enforcing them. Rather than having police at construction sites making cell phone calls they (or special traffic officers) might be better employed! If the City will not use the tools it already has to keep traffic moving one wonders if they will do any better if they get new ones.


  6. Steve, is it necessarily true that the fastest observable runs (6 AM, Sundays) are actually the fastest safely-achievable runs? Even at 6 AM, operators might be running to schedule which can be slower than running to conditions.

    Not the King car, but the Islington South bus to Long Branch (110A, 110B) is scheduled for 30 minutes each way. Most operators take their layovers and make the run in 20-25 minutes — and the latter is slow. But, there was an operator who I caught regularly for a while, a few years ago, who would blitz the run from Long Branch to Islington station in maybe 15 minutes. She wasn’t driving unsafely, she wasn’t leaving people behind at stops, but she was moving right along.

    The same thing may be possible with the King car. I wonder what your run time graphs would have looked like back in the PCC era (when, admittedly, the whole section between Bathurst and Dufferin was totally dead on weekends, and once Massey Ferguson closed up, dead on weekdays as well).

    Steve: This question is the reason I have included charts with data going back several years to beyond the point where schedules were padded. You can compare older running times with today’s, allowing for special conditions such as the Gardiner reconstruction that diverted traffic onto King.

    Long layovers by King cars at both ends of the line suggests to me that cars have more time in the schedule they need, but they’re using a lot of this for layovers. I will add charts of terminal layover times to the article. Stay tuned.


  7. Steve wrote: “Queues of streetcars pile up at the terminals because they arrive early and have scheduled layovers. It is not unusual to see streetcars waiting on the street to get into a station that is already full of cars waiting to depart.”

    Steve, how much of this issue is the fact that the TTC insists on linking a driver to a specific streetcar. The issue existed with the 501 prior to the split at Humber. If the TTC moved to a drop back policy, then when a streetcar arrives at Dundas West or Broadview stations, another driver is ready to take over the streetcar and depart immediately. The driver who just pulled into the station would get a chance for a break, and would be ready to go on another streetcar. I know this is not ideal for the TTC, but it would help.

    Steve: This is more challenging than it seems. First off, there is the problem that some operators are from Russell and some are from Ronces. They need to change over to cars scheduled to return to the same division. Also, the crew change points would have to be shifted from Queen Street where they are now located to the subway stations. Second, needless to say, is the problem introduced by short turns where an operator may get no break at all, but then be on the “wrong” car for the return trip because they have not dropped back. Managing where everyone is supposed to be and on which car would be quite challenging. I’m not saying it is impossible, but all of the provisions for “what to do when things go wrong” would have to be worked out in detail. This is also a labour relations issue because it could affect the degree to which operators finish work on time, a major concern for ATU 113 because of past abuses by the TTC in this area.

    The operation on Queen was relatively simple because the crew change points were at the carhouses.

    Richard White wrote: “I am not talking a ROW over the entire line just the sections in the core. No matter how much you restrict parking or manage traffic you still run into a wall of cars unless you have a dedicated lane.

    Once vehicles get out of Downtown they begin to hit less traffic.”

    An ROW, at least in sections, would be beneficial. However, so would less left turn options for cars. The problem with operations downtown is that there is little to no room to expand streets in many cases. However, a ROW in congested areas, plus no left turns at several spots, would be of great assistance. However, I will not hold my breath.


  8. If the TTC Commissioners get this handed to them in paper form, they’ll file it under “G” and forget about it. If they get in electronic form, they’ll forward it to their assistants and forget about it. If they get it on their computers, they’ll delete it to make space available for a video game.


  9. Steve said: An important issue that is not yet fully explored is the degree to which these delays are caused by interference with transit vehicle movement (congestion) or by time spent handling heavy passenger loads and boarding delays.

    I’m truly surprised. Likely heavy passenger loads coincide with heavy traffic conditions.

    It would be interesting to know how much switching to all door access helps reduce stop times compared to the single entry door. Maybe identify stretches of heavy passenger load and create a special route with double street cars for those zones.

    Studying traffic effects might show that throughput though light times gives the best time that could be made. Then measure how much of an effect changing traffic flows (eg restrict King to one lane – to restrict vehicle flow) affect throughput.

    Steve: All-door loading effects are tricky to measure for various reasons. First off, it depends on the mix of vehicles — CLRVs, ALRVs, Flexitys, buses — each of which enjoys more or less benefit because of its configuration. On an ALRV, for example, having three doors rather than one makes for much faster loading, better distributes the load on a car and reduces the need for internal circulation. However, ALRVs which used to be common on King are now comparatively rare. Another change is that at major stops such as University, there used to be rear door loaders who would check fares. These locations already had much of the benefit during peak periods. Even without loaders, some operators would open the rear doors when this was not official policy. There is no clear cut “before” and “after”.

    My reference to congestion vs loading applies to locations where streetcars can spend a few traffic signal cycles just to reach an intersection and begin loading.

    Also, as pointed out in another comment, the elimination of some closely-spaced stops has added to the service time needed at the consolidated location (e.g. Simcoe/University eastbound, Victoria/Yonge westbound), and in some cases (e.g. York) traffic signals can force a delay where there is no longer a transit stop.


  10. Simply removing private cars, on its own, probably wouldn’t be a huge speed advantage for the TTC, but rather the enhancements possible only on a transit mall. Case in point:

    “Transit vehicles can “waste” green time while serving stops.”

    If King were a transit mall, wouldn’t it become safe to have far-side stations, thereby avoiding the green light problem?

    Steve: Yes, without competing traffic, farside stops are easier to implement, but this is no panacea as we see on Spadina where the longer Flexity cars limit flow across the intersection because only one can occupy the farside loading area at a time. With nearside stops, the only constraint is how slavishly (or not) operators adhere to the TTC’s preference that streetcars pull up to the intersection before loading.

    On a narrow street like King, it would be feasible to offload nearside if circumstances allowed it and then load farside. This is not possible on Spadina because of the street width and the left turn lanes in the nearside location.


  11. In the (good?) old days moving a stop was simply a matter of moving the signage. Now it can also involve moving a shelter and installing ramps on the sidewalk. Moving from near-side to far-side loading is thus not something that could be easily tested. (Last summer the TTC announced they would move the east bound King @ Ontario stop from east of Ontario to just before the lights. They installed ramps in the new location, the shelter has now gone but the stop remains (shelter-less) where it was – even when they clearly want to move stops they are none too speedy!)


  12. You mean how fast they can walk? Buses are twice as fast although that’s partially because they are driven more recklessly. I see so many TTC buses speed past open streetcar doors on King and the streetcar drivers don’t even honk whereas they honk like there is no tomorrow if it were a small car driving slowly past open streetcar doors even though a speeding bus is far more dangerous than a small car moving slowly. Queen would be more appropriate for a no car zone (better street life 24/7 as opposed to the largely high rise King whose street life is largely situated during Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nights, and any night when the following day is a holiday).

    King would be more appropriate for a subway and Queen for a no car zone but they have got it backwards (in my opinion but debatable).

    Steve: Detailed charts comparing bus and streetcar speeds have been added to the article. The buses are faster in some areas, notably where streetcars are trapped in left-turning traffic, but they are nowhere near twice the speed, and in most cases run at similar speeds to streetcars.


  13. My observations over the last couple of years taking 504 from Sherbourne to Gerrard and back, is that the buses and streetcars are a similar speed.

    The buses feel faster, perhaps because of all the lateral motion that you don’t get on a streetcar. But I’ve had journeys where I’ve felt it was fast, and gotten off, to find the very same streetcar right behind us,that was there when I got on.

    I’ve had the odd journey here and there, where the bus has been faster, and the streetcar behind has disappeared. But at the same time, I’ve had journeys, where the streetcar has overtaken the bus, which has been trapped in the right-hand lane.

    I’ve noticed that the buses are often emptier, at least heading into downtown. Perhaps because they enter at Gerrard, or Dundas completely empty, unlike the completely full streetcar, which starts to get delayed because it’s overloaded. So a bit of an advantage there … but not over a streetcar that also enters empty at the same point.

    Perhaps overall there is a minor speed gain on the buses, with the ability to manoeuvre around blockages in the left-hand lane. At the same time though, all the shaking and weaving makes for a more uncomfortable ride – particularly if you are standing!

    Personally, I’d sooner they get back to all streetcars.


  14. As always, very interesting. And maybe I am not reading this issue correctly. I accept that faster travel times are good for passengers, and also increase capacity to an extent. But in the medium term what we need is increased capacity. And then beyond 5 years we will need an even more drastic increase again.

    Again, the analysis provided some increase due to reduced travel times.

    But is the question not: with an transit corridor can we run X+? number of passengers per hour to meet projected future demand? It would need more equipment, yes. But can a transit corridor handle close to subway levels of throughput….

    Steve: Yes, capacity is at least as important a question as travel time, and this will not be addressed for a few years until there are enough Flexitys in operation to convert this route and increase capacity. That, in turn, is linked to the question of an add-on order for cars so that the existing service network-wide can be replaced on a 1:1 basis per vehicle rather than substituting for equivalent capacity with a small increase.

    As for the possible capacity of a surface corridor, in the conditions on King the best one can hope for is a 2′ headway or 30 cars/hour which is about 4,500 passengers/hour. If the route had better transit priority (and less competing traffic), a higher number could be achieved with a shorter headway (Bloor Street ran headways well under 2′), but this would be a challenge because King has evolved with the assumption of a certain amount of road capacity that cannot just be wished away.


  15. Thank you for your response to my question. The number you present (4,500 p/h) seems low. But you know the numbers better than I. Does this number represent a King Street Corridor with traffic limited night deliveries and emergency vehicles? And, perhaps unrealistically at the moment, a full compliment of Flexitys?

    I am trying to understand why, with a 2′ headway, the number is so far below what can be achieve with similar equipment underground running the same headway.

    Steve: The vehicle capacity I used was 150 as compared to a subway car which is rated at about 180 (subway cars are wider than streetcars), and these numbers are for planning purposes, not crush loads. Subway trains are 6 cars long (1,100 passengers per TR train on YUS) and this gives 33,000 per hour on a two minute headway. Longer trains can be run on the surface, but only with a substantial takeover of street space. Imagine two-car trains of Flexitys (60m) every two minutes. Similarly, streetcars could run more frequently, but they would dominate road traffic.


  16. How did the Bloor Street PCC trains manage to run with less than two minute headways?

    Steve: Much less competition from traffic. Pairs of trains travelling together were not uncommon. Also, the east end of the line (east of Bedford Loop) had the heaviest service and a wider street.


  17. Steve said: An important issue that is not yet fully explored is the degree to which these delays are caused by interference with transit vehicle movement (congestion) or by time spent handling heavy passenger loads and boarding delays.

    cjared asked: But is the question not: with an transit corridor can we run X+? number of passengers per hour to meet projected future demand?

    Steve said: As for the possible capacity of a surface corridor, in the conditions on King the best one can hope for is a 2′ headway or 30 cars/hour which is about 4,500 passengers/hour.

    When moving to towards the city centre, do we have the rate of passengers arriving at each street car stop. How many passengers do we have waiting in a 2 minute interval? As a streetcar travels the route it will fill up, is there enough capacity to hold those waiting at each stop?

    When pulling out from the city centre, there is a crush of passengers at University and Yonge. Can streetcars handle the number of people waiting?

    Steve: No, this information is not available, although the more detailed counts that should now be taken with Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) should give us stop level ons and offs. The problem currently is that APCs are not installed on the entire fleet, notably on the old streetcars. Also, there is some debate as to how accurately they work when a vehicle is packed, including the stairwells where an APC is attempting to count people passing into and out of the vehicle.

    That said, it is important to remember that on many routes, people do not accumulate to a single peak point. Every route is not a feeder to the subway with a gradual accumulation of riders who then all disembark at one location. Therefore the number of passengers handled by a vehicle can be greater than the vehicle’s nominal capacity because they are not all on board at the same time. This is very true of the streetcar lines — King has at least four overlapping demand patterns to various destinations along the route, and some suburban bus routes also have strong demand between stops that are not at stations. Each route behaves differently and it is important to take this into consideration.

    Transportation planners will also bring up the concept of latent demand. How many people are currently using alternate routes because they are faster that King? If the King service were better, they would switch back to King.

    Steve: This is an issue not just on King, but across the system. Riding counts do not include passengers who never got on either because they gave up waiting and walked, took another route, or abandoned the TTC for their car or a taxi.

    I feel there is a need to better define the passenger demand number. If you have 6,000 passengers waiting per hour and you can only service 4,500, there is a problem.

    Steve: This is the point where the fact that all of the riders are not on cars at the same time comes up. For example, let’s say the daily ridership on King is about 65,000. However, this is subdivided into four peaks eastbound and westbound, to and from the core. There are also strong counterpeak flows including between downtown and Liberty Village, and downtown and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, not to mention local demands on Roncesvalles and Broadview to the subway. This was not the situation on the Bloor-Danforth streetcars which were very strongly focused on bringing riders to Yonge Street.

    The “back of the envelope” formula linking all day and peak demand is that half of the riding is in the peak, and half of that in the peak hours. This means that 1/4 of the demand is assigned to each peak, and 1/8 to the AM and PM peak hours. Taking raw numbers for King, this would give roughly 8,000 as the peak demand, but it is much, much lower because the demand is split between the many different riding patterns on the route.

    A fundamental flaw in comparison of subway with surface route planning is the subway mindset that the overwhelming flow is the classic am inbound, pm outbound pattern. This is very different from the fine-grained behaviour of many surface routes with the result that proposals to replace buses and streetcars with subways can be counterproductive.

    Public transit is very simple, service is made up of capacity of the vehicle, frequency of service, number of stops and traffic conditions.

    There are wild card issues, I have been on too many streetcars where two people will not move to the rear limiting the capacity of the streetcar and people who stand by the exit obstructing those trying to get off.

    Steve: That problem has been addressed to a some extent by all-door loading.

    I feel more time should be spend modelling demand and latent demand. It just might be that at peak demand, streetcars just can’t service the load. If there is a section of concentrated demand, you could increase capacity (double streetcar) or increase frequency (short turn cycles, sorry) in that area.

    Steve: I agree that latent demand should be better understood. For decades, service improvements on the streetcar network have been constrained by a shortage of vehicles, and my guess is that this discourages riders.

    Elevator companies have worked how to model optimal elevator service factoring demand flows and where the fleet of elevators are positioned. Streetcars are quite different because they are all on the same track, but modeling demand flows would help design routes and calculate capacity requirements. We should also be able to model vehicular traffic flow and its effect on streetcar progress. It would be cheap to restrict King to one lane for traffic. I don’t know how much it would benefit streetcar progress and the impact to businesses on King and increased traffic congestion on the other streets.

    Maybe those downtown would be interested in a proposal to provide rapid transit under Queen, my fantasy.

    Steve: The basic problem with a subway downtown is that it will not have anywhere near the fine-grained stopping pattern of the surface routes, and will therefore not be as attractive to many riders. Stop access time is an important consideration because for the relatively short trips in the old city, this is a substantial part of the total journey.


  18. As a streetcar travels the route it will fill up, is there enough capacity to hold those waiting at each stop? When pulling out from the city centre, there is a crush of passengers at University and Yonge. Can streetcars handle the number of people waiting?

    Outside the city centre there’s a stark difference. Heading into the core on King Street East there can be large crowds waiting at the Jarvis and Parliament stops and somewhat smaller ones at Ontario. This is very different from the 501 demand where there is a small trickle on to the streetcar at each stop into downtown before the big bump at Yonge. Queen is also very different in that unlike King there is not as much counter peak direction demand and you also won’t find many people hopping off at before the core.


  19. I have said for years that in order to improve transit service, not just downtown, but all over is there needs to be an elimination of parking on streetcar routes. Also for King I truly believe the entire length of the route from the Queensway to Queen Street should be a streetcar right of way, with wide sidewalks and bike lanes, similar to Queens Quay. Pricey? Yes but at the same time that route would only have stops to make and traffic lights. Wellington, Adelaide and Richmond could all be modified to handle the increased traffic flow, by timing lights with a green wave essentially. Also improving traffic flow on other North/South streets then it would reduce the risk of vehicles blocking the intersections.

    Steve: I have to jump in here and note that (a) Wellington, Adelaide and Richmond are not available as parallel routes west of Bathurst, and (b) Queens Quay is wider than King Street and therefore could handle a more extensive intervention. Also it has many areas where there is open space adjacent to the roadway for expansive pedestrian areas, while much of King is built right to the sidewalk line. Not the same situation at all.

    For other major transit arteries I have said for years the best thing to do is eliminate one lane for cars and make it bus only. In certain European countries they have taken a 6 lane road and made 2 lanes bus priority only. As a result bus service speeds up, it takes a lot less time to go from end to end, and by doing that you can increase the service without adding vehicles. Or you can leave the frequency of a route as is and then remove a few vehicles and make them part of an express service. You would effectively increase service without increasing vehicles in some areas. As people sit in heavy traffic and they see buses flying past them, more people will feel like taking transit is the better option. For far to long the mindset is doing things like this is a war on the car, but in theory doing this and improving the bus service, and increasing frequency can be a benefit, even if 5% of single passenger vehicles park the car and switch to transit you would see a benefit on the roads. Also increasing the bus service this way as well as the streetcar service on King will help the TTC improve service in more areas of the city. Making transit more reliable benefits everyone across the city and the region.

    Steve: But I must repeat that King is only four lanes wide. Six or more lanes tends to be a suburban configuration as much of the “old city” was laid out with standard 66-foot wide rights-of-way.


  20. There needs to be a complete ban on all “events” which disrupt streetcar service. The TTC is not going to solve problems with unreliable streetcar service without severe limitations on road closures.


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