Transit First For King Street?

Toronto’s Planning Department and the TTC hope to transform King Street as a realm primarily for transit vehicles and pedestrians with a pilot project aimed for fall 2017. Are the plans too aggressive, too timid, or just right? Is Toronto willing to embrace a fundamental change in the operation of a major downtown street?

On February 13, a crowd of hundreds packed into meeting rooms at Metro Hall for the launch of a new vision for King Street by the City of Toronto. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat introduced the session with an overview of the project’s goals and the framework for upcoming studies and implementation. Top of her list is “Transit First”, a fundamental view of the street as existing primarily to move people in transit vehicles and, by extension, to shift from a street designed around automotive traffic to one built around pedestrians. This is not just an exercise in transit priority, but also a shift in street design beyond transit lanes to expand and improve pedestrian spaces.

Transit service is beyond capacity, and fast and reliable service cannot be achieved while accommodating the existing volume of cars. For the duration of the pilot, the transit experience should be improved.

Improving the transit experience on King Street should also transform the public realm experience for increasing numbers of pedestrians to help address open space deficits along the corridor.

King Street users are overwhelmingly pedestrians, not motorists, and yet the lion’s share of space is dedicated to cars, not to transit and those on foot.


Inspired by trial street interventions by other cities, Toronto looks to take a short-cut in reaching a demonstration of what is possible with pilot configurations using a minimum of construction. This has several advantages. A trial avoids the lengthy, complex and finality of a formal proposal assessment, which can take years before anyone has a chance to learn whether a scheme actually works. A pilot can use temporary, movable installations such as planters, signs and road markings that can be quickly changed for fine tuning, to test alternate arrangements, or to undo the changes. Residents, businesses and politicians can buy into a trial hoping to see improvement, or at least to determine that side-effects are tolerable for the broader goals, without fearing they are locked into major expense and upheaval that might not work.

This is a refreshing change from endless studies producing little action, with the only downside being that some changes are simply beyond the limitations of a pilot. If a trial works well enough, then more lasting changes requiring construction can follow.

King is not a street like others in Toronto where transit priority has been attempted. Spadina, St. Clair and Queens Quay are all wider, and options for increasing road space on King are few. Traffic patterns and business needs differ on each street, and a layout that works in one place may not be appropriate for others. Equally, the benefits or horrors of these streets do not necessarily apply on King.

The city has three proposed layouts for a transit-first King Street. At this stage they exist only as general schemes, not as detailed, block-by-block plans. On that fine-grained level any new scheme will succeed or fail. Even if a plan achieves transit improvements, too many small annoyances, too many details overlooked could collectively derail a scheme. The planners flag this as a need for both a “micro and macro” view of the street – the big picture of better transit, and an awareness that every block, every neighbourhood along the street is different.

Common to all plans is a substantial reduction in the space available for cars and trucks. Some areas now used for loading, drop offs and cab stands would be repurposed either as through traffic lanes with no stopping, or as expanded sidewalk space into what is now the curb lane. Left turns would be banned throughout the area.

This demands a major re-think in how the street works for its many users both regular and casual.

The street is only four lanes wide, and along much of its length buildings come out to the sidewalk line. Only limited roadway expansion is possible, but not practically across the corridor. In any event, the focus is not on cars but on pedestrians and their transit service. Road improvements should not masquerade as benefits to transit.

In the illustrations below, the yellow areas indicate new space reserved for pedestrians while the blue lines show where cars would be expected to drive.


Separated Lanes

The scheme for separated lanes is the simplest of the options, but also the least likely to succeed. This would involve adding a barrier, possibly a small curb, between the two central streetcar lanes and the curb lanes into which all non-transit traffic including cycling would be moved.

The arrangement eliminates any ability to stop along the curb lanes because following traffic could not get around a delivery van, a tour bus or a taxi taking on or discharging goods or riders. Cyclists would directly compete with cars and trucks for use of the curb lane.

With the curb lane remaining as “road” space, pedestrian areas could not be expanded. To aid right turns off of King Street, transit stops would be shifted to the far side of intersections. Curb lane traffic would be blocked, as today, for riders crossing to access transit vehicles, but there would be the added problem of “double stopping” by transit vehicles so familiar to riders of the Spadina streetcars. Real transit priority – unlike the Spadina situation – would be needed to ensure that King cars were not trapped by red signals just before arriving at a stop.


Alternating Loops

A “loops” scheme was proposed many years ago by the TTC, but nothing came of the idea. King Street then was very different without the fast-growing population and demands for a better street not just in the financial district, but in the neighbourhoods beyond.

King Street street would be divided into blocks that would generally contain one city block except possibly for cases of short blocks and laneways. Within each block, the curb lane for one direction would be dedicated to expanded pedestrian space, while in the opposite direction, traffic would use the lane. Lay-bys would be designated for loading or taxi zones, and traffic would swing out into the central transit lane to bypass vehicles in these areas, but would return to the curb lane beyond.

Through traffic at the boundaries of the blocks would not be allowed except for transit vehicles forcing autos and trucks to leave by a right turn. The right-in, right-out scheme creates a layout where each block is its own “loop” with traffic circling north and south to adjacent streets for through trips.

Transit stops would be located adjacent to the expanded pedestrian zones so that riders would directly board and leave vehicles without crossing a traffic lane. This will require moving some stops to far side locations. For example, if at King and Yonge, the pedestrian zones were on the north side west of Yonge, but on the south side to the east, then the transit stops would lie beyond the intersection in both directions. However, at Bay the situation would be reversed and the stops would be on the near side as they are today.


An alternative version of this includes sharing the curb lanes in both directions with cyclists. This would give mixed auto and cycling use in one direction and semi-exclusive cycling use in the other, an arrangement that would switch from block to block. Further confusion could arise because cyclists would be allowed to ride through intersections where motorists would be forced to turn off.

This builds in a direct conflict between the goal of an expanded pedestrian realm, especially at transit stops, and cycling. Where this has been done on Roncesvalles Avenue, cyclists must ride through transit waiting areas. However, King Street has far more pedestrian activity.


Transit Promenade

The Transit Promenade is the most pedestrian-oriented of the three in that widened sidewalks would exist on both sides of the street for much of its length. Transit vehicles would share the one remaining lane in each direction with other traffic with lay-bys inserted in the curb lane for pickups and deliveries.

Although the central lanes look “open”, planners claim that there would be some mechanism to prevent traffic other than transit vehicles from actually making a through movement at major intersections, and only right turns off of King would be allowed. This would effectively divide the street into blocks much like the Loop arrangement.

In the Promenade configuration, all transit stops would be far side because the nearside area would be reserved for the right turning exit from each block. This arrangement only works if the traffic wishing to exit at each block boundary will fit in the stacking space in the curb lane. Providing adequate room could eat well into the hoped for sidewalk widening.


Challenges and Tradeoffs

Both the Loop and Promenade schemes assume that traffic volumes will be considerably reduced with only “local” trips actually requiring access to and using King Street. Without this reduction, the idea that traffic would somehow stay out of transit’s way is not credible. The Separated Lanes option renders the curb lane almost useless for local traffic because stopping for more than a brief period is impractical.

All of that diverted traffic has to go somewhere, and the wider design to handle this is not yet clear. Although the King Street Pilot is part of the wider TOcore study of downtown, there has been little discussion of how other streets in the core area network would operate. This includes provision for turns to and from streets to access the Loop and Promenade arrangements at locations where turn volumes are now lower or turns are prohibited.

Some traffic demand could evaporate on King because people simply stop making trips via that route, but there remains the effect on parallel streets where through trips would still be possible.

Cycling lanes are most likely to be implemented on parallel streets like Richmond and Adelaide, but not on King. One variant of the proposals does include cycling, but making this work would be difficult with competing street uses, notably pedestrian access to transit, and the addition of traffic turns at locations where they are now banned.

Planners are developing a traffic model of downtown, and this will be used to test various possible configurations for the road network, not just for King Street itself. The area to be modeled extends about one kilometer either side of King reaching north to Dundas and south to Lake Ontario.

Although the model will consider the entire King route, the area where changes to the street will occur is confined to the busiest portion between Bathurst and Jarvis, with a possible eastward extension to Parliament. This is based both on ridership levels and on differences in the street grid outside of the central part of the King route where parallel streets are available to absorb traffic.


An important issue in any “transit first” proposal is that transit is not just streetcars and buses, but also includes vehicles such as taxis and Wheel-Trans vehicles that have very different requirements for passenger handling. How much of King Street will remain for other uses such as truck loading after space is reserved for these alternative passenger-carrying vehicles?

Any form of barrier to restrict lane access poses a number of problems. First, and most obviously, the barrier consumes space that is already in short supply. However, barriers would also impede emergency or oversized vehicles, and could even make bus operation more challenging in a tightly defined transit lane. These problems could be intensified by any substantial snow accumulation that trimmed lane widths.

Special events on King Street range from the ever-so-common lane closures for utility work to special events such as the film festival, TIFF. Studies of King Street’s behaviour show that some of the worst congestion and transit delays arise from events that remove capacity from King Street itself, or from parallel routes as far away as the Gardiner Expressway and Queen Street. Any scheme to reconfigure King Street must work not just under ideal conditions, but with the inevitable pressures that will arise when the downtown street network is not in its peak condition.

A perennial issue with traffic management and transit priority is the almost total lack of enforcement of existing bylaws or control of traffic at key points to prevent intersections from locking up. The 2017 Toronto budget proposes additional funding for TTC’s Transit Constables to perform traffic management, primarily for unusual conditions such as parades, but better “hands on” direction is an ongoing requirement.

An important but missing part in the city’s presentation is a discussion of design changes on other streets to absorb diverted traffic and to provide for the new access patterns that cars and trucks will use to access points on King itself. Changes to other streets such as Richmond and Adelaide cold provoke as much debate as the work on King.

Making Transit Better

If there is one thing everyone downtown agrees on, it is that transit service on King and other routes has become unacceptably bad. However, “fixing” King is not just a simple case of kicking cars off in favour of transit for part of the route. The 504 King line actually runs through many different neighbourhoods each with its own streetscape, travel patterns and traffic problems. Service quality is not just an issue for the centre of downtown, but over the entire route.

Riders look for three key items in a transit service:

  • Reliability: Does the vehicles arrive on a regular basis with predictable wait times?
  • Capacity: Is there room on vehicles for passengers to board, or does overcrowding lead to extended waits for a vehicle with available space?
  • Speed: Is the transit vehicle routinely delayed by traffic conditions that slow or halt rider journeys?

Reliability – evenly spaced transit vehicles that show up on an expected frequency – is a long-standing problem for TTC operations. Bunches of two or more vehicles are common, and the length of a wait for service can be unpredictable. This behaviour shows up across the transit system under all weather and traffic conditions, and is far more deeply rooted in the TTC than the effects of a few kilometres of King Street.

Capacity is determined by the size of transit vehicles and the number of them passing a point each hour. Moving vehicles faster adds nothing to capacity if the travel time savings are not reinvested into more frequent service. The portion of 504 King that will be affected by the pilot project is less than a third of the total route, although it contains some of the more congested areas. If one talks of a 10% improvement, that will apply only in the pilot area, not over the full route, and so travel times will be reduced only for part of the route. The effect overall will be smaller because large parts of the route will operate as they do today.

King is particularly challenging because it now operates, during the morning peak period, at a scheduled vehicle spacing (or “headway”) that is close to what a street can handle. More capacity is an issue of vehicle size, and the lengthy delays in arrival of new larger streetcars on King is a constraint that will not disappear soon. Some media have reported that the TTC plans to expand capacity by switching 504 King to new streetcars as part of the pilot. This is neither planned by the TTC nor practical given the number of new cars they will likely have for a fall 2017 pilot. The TTC has confirmed that the only addition of new cars on King Street will be the full conversion of 514 Cherry that is likely to be completed in early spring. Further plans have not been settled.

We will continue to fill out the 514 with low floor cars until the entire route has them. We are reviewing deployment for the rest of the network and hope to report out soon. [Email from Brad Ross, Executive Director, Corporate Communications, TTC, February 14, 2017]

Speed affects perception of transit service in a few ways. Studies of rider behaviour show that as long as a vehicle is moving at a reasonable clip, riders don’t pay too much attention, especially if this is the normal behaviour for a transit route. However, the moment a vehicle slows or stops due to congestion or some other delay, a rider’s first thought is “oh no, not again” and they start worrying about timely arrival at their destination.

Another part of “speed” is access and waiting time, and these tie back to both reliability and capacity. The time required to reach a stop and then wait for a vehicle with room to spare is dead time for riders, and it is perceived as a high “cost” out of their trip. This portion of a journey from, say, Liberty Village to downtown can be a substantial portion of the total travel time. Overall perception of “speed” can be improved simply by ensuring that transit service arrives promptly and that the first vehicle can serve waiting passengers, not the second or third.

The worst problems with transit operations lie in the centre of the route. Between Bathurst and Jarvis, the speed of streetcars on average can be in the range of typical walking speed. The range of speeds shown in the chart below also indicate how much the travel time across downtown can vary from trip to trip. Many factors affect these speeds including traffic conditions, the time of year, the day of the week and events that limit road capacity on King itself or neighbouring streets.


Reliability on King shows up both as a matter of vehicle speed and predictability of the time before a streetcar will appear. The combination of slow travel speed and unpredictable arrivals can be deadly for transit’s credibility on this busy route.


Some problems with congestion lie outside of area the pilot will alter – from Bathurst west to Roncesvalles, and (to a lesser extent) from Jarvis east to the Don River.

Traffic is no longer a “peak period” issue, and indeed it is hard to determine the exact bounds of a “rush hour” on parts of King Street.

The pilot must acknowledge that many of the 504 King route’s problems lie beyond the area where changes will occur, and scale expectations for improvement accordingly. For its part, the TTC should address problems with service reliability over the entire route as a contribution to this project.

Measuring Success

For a project on this scale and with the potential for more extensive, permanent changes in the future, some measure that the changes achieved their goals must be possible. In turn, this requires that the goals be defined together with their relative importance.

For example the reliability, capacity and speed of transit can be measured directly, but how much should improvements in these areas dominate the effect on other traffic and the wider road network? Does the expansion and improvement of the “public realm” (which is more than just sidewalks) take precedence over other goals, and does an improved public realm actually lead to a better experience of life on King Street?

Scoring systems for public projects can be notoriously vague with so many options, so many measures of what is “good”, that there is no clear relationship between the scores and the project’s goals. Moreover, evaluation of the effects must be retested throughout the pilot period as changes occur to fine-tune the street layout, and these effects will almost certainly vary along the route.

The project will not, and probably cannot, solve every problem and please every user of the street. The challenge is to establish that the greatest benefit occurs for the highest priority goals.

Public Reception

The public meeting on February 13 was one of the best-attended planners and politicians who were there to participate or just to observe have seen. Breakout discussions for various topics were full with standees, and participants rotated from area to area eager to comment. The challenge was to accommodate the many voices in the time available.

Such a gathering could have turned raucous, but although some speakers put their issues forcefully, the evening concluded without disruption. Planners received many detailed suggestions, and their challenge will be to respond to them cogently as part of the next stage in the study process. There is no faster way to turn off a sense of “public participation” than to pay lip service, to hold a meeting, but to not really listen. Everyone will not get the answer they hope for, but all opinions deserve the respect of analysis if only to demonstrate which can or should be part of a pilot, which might have to wait for more extensive work (anything requiring significant reconstruction), and which are impractical or contrary to the project’s goals.

The comments were generally favourable even if support was guarded, and there is a willingness to see what might be done. If anything, there was concern that the scope was not ambitious enough, and that the study should push west of Bathurst and east of Jarvis.

Some speakers sought to minimize the downside for auto and truck traffic even to the extent of compromising the transit first concept to squeeze out capacity, real or perceived, for non-transit users. The challenge of a “death by a thousand cuts” faces planners who must ensure that demonstrable benefits for transit and pedestrians survive the inevitable efforts to whittle away at designs.

Next Steps

City planning staff will assess the feedback received at this and other meetings (such as with groups of stakeholders across the study area) with the intention of reporting out to another round of consultation followed by approval of a recommended design by the TTC Board and Council in early summer 2017. Detailed design and implementation would follow with the hope of seeing changes beginning in early fall.

Comments and suggestions should be sent to the study team at

Full Disclosure: I have acted as a paid consultant to the City of Toronto and TTC for analysis of transit vehicle movements on King and other streetcar routes. Recently, on a pro bono basis, I have updated this work to include current conditions on King Street. Opinions expressed in this article are my own.

This article was originally written for the Torontoist, but was deemed too long and complex for their site. I am, therefore, publishing it here.

26 thoughts on “Transit First For King Street?

  1. Steve: This article was originally written for the Torontoist, but was deemed to long and complex for their site. I am, therefore, publishing it here.

    I bite my lip as I type, as this is one of the most articulate, detailed and considered articles published on the matter. Many of the published articles were contradictory and poorly researched, The fact that you present more than the “three plans” almost all the others did is indicative of that.

    Excellent marks Steve. I’ll have more comments later as time and detail permits. I’m just really glad someone explained the minutiae in exacting detail as can best be done at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, excellent analysis – thank you. I would be interested in your thoughts on how the various scenarios would work with the accessibility ramp deployed on the new LRVs.

    Steve: If traffic remains in the curb lane beside the streetcars (Option A), then the situation is identical to today’s King Street where the long ramp must be used. For the other options that involve extending the sidewalk out to meet the streetcar lane, the geometry would be similar to the situation on Spadina or Queens Quay where only the short version of the ramp needs to be deployed. However, unlike those streets, there would not be a formal “safety island” and riders would simply be rolling to or from the sidewalk.


  3. I attend many city organized transit sessions. They have always said capacity is determined by the capacity of the vehicle and frequency of service.

    You can have a double street car running every 4 minutes. You can have a single street cars running every 2 minutes. It’s the same capacity.

    Very strange they didn’t define capacity this way.

    Steve always brings up the failure to define demand flow.

    The business section of King has dense office buildings. What is the peak number of riders ready to use the King transit system at its peak time?

    Riders not only include the current rider statistics but latent demand, riders, currently using other means, who would switch to the King transit system. I believe this peak rider demand, at this location (business section, evening rush hour) provides the biggest challenge. They talk of 90m street car service. Will this service capacity be adequate for the demand? Also will excessive dwell time at this concentrated location pose a challenge?

    The presentation also pointed out different peak ridership demand by geographic section and time line (residential, entertainment, business). There are many uneven peak stresses. This, to me, is very challenging.

    There are definitely benefits from trying things out and see what works using the pilot methodology.

    I understand it would be very challenging to try to calculate demand flows. It could be costly and worse, demand flows are ever changing. The benefit of a good demand flow study is you get a better idea of big picture capacity requirements. Like I said, maybe 90m streetcar service may not be enough. After years of piloting, you may not properly service latent demand.

    I’m pushing for EMU’s (subway like service on railroad tracks) for the Stouffville/Lakeshore line and UPX line. For me, joining the two services with an EMU service on King would surely address capacity requirements. It’s surface, no tunneling not elevated track. It may have to be 4 track to permit bypass lines because headways through downtown would be too slow to properly feed the suburban lines.

    Steve: I don’t think there is any chance we will see “streetcars” longer than the 30m Flexitys because for most of the route they will operate in mixed traffic. Moreover, a 90m streetcar train would not fit at any of the existing safety islands and most streetcar loops/interchanges. EMUs on King? Dream on!


  4. This is outside of the pilot area but still concerning King St transit. At the western end of the 514 service would it be feasible to have two loops. One being the existing Exhibition loop and the other running along Liberty St between Dufferin and Strachan Ave. This would give end to end service through Liberty Village and service the new Garrison Point development as well. Some proportion of cars would continue to loop at the Exhibition to give east bound service along King between Dufferin and Strachan, the balance of the cars would travel through Liberty Village and then back to King via Strachan to continue their eastbound trips.

    Steve: I don’t think a link along Liberty Street is very likely due to the width of the road and its meandering route east to Strachan. It would actually make more sense to design the new road to be built along the south side of Liberty Village to include a transit lane, but this is not in the plans.


  5. Of course, nothing about putting back cobblestones between the streetcar tracks. If they did, they’ll upset the automobile gods which would give their single-occupant chariots a rough ride.


  6. For me, the better fix is a new corridor, and using/re-using Front St. and a transit-only extension is what has been sensible for about 15 years, and it started with thinking why not do transit instead of the Front St. Extension? About year 5 of that fight, I found within the WWLRT EA of 1993 the 1985 image of the DRL that went west along Front St. and the same route as I’d been thinking, and the WWLRT EA even modelled the time savings of a direct but faster run along a transitway from the Roncesvalles area to the core. And it was faster!!!

    Staff are I guess directed by Clowncil; and we’ve sunk pretty low, continually building subways in sprawl and roads in the core, though it seems to be a slimmer majority that persists in these follies ie. some of the Councillors do want to do the more correct things.

    But this proposal for tweaking a milk run in the core when clearly the numbers are both real and substantial is quite inadequate when a new and more robust corridor is clearly the ‘fix’. I favour doing surface transit on a Front St. transitway first, and once we have something done in the relatively near future, let’s focus on what else can be done, like a subway under King as one example.

    I’ve appealed the proposed new local Front St. (renamed new Liberty St. to avoid piecemealing charges, not that there’s EA enforcement, just like Places to Grow ignorings), and just recently I had a new idea that I think we should press forward on, especially with the speed of it, since the City has had decades to deliver an improvement. We have a reversible travel lane on Jarvis St., so let’s put in a one-way transitway along Front St. that flips direction around noon, and then let’s get something built really quickly, like ahead of the next election!

    It may be unrealistic, especially with adding a nuance of ensuring that GO buses get to use this transitway starting around Dufferin, which means a bridge has to be built over the rail tracks etc. to access the west end of the Ex area, which is almost waste land now, and it’s a bit complex to ensure that GO buses will/do have access.

    What a shame that the Clowncil persists in the Suspect Subway Extension (though sure, the Scarborough area needs more transit), and this is stifling and dragging down the at-times very limited planning capacities of the TTC and the City, though they’re also going along with the scheming and not squawking as I think they should be.

    There’s also a need for a very firm hand to STOP buildings all through the potential RofWay, especially between Strachan and Bathurst, where it’s now WAAY easier to cross over the Weston railtracks, since they’ve been lowered. If we truly were thinking transit, we would have reacted to this opportunity, but this is Moronto. And Morontario too: funny how Premier Wynne didn’t notice how much GO service was right parallel to the Gardiner to provide how many lanes worth of car-free mobility option, though I gather the Lakeshore GO is pretty full now. So full, it could likely use a back-up, another indicator of not planning things over decades.


  7. The “streetcar speeds” graph fills me with skepticism, in particular the “walking speed” part. Maintaining a 6 km/h average means walking very quickly, quicker than 98% of pedestrians. The major streets in the old city are basically 2 km apart (Queen/Bloor/St. Clair/Eglinton; Yonge/Bathurst/Dufferin/Keele). Try walking as quick as you can from Yonge to Bathurst in afternoon rush hour, and see how long it takes. With pauses for traffic lights and being slowed down by other pedestrians or obstacles, I’d guess 25 minutes is about the best you could do. I’d say a realistic speed range for a pedestrian on King Street is 4-5 km/h.

    TL;DR: the “walking speeds” in the graph are utterly unrealistic. In certain, very limited circumstances, you can walk as fast, or faster, than the streetcar, but you really have to try. Mostly, no way: the streetcar is faster. Not by as much as it should be, but it’s faster.

    Also, I was on a 514 Flexity on King the other day. The eastbound stop at Sudbury is utterly unsuited to the longer streetcars, since the back couple of sets of doors face a high curb and railing. I wonder how many other stops will require some re-engineering. And, when the snow falls (as it sometimes does in Toronto), how well the full length of the stops gets cleared so passengers can get from the streetcar to the sidewalk and vice-versa without having to wade in puddles of slush or climb mounts of snow.


  8. As someone who uses King regularly as a real pedestrian (trying to get from one place to another), the idea of an “improved pedestrian realm” makes me shudder.

    There is need for improvement on King. Choke-points like King/Yonge where the subway access points are need to be fixed. But where these type of pedestrian “improvements” have been done before I usually find the end result is a worse space for pedestrians.

    There is a fetish among urban designers to make sidewalks wider, but then stuff them with all manner of lightposts, trees, specialty newspaper boxes, benches, trash bins, bus shelters, and all the regular collection of junk you can find installed on a sidewalk. In the winter, snowpiles are left to melt simply because “the sidewalk is wide”. The professional charity donation solicitors plant themselves in everyone’s way because “the sidewalk is wide”.

    I hope this doesn’t happen here. Widen the sidewalk, but leave it for pedestrians who actually want to walk somewhere, please.


  9. Two-car Flexity trains may not be viable along the entire 504 route, but could we perhaps one day see such along the 514 route? Particularly if the pilot is sufficiently successful to be extended to westward?

    That requires an awful lot of assumptions (success of the pilot and an extension, further increased demand along the 514 route, availability of Flexitys, etc) but it seems like an obvious way to boost capacity if it’s needed.

    Steve: The platforms on Cherry have not been designed for 60m trains. Don’t forget that a two-car Flexity is the equivalent length of a four-car PCC or CLRV train. Back when trains ran on Bloor and later on Queen, there was a big problem with uneven loading between the first and second cars because people tend to cluster at the stop. This would be even worse with longer trains.

    The situation is different for a route with formal platforms because passengers tend to spread out on these.


  10. I’m a bit confused about the “transit priority” concept. Is the point to make transit more attractive by running service faster or to squeeze more capacity from the route? From Steve’s comments, it sounds like there are other constraints (e.g. light timings at major intersections like Spadina and University) that will limit the ability to increase the frequency of service. Which means the only real way to increase capacity is with larger vehicles – which doesn’t require a redesign of the street, and will happen regardless (eventually). Making transit more attractive is pointless as long as there’s no additional capacity, because it’s crush-loaded in the peaks already.

    Although giving people who bail on transit more space to walk might help. Despite Ed’s thoughts, I can attest that – on any morning when the slightest thing goes wrong – it’s almost always better to bail at Spadina and walk downtown than sit on the streetcar. I’ve walked from Portland to Sherbourne some mornings, and if I’ve seen the streetcar I got off of again it’s only in the last half block or so. The last time I did it, I passed 7 streetcars and only 2 caught up with me again on the far side of Yonge. And a 6 km/h walking speed is a reasonable estimate for a fit person who can speed up a fraction to catch the end of a countdown when the opportunity presents.

    (Sorry, digression.) The problem with the proposals from the standpoint of providing more pedestrian space is that it is not continuous. Nobody wants to cross back and forth across the street to have space to walk, and the allowances for loading zones and lay-bys (to say nothing of patios) make any proposed addition of pedestrian space purely cosmetic.

    So again, how do any of these proposals assist the goal of moving more people along this corridor?

    hamish’s writing can be quite idiosyncratic, but he raises a point I haven’t seen discussed yet: what about adding capacity via a parallel corridor like Wellington? <cough> DRL </cough>

    Steve: Something I fear has not been adequately dealt with in the King proposals is the tug of war between design for transit and for pedestrians. It is entirely possible that for streetcars, we could wind up with a worse situation than when we started. At least this project includes measuring how things change.

    This ties into a previous comment about how new “pedestrian” space can be wasted with street furniture.

    As for your faux html, it works if you use escaped characters for the brackets.


  11. “I’m a bit confused about the “transit priority” concept. Is the point to make transit more attractive by running service faster or to squeeze more capacity from the route?”

    That’s the great thing about speeding up service. It makes service more attractive and increases capacity. There’s no downside for transit.

    Steve: Actually, speeding up service only improves capacity if the travel time reduction is consistent enough to shorten trip times on the schedule and use this saving to reduce headways, not to remove cars. Capacity = vehicle size times vehicles per hour. Speed has nothing to do with it. For example, the capacity of the subway is the same regardless of whether it is speeding from Kennedy to Victoria park, or plodding along between Yonge and Spadina. It’s the number of trains/hour that is crucial.


  12. Wouldn’t banning left turns accomplish the same thing as option A? Cars would be allowed on the tracks, but they would not cause the blockage they do now. Also, much easier to implement as a pilot – just some no left turn signs and some enforcement.

    Steve: Many left turns are already banned during key periods. The larger enforcement problem is keeping the curb lanes clear.


  13. Steve, without a solution that extends to the Roncesvalles, and across the Don, other than speed, can they really address the issues around spacing etc?

    Steve: To some extent. The problem varies by time of day, and is worse between the peak periods. The AM is generally better than the PM, but more service is scheduled then too.


  14. This article remains the most detailed and rationally explained one that I’m aware of. To be honest, I was back here to consult a detail for another forum, as many persons accept proposed plans as being somehow workable without the minutiae being examined. Steve M’s four diagrams give a much better idea of the proposals and their shortcomings. There’s a number of points not being discussed elsewhere that are crucial to this working or not, in any of the proposed iterations.

    Steve: Just to be clear, the diagrams in the article are by City Planning from their presentation deck.

    In the article, Steve Munro wrote:

    Even if a plan achieves transit improvements, too many small annoyances, too many details overlooked could collectively derail a scheme. The planners flag this as a need for both a “micro and macro” view of the street – the big picture of better transit, and an awareness that every block, every neighbourhood along the street is different.

    And as a response to a comment:

    Something I fear has not been adequately dealt with in the King proposals is the tug of war between design for transit and for pedestrians. It is entirely possible that for streetcars, we could wind up with a worse situation than when we started. At least this project includes measuring how things change.

    This ties into a previous comment about how new “pedestrian” space can be wasted with street furniture.

    A point that must be discussed is if and how the streetcar RoW is to be established as “dedicated”, from both vehicles and pedestrians. Steve M’s “we could wind up with a worse situation than when we started” appears very likely unless delineation of clearway is established and enforced.

    A poster in another forum mentioned “bollards” to delineate space. I have Googled many times, and can find no reference to link or repeat here. This is a very real problem, as one only has to view the Bloor bike lanes to see how “non-delineating” bollards are for vehicular intrusion. Not all drivers, by any means, but many when faced with being ‘trapped’ in a single lane, will just drive into the bollards onto the tracks and back over again. Ditto for pedestrians. One only has to view videos of Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall to see how ‘trams’ are forced to crawl with emergency flashers on as pedestrians mindlessly do much as they wish over the tracks. The imperative for the Bourke Street Mall is different than King Street. Bourke Street Mall is the destination to languish, not the point of needed congestion relief as King St is.

    Other cities, like San Diego, Portland, Paris, German cities and London to name a few have erected ‘fencing’ (which can be shrubbery given enough space) to keep both pedestrians and vehicles off of the ‘clearway’ for trams. A number of cities achieve up to 25mph on average in straight sections with their ‘clearways’, albeit with traffic lights in their favour and not too many stops. But it all comes down to a *dedicated clearway* to achieve that.

    So I see a conundrum being presented in that no form of barrier is being discussed, beyond bollards, if that. Even for a “trial” to establish some form of basis for a future permanent way, rigid barriers like temporary bolt anchored concrete or rubber curbs will have to be used to stop intrusion onto the tracks in the models where it is to be forbidden must be used, or we’re ‘back to where we started’…or worse.

    In the loop options, the single lane is going to cause real problems, even with taxi access only for the disabled. Discussion is absent on the concept of providing ‘bays’ into the sidewalk to allow vehicles the ability to stop to load and unload. For the ‘test period’, this can be done by bevelling the curb onto a designated area of sidewalk. In long term practice, a ‘stopping bay’ will be purpose built. There’s not much sidewalk to begin with, but if businesses are insistent that they need ‘vehicle access’ to maintain their custom, then they’re going to have to sacrifice sidewalk space in front to do it.

    For this streetcar scheme to work in any form as an improvement over the present chaos, a *clearway* must be established and maintained. Across that clearway must be pedestrian crossings at least one per mid-block, ostensibly where streetcar stops are, and *signalled*, or sooner than later, there’s going to be a fatality. If pedestrian as well as vehicle barriers are erected to keep the clearway unobstructed, it might even be necessary to gate the pedestrian crossing points.

    Not discussing these challenges is an omission of convenience, surely it must have occurred to planners to be necessary? I get the distinct whiff that this is a concept of fancy, not of detail and pragmatism, and once the necessary sacrifices of making *any form of improvement* is realized, this whole fantasy will fall apart….and Toronto remains in chaos and gridlock.

    There’s a lot of contradictory evidence on “clearways” as I proposed, but this article makes a crucial point that should be considered by Toronto planners: (the study results bode well for the ‘loop’ models with no through traffic)

    […] The mathematics of being stuck in traffic

    Professor Jan De Gier and Dr Tim Garoni began working with VicRoads in 2008, as part of an internship with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems.

    Since then the University of Melbourne researcher has been applying the basic principles of mathematical physics and statistical mechanics to roads in a unique way.

    […] “You can view cars and buses and trams on a traffic network as simple particles, so you ignore a lot of the details that are inessential for traffic.

    “If you model particles flowing through on a graph … and you set up the rules properly, you’ll see that they behave very much like traffic, so they spontaneously form traffic jams, and other things.”


    Street parking benefits trams

    One of the surprises that has come from his research came from when his team modelled the effect of clearways on tram times, Professor De Gier said.

    “The traditional thought was that if you have clearways all day then that would be good for cars and trams,” he said.

    “It turns out that [with clearways] cars overtake trams and can obstruct the tram at the next intersection.

    “So having parking provides a gating effect for trams who can then move through the network better.”

    Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

    Not what one would expect, but a point to be savoured.


  15. IMHO, the “alternating loops” option is the most viable. It would effectively cut off the “through” traffic, and at the same time, would be friendly for local traffic. There would be no physical barrier between the “loop” car lane and the streetcar lane, thus the moving cars can briefly enter the streetcar lane to bypass a stopped taxi, a delivery truck, or a disabled vehicle. Since the local traffic would be light, streetcars would not be delayed much by such occassional intrusions.

    Other options, “separate lanes” and “transit promenade”, might lead to problems due to stopped cars or, worse, disabled cars.


  16. Michael Forest writes:

    There would be no physical barrier between the “loop” car lane and the streetcar lane, thus the moving cars can briefly enter the streetcar lane to bypass a stopped taxi, a delivery truck, or a disabled vehicle. Since the local traffic would be light, streetcars would not be delayed much by such occassional intrusions.

    Have you ever heard of Houlihan’s Law? Houlihan thought Murphy was an optimist.

    In a perfect world, the scenario you portray could happen. In reality, literally … where do you draw the line? Either that ‘clearway’ is kept clear at all times, or it isn’t a clearway, and then we’re back to where we started, so what’s the point of this exercise?

    It must also be made very clear that this is a *Transit* Mall being proposed, not a pedestrian, cycling, or a vehicles-as-normal one. Pedestrian usage must be maximized, doubtless, but not to impede, no matter how random and spurious, the clear passage of streetcars.

    Passing in a single lane must be accommodated by a loss of sidewalk for a ‘stopping’ bay. If a business insists they will lose too much custom without it, then they lose sidewalk for a vehicle bay, and at the cost of pedestrian business. It’s not the streetcar clearway having to ‘give way’ to frustrated motorists, and why should it? Even if it was deemed viable, how do you limit it?

    The real challenge comes for emergency vehicles, and there might be a way for barrier/fence sections to be removed or lowered to allow them access and to turn. That same access cannot be allowed for motorists save for emergencies with co-ordination from emergency services or the TTC.

    What might be considered are double deck structures to maximize pedestrian and green space beside those parking bays and providing the steps for pedestrian crossing bridges over the central reservation and vehicle lane(s). In fact, put the bays under pedestrian crossover bridges. I like the symbolism.


  17. Steve said: Something I fear has not been adequately dealt with in the King proposals is the tug of war between design for transit and for pedestrians. It is entirely possible that for streetcars, we could wind up with a worse situation than when we started.

    Oh boy.

    So I see a conundrum being presented in that no form of barrier is being discussed, beyond bollards, if that. Even for a “trial” to establish some form of basis for a future permanent way, rigid barriers like temporary bolt anchored concrete or rubber curbs will have to be used to stop intrusion onto the tracks in the models where it is to be forbidden must be used, or we’re ‘back to where we started’…or worse.

    What’s the story here? The absence of through-lanes is supposed to gently guide motorists away from using King Street unless absolutely necessary but what’s to stop them from running in the streetcar lanes?


  18. Doesn’t help when we get anti-streetcar (anti-transit) articles in newspapers like the Toronto Sun for their declaration of “war on the streetcar”.

    Steve: I suspect I will not be writing any more articles for the Sun.

    My real concern is that the effects on car users will be as much because of space taken for pedestrian improvements as for transit, but the streetcar will get blamed for everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. RE: Sidewalk width and what is needed v. what is desirable:

    Wider sidewalks would of course be desirable, but one must keep in mind that a number of restaurants have sidewalk seating, and although it is a pinch point of walkway left to get past those patios, it does suffice. Make no mistake, more is desirable, but King St is on a budget for space, and we are talking “transit” mall. The more I think of being creative with the present pedestrian space in terms of upper deck structures from which pedestrian bridges can span the vehicle lane(s) and streetcar reservation and also act to provide entrances to second floor businesses, and under which lane lay-bys for stopping can be provided, the more I realize that the answer for pedestrian space is to go up, not out. Cafe’s, with a walkway from a second floor entrance, could also have patios above the lay-bys. Googling shows Hong Kong doing exactly this. I’m sure other dense cities do it too.

    Steve: Bridges are (a) inaccessible, (b) would have to clear the streetcar overhead, and (c) take up sidewalk space for landings and supports. A non starter, I think.

    Be aware of this, as the debate on whether ‘clearways are the answer’ is about to happen in Toronto, and it will get heated, so best we get in front of this debate before it gets irrational:

    From Public Transport Users Association (Australia) Published December 6, 2009 · Updated March 25, 2010:

    [A seven-month travel time study has found no noticeable improvement in tram travel times from extended clearway hours on Sydney Road in Brunswick. (Melbourne suburb)

    For some time, PTUA Secretary Tony Morton has been travelling to and from work with a stopwatch. His aim is to measure—carefully and scientifically—what it is that’s making Melbourne trams so slow. His stopwatch counts up the ‘dead time’ on tram journeys: the lost time when the tram isn’t actually picking up or dropping off passengers, yet is not moving.

    His results have proved surprising. While trams do spend time in traffic queues in places where trams and cars share a lane, that’s not the biggest source of delay. More often, a stationary tram is just waiting for a red traffic light to turn green.

    “A couple of years ago I did a study on the Lygon Street tram,” Dr Morton said. “What I found is that even if you don’t count boarding time, trams are delayed twice as long in the central city as they are in the suburbs. This is surprising at first, because in the CBD, trams and cars occupy separate lanes. But it starts to make sense once you realise the biggest problem is traffic lights, not car congestion.” ][…]

    I’m digging to find later overviews on this, as there’s a continuing discussion on-going to increase the number of tram clearways in Melbourne, and Sydney, although a very sprawled, wide-avenued comparison, is leading the way by example, although Sydney is also vexed by the debate.

    I just checked the link, it’s fine, try this evening, as right now “Too many connections” and it’s “unavailable”. That’s probably a good sign! Readers of this and other Ontario forums are probably doing their homework. I just hope City planners are too.

    Intuitively, I still strongly favour separated streetcar clearways, but studies must make the case. So far, it appears *clearways + green-lights” are the answer. The lights are discussed in the latter link above.


  20. Re: wklis link to Toronto Sun Anti-Streetcar Op-Ed Rant…

    I want to phone the “Editor” at the Sun (and I use the term “Editor” loosely, as whoever’s reading and allowing this tripe-posing-as-an-Op-Ed piece needs to go back to grade school for English and logic). Oh, Boo Hoo, those poor, individual car drivers in their individual cars just can’t get around the city because of those big, nasty streetcars, carrying dozens and hundreds of people every day. You know, those vehicles that carry way more people than the same number of buses – meaning there’d be MORE buses interfering with those poor, poor car drivers if the streetcars were replaced (Duhhhhhhh…)

    Yes, I want to call the Sun and just scream “Bullsh*^ !!!!!!” but their readers love that fake news crap, just like when Rob Ford was shovelling his manure and claiming to be fighting his war on the car and saving the City BILLIONS of dollars. I mean, how many more lies can you fit into 700+ words?!? And all with the tone of righteous indignation?

    Keep fighting the good, fight, Steve, while the crap flies around your head. Make sure you’re wearing your hardhat too!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Today (Sunday, Feb. 26) at about 10:30 am, I noticed a Flexity streetcar southbound on Broadview Avenue at Queen Street signed 504 to Dundas West Station. This afternoon, NextBus showed two Flexity streetcars on 504 (numbers 4406 & 4423). Has the rollout to route 504 started? Or is it that the TTC had two surplus Flexity streetcars because it was a Sunday, and decided to assign them to 504? NextBus showed that 509, 510 and 514 were fullly served by Flexity streetcars in the afternoon.

    Steve: The TTC is pushing out a few extra cars on the weekend when they are not needed for maintenance or training. Whether this portends an intended conversion of King, I don’t know. At the current rate of planned deliveries, King would soak up all of this year’s cars and some of 2018’s.


  22. I have to wonder if a series of mini-roundabouts (over-runable center island) are the best solution to downtown streets as they could allow practically complete priority for a transit phase whenever a streetcar arrived instead of waiting for the cycle.

    I have a scale drawing I can send to Steve if we would care to post it.

    The roundabout becomes a buffer to sort through all the conflicting turn movements automobiles want to make with just a single lane of dedicated (curb side) automobile traffic. Then signalized all-stops for transit followed by pedestrian crossings follow.

    Steve: I have seen designs with transit tracks running straight through a roundabout. The problem is that the existing intersections are too small to hold such a circle.


  23. It can be done with a mini configuration, where there are no hard curbs to the inside of the circle.

    Steve: Dimensions, please, so that your plan can be compared to the existing street geometry.


  24. A simple drawing is here for the King-Jarvis Intersection.

    Conceptually, the treatment of traffic along the main segments between intersections is not as much a concern as the intersection approach and delay. I too get worried about planner concepts that do not consider this question.

    A mini-roundabout would allow for a Transit and Pedestrian Scramble phase to be called anytime, with no wait to hit the right phase. Left, Through, and Right automobile movements are all set up in a single line queue at all times, but with travel and waiting to enter the intersection during peak periods in the curb lane, preventing tail-backs from preventing the streetcar from traveling through the intersection.

    During off-peak periods parking for deliveries, taxis, and shop access could still be allowed, as the mini-roundabout would handle the switch in lane approaches to the “tiger stripe” yield line with no changes.

    This concept is built on a mini-roundabout with a 20 meter (65.6 ft) inscribed circle diameter which can fit within the legacy 41-42 foot curb lines and 64 foot right of way limits.

    The central 9.1 meter (30 foot) diameter island is fully over-runable at low speeds, made of ceramic dome markers or 1.5” raised epoxy concrete, such that the rear axles of larger articulated trucks would off track over the island. Automobiles of course travel around as the ride is much better.

    The existing traffic signals would be turned 180 degrees, and would operate with a flashing yellow in all directions when automobiles are allowed to enter the roundabout. Only upon the Transit and Pedestrian Scramble phases would these signals go to solid yellow then red. More complicated logic could actually meter incoming automobile flows if needed.

    With this concept the mini-roundabout serves as a buffer, to process automobile turning movements without any required phase, then can immediately cycle to provide a very short 2-3 second Transit phase with all automobile lanes stopped, then a longer 15-20 second Pedestrian Scramble phase, which would protect the boarding stop and allow those pedestrians to get to the streetcar from all four corners of the intersection. Bicycles could flow during the Pedestrian Scramble cycle as well.

    Steve: I think where this would primarily encounter problems is that it would constrain the north-south capacity which is often over-full at Jarvis, and a big problem at some other locations. The larger intersections like University and Spadina would be difficult with any loss of north-south capacity. It is one thing to deal with reduced capacity on King, but quite another to also take lane(s) away from the cross streets.


  25. The larger intersections, where multiple lanes of traffic are coming in would likely have to remain with conventional traffic lights, probably with nearside stops, as they always induce delays.

    However, for the majority of King Street, this scheme would likely increase capacity, as their is a lot of inefficiency in running multiple phases with traffic lights. There are capacity curves for roundabouts that indicate just as much capacity through the intersection as is currently passing through, 550-650 automobiles per hour for each major approach.

    The mini-roundabout is like a single phases, that would only occasionally be interrupted for the paired Transit and Pedestrian Scramble hold on all entering Automobile traffic.

    Interestingly, William Eno wrote about a similar concept he called the Rotary system in 1920, in “The Science of Highway Traffic Regulation”. But the streets as highways crowd wanted signals for faster straightline speeds.


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