Travel Times and Speeds on 54 Lawrence East

This article continues my series reviewing operation of bus routes on streets where priority lanes are proposed.

Lawrence Avenue East was not part of the TTC’s original list, but it was added by Councillor/Commissioner McKelvie when the overall package was before the TTC Board. It does not enjoy quite the same standing as the original five routes, and also brought objections from Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong about both the lack of consultation and viability of this proposal, at least in his part of the city west of Victoria Park Avenue. The proposal now extends east from there to Rouge Hill.

In the analyses presented here, I have used Port Union Road as the eastern reference point because buses between there and Starspray Loop take their layovers in various locations that could skew travel times to the terminal or an alternate nearby screenline.

The article is divided into three sections.

  • The first looks at the route between Victoria Park and Port Union, but in two segments: east of Midland and west of Kennedy. This split eliminates travel time variations caused by layovers at Lawrence East Station.
  • The second part reviews the segment from Victoria Park to Don Mills.
  • The third presents average speed comparisons over the route for pre- and post-pandemic conditions.

In brief:

  • The eastern segment of the route has some times and location of congestion, but these vary a lot with the most severe problems being in the PM peak hour. At other times, the difference between pre- and post-pandemic average travel times is small.
  • The segment west of Victoria Park shows very little change in average travel times over an extended period with one relatively small exception in the AM peak westbound. It would be difficult to justify reserved lanes here based on actual travel time data.

One issue raised during debates at the TTC Board and at Executive Committee was that traffic levels, and hence congestion on Lawrence are affected by demand that has diverted from Eglinton due to the Line 5 Crosstown construction. This effect varies along the route. This should begin to disappear as conditions on Eglinton return to normal over the balance of 2020, and I will track this to see what actually happens.

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The Last Night of the Mt. Pleasant Car

Streetcar service on Mt. Pleasant Road ended at dawn on Sunday, July 25, 1976. To mark the occasion, a group of transit enthusiasts (or railfans if you prefer) chartered Peter Witt 2766 for an overnight tour around the city. We stopped at many places for photos, something that is only possible in the middle of the night, and then finished up with two round trips on the Mt. Pleasant line before calling it a night.

Here is a gallery of photos from that journey. I have published some of these before, but here is the full set.

Some of what we photographed remains, other views have disappeared or changed substantially.

There are more buildings in the way of the CN Tower than in 1976 and getting a clean shot top-to-bottom is much harder now than it was when the tower was new.

The buildings on Spadina have not changed too much, but it would take almost two decades from the photo here before we would see streetcar service return in 1997.

Bay Street is utterly transformed, now a condo canyon, including the stripped and repurposed Sutton Place Hotel.

The tail track at Bingham Loop that allowed a brief excursion into Scarborough was removed years ago as were spurs and tail tracks almost everywhere else.

The variety store beside Coxwell-Queen Loop disappeared under a condo in the past few years.

Now it was time to venture up to St. Clair for the last runs on Mt. Pleasant. Our first pass took us along St.Clair past the subway station over track used only by the night cars. Up at Eglinton, it was still quite dark although the deep blue of the dawn sky had begun to show. We returned south and west to St. Clair Station and then looped back east to Moore Park Loop where we met the first bus on the new Mt. Pleasant route. Another trip through St. Clair Station brought a meet with the last night car, and then we headed off for the final trip with the line all to ourselves.

As we were posing in front of the coal silos at Merton, a TTC Supervisor came by to chase us off of the line as they wanted to cut off the power. Our operator, Charlie Price, a veteran of many charters, was not too worried about getting back to the carhouse on time.

At Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant, nothing that was on the four corners remains today. A bus loop, currently unused, sits inside a seniors’ building on the northeast corner that once held a gas station and the streetcar loop. The bank on the northwest will return some day as the shell of the main entrance to Mt. Pleasant Station on Line 5 Crosstown. Eglinton Public School on the southwest was replaced with an ugly building whose architects assure me was the product of cost cutting by the Board of Education. The south east corner, formerly a typical 1920s-era row of stores with apartments above, now has a midrise commercial building that, like other developments along Eglinton, added nothing to the local character. It is sad to think that the bank, when it returns, will probably be the most distinguished building there.

At St. Clair and Yonge, even the “modern” towers don’t last forever. Updates and replacements are already in the pipeline.

The subway station had the distinction of being the first to have a restaurant inside of the paid area, a counter-example to the “though shalt not eat in the subway” bylaw that was never implemented. It eventually became a McDonalds.

Moore Park Loop is now a local parkette little changed except for the removal of the streetcar tracks.

Dominion Coal is long gone, and the area between Mt. Pleasant and Yonge along Merton is almost all condos in what was once an industrial area.

The cemetery, founded in 1873 when it was out in the countryside among farms, goes on, an oasis with the city’s best collection of trees.

Updated July 27, 2020: Service east of St. Clair Station to Moore Park Loop continued until October 2, 1976 but only for the St. Clair night car (and occasional daytime cars killing time because they were off schedule). Thanks to Philip Webb for sending me a copy of an article by Mike Roschlau in Rail+Transit, January 1977, with this info.

60 Steeles West Travel Times

This article continues a series looking at the travel times on routes where bus lanes have been proposed to compare pre-covid “normal” conditions with those after traffic volumes were substantially reduced by the pandemic. The intent is to show what are probably the “best case” conditions for transit priority with relatively little traffic congestion to illustrate the locations and times when bus lanes would bring a saving, if any, on each route.

Reserved lanes are proposed for Steeles Avenue West between Yonge Street and Pioneer Village (aka Steeles West) Station. This stretch contains segments that are badly congested and not just in the peak periods. However, the remainder of the route west of Pioneer Village Station and on Yonge south to Finch also have severe congestion which this proposal does not address.

Yonge from Steeles south to Cummer has “diamond” HOV lanes marked with paint and signs, but travel times are very slow suggesting that these are more decorative than serving to actually marshall traffic. This is a cautionary tale for those who think that physical lane reservation to achieve true priority is excessive. Buses also face the need to make left turns northbound at Steeles and southbound at Finch Station.

West of Pioneer Village Station, the service level is much lower than to the east and the route will continue to operate in mixed traffic. However, this is also an area of severe congestion, and I have included a review of the western segment here for those who are interested. Steeles is a good example of the fact that “congestion” is not just a downtown phenomenon, and given the growth patterns and transportation plans of the suburbs, it is unlikely to disappear.

Steeles Avenue has split jurisdiction between York Region and Toronto, and any change in lane usage or street geometry requires agreement by both of them. During the debate at Toronto’s Executive Committee, one member suggested that York Region might be asked to contribute to the cost of implementing bus lanes on Steeles because their services would benefit. This idea did not find its way into the approved motions. That is just as well considering the infrequent service on almost all YRT routes operating on portions of this section of Steeles, and the limited savings bus lanes would bring to them. (There are no VIVA services here.)

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Bus Lanes Are Only A First Step To Better Transit

Today, July 21, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report from Barbara Gray, the City’s General Manager, Transportation Services recommending that:

City Council authorize the implementation of Reserved Bus Lanes on the Eglinton East corridor, in the following sections:

a. Eglinton Avenue East from Brimley Road to Cedar Drive;

b. Kingston Road from Eglinton Avenue East to Morningside Avenue; and

c. Morningside Avenue from Kingston Road to Ellesmere Road.

Reports on other proposed bus corridors will come to Council later this year with Jane Street being the first out aiming at implementation in April 2021.

Advocates for better transit and for improved services to neighbourhoods dependent on bus service champion these proposals including an opinion piece in yesterday’s Star by Stephen Farber and Matthew Palm.

These moves are long overdue. For decades the transit debates swirled around who would get the next subway line and which technology was most appropriate. The many riders whose trips will not be served by the future subway network were lost in the shuffle.

The political temptation will be to approve today’s report, smile for the cameras and pat our collective selves on the back for a great transit victory. If only it were that easy.

Toronto needs a much more aggressive plan to improve bus service, and the City must recognize that there are several aspects to doing this, far more than throwing some red paint down on a few roads. For its part, the TTC must lose its timidity and advocate for much improved transit even in the face of calls to contain costs and limit budget growth.

Experience going back to the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy shows that when a “shopping list” of potential improvements is available, there is better understanding of what might be done. Improvements might be fought for one-by-one, but as part of a sustained strategy. The simplistic “we can’t afford it” arguments fail when confronted with specific proposals, clear benefits and costs that might well be within the City’s capability.

What should a program for the City, the TTC and the many advocates for better transit look like?

  1. Treat reserved lanes primarily to improve service reliability with travel time savings as an add-on benefit.
  2. Exploit reduced travel times as a way to improve service capacity, not as a way to save money on transit budgets.
  3. Recognize that much of the benefit has already been achieved, post-covid, through temporarily lower overall traffic volumes, and that bus lanes can prevent a return of the worst of the traffic that ensnares transit riders.
  4. Accept that transit priority will mean a reduction in road capacity for other users, notably motorists, and be prepared to enforce priority schemes through a combination of policing and physical barriers.
  5. Integrate bus lanes plans with overall Vision Zero street redesign so that transit riders, who are also pedestrians, can safely and easily access transit service.
  6. Manage transit service to provide reliable vehicle spacing so that a “five minute service” really is a bus every five minutes, not two buses every ten, or three buses every fifteen.
  7. Set standards for crowding and service quality and report regularly, in public and in detail including cases where budgetary or other constraints prevent achieving these goals.
  8. Design a fleet plan that aims for service growth, including not just vehicles, but also maintenance facilities, and integrate this with Council’s desire to move to a “green” transit fleet.
  9. Treat the surface transit network with the same respect and attention lavished on rapid transit plans.

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39 Finch East Travel Times (Updated)

Updated July 20, 2020 at 5:00 pm: A comparison of travel times for local 39 and express 939 service on Finch East has been added at the end of the article.

This article continues a series comparing travel times on proposed bus priority routes in the “pre-covid” era of what we once thought of as “normal” traffic with the conditions since mid-March 2020. The latter probably represent the best case for any future prioritized transit operations and a comparison can set some expectations on what might, or might not, be achieved.

It is easy to draw a line on a map and say “Put transit priority here!”, but this quickly runs into the fact that others, notably motorists, also use the road and one must be able to make a pro-transit case based on evidence that there actually will be an improvement, at least for transit riders.

Such a case must deal with several factors:

  • The benefit to running time is usually location and direction sensitive, not to mention varying by time of day.
  • Locations where congestion is a problem are also those where taking road space away from motorists will be most difficult.
  • The level of service on some routes during off peak periods coupled with low potential time savings makes permanent reservations hard to argue for especially where lost parking would be an issue.
  • Even in the less congested conditions of recent months, the reliability of TTC service leaves a lot to be desired. (I will turn to this aspect of service in a later article for all of the bus lane proposals.)

The offsetting benefits are:

  • Reduced and more reliable running times with the worst case delays “shaved off” in the manner seen on the King Street pilot.
  • A small reduction in the number of vehicles required to provide service, or conversely, the ability to improve service without adding vehicles.

Better service can result from a combination of more frequent scheduled vehicles and more reliable headways. Indeed, riders could see more benefit simply from buses showing up regularly than from actual in-vehicle travel time. Sadly, the TTC’s focus is on saving money first, not on improving service reliability and capacity, and this will potentially undermine the entire transit priority project.

This article reviews data from 39 Finch East, and will be followed by reviews of 60 Steeles West and 54 Lawrence East in future articles.

Technical note: Finch East is a route whose behaviour I have been following on and off for several years, and I therefore have a sampling of data going back to 2011.

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TTC Board Meeting July 14, 2020 (Part I) (Updated)

The TTC Board will hold a virtual meeting on July 14 beginning at 10 am. This post reviews some of the issues that will before the Board, and I will update the article with any additional material of interest after the meeting. The items covered here include:

  • Ridership and financial updates
  • Service levels
  • Vehicle reliability
  • Reserved bus lane plans

In a second article to be published after the meeting, I will address several reports regarding accessibility and Wheel-Trans service.

Updated July 14, 2020 at 10:00 pm: Notes have been added at the end of the article regarding the Reserved Bus Lane proposal.

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Reserved Bus Lanes: Eglinton East in Fall 2020, More to Follow (Updated)

Updated July 9, 2020 at 8:10 am: A table comparing existing and proposed stops has been added adjacent to the service plan map in this article.

Updated July 9, 2020 at 12:30 am: A section has been added at the end of the article examining headway reliability for 86 Scarborough and 116 Morningside just east of Kennedy Station, and at Guildwood. This section complements an observation by the City of Toronto about unreliable headways, and hence uneven loading, on buses running on Eglinton.

Headway management is at least as important as improved travel time for these routes. There is not much point in saving a few minutes riding a bus if the waiting time is unpredictable and the bus may be full when it arrives in a gap. This aspect of TTC service management has been a chronic problem that is always put down to “traffic congestion”. In fact the post-covid data show that even with the much less congested conditions, headways are still spread over a wide range of values. This is a problem that will not be fixed by painting the pavement red.

The TTC Board will consider a report on reserved lanes for BRT-lite operation on several corridors at its July 14, 2020 meeting. Although there was a political desire to get all of them up and running as quickly as possible at the June board meeting, the proposed schedule strings this out over a longer time.

  • Fall 2020: Eglinton East from Kennedy Station, Kingston Road, Morningside to UTSC
  • 2021: Jane from Eglinton to Steeles
  • 2022 and beyond:
    • Steeles West from Yonge to Pioneer Village Station
    • Finch East from Finch Station to McCowan
    • Dufferin from Wilson to Dufferin Gate
    • Lawrence from east of Victoria Park to Rouge Hill

A key point is that TTC expects to save money on reduced travel times. Whether this would be reinvested in service on the affected streets or elsewhere in the system is hard to know. Some of the reduction will come from the reserve lanes, but some will also come from the consolidation of closely-spaced stops.

Experience on King Street showed that the travel time savings, such as they were, were eaten up by operational changes that added more running and recovery time to schedules in an attempt to eliminate short turns.

Bus lanes on the Eglinton East corridor are anticipated to increase transit reliability and reduce transit travel time on average between two-to-five minutes per trip. These time and reliability savings present an opportunity to achieve operating budget savings of 500 fewer service hours per week, equivalent to about $2.5 million per year and a capital cost avoidance of seven fewer peak buses equivalent to approximately $6.3 million. [p. 4]

The problem here is that any kind of “savings” has an allure that is much stronger than service improvements. Buses will not run more frequently, although service might be more reliable if the worst of periodic “bad days” can be avoided with the reserved lanes. This is similar to the results on King where the reliability effect was much more important than the actual change in average travel time. Better reliability means shorter waits for vehicles and a better chance that loads will be evenly distributed.

However, King Street had the added advantage that the actual capacity of the route was increased by running larger vehicles as the new Flexitys replaced the smaller CLRVs, ALRVs and bus trippers on the route. A similar opportunity is not available, at least in the short term, on Eglinton. The TTC has no spare articulated buses, and only modest plans to acquire more in future years. (Note that changes in the overall fleet mix have effects on bus garages which must be modified to service the longer vehicles, or purpose-built with this in mind just as Leslie Barns was for the new streetcar fleet.)

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