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.)
- 60 Steeles West is a route that I have not been following closely, and therefore I do not have as many data sets with tracking data for this route as for some others in the series. Data are presented here from April 2018, November 2019 and June 2020.
- The April 2018 data include a mixture of express and local service because the separate 960 Steeles West Express did not yet exist. However, the express trips represent only 7 of 23 trips in the AM peak, and only 5 of 21 trips in the PM peak. Their presence will slightly reduce the average trip time in peak periods for that month.
- Travel times in November 2019 were markedly higher than in April 2018, but this is an all-day effect, not just during the peaks when express trips are present in the 2018 data.
Yonge to Pioneer Village Station
Between Yonge and Pioneer Village Station, the longest travel times occurred in November 2019, and there is a drop to post-covid levels in June 2020. If these values hold up as traffic returns, there will be a definite benefit from bus lanes especially eastbound in the PM peak. Whether the street can absorb the effect of losing a lane in each direction is a separate matter. By the evening, there is little difference in the values.
On Saturdays and Sundays, there is much less to be gained. A question for planners is whether future traffic growth would push what is now a low, wide peak on Saturday afternoons to something more severe such as we see today on Dufferin Street. The lack of a clear benefit on weekends would make fully separated lanes hard to argue for.
On Sundays, the value for the 6-7 AM portion of the charts is zero because service during that hour is provided by the night bus.
The charts below compare vehicle speeds during the middle of November 2019 (green) and the first half of June 2020 (purple) between Finch and Pioneer Village Stations. The charts should be read in the direction of travel with eastbound running from right to left. The dotted trend lines show the overall difference between speeds. Where they are close together, buses travel at roughly the same speed. Where they are further apart, the November 2019 values are slower.
When there is a sharp downward point at an intersection, this indicates that buses approach at speed and then stop. When the area of lower speed is extended, this shows congestion approaching the intersection.
For the peak hour from 8 to 9 AM, the westbound service ran slower in 2019 mainly in the area east of Dufferin and to a lesser extent east of Keele. Note that the difference is stronger for westbound buses than for eastbound in the second chart below.
The AM peak eastbound service ran slightly slower in 2019 roughly from Keele to Dufferin, but ran much more slowly on Yonge Street enroute to Finch Station where there is supposedly “transit priority” by way of an HOV lane.
By midday, there is less divergence between 2019 and 2020 speeds with the most affected area being east of Keele Street
For the PM peak hour of 5 to 6, similar patterns are visible with congestion on either side of Keele Street and along Yonge Street in 2019 compared to 2020. Congestion occurs in both directions although it is worse eastbound than westbound.
Full Chart Sets
The files linked here contain the full sets of charts for travel times and speeds for those interested in the details.
Pioneer Village Station to Kipling
For the section of 60 Steeles west of Pioneer Village Station, the difference in travel times varies by time and direction between November 2019 and June 2020 data, but as with the eastern section, there is little difference evenings and weekends.
Only half of the locals and none of the express trips operate west of Pioneer Village Station, and so buses are far less common on this part of Steeles.
In the AM peak hour from 8 to 9, there are only a few locations where westbound speeds are better in the June 2020 data compared to November 2011, but eastbound is different story. Between Kipling and Jane, travel speeds in the 2019 data are consistently below those for June 2020.
Midday the situation is not as bad as during the peak with westbound congestion mainly between Jane and Highway 400. Eastbound, what congestion there is lies further west on the route.
In the PM peak hour from 5 to 6, the differences in travel time stretch over much of this portion of the route, although westbound travel is more affected than eastbound west of the Humber River.
There are currently plans for redevelopment projects for strip malls at 72 Steeles West, 100 Steeles West, 180 Steeles West (these three are basically opposite Centerpoint Mall) and Steeles/Dufferin as well as new high rise buildings at 755 and 765 Steeles West (one block east of Bathurst). If all these get built then there would be a lot more traffic as well as a lot more potential passengers on Steeles between Dufferin and Yonge.
Steve: This is the kind of thing happening on several corridors that have a hard time now (at least in pre-covid traffic conditions) with auto congestion and transit demand. The city is happy to see all of the development, but does little to accommodate it or provide more attractive transit service. All the people on Steeles will see is a new subway to Richmond Hill, maybe.
As a frequent user of Steeles of the west of Pioneer Village, there is a major pinch point westbound at Jane where Steeles changes from three to two lanes. Quite often westbound traffic is backed up and many buses are caught up in the jam. I’ve often wonder if there should be a bus only lane from at least Keele to Jane. A bus only lane on that stretch won’t do much for the 108, 35/935 as they would have still have to join the jam with the left turns, however it could be beneficial for the other TTC routes on that stretch 35B/60/84D and the non TTC routes, YRT 20 and 165, and Brampton Zum 501.
Yonge from Steeles to Cummer is not sped up by the diamond lane in part because there are too many buses to fit on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if bus frequency there is higher than the 99 in Van or former downtown BRT in Ottawa.
The volume is such that I’ve long supported the Yonge LRT meet the subway extension at Steeles rather than Finch. Not that that’s relevant any more.
Steve: Yes, there are limits to what can be done with a bus lane even if we could keep cars out of it. I am not sure this is fully appreciated in some circles.
You mentioned split jurisdiction over Steeles Avenue. Has this changed recently? In my experience, Steeles itself was always fully within the jurisdiction of Toronto, while anything north of the north property line (including north legs of intersections) was York Region or the local municipality. As far as I know, Toronto never had to get the approval of York to change anything on Steeles, unless it physically affected their connecting roads or access to properties on the north side. Consultation, definitely, but formal approval from York shouldn’t be required to change the lane configuration on Steeles.
Steve: Thanks for this. I remember a time when there was split jurisdiction but this may have changed. There will certainly be effects on driveway access to properties on the north side of Steeles, and so this will be an issue for York Region.
Why would there be access issues to driveways? These lanes wouldn’t like VIVA lanes in the middle of the road but curbside lanes, so access to driveways shouldn’t be impacted. For example there are houses on Dufferin south of Finch that have driveways leading onto the curbside bus-only lane.
Steve: That depends on the implementation. Just paint, no, but by the time they get to Steeles, who knows what options they will be considering.