The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair

When the St. Clair right-of-way went into operation after an extended construction period and a lot of political upheaval, streetcar operation was scheduled to be faster than the old mix-traffic model. The TTC even produced a before & after comparison that is still posted on their Planning page (scroll all the way down to “Miscellaneous Documents”).

Alas, the 512 St. Clair is now scheduled to operate more slowly than in pre-right-of-way times. This article reviews the evolution of the route since July 2010 when it fully opened from Keele to Yonge to early 2021.

Looking East at Spadina Road

This is a long article, and I will not be offended if some readers choose not to delve into the whole thing. My intent in part was to show the level of analysis that is possible with a large amount of data stretching over a decade, and also to examine the issue in some detail.

As a quick summary:

  • Scheduled travel speeds for the 512 St. Clair car have slowed since the right-of-way opened in July 2010, and they are now below the pre-right-of-way level in 2006.
  • There was an improvement in 2010, but this has been whittled away over the decade with progressively slower schedules.
  • Separately from travel times, scheduled terminal recovery times have increased from 2010 to 2020 especially during off peak periods. This does not affect speed as seen by riders, but it does show up in longer terminal layovers. This recovery time now accounts for a non-trivial portion of total time on the route.
  • Driving speeds are slower in 2020 (pre-pandemic) than in 2010. This is a characteristic across the route, not at a few problem locations, and is probably due to differences in how the new Flexity cars are operated compared to the predecessor CLRVs. A few location, notably the constricted underpass between Old Weston Road and Keele Street, have seen a marked decline in travel speeds over the decade.
  • Many locations have “double stop” effects where streetcars stop nearside for a traffic signal, and again farside to serve passengers. Transit signal “priority” clearly needs some work on this route.

It is important to stress that this gradual decline in speed does not invalidate the right-of-way itself. Routes without reserved lanes have fared worse over the past decade, and St. Clair would certainly be slower today without them. The big challenge, especially with pandemic-era ridership declines, is to maintain good service so that wait times do not undo the benefit of faster travel once a car shows up.

Scheduled Speed

The charts below show the scheduled speed over the line from 2010 to 2021 with 2005 (pre-construction) shown at the left side as a reference point. The information is broken into two charts to clarify situations where there are overlaps.

In 2005, the AM and PM peak values were the same, but from 2010 onward the PM peak had a slower scheduled speed. In the off-peak, the midday and early evening speeds are the same from 2010 until 2018 after which midday speeds drop considerably.

The big dips in the charts correspond to periods of construction when travel times were extended to compensate.

The transition from CLRV to Flexity service began in 2018, and by September it was officially recognized in the schedule.

Source: Scheduled Service Summaries
Source: Scheduled Service Summaries

Schedules are one thing, but what is the actual “on the ground” behaviour of the route. Here are two charts showing the evolution of travel times between the two terminals westbound in the 8-9 am and the 5-6 pm peak hours. Regular readers will recognize the style of the charts, but there are several points worth mentioning.

  • The data run from July 2010 when the right-of-way was completely open to February 2021, although there are gaps. I did not collect data in every month over the period. However, the overall pattern is fairly clear. Unfortunately, I did not collect any data between July 2010 and September 2014 and yet there is a clear jump between the two.
  • Travel times build up to late 2019 and remain high to January 2020. Then comes the pandemic and the times fall, but not by much (the change is much more noticeable on other routes that operate in mixed traffic).
  • There are upward spikes in values. A few of these are caused by delays that affect several cars so that even the median value (green) rises. However, if only one car pulls onto the spare track at St. Clair West and lays over, this pushes the maximum (red) way up while leaving the other values lower. (Layovers can also occur at Oakwood Loop, and at Earlscourt Loop eastbound.)
  • Occasional downward spikes of the minimum values (blue) do not represent supercharged streetcars, but rather bus extras that ran express for at least part of their trip.
  • When comparing these value to the scheduled speeds above, there are subtle differences:
    • The scheduled speed is based on end-to-end travel including arrival and a short layover, notably for passenger service at St. Clair Station. “Recovery time” (about which more later) is not included in the scheduled speed calculation.
    • The travel time is measured between two screenlines: one is in the middle of Yonge Street, and the other is just east of Gunn’s Road so that the entire loop is west of the line. This does not include any terminal time at either end, but does include layovers, if any, at St. Clair West Station Loop.

Here are the corresponding charts for eastbound travel.

Full chart sets including midday and evening travel times are in the pdfs linked below for those who are interested.

These charts show changes have occurred, but where and why?

How Much Time Is Spent at St. Clair West Station?

St. Clair West Station presents an opportunity for a layover, although this is limited to the degree that eastbound and westbound cars might push each of the “out of the way”. More recently, with the introduction of Flexity streetcars, have they moved more slowly through the station?

Here are charts for peak hour travel times between Tweedsmuir (the street just east of the east portal) and Bathurst. In both cases the screenlines are in the middle of the intersection and so the times shown here include dwells at stops and traffic signals.

The median values rose from about 4 to 5 minutes from 2010 to 2021 although the effect was slightly greater for eastbound than westbound trips.

The spikes in values correspond to cars laying over within the station for an extended period. These are less common in data for later years in the series.

The full chart sets are here:

How Much Time Is Spent At Gunn’s Loop?

A common problem on many routes is that vehicles accumulate at terminals because they arrive early. Trips across the route might have a median time of 30 minutes, but with a span from 25 to 35 minutes. Schedules are based on the high end of values (the 95th percentile), and this leaves most cars with more time than they actually need. The situation is compounded by reduced travel times in the pandemic era although on St. Clair this effect is small compared to routes running in mixed traffic.

The time spent at Gunn’s Loop varies over roughly the same range of times as the travel times, a band of values roughly 10 minutes wide. Spikes correspond to vehicles laying over (usually buses). Periods where the times rise above typical levels correspond to schedules with added running time for construction delays.

Looking only at the peak periods, the values stayed fairly consistent, but in the mid-evening, something odd happens at Thanksgiving weekend, 2020. There is a jump in median values that persists to the end of the chart.

(The large spike in 2018 was caused by a late-evening transition from bus to streetcar operation for overhead upgrades along the route. Buses tended to arrive at Gunn’s Loop and layover before entering service.)

The travel time chart across the route shows a similar change. Note that I have used the previous hourly interval because the chart captures vehicles leaving Yonge Street between 8 and 9 pm. They will reach Gunn’s Loop later, and so the effect of shorter travel times and longer terminal layovers will show up there later.

Note also that for the period of the September schedules, travel times are higher and more tightly clustered. There is a corresponding dip in terminal times. This pattern only exists for the mid-evening period and only for one schedule period (Labour Day to Thanksgiving).

Although there was a new schedule implemented on Thanksgiving weekend, there was no change in the headways, travel time or terminal recovery time. Below are the scheduled service summaries showing that the only change was that temporary operation of the route from Hillcrest ended. This should have no effect on travel times.

The full chart set is here:

How Much Time Is Spent At St. Clair Station Loop?

The pattern of changes in terminal time at the east end of the route is similar to that at the west end shown above. However, the total time in these charts is higher probably for two reasons:

  • At Gunn’s Loop, the terminal area for the time calculations is bounded by a screenline just east of the loop. At St. Clair Station, the screenline is at Yonge Street and the loop is much larger.
  • St. Clair Station has better “creature comforts” than Gunn’s Loop, and if an operator has time to spare, it is a more likely location for a layover.

Here are the peak hour charts. There is a marked rise in terminal times at the beginning of the pandemic corresponding to reduced passenger demand and faster travel times across the route.

The mid-evening pattern at Gunn’s Loop also shows up at St. Clair Station.

A few notes:

  • The high values in April 2018 were caused by the streetcar-to-bus transition and the early arrival of a bus at the station. Only the maximum value spikes, not the 85th percentile indicating that this was only one vehicle considering the low number of observations within one hour.
  • The dip in terminal times for the September 2020 schedule period corresponds to the jump in eastbound travel times similar to the westbound data shown above.

The full chart set is here:

Recovery Time

Separately from travel time on a route, TTC schedules provide for recovery time at terminals. This concept has evolved over the years, and is partly bound up with the labour contract. The TTC did not want to guarantee a break at the end of each trip as a scheduled event, especially if drivers would be entitled to take their break regardless of being on time or late. Moreover, a guaranteed recovery time would add to vehicle requirements assuming headways remained the same. For example, on a route with a five minute service, a guaranteed break of 5 minutes at each end of the line would cost two extra drivers and vehicles.

Instead, “recovery time” was usually a result of making the headways come out evenly. For example, if a trip took 57 minutes, but an even headway was desired, this would be achieved by adding 3 minutes of recovery time. This is particularly important for branching services where each branch’s round trip time must be a multiple of the headway (or of half the headway where vehicles alternate between branches). The amount of “recovery” time had nothing to do with actual driving conditions and everything to do with making the schedule work out properly. Zero recovery times were not uncommon.

In recent years, the TTC has changed to scheduling service so that short turns are almost impossible in response to political pressure. While this is a noble goal, simply making running and recovery times longer is not necessarily a productive use of vehicles, especially when little attention is given to managing service and providing evenly spaced vehicles. Indeed, having too much time can encourage operators to pay less attention to the schedule because they know there is padding enough to make up for any delays or extra layover time they might take.

The TTC has no published standard for the ratio of recovery to travel time, nor of how this might be adjusted to account for varying conditions on routes.

As we saw earlier in the article, the scheduled speed has declined on the St. Clair route, but what has also happened is that recovery times are now considerably larger, especially in the off-peak. Considering that the route is roughly half an hour each way, the recovery time has grown quite large, an ironic situation for a route with a private right-of-way over almost all of its length. There are much longer streetcar and bus routes that do not have such generous schedules. As of February 2021, there are periods when over 20 per cent of the total time for a round trip is dedicated to “recovery”. This is a waste of resources.

Source: Scheduled Service Summaries
Source: Scheduled Service Summaries

Driving Speed Comparisons

Driving speed is not the same as scheduled speed over a route. The scheduled value is an average over the distance, and is selected to allow for almost the worst case of slow trips caused either by weather, minor delays or inexperienced operators. If the scheduled times are enforced (which for the most part they are not), then vehicles travel at a lower speed than they would otherwise, riders get slow trips, and operators are forced to waste time all along a route. This is not exactly a good advertisement for transit as an alternative to driving.

Buses tend to drive faster than streetcars for various reasons including the conditions bus drivers face on most major bus routes – fast suburban arterials – and an absence of restrictive operating practices that have accumulated on the streetcar system over many years under the rubric of “safety”. (That issue is a discussion for another time.) St. Clair is less subject to these practices because it is straight and has few junctions where speed restrictions through special trackwork apply.

In any event, the speed at which vehicles travel at any location is based on a combination of traffic conditions and operator experience, plus any added constraints.

The charts below are a bit “messy” and I will tease them apart to reveal more detail. They compare average driving speeds along the route in each direction by hour of the day and looking at six separate two-week periods from 2010 to 2021. The dates have been chosen to avoid the effect of construction and other major disruptions.

In the westbound charts below, travel is left-to-right from St. Clair Station to Gunn’s Loop. The solid lines show the average speed point by point along the route (each point is 10m wide), whereas the dotted lines are interpolated across the route to show the overall pattern. The pink line (2010) is the highest while the purple line (2020) is generally the lowest.

Each dip in the chart corresponds to a location where vehicles stop. The vertical lines represent streets, and they lie in the middle of the crossing. Notable at many locations is the “double stop” effect of a nearside stop for a traffic signal followed by a farside stop for passenger service. We talk a lot about “transit priority” in Toronto, but are not always reliable in the delivery.

Here is the chart for the pm peak hour:

Finally, here is mid-evening.

Eastbound data show similar patterns. Note that these charts should be read from right to left, the direction of travel.

The full chart sets with data by hour from 6 am to midnight are linked below.

You can watch the evolution of driving speeds over the day by stepping from page to page, effectively a flip-chart animation.

2010 vs 2020 Speeds

To show the change over the past decade, the charts below contain the same data, but with only the 2010 and 2020 data shown. A common observation across these charts is that the peaks are higher in 2010 than in 2020. This probably corresponds to the different characteristics and driving styes for the Flexity streetcars compared to the CLRVs which drivers tended to push up to higher speeds between stops.

Small changes accumulate across the route, but there is a quite noticeable difference between Old Weston Road and Keele. This is consistent across the day.

Eastbound data show the same relative slowdown from Keele to Old Weston, as well as a comparable dip between Laughton and Caledonia that does not appear in westbound data.

16 thoughts on “The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair

  1. The problem remains with the roads (Transportation Services) department who continues to prioritize the single-occupant automobiles over the 100+ people aboard the streetcars. They continue to look at streetcars (and buses) as single unit vehicles, instead of the passenger loads.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent analysis. Anecdotal observation of a regular rider:

    1. Overall 512 St.Clair service is pretty good. I’ve never experienced disappointing poor service.

    2. Double stops are frustrating, My common route includes Winona-Alberta double stop almost exactly 1 streetcar length between traffic lights, with stop in between, The streetcar is frequently stopped here for 3 – 5 minutes.

    3. The route seems fragile. Frequent suspensions with bus replacement. Short of infrastructure catastrophe it seems ludicrous to experience almost monthly 1 – 3 days streetcar suspensions on a dedicated right of way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Fascinating to see the evolution of regression in transit time. A couple of things pop to mind.

    Are there any slow orders on the route? I am suspecting the Old Weston Road to Keele underpass might be a candidate, due to the low clearance – simpler to drive slower and give the trolley pole or panto time to adjust, rather than speeding thru and doing damage.

    Since 90 to 95% of this route is in private ROW, if Transit Priority was properly set, could they not set a realistic trip time? Should not the longest layovers occur at St. Clair West as it has facilities and passing/layover track. As St. Clair is a shorter route, stepping back the driver should allow for breaks.

    But my biggest takeaway is the ongoing lack of proper, effective route management. We used to have the biggest and best streetcar system in North America. What happened to the old guys who knew how to make it work? Is there any institutional knowledge that can be found (maybe guys at the Halton Railway Museum?) to help improve line management?

    Steve’s clear long term analysis clearly points to problem areas.

    Keep holding their feet to the fire!


  4. A big thank you to Steve for yet another excellent article. I live one block away from the Wychwood stop on St. Clair, so use the streetcar regularly. Needless to say, what Steve wrote fully confirms my lived experience. For example, let me describe my trip this morning.

    Alas, I just missed the car. Still, this allowed me to time the headway. In this case, the time between the car I missed leaving the stop and the next car that I was on leaving the stop was 7′ 20″. This is roughly the scheduled headway, and in line with my normal experience.

    It is also lousy service. I see from Steve’s archives that in 2007 the headway was 3′. So it has more than doubled.

    The reality is that if we gain two minutes because the car moves faster, but lose four minutes waiting to get on because of an increase in headway, then we are worse off by two minutes.

    Right now, if I am going somewhere that it is moderately important I arrive on time, I allocate 10 minutes wait time for the streetcar in planning my trip. If the scheduled headway was restored to three minutes, with sufficient reliability that I could allocate five minutes wait time for the car, then this would result in my overall trip time going down by five minutes.

    As the streetcar approached Vaughan Road, the signal turned red. This brought the car to a halt for what appeared to be the normal full length of a red light. Worse yet, as the signal changed, the streetcar did not get a green signal. Instead, priority was given to one (1) private automobile owner who got an advanced green signal to make a left turn in front of the streetcar while all the passengers on the streetcar were forced to wait for the one (1) private automobile owner to make his left turn in front of the streetcar. Transit signal priority = sick joke!

    This was a typical trip. The streetcar ROW is great, but the TTC streetcar operations are lousy. Lousy because of excessive headways and transit signal priority that fails to give priority to transit vehicles.

    Steve: Thanks for the compliments. At the end of that article I almost felt like apologizing for is length and congratulating readers who got that far. There was a lot of territory to cover, and details i researched but did not include to avoid getting totally lost in the weeds. TSP on St. Clair (and elsewhere) is a joke, and the TTC does nobody any favours by failing to argue publicly and forcefully for better treatment considering how much we have invested in transit rights-of-way.


  5. There are some great insights here about the surface operations of the St Clair car that are utterly infuriating, like the double stops that should not exist. I’m curious if, given Presto, they’ve looked at running through the St Clair West tunnel without looping, by punching a door on the south side and adding some fare gates at the ravine doors such that the tunnel ends up in the fare paid area. It seems to me like this would speed the cars up without increasing trip time for riders, but I’m open to being convinced otherwise!

    Steve: The big problem with this is that bus routes and some streetcar trips terminate at St. Clair West, and the transfer pathways would be “interesting”.


  6. “There was a lot of territory to cover, and details I researched but did not include to avoid getting totally lost in the weeds.”

    Just speaking for myself, I am interested in headway reliability. In many cases, this is far more important than average vehicle speed or headway. Throughout my life, I have had precisely zero employers who were OK with my arriving late to work and saying to them, “On the average, I arrive on-time to work.”

    Employers are not stupid, and realize that the TTC has a certain unreliability factor. It has been my experience that employers will tolerate about one late arrival per month. Since there are approximately 20 working days in a month, this works out to a 95% on-time arrival rate. So the headway that actually counts for trips where on-time arrival is important is not average headway but 95th percentile headway.

    The current scheduled headway for St. Clair is really lousy, being over twice the three minute headway in 2007. However, it has been my experience that the TTC does a fairly good job of reliably maintaining this lousy headway. I would be curious to know if your data backs up this experience.

    Steve: I have written about headway reliability and line management in other articles, and plan to take this up again soon albeit for some major bus routes. St. Clair is comparatively well-behaved.


  7. One problem that bugs me is the lack of SEPARATE westbound and eastbound layover/stops at St. Clair West Station. I’m assuming that the penny-pinchers at the TTC and City Hall don’t see the need for that in their pocketbook.

    Ideally, all loops should have a siding or passing track where they can park disabled or out of schedule streetcars.

    Steve: Remember that the station was designed long time ago. They did comparatively recently split the eastbound and westbound so that eastbounds could bypass waiting westbounds on the outer track provided it was not in use by a disabled car. This change was needed because two Flexitys would not fit on what was formerly a shared loading track for both directions.


  8. I’ve looked at the TransSee data and I think I can getting some different results then you. Here is my link times chart for the Yonge St to Keele for June 2018, 2019 and 2020 (I don’t include the terminal stops since the data is often problematic) and it a shows significant slowdown in the schedule stating in the February 16, 2020 board period. Interestingly the actual travel times don’t vary as much as the schedule.

    TransSee doesn’t have data nearly as far back, but with premium you can view this kind of data for all bus routes (streetcar routes are free) and a bunch of other transit agencies as well.

    Steve: You are showing data for some months that I was not tracking, but I did cross-check cases where we overlap and the values are comparable. Remember that the measurement points are not the same. You are going from the farside stop west of Yonge to the farside stop west of Keele. I am going from the centreline of Yonge (before cars serve the westbound stop) to the entrance to Gunns Loop. There is bound to be some difference with my values being slightly higher. I have maintained the same screenline framework for over a decade to allow direct comparison of data from different periods.

    As for the change in mid February 2020, that looks odd because there is no change in the Scheduled Service Summary except for wider headays (but no change in travel time) in the late evening. I have the January and February GTFS files for 2020, and will have to look at them in detail to see what they show.


  9. I think the only transit signal priority I actually saw in Toronto is on Queens Quay west of Spadina where the right-of-way crosses the eastbound roadway. And I hope that is not because I didn’t stick around long enough to see it fail.

    A couple of intersections come close – I’ve seen a couple of signals on King (Simcoe comes to mind) hold the light for a streetcar, but often not long enough.

    Mostly, though, “transit priority” in Toronto really means no signalled path crosses the transit right-of-way when transit signal is green. As has been amply documented, it is often implemented as the opposite of priority.

    Steve: There is a fairly common implementation of TSP, and not just in Toronto, based on green time extension, but this really work best for farside stops that are more easily implemented for buses than streetcars. More recently, there is the idea that transit vehicles will only be sped up if they are “late” relative to a schedule which, in Toronto, is often meaningless. With the TTC’s current love for padded schedules, it would be interesting to see how often TSP was actually activated.

    King and Simcoe is an interesting location because it was once a stop, and one could see a stopped streetcar holding the green light that might turn against it just as it was ready to leave. Now there is no eastbound stop until York (the shifted location of University eastbound farside), but the westbound University stop is now at Simcoe. Of course University itself has no TSP because green time for north-south traffic there is sacrosanct lest University back up over nearby intersections at Wellington and Adelaide (the traffic backs up there regularly anyhow blocking King Street). Real “priority” at this type of location would be someone in the middle of the intersection forcibly stopping traffic from “blocking the box” by entering when there was no clear exit. But that would require actual enforcement, and we don’t do that sort of thing.

    Most (all?) of the algorithms originate in cities that have far less service than Toronto, and all we get to do is “twirl the knobs” on schemes that are not necessarily appropriate at all locations.


  10. The transit priority is definitely a joke in this city, as other commenters have mentioned. A couple anecdotal observations of mine include Bathurst & Vaughan on St. Clair – transit vehicles often have to stop for the full duration of both lights, despite being on a ROW with TSP available. It’s very slow getting through there now that the platforms only hold one Flexity at a time. With the CLRVs, you could get a streetcar & bus or two streetcars through the light, but alas no longer.

    Bloor & Dufferin seems to have TSP, but only working certain times of day (perhaps?), and it doesn’t seem to discern between NB and SB buses. The NB buses benefit most from the light extension as they have a farside stop, but it doesn’t help SB buses much at all.

    Queen and Dufferin used to hold a green for 29 buses, though that seems to have been disabled perhaps six or so months ago.


  11. The TTC operational problems are *weird*. I understand the City is uncooperative and refuses to provide transit priority at signals where they’re supposed to. But the inability to manage to headway is frankly bizarre; most cities are actually decent at this, and apparently Toronto not?

    Steve: Two things. First, the idea of actively managing service to a headway is foreign to the TTC, and this is not helped by an attitude that if vehicles leave terminals “on time” the rest of the route will take care of itself. Moreover, the TTC gives itself lot of leeway on what “on time” means so that bunches of two or even three vehicles can be “on time” by their standards, and this is measured only at terminals. Looking at tracking data it does not take long for vehicles to bunch further and they stay like that for the rest of their journeys. The TTC has a long and not particularly distinguished history of reporting “good news” and this is supported by “stats” that make everything look just fine. The TTC Board is starting to ask why so many of the public complain when the stats look so good, but I am not sure they are willing to press for improvement.

    The second problem is that in any organization, the ethic of providing good service will always be compromised by some (both employees and management), and if this is tolerated it becomes standard practice. Even worse, TTC has take to disciplining operators for failure to follow some of the less useful internal “rules” that are intended to support current metrics and this just pisses off the people who are trying to do a good job. The TTC loves to find someone other than themselves to blame for problems, and when it has to be internal, then it’s the front line staff who get hurt rather than managers.

    I have watched the TTC go through generations of management. Some of them knew their stuff, some didn’t. Some just wanted yes-men around them, and some really worked at bettering the organization. I will leave it to you to figure out which generation fits in which category. The problem is that every era of self-serving, and often insecure, management leaves a legacy of lost corporate pride and work ethic, and a deeper hole for the next crew to attempt to fill.


  12. The St. Clair West ROW has been such a disappointment.

    I vividly remember, decades ago, finding myself on the Spadina line and need to get over to Yonge Street quickly. It was about 5 pm. I hopped off the train and got on the streetcar. This was pre-ROW. The trip from St. Clair West to St. Clair took nearly 30 minutes, just sitting and sweltering so single-occupant cars could make left turns.

    Then I moved into the neighbourhood when it was running bus replacements during the ROW construction. That was a nuisance. But then it opened. How wonderful to zip along with relative speed, not so many obstructions, frequent service. I’ve since moved out of the neighbourhood, but do still travel up there frequently and it is rather disappointing now. In frequent service, slow travel times. Pre-pandemic, the cars could get rather jammed up and the low-floor cars have no room for standees. There are a lot of lessons that could be learned from this line, but I doubt they will be.


  13. I grew up near St. Clair West and took the streetcar pre-ROW frequently. The ROW was constructed after I moved out, but I spend a year back at St. Clair West commuting to St. Clair in the ROW in 2010.

    Back in 2010 the loading and unloading time at stops was a huge issue during rush hour. It seemed like every single driver would take a break at St. Clair loop. Cars would often get backed up 3 deep, and cars would depart the loop full. Then they would stop at Yonge St. and waste time with a few more people trying to cram in. Bunching was a consistent problem, but still it was way better than pre-ROW. My own observations showed that removing layovers during rush hour would have made a huge difference. I’ve never taken a Flexity during rush hour so I don’t know how things have changed with them, and over the years in general.

    When the ROW was built, I was really surprised that they kept (I think) all the original stops. My experience is almost entirely in the St. Clair West – St. Clair Loop section, and there are multiple stops that are so close together. Specifically: Tweedsmuir, Timothy Eaton Church/Warren Rd and Yonge St. The first two have much lower usage, but all it takes is one person to slow down the entire car. Yonge St. is different. It has high usage, but it forces a double stop, and is only even a Westbound stop. I think it could be argued to force people to walk the extra 2 min to the station platform to improve the line as a whole.

    Has there ever been talk of stop elimination on the route?

    Steve: Not that I know of. I remember there was quite a debate about which stops to keep and which to eliminate. In the end, they kept almost everything albeit with nearside/farside shifts. There was a fight about whether to have one or two stops between Oakwood and Dufferin, and two won out. This got tangled up in the TTC’s original service plan which was to run fewer cars but faster thereby saving on operating cost, and putting the whole street through an upheaval without actually improving service capacity. We see the same thing in some of the BRT proposals today where the faster travel time was as much from reduced stops as it was from the reserved lanes on Eglinton. They even held the official announcement at a stop that was removed. It was photogenic, I guess.


  14. A very interesting read and several good comments from readers. After I wrote a controversial piece for the Globe and Mail in 2005 on the fact that the Spadina streetcar was Toronto’s slowest north-south route, despite operating in a ROW, a city transportation official got in touch to say they couldn’t make signal priority work on Spadina because a) the east-west light cycles were already at the minimum length for pedestrians crossing a street that wide, and b) that turning it on for Spadina would negate the effectiveness of east-west signal priority on the King, Queen, Dundas and College routes. He admitted, that the Spadina wasn’t working well because the platforms should really have been put where the left-turn lanes were installed. One thing that has amazed me in the years since is how little all-door boarding with the Flexity vehicles has improved travel times. Also, I should mention that the Spadina piece I wrote came at the height of the extremely emotional St. Clair debate; it was so emotional that I and my editor received trolling (mostly by phone) from ardent ROW supporters, TTC staff and city councillors.

    Steve: Somehow this comment went into the spam bucket from which I have retrieved it. As there are subtle differences between the two versions, I am leaving both of them here.


  15. There was much feedback after a controversial piece I did for the Globe and Mail in 2005 on the fact that ‘Streetcar rapid transit’ on Spadina had actually translated into the TTC’s slowest north-south route (the article was published at the height of the emotional debate over St. Clair). Aside from the heavy-duty trolling, almost all of it by phone in the presocial-media era, a city transportation official got in touch to say that signal priority would never work on Spadina a) because east-west light cycles were already at the minimum length for pedestrians on a street that wide, and b) because it would negate the worth of signal priority (such as it was) on the trunk east-west streetcar lines, King, Queen, Dundas and College. He did, however, have higher hopes for St. Clair. He added that nearside stops would work much better for streetcars, but there was no way that councillors and the city transportation staff hierarchy would even consider giving up the left-turn lanes for transit platforms.


  16. Re: Spadina… yes, the east-west main streets are a limit. But the Spadina streetcar should never wait for a signal at Clarence Square, Sullivan, St. Andrew, Nassau, Willcocks, or Sussex – all of which happen all the time. There’s 13 signals north of Front so the minor streets are half of the intersections along the stretch.

    Steve: I must get some more recent data and do a stop analysis looking not just at the major streets but the many minor crossings you list. I have older data, but need to refresh.

    I’m a pedestrian but it’s mind-blowing to see a vehicle with 50+ passengers waiting on 10 people to cross the street.

    There’s an ugly vicious cycle at play here: bad signals help bunch up streetcars and then the bunched streetcars make it look like transit signal priority would hold up east-west cars and pedestrians forever. But if the service was operated reliably, correctly spaced, and had transit signal priority, there wouldn’t be bunching. Alas. TTC and Transportation Services both at fault here, and politicians for not knocking their heads together.

    Steve: Politicians hate the idea of getting into a fight with the “pros” – if something doesn’t work, the response is “but Councillor xxx made us do it”. Occasionally, as on King Street, there is co-operation but even there it’s not hard to find cases where transit comes second. Of course that whole political fiasco with taxi cabs didn’t help at all. QED.

    Crayons out for other things to fix on Spadina: At Willcocks and Sussex there isn’t really a need to have east-west through car traffic, these are local neighbourhood streets. They could have been blocked off with a right-in-right-out and only a phased pedestrian crossing, and if the other direction was needed by local car traffic, a U-turn via the slip lane south of Bloor, via Harbord, or via Spadina Crescent would have been fine.

    Further help with pedestrian crossing times could have been bigger pedestrian areas in the middle of Spadina so the pedestrian crossings could have been split and have shorter timings. Difficult to do where there’s streetcar turning tracks, but elsewhere we’d “only” have to reduce car driving and car parking lanes.


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