2021 has not been a good year for transit service and riders on Queen Street with the combined effect of projects stretching from Neville to Roncesvalles and beyond. Some projects have moved at a glacial pace, when they move at all, because of unexpected conditions discovered during construction, and a sense that fixing them was not exactly the City’s top priority.
This is precisely the kind of situation that leads to eye rolling whenever an agency says that it will close parts of downtown “only” for seven years.
Here, running from east to west, is a review of the current status.
Updated December 15 at 6:30 pm: The 63 Ossington bus resumed its normal route today.
Updated December 21 at 11:45 pm: I have been remiss in not mentioning that no sooner had the Ossington bus resumed its normal route via Ossington, Queen and Shaw, than it was diverted again via Dundas-Bathurst-King thanks to the closure of the Queen/Ossington intersection.
Updated December 22 at 11:15 am: As of this morning, Queen and Ossington has reopened, and the 63 Ossington is on its regular route. However, the underlying map used by service prediction apps still has the King-Dufferin-Queen layout, and service predictions at the south end of the route will be missing or inaccurate until this is changed.
The East End
Conversion of the overhead wiring system for pantograph operation was somewhat spotty east of Queen and Leslie where streetcars from pan-ready routes turned south to the carhouse. Some of the conversion was done under service, and other work was done with the streetcars replaced by buses.
Streetcar service to Neville returned on December 6 replacing a shuttle bus that had operated between Coxwell and Neville Loop. On a quiet Sunday morning (December 12), there were plenty of cars at Neville, but this is not always the case depending on conditions along the route.
Service earlier in the week was very spotty with large gaps from downtown, and an inability for riders to know when service might appear because the streetcar operation to Neville is not part of the “official” schedule transit apps use to make predictions of service at stops.
The overhead within Russell Carhouse is still trolley pole-only. The westernmost tracks have no overhead at all.
Officially, the 501 Queen car is still diverting to King via Parliament Street. However, thanks to traffic signals at Richmond and Adelaide that prioritize traffic to/from the DVP over transit, there can be severe congestion in what should be a small link between Queen and King. Some Queen cars travel via King to the Don Bridge to escape from this.
The 501 bus services (one to Humber, the other to Long Branch) continue to operate east to Broadview looping, officially, via Broadview, Gerrard and River to Queen. In practice, some of these buses operate north to Broadview Station although whether they carry passengers is a sometimes thing. This could help to supplement capacity on what has again become a busy link that the 504/504 shuttle bus cannot always handle, but the arrangement seems to be ad hoc, not a formal part of the service.
On King, the 501 Queen cars operate west to Spadina looping via Adelaide and Charlotte Streets.
The current plan is for streetcar service to resume on Queen between Neville Loop and Bathurst Street (using Wolseley Loop north of Queen) with the January schedules.
Conversion of overhead to pan-friendly mode is substantially complete over this section, and at one location, Victoria, is pantograph-only with junctions for curves that have no frogs, only a pair of contact wires.
The track replacement project from Bay to Fennings (east of Dovercourt) continues, much to the dismay of local merchants on a street that, by the original schedule, would have been clear of construction two months ago.
According to the City’s project site, the segments of work are being taken slightly out of sequence both for TTC operations and to suit affected merchants.
- Queen is fully open to Bathurst Street. From there to Dufferin, buses divert both ways via King.
- Track work and repaving is completed to Niagara Street (between Bathurst and Shaw).
- Work is in progress between Niagara and Shaw except for the block between Gore Vale and Strachan which has a row of businesses. This will be done last in the project .
- At Queen and Shaw, the intersection should re-open on December 13.
- Track between Shaw and east of Ossington has been replaced and been concreted.
- Track replacement from east of Ossington to Fennings is in progress. The intersection at Ossington is expected to close on December 14. The TTC has not yet announced what will happen to the 63 Ossington bus during this closure, but once the entire section from Ossington to Shaw opens again, the Ossington bus can resume its normal route.
- 63 Ossington resumed its normal route on December 15.
Despite delays on this project, it is worth noting how fast track can be replaced and the roadway re-opened when all that is necessary is removal of the top pavement layer and track, and installing new track attached to the steel ties embedded in the road. Decades of rebuilding streetcar track to this standard are now paying off.
The biggest delays inevitably occur where other utilities are involved, or where the road geometry is changed triggering utility relocations. Intersections are more complex because the TTC started to build these on new foundations several years after adopting new construction for the tangent (straight) track, and the city has not yet been through a complete round of intersection replacements where new track can be installed on a pre-existing foundation. Even so, the entire Queen/Shaw project from demolition through new foundation and new track installation took only three weeks.
There are construction photos and videos on the City’s web page linked above.
This project drags along and is at the opposite end of “speedy” projects compared to work further east on Queen.
With the move into “Stage 2” some weeks ago, Queen Street has re-opened for east-west traffic. The 501 bus operates straight through the intersection, and the 504 King/Roncesvalles bus dodges the intersection. Eastbound 504 and 304 (night) buses operate via Queen and Triller to King, while westbound service diverts via Dufferin and Queen.
The south leg, King Street, at the intersection is closed and has been excavated for installation of new curves linking to the special work at Queen. With the change in intersection geometry, the curve will now occur before the switches rather than after, and the intersection itself will be a conventional 90 degree layout on all four legs.
How well this will handle the substantial volume of westbound traffic from King to The Queensway, especially given Toronto’s chronic inability to provide true transit priority, remains to be seen. This was already a source of much congestion especially when construction or special events caused traffic to spill off of the Gardiner Expressway.
This view looks west on The Queensway from Roncesvalles from the west end of the new eastbound loading platform. The mound of dirt west of the intersection was formerly a small pedestrian island that was a refuge, of sorts, for pedestrians crossing to the southwest corner and the bridge to Sunnyside Beach.
A mixture of new and old overhead poles remains here and at some point all traffic will be shifted into curb lanes so that work on the streetcar track and new reserved lanes can occur from Sunnyside Loop west to Parkside Drive.
The paving at Glendale (St. Joseph’s Hospital) remains incomplete, and there are still some Hydro/TTC poles within the curb lane that have not been removed or shifted to new locations.
This entire project is a textbook example of both what can go wrong and of the extended period when road and transit users must endure the shortcomings of project planning and management.
In 2022 the area north of the intersection including the carhouse entrance will be rebuilt. Concurrently, the loading zones on Roncesvalles will be modified to work with the accessibility ramps on the Flexity streetcars. This work is planned for the Spring-Summer construction season, but I will believe that when I see shovels in the ground. Other utility upgrades are included in this project, and that always seems to be a recipe for delay rather than the supposed effect of concurrent, co-ordinated work. See the City’s KQQR construction page for more information.
All photographs in this article are by the author. The diversion map for 504 King is by TTC.