Back in August 2021, I published an article about running times on the 510 Spadina streetcar including comparisons with the nearby 511 Bathurst car. Despite being on its own right-of-way, the Spadina car is almost always slower than the Bathurst car.
There are various reasons for this including double stops at signalled intersections and longer stop service times due to the demand level on Spadina.
That article used May 2021 data which reflected mid-pandemic traffic conditions. With demand and traffic rising in past months, I return to the subject using October 2022 data.
The situation has not changed much in the intervening year and a half. 511 Bathurst cars still win the race during most time periods, although on a few occasions the 510 Spadina cars take the prize.
Comparing Travel Times
Here are comparative running time averages for October weekdays on the two routes. Two sets of values are shown here:
- The solid lines show average travel times between Bloor and Front each way.
- The dotted lines show the average travel times between Bloor and Richmond each way avoiding problems with congestion and enroute layovers at the south end of these lines.
Throughout these charts, data for Spadina are plotted in red while data for Bathurst are in green.
During most weekday periods, Bathurst cars have the lower average travel time between Richmond and Bloor, but the results are mixed between Front and Bloor.
Here are the comparable charts for Saturdays and Sundays. Bathurst almost always wins out.
The charts below subdivide the weekday data by week to show that the numbers are not always exactly the same. There is even more variation on a day-to-day basis. I include these to illustrate the importance of not taking averages over long periods at face value because this can hide variations.
In these charts, the warmer colours (red through light green) show data for the Spadina car while the cooler colours (blues and purple) show the Bathurst car.
These charts show the general shape of average data, but more a more detailed view is needed to compare the routes’ behaviour.
Comparing Operating Speeds
The charts in this section compare operating speeds for Spadina and Bathurst cars on weekdays during the last two weeks of October 2022. This period was chosen to avoid data from earlier in the month when construction affected the south end of Spadina.
Bathurst data are shown in green, and the overall pattern of faster speeds on Bathurst is evident from the position of this line on each chart. The dotted lines are trend lines interpolated through the data to show the overall shape. Again, the green line is usually above the red (Spadina) one.
However, the situation varies along the routes and by time of day. The charts here are one hour intervals taken every three hours (the full hourly sets are available in PDFs linked at the end of the article).
Southbound data are in the left column, while northbound data are to the right. The route layout is the same in both cases with “north” (Bloor Street) at the right and “south” (Fleet or Queens Quay) at the left. In most cases, the intersections on Bathurst and Spadina are directly east/west of each other except notably at Dundas where they are offset.
Southbound charts should be read from right to left (the direction of travel), while northbound charts should be read from left to right. In either case, dips in speed as cars approach major stopping locations are easy to see. In the case of Spadina, there are dips on both sides of intersections where there are farside stops. Bathurst stops are all nearside and do not show this effect.
Service on Bathurst enjoys faster travel on the northern part of the route in both directions even though it runs in mixed traffic.
Comparing Dwell Times
The dwell time charts show locations where cars spend their time not moving, typically at traffic signals and stops. As with the speed charts above, these should be read right-to-left for southbound service, left-to-right for northbound.
The charts show the major stopping locations clearly including the difference between nearside stops on Bathurst (green) and farside stops on Spadina (red). This also shows the contribution of traffic signals to delays on Spadina where the time spent waiting for a green signal can be as high as the time serving the farside stop.
Not only do Spadina cars run more slowly than their friends on Bathurst, they stop more frequently.
The conversion of raw tracking data to speeds and dwell times goes through two stages.
The TTC’s data feed includes position information on all vehicles, but the individual records are not timestamped at uniform intervals. To smooth things out, all records are assigned to a 20-second interval containing the actual time of the record. (This also simplifies charting because there are only 180 distinct times each hour rather than 3600.)
The GPS coordinates are converted to a linear scale for each route with one unit equal to 10 metres. This “flattens” the route geometry and allows distance and speed measurements without regard to changes in route direction. (An analogy: think of the map of a route as a piece of string pulled out straight. It is still the same length but without the twists and turns.)
For speed calculations, the change in location from one observation to the next gives the average speed for a vehicle over the distance travelled. This is assigned to each 10 metre segment for the period in question. Observations from many cars over a two-week period are combined to smooth out individual trips. The more data included, the less “spiky” the charts become.
For dwell calculations, the location of each observation is charged 20 seconds for every “tick” of the clock while this is a car’s position. If a car is in motion, it will only be “seen” for one tick in a 10-metre segment, but if it is stationary, the number of 20 second ticks will rise. As with the speed charts, the data from many trips are combined to get an average view. Because the minimum value is 20 seconds (cars passed through a 10m segment but never stopped there), the dwell time charts start at 20, not zero, to give more room for the data plot.
This is still subject to distortion if there is a major delay or other disruption. For example, I have used the last two weeks of October to avoid a period when the south end of 511 Spadina was operated with buses and streetcar service short turned at Adelaide.
Full Chart Sets
The full hourly speed and dwell time charts are linked below as PDFs. There are 19 pages in each file, one for each hour from 6am to midnight. Stepping through the pages shows how the data values evolve over the course of a day.
Dwell time charts:
Converting to km/hr for the Spadina line and the range is about 8.4 to 10.5 km/hr which is about double the average walking speed. That doesn’t include waiting time. Throw in a 3 minute wait for a 20 minute journey and it’s down to about 7.5 km/hr. An energetic walk speed is 7 km/hr.
Add in a transfer to east/west with a second wait time and TTC’s problem becomes obvious. It’s painfully slow. Headway is important for reliability and wait times but even then if the network is operating perfectly it’s so slooooooooow. But’s it’s neither reliable nor fast.
✓ If we had double-point switches at the BEGINNING of the turn and a single-point switch at the END of turn, that may speed things up. Enough of the stopping at the switches for “safety”, when solutions are available and may already been made.
✓ REAL transit priority traffic signals would help. Why does Toronto have to genuflect before the single-occupant of a motor vehicle making a left turn ahead of the 70+ people onboard a streetcar?
✓ Time to get rid of the “extra” stops we have on Spadina. They were left there because the NIMBYs did not want to walk the one block to the next stop. (Ditto on St. Clair.)
Steve: The stop-and-proceed is to verify the switch position because the TTC has not had trustworthy switch controllers for decades (this goes back to the changeover with CLRV/ALRVs). Double blade switches will not fix this.
I agree that the left turn phase should not have priority over streetcars. However, the “extra” stops do not contribute substantially to travel times and they are used by riders. Most of the “extra” stops are nearside and they do not impose the double-stop penalty. Speed isn’t everything. Walking that extra distance is an accessibility issue for many.
Nearside: Sussex northbound, Willcocks both ways, Nassau northbound, Sullivan southbound, Richmond northbound (6).
Farside: Sussex southbound, Nassau southbound, Sullivan northbound (3).
And NIMBY is hardly the term to use who fought for better access to transit. There was a point where TTC planning and “Doctor” Juri Pill wanted the Spadina car to exist merely as an express link from Bloor to the planned development on the railway lands.
With the use of all door boarding and exiting (and four doors in total), one would think that the newer streetcars would not be as slowed down as people have more options.
If there is higher demand on Spadina, I wonder what would occur if they put another streetcar on the route. Even one more streetcar would likely help spread out some of that demand a bit more and might help decrease travel times.
Steve: The combined width of the doors on one Flexity is actually smaller than on an equivalent pair of CLRVs, with the offsetting benefit of the lower step height. As for the number of cars, this is becoming a general problem across the system as demand builds up and the TTC cannot afford to run more service. If you think it’s bad now, wait until next year.
Would like to also point out that at Spadina Station loop only one car usually is at the platform while the rest wait in the tunnel. Whatever happened to having two cars at the platform; one loading and one unloading? Wasn’t the purpose of extending the platform to accommodate 2 cars? Once again I think the TTC is purposely sabotaging their streetcar operations.
Steve: The platform has not been extended usefully, but the way they operate the station plus limits on the operators’ ability to selectively open doors makes it difficult to have two cars on the platform at once. Yes, sabotage is a good way to put it.
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One thing I noticed on Spadina is that old TTC practice of loading at front door only is part of the problem with these new cars and the tiny 1 person at a time front door with most people getting on there and fewer at the multiple doors down the car. Why? Because the stop pole is where the Operator spots the tiny door.
One trip (between rush hours) I watched as the Operator ran past the pole (where possible) and nobody got on at the tiny door. They chose other doors. Load up and GO! Amazing at the difference this made!
Of course this would be impossible for TTC to put into effect.
The new streetcars should have had the capability to use selective door unlocking profiles, regardless of the need for such capability at Spadina Station, one more thing they did not think of, but hopefully they did on the 60 car order. I’m sure the TTC would get charged an obscene amount to upgrade the existing fleet.
I am uncertain of the exact time period, but northbound Bathurst at Dundas had long backups due to the curb lane being closed. Every left turning vehicle backed up all traffic including streetcars, sometimes halfway to Carr! This was in the September/October time frame, as I recall.
The fact that Bathurst cars STILL beat Spadina cars is sad!
Steve: This happened before the period I used for the comparison. It is tricky sometimes to ensure that conditions are “normal” when looking for comparative data across routes.
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How fast did streetcars run through face-pointing switches before the ALRV’s were introduced?
I thought the TTC had some sort of slow-order over any special trackwork, not just face-pointing switches, but I don’t know if it was long-standing or within the last 30 years.
About stop elimination: I hear a lot of proposals to eliminate minor stops, but have these advocates considered that this might just increase the demand and dwell time at the remaining stops? Also, one of my biggest pet peeves is watching my streetcar stopped solely because of a red light without being able to load and unload.
Steve: Streetcars used to run through special work (and still do so in other cities) at close to traffic speed. It is sad to see movies of PCC cars operating at speed through intersections rather than tip-toeing through each switch.
The TTC institute a system wide slow order on special work in response to derailments caused by a variety of factors including malfunctioning electric switches and open switches not spotted by approaching operators. There is even a rule, followed only rarely, that two streetcars should not pass on special work. This ludicrous situation, combined with slapping slow orders on track on a moment’s notice, is done in the name of “safety”, but without addressing the underlying issue of track maintenance. The system has still not completely caught up with intersection renewals using more robust construction techniques and welded track panels, but problems with select locations (King and Church comes to mind) are extended everywhere. There is a big problem that the situation has been in place for so long that nobody remembers it does not have to be like this.
I worry that coming capital budget limitations could lock in some bad track and set us on a path to gradual decline.
Elimination of minor stops started with the TTC looking for easy ways to shave running times, and morphed into a generic claim that stops at locations without traffic signals were unsafe. The running time argument does not hold up to detailed review from tracking data for a simple reason. When a vehicle stops at a traffic signal, there is a good chance it will be held for one cycle. Even if there is some form of signal priority, if the stop is busy, an extended green will time out before the vehicle can leave. By contrast, at a stop with no signal, the vehicle can always leave when it finishes loading, and can catch up with the traffic wave it was part of before stopping. When traffic signal timings are organized around auto speeds, transit vehicles cannot always keep up and will fall further behind as they are caught at reds. This is particularly bad at intersections without TSP because there is no green extension the transit vehicle can trigger. This is a problem on Spadina where the only TSP is to assist turns, but not through movements.
Speaking of “in between” locations, there is a proliferation of traffic signals at locations that are not transit stops. Depending on how these work (with or without TSP), they can add to transit delays.
These issues interact where transit dawdles because of operating constraints and/or overly generous schedules. I have noticed that operators who drive streetcars at a reasonable speed between stops tend to make more green signals than operators who amble along at walking pace.
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The first stop signs were posted in Michigan in 1915. On August 8, 1925, Torontonians were introduced to their first set of automated traffic signals.
Before that, there were nothing to stop people, streetcars, cyclists, horses, or the new-fangled motor vehicle, except for the occasional policeman (policewomen would come much later). At least with a police officer, they could see the streetcar doors close and give them the priority to move into the intersection. Usually, the person, horse, or vehicle arriving first gets to go first, though if two arrive at the same time, the one on the “right” gets the “right-of-way”.
The stop signs and traffic signals were introduced because of the motor vehicle. With them, streetcars are considered ONE vehicle. Didn’t matter how many people inside, they were still ONE vehicle.
If a traffic signal at an intersection does not work properly, it usually starts flashing red, meaning it becomes a “4-way stop intersection” and the “right-of-way” rules apply. Also, why the tweet about the Queen/Spadina traffic signal situation shows how much better it would be if all the streetcar right-of-way intersections got rid of the traffic signals and went to “4-way stops”.
There are slow orders across special work with trailing switches too. King @ Parliament westbound and Queen @ King eastbound (Don River) are two places where ops will slow down to 10 km/h. The rule about no passing across special work must be rigidly enforced because for the past year I estimate the overwhelming majority of ops will follow the directive.
Steve: King and Parliament’s slow order (like the one at Sumach) is for noise complaints, not for safety, although in any event my understanding is that the order is a blanket one for all special work. At the Don Bridge, the special work is getting old (it was one of the first locations to have castings wrapped in rubber) and I am not surprised there is a slow order. As for the passing rule, a lot seems to depend on how junior the operator is and how late the car is. Also it depends on the op going the other way observing the same “rules”.
Folks advocating getting rid of “extra stops” on any routes are invariably younger and fitter. They fail to consider how having to travel an extra 50 or 100 metres (for example) to and from a destination will affect someone with a disability or someone older. I assure you, they’re not moving at 7.5 km/h. There’s already too much inaccessibility built into the TTC to be looking for ways to add more.
Inaccessibility is, sadly, is to be found even in new transit development. Such as the new GO Transit bus terminal “at” (a very generous definition of “at”) Union Station was designed without a pick up/drop off space for WheelTrans users in the bus bays. Such users, officially certified disabled by TTC, are forced to disembark on the street and make their way inside and, worse, wait for any pickups out on the street. During the lengthy construction it’s been a real fustercluck, which no designated zone and no markings.
I’m all for accessibility for our less young and fit folks.
Our sidewalks are narrow, cluttered with crap, potholed with utility cuts that aren’t repaired for years, and used for storing newspaper boxes that haven’t been refilled in years, garbage bins that haven’t been emptied in weeks, ad boards for private businesses, abandoned bicycles that remain for years after being reported to the city, signs aimed at drivers, and snow from the roadway. Countless curb cuts make the sidewalk uneven so that drivers can cross it to drive up right to the door of their destination. At intersections, drivers completely ignore stop bars and drive into crosswalks before looking anywhere. Police officers driving marked police vehicles not on emergency response routinely run red lights when turning right. Crosswalks are full of rain in fall and full of snow in the winter. TTC and GO stations have elevators out of service for months. Transit vehicles carrying the less fit, and for that matter adapted cars for those who genuinely do need them, are stuck in traffic jams caused by countless able-bodied drivers that we encourage onto our streets. We built and continue building entire suburbs that prioritize cars over people where walking down the street, let along crossing at a crosswalk, is dangerous, and retrofitting them is too expensive.
But at least no one has to walk 182 metres from the Sussex stop to the Harbord stop.
That’s accessibility priorities in Toronto.
Steve: Your screed is way off of the mark. Yes, we have huge problems with priorities and bad design, not to mention poor maintenance and enforcement of rules such as they are. What that has to do with the stop at Sussex that was built over 25 years ago is not entirely clear.
One thing that I have occasionally observed along Spadina is that operators would slow to a crawl or complete stop just before a green light preceding a far-side stop, even though there are no streetcar ahead of or across from them at all. And then the streetcar will proceed to wait for an extra light cycle before finally crossing the intersection. I once saw a streetcar stopping before the intersection even though there were 20 seconds left for the pedestrian crossing counter, and no streetcar on the other side in either direction. Not sure if this is due to the slow order through intersections or having too much padded time or both, but it does make far-side stops look worse on paper.
As for stop elimination, I could see the stop at Richmond NB being removed for being too close to King and Queen, but the other stop spacings are fine. Doesn’t matter how many stops there are if it is forced to crawl along half the route.