This article was originally going to be a very long reply to a comment left in the Spadina vs Bathurst thread, but I have moved it to its own article for better exposure.
I received the following comment from someone whose identity I will keep to myself. You know who you are.
Steve, I am a political strategist at the municipal level here in Toronto. I have a meeting with some new inner city Councillors next week (+ the Mayor) who are interested in this issue of streetcar speed and reliability (as am I as a fervent reader of your blog!).
Putting aside cost and political barriers for the moment: from a purely technical perspective, what measures would you recommend implementing on the Spadina and St. Clair streetcar routes to speed them up without losing ridership?
- Are there any stops on the Spadina line, near or far side, that could be eliminated while still retaining the riders who use those stops via other stops?
- What kind of TSP [Transit Signal Priority] extension would yield the best results if having to choose between the two: extending the seconds of green light extension OR maintaining the green light extension window while simultaneously allowing for more active TSP (ie rather than just if it’s late)?
- How much time would be saved if all far side stops were eliminated on Spadina and St Clair?
- How much delay does the lack of grade separation for the final/first leg of the St Clair route (ie when it’s entering or leaving the station and having to wait for cars and pedestrians) cause? Would installing a signal system for that unprotected stretch that prioritizes the streetcar result in any substantial gains?
Open to all thoughts and suggestions – many thanks 🙂
I am replying to this in public because (a) the comment was left in the public thread rather than sent in a private email, and (b) my answers will be of interest to other readers.
(1) What stops could be eliminated while still retaining the riders who use them via other stops?
The first thing you need to obtain is stop usage counts from the TTC. This is trickier than it seems because the streetcar fleet is not yet fully outfitted with automatic passenger counters and so we do not have full sampling of ons and offs at the stop level as we do on buses.
Be careful to include off peak and weekend usage, and break these data out from the peaks. There is a huge tendency in transportation planning to sanctify the am peak, but this misses travel patterns during other parts of the day.
On Spadina, my gut feeling from riding the line is that at most you would save the stop at Sussex, but I also don’t think that would save much time. I recommend that you look at the dwell time charts in my recent article. By the way, there can be some long dwells at Sussex that are not caused by stop service, but by backlogs of streetcars from Spadina Station Loop where various factors combine to delay service:
- Only one car loads/unloads at a time on the platform, and they often take long layovers for bathroom breaks or crew changes. Service backs up from the loop sometimes onto the street. This should be addressed by changing the stopping positions and door operations.
- A related problem is running time on the line which can be excessive leading to long dwells at terminals.
On St. Clair, there are few if any “in between” stops that could be eliminated. There are blocks between major roads where there are two stops rather than one (for example Silverthorn and Laughton west of Caledonia, or Russell Hill and Dunvegan between Spadina and Avenue Road). Combining them probably means just dropping one rather than finding an intermediate location.
During design of both lines, the stop locations were a subject of considerable discussion in the trade-offs between convenience and stop service time.
As a general rule, remember that we are trying to make this a walkable, accessible city. If you don’t want to serve riders, the fastest way is to make service harder to reach. In the Scarborough RapidTO implementation, a chunk of the “saving” came not from the red painted lanes, but from stop elimination, including the stop where Mayor Tory held a presser to announce the program. This verges on dishonesty.
Remember that total travel time includes the time to reach a stop which varies considerably depending on a rider’s age, physical condition, the weather and the local terrain. Making the walk longer can be counterproductive.
Stop elimination has long been one of the “magic bullets” the TTC looks at thinking they will save gobs of time. On non-right-of-way routes, intermediate stops that are not at traffic signals tend to have little effect on travel speed because streetcars do not “fall out of the wave” of traffic and get caught at a red signal. I will pick up this thread in a following answer. (I reviewed the behaviour of some routes after “minor” stop eliminations and found there was no difference because it is the traffic signals that determine overall speed.)
(2) Which is better: Longer green time extension or more active TSP?
You may not be aware that there is little TSP on the Spadina route and in some cases “TSP” actively interferes with transit operations particularly from Front to Queens Quay. On St. Clair, it’s a mixed bag. In brief, any major cross street (just about all of them on Spadina, several on St. Clair) have no TSP because the road engineers fear the effect of stealing green time from the cross street. So before you ask about improving/changing TSP, ask whether it is even active.
(For clarity there are transit advance greens for turning streetcars on Spadina, but for the most part that is not the scheduled service. Turns from east-west streets onto Spadina have no TSP, and there are geometric issues with implementing it for left turns because the detection point for a turning car is in the intersection, not behind the stop bar.)
An option you do not mention is letting the streetcars move before left turning traffic. This is a major source of delay on two counts. First is the obvious holding of streetcars, but there is a more subtle effect combined with the farside stop. When the traffic (including streetcars) moves off on a green, the timing of the next signal is based on the flow of the auto traffic wave. However, if the streetcar stops for any period, it falls out of the wave and is caught by a red except when green time extension is (a) active and (b) detects the approaching streetcar in time to kick in. This is particularly bothersome when an operator, reacting to the TTC’s imposition of slow orders and padded schedules, drives slowly to the next stop.
I strongly recommend that you get a detailed list of the operational plan for signals at each intersection so that you know how each of them behaves. Ride the lines. See how things really work.
(3) Elimination of Farside Stops
The fact that you even ask this tells me you don’t know these streets very well. Structurally that would mean a big change because new nearside stops would be required to replace the farside ones. These would eliminate the left turn traffic bays and likely require other structural changes to intersection layouts.
How much time would be saved? Aside from the physical impossibility, the saving would probably be at most three or four minutes on a one way trip. The amount saved would also vary by time of day, but it would depend on aggressive TSP for streetcars serving the new nearside stops. One factor that the current system does not sense is whether a vehicle is serving passengers or just sitting awaiting a green signal. If the former, then green time extension is a waste. There has been talk of sensing this by seeing if the vehicle’s doors are open, but I don’t know the status of this. Note that this applies across the system, not just on these two routes.
(4) Time savings on the outer ends of St. Clair (east of Yonge, west of Old Weston)
I have not seen substantial delays on St. Clair east of Yonge, and fitting in a reserved lane could be challenging. You obviously have not visited St. Clair Station, or you would know that there already is a signal at the loop exit. At Gunn’s Road, there is a signal just east of the loop which creates breaks in westbound traffic that streetcars can use to pull out without their own signal.
The track from Gunn’s to Keele has been in a reserved lane (unlike the original implementation) for over a decade, and there are plans to widen St. Clair as part of the reconfiguration of the segment between Keele and Old Weston Road. The streetcar lane is already reserved from Old Weston westward. The problem there is the single road lane through the four-lane underpass.
So when you talk about an unprotected stretch, I am not sure just what you mean.
(5) Other Suggestions
A major problem with transit priority generally is that there is too little of it, and it is compromised both by deference at major cross streets and by shortcomings in TTC operations. Moreover, if the goal (as too often cited by the TTC) is to speed operations and reduce the number of streetcars required, this is nothing more than a superficial attempt to address budget problems. Doing this by eliminating stops would be a double blow.
The TTC wastes vehicles everywhere today with padded schedules whose purpose, in theory, is to eliminate short turns and make Rick Leary look good. In fact short turns still occur at a rate far higher than the TTC reports, but also vehicles clog streets at transit terminals because they are so often early. Meanwhile, actual management of service is rare, especially evenings and weekends. TTC cites “on time” performance stats which (a) they don’t hit particularly well and (b) are measured only at terminals, not along routes. They also do not address a growing problem of vehicles running “Not In Service” where there should be a scheduled trip.
There is another growing problem of vehicle bunching where we are no longer talking about pairs of vehicles, but triplets and far worse. When most of the vehicles on a route wind up running in a pack for a few round trips, nobody is minding the store, and service for riders is appallingly bad. Fixing this will make a far greater contribution to service quality than messing around with stop locations and signals on a few routes.
In closing, this article may sound just a tad snotty as a reply to a well-meaning reader. If you’re going to claim a transit advocacy, or worse, a consulting role, you need to do your homework. Remember that we are still dealing with the fallout from “SmartTrack” which was a scheme hatched by, among others, a consultant working with obsolete Google street views from his UK office. (It was also originally a real estate play designed for the Markham and Airport districts it would serve, not as a local service within the city.)
I will take it that you are a “strategist” in the sense of an advocate looking to improve our transit, rather than a consultant looking to make money off of other people’s ideas. I already talk to many Councillors, and if they or the Mayor want my advice, I am happy to give it. They need only ask. Indeed, I am working on an article with advice for the next TTC Board right now. Anyone is welcome to quote from it, but it’s my work.