What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT?

In about two years, July 2023, the Scarborough RT will shut down and be replaced by bus services until a Line 2 Scarborough Subway Extension opens in 2030. For seven years or more, riders will use buses to reach Kennedy terminal on Line 2, a change that will strain both the transit service and roads.

The TTC has a survey underway to July 16, 2021, to find out how riders think the bus service should operate, and to get a sense of how they use the bus network today.

The SRT operates primarily as a link between Scarborough Centre (aka STC) and Kennedy Stations with Lawrence East Station in a distant third place mainly because of transfer traffic from the 54/954 Lawrence East bus services. A replacement service does not have to duplicate the route of the SRT, but rather serve travel patterns between the major nodes.

Source: TTC Subway Ridership 2018

The TTC plans to extend many routes now terminating at STC to Kennedy, but the challenge lies in the route that they will take. The combined service at peak will be about 1 minute, and that will strain road capacity. A saving grace is that buses will not stop often, and so they will not queue at curbside, but this bring an operational challenge for any mixture of local and express services. A reserved lane works best if buses do not have to pass each other by merging into other traffic.

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Metrolinx Gives Toronto the Finger, Twice

On the Toronto Executive Committee agenda for July 6, there is a report updating Council on the status of various rapid transit projects in Toronto. Notable by their absence are the Waterfront East LRT (study in progress as previously reported) and the Eglinton East LRT extension.

The truly galling part is found in two letters from Metrolinx, compounded by the abject parroting by City staff of Metrolinx creative writing in the City’s own report.

The documents are linked here:

  • Update on Metrolinx Transit Expansion Projects –Second Quarter 2021
  • Letter from Karla Avis Birch, Chief Planning Officer, Metrolinx, to Derrick Toigo, Executive Director, Transit Expansion Division, City of Toronto re the Ontario Line alignment
  • Letter from Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx to Derrick Toigo re the Ontario Line Maintenance and Storage Facility in Thorncliffe Park

The fundamental problem is that Council asked Metrolinx to consider alternatives to their design for the Ontario Line in Riverside (East Harbour to Gerrard Station) and in Thorncliffe Park (the location of the line’s storage yard).

Metrolinx chose to reply with analyses of options that were not those of concern to Council that addressed proposals from the affected communities. What Metrolinx did do was to trot out analyses of previously rejected options as if this somehow validated their position.

To give the impression that Metrolinx has “responded” to the city is a misrepresentation of what has happened, and it suggests that City staff in the Transit Expansion Division are more interested in buttressing Metrolinx’ case than answering Council’s request.

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Metrolinx’ Ill-Considered Don Valley Layover (Updated)

Metrolinx will be holding an online consultation on Tuesday, June 29, for its Don Valley Layover scheme. There is a lot of misinformation on this proposal coming from Metrolinx, but as with so many of their schemes, they are bulling ahead.

Full disclosure: I live immediately adjacent to the proposed storage and servicing facility on the east side of the Don River north of the Prince Edward Viaduct. I have a direct interest in the effect of Metrolinx plans and the effect they will have because of the potential for noise and light pollution.

First, it is important that readers understand Metrolinx plans and the supposed function of what they wish to build.

Updated June 29, 2021 at 8:00 am: Additional drawings regarding sound level measurements have been added as well as a commentary on peak versus averaged sound levels.

GO Transit New Facilities

The plans are part of the GO Transit New Track and Facilities scheme which includes new layover yards in various locations around the system. This plan already has Ministerial approval and could proceed at any time to detailed design and construction.

GO Transit plans two new facilities in what they broadly refer to as the Richmond Hill Corridor. The purpose of the two are sometimes confused in Metrolinx presentations with the result that the debate becomes tangled thanks to one plan’s being confused with the other.

As the corridor leaves Union Station, it runs along the north edge of the rail embankment and then swings north along the west side of the Don River. This corridor actually contains two separate railways as they then were.

  • One is the former Canadian National Bala Subdivision. This takes a meandering path north and is owned by Metrolinx to the point where it crosses the CN York Subdivision, the east-west freight route parallel to Highway 7. North of that junction the line is still owned by CN. The Richmond Hill GO service uses this route.
  • The other is the former Canadian Pacific Don Branch which linked Union Station to the CPR’s main line at the former Leaside Station. The line was abandoned decades ago for rail service, but it was bought by Metrolinx. It splits off from the rail line on the west side of the river roughly at Rosedale Valley Road, crosses to the east side, and runs beside the DVP to Pottery Road where it crosses on a high bridge.

The map below shows the corridor from the south end of the Don River (left) to Pottery Road (right). (For a high resolution version of this plan, click here.)

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TTC 2022 Service Plan Consultation

Updated June 28, 2021 at 6:10 pm:

The TTC has filled in some of the details on 51 Leslie, 88 South Leaside and 354 Lawrence East Night. See the individual sections of this article for details.

The TTC has launched public consultations for its 2022 Service Plan. This will be a difficult year in which ridership is expected, at best, to climb back to 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Budgets will be tight because the transit system plans to be operating close to 100 per cent of is former service (building up gradually on the buses for January 2022, then streetcars and finally the subway) even though fare revenue will be at a lower level. The TTC recognizes that it needs to provide good service to attract riders back to the system.

For the week of June 4-11, boardings on each of the TTC’s networks by vehicle type are still below 50 per cent of January 2020 values:

  • Bus: 40%
  • Streetcar: 27%
  • Subway: 23%
  • Overall: 31%

Trip occupancy for buses is generally below the target level.

  • 4% of trips are over 50% full
  • 0.6% of trips are over 70% full
  • 0.3% of trips are over 80% full

An important distinction about crowding measurements is that as ridership recovers, a the definition of a “full” bus will rise from 25 riders today, to 35 and then to the “standard” full load of 51. Service levels and crowding in 2022 will be measured and allocated against this shifting target. In the short term, service will be provided at a crowding level below pre-pandemic times.

Crowding levels reported now are all day, all route, all week values, and they hide problem areas in the system. The TTC still does not break out reports on crowding or service quality by route, location or time of day. Their “On Time Departure Report” has not been updated in several years, and although there is still a link to it from the Customer Service page, the link is dead.

The 2018 Customer Charter is still linked and it includes a commitment, carried forward from the 2013 Charter:

Posting the performance of all surface routes on our website so you know how your route is performing.

One might ask why Rick Leary, the man Andy Byford hired to improve service, is incapable of producing reports of service quality beyond the extremely superficial level found in his monthly CEO’s Report. The TTC have detailed crowding data and use them internally, but do not publish them. As for on time performance or headway reliability, I have written extensively about problems with service quality and these metrics. Even though service is the top of riders’ desires, it is not reported by the TTC probably because the numbers would be too embarrassing.

This is a gaping hole in TTC Service – the absence of meaningful reporting and measurement of service quality as experienced by riders.

Although the TTC plans to return to 100 per cent service, this does not mean that the service patterns will match those of early 2020. Demand patterns have changed both in daily patterns (peaks or their absence) and location (heavier demand to suburban jobs in sectors where work from home is impossible). To the extent that peaks are smaller or non-existent, this works in the TTC’s favour by allowing a higher ratio of service hours to driving hours (buses spend less time, proportionately, going to and from garages). This also, of course, spreads out demand and can reduce crowding.

A new phenomenon is the early morning peak caused by commutes to jobs outside the core. This produces crowding even on some Blue Night Routes, and the TTC is looking at how this can be resolved.

There is a page on the TTC’s site including a link to a survey about planned changes including some new and revised routes, as well as the plan for route restructuring to accompany the opening of Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown. Tentatively, that line is expected to begin running on July 31, 2022 according to the TTC, but that is simply a planning target, not a hard date.

In this article, I have grouped the planned changes geographically to pull together information on related routes rather than numerically as they appear on the TTC’s site. I have also included information on some changes planned for later in 2021 to put the proposed 2022 route structure in context.

There is a separate consultation process launching soon regarding the future service design for the period between the shutdown of Line 3 Scarborough RT in mid 2023 and the opening of the Line 2 Scarborough extension in fall 2030.

There are three major components in the 2022 plan:

  • Optimize the network to match capacity with demand.
  • Restructure the network for the opening of 5 Eglinton Crosstown.
  • Modify the network to respond to customer requests, evolving demand patterns and new developments.

All maps in this article are from the TTC’s website.

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Ontario Line East Segment Update

On June 24, 2021, Metrolinx held an online consultation session for the Ontario Line segment between the Don River and Gerrard Station.

In a distinct change from a previous round, Metrolinx did not begin by insulting the audience with claims that the session would deal with “myths and misinformation”. This is refreshing and long overdue. Metrolinx appears to be going out of its way to fine-tune the design through Riverside to produce the least side-effects as possible while preserving their preferred alignment. Although they are looking at underground alternatives, much of their work focuses on their planned scheme with a shared GO+OL corridor.

Since the previous articles I have written on this project, the East Segment Neighbourhood Update page has been substantially revised.

Readers should also refer to:

Metrolinx has revised maps of this segment to show the Ontario Line on the north side of the rail corridor rather than the “straddle” configuration previously shown.

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Raising the Rails in Riverside: Metrolinx Comments

In a recent article Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor I noted that a new set of drawings had appeared in the Ontario Line Neighbourhood Update, East web page showing a proposed change in the elevation of tracks in the shared GO/OL corridor between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations.

Here is a Metrolinx illustration showing the change. The layout as originally proposed is on top, and the revised layout is on the bottom. Note that where green space is shown neside the corridor, this does not necessarily exist as some of the Metrolinx property line is at or close to the sidewalk. The retaining wall plus noise barrier would be immediately adjacent.

I posed a series of questions to Metrolinx in an attempt to sort fact from fiction on this matter, and today had a call with their project staff to sort through the issues. The principal speakers for Metrolinx were Malcolm MacKay and Richard Tucker.

When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor? Why is this being done?

According to Metrolinx, this has been underway for at least 6 months as a collaborative effort with the TTC and City of Toronto to establish bridge clearances and other design elements.

Substandard clearances are a concern on the road network for both the City and the TTC. Those of us who follow TTC service interruption reports often read of “mechanical problems” near Queen and DeGrassi Streets. These are almost always due to damaged or broken overhead thanks either to a dewirement, or to an over-height vehicle striking the TTC wires.

A related concern is that the bridges in this corridor are about a century old, and this is an opportunity to replace them with new structures that will have lower maintenance costs

Later in the conversation, I asked whether Metrolinx was saying, in effect, that “the City made us do it”. To this they responded strongly that they are not blaming the City, but there is a 5m standard for bridge clearances that they are following. They went on to say, possibly imprudently, that there were pro and anti camps on the question of whether this work should be done.

Obviously the pro camp won out, but drawings showing the change are quite recent, and there is no mention of this in all of the studies that have been published.

What is the extent of the work, i.e. between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?

From east of the Don River to Gerrard Street. According to Metrolinx, he TTC still has an interest in the Dundas Street bridge because they are protecting for an extension of streetcar service to Gerrard Station via Dundas and Carlaw.

By how much will the track be raised?

The change varies by location, but it will be between 900mm and 1500mm according to Metrolinx. For those who still think in Imperial measure, that’s just under 3 feet to just under 5 feet.

I asked whether a plan showing the new elevations exists in the style of “roll plans” that have been provided for other corridor projects. This will probably be published along with other details for the next round of public consultations later in 2021.

What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?

Metrolinx would likely slew the existing GO tracks to create work space on one side of the rail corridor at a time. This would allow all work to be done within the corridor rather than using adjacent spaces. Metrolinx’ property is wide enough for six tracks, and this means that three could be maintained in operation by shifting them to one side while work was done on the other side. There are no switches in this segment, and therefore shifting the tracks is relatively straightforward.

If low ridership on GO continues long enough, it might be possible to reduce the corridor temporarily to two tracks giving more room to work around the live operations.

What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?

The bridges are old dating back to 1924. Metrolinx intends to replace them with new structures regardless of whether they are owned by the City or Metrolinx.

The elevation change will be entirely at Metrolinx track level. The road elevations will not change.

When I published my article, a few emails arrived suggesting what was behind this change. One claimed that the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project wanted a different track standard to support their planned operating speed. This seemed a bit far-fetched considering how close the tracks in question are to Union Station, and how short (2km) the segment is. The change in travel time from Toronto to Montreal would probably be measured in seconds.

Can you confirm or deny that at least part of the reason for the regrading is to suit HFR? If so, does the intent to use “tilting” trains change the spacing of the tracks needed for clearance?

Metrolinx replied that HFR did not play into decision making for rail heights or tilting trains. The alignment is designed to Metrolinx standards. They are not precluding HFR, but not changing bridges or track layout on HFR’s behalf.

A Question of Transparency

I will take it on faith that the City and TTC really have been working with Metrolinx for half a year on this matter, and that there may have been a debate about whether regrading the corridor and raising the bridges was actually necessary.

That said, Metrolinx published extensive studies and community presentations showing the corridor at its present elevation, and with no provision for the construction effects of rebuilding the segment from the Don River to Gerrard, not even a mention as a possibile subject for further study.

There has been no evaluation of the construction effects, and proposals regarding mitigation of the combined OL and GO effects here are based on current track elevations. This affects sound barrier heights and the amount of room available for corridor “softening” with treatments such as vegetated slopes or additional trees where room is available for them. The drawings purporting to show what the corridor would look like simply do not match what Metrolinx now plans to build.

All this is not to say that raising the corridor and improving clearances are, on their own, bad ideas. It would be refreshing to have fewer service interruptions on the streetcar network here, especially considering that over half of the fleet is based just east of this bridge at Leslie Barns and Russell Carhouse.

If this has been a City and TTC concern for months, why does the local Councillor not appear to know this could be part of the project scope?

Another obvious question must be what effect this will have on the project’s cost and duration. Who is picking up the tab?

One cannot help wondering whether it is only good fortune that this design change came to light during the current round of consultations.

What else don’t we know about Metrolinx’ intent in this and other corridors?

All of the debates about the project until now were based on a false presentation of how the enlarged use of the rail corridor would affect the neighbourhood.

This is not just a question of settling a debate among “the experts” about whether to raise the rail corridor or not. This is not a minor scope change. This is not an “oops”.

Even with the best of intentions, the basic issues are transparency in public consultation and trust in Metrolinx.

Waterfront East LRT: June 2021 Update

Various projects for transit in the waterfront are working their way through a Waterfront Reset process. On July 7, 2021, there will be an update to Toronto’s Executive Committee on the status of transit projects including the Waterfront East LRT. Staff hope to take an updated Business Case based on the preliminary design to Council in Fall 2021.

The City of Toronto, Waterfront Toronto and the TTC held an online update and consultation session for the Waterfront East project on June 21, 2021. This covered several points and included significant changes in scope and design.

  • The new Union Station Loop will be fully built in one stage rather than a half-now, half-later approach. The full capacity of the new loop will be required to serve development underway and planned in the waterfront.
  • The new Queens Quay Station will include connections (some provisional) to adjacent buildings and to a tunnel under Queens Quay to the Ferry Docks.
  • The eastern portal location will be west of Yonge Street in front of the Harbour Castle Hotel. The hotel’s entrance will be relocated to the eastern face of the building at a new entryway to be constructed by extending Yonge Street southwards over what is now the Yonge Street Slip.
  • The western portal will receive an architectural treatment that will echo the new east portal.
  • The work will be staged so that through streetcar service could operate to the eastern waterfront from existing trackage on Queens Quay West while the Bay Street tunnel is closed for reconstruction of the stations.
  • Queens Quay East will continue a street design similar to that on the portion west of Bay with modifications to better clarify the pedestrian and cycling areas.
  • As previously planned, the Parliament Slip will be partly filled to allow extension of Queens Quay directly east to meet a realigned Cherry Street. This design is no longer entangled with plans advanced by Sidewalk Labs.
  • The first phase of streetcar service will extend east to Cherry and south to a new loop at Polson Street.
  • There are four options for the connection north via Cherry to Distillery Loop one of which would require relocation of the existing (but inactive) Cherry Street Tower in the rail corridor which is now immediately south of the loop. The most likely of these is a new portal for the streetcars east of the tower.
  • Following construction work on Bay Street, the surface level will be redesigned to improve its appearance and provide more room for pedestrians and cyclists.

The City’s presentation deck is arranged slightly differently from the sequence in this article because they focused on design exercises for each segment of the line. Here I have tried to pull some related matters together.

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Street Construction Project Update: June 2021

Several construction projects are underway by both the TTC and various utilities in locations that affect streetcar service in Toronto. This article is a compendium update.

Wellington and Church Streets from Yonge to King

One might have the sense that Wellington Street has been under construction almost forever. The 503 Kingston Road streetcar which normally would loop via Church, Wellington and York to King has running west to Spadina and turning back through Charlotte Loop.

The section of Wellington from Yonge to Church was supposed to be rebuilt this spring, but work suddenly halted a few weeks ago. The reason for this varies depending on the source, but basically there are conflicts between utilities underground and proposed reconstruction plans. Considering the number of agencies involved in this project, and the amount of planning/co-ordination that is supposed to have happened, the situation is a testimonial to appalling project management.

The City’s press release puts it this way:

In March, the City and TTC began construction to renew aging streetcar infrastructure on Wellington Street East (between Yonge and Church Streets) and on Church Street (from south of King Street East to Front Street East). The City encountered a number of complex infrastructure challenges that impacted construction including conflicts with underground utilities infrastructure, alignments that have not been properly cleared and scope changes.

City of Toronto, June 18, 2021

The track has been replaced from west of Yonge (the point where a previous reconstruction left off) to just west of Church.

According to the City, this project is “paused” for, among other things, giving merchants access to the sidewalk under the CafeTO program. However, construction will not resume until 2022 giving merchants and condo residents yet another year’s disruption when they had hoped the street would be restored. My correspondent in this area advises that the BIA is much displeased and wants the construction finished in fall 2021.

Broadview Avenue from Gerrard Street to Danforth Avenue

Streetcar service has been suspended on Broadview for a watermain replacement project that was due to get underway in May. A recent Construction Update (which is not yet online as I write this) advises that:

Unfortunately, due to an ongoing industry wide watermain pipe shortage, construction on the Broadview watermain project will be delayed until such time as the material is available which is anticipated to arrive at the end of July. This material delay will impact the project completion date, which is now estimated to be completed in spring 2022.

Broadview Watermain work may not commence until approximately late July or early August 2021. Once all pipes and materials can be secured by our contractor a revised project schedule and a Construction Update will be issued.

City of Toronto, Construction Update #1, June 14, 2021

What is not clear yet is whether this work will be broken into two segments allowing streetcars to return for some period over the fall and winter. Moreover, the TTC had plans to rebuild track in the same section of Broadview in 2022, and this work will have to be co-ordinated with whatever plans the City will have to complete its watermain construction.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

The mammoth project to reconfigure and rebuild the KQQR intersection and the 501 Queen trackage west to Parkside Drive continues.

There are photos of the ongoing work in various locations:

I visited the site on June 20, and here are a few shots of the current status.

The excavation ends just east of Sunnyside Loop which will be rebuilt in this project. The intersection at Sunnyside will gain a traffic signal to assist streetcars in leaving the loop and turning east onto their new right-of-way.

There is no sign yet of whatever barriers will be added to separate road traffic from the streetcar lanes.

Metrolinx Plans Major Grade Change on Lakeshore East Corridor

Metrolinx quietly slipped a major change in its joint Lakeshore East / Ontario Line corridor plans by way of a web page update with no accompanying announcement or explanation.

Current version of webpage

Archived copy of webpage from May 14, 2021

Metrolinx plans to raise the existing GO Transit tracks by 0.9m to 1.6m in order to increase clearances under bridges on the corridor. The west and east limits of this work along the corridor have not been announced, and there are illustrations only for the area north of Queen Street.

The previously published layouts assumed tracks would stay at the same elevation as today, with the new Ontario Line to the west and north of the GO corridor at the same level. The new layout shifts everything higher. Note that the top drawing here is a cross-section where the Metrolinx right-of-way is at its widest with open space on either side buffering the mass of the corridor.

There are significant challenges in this scale of work on a busy, live rail corridor. One does not simply bring in loads of fill overnight and jack up the tracks. Bridges are a special concern particularly in any location where all tracks occupy a common structure rather than separate spans for each track that could be individually replaced or raised.

I posed a series of questions about this to Metrolinx, but they will not be responding until Monday, June 21 at the earliest.

  1. When was the decision made to regrade the rail corridor?
  2. Why is this being done?
  3. What is the extent of the work, ie between what locations will the track be raised from its current level?
  4. By how much will the track be raised?
  5. What are your staging plans for maintaining GO service during this work?
  6. What are the effects on the bridges in the affected area?
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Ontario Line Downtown Segment Update

This post is the second in a series of four covering the June round of online updates to the Ontario Line project.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 9:05 am: The section on the First Parliament site has been updated with information about the location of the Parliament and other buildings provided by a reader, Michael Bethke, in the comments. With thanks for the information.

Updated June 18, 2021 at 8:00 am: A section discussing the two versions of the Metrolinx presentation deck has been added at the end of this article.

The first version of the presentation deck that Metrolinx posted contained two slides with howling spelling mistakes, but also with station diagrams that differed from those shown in the online presentation. Subsequently the “final” version of the deck was linked from their engagement page. I have updated the link to the revised deck below and have replaced the illustrations in the article. The first version is also available from my own site if Metrolinx deletes it from theirs.

From document properties in the published PDFs, it is clear that there are two different versions of the presentation deck, and the wrong one was published first.

At least Metrolinx caught the error before their online session, but they pushed out a deck with errors two hours ahead and did not flag that it had been changed on their site. Basic editing errors like street names raise issues about the care in other, more serious, parts of their work.

Meetings for other segments are scheduled on:

  • June 24: Corktown, East Harbour, Riverside, Gerrard
  • June 30: North to Eglinton from Danforth

The introductory article for the meeting is on the Metrolinx blog and the engagement page includes links to the four meetings and resources for them.

Information here is taken from the neighbourhood update for the downtown segment, the presentation deck for the June 17 meeting, and information gleaned from that meeting.

This segment runs from Osgoode Station over to the Don River. An important structural point about the Ontario Line is that the downtown segment is in bedrock unlike the Eglinton Crosstown line which is tunneled through glacial till.

On Eglinton this meant that passing under Line 1 at Yonge/Eglinton and at Eglinton West Station required structural support of the existing subway and mining under Line 1 rather than continuing with the TBMs. On Queen, the existing stations are just above the level of bedrock which will support them while tunneling proceeds 10m or more below in rock.

Projections for 2041OsgoodeQueenMoss ParkCorktown
Residents served116,50018,40023,60026,400
Jobs served1110,500150,00023,20015,700
Zero-car households18,7005,1004,1003,300
Station usage (busiest hour)212,10016,6007,3004,100
Transfers to/from Line 1 (busiest hour)2 5,7006,100
Transfers to/from surface (busiest hour)2 1,0006001,5001,900
Source: Metrolinx Neighbourhood Updates, Downtown

Notes:

  1. Because station catchment areas overlap, some people and jobs will be double counted.
  2. Station usage may include passengers arriving, leaving and transferring which is a different number from originating passengers at each station. I have asked Metrolinx for clarification on this, but they have not yet replied.
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