504 King: Downtown Travel Times in 2020

The King Street Transit Priority “Pilot” has been in place since fall 2017, and is now a permanent fixture. Long time readers will know that I have tracked the changes in travel times through the affected area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets for many years.

For some time, there has been little “news” because conditions on King were stable and the travel times were not changing even as the number of scofflaws grew. Basically, the street did not reach the “tipping point” where there was enough traffic, whether it should be there or not, to push conditions “over the edge” into the pre-pilot congestion. One notable exception was the effect of major sports events and traffic jams that plugged (mainly) University Avenue causing north-south traffic to back through the intersection preventing east-west movement.

With the steep decline in traffic downtown through the combined effect of work-from-home and the shuttering of much of the Entertainment District, I took another look at King to see what was happening.

Note: For one week in April 2020, track repairs at Church Street prevented King cars from running through, and no data appear for those days in the charts.

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A Primer Re Service Analysis Charts

From time to time I get requests to explain how the service analysis charts work in more detail, but without getting into the gory bits of how the data are actually manipulated.

To that end, I have added a new article Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts: A Primer that goes into a fair amount of detail but leaves out much of the technical nuts of bolts. It includes examples to show the progress from mounds of detailed data to summary formats, and shows the challenges of what to display and how depending on what aspect of service one wishes to examine.

The intent is to have an “explainer” with the details to avoid duplicating this information in every service analysis article.

The article is long, but is divided into section with hotlinks from an index near the beginning so that readers can jump to each section directly.

If you have comments or questions, please leave them on that article, not here. (Comments here are disabled.)

This is a complement to the technical article Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data that looks “under the covers”.

Both of these articles are linked from the “Reference Material” tab in the main navigation bar if you need them in the future.

The Last Night of the Mt. Pleasant Car

Streetcar service on Mt. Pleasant Road ended at dawn on Sunday, July 25, 1976. To mark the occasion, a group of transit enthusiasts (or railfans if you prefer) chartered Peter Witt 2766 for an overnight tour around the city. We stopped at many places for photos, something that is only possible in the middle of the night, and then finished up with two round trips on the Mt. Pleasant line before calling it a night.

Here is a gallery of photos from that journey. I have published some of these before, but here is the full set.

Some of what we photographed remains, other views have disappeared or changed substantially.

There are more buildings in the way of the CN Tower than in 1976 and getting a clean shot top-to-bottom is much harder now than it was when the tower was new.

The buildings on Spadina have not changed too much, but it would take almost two decades from the photo here before we would see streetcar service return in 1997.

Bay Street is utterly transformed, now a condo canyon, including the stripped and repurposed Sutton Place Hotel.

The tail track at Bingham Loop that allowed a brief excursion into Scarborough was removed years ago as were spurs and tail tracks almost everywhere else.

The variety store beside Coxwell-Queen Loop disappeared under a condo in the past few years.

Now it was time to venture up to St. Clair for the last runs on Mt. Pleasant. Our first pass took us along St.Clair past the subway station over track used only by the night cars. Up at Eglinton, it was still quite dark although the deep blue of the dawn sky had begun to show. We returned south and west to St. Clair Station and then looped back east to Moore Park Loop where we met the first bus on the new Mt. Pleasant route. Another trip through St. Clair Station brought a meet with the last night car, and then we headed off for the final trip with the line all to ourselves.

As we were posing in front of the coal silos at Merton, a TTC Supervisor came by to chase us off of the line as they wanted to cut off the power. Our operator, Charlie Price, a veteran of many charters, was not too worried about getting back to the carhouse on time.

At Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant, nothing that was on the four corners remains today. A bus loop, currently unused, sits inside a seniors’ building on the northeast corner that once held a gas station and the streetcar loop. The bank on the northwest will return some day as the shell of the main entrance to Mt. Pleasant Station on Line 5 Crosstown. Eglinton Public School on the southwest was replaced with an ugly building whose architects assure me was the product of cost cutting by the Board of Education. The south east corner, formerly a typical 1920s-era row of stores with apartments above, now has a midrise commercial building that, like other developments along Eglinton, added nothing to the local character. It is sad to think that the bank, when it returns, will probably be the most distinguished building there.

At St. Clair and Yonge, even the “modern” towers don’t last forever. Updates and replacements are already in the pipeline.

The subway station had the distinction of being the first to have a restaurant inside of the paid area, a counter-example to the “though shalt not eat in the subway” bylaw that was never implemented. It eventually became a McDonalds.

Moore Park Loop is now a local parkette little changed except for the removal of the streetcar tracks.

Dominion Coal is long gone, and the area between Mt. Pleasant and Yonge along Merton is almost all condos in what was once an industrial area.

The cemetery, founded in 1873 when it was out in the countryside among farms, goes on, an oasis with the city’s best collection of trees.

Updated July 27, 2020: Service east of St. Clair Station to Moore Park Loop continued until October 2, 1976 but only for the St. Clair night car (and occasional daytime cars killing time because they were off schedule). Thanks to Philip Webb for sending me a copy of an article by Mike Roschlau in Rail+Transit, January 1977, with this info.

60 Steeles West Travel Times

This article continues a series looking at the travel times on routes where bus lanes have been proposed to compare pre-covid “normal” conditions with those after traffic volumes were substantially reduced by the pandemic. The intent is to show what are probably the “best case” conditions for transit priority with relatively little traffic congestion to illustrate the locations and times when bus lanes would bring a saving, if any, on each route.

Reserved lanes are proposed for Steeles Avenue West between Yonge Street and Pioneer Village (aka Steeles West) Station. This stretch contains segments that are badly congested and not just in the peak periods. However, the remainder of the route west of Pioneer Village Station and on Yonge south to Finch also have severe congestion which this proposal does not address.

Yonge from Steeles south to Cummer has “diamond” HOV lanes marked with paint and signs, but travel times are very slow suggesting that these are more decorative than serving to actually marshall traffic. This is a cautionary tale for those who think that physical lane reservation to achieve true priority is excessive. Buses also face the need to make left turns northbound at Steeles and southbound at Finch Station.

West of Pioneer Village Station, the service level is much lower than to the east and the route will continue to operate in mixed traffic. However, this is also an area of severe congestion, and I have included a review of the western segment here for those who are interested. Steeles is a good example of the fact that “congestion” is not just a downtown phenomenon, and given the growth patterns and transportation plans of the suburbs, it is unlikely to disappear.

Steeles Avenue has split jurisdiction between York Region and Toronto, and any change in lane usage or street geometry requires agreement by both of them. During the debate at Toronto’s Executive Committee, one member suggested that York Region might be asked to contribute to the cost of implementing bus lanes on Steeles because their services would benefit. This idea did not find its way into the approved motions. That is just as well considering the infrequent service on almost all YRT routes operating on portions of this section of Steeles, and the limited savings bus lanes would bring to them. (There are no VIVA services here.)

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39 Finch East Travel Times (Updated)

Updated July 20, 2020 at 5:00 pm: A comparison of travel times for local 39 and express 939 service on Finch East has been added at the end of the article.

This article continues a series comparing travel times on proposed bus priority routes in the “pre-covid” era of what we once thought of as “normal” traffic with the conditions since mid-March 2020. The latter probably represent the best case for any future prioritized transit operations and a comparison can set some expectations on what might, or might not, be achieved.

It is easy to draw a line on a map and say “Put transit priority here!”, but this quickly runs into the fact that others, notably motorists, also use the road and one must be able to make a pro-transit case based on evidence that there actually will be an improvement, at least for transit riders.

Such a case must deal with several factors:

  • The benefit to running time is usually location and direction sensitive, not to mention varying by time of day.
  • Locations where congestion is a problem are also those where taking road space away from motorists will be most difficult.
  • The level of service on some routes during off peak periods coupled with low potential time savings makes permanent reservations hard to argue for especially where lost parking would be an issue.
  • Even in the less congested conditions of recent months, the reliability of TTC service leaves a lot to be desired. (I will turn to this aspect of service in a later article for all of the bus lane proposals.)

The offsetting benefits are:

  • Reduced and more reliable running times with the worst case delays “shaved off” in the manner seen on the King Street pilot.
  • A small reduction in the number of vehicles required to provide service, or conversely, the ability to improve service without adding vehicles.

Better service can result from a combination of more frequent scheduled vehicles and more reliable headways. Indeed, riders could see more benefit simply from buses showing up regularly than from actual in-vehicle travel time. Sadly, the TTC’s focus is on saving money first, not on improving service reliability and capacity, and this will potentially undermine the entire transit priority project.

This article reviews data from 39 Finch East, and will be followed by reviews of 60 Steeles West and 54 Lawrence East in future articles.

Technical note: Finch East is a route whose behaviour I have been following on and off for several years, and I therefore have a sampling of data going back to 2011.

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Reserved Bus Lanes: Eglinton East in Fall 2020, More to Follow (Updated)

Updated July 9, 2020 at 8:10 am: A table comparing existing and proposed stops has been added adjacent to the service plan map in this article.

Updated July 9, 2020 at 12:30 am: A section has been added at the end of the article examining headway reliability for 86 Scarborough and 116 Morningside just east of Kennedy Station, and at Guildwood. This section complements an observation by the City of Toronto about unreliable headways, and hence uneven loading, on buses running on Eglinton.

Headway management is at least as important as improved travel time for these routes. There is not much point in saving a few minutes riding a bus if the waiting time is unpredictable and the bus may be full when it arrives in a gap. This aspect of TTC service management has been a chronic problem that is always put down to “traffic congestion”. In fact the post-covid data show that even with the much less congested conditions, headways are still spread over a wide range of values. This is a problem that will not be fixed by painting the pavement red.

The TTC Board will consider a report on reserved lanes for BRT-lite operation on several corridors at its July 14, 2020 meeting. Although there was a political desire to get all of them up and running as quickly as possible at the June board meeting, the proposed schedule strings this out over a longer time.

  • Fall 2020: Eglinton East from Kennedy Station, Kingston Road, Morningside to UTSC
  • 2021: Jane from Eglinton to Steeles
  • 2022 and beyond:
    • Steeles West from Yonge to Pioneer Village Station
    • Finch East from Finch Station to McCowan
    • Dufferin from Wilson to Dufferin Gate
    • Lawrence from east of Victoria Park to Rouge Hill

A key point is that TTC expects to save money on reduced travel times. Whether this would be reinvested in service on the affected streets or elsewhere in the system is hard to know. Some of the reduction will come from the reserve lanes, but some will also come from the consolidation of closely-spaced stops.

Experience on King Street showed that the travel time savings, such as they were, were eaten up by operational changes that added more running and recovery time to schedules in an attempt to eliminate short turns.

Bus lanes on the Eglinton East corridor are anticipated to increase transit reliability and reduce transit travel time on average between two-to-five minutes per trip. These time and reliability savings present an opportunity to achieve operating budget savings of 500 fewer service hours per week, equivalent to about $2.5 million per year and a capital cost avoidance of seven fewer peak buses equivalent to approximately $6.3 million. [p. 4]

The problem here is that any kind of “savings” has an allure that is much stronger than service improvements. Buses will not run more frequently, although service might be more reliable if the worst of periodic “bad days” can be avoided with the reserved lanes. This is similar to the results on King where the reliability effect was much more important than the actual change in average travel time. Better reliability means shorter waits for vehicles and a better chance that loads will be evenly distributed.

However, King Street had the added advantage that the actual capacity of the route was increased by running larger vehicles as the new Flexitys replaced the smaller CLRVs, ALRVs and bus trippers on the route. A similar opportunity is not available, at least in the short term, on Eglinton. The TTC has no spare articulated buses, and only modest plans to acquire more in future years. (Note that changes in the overall fleet mix have effects on bus garages which must be modified to service the longer vehicles, or purpose-built with this in mind just as Leslie Barns was for the new streetcar fleet.)

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35 Jane Travel Times and Priority Lanes

On June 17, 2020, the TTC Board will consider a proposal to implement transit priority lanes on several corridors including Finch East, Steeles West, Dufferin, Jane and Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside. This article reviews travel times and speeds for the Jane Street corridor comparing November 2011 and May 2020 data with the underlying premise that the May data show the best case for congestion-free operation.

The proposal for Jane Street run north from Eglinton to Steeles. Roadway widths and adjacent land uses vary along the corridor, and the removal of traffic lanes will have different effects along the street. A related problem will be the provision for cyclists, if any.

Note: When this article was first posted, some charts erroneously had some data labelled as “April 2018” rather than “November 2019”. This has been corrected.

Travel Times Between Eglinton and Steeles

Northbound

As on Dufferin, but to a greater degree, Jane Street has a high PM peak travel time and an extended peak period. The difference between November 2019 and May 2020 is quite striking.

Looking at the weekly breakdowns, there is the same pattern here on Jane as on Dufferin – although May 2020 times are shorter than those for November 2011, they have been rising over the four weeks showing a growth in some combination of traffic congestion and stop service time.

Southbound

The southbound peaks are similar to northbound and the PM peak extends over a considerable period.

The weekly breakdown shows the same pattern with growth in travel times through May 2020.

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29 Dufferin Travel Times and Priority Lanes (Updated)

Updated July 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm: 29 Dufferin is a route that I have been tracking for much longer than most bus routes. To give a longer perspective into travel times on the Dufferin corridor, I have added a section looking back to 2011.

Route 29 Dufferin is one of five corridors proposed for rapid implementation of reserved bus lanes in a proposal that will be at the TTC Board on June 17. Others include Finch East, Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside, Steeles West and Jane.

In this article, I will review travel times and speed data for Dufferin comparing conditions in April 2018 and May 2020. (2018 is used because I do not have any more recent pre-covid data.) The premise of this comparison is that May 2020 represents conditions on the route with all or most traffic congestion removed revealing the underlying conditions that would apply in a best case transit priority lane implementation.

Dufferin Street is very different from the other proposed corridors because for much of its length it is only four lanes wide with houses and businesses fronting onto the street and little or no opportunity for widening. On the northern portion where the street allowance is wider, there is a combination of four through traffic lanes with bays for right turns and bus stops.

Creation of a reserved lane will involve both a reduction of capacity for non-transit traffic and removal of parking. Depending on whether the lanes are in effect only during peak periods or longer, parking will be a big political issue as it was for attempts to improve transit operations on streetcar routes.

Before the King Street Pilot was proposed, the City reviewed parking regulations on the shoulders of peak periods to determine whether they should be extended. (Full disclosure: I worked on this project as a consultant.) With the growth of traffic over many years, the peak had expanded beyond its traditional 7-9 AM, 4-6 PM periods. Travel time charts would clearly show two super-peaks on either side of the official two-hour period as transit vehicles were fighting peak level congestion when parking and turn restrictions were not in effect. From this study, many areas had their peak periods extended by 30 or 60 minutes on either side of the original hours so that the period could be as long as 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM.

There was a lot of push back on this scheme from local businesses who regarded parking as essential to their operations, and there were tradeoffs in the final scheme to limit the expansion of peak restrictions. For example, a proposed no parking restriction on Broadview near Danforth was changed to end at 6:30 pm instead of 7:00 pm. It is worth noting that on Queen Street in The Beach there are no extended restrictions and the traditional two-hour windows apply. It would be intriguing to know whether Councillor Bradford, the author of the motion, would agree to elimination of parking in his ward in the name of speeding up the Queen car.

Parking is already banned in some locations on Dufferin Street from 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM, but the traditional hours are more common, and some locations have no restrictions at all. There are many locations where motorists would routinely move into a “reserved” curb lane to access off-street parking and laneways, as well as for right turns.

There is also the question of how bicycles would fit into any new street design.

Overall, the challenges on Dufferin Street are not straightforward and, like the much shorter King Street Pilot, they will require detailed block-by-block review.

Travel Times Between King and Wilson

In the following charts, note that changes in travel times will be due to a combination of two factors: the level of traffic congestion and the time spent at stops loading and unloading passengers. Transit priority can reduce the effect of congestion, but stop service times are a function of service level and demand, and especially of the degree to which crowding prevents a speedy movement of passengers onto and off of buses.

Budgetary constraints drive the TTC to run as close to its capacity standards, if not over them, as a routine practice. The degree of crowding is only rarely reported, and the cost in terms of service delays is not considered. A vicious circle can develop where headways are widened and travel times stretched in response to this type of delay, but this reinforces crowding problems while providing a “no cost solution” so beloved by simplistic political analysis.

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Evolution of Travel Times on 504 King in 2020

The reduced transit riding and auto traffic in Toronto during past months provides an opportunity to compare travel times during what used to be “typical” conditions with the situation when there is no congestion and stop service times might be shorter.

This article examines the 504 King route from January to May 2020. I plan to publish data for other streetcar and bus routes, but I am awaiting the May data extract from the TTC’s new Vision system which tracks all buses and a substantial portion of the streetcar fleet. (In May, the King route operated substantially with cars using the old CIS system from which I have already received data, and so there are enough data from that route to represent its operation.)

504 King operates with two branches: 504A from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop, and 504B from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop. Only trips late at night after service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops ends make the full trip between Broadview and Dundas West Stations. For this analysis, I have split the route in half at Yonge Street to measure travel times to that midpoint from the outer ends of the lines.

The change in travel times is quite obvious looking at month-by-month averages. In the charts below, travel times are averaged for all weekdays in each month, grouped by hour of departure from Danforth and Broadview. (The screen lines at terminals are located far enough from the loops to avoid including queuing times to enter crowded loops in the measured travel times to and from Yonge.)

January and February (red and yellow) are the highest because they represent normal pre-covid conditions. During March (green), the amount of transit riding and traffic began to fall as offices closed and non-essential travel was reduced. The King car was particularly affected because it serves the business district. April and May (light and dark blue) represent a “new normal” for travel times.

Note that in these charts, the Y-axis does not begin at zero so that the spread in the data values is clearer.

(A full set of PDFs of these charts is at the end of the article.)

Although the monthly averages show a clear pattern, the weekly values change within the two broad bands of pre- and post-covid conditions. Note that for this chart there are no data for the week of April 20 because streetcar service on Broadview north of Gerrard was suspended for track repairs.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, June 21, 2020

There are comparatively few changes for the June-July schedules in 2020 because service is already operating at a reduced level due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Production of a table comparing old and new service levels with this change is tricky because the “before” situation included a lot of ad hoc operations by the TTC. I will try to pull something together and will update this article at that time.

During the May schedules, quick adjustments were made on many routes by removing previously scheduled crews rather than completely rewriting the schedules. This produced scheduled gaps which show up in the published timetables and in the data feed used by various trip planning applications. Many, but not necessarily all of these will be fixed for the June schedules.

Extra Service

On the bus network, there will be scheduled trippers overlaying the regular service on routes where there have been crowding problems. The table below is taken from the TTC’s memo detailing the new service arrangements. There are 90 AM and 87 PM trippers.

In addition to these trippers, a large number of crews will be provided for additional service as needed and to cover subway shuttle operations. There will be 180 weekday, 208 Saturday and 148 Sunday crews. Note that a crew is not the same thing as an additional bus because more than one crew is required to operate one vehicle if it is in service for more than 8 hours.

On the streetcar network, the current four crews for extra service will be expanded to eight. Half of these cover the morning and early afternoon period, while the other half cover the afternoon and evening

Bathurst Station Construction

The streetcar loop at Bathurst Station will be rebuilt, and all bus operations will shift to the surface loop at Spadina Station. This arrangement is planned to be in effect until the schedule change on Labour Day weekend, but if work completes sooner, service will revert to Bathurst Station earlier.

  • 7 Bathurst will divert both ways via Dupont and Spadina to Spadina Station.
  • 511 Bathurst (which is already operating with buses due to construction at Front Street) will divert via Harbord and Spadina to Spadina Station.
  • 307 Bathurst Night will divert both ways via Dupont, Spadina and Harbord. The route will also be changed to operate via Fort York Boulevard at the south end of the route so that the night bus route matches the one used by the 511 buses during daytime service.
  • 512 St. Clair will operate from Hillcrest as a temporary yard because the line will be physically isolated from the rest of the streetcar system while track work on Bathurst Street is underway.

Bathurst will remain as a bus operation until the end of 2020 while various construction projects along the line are completed.

Conversion of 506 Carlton to Bus Operation

Several projects will take place affecting 506 Carlton over the summer and early fall. These include:

  • Track replacement and paving at High Park Loop and on Howard Park Avenue west of Roncesvalles.
  • Replacement of the special work at Howard Park and Dundas.
  • Replacement of the special work at Dundas and College. Work at this location includes addition of traffic signals and reconfiguration for pedestrian and cycling crossings. There is a diagram of the new arrangement in an article I published earlier this year.
  • City of Toronto work on the Sterling Road bridge.
  • Modification of all overhead from High Park Loop to Bay Street for pantograph operation where this has not already been done.
  • Construction at Main Station.

506 Carlton buses will operate to Dundas West Station instead of to High Park Loop. The 306 Carlton Night route will also operate with buses on its usual route to Dundas West.

Through-routed 501 Queen Service to Long Branch

When the May scheduled were implemented, an inadvertent error did not provide enough running time for streetcars to make the full Neville-Long Branch trip as planned. Buses were substituted on the west end of the route. Effective June 21, through streetcar service will be provided all day long, rather than only at late evenings and overnight.

All Queen service will operate from Russell Carhouse.

Streetcar Service on 503 Kingston Road

With the removal of streetcars from 506 Carlton, the 503 Kingston Road line will return on Monday June 22 operating to Charlotte Loop at Spadina & King. The TTC plans to switch this back to bus operation in the fall when streetcars return to 506 Carlton. The 22 Coxwell bus will revert to its usual arrangement running only to Queen Street during weekday daytime periods.

Seasonal Services

  • 92 Woodbine South will receive additional service in anticipation of higher riding to Woodbine Beach.
  • 121 Fort York-Esplanade will be extended as usual to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach.
  • 175 Bluffers Park will operate during the daytime weekends and holidays on the same schedule as in March 2019.
  • 86 Scarborough will operate an early evening shuttle between Meadowvale Loop and the Zoo.
  • Planned service increases on 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will not be implemented, but the routes will be monitored for crowding and extra service will operate if necessary.

Pantograph Operation on 505 Dundas Streetcars

With the conversion of all overhead on the 505 Dundas route to pantograph-friendly suspension, the full route will operate with pans. Previously, a switch to/from poles was required at Parliament Street, the eastern end of pantograph territory on this route.

506 Carlton will be the next route to convert to pantograph operation. 504 King and 501 Queen cannot convert until after the reconstruction of the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection planned for 2021.