King-Queen-Roncesvalles Update September 2020

The City of Toronto has issued an update for the project at the intersection of King, Queen, Roncesvalles and The Queensway.

This is a complex piece of work with many components that will stretch into 2022 including:

  • Reconstruction of the bridge over Parkside Drive on The Queensway
  • Extension of the streetcar right-of-way east from its current end east of Parkside to Roncesvalles together with provision for left turns across the right-of-way at Glendale and at Sunnyside
  • Reconfiguration of the KQQR intersection (see my article from April 2020 for diagrams of the planned changes)
  • Replacement of old water main and sewer infrastructure
  • Replacement of TTC overhead (this will make the wiring in this area pantograph compliant)
  • Reconstruction of streetcar track
  • Reconfiguration of Roncesvalles Avenue from Queen to Harvard (just north of the North Gate to the carhouse) with cycling lanes and transit platforms matching the section done several years ago from Harvard to Dundas
  • Revision to the existing loading islands on Roncesvalles for compatibility with the boarding ramps on the news streetcars

The construction will begin on September 8, 2020 on the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge. This will only have a minor effect on transit service, and the only change to the 501 Queen service is that it will not stop at Parkside during September and October.

2021 will see the main construction work on Queen and The Queensway beginning in February and extending to into 2022 as shown in the staging map below.

Stage 1 from February to July 2021 will affect the curb lanes of The Queensway as well as water main, track and overhead work extending east to Triller Ave.

Stage 2 from July 2021 to April 2022 will affect the middle lanes of The Queensway and King Street south of the intersection.

Stage 3 from April to August 2022 will affect Roncesvalles Avenue.

See the construction notice linked above for details.

There is no word yet on the TTC’s arrangements for service or what the interim configurations of routes will look like. Continued access to Roncesvalles Carhouse via the North Gate will remain available until the planned work in 2022 at which point all access will have to shift to the south gate during construction between Queen and Harvard.

However, there will be periods where the KQQR intersection is impassible in both directions while it is reconfigured and rebuilt. This will require Queen and King services to turn back somewhere further east TBA with bus replacements.

It is not clear whether there will be a period in fall-winter 2021-22 when streetcar service can be restored west of the carhouse. I will pursue details of the project staging with the City and TTC.

The City plans to have a project website available, but it is not up as I write this article on the evening of September 4.

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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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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Planned Changes to King, Queen, Roncesvalles and The Queensway for 2021 (Updated)

Updated July 2, 2020: The contract award for this work will be before the City’s Infrastructure & Environment Committee on July 9, 2020, and then it will go to Council for approval at its meeting of July 28-29, 2020. This is a complex multistage project stretching over three years.

This includes the reconstruction of the TTC track allowance and platforms, roads, sidewalks; construction of new streetscaping; replacement of watermains, sewer relining; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge over Parkside Drive.

Part of the work is planned for 2020 and was already awarded under another contract. This will not affect streetcar or road traffic.

In order to reduce the overall impact of construction on all road users in the area around Parkside Drive, the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge at The Queensway will, therefore, be completed in 2020 in conjunction with the Dundas/Howard Park and Howard Park (Sunnyside Avenue to Parkside Drive) project. This bridge substructure work includes abutment repairs, recoating structural steel, reconstruction of the TTC stairs and concrete patch repairs to the TTC owned portion of the bridge.

Major works begin in 2021 and these are divided into phases. The TTC has not yet announced the transit service arrangements corresponding to each phase

Stage 1: February 2021 to July 2021

The Stage 1 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway between Parkside Drive and the KQQR Intersection and on Queen Street West between Triller Avenue [one block east of Roncesvalles] and the KQQR Intersection. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removals, TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection, and along Queen Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (outer lanes).

While this work is in progress, access to and from Roncesvalles Carhouse will be available only from the “north gate”. With the intersection closed, the 501 Queen and 504 King services will not be able to operate west of Dufferin Street. How much of the routes are converted to bus operation remains to be seen, but the TTC would be wasting vehicles if they converted two major routes for work that would not affect their entire length. Track replacement is also planned on Queen from University to Fennings (near Dovercourt) in 2021, and so it would make sense to retain streetcars at least on the eastern half of that route, and on King to Dufferin Loop.

Stage 2: July 2021 to April 2022

The Stage 2 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway from Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Avenue and on King Street West from the KQQR Intersection to approximately 100 m south thereof. This work includes watermain replacement and sewer relining on King Street West; TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway (Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Ave); reconstruction of the southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection including streetscape work at Beaty Boulevard Park (southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection); TTC overhead wire replacement along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection and King Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (inner lanes).

From this description, it is unclear which portions of the work will actually extend into 2022, and for what period the intersection will be impassible. That would determine the period during which streetcar service on the west end of Queen and King would have to be suspended.

Stage 3: April 2022 to August 2022

The Stage 3 of construction will be carried out on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Dundas Street West. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removal and replacement, and TTC track work; and road reconstruction on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Harvard Avenue. Stage 3 also includes minor work on Roncesvalles Avenue, from Harvard Avenue to Dundas Street West, to modify the TTC platforms for compliance with the Province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements.

This stage involves Roncesvalles Avenue north from Queen including the North Gate at the carhouse. While this is underway, streetcars would not be able to operate on Roncesvalles, but should be able to use the South Gate.

I have sent a query to the City for clarification of the staging of this project.

The original article follow below.

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Streetcars Return to 505 Dundas on April 20, 2020 (Updated)

With the switch to buses on the 511 Bathurst, the 505 Dundas route will resume streetcar operation on Monday, April 20, 2020.

Service on the 504B King and 505 Dundas to Broadview Station will be replaced by buses for one week from Sunday April 19 to Saturday April 25 for track work on Broadview at Wolfrey and neighbouring areas. This could also include modification of the overhead on Broadview between Gerrard and Danforth for pantograph operation. New poles have appeared at several locations where curves that are not pan-compliant are still in place.

504B King streetcars will loop via Parliament, Dundas and Broadview. The 504A service will continue to operate to Distillery Loop.

505 Dundas streetcars will loop via Parliament, Gerrard and Broadview.

A shuttle bus will operate between Broadview Station and King & Parliament.

Work at Broadview Station on the extended 504 King platform is nearly complete, and this should relieve some of the streetcar queuing on Broadview outside of the station, an important consideration once the 505 Dundas streetcars are added to the traffic there.

King Street Update: March 2020 Part I

This is the first of three articles updating information in my series of posts last fall [Part I, Part II, and Part III] with data to March 31, 2020.

In the first part of this series, I will review service reliability from the point of view of travel times across the “pilot” area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. In the second part, I will turn to reliability from the point of view of headways consistency and service gapping. Finally, I will turn to service capacity.

As I have worked through the data, I cannot help having the sense of looking back at a very different city, one that had busy streets full of transit riders. This will return, eventually, but it will be a long climb that has much more to do with scientific advances in disease control than transportation planning.

The effect of the city’s shutdown is evident in data for March 2020 as traffic and riding disappeared, and so, to some extent, did service.

Service changes during this period affecting the King Street corridor included:

  • November 25, 2019:
    • The 14x Express routes were shifted to King Street from Richmond and Adelaide Streets to use a less-congested path through the core area.
    • Two Christmas extras were added on 504 King between Charlotte Loop (Spadina) and the Distillery.
    • Service on 503 Kingston Road was improved by the consolidation of 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road as one route.
  • January 2020:
    • 508 Lake Shore operated, for a time, with buses in place of streetcars due to a shortage of vehicles.
  • Mid-March 2020 (reduced riding and staff availability):
    • 504 King service declined.
    • 503 Kingston Road service was cut back to a shuttle between Bingham Loop (Victoria Park) and Woodbine Loop (at Queen).
    • 508 Lake Shore and 14x Express routes ceased operating because they are peak period trippers.

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Streetcar Service During the CLRV Era

With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.

When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.

Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.

In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.

Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.

PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.

PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue

CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.

CLRV at High Park Loop

ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.

An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop

Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.

Flexity on King Street at University Avenue

When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.

By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.

The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.

The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.

The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.

The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.

The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.

Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.

This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.

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King Street Update: September 2019 Part III

In this, the final part of the series reviewing operations on the King Street corridor, I present updated charts showing the capacity of service offered at various locations along the 504 King route since March 2016, and a history of schedule changes there since September 2017. The capacities shown are based on actual day-to-day operations and can vary a great deal from the scheduled offerings.

Service Capacity

The values shown in the charts below are based on the TTC Service Standards design values for average vehicle loads during the peak period. It is physically possible to carry more riders, but service is supposed to be arranged so that on average crowding is at these levels. There is always a trade-off between packing more people onto cars and buses, and the extra travel time this triggers with people pushing by each other to board and alight vehicles. “Efficiency” is not necessarily a question of getting the most sardines into every can.

For each location discussed here, the peak hour chart showing 8-9 am in the morning or 5-6 pm in the evening is included in the article, but a set of PDFs at the end of the section contain hourly charts for the four hourly periods from 6-10 am and 3-7 pm for those interested in the shoulders of the peaks.

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King Street Update: September 2019 Part II

This article continues the analysis of King Street transit operations during September 2019 with a focus on the effects of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

TIFF opened on Thursday afternoon, September 5, but the diversions were in place from the start of service at 5 am. For the period when diversions were operating, there were three services on route 504:

  • Dundas West to Church diverting eastbound via Spadina to Queen and then returning south to King via Church; then westbound via King to York, York to Queen and south to King via Spadina.
  • Distillery to York Street looping via York, Queen and Church back to King Street.
  • Broadview Station to York Street looping via York, Queen and Church back to King Street.

The effects of this arrangement were quite severe with extended travel times and wider headways across the route, not just downtown.

The fundamental policy issue here is the takeover of a major street for an event like TIFF for an extended period. There were four days of complete diversions (September 5 to 8), and three further days of ad hoc street closures (September 9 to 11). The TTC attempted to operate service on 504 King with the usual complement of scheduled cars, but on routings that required considerably more travel time, maintaining normal headways was impossible.

The effects are not confined to the immediate TIFF district, but extend to service over the entire route, as well as to travel times and service reliability on 501 Queen. This is not simply a matter of residents of the condos near TIFF putting up with an annual upheaval in their neighbourhood, but of an effect across two major corridors on transit and road traffic.

If this type of “service” is planned in the future, then either the event itself should pony up the cost of supplementary service, or the city should make an explicit contribution through the TTC’s budget for extra service. Preferably, King Street would be kept open on weekdays, and adequate service would be operated on weekends to offset the TIFF effect which is not as severe then.

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King Street Update: September 2019 Part I

This article is an update on the behaviour of transit service on King Street which I last reported six months ago in three articles:

In this article, I will review travel times across what was once called the “King Street Pilot” area between Jarvis and Bathurst Street. In Part II, I will turn to the effect on travel times caused by diversions for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on both King and Queen Streets. Part III will review service capacity actually provided at various points along the King route.

This will be the last article in which I conduct a detailed review of the “pilot” operation unless there is a significant change to warrant returning to the issue. It is clear after two years that the improvement in service on King Street is permanent and stable.

TIFF is quite another matter, and its effect on both King and Queen Streets is quite severe, particularly on the opening two days. This is an issue for a policy decision by Council on whether the economic benefit of closing the street completely on weekdays outweighs the effect on transit services and riders.

Service on the central part of King Street consists of two primary routes, branches of the 504 King car, supplemented by two other part-time services:

  • 504A King between Dundas West Station and Distillery Loop
  • 504B King between Dufferin Loop and Broadview Station
  • Effective September 2019, the new 508 Lake Shore tripper was added with five trips in the peak direction between Long Branch and downtown via King. This only affects service capacity charts which will appear in Part III.
  • The 503 Kingston Road route (operating with buses) has been consolidated with 502 Downtowner for the duration of the reconstruction project at Kingston Road and Queen Street. This route operates only during weekday daytime, and it is not included in the analysis because it does not operate across the full width of the “pilot” area.

These charts contain the same data as in previous articles up to March 31, 2019, and data for the six months to September 30, 2019 have been added.

To view any chart at a larger size, click on it. Full chart sets are available as PDFs at the end of each section.

Travel Times Across the Pilot Area

These charts plot the 50th (median value) and 85th percentiles for travel times between Bathurst and Jarvis. In both cases the screenlines used are in the middle of the intersection so that the start and end times used are measured when vehicles crossed, not when they arrived at or departed from stops.

The vertical shaded areas refer to periods when service on King was affected:

  • Red: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, Early September Annually)
  • Purple: King service diverted via Queen for track work (Spring 2016)
  • Yellow: Queen service diverted via King for track work (Fall 2017)
  • Green: King Street Pilot begins. Transit Signal Priority (TSP) deactivated (November 2017)
  • Blue: TSP reactivated (July 2018)

As previously reported, the major effect of the new traffic arrangements on King is the reduction in the variability of travel times shown by lower 85th percentile values so that service was much less likely to be erratic.

TIFF produced a severe impact on travel times for streetcars. This shows up as a spike in the charts in early September 2019, and more detail of the effects appears in charts in Part II. The effect in 2019 was worse than in 2018 especially on TIFF’s opening day, Thursday, September 5.

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