TTC Service Changes Effective September 3, 2017

The September 2017 schedule changes primarily involve the reversal of summer service cuts to many routes with only minimal service improvements. This continues the TTC’s policy for 2017 of constraining service growth in the face of lower than budgeted ridership, as well as the shortage of vehicles.

Construction projects continue to affect route 501 Queen and will do so for many months to come:

  • Streetcar service is restored between Russell Carhouse (at Connaught) and Sunnyside Loop.
    • This will be affected in October when the intersection of McCaul and Queen is rebuilt requiring a diversion.
  • A bus shuttle will operate from River to Neville Park due to the reconstruction of the intersection at Coxwell and Queen.
    • This will also require the continued operation of buses on the 502/503 services on Kingston Road.
    • Through streetcar service to Neville Park will resume with the October schedules.
  • A bus shuttle to Long Branch will operate from Dufferin Loop, and Marine Parade will be served by its own local shuttle to Windermere.
    • Construction on The Queensway will prevent streetcars from operating to Humber Loop until the end of the year.
    • Streetcars will not operate west of Humber Loop to Long Branch until mid-2018.

With the return of ALRVs to the Queen route, 504 King will operate primarily with CLRVs, and the peak period trippers will mainly be buses, not streetcars. The effective capacity of the route will fall because of the lower capacity of CLRVs and buses versus the streetcars that have been used over the summer of 2017. This will be minimally offset by a small reduction in headways during all operating periods thanks to trimming of the running time. King cars now enjoy extended layovers leading to queues of vehicles at terminals thanks to an overly-generous schedule. The number of streetcars in service remains the same, but on slightly shorter headways.

New low-floor Flexity streetcars will be deployed on 512 St. Clair starting in September, subject to availability. The schedule will be based on CLRVs until new car deliveries reach the point where the line can be scheduled as a Flexity route.

The TTC plans to begin using Flexitys on 504 King late in 2017 subject to availability.

Between them, the King and St. Clair routes require about 60 CLRVs at peak. Allowing for some capacity growth with Flexitys, this translates to about 45 of the new cars, plus spares. It will be some time before both routes are converted, assuming Bombardier achieves their ramped up delivery rate in fall 2017. They are already slightly behind schedule with only two of three planned cars for July 2017 out the door in Thunder Bay, and they have not yet implemented the additional shifts/workforce to produce cars at a higher rate effective October 2017.

The northbound stop at Broadview & Danforth will be removed allegedly in the aid of transit priority signalling. In fact, this is a location where the substantial green time afforded to east-west traffic on Danforth makes the idea of “priority” for transit movements difficult to swallow. There is already an advanced green northbound for left turning motor traffic. Given the layovers now enjoyed by streetcars at Broadview Station, it is not clear just what this priority will achieve, but removing the stop will annoy the many riders who now use it. The southbound stop remains in service.

Other construction projects include:

  • 54 Lawrence East: Water main construction west of Victoria Park has completed.
  • Renforth Station opens: 32 Eglinton West and 112 West Mall are rerouted into the new regional terminal.
  • Kennedy Station: The schedule change to accommodate Crosstown construction is implemented for weekend service on 86 Scarborough.
  • Long Branch Loop: All buses will loop via the streetcar loop during reconstruction of the bus roadway.
  • 123 Shorncliffe: Additional running time to accommodate a City paving project.
  • 506 Carlton: The only remaining construction area/diversion is on College between Bathurst and Lansdowne. This will end in October.
  • 505 Dundas: The diversion between Bay and Church will end in late September or early October depending on progress of the road works east of Yonge.

The 400 Lawrence Manor and 404 East York Community Bus services will be extended. For details, see the TTC’s July 2017 update on these services.

2017.09.03_Service_Changes

Travel Time on King Street: January to June 2017

With Toronto Council’s approval of a pilot project to give more priority to transit on King Street, it is worthwhile to understand how travel times behave today, and what a “best case” improvement might look like.

This article reviews TTC vehicle tracking data for the first half of 2017 on King to illustrate the variation in travel times for the Jarvis-to-Bathurst pilot area, smaller segments within the pilot, and the segments beyond. Advocates for transit priority on King routinely cite congestion and longer travel times as major issues that the pilot can deal with, and indeed journey time reduction is one of the goals of the project. However, the 504 King service operates in a more complex environment than just a congested central section, and that context must be understood in evaluating the benefits any change will bring.

In brief:

  • Travel times vary substantially depending on the time, location, direction and day of the week. Under some combinations of these, transit vehicles move quite freely on King Street today.
  • Variation in times is not always predictable. Shaving the peaks off of these variations and restoring reliability is an important part of making transit “run faster”.
  • The problem is not confined to the central part of King Street, but the pattern of delays is different than downtown.

Riders complain that the King car can be challenging to use, but the transit experience entails more than just the in-vehicle time from point “A” to “B”. First, one must walk to a stop and await a streetcar’s arrival. Then one must hope that there is room on the car to board. Finally one speeds (or not) along the route. Transit studies regularly find that of these factors, the time spent in motion on board is the least critical in terms of perceived trip length because, finally, the rider is “on the way”. Time spent waiting, let alone being passed up by a full vehicle (or kicked off one that short turns), weighs more heavily in the “why am I still taking the TTC” question unless the in-vehicle time is a substantial portion of the trip overall.

Any scheme to improve King that looks only at travel time, but ignores service reliability and capacity, will miss out on important components of what makes service more attractive, and in doing so risks limiting the potential for increased demand.

In previous articles, I have reviewed the reliability and capacity of service on King Street.

The TTC has no plans to add service to 504 King during the pilot, although they will begin to replace shorter cars (CLRVs) with longer ones (new Flexitys) in December. This will gradually add to capacity of the route, if not service frequency. At this point, the service design for September when streetcars will return to Queen Street has not been announced, and the degree to which buses will operate on King at least in the early days of the pilot is unknown. The bus trippers claimed by the TTC to be “supplementary” service in fact replace streetcars, generally at a lower capacity.

As for reliability, reduced and more regular travel times through the core will be a benefit to the King service provided that the TTC actually manages headways. There is an ongoing problem with irregular service during the AM peak when there is little congestion as an excuse, and this irregularity plagues riders, especially in Parkdale, Liberty Village and Bathurst/Niagara.

Continue reading

King Street Pilot Approved and Amended By Council

The King Street Pilot transit priority scheme was approved, with amendments, by Council on July 6, 2017. Changes to the street will begin to appear in early fall (once the shutdown for the film festival is out of the way), and they will last, with changes likely along the way, for at least a year with an evaluation report back to Council after the 2018 election.

This article is not intended to revisit the design (see King Street Redesign Goes to TTC/City for Approval), but as a commentary on the debate at Council.

Among the more bizarre positions taken by some Councillors was the concept that public consultation for this change should have explicitly reached out to suburban residents. In response to a question from Cllr Karygiannis, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat advised that about half of the responses to the study came from the core and half from surrounding areas. This is a bit of a fudge because, of course, a good deal of the catchment area of the King car is not in the core, per se, but is still in the old City of Toronto, not Karygiannis’ home turf of northern Scarborough. Although we know that a majority of Scarborough residents either commute downtown by transit, or do not work in the core, the restriction of auto traffic on King was portrayed as a burden deserving of consultation in northern Scarborough.

Much later in the meeting, Cllr Layton joked that he would hold a meeting in his ward to consult on the McNicoll bus garage project (which is in Karygiannis’ territory).

Cllr Holyday, from Etobicoke, spoke about the mix of trips now taken on King Street noting that 60% of road users are from outside of downtown. Again the issue of just what “outside downtown” means here was never clarified. Keesmaat and others observed that many who live within the pilot area already walk, cycle or take transit, and so the proportion of auto trips by “outsiders” will automatically be high.

TTC CEO Andy Byford noted that the King corridor is at 124% of capacity today, although no additional service is planned for the route. Some improvement, he expects, will come from better service once the pilot is operating, and some from the introduction of larger vehicles (the new Flexitys) on King starting in December 2017.

Cllr Bailão asked about the times when problems occur on King, and about the safety of bar patrons who might be seeking taxis late at night. Keesmaat replied that there is activity throughout the day and evening, and that pedestrian volumes on King are higher than in other parts of the city. Bailão asked whether the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Barbara Gray, would support allowing taxis to drive through the pilot area at night. Gray replied that this is a “transit first” project and its main goal is to improve transit. Andy Byford argued that it was his job to advocate for TTC customers, and he prefers to maintain the “purity” of the trial as proposed with no exemptions.

Cllr Pasternak complained about the high cost of the pilot, $1.5 million, and about its funding from City and Federal monies. He asked whether this would more appropriately be paid for with charges against developments along the area, especially considering that these developments must provide a transportation study to review their effects. Keesmaat replied that these charges are mainly for improvements at each development site, and there was never an assumption or intent that these payments would cover large scale capital projects. She further observed that King Street is “regional” infrastructure serving the core, whereas the buildings on King in the pilot area do not generally contribute to the transportation problems. It is growth outside the area that add traffic both to the road and the transit network.

Cllr Mihevc asked whether the scope from Bathurst to Jarvis is “bold enough” and whether the pilot should be extended further. Gray replied that the City might look at other corridors, but the pilot area is a good place to start. The evaluation report will also include analysis of extending the changes east and west on King, and to other downtown routes. Not mentioned, but quite important, is the fact that the pilot area has multiple parallel routes to which auto traffic can shift, and this is not true of either the western part of King nor of other east-west streetcar routes.

Cllr Kelly asked whether planners have looked at the effect on parallel streets. Gray replied that, yes, this has been taken into account and detailed modelling of the network is underway. By year end, the City will have a “more robust” model of travel downtown. Kelly asked whether there will be measurements in place to determine if the pilot is untenable. Gray replied that staff will be looking at trend lines such as travel times on King and parallel routes, and that the TTC Board has asked that concrete metrics be in place before the pilot is launched. There is a draft “dashboard” for reporting the pilot’s status included in the report.

Cllr Grimes asked whether data from the pilot will feed into the Waterfront West LRT study. The implication here is that parts of a future WWLRT might include creation of new reserved streetcar lanes, and that the King Street experience might inform proposals elsewhere. Byford replied that, yes, this would be done. (In fact, the “Waterfront Reset” study now underway will actually report to Council in fall 2017 when the pilot has barely started, but King Street’s experience could affect later discussions.)

Cllr De Baeremaeker asked if there is constant frequency of streetcars throughout 24 hours, or if this varies through the day. Byford replied that service is more intense in the peak periods, but is “pretty intense” throughout the day. Taxis are 25-33% of traffic during the day rising to 38% in the evening. Jacqueline Darwood, TTC’s Head of Strategy and Service Planning, noted that the AM and PM peak periods extend beyond the usual 7-9 and 4-6 windows. Barbara Gray noted that the midday period from 10-4 is as busy as the AM peak, and that King is a consistently busy street.

Here are the service levels scheduled as of May 7, 2017 (click to enlarge):

These schedules correspond to the point where bus trippers were removed from King with the conversion of 501 Queen to all-bus operation for summer 2017. As I have mentioned in previous articles, TTC claims that buses “supplemented” streetcar service on King are false. The bus trippers replaced streetcars (at lower capacity) to compensate for the streetcar shortage. They did not provide additional service. This is a fiction oft repeated by TTC management.

Cllr Campbell asked about improvements the TTC might have seen on the three right-of-way routes now in operation. Byford replied with the following:

  • Queens Quay: Implemented 1990; ridership up from 2.5k to 15k per day (Note that this was a replacement of infrequent Spadina bus service by a frequent streetcar.)
  • Spadina: Implemented 1997; ridership up from 26k to 40k
  • St. Clair: Implemented 2010; ridership up from 28k to 37k

Campbell and Byford agreed that St. Clair was probably the most appropriate comparator for the King Street pilot, although of course King will receive a less exclusive “priority” treatment, and over only a portion of the route.

An important point worth mentioning here is that 504 King and its sister route, 514 Cherry, are unusual because of the mix of neighbourhoods they serve. There are 65k riders per day on this corridor, but unlike some routes, they serve multiple employment and academic districts and enjoy strong counter-peak demand. This allows a high number of riders to be carried relative to the level of service. Combined with the entertainment district and the growing residential density, there are multiple sources of demand travelling over different parts of the route throughout the day.

A common observation is that would-be riders can walk faster than taking the streetcar. That statement does not necessarily mean that the streetcar moves at less than walking pace, but that the combined delays inherent in waiting for one to show up and to have space to board add substantially to trip times. (Overcrowded cars also take longer to serve stops, and irregular or inadequate service capacity can compound travel times growth.) If streetcars arrived regularly and with capacity for would-be riders, travel times would be reduced even if actual travel speeds did not change much. Moreover, riders would have greater certainty about when or if they would reach their destinations.

The goal of a transit priority scheme is not just to make streetcars move more swiftly, but to show up frequently and predictably, not in randomly spaced bunches, and with room for all who wish to board.

Mayor Tory proposed that the staff recommendations be amended:

1.  City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to implement a late-night exemption from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for licensed taxicabs from through-movement prohibitions in the King Street Transit Pilot area to aid in safely and effectively dissipating people from nightlife activity on King Street West.

2.  City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to, as part of the detailed design process, work in consultation with the taxi industry to identify and implement approximately double the number of existing taxi stand spaces throughout the length of the pilot project.

3. City Council request the appropriate City officials to complete a review of all side streets in the area bound by Niagara Street, Queen Street West in the East, Front Street West and The Esplanade (East of Yonge Street to Lower Sherbourne Street), and Sherbourne Street to consider appropriate locations for on-street paid parking in association with the implementation of the proposed King Street Transit Pilot between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street, and report to Toronto and East York Community Council with any proposed amendments.

4. City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to request the Chief of Police to work with the General Manager, Transportation Services on a strategy for education and enforcement of the King Street Transit Pilot.

Tory argued that this pilot will “move greatest number of people in best way possible”. With respect to concerns about capacity on parallel roads, he claimed that there are no plans for work on parallel streets in 2018. (Both Tory and other City staff appear unaware that the eastern part of the Wellington reconstruction between Yonge and Church has been delayed to 2018 thanks to work planned by Toronto Hydro in fall 2017.) Tory observed that the City has allowed massive development west of downtown and must address the problems this creates. It is “something a 21st century city must do”.

Cllr Karygiannis asked whether Tory felt the taxi industry had been consulted properly, and Tory replied that the City “didn’t do as good a job as we should have”. Karygiannis moved an amendment to Tory’s motion that the start time for taxi exemptions be changed from 10 to 9 pm “for people catching dinner or a show”. For the record, shows in the entertainment district start at 8 pm or earlier, and people generally dine before. There is a separate demand to the club district primarily on Thursday through Saturday, and this traffic picks up mid-evening. Tory did not accept this as a friendly amendment arguing that the best balance between competing interests is a 10 pm start time. (Karygiannis’ amendment lost.)

In the discussion of available cab stand space, nobody mentioned how many existing spaces are actually designated. They are:

  • North side
    • between Yonge and Bay: 7
    • west of Bay: 8
    • east of York: 6
    • east of Peter (at the hotel): 4
  • South side
    • between York and Bay: 8

Doubling the number of official cab stands may not make much difference relative to the space taxis now occupy, but it is likely that the total number of spaces will be spread over a wider area than they are today. This decision will also affect available space for other curb lane uses such as pedestrian and loading zones. Until the detailed design is available later this year, we will not know just how this arrangement will look, or what effect the pro-taxi decision will have on the original goals for street redesign.

Cllr Holyday argued for “the guy from central Etobicoke” that there should be more provisions for left turns and for routes through the network using both a map of downtown and a chart of the human heart to illustrate his case.

Holyday proposed that City Transportation be asked to study a means of aiding these turns, but his motion was voted down.

(a) City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to develop a plan for timed left turn prohibitions which will improve streetcar and general traffic flow along King Street within the study area, and report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. (Lost)

Holyday also argued for a traffic bypass around King using Front Street.

(b) If motion a by Councillor Holyday fails, that City Council define Front Street as the motorist bypass for the King Street Pilot Study area and City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services, to take steps to optimize Front Street and the Bathurst Street road linkage between King Street and Front Street to reduce motorist encumbrances including signal timing and design, turn prohibitions, pedestrian signals and parking regulations. (Lost)

The Councillor appeared to be unaware that Front Street narrows between York and Bay Streets in front of Union Station where it has already been redesigned primarily for pedestrian and taxi use. Moreover, Front can be badly congested whenever there is an event at the Rogers Centre. It is hardly an arterial bypass of the sort he seeks.

Cllr Pasternak observed that there is always a concern when parking spaces are lost that there will be a decline in parking revenue. This begs the obvious question of whether the need for such revenue should preempt improvements in the design and usage of road space. In any event, the Toronto Parking Authority has already reported on this issue, and will propose that a number of currently free spaces on adjacent streets be converted to paid parking.

Cllr Ford thanked staff for their detailed reports, but is not convinced of the merit of this pilot from the perspective of residents of northwest Etobicoke where his ward is located. He bemoaned the added congestion brought on by the demolition of the York Street off ramp from the Gardiner Expressway, but appeared unaware that this capacity will be replaced by a new Harbour Street off ramp that has not yet been built.

Cllr Perks, responding to Holyday’s illustrated lecture, gave a short talk on the relationship between parking and prosperity noting that cities which have much parking (and by implication a lot of auto-based commuting) tend to have lower prosperity.

Cllr Wong-Tam urged that Council be “bold and ambitious – this is King Street”. She felt that over the years, Council has asked planners to “be meek”, but that there is a new generation who are not meek. Wong-Tam wants Council to support this ambition, including for the next big project downtown on Yonge Street, not be “meek with modest adjustments”.

Cllr Layton talked about people waiting for the streetcar, and how the City has not done much to improve their lot by addressing the capacity issue and bunching. He also mention the Waterfront LRT as an example of the City not doing what it could, of not increasing capacity to keep pace with population growth.

TTC Chair Colle wants Toronto to be “bold”, and felt that with streetcars operating at 13 km/h, the city is playing catch-up to its citizens’ desire for better transit. In fact, the scheduled speed of the King car over its entire route, never mind just the core area, is less than 13 km/h during many operating periods. The challenge will be to maintain consistency of running times and service.

In a future article, I will review actual travel time experiences on 504 King and in particular the variation in their behaviour by time of day and season. A related issue is the the pilot covers only part of the route, and there are service management, capacity and congestion issues outside of the pilot area. The Bathurst-to-Jarvis trial will be useful not just to show what can be done in that segment, but what remains to be done (and not necessarily through lane reservations) elsewhere on the route.

The Evolution of Streetcar Service from 1980 to 2016

Transit service on many of Toronto’s streetcar lines has declined over past decades and, with it, riders’ faith in and love for this mode. Unreliable, crowded service is considered the norm for streetcar routes, and this leads to calls to “improve” service with buses.

The historical context for this decline is worth repeating in the context of current debates over how Toronto should provide transit service to the growing population in its dense “old” city where most of the streetcar lines run.

When the TTC decided in late 1972, at the urging of City Council, to reverse its long-standing plans to eliminate streetcars by 1980 (when the Queen Subway would take over as the trunk route through the core), the level of service on streetcar lines was substantially better than it is on most routes today. Any comparison of streetcars versus buses faced the prospect of a very large fleet of buses on very frequent headways roaring back and forth on all major streets.

Service in 1980 (when the system was originally planned for conversion) was substantially the same as in 1972, and for the purpose of this article, that date is our starting point.

Ten years later, in 1990, little had changed, but the City’s transit demand was about to fall off a cliff thanks to a recession. During this period, TTC lost much riding on its network including the subway with annual travel dropping by 20% overall. It would take a decade to climb back from that, but various factors permanently “reset” the quality of service on streetcar routes:

  • During the recession, service was cut across the board, and this led to a reduction in the size of fleet required to serve the network.
  • In anticipation of the 510 Spadina line opening, the TTC had rebuilt a group of PCC streetcars, but these were not actually needed for the 509/510 Harbourfront/Spadina services by the time Spadina opened. “Surplus” cars thanks to the recession-era service cuts were available to operate the new routes.
  • Since 1996, any service changes have been  made within the available fleet, a situation compounded by declining reliability of the old cars and the anticipation of a new fleet “soon”.
  • By 2016, the fleet was not large enough to serve all routes, and bus substitutions became common.

Some of the decline in demand on streetcar routes came from changing demographics and shifting job locations. Old industrial areas transformed into residential clusters, and the traffic formerly attracted to them by jobs disappeared. Meanwhile, the city’s population density fell in areas where gentrification brought smaller families to the houses.

The city’s population is now growing again, although the rate is not equal for all areas. Liberty Village and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood are well known, visible growth areas, but growth is now spreading out from both the King Street corridor and moving further away from the subway lines. This creates pressure on the surface routes in what the City’s Planners call the “shoulders” of downtown.

As the population and transit demand have rebounded, the TTC has not kept pace.

The changes in service levels are summarized in the following spreadsheet:

Streetcar_Services_1980_To_2016 [pdf]

510 Bathurst: In 1980, this route had 24 cars/hour during the AM peak period, but by 2006 this had dropped by 50% to 12. In November 2016, with buses on the route, there were 20 vehicles per hour, and with the recent reintroduction of streetcars, the peak service was 10.6 ALRVs/hour, equivalent to about 16 CLRVs. Current service is about 1/3 less than it was in 1980.

506 Carlton: In 1980, this route  had 20 streetcars/hour at peak, but by 2016 this was down to 13.8.

505 Dundas: In 1980, service on this route had two branches, one of which terminated at Church after City Hall Loop was replaced by the Eaton Centre. On the western portion of the route, there were 27 cars per hour, while to the east there were 15 (services on the two branches were not at the same level). By 2016, this was down to 10.3. [Corrected]

504 King: This route, thanks to the developments along its length, has managed to retain its service over the years at the expense of other routes. In 1980, there were 25.2 cars per hour over the full route between Broadview and Dundas West Stations with a few trippers that came east only to Church Street. Despite budget cuts in 1996 that reduced service to 16.4 cars/hour at peak, the route came back to 30 cars/hour by 2006. Service is now provided by a mixture of King cars on the full route (15/hour), 514 Cherry cars between Sumach and Dufferin (7.5/hour), and some trippers between Roncesvalles and Broadview. Some 504 King runs operate with ALRVs and most 514 Cherry cars are Flexitys.

501 Queen/507 Long Branch: In 1980, the Queen and Long Branch services operated separately with 24.5 cars/hour on Queen and 8.9 cars/hour on Long Branch at peak. By 1990, the Queen service had been converted to operate with ALRVs and a peak service of 16.1 cars/hour, roughly an equivalent scheduled capacity to the CLRV service in 1980. By 1996, Queen service was down to 12 ALRVs/hour of which 6/hour ran through to Long Branch. Headways have stayed roughly at that level ever since. The Long Branch route was split off from Queen to save on ALRVs, and as of November 2016 6.3 CLRVs/hour ran on this part of the route. Bus replacement services are operating in 2017 due to many construction projects conflicting with streetcar operation.

502 Downtowner/503 Kingston Road Tripper: In 1980, these routes provided 15.6 cars/hour, but by 2016 this had declined to 10/hour.

512 St. Clair: In 1980, the St. Clair car operated with a scheduled short turn at Earlscourt Loop. East of Lansdowne, there were 33.3 cars/hour on St. Clair. By 1996 this was down to 20.6 cars/hour. The next decade saw an extended period of reconstruction for the streetcar right-of-way, and service during this period was irregular, to be generous. By 2016, the service has improved to 21.2 cars/hour, but this is still well below the level of 1980.

What is quite clear here is that the budget and service cuts of the early 1990s substantially reduced the level of service on streetcar routes, and even as the city recovered, the TTC was slow to restore service, if at all. The unknown question with current service levels is the degree to which demand was lost to demographic changes and to what extent the poor service fundamentally weakened the attractiveness of transit on these routes. The TTC has stated that some routes today are operating over capacity, but even those numbers are limited by the difference between crowding standards (which dictate design capacity) and the actual number of riders who can fit on the available service. It is much harder to count those who never board.

In a fiscal environment where any service improvement is viewed negatively because it will increase operating costs, the challenge is to turn around Council’s attitude to transit service. This is an issue across the city and many suburban bus routes suffer from capacity challenge and vehicle shortages just like the streetcar routes downtown.

The bus fleet remains constrained by actions of Mayor Ford in delaying construction of the McNicoll Garage with the result that that the TTC has no place to store and maintain a larger fleet even if they were given the money to buy and operate it. Years of making do with what we have and concentrating expansion funding on a few rapid transit projects has boxed in the TTC throughout its network.

Transit will not be “the better way” again until there are substantial investments in surface fleets and much-improved service.

King Street Redesign Project Goes to TTC/City for Approval

The proposal to redesign the central section of King Street with priority for transit and pedestrians moves into its approval phase with a report going to the TTC’s Board on June 15, and to the City’s Executive Committee on June 19, 2017. Details of the study behind this proposal are on the King Street Pilot page of the City of Toronto’s website.

For those who have been following this project closely, there is little new in the report which consolidates material that has been evolving through a series of public meetings and consultations with affected groups along the route.

In brief, King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets would be modified as below:

  • No through traffic would be permitted, only local access, and vehicles would be forced to turn off of King Street rather than continuing in a straight line across the core area.
  • Transit stops would be shifted to farside locations so that pedestrian activity from riders boarding and alighting would be separated from right turning traffic movements.
  • No parking would be permitted, but specific locations would be designated as loading zones for short-term use and for taxi stands.
  • In some areas, pedestrian space would extend into the curb lane, and would be protected with measures such as planters to prevent vehicle access.

A generic view of this arrangement is shown below.

Each block would have four basic types of use in the curb lanes:

  • Farside transit stop (red/orange in the diagram)
  • Pedestrian realm improvement (green)
  • Loading zone (blue)
  • Right turn lane (gray)

The details will vary from block to block. For example, not all blocks have transit stops. Both the length of blocks and the nature of uses along the blocks will affect how much room is available/required for each type in each location. Transit stops and turn lanes are clearly “hard” requirements that must be met, and whatever remains would be divided for other types of treatment. Fine details of this plan are not included in the report, but will be worked out in detailed design over the summer with a target for implementation in fall 2017 after TIFF and its street occupancy is over. (Some aspects may not be implemented until Spring 2018 as they would be seasonal in nature.)

The enforced turning pattern is summarized in the diagram below.

The City expects that once motorists adjust to the new arrangement, the amount of traffic attempting to use King will drop and that these drivers will shift to parallel approach routes. Without this shift, the backlog of traffic awaiting turns off of King westbound at Jarvis and eastbound at Bathurst will present a substantial barrier to transit. This shift is easier for motorists to achieve east of downtown where parallel westbound routes are available via Front/Wellington, Richmond and Queen. To the west, options are much more limited because neither Front nor Adelaide runs west of Bathurst. This could affect congestion on Queen which is already a difficult corridor.

Shifting traffic onto Richmond/Adelaide also begs the important question of redesign of those streets and the degree to which their designated lanes are already abused. These are cycling streets, and part of the grudging acceptance of the absence of bike lanes on King by some in the cycling community was the availability of parallel routes. If these are not both enforced and physically protected so that they remain available, conflicts between cyclist and cars will inevitably rise. Moreover, if these streets allow incursions by motorists into the cycling lanes, then the their true performance will not be measured because cars will have more capacity available in practice than in the design.

Improved transit performance and capacity are obvious goals of any “priority” scheme. This raises important issues about TTC service that will be familiar to readers of this site.

  • Speed alone does not provide more capacity for riders, it only moves them faster. Capacity is a combination of vehicle size and service frequency, and only by improving at least one of these will riders see a difference. If the TTC does not actually run more cars/hour and/or larger cars, then the capacity will not change. In this situation, the main benefit of the pilot will be to insulate transit from events that might disrupt service in the core area, and allow scheduled service to be better maintained. However, changes downtown will not have any effect on scheduled service in Parkdale and Liberty Village.
  • Service reliability is important to riders because it makes their wait time for a streetcar predictable and distributes demand evenly among vehicles. The report states that congestion downtown “leads to unreliable streetcar headways along with bunching and gapping of streetcars”. This is true up to a point, but bunching and gapping are issues along the entire route including the spacing of vehicles leaving terminals. Indeed, the TTC’s own Service Standards accept a variation of ±50% from the scheduled headway so that cars intended to arrive every 4 minutes can actually show up on a pattern of 6-2-6-2-6 and be considered “on time”. The acceptance of bunching is baked in to the standards.

The TTC plans to increase service on King, subject to vehicle availability, but how this will be allocated remains to be seen. An important consideration for any scheduled short turn service, such as the 514 Cherry overlay on 504 King, is that of proper spacing. Adding a short turn car onto a route that comes out immediately behind a through car creates a “bunch” right at the origin and does little to add to service capacity or convenience. During peak periods when scheduled service is frequent, this does not matter much except when there has been a disruption and service spacing needs active intervention, not a laissez-faire attitude. (Irregular spacing is a chronic problem on all TTC routes where there are “blended” services that work on paper, but not in practice.)

They also plan increased supervision, but this runs headlong into “TTC culture” and scheduling practices. In an attempt to reduce short turns, streetcar (and some bus) schedules have been adjusted in recent years to have more running time. The premise is that the schedule should match real-world conditions. The problem lies in the amount of extra time which tends to suit less-than-ideal circumstances, but which causes streetcars to have more time than they require under “typical” conditions. This leads to slow operation along the routes, and backlogs of vehicles at terminals. (A recently retired operator of long acquaintance quipped that he was leaving “because he could not drive that slowly”.)

In an attempt to fix one problem, the TTC created another. Indeed, if the pilot is successful in reducing travel times through the core, streetcar operators may have even more excess time and may be forced to dawdle even more simply to avoid running early. The fundamental issue here is whether there is a way to move major routes like King to headway-based management rather than schedule-based. This brings problems of crewing because vehicles would not be in “scheduled” locations. On the subway, the TTC deals with this by making crew changes between trains along the route to put operators back on time even though the trains are in the “wrong” place. This practice is much trickier for on street routes, and it is simpler to short turn both the vehicle and the operator.

Although the TTC plans to provide more supervision of King Street service, this could be counter-productive if “staying on time” includes slowing vehicles down to match the existing schedules. To add to this problem, the lead time for a schedule change is close to three months, not the sort of nimble response one would want in response to changing conditions with the pilot.

Because this is a pilot project, an important issue will be that as problems arise they are identified and fixed (or at least an alternate strategy tried) quickly. To that end, the report proposes that the process for changing the traffic rules on King and many adjacent streets be delegated to the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. Normally, any traffic regulation change goes through a process of staff reporting to the local Community Council (in this case the one for Toronto & East York) and because these are transit streets, the report must then be approved by Council. For the pilot, a quicker process giving the GM the ability to make changes “on the fly” will be in place until December 2018.

The full list of proposed changes to regulations on turns and parking is included in an appendix to the report.

The City and TTC plan to monitor the project to see just what happens both with the quality of transit service and with the effects on traffic flows in the study area. One important aspect of any review will be to look not just at “ordinary” days, but at the effect of special events such as nearby road closures (e.g. events at City Hall and other central locations, parades and construction). Also of interest will be the behaviour of traffic in the entertainment district between Simcoe and Bathurst, especially west of Spadina which is very congested on weekend evenings. A plan that works on Mondays will behave very differently on Fridays and Saturdays.

This pilot is a big change from the more timid approach to traffic management we usually see in Toronto. There is only so much to be achieved by tweaking traffic signal timings and adjusting regulated hours for parking and left turns. At some point, the more fundamental discussion – who is the road space for – must come forward.

[Full disclosure: I have worked on aspects of this project both on a paid and a pro bono basis providing analyses of TTC vehicle movements.]

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday June 18, 2017

The TTC’s June 2017 schedule changes bring the summer schedules with cutbacks in service on many routes. The effects of lower than expected ridership numbers, fleet and budget pressures show up in the following comment in the covering memo for details of pending changes:

The total number of weekly hours of regular service planned for the June board period will be approximately 2,600 hours below the level specified in the planned 2017  Service Budget for June (August 3, 2016 version). This is a result of current bus and streetcar fleet limitations as well as deeper summer cuts than originally budgeted for.

To put this number in context, the budgeted hours were 175,410 compared to the schedule hours of 172,807, a reduction of about 1.5%.

Scheduled hours to deal with construction-induced delays and diversions are also down from a budget of 38,022 to actual of 24,365 over the first half of 2017. This translates to savings partly in the Operating Budget (costs the TTC absorbs itself), the Capital Budget (service operated to deal with projects like the TYSSE) and recoveries from other parties.

At some point, the fleet limitations will cease to be a valid explanation for service levels, and the TTC will face increased costs simply to operate the service its own standards dictate. Worth watching for will be the fall 2017 schedules and the degree to which the summer cuts are actually restored. TTC’s recent mixed messages complain of lower ridership while observing that service on some major routes is well below the level of demand.

2017.06.18_Service_Changes

Streetcar Diversions

The rider challenge for this summer will be to figure out where all of the streetcar services are actually running.

  • 501 Queen continues with bus operation over the entire route due to various construction projects. Streetcars will return to parts of the route in stages through the fall, but will not operate over its full length from Neville to Long Branch until January 2018.
    • Streetcar service resumes between Connaught (Russell Carhouse) and Roncesvalles in September.
    • Streetcar service will return to Neville in mid-October, but there will be a diversion around trackwork at McCaul & Queen until late November.
    • Streetcar service resumes west of Roncesvalles in January 2018.
  • 502 Downtowner remains as a bus operation at least until mid-fall.
  • 503 Kingston Road Tripper will continue with streetcars in June/July, but will revert to bus operation thanks to construction at Coxwell & Queen later in the summer. Construction on Wellington requires a continued extension of the route westward to Spadina.
  • 505 Dundas will continue its diversion via Bay, College, Carlton and Church around water main and track construction east of Yonge Street until October.
  • 506 Carlton will have two diversions. Bus shuttles will cover the gaps.
    • In the east, for June/July, overhead work requires a diversion via Queen between Coxwell and Broadview/Parliament (EB/WB).
    • In the west, completion of City roadwork begun, but botched by the contractor in 2016, triggers a diversion via Bathurst and Dundas until October.
  • 504 King, 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina, 511 Bathurst, 512 St. Clair and 514 Cherry remain on their regular routes with streetcar operation.

504 King

Some of the peak period trippers now operated on King are being removed because of the “on-going delivery of new Low Floor streetcars”. The line is still scheduled as CLRV operation although many ALRVs, freed up from 501 Queen, now operate there at all hours. The real question, of course, will be what will happen in the fall when streetcars return to Queen and the ALRVs are not available for King. Moreover, current plans are for the Flexity cars to go next onto 512 St. Clair, and it is unclear just how the growth of the new fleet removes the need for trippers.

This ties into plans for a King Street transit priority scheme to go into effect late in 2017. It will be counterproductive for the TTC to cut back in service on 504 King just when better priority might be provided.

Keele Yard

The yard east of Keele Station (originally named “Vincent Yard” after the former Vincent Loop) has not been used for revenue vehicles for many years, but the shift of all of the T1 fleet to Line 2 BD has forced the use of all available storage. The TTC will shift four trains to Keele Yard, with remaining capacity (the yard extends underground beside Dundas West Station and can hold eight trains) to be used by work cars. Moves to and from the yard will occur at the beginning and end of service providing added maintenance time in the overnight break in service.

This yard is in a residential neighbourhood, and with its long inactivity the TTC is aware of the potential for disturbing the neighbours:

Morning service train preparations and noise control

Each night, four trains will typically return to Keele Yard at around 2 – 2:20 a.m., when crews will run system checks to ensure the trains are safe-ready for morning service. The trains will then leave the yard between about 5:45 – 6 a.m. Currently, the first westbound train is scheduled to travel past Keele Yard at 6:01 a.m. Local residents are likely to hear two short horn sounds – required for safety – whenever a train is about to move inside the yard, as well as the sound of trains moving. Efforts to minimize noise will include ongoing noise monitoring, regular reminders to staff at Keele Yard to keep noise to a minimum, sounding subway horns only when necessary for safety and ensuring that the warm-up periods of subway workcars parked on outside storage tracks is kept to a minimum.

Subway workcars will generally leave Keele Yard shortly before the four passenger trains arrive at the yard for the night, and workcars will return to the yard minutes before the passenger trains leave the yard for morning service. Workcar storage in the yard will fluctuate depending on scheduled work in the west. [From TTC Notice]

Presto Effects

A new section has been added to the service memo listing changes that will require new Presto transfer definitions. For June 18, this section reads:

506/306 CARLTON – streetcar diversion/shuttle bus operation requires customers transferring between cars and buses for through travel

There are many cases where Presto cannot deal with legitimate transfers, and the TTC expects operators and riders to know how the rules vary from route to route. Even their own web site is inconsistent on this point:

On the main Presto page, they say:

Transfers using PRESTO

If you have a PRESTO card you no longer need a paper transfer. This is because a transfer is applied to your PRESTO card when you first tap onto a card reader. The transfer for your one-way continuous journey is valid for two hours from the first time you tap your card on a reader. Standard transfer rules apply.

More extensive descriptions of bus-to-other mode transfers are on the bus Presto page. Again, the rule is that no transfer is required.

But on a completely different page, the general one for bus routes, the TTC tells riders of an exception:

PRESTO card customers require a paper transfer on the following routes.

Transfers must be shown to station staff when entering Union or Royal York stations and to operators when boarding these buses. Please make sure you obtain a paper transfer at the start of your trip.

15 Evans
121 Fort York
72 Pape
48 Rathburn
73 Royal York
76 Royal York South

This information does not appear on the pages for the individual routes, nor does it appear on the pages describing fare rules.

Congestion on King Street Downtown: Spring 2017 Update

The King Street Transit Pilot study will hold its next public meeting on May 18 to review the proposed design for that street. As background to that study, this article includes a review of travel times over the King Street corridor in recent months.

Important issues raised by these data include:

  • Travel time issues on King are not restricted to peak periods or to weekdays.
  • Problems in the PM peak are generally worse than in the AM peak.
  • Conditions can be perfectly “normal” one day and severely upset on another. Some weekdays are consistently worse than others, but “abnormal” days occur often enough that they are part of the landscape, not rare exceptions.
  • Congestion is not confined to the pilot study area between Bathurst and Jarvis, but some portions of King Street see little effect from congestion. A “one size fits all” approach will not deal with all of King’s problems, and could produce little benefit in some areas. Expansion beyond the pilot area, if any, requires detailed understanding of just where and what the problems might be.

This is a chart-heavy article intended as background material for readers interested in what the route looks like today.

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King Street Pilot: Public Meeting on May 18, 2017

The study for a pilot of changes to the central portion of King Street has reached the point where a recommended configuration is ready for public view and then on to Council.

Turnout for the first meeting at Metro Hall was huge with a substantial spillover into a second room, and so the coming session will be held in larger quarters.

Thursday, May 18th, 2017
6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
InterContinental Toronto Centre, Ballroom
225 Front St W, Toronto
(Front St W. & Simcoe St.)

Project Website

A media briefing is planned in advance of this event, and I will post details of the new proposals when they are available.

TTC Service Changes Effective March 26, 2017 (Updated)

Updated March 27, 2017 at 7:50 am: The City of Toronto has deferred the work on Queen that would have required diversion of the 501 streetcar service between Spadina and Shaw to later in the year when the route will be operating with buses.

The TTC plans for service changes in March 2017 are not extensive. They are detailed in the spreadsheet linked below. I have modified the format of this to include not just headways but also running times (including layovers). This was done to clarify situations where adjustments are made to deal with traffic conditions on routes and to show the amount of time added for diversions.

2017.03.26_Service_Changes

Construction Projects

Although diversions and bus replacements are inevitable for track construction projects, the degree to which the TTC and city are content to remove streetcars for construction outside of the streetcar lanes says little for the “transit first” language we often hear. There also appears to be little incentive to complete such projects as quickly as possible.

501 Queen

Construction projects affect sections of the Queen route for all of 2017:

  • Reconstruction of The Queensway right-of-way, the Humber bridge, Humber Loop and track on Lake Shore
  • Sidewalk reconstruction on Queen between Spadina and Bathurst (late March to late summer) (summer)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection of Coxwell and Queen (August)
  • Replacement of the overhead walkway west of Queen and Yonge linking the Eaton Centre to the Simpson’s building (now HBC/Saks)

For the period from March 26 to May 6, Queen cars will divert both ways via Spadina, King and Shaw. Replacement bus service will operate from University to Dufferin (terminating at Dufferin Loop south of King). Night service will operate from Yonge to Dufferin looping in the east via Church, Richmond and Victoria. (Deferred)

During the Queen diversion, running time will be added on 510 Spadina to allow for streetcar congestion and delays making turns at Queen and King. One cannot help wondering where “transit priority” fits in this situation considering that problems with this diversion were quite evident during 2016.

Starting on May 7, the route will be converted to bus operation end-to-end. This will have two branches similar to the streetcar service before 2015. One branch will operate from Neville to Long Branch, while the other will run from Neville to Park Lawn. Buses will run through the construction area from Spadina to Bathurst.

Because so many buses will be required and streetcars now on Queen will be released, streetcars will return to 511 Bathurst, 503 Kingston Road Tripper and the 504 King trippers.

Streetcar service on Queen between Neville and Sunnyside will resume in September, and over the full route to Long Branch in January 2018.

See also Ben Spurr’s article in the Star.

505 Dundas

Three projects affect the Dundas service during 2017:

  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Victoria and Dundas Square (beginning late March)
  • Reconstruction of the intersection at Dundas and Parliament (May-June)
  • Watermain construction between Yonge and Church (late March to October)

Effective with the March schedules, 505 Dundas cars will divert both ways via Bay, College, Carlton and Church.

During the May-June period when streetcars will not be able to operate through the Parliament intersection, a different arrangement will be required, but the details have not been announced.

504 King

Starting with the March 26 schedules, the King bus trippers will be extended north to Dundas West Station to avoid congestion at Sunnyside Loop.

With the May schedules, the Queen turnback at Sunnyside will end, and the bus trippers will be replaced by streetcars.

503 Kingston Road Tripper

With the May schedules, this peak period route will return to streetcar operation, but it will loop downtown at Charlotte Loop (Spadina, Adelaide, Charlotte) because Wellington Street will be under construction.

For the July schedules (mostly in August), the intersection at Queen and Coxwell will be under construction, and so bus operation will return to the 503.

The 502 Downtowner service will remain a bus operation throughout.

506 Carlton

When the March schedules were planned, a diversion was to be implemented between Broadview and Coxwell to allow reconstruction of the overhead over that section of the route. This diversion has been deferred due to the shortage of buses, but the new temporary schedules were already in place for March-April. This will leave 506 Carlton service on its regular route, but with added running time and wider headways. The standard schedule will come back into operation in May.

Continuation of last year’s sidewalk construction and streetscape improvements is likely, but yet to be confirmed, beginning in June between Bathurst and Lansdowne. Service adjustments are yet to be announced.

Route Changes

73 Royal York

The peak period 73A service that now terminates at Dixon Road will be extended north following the same route as the 73C Albion Road service to loop via Knob Hill Drive and Oak Street in Weston. This branch will be renamed as 73D.

121 Fort York – Esplanade

The route will be extended west into Exhibition Place so that operators on the route have access to a washroom (in Exhibition Loop). Running times during certain periods will be adjusted to match conditions on the route.

131 Nugget Express

Two branches of this service operate to supplement the SRT while the fleet undergoes major repairs to extend its lifespan. The 131E runs from Kennedy Station to Old Finch, but the 131F runs only from Kennedy to STC. Due to low ridership the 131F service will be removed. Service on the 131E is unchanged.

Transit First For King Street?

Toronto’s Planning Department and the TTC hope to transform King Street as a realm primarily for transit vehicles and pedestrians with a pilot project aimed for fall 2017. Are the plans too aggressive, too timid, or just right? Is Toronto willing to embrace a fundamental change in the operation of a major downtown street?

On February 13, a crowd of hundreds packed into meeting rooms at Metro Hall for the launch of a new vision for King Street by the City of Toronto. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat introduced the session with an overview of the project’s goals and the framework for upcoming studies and implementation. Top of her list is “Transit First”, a fundamental view of the street as existing primarily to move people in transit vehicles and, by extension, to shift from a street designed around automotive traffic to one built around pedestrians. This is not just an exercise in transit priority, but also a shift in street design beyond transit lanes to expand and improve pedestrian spaces.

Transit service is beyond capacity, and fast and reliable service cannot be achieved while accommodating the existing volume of cars. For the duration of the pilot, the transit experience should be improved.

Improving the transit experience on King Street should also transform the public realm experience for increasing numbers of pedestrians to help address open space deficits along the corridor.

King Street users are overwhelmingly pedestrians, not motorists, and yet the lion’s share of space is dedicated to cars, not to transit and those on foot.

kingstreetpilot_usersvsspaceallocation

Inspired by trial street interventions by other cities, Toronto looks to take a short-cut in reaching a demonstration of what is possible with pilot configurations using a minimum of construction. This has several advantages. A trial avoids the lengthy, complex and finality of a formal proposal assessment, which can take years before anyone has a chance to learn whether a scheme actually works. A pilot can use temporary, movable installations such as planters, signs and road markings that can be quickly changed for fine tuning, to test alternate arrangements, or to undo the changes. Residents, businesses and politicians can buy into a trial hoping to see improvement, or at least to determine that side-effects are tolerable for the broader goals, without fearing they are locked into major expense and upheaval that might not work.

This is a refreshing change from endless studies producing little action, with the only downside being that some changes are simply beyond the limitations of a pilot. If a trial works well enough, then more lasting changes requiring construction can follow.

King is not a street like others in Toronto where transit priority has been attempted. Spadina, St. Clair and Queens Quay are all wider, and options for increasing road space on King are few. Traffic patterns and business needs differ on each street, and a layout that works in one place may not be appropriate for others. Equally, the benefits or horrors of these streets do not necessarily apply on King.

The city has three proposed layouts for a transit-first King Street. At this stage they exist only as general schemes, not as detailed, block-by-block plans. On that fine-grained level any new scheme will succeed or fail. Even if a plan achieves transit improvements, too many small annoyances, too many details overlooked could collectively derail a scheme. The planners flag this as a need for both a “micro and macro” view of the street – the big picture of better transit, and an awareness that every block, every neighbourhood along the street is different.

Common to all plans is a substantial reduction in the space available for cars and trucks. Some areas now used for loading, drop offs and cab stands would be repurposed either as through traffic lanes with no stopping, or as expanded sidewalk space into what is now the curb lane. Left turns would be banned throughout the area.

This demands a major re-think in how the street works for its many users both regular and casual.

The street is only four lanes wide, and along much of its length buildings come out to the sidewalk line. Only limited roadway expansion is possible, but not practically across the corridor. In any event, the focus is not on cars but on pedestrians and their transit service. Road improvements should not masquerade as benefits to transit.

In the illustrations below, the yellow areas indicate new space reserved for pedestrians while the blue lines show where cars would be expected to drive.

kingstreetpilot_blockoptions

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