The Myth of “No Short Turns” (July 2022)

This post includes short turn counts for the month of July on the major east-west streetcar routes downtown. See also:

According to the TTC CEO’s Report, short turns (a situation where a vehicle does not reach its scheduled destination but instead turns back at an earlier point) were all but eliminated in May 2019.

This is not to say that short turns should not exist. They are an inevitable part of transit operations where delays can occur, and are essential to restoration of regular service. Back in 2019, the TTC’s problem was that they were used very frequently either as a lazy way to manage service or in response to unrealistic schedules. Now they occur but are not reported.

Meanwhile, other problems with service such as bunching, gaps and missing vehicles are not reported or tracked (at least publicly) at all.

There is no way to avoid saying this: the reported level of short turns is a total misrepresentation of what actually happens on the street as any regular rider knows. Management gets to claim they have eliminated a problem, but in fact it persists.

  1. Methodology
  2. 501 Queen Eastbound at Kingston Road
  3. 504 King Westbound at Spadina and at Bathurst
  4. 504 King Eastbound at Parliament
  5. 504 King Eastbound at Dundas/Broadview
  6. 505 Dundas Westbound at Lansdowne
  7. 505 Dundas Eastbound at Parliament
  8. 506 Carlton Westbound at Lansdowne
  9. 506 Carlton Eastbound at Coxwell

Methodology

From TTC vehicle tracking data, it is possible to count the number of streetcars passing any point on the line. In order to determine how many short turns occur at a specific location, counts on either side of a turnback will reveal the answer.

For example, if the screenlines for counts on Queen are defined as Coxwell Avenue and Woodbine Avenue, then the difference in counts shows how many cars short-turned at Woodbine Loop.

For these analyses, the counts are grouped by hour and by day through a month. Next, all weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays are consolidated to show the difference between types of day. The weekday counts are broken out by week to catch short-lived effects.

Friday, July 1, Canada Day, is counted as a Sunday. Note that this means that there are six “Sundays” and only five “Saturdays” included in the totals. That is the reason the count of trips within the month is higher for Sundays than for Saturdays.

An important distinction in any analysis is between overall averages and a detailed view of operations. TTC has a bad habit of reporting stats, when they do so at all, on a monthly average basis. This blends together periods when service is good with periods when it is very bad giving the impression that things are going fairly well. Riders, of course, encounter and are angered by the bad times which happen too often and fairly predictably.

The raw data are at a minute-by-minute, vehicle-by-vehicle level. In the charts here, I have tried to strike a balance between “information overload” with too much detail, and high level views that obscure what is happening on the street.

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West End Streetcar Construction Update: July 31, 2022

Several projects are in various stages on the west side of Toronto’s streetcar system. Here is an omnibus update.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

The reconstruction of this junction has reached the point where all of the contact wire for the new intersection is in place, but it is not yet attached to the hangers on the spiderweb of span wires above the intersection. Contact wire extends west of Roncesvalles through the South Gate area, but ends just east of Sunnyside Loop.

Further west, the track is in place to Glendale Avenue (St. Joseph’s Hospital stop), but not fully concreted. One block remains to be installed from Glendale to the existing right-of-way.

According to the most recent City construction notice, service west of Bathurst Street will resume in two stages, and even then will not yet be through to Humber and Long Branch.

  • Effective September 4th:
    • 501/301 Queen streetcar service will be extended west to Dufferin Street from Bathurst Street. 501L replacement buses will be shortened to operate from Long Branch Loop to Dufferin Street.
    • The 504/304 King streetcar will continue to be replaced by bus service west of Dufferin Street.
  • As of October 9th:
    • 501/301 Queen streetcar service will be extended as far west as the KQQR intersection. 501L Replacement buses will continue to operate between Long Branch Loop and Dufferin Street.
    • The 504/304 King streetcar will continue to be replaced by bus service during construction and will have no service on Roncesvalles Avenue south of Howard Park Avenue. Route adjustments are: Howard Park, Parkside, Lake Shore, Colborne Lodge, The Queensway (both directions).

Detailed service plans will likely be published by the TTC in mid-to-late August.

Lake Shore Boulevard West

The track between Louisa Street and Mimico Avenue was not replaced in the last round of TTC upgrades on this route. They are now completing this section. A few points to note in the photos below:

  • In the view looking west, work on overhead conversion to pantograph mode including staggering of the contact wire is in progress. Over the entire route from Humber to Long Branch the contact wire is not yet attached to many of the new hangers.
  • In the view looking east, note that the rail is not yet fastened down with Pandrol clips. The previous rebuild here is recent enough that the track foundation already has steel ties, and so the rebuild only requires removal of the top pavement layer. The new track is then attached to the existing foundation.

At Kipling and Lake Shore, construction has just begun on replacement of the intersection and Kipling Loop. From the pre-assembled track already sitting on trailers near the site, it appears that the east-to-north curve will be replaced rather than removed. This curve is only ever used by railfan charters, and yet it survives. Meanwhile, on another project at Church & Carlton where missing curves in the south-east quadrant would add to network flexibility, the TTC is rebuilding the track as is without them.

Dundas West Station

The new extended platform for 505 Dundas cars is now in place, although still missing guardrails, and the track replacement for the loop has been complete for a few weeks. The new platform will allow two 505 Dundas Flexitys to be in the station at once (this was already possible for 504 King cars) relieving a source of congestion on Dundas Street at the station entrance.

Currently announced plans are for buses to return to this loop in September, but 505 Dundas streetcars will continue diverting to High Park until early October pending completion of new overhead and the platform.

504 King streetcars will not return here until completion of the last phase of the KQQR project likely in late Fall 2022.

Adelaide Street Reconstruction Open House

The City of Toronto will hold an online open house for the Adelaide Street project on Thursday, July 21 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.

A link to register for this session is on the project page.

Track on Adelaide has been inactive for many years thanks to various cuts for utility projects and the high level of building construction along the street. The TTC contemplated reactivating the track as a bypass for, among other things, the Tiff street fair, but the opportunity did not present itself until now.

The Ontario Line open cut construction at Queen Station will require diversion of streetcar service around Queen and Yonge for several years. Cars will operate westbound via existing track on Church, Richmond and York. Eastbound service will run via York, Adelaide and Church.

This requires reconstruction of the Adelaide Street trackage as well as installation of new tracks southbound on York from Queen to Adelaide. Although only the track east from York is required for the Ontario Line diversion, the TTC will restore the track between Spadina and York making provision for a longer diversion. York will become two-way from Queen to Adelaide.

It is not yet clear which special work will be added at intersections, notably Adelaide and York where a north-to-east curve would be useful, especially if the TTC adds an east-to-north at King and York when this is rebuilt in a pending King Street project. Unfortunately, with the lead time between planning and execution, the TTC has forgotten on occasion (or chosen for budgetary reasons) to include missing curves that would make their operations more flexible notably at Broadview and Gerrard and, this year at Church and Carlton. These opportunities only come along every 25-30 years.

The project also includes water main reconstruction from York to Church, and repaving. Parts of the street are in very bad condition after years of condo construction trucks pounding the pavement.

From Bathurst to Parliament, the bike lane will shift to the north side of the street where there will be less conflict with the streetcars and with vehicles stopped in the eastbound curb lane.

I will update this article with more info after the open house.

The Myth of “No Short Turns” (Revised)

Note: Calculations behind the charts in the original version of this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) were distorted when these events did not occur in the same hour. Other problems included double counting of cars that looped twice at a short turn point (e.g. College Loop), and cars that were entering service via a loop being counted as short turns.

Changes in the text are shown by highlighting of the new version. All charts have been replaced.

My apologies for any confusion, but the charts used here avoid the potential confusion of values shown originally.

One of the many annoyances of trying to use transit service is to discover that your bus or streetcar has been “short turned”, that is to say, will not reach the destination advertised. This might happen before you board so that an arrival prediction turns out to be for a streetcar you can’t use, or as a “surprise” when the operator gets on the PA to announce that Transit Control wants to short turn the car.

This has been a problem for as long as I have been involved in advocacy for better transit service.

TTC Board members and Councillors hear about this problem a lot, and they in turn beat on management to eliminate the practice. This can produce unwanted side effects, notably the padding of schedules so that it is almost impossible, at least in theory, for a car to be late and, therefore, short turns should not be required.

Alas it is not quite that simple. Short turns occur for various reasons including schedule issues, crew change timing, major delays/diversions and “operational problems”, that catch-all phrase covering everything from a stuck door to a plague of locusts. (Some explanations for transit service problems have been with us so long they have taken on an almost Biblical character.)

Meanwhile, the CEO’s Report happily tells us every month that short turns are a thing of the past, that they are so rare that it might not even be worth tracking them as a service metric.

Source: June 2022 CEO’s Report

The big drop in the metric in spring 2019 coincides with a point where a “no short turn” edict was issued by the CEO. This is not really practical as there are many bona fide reasons for short turning vehicles, but the numbers obediently went down and have stayed down.

Regular riders, however, might choose to differ in their day-to-day observations.

Since 2019, we have come through the pandemic era when a great deal of traffic congestion and ridership disappeared. For a time, the type of event that would disrupt service was comparatively rare. However, with “normal” conditions returning, service is no longer insulated by these effects.

In my own travels, I routinely encounter streetcars that are not going to their scheduled destinations. Let me be the first to say that I understand the need for short turns, but am rather amazed that the reported counts stay very close to zero. This simply does not match actual experience. A short turn is a short turn, regardless of why it is required.

The question, then, is how to count these events reasonably easily without standing on street corners clipboard in hand. Vehicle tracking data that I already receive from the TTC’s Vision system (and which drives the many arrival prediction apps) provides a simple mechanism.

In this article I will review several common streetcar short turn locations to see what is actually happening.

If readers have specific bus routes and locations they would like to see, please leave your request in the comments.

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The Myth of “No Short Turns”

Note: The charts in this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) are distorted when these events do not occur in the same hour. This article has been replaced with a revised version, but I am leaving the original here for reference.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective June 19, 2022

June 19 will bring the summer schedules on some routes, a return of streetcars at Broadview Station, and various minor changes scattered across the system.

Subway

There is no change in subway service.

Streetcars

With the completion of watermain work on Broadview in May, the streetcar service to Broadview station on 504 King and 505 Dundas will return.

504A Distillery to Dufferin service will remain, but will be blended with the 504B from Broadview Station to Dufferin. The combined service on the two branches will be more frequent in almost all periods than the 504A service now operating.

The 504/505 shuttle bus from Broadview Station to Parliament will no longer operate.

505 Dundas service will operate between High Park Loop and Broadview Station on the same headways as are currently provided just to Broadview. Dundas cars will not return to Dundas West Station until later in the year following completion of new platforms and overhead.

The 504C King/Roncesvalles shuttle bus will return to Dundas West Station, but, like all bus routes there, will loop on street and stop on Edna Avenue (north side of the loop) while work inside the station continues. Other bus routes currently diverting to Dufferin and Lansdowne Stations will return to Dundas West at the same time.

Work on Phase 3 of the King Queen Queensway Roncesvalles project including the North Gate of Roncesvalles Carhouse will begin in September.

Carhouse allocations of 504 and 505 will change with additional 504 cars operating from Leslie, and some 505 cars shifting to Roncesvalles. Allocations will change in August when construction work begins at Russell Carhouse, and again in September with the Phase 3 KQQR work.

There will be seasonal service cuts on several routes:

  • 503 Kingston Road AM Peak
  • 505 Dundas AM Peak bus trippers removed
  • 506 Carlton AM Peak bus trippers removed
  • 511 Bathurst all periods
  • 512 St. Clair almost all periods

See the spreadsheet linked later in this article for details.

From July 11 to August 1, 501L Queen and 301 Queen Night buses will divert westbound from Lake Shore via 15th, Birmingham and 22nd Streets during reconstruction of the intersection at Kipling. Eastbound service is not affected.

With overhead on the central section of Queen now converted for pantograph use, streetcars running between Leslie Barns and routes 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair will operate via Queen west of the Don River rather than via King.

Buses

Routing Changes Due To Frequent CNE Closures

The following routes will be changed because streets in and near the CNE are often closed during the summer.

  • 29 Dufferin will loop through Liberty Village via King, Strachan and East Liberty.
  • 929 Dufferin will loop at Dufferin Loop.
  • 174 Ontario Place/Exhibition will operate via Fleet, Fort York and Lake Shore for the southbound trip.

30 High Park and 189 Stockyards Interline

Buses on routes 30 and 189 will interline to better use the running time on the combined route.

A new 30B High Park service will operate from High Park Station to the park via West Road and Colborne Lodge Drive. This seasonal shuttle will run separately from buses on the combined 30/189 service.

Seasonal Changes

The following routes are affected by seasonal reductions in demand:

  • 39/939 Finch East
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 905 Eglinton East Express
  • 927 Highway 27 Express

Miscellaneous Changes

  • 21C Brimley service to STC will be adjusted on Sundays.
  • 44/944 Kipling South service will divert both ways around track construction work at Lake Shore from July 15 to August 1.
  • 363 Ossington night service will return to Eglinton West Station Loop.
  • 72 Pape service will be adjusted during all time periods for reliability.
  • 86 Scarborough will have a trip added at 2:13 pm weekdays from Kennedy Station to fill a gap in the schedule.
  • 118 Thistle Down service will be improved in peak periods.
  • 134 Progress service will be adjusted on Saturdays.
  • 172 Cherry service will continue to bypass the Distillery District due to road construction.

600 Run As Directed

The number of scheduled RAD buses has been reduced substantial on weekdays from 40 to 5 crews. On weekends there will be more RAD buses with 39, up from 25, on Saturdays, and 32, up from 21, on Sundays.

Mount Dennis will not have any RAD buses. Details of the crew allocation are in the spreadsheet below.

Detailed Tables of Service Changes

Peak Vehicle Usage

KQQR & Dundas West Update: May 2022 (Updated)

Updated May 11: The schedule for completion of the final phase of the work at KQQR has slipped to fall 2022 according to the project website:

Previous delays, combined with some periods of adverse fall/winter weather, COVID-19 related labour shortages and supply chain issues have deferred completion of Stage 2 work (KQQR intersection, The Queensway and King Street West) to September 3, 2022.

Work on Stage 3 (the final stage) will start on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR intersection to Harvard Avenue on September 4, 2022, and will be completed by the end of December 2022.

Work on the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project continues with installation of new overhead at the intersection, completion of some new lane layouts, and utility work along the Queensway. Track construction is moving, albeit slowly, west from Sunnyside Loop toward the end of the existing right-of-way east of Parkside Drive.

At Dundas West Station, the road has just been closed north of Bloor except for a single northbound lane, and on Edna from Dundas to the west end of the loop for special work replacement. (As of May 9/22)

Traffic in the area is quite snarled because there are also minor track repairs underway on Dundas south of Bloor, and reconstruction of Bloor Street continues westward in the area to which much traffic has diverted.

Bus diversions are not the same as originally advertised.

  • 40 Junction operates eastbound to Dufferin Station via Dupont and Dufferin returning westbound via Bloor, Lansdowne and Dupont.
  • 168 Symington eastbound turns east rather than west on Bloor to Dufferin, returning westbound via Dufferin, Dupont, Lansdowne and Bloor.
  • 504C King is supposed to be diverting southbound via Parkside Drive and Howard Park to Roncesvalles, but was running via Bloor and Dundas.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

May 9, 2022

Eastbound road traffic is now using the streetcar lane, but the new lane arrangement and the curb separating the streetcar lane are now in place. The King Street leg of the intersection is complete, but not yet open.

On The Queensway west from Sunnyside, road rebuilding and track installation proceeds in bite-sized segments. It has now reached the point of blocking eastbound access from The Queensway to St. Joseph’s Hospital’s main driveway, and there is still a “slalom” where traffic shifts from the regular curb lanes to the streetcar lanes for a short distance.

Along the south side of The Queensway, utility work is still underway.

Dundas West Station

May 9, 2022

At Dundas West Station, the rebuilt track for the 504 King platform and the exit to Edna Avenue are in place, and excavation for the new 505 Dundas track is underway.

Dundas Street is blocked off except for one northbound lane, and Edna Avenue is closed in anticipation of track replacement for the north and east sides of the loop.

KQQR & Dundas West Update: April 2022

Work on the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles (KQQR) intersection and approaches to it resumed in April after a winter hiatus. Work has also begun at Dundas West Station for the reconstuction and realignment of the streetcar loading platforms.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

April 4, 2022

A significant change at KQQR is the removal of the “slip lane” which allowed eastbound traffic on The Queensway to “slip” past the intersection onto King Street without stopping. However, this created a safety hazard for pedestrians trying to reach the south sidewalk and the bridge to Sunnyside Park. The first four photos below show the construction of the revised junction from various points of view.

The fifth photo looks west on The Queensway at Sunnyside showing early stages of converting the mix-traffic streetcar lanes to a right-of-way matching what is already in place from Parkside westward.

April 20, 2022

By April 20, two weeks later than the photos above, work had progressed to complete the new south sidewalk and to concrete all of the King Street approach. That leg now awaits the asphalt top layer.

In the view SW across the intesection there is a mixture of permanent and temporary poles and signals, as well as the beginning of the spiderweb that will hold up new overhead for the junction. Some of the new traffic signals have been hung, but they are hooded or faced away from traffic pending the changeover from the temporary ones.

On both sides of Roncesvalles north of Queen/Queensway, work has begin on bases for new overhead poles.

West of Sunnyside, work has begun on track installation, but this will be done in stages as road traffic is shuffled around between old and new lanes. In the eventual configuration, the streetcar lanes will be reserved and protected with a curb east to Roncesvalles except where needed for lane crossings.

The TTC has not yet announced a date for resumption of streetcar service to Sunnyside on King and on Queen, nor further west on The Queensway to Humber and Long Branch.

Dundas West Station

The existing King streetcar track has been demolished and excavated for a new foundation. Track for the Dundas cars will be shifted and a new longer loading platform will be provided here.

Looking W through Dundas West Station streetcar loading area

“Snowmaggedon” and the Dufferin Bus

On January 17, 2022, a record snowfall hit the Toronto area. Yes, this is Canada, and it does snow here, although people who live in areas without the moderating effect of Lake Ontario rarely have much sympathy on that score.

A post mortem report on the event will be discussed on March 29, 2022, at the Infrastructure & Environment Committee. As the City’s report on the event summarizes:

On January 16-17, 2022, the City of Toronto experienced an extraordinary winter storm that involved extreme cold temperatures, very rapid snowfall, and an ultimate snow accumulation of 55 centimetres in just 15 hours. The below freezing temperatures that followed the storm and lasted for more than two weeks created a unique set of challenges for storm clean up.

The effects on transit routes were severe, and there was little or no service on parts of the network for an extended period.

Snow clearing took a very long time:

Ultimately, 179,442 tonnes of snow were removed from 3,471 km of roads, requiring almost 60,000 truckloads. Removal was conducted over a 30-day period; however, operations were suspended when additional snow events occurred, meaning snow was removed on a total of 23 non-consecutive days.

Toronto’s snow clearing practices tend to focus on major streets and often do not include physical removal of snow. This effectively narrows roads and limits their capacity until the snowbanks eventually melt. A history of warmer winters and fewer severe storms has contributed to a somewhat laissez-faire relationship to winter that failed Toronto in 2022.

The report speaks to several changes in approach to major storms that will be implemented in early 2023, and I will not go into these here beyond noting the effect on transit.

Two related problems do leap out.

First, the responsibility for various aspects of snow clearing fall to different groups. Roads and sidewalks were plowed by multiple contractors. Sidewalks were, until this year, the responsibility of property owners, but the city’s fleet of sidewalk plows was not yet at full strength, and subject to breakdowns. Bike lanes might or might not be plowed especially if they are simply painted and have no protective barriers.

The result is both a “who does what” clash and a war for space where snow can be dumped before it is carted away, if ever.

Second, the reduction in road capacity causes congestion both by taking lanes out of service, and by parked cars, to the extent motorists can navigate the snowbanks, encroaching beyond the curb lane. This is a particular problem on streetcar routes, but is not confined to them.

Plowing, when it does occur, may not be accompanied by aggressive towing, or at least by temporary relocation of parked cars so that the curb lane can be fully cleared.

Toronto has a network of designated snow routes for major snow events. Most of the territory it covers is in the old City of Toronto with some outlying areas. When a major storm condition is declared, parking is banned for 72 hours (or more if need be) on the streets shown in red below. Most of the suburban city is not included.

The map below is dated October 2013, and it is due for updating especially if Toronto plans to be serious about the quality of transit service and meaningful schemes for transit priority across the city.

In Brief

The major snowfall on January 17 disrupted transit service, and the effects continued for a few weeks after the event. In some cases, buses had not returned to “typical” pre-storm travel times into February.

The location of congestion problems on routes reviewed here was not distributed along them a a general delay, but could be found at specific locations and times where the effect was “net new” after the storm. This suggests that a detailed study of storm delays will reveal key locations and conditions that should be avoided in the future.

On Dufferin, a major location for delays was northbound to Yorkdale Mall, and this persisted for some time after the storm. Normally, problems on routes like this are assumed to arise from their hilly nature, but that was not always the case in late January.

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King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles March 2022 Update

Construction has resumed, although not exactly at a “breakneck” pace, at the complex junction of King, Queen, The Queensway and Roncesvalles. Here are photos showing the current state of things.

Slip Lane Removal

On the southwest corner of the intersection, there used to be a “slip lane” that allowed eastbound traffic veering from The Queensway to King Street to bypass the signalled intersection. This was fine for motorists, but a danger to pedestrians. In the new intersection layout, this lane has been removed and the sidewalk will be expanded to make this a conventional 90-degree junction.

King Street Realignment

King Street formerly met Queen at an angle, but this has now been straightened out. With the new intersection geometry, the two streetcar lanes split apart east of the intersection. This will align the future tracks on the north side with sidewalk “bumpouts” for the northbound and southbound carstops.

Track and Overhead Construction

Many new overhead support poles have been installed around the intersection, and they are festooned with coils of future span wires. West of Sunnyside Loop, excavation of the trackbed has started together with construction of foundations for centre support poles.

Planned Restoration of Streetcar Service

In the announcement of February 2022 service changes, the TTC anticipated that 501 streetcar service would be restored to Sunnyside Loop in the May 2022 changes.

In May, the 501 bus shuttle will be shortened from Broadview to University, but streetcars will continue to operate only to Bathurst Street (Wolseley Loop). I have asked the TTC for an update on streetcar service restoration and await a reply.