What’s in a Name?

I have commented on the demeaning use of the word “streetcar” when describing LRT plans such as Transit City. Toronto knows streetcars, and Toronto knows the TTC’s lacklustre ability to operate streetcars, so anyone who wants to put down any LRT plan merely only has to use the dreaded S-word.

There is another word that, until this past week, held a lower level of status with me than even the dreaded S-word. That word is trolley. To me, this word conjures up the image of a tourist attraction, possibly using open cars that one would expect to find in a museum.

The past week has me re-assessing that word. I was in San Diego last week and that city has an LRT system that is called the Trolley. Of the 86 km of that city’s LRT system, only about 2.5 km is on street with nothing separating it from other traffic.

To be certain, this system is truly a RAPID transit system, in some ways even putting our own subway system to shame, as far as moving people quickly. There are many examples in the outer ends of this system where stations are two to three kilometres apart! Granted, the geography makes these longer distances more practical than what we would find in the GTHA, but this system really demonstrates how LRT technology can provide the speed without the cost of a full metro system. As for future capacity, much of the system operates with two or three car trains, but all stations are capable of handling four car trains. In addition to that, even at rush hours the system operates with 7-8 minute head-ways, leaving plenty of room for more added capacity. For details and photos of San Diego, take a look at the San Diego page on this site.

4 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. W. K. Lis Says:

    The TTC could have made the Queensway right-of-way a showcase on how a light rapid transit line may look and behave like. Unfortunately, the roads department (in charge of traffic signals) has not, or refuses to, turn on true transit priority for the traffic signals. Instead, of having a green light (or straight ahead transit signal) for approaching streetcars, they have to wait for the cross traffic and for left turn vehicles to complete their priority.

    If the Queensway right-of-way was done correctly, as it should be, it would have been used as an example of how light rapid transit could be like. Instead, it has become an example of how far behind Toronto is, in giving transit its priority as it should be.

    Cal’s comment: My biggest fear is that Transit City lines will be operated by the TTC (with some credit/blame to the roads department) as just another streetcar line.

  2. Dwight Says:

    I notice on the pages that profile other LRT systems that most of the routes shown in the USA tend to have a small percentage of their routes dedicated to centre of the road mediums with a mix of tunnelling use of abandoned and still in use rail land and some pedestrian malls. However, Transit city is about 80-90% middle of the street with straight routes unlike other cities that seem to weave in around the cities.
    Since, the mayor and other Transit City backers compare us to other cities as far as LRT is concerned and how fast the system can be they fail to indicate that these other cities have far less interaction with traffic lights which slow down the LRT’s. I know that there is such a thing as transit priority, however, we have not used it sucessfully in this city.

    Cal’s comment: I have a big issue with how Transit City has been touted as a RAPID transit plan. TC is designed to be a mix between local transit and longer distance commuting with an improvement in speed. For the most part, it will be successful at accomplishing this, but by promoting it as a RAPID transit plan, it will fall short of expectations. That said, the conversion of the SRT to true LRT will demonstrate the rapid capabilities of LRT. Unfortunately, this conversion will not begin until after 2015, and will be several years before the public will be able to experience it.

    The central part of the Eglinton line will showcase the rapid nature of LRT, partly due to the isolation in tunnels, but more because of longer stop spacing. The one mistake being made, and I’m hoping the funding delay will allow this to be changed, is that the entire portion from Jane to Don Mills should be built for true rapid operation, without median operation. In the east, this means side-of-the-road operation and the stretch of Eglinton between where the portal will be between Brentcliff and Leslie and Don Mills is one of the few stretches of road in Toronto where this is practical. I believe this can be accomplished with no increased costs as this type of construction will save about $20 million per kilometre, but that savings will be needed to provide a separate underpass where the CPR crosses Eglinton. In the west, the stretch from Keele to Jane would mostly have to be separated mostly with the use of tunnelling and elevated sections, though some side-of-the-road might be feasible just east of Jane.

    As for signal priority, this remains to be seen. The traffic department has not been willing in the past to implement this, and where it has been it has not been done terribly well. One thing that is often implemented in other cities is the use of railway crossing signals, even for median operation. In Edmonton and Calgary, there are stretches of median operation where gates are used at intersections to give the LRT absolute priority. When I was in San Diego last week, I thought about how well people in Toronto would accept railway crossing signals that not only exist more frequently, but operate more frequently. Over the past few decades, we have been eliminating grade crossings with railways to the point where they are few and far between now. Can you imagine them at each side street, and see them operate every few minutes? In San Diego, rush hour service has 7-8 minute frequency, so a given crossing might have the lights and bells going every 3-4 minutes. Transit City is being designed for 5-minute frequency in rush hours, and likely not much longer than 10 minute service outside of peak times.

  3. Dwight Says:

    I think people who regularly take the scarborough 190 rocket will be suprised that once the Sheppard LRT goes in that their trip from Kennedy to the Don Mills station will not be much shorter than its now.

    For 5 years before the Sheppard Subway was built, I took an express bus from VP and Sheppard to Sheppard station. The bus stoped once at Don Mills and did not stop again till Sheppard Station. I do not think much time will be saved by taking an LRT followed by getting on the the subway.

    Cal’s comment: That will all depend on just how well signal priority is implemented. I also suspect that half of the time savings will be divided between the underground section from Consumers Road to Don Mills, and the bus-to-subway transfer time compared to LRT-to-subway time.

    One thing that would be good information is how other cities were able to successully implement their LRT systems. We have lots of pictures of other systems but how did they get to the state they are today? We know all about Toronto and its political landscape and by-law requirements but how about a city like San Diego? Do they have a metrolinx equivalent? Why are the people in San diago more tolerent of level crossings while we try to get rid of all ours. Why do we need a grade seperation at Kennedy and Sheppard. Is it for clearence requirements due to the LRT overhead? Do they have less steps to their approval process for construction?

    There is no grade separation at Kennedy and Sheppard. The grade separation is for the CNR crossing at the GO station, and this will be done regardless of whether the LRT is built or not.

  4. Matt Fisher Says:

    Yeah. They should have decided on using side of the road reservation on the Eglinton LRT line west of Jane, in where the Richview Expressway would have been (but wasn’t) built.

    Besides, that sort of streetcar type thing might be more appropriate for Kingston Road East, but they found BRT to, sadly, be more appropriate. While I disagree with this in all idealism, I notice it can suffice for the indefinite future.